Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bear One Another's Burdens

In Galatians Chapter 6, Paul says two seemingly contradictory things within a few verses:

"Bear one another's burdens and, in this way, fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).

"...for each one should carry their own load" (Gal. 6:5).

So which is it Paul? Are we supposed to bear one another's burden or are we each to carry our own load?

Of course both statements are true. Paul is teaching us something about life together in the body of Christ. And by understanding each statement and how they fit together we should do a better job of fulfilling the law of Christ, which is of course, to love one another.

In verse 2, the underlying Greek word means "weight." That is, we are to help one another with the oppressive burdens of life. In context, it might expressly mean the temptations and the results of sin.
Thus, when "someone is caught in a sin, you who are 'spiritual' should restore them gently" (vs. 1). That is, rather than shunning those who are struggling, we are to gather around them with love and support. Notice that we are to do it "gently" (which is a fruit of the Spirit mentioned in 5:23).

Paul adds a warning that when we are providing this kind of loving support to one another, those who may be in a spiritually strong place are not to become puffed up, prideful, or develop a "better-than" attitude. Such an attitude would not fulfill the "Law of Christ".

Instead, we should constantly "test our own actions" (vs. 4). Why? Because we are subject to temptation and to sin just as much as anyone. When we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are using the wrong measuring stick. Such comparison leads only to our self-deception. "Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else" (vv. 4-5). The Greek word "take pride" means something more like, "be contented" in themselves alone. As Paul says in Romans 12: 3, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment..." In other words, rather than becoming puffed up, develop a truthful and healthy self-image, based on God's standards, not based on unhealthy comparison to other people.

So we come to the second word for "load." The Greek word has the idea of an assigned task or a specific cargo. Some have used it for a "soldier's pack." No one else can take the jobs that have been assigned to me away from me. Only I can fulfill my ministry calling. Only I can be responsible for my relationship with God. Only I can repent, confess my sins and ask God for forgiveness. Only I can truly know the status of my own heart.

I should never do for someone what they are capable of and responsible for doing for themselves.

If I try to do for others what God has assigned to them, I am playing God in their life. And guess what? I make a pretty pathetic god. When I try to do His job, I will not only fail, but I will surely bring hurt and pain to everyone else involved. A soldier must carry their own pack with their own supplies into battle. Otherwise, what happens when they are cut off in a firefight?

Every ship must bear its own cargo. If I try to take your cargo plus my own, my ship will sink and all the cargo will be lost.

So, let's truly bear one another's excessive burdens. But remember, each person must also bear their assigned load.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wisdom of Job

The Book of Job is one of the most unique in the Old Testament. Although some have placed it as ancient, I believe it is contemporaneous with the other Wisdom books--Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Why? Because the themes are tied up with those of the other books (especially Proverbs).

"God's word to mankind is this: 'Behold, the fear of God is wisdom; and turning from evil is understanding'" (Job 28:28--my paraphrase). Although the book seems obsessed with the search for wisdom, this summary of the first half of the book states the moral, that "the fear of God" which really means, "deep reverence and piety," and the rejection of evil, are wisdom for mankind. This agrees with Proverbs (i.e. Pr. 1:7) and Ecclesiastes (Ecc. 12:13-14).

Even though the book may have been written later, the story of Job goes back to the Patriarchal period. He was a tribal chief and wealthy sheik long before the national identity of Israel was formed. In fact, the most common OT name for God, Yahweh, only appears in the beginning and ending chapters and one time in the body of the dialogues, in chapter twelve. Instead, Job and his associates use other Semitic names for God. Elohim (God-plural), El (Mighty God or just God), Elah (singular of Elohim--God), Shaddai (Almighty) and even Qadosh (the Holy One).

Perhaps Job was a story either retold in Hebrew or translated from another language, edited to fit the writer's purposes and fitted with an introduction (chapters 1-2), a bridge ( the "Hymn to Wisdom" in chapter 28), and a conclusion (chapter 38-42). Or else, the writer had such skill that he presented his exotic characters speaking with a foreign speech pattern and vocabulary. If you ever read a Louis L'Amour western, you will be familiar with such dialogue. ("They're fixin' breakfast for the boss right now," the bartender said, "and I'll just have them put on something extry" The Rider of Lost Creek, L. L'Amour). 

The language is so different than the rest of the OT that even the Greek translators working on the Septuagint left many passages untranslated. Modern commentators, due to the unusual language, have all kinds of explanations. But I think the final writer/editor produced a work of such depth and enduring quality that it may be simply that he/she did an exceptional job.

