Archive for September, 2009

September 30, 2009

[843 acres] Identity Politics

by amyjuliabecker

“I’m a Democrat.” “I’m a Republican.” “I’m straight.” “I’m gay.” “I’m a runner.” “I’m a swimmer.” “I’m smart.” “I’m pretty.”

“I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.”

The last statement, I hope, stands alone.

In the Sunday New York Times Magazine, Benoit Denizet-Lewis reports on a growing trend among middle-school students of announcing their sexual identities. Denizet-Lewis, himself a gay man, finds himself interviewing young teenagers who are proclaiming themselves gay, straight, and bisexual with remarkable confidence. He writes, “The effect was initially surreal to me, and before long I heard myself blurt out, ‘But you’re so young!’” (Coming Out in Middle School). There are obvious concerns with kids as young as ten declaring their sexual identities, but as Christians, there is a more disturbing underlying issue raised by this report.

Our identity as human beings is not based in our sexual preferences, nor in our political affiliations, nor in our athletic accomplishments. Our identity is bestowed upon us, as human beings created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Furthermore, as Christians, our identity is an identity in Christ, not in our human accomplishments, desires, or abilities. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) . He also exhorts the Galatians to get past their various self-defining identities and understand that Christ has come to break through barriers: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

We live in an increasingly sexualized world, a world in which people increasingly seek to self-identify. My hope and prayer, for middle-schoolers on up, is that we would identify ourselves as belonging to God, as adopted sons and daughters, as women and men “in Christ Jesus.” All the rest is secondary.

September 30, 2009

[843 acres] To Sacrifice or Not to Sacrifice?

by Perryn Pettus

Upon President Obama’s election last November, First Lady Michelle Obama declared to the nation that her primary role in the White House would be as “Mom-In-Chief”. Caring for her daughters was her focus as they transitioned between schools, moved into the White House and became the media sweethearts.

Recently she shared her advice on motherhood in an interview with Prevention magazine, which is scheduled to hit newsstands in November. The First Lady said, “[B]eing a good mother isn’t all about sacrificing. It’s really investing and putting yourself higher on your priority list.” She urged women to make their decisions based on how they would be affected. Do what makes you happy, she suggested. [Baltimore Sun, Michelle Obama aims to 'make me happy,' says it ripples and benefits kids, husband, her health]

This guideline on how to live our lives seems like a paradigm shift. Haven’t we been taught to put others first? Yes, because that’s precisely what Jesus did. Paul says in Ephesians 5:1-2, 21, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” and also charges us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Similarly, Paul also admonishes us in Romans 12:3 about thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.

We have a Father whose parenting philosophy is diametrically opposed to that presented as Mrs. Obama’s. Our heavenly Father provided the ultimate sacrifice by allowing His Son to die on the cross for the sins of His children.

Which philosophy will you adopt?

September 30, 2009

[Morning Walk] What Counts Is a New Creation: Galatians 6

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: 1 Kings 2, Galatians 6

In this passage, Paul compares two mindsets: one that exalts self and one that exalts God.

Of the mindset that exalts self, Paul writes:

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. NIV.

According to Paul, these legalists have two motives: (1) to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ, and (2) to boast about the Galatian church’s “obedience” were they to “obey” the strict laws. In other words, they fear the loss of human affection and they love the increase of human praise. Such a mindset cannot embrace the cross of Christ because the cross puts the Christian in the path of persecution and it puts an end to pride.

Of the mindset that exalts God, Paul writes:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

The new creation is what exists when the mindset that exalts self has died. This new creation “boasts” in the cross – rather than a merely intellectually assenting to the cross, it relies on the cross. This mindset has two aspects: (1) it crucifies the world to us, and (2) it crucifies us to the world. Everything that this world offers is “rubbish” compared with knowing Christ.

Which mindset are you?

September 29, 2009

[843 acres] Why I Am Ashamed

by Bethany

In his recent op-ed, David Brooks chastised the Religious Right. [New York Times, The Next Culture War]. And, in my mind, he was correct to do so.

We pick up our abortion signs. We preach judgment on “liberals.” We stand “at the pole” to promote prayer in schools. We argue at the Supreme Court for First Amendment rights.

