Sunday, March 25, 2012

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears...

                Wow, what a week and a weekend! Last week, we had an incredible three days of teaching from Chad Hampsch on the Book of Romans. To be honest, I had always been a little intimidated by Romans before. All that I really knew was that it was a book of sixteen chapters chalk full of deep, challenging theological ideas. Now that I am at the other end of this week, I have realized that it is much more manageable than I originally thought.

                To give a little background, the Book of Romans was written by Paul towards the end of his third missionary journey, probably in 57 AD. He was preparing to take a trip back to Jerusalem to a deliver a gift from Gentile believers to the Jewish believers in the city. At this time in early church history, there was a constant tension between Jew and Gentile believers. The gift that Paul was bringing was an attempt to bridge the gap. Paul’s heart, according to Romans 15:20, was to take the Gospel to where it has not been heard. His desire at this point of his ministry was to travel to Rome and, eventually, on to Spain.

                There is no full-proof evidence as to how to gospel got to Rome. However, most scholars believe that the word of the Good News got there within two years of Christ’s death. One possibility is that, since there were people from Rome represented at Pentecost (Acts 2:10), they could have possible taken the Gospel back home. No matter how it got there, it’s fun to think about what an amazing and powerful God that we serve! He was able to take His Story so far, so quickly! And, on top of that, the Church in Rome began without any presence or direction from an apostle. My, how powerful and amazing the Holy Spirit is! It is also important to realize that the Church in Rome was very diverse, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers. As you dig into Romans, you can see how Paul seeks to unify the two backgrounds through their faith in Christ. 

                In a nutshell, Paul’s letter to the Romans follows a very logical order as it looks at the subjects of salvation and the Christian life. The beginning of the book (1:1-1:17) is an introduction, with the key idea coming from verse 16, where Paul states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” He then enters into five major sections with progressive themes: Condemnation (1:18-3:20), Justification (3:21-5:21), Sanctification (6:1-8:39), Restoration (9:1-11:36), and Application (12:1-15:13). Finally, he concludes his book from 15:14-16:27. Within each of these sections, Paul breaks it down even further to address specific topics.

                Within “Condemnation”, Paul begins by discussing how we, as humans, are in need of God’s righteousness (1:18-3:20). He addressed first the unrighteousness of the Gentiles (1:18-1:32) and then the unrighteousness of the Jews (2:1-3:8), where he takes a particular look at the Law and circumcision. However, he also recognizes the value of the Jews and the revelation of righteousness in the Law and the Old Testament (3:1-3:8).  To wrap up “Condemnation”, Paul addresses the unrighteousness of mankind as a whole (3:9-20).

                In 3:21-5:21, Paul moves from talking about “Condemnation” to “Justification” and the provision of God’s righteousness. He begins by discussing the source of righteousness, which is God through Jesus Christ (3:21-3:31). In chapter 4, we see an example of righteousness. We learn that faith was and is the standard of righteousness, even back to the times of Abraham and David. We also learn that faith is more than tradition; it is greater than the Law and Abraham had faith against all hope and it was “credited to him as righteousness” (4:22). In chapter 5, Paul teaches of the blessings of righteousness and ascribes righteousness to Christ (in contrast to Adam). 

                As Paul enters chapter 6, he begins discuss “Sanctification” and the demonstration of God’s righteousness (6:1-8:39). As believers, Paul teaches that we identify with Christ in His death and resurrection (6:1-14) and, as a part of our new life in Him, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness (6:14-23).  In chapter 7, Paul shows us that, although there is purpose to the Law in revealing sin, as believers, we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4).  As he enters chapter 8, hope is presented. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death”. (8:1-2) He goes on to explain of the power of the Holy Spirit in the process of sanctification and how creation is groaning and longing for future glory. He ends the chapter by describing believers as overwhelming conquers. In our process of sanctification, we have hope in knowing that the end is victory and defeat over the evil of this world.