The Dead Sea scrolls have helped in improving the Hebrew text. Discoveries of Semitic writings at Ras-Shamra in the early 20th century have expanded our understanding of various languages and dialects so that scholars are better equipped today than ever before to translate Job.

Still, the wonder of this book comes from its exotic setting. God is worshipped in the patriarchal period, even by a desert sheik who is careful in his worship of the Almighty. Yet, unbeknownst to him, a cosmic battle for his soul is being waged in the courts of heaven. This results in the enemy of God being allowed to pillage Job's lands, take the lives of his children and even afflict him with a painful illness. Yet, despite all of his sufferings, Job refuses to "curse God and die."

"'Shall we accept good (tov) from God and not misfortune (ra-evil)?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).

Job exhausts himself looking for the answer to his question: "If I didn't do anything wrong, why am I experiencing such misfortune?" Human philosophy, argued by his friends, does not give him the wisdom he seeks. He even begins to prepare a lawsuit against God. But he is interrupted by Elihu, who clumsily argues for the greatness of God. 

Finally, God Himself speaks from the storm-clouds. But He doesn't really answer Job's questions. Instead, He simply says, "I'm God and you're not. You need to accept that I am Wisdom itself. Just because you can't figure out the answer is not important. It is better that you know Me. I am the Answer." 

You see, Job never really is given the little "a" answer to his question. Instead, he meets the big "A" Answer to every question. Job's response says he "gets it." "I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I abase myself and repent (recant my lawsuit) in dust and ashes" (Isa. 42:5-6).

So, before you start to blame God for all of your woes, remember Job. It's okay to pour out your heart and your questions to Him. But always remember, that He's God and you're not. As long as you keep that perspective, you will have all of the wisdom that is available to mankind.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Getting an Alignment

Have you ever checked your tires only to discover a kind of wear pattern that looks like big scoops taken out of the sides? Or maybe one side looks new but the other side looks bald?

You need to remember to have an alignment done.

You see, if your tires are out of alignment, they start to fight against the direction of the car. They start to stutter and shimmy, or they are turned in or out and, thus, they end up ruining your nice new steel-belted radials.

Think of your relationship with God a little bit like a new set of tires. If you stay properly aligned, your relationship will hum along as it was intended. But get a little bit out of alignment and you will begin to show signs of wear and tear.

What do I mean by alignment? The most basic truth we should understand is that He's God and I'm not. That is, He is the Creator of all things. I am one of his created things. When I fail to remember that in any way, I start to go out of alignment.

This is what happened to Satan. He was the highest being who was created to worship God and to lead all of God's creation in worship. He is called helel (shining one) in Isa. 14:12, from which the Latin translation, Lucifer (morning star) comes. In Eze. 28:14, God said that he was ordained as a "guardian cherub." But at some point, he got "out of alignment." Isaiah prophesies about his downfall. He begins to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. "You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself LIKE THE MOST HIGH'" (Isa. 14:13-14).

This is the original sin. Satan became conceited and deceived in a desire to be worshipped like God was worshipped. He was out of alignment because he forgot that "He's God and I'm not."

And so Isaiah tragically records: "But [instead], you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit" (Isa. 14:15).

Mankind's fall was similar. The temptation in the Garden of Eden was for Adam and Eve to take over God's job. "Sure God, you said that we were not to eat the fruit of this tree. But we aren't sure you have our best interests in mind. Therefore, we think we know better than You what is best for us. We will take the steering wheel from here on out and begin to run our own lives." (Perhaps I should have said, "ruin our own lives?")

Christian conversion in many ways is merely the re-aligment of our lives to match God's intention for all of His creation. When I become a Christian, as the old "Four Spiritual Laws" tract said, I am getting off of the throne of my own life and putting Jesus on the throne. It is getting the ultimate cosmic alignment job.

Worship is also alignment. It is the spiritual discipline that makes me place myself in proper alignment relative to my Lord. He's God and I'm not. Therefore, I worship Him.

This is what the Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian life are all about. They are the regular rhythms of spiritual discipline that keep our lives in proper alignment. Daily devotion and prayer time with God. A plan for regular reading through the Bible. Other regular activities like prayer, silence, solitude, journaling, and faith gatherings: small groups and the larger church celebrations.

But most of all: worship. You see worship is proper alignment with the Creator of the Universe.

How's your alignment? Need an adjustment? Just begin to worship and see what happens.