But, when it comes to economic values, where have we been? With our myopic focus on the social and moral legislation of our country, we have ignored the personal obedience and self-denial that is required in the Christian life. Consider:

  • Why do we amass debt if we believe that this life is fleeting? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” [Matthew 6:19-21, NIV].
  • Why do we pursue our own happiness in goods and toys outside of Christ and the cross? “And [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole word and loses or forfeits himself?’” [Luke 9:23, ESV].

As we have pointed our finger at Washington or New York and told them that the problem lies there, we have ignored what lies within. Rather than disciplining or denying ourselves over the past few years, we have spent more (until we have exploded). As Brooks points out:

In the three decades between 1950 and 1980, personal consumption was remarkably stable, amounting to about 62 percent of G.D.P. In the next three decades, it shot upward, reaching 70 percent of G.D.P. in 2008. During this period, debt exploded. In 1960, Americans’ personal debt amounted to about 55 percent of national income. By 2007, Americans’ personal debt had surged to 133 percent of national income.

When I read the Brooks op-ed, I was ashamed of myself. How often have I spoken of the “big issues” in politics while I have ignored the seemingly “small issues” of my own personal obedience?

Have we missed our opportunity to demonstrate the beauty of a life of self-denial? Is it too late to show that we love the Lord so much that we do not need the “riches” of this world more than the “riches” of the one to come because, for us, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”?

September 29, 2009

[843 acres] Three-Year Olds and Self-Control

by amyjuliabecker

Aristotle considered self-control one step towards a virtuous and, therefore, happy life. Biblical writers are big fans of this virtue, too. Consider Paul, writing to the Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (5:22-23). Paul, of course, considers self-control a virtue that comes from God through a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Aristotle, on the other hand, had no concept of a personal God. Either way, however, the idea that self-control is a virtue has been around for ages.

The New York Times Magazine reports, “[R]ecently, cognitive psychologists have come to believe that executive function, and specifically the skill of self-regulation, might hold the answers to some of the most vexing questions in education today” (Can the Right Kind of Play Teach Kids Self-Control?). The magazine describes a pre-K and K curriculum, Tools of the Mind, that seeks to teach children – through play - how to control their emotions, order their thoughts, and plan their days. It sounds rather dull for a three-year old, but the key to teaching self-control is make-believe play. And it seems to work.

What’s even more fascinating than the method is the fact that the creators of Tools of the Mind believe, “their program can reliably teach self-regulation skills to pretty much any child – poor or rich; typical achievers as well as many of those who are considered to have special needs.”

Small wonder that self-control – the final “fruit” of the Spirit in Paul’s list of the abundance that God longs to give us – is not only helpful, but also available, to almost all of us, starting at a very young age. Perhaps we can discern the Spirit of God in public school classrooms after all.

September 29, 2009

[Morning Walk] An Indictment of Religious Legalists: Galatians 5

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: 1 Kings 1, Galatians 5

“I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!”

Paul is angry at the religious legalists who were teaching the Galatian believers that, in order to be saved, they had to follow strict laws. Such a mindset, according to Paul, is that of a slave – for, rather than depending on grace as a natural child does, a slave is constantly nervous about whether enough has been done to please the master.  

In Luke 15, the Pharisees (read: religious legalists) were angry with Jesus for eating with “sinners.” In response, Jesus tells them three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In each, he tells of the finder’s love for the lost item and the thrill of its finding. In the parable of the lost son, in particular, Jesus considers the difference between God as father and God as master:

When [the son] came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’” So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

In Galatians 5, Paul is angry with the religious legalists because they think that the only way to get near to God is to work for Him. They relate to God as a slave relates to his master. They did not understand grace and mercy because they did not relate to God as a son to his father. But, Paul understood:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

How do you relate to God? As a child of the Father or as a slave to the master?

September 28, 2009

[843 acres] Should Christians Go Green?

by Bethany

Everyone is going green. This month, a group of faith-based environmentalists lobbied Washington for climate change legislation. [US News & World Report, Religious Groups Push for Climate Change Legislation]. According to Tom Friedman, even Red China is going green. [New York Times, The New Sputnik].

Since everyone else is doing it, shouldn’t Christians?

On the one hand, God created the heavens and the earth and He saw that it was good (Genesis 1). He put Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.” Moreover, the earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. He made it all and we can eat of it all (1 Corinthians 10:25-26: “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’”).