                Chapters 9-11 describe “Restoration” and Israel’s reception of God’s righteousness. In chapter 9, Paul describes how the Jews are God’s sovereign choice, but the Gentiles have been grafted into this grace.  Salvation is the same for both the Jews and the Gentiles, yet Israel has rejected the Gospel (chapter 10). However, Israel’s rejection is not total. There is a “…remnant according to God’s gracious choice”. (11:6) In Israel’s rejection, God still had a purpose. (11:11-11:36) “I say then, they (Israel) did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” (11:11) Because of the Jewish rejection of the Gospel, salvation was made available to the Gentiles and, in turn, is now making the Jewish people jealous for their God so that the Gospel may come back to them in a life-changing way!

                Finally, Paul moves into “Application” in 12:1-15:13, where he takes a practical look at the behavior of God’s righteousness. First, he discusses how we have been given spiritual gifts to be used to God’s glory (12:1-8). He goes on to describe other ways that we have been called to live our lives to glorify God: with brotherly love (12:9-21), by submitting to authority (13:1-7), through our interactions (13:8-14), by striving for unity in diversity (14:1-12), and through personal sacrifice (14:13-23) and authentic worship. (15:1-13)

                As Paul concludes his book to the Romans, he encourages them to take the Gospel to where it has not been proclaimed (15:14-21). He describes his own ideas to them about where he desires to take the Gospel. (15:22-33) The final chapter includes in his greetings to specific people and a final benediction. 

                Though learning this “big picture” view of Romans last week, I now feel encouraged and empowered to study the book more on my own. I hope that this explanation was an encouragement to you as well and that our eyes will continue to be opened to God’s truth in His letter to the Romans some 2000 years ago.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Holy Spirit

Happy Spring everyone!

…at least it feels like Spring today…or maybe I’m just ready for it to be! Yes, we’ve had a pretty mild winter so I can’t really complain. However, these rays of sunshine that have been peeking out the past couple of days have been getting me so excited! There’s just something about a new Spring: a newness of life that brings promise, hope, and joy. As we’re entering into this Spring at the Institute, there is definitely a newness about it, but it’s also a little sad. As a community, we’re starting to feel that the end of our time together is coming to an end. Next week, we are off on Spring Break, and then before you know it, it will be time for graduation! I really want to make the most of the rest of my time here. I want to soak up what we are learning in class, savor the great relationships that I’ve made here, and put what I am learning into practice as I begin to walk into the next stage of my life.

            This week, we are wrapping up a study on the Holy Spirit. Pete Deison from Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas came to share with us his wisdom on the subject. Early in the week, he took the time to present some different traits of the Holy Spirit in a very simple way. He simply researched places in the Scripture where the Holy Spirit is mentioned and organized the information that he learned from the text. It was amazing to me how many times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Bible, yet how little I knew of it growing up in the church!

            The Holy Spirit has a personality. This is proven by his characteristics, such as intelligence (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), feelings (Ephesians 4:30), and will (1 Corinthians 12:11). Throughout the Scripture, we see many actions of the Holy Spirit as well. John 14:26 states, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”. In this passage, we see that the Holy Spirit teaches. The Holy Spirit also leads and guides. This can be seen in Romans 8:14: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” He also commissions (Acts 13:14), commands (Acts 8:25), restrains (Genesis 6:3), intercedes (Romans 8:26), and speaks (John 15:26, 2 Peter 1:21).

            Although about 80% of what we know about the Holy Spirit is found in the New Testament, there is evidence of the Him in the Old Testament as well. In Psalm 104:30 and Job 33:4, we see that the Holy Spirit brings forth life. In Isaiah 40:12-14, we see that He brings order to the world. He is also the One who empowered God’s servants to do His works. This can be seen in Numbers 11:25, Judges 3:10, and 1 Samuel 10:6. In the New Testament, we can see the interactions of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. For example, in Luke 1:25, we see that the Spirit brings about the conception of Jesus. He also baptizes Christ in Luke 4:18 and launched the public ministry of Jesus in Luke 4:1-11.