On the other hand, the earth is fallen (Romans 8:19ff: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”) and its present form is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31: “For the world in its present form is passing away.”).

In our task of caring for the earth, how do we handle these two competing truths: that the earth is the Lord’s and that it is passing away?

September 28, 2009

[Morning Walk] Who Do You Trust? : Galatians 4

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: 2 Samuel 24, Galatians 4

Do you trust yourself more than you trust God?

In Genesis 15, Abraham lamented to the Lord that he and his wife Sarah had no children: “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” The Lord responded: “This man will not be your heir; a son coming from your own body will be your heir … Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them … So shall your offspring be.”

In not believing the Lord, however, Sarah made her maidservant Hagar sleep with Abraham. Thus, Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old.

Fourteen years later, despite their unbelief, God reconfirmed His covenant with Abraham: “I will bless [Sarah] and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham laughed: “Will a son be born to a man of a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety? … If only Ishmael might live under your blessing.” Although God promised to care for Ishmael, He rejected that the covenant would be fulfilled by anyone other than by the son of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac. (Genesis 17).

In Galatians 4, Paul writes:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise … [B]rothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Ishmael was born in “the ordinary way” because he was born as the result of self-reliance and the human ability to use resources to accomplish that which is desired. Sarah and Abraham manipulated the plan that God had in store for them rather than believing God at His word.

Isaac, on the other hand, was born as “the result of a promise” because he was not born as the result of a dependence on human resources or self-reliance. In Genesis 21:1, we read: “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised.” Isaac was the product divine intervention into human life and, thus, the child of the promise.

In what do you place your trust – your own self-reliance and resources or God’s promises and divine intervention?

September 25, 2009

[843 acres] Practice What You Preach?

by Perryn Pettus

In an effort to fight obesity and advocate for a healthier New York, the city’s Department of Health recently adopted a campaign against sugary drinks, including soda, sports drinks and juices. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed with the plan. His vision for a healthier New York is evidenced in his changes for the better, e.g., banning the use of trans fats, requiring fast food chains to disclose the number of calories in every menu item, and urging diners to use less salt in their food. Now, he’s on the crusade against sugary drinks. According to the New York Times, however, Mr. Bloomberg might be an advocate only in theory. Along with admitting many other unhealthy eating habits, he confessed, “I like a Big Mac like everybody else.” Perhaps, he isn’t practicing what he preaches? [New York Times, Mayor Doesn’t Always Live by His Health Rules]

Whether you politically support Michael Bloomberg or not, this article forces a reality check. In Matthew 23, Jesus warns us of hypocrisy, i.e., against living a life where our words and deeds are divorced. In James 2:14 the question is raised, “what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

Doesn’t this hurt the validity of Mayor Bloomberg’s argument if his actions aren’t matching up with what he’s asking the people of our city to do?

What about you? Is your witness for Christ a counterargument for your own actions? Are you practicing what you preach or claiming to live a life of faith without the heart and deeds that follow?

September 25, 2009

[Morning Walk] There Is Only One Gospel: Galatians 1

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: 2 Samuel 21, Galatians 1

In the New Testament, Paul wrote nine letters to various churches. In every letter except Galatians, Paul began with words of thankfulness for the church and then turned to words of confrontation. Generally, this is an excellent model to use when having difficult conversations, i.e., start off with lots of love and then throw in some tough commentary.

In Galatians, however, Paul gets straight to the heart of the matter, demonstrating the seriousness of the problem in the church of Galatia:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.

There is only one gospel. Yet, as Christians, we get confused about what the gospel is. We hear wise sayings of Jesus, or we work with the poor because God has a heart for the poor, or we work diligently and for the Lord, and we think this is the gospel. But, it is not.

The gospel is a historical fact: Jesus Christ died as a propitiation for our sins and then conquered death by raising to life. Romans 3, Hebrews 2, 1 John 2. That we can believe in Him and, thereby, live with the Lord forever is the good news. All other good things (e.g., love for Jesus’ wise sayings, a heart for the poor, or godly working) are mere outworkings of a gospel transformation in our hearts.

Let us diligently hold fast with doctrinal clarity to the truth of the gospel. For the ones who threatened the clarity of the gospel in the Galatian church were not those from the outside, but rather, those from the inside. Galatians 1:7-9, 2:4.

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