            The Holy Spirit plays a huge role in the life of a believer. According to Acts 2:38, we receive the Holy Spirit at the point of our salvation. He abides with us forever! He fills us, reveals things to us, directs our paths, speaks through us, and bears forth fruit in our lives. As believers, we have the whole of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We have all of these things all of these things, all of the time. Jesus called us to bear fruit as believers and to use what we have been blessed with to bless others.  The Spirit also gives us spiritual gifts. Unlike the fruit of the Spirit, we are not given all of the gifts as believers. There are many gifts described in Scripture, such as evangelism, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, administration, showing mercy, and the sign gifts (tongues, miracles, healings).

            Over this year, I have realized how crucial and important the Holy Spirit is. He is a part of Trinity, equal with the Father and the Son. It is just as important to study Him and His role in this great Story as it is to study other things. I’m excited to learn more and grow in my understanding of Him!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Spreading the Gospel!

Hello friends!

It seems like it’s been a long time since I have written to tell you about all the crazy and wonderful things that are going on at the Institute right now. We have spent a big chunk of our time working on our personal belief statements. So far, we have written and discussed our rough drafts on God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity. This Sunday evening, the draft of our belief of “Man, Sin, and Salvation” is due. These are mind-blowing things to tackle by themselves, but, on top of all of that, we have our regular topics that we discuss each week in class. We spent on time on the Trinity, Parables, and, most recently, the Book of Acts with Mitch Maher. This was a week that I was really excited about because Acts is a book that I had not spent much time in before. Unfortunately, I was sick for the majority of the week, so I wasn’t physically able to glean from it as much as I wanted to, but I did take some valuable things away from this week.

I love Mitch’s teaching style because he breaks down the points that he wants to make in a very logical and concise way. I especially liked the way that he divided the Book of Acts. Before presenting the divisions of the book that he preferred, Mitch also showed us some other accepted ways to divide the book. The first way to look at Acts is divide the book biographically, first looking at the ministry of Peter in chapters 1-12 and then looking at the ministry of Paul in chapters 13-28. The second is to look at it geographically. This idea is based off of Acts 1:8, which states, “…and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The setting of the Book of Acts begins in Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), then moves to Judea and Samaria (chapters 8-12), then to the “remotest parts” with the missionary journeys of Paul (chapters 13-28). 

The third way to look at the Book of Acts, and the perspective that Mitch prefers is to break it down in a series of progress reports. There are similar phrases all throughout Acts that refer to growth, strengthening, and spread of the believers and the Christ-following community. For example, in Acts 16:5, it says “…the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number daily.” If you’re looking at it this way, Acts can be divided into seven “progress reports” at the end of each section. The first progress report in Acts 2:47 concludes the section on “The Birth of Church in Jerusalem” (1:1-2:47). The second is “The Expansion of the Church in Jerusalem” (3:1-6:7).  Next is “The Extension of the Church to Judea and Samaria” (6:8-9:31), then “The Extension of the Church to Antioch” (9:32-12:24) , “The Extension of the Church to Asia Minor” (12:25-16:5), and “The Extension of the Church to the Aegean Area” (16:6-19:20). Finally, we see the culmination in the book in “The Extension of the Church to Rome” (19:20-28:31).

It was very helpful to have Mitch go through the missionary journeys of Paul and spell how out how he traveled, where he went, and the books that he wrote around that time. For those of you who know me, you know that I LOVE geography, so it’s always fun to see how the Church first began in Jerusalem and then spread from there to the rest of Judea, Samaria, Antioch, Asia Minor and beyond!

Paul’s first missionary journey was to Antioch of Syria around 40-49 AD. After this journey, he wrote the Book of Galatians. His second missionary journey was to Corinth in approximately 50-59 AD. During this journey, he wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The third was to Ephesus, Macedonia, and Corinth from 56-57 AD, during which he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans, and the fourth was to Rome from 60-62 where he ended up in prison. While he was awaiting trial in prison, he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians.  After his release, he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus and possibly traveled to Macedonia. Finally, he returned to Rome for his final imprisonment in 67 AD and wrote the book of 2 Timothy.

What an incredible week of study despite being under the weather. So excited for what next week holds!

Friday, January 13, 2012

I believe in God, the Father almighty...

                What a first week back to the Institute! It’s been great being back, although it was a little strange at first. It was refreshing to spend a couple of week out in the “real world” with my family. The break reminded me of the environment that we are going to be headed back into come April. For the past several months, the seventy of us have been striving to live in Biblical community. We begin our days in communal worship and prayer. We bear each other’s burdens, know each other’s sufferings, celebrate in each other’s joys, and learn and grow together in our pursuit for Christ every day. I have friends here who are holding me accountable in ways that I have never had before. I have friends and leaders who challenge me like crazy. I know that I’m being prepared for a lifetime of ministry beyond these walls in whatever context life takes me. 

                We began our second semester digging into the Trinity. What a topic to start with! Geez, let’s just say that it was a whirlwind of a week. Our professor for the week was Dr. Glenn Kreider from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a very intelligent and knowledgeable man who isn’t afraid to challenge your beliefs and stretch your thinking. This week, I felt like I was in seminary. There were things that Dr. Kreider taught that I found fascinating, some things that were challenging, and even some things that I didn’t agree with. 

                Our main purpose for this week was to learn about the Trinity. This semester, our big project (like the Bible Overview for last semester) is developing our belief statements about different aspects of our faith. For example, this past week, we had our rough draft of our belief on God the Father due. We’ll continue on with Jesus this week, then the Holy Spirit, Trinity, etc. With that being said, it was helpful to learn about the Trinity as we are thinking about writing that belief statement in a few weeks. 

I would love to share with y’all some fun things that I learned about the Trinity this week. First of all, I learned that Christianity is the only religion that affirms the Trinity. Judaism, for example, although it acknowledges God the Father and the Holy Spirit, does now acknowledge Jesus Christ as Messiah and, therefore, the Son of God. Islam acknowledges “Allah”, who they see as the God of Abraham, but they do not acknowledge the Holy Spirit or Jesus as God. Christianity is the only faith that believes in this crazy idea known as the Trinity, in which God is persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These persons are distinctly different, yet one in the same. They are uniquely independent, yet independent on one another. They exist as one, yet also as three. What a crazy concept! Personally, belief in the Trinity has always been one of those things that I try to understand to the best of my ability, and then the rest just has to be faith. I like that balance, though. Sometimes, things just make more sense if they’re taken on faith.

One of my favorite things that Dr. Kreider did this week was that he spelled out the basic truths of the Trinity. I loved that it is an easy and simple (as simple as it can be) way to just focus on what we believe as Christians about out God. The first is that there is only one God. Although God exists in three persons, that does not change the fact that there is only One. Christianity is not polytheistic; we believe that only One God exists. We believe that the Father is God eternally. We believe that Jesus is God eternally. We believe that the Holy Spirit is God eternally. They are all God, but they are not all each other. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. As he was talking about this, it reminded me of an illustration that my friend Marquette Bugg showed me in college. Although I think it was Marquette; maybe it was Meredith Summers. But, regardless, props to both of them. They are both so incredible and I’m so thankful for their presence in my life. Anyway, I wish I could put this illustration in here. Maybe some day.

                My favorite thing that I realized this week was how the Apostle’s Creed fit with the study of the Trinity. I had never realized it before. The Creed means even more to me now that we are going through our belief statements. It’s empowering for me to see that I agree with the same thing that millions of believers have for centuries. We are not alone in this pursuit of Christ.

The Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.