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A New Creature

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

(2 Cor. 5:17)

 

When someone is “in Christ” (cf. Gal. 3:27) what exactly changes? Physically, there is no discernable difference. He looks the same and is in the same physical location. But mentally there is a transformation that begins to take effect that is something altogether “new.” This change is a process and is fundamental to our development as Christians. Paul describes the “new creature” in several other passages as well. Take a look at Ephesians 4:17-32 and Colossians 3:8-17 and Romans 12:1-2.

 

In Ephesians 4 notice how Paul emphasizes the difference between the one who has “learned Christ” (vv.20-21) and the “Gentile” (or unbeliever, vv.17-19). The unbeliever’s “mind” is “darkened” in “futility” and “ignorance” making his “heart” “callous” and his “walk” (manner of life) corrupt with “sensuality”, “impurity”, and “greediness”. The way he thinks translates to the way he lives.

Contrast the unbeliever with the Christian (vv.20-32) and the difference is obvious. Again, the Christian “mind” thinks differently. The “spirit of [his] mind” has been “renewed”. That is Paul’s way of saying the way a forgiven sinner thinks has been overhauled, transformed, completely upended. The “old self” has been done away with in exchange for the “new self” which “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” “in the likeness of God.” The image of God that was destroyed by our sin has been “renewed” again to perfection. After that gracious renewal comes a new way of thinking (vv.20-24) that motivates a new way of living (vv.25-32).

Colossians 3 delivers basically the same message. There is an exchange of “self”. It’s ‘out with the old, in with the new’ where the forgiven sinner is instructed to “put aside” certain behaviors and “put on” the new ‘clothing’ (“heart”) of a Christian. How are we to accomplish this? Does some miracle overtake us and the spiritual lightbulb within us turns on?

 

There is no miraculous operation going on here. Like his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is advocating the Colossians be taught and hear and learn this new way (Eph. 4:20-21; Col. 3:10,16). The Christian “mind” is “set on the things above” “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Again, his whole way of thinking has been changed as he puts “on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (v.10) and lays aside that which is “dead” (v.5).

 

Jesus once said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (Jn. 6:45). Paul is illustrating the same concept.

 

But the question is why would a person completely change his thinking and behavior and how is such a transformation possible? Can people really change so drastically? The gospel says yes!

One passage that sums up our answer is Paul’s statement in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When we consider all that God has done for us (“the mercies of God”) such love is powerful enough to cause this amazing mental transformation that will in turn cause a complete change of life! This process begins when we become a Christian, grows as we learn of Christ, and will be perfected when we meet our Lord when He returns. can

Overseen not Overlooked

Sunday, September 10, 2017

People need oversight. Employees need supervisors: the workplace with an effective supervisor is more productive. Students need teachers: the classroom with competent teachers creates an environment conducive to learning. Little children need parents: homes with loving parents are better in every way. In all these relationships there remains the danger of being overlooked. Overlooked employees feel underappreciated; overlooked students feel left behind; overlooked children feel unloved and alone. We have a great need to be overseen, but all too often we end up being overlooked instead. In keeping with God's character, He has made abundant provision for His people.

 

When Paul explained his reason for leaving Titus in Crete, he specified that Titus was to “put what remained (or lacking) into order, and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5). When a church appoints elders based upon the godly characteristics found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that group is blessed. These men aren’t perfect and their word is not divine law but if they are appointed according to God’s plan, a local congregation enjoys the peace and stability that God intended.

One of the greatest blessings of being under an eldership striving to fulfill their duty is the comfort of oversight. Whereas the evangelist is to take heed unto himself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16), the overseer is to take heed unto to himself and the flock (Act. 20:28). To the Lord’s sheep, these are comforting words. We have faithful men who are watching out for us, to encourage and correct us so that we can have the best possible chance to stand in the grace of God on the Day of Judgment. We enjoy serving the Lord under overseers who are busy “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

When godly men serve as shepherds taking their lead from Jesus (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and saints reciprocate their shepherds' service with Christlike submission and obedience we are acting out the paradigm of Christ and his church. So then, let us rejoice especially when we consider Jesus, our chief Shepherd, the perfect type of overseer, who guides and comforts us throughout the dark valley of this life. As part of his flock, take heart that the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him (Jn. 10:14) and there is absolutely no chance of being overlooked.

Lydia

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Lydia is one of my favorite characters in the bible. The little said about her speaks volumes. She was “from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14). It is curious that Paul and Silas were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (v.6) and yet, after receiving the call to bring the gospel to Macedonia, the first person they convert is a woman from Thyatira, a city in the province of Lydia (no kidding) in Asia Minor. The Lord works in mysterious ways!

 

Paul, Timothy, Silas and Luke encountered a group of Jewish women gathered together by the riverside outside the gate of Philippi. Where there was no synagogue Jews would often worship near bodies of water for prayer and ritual purification. The men spoke the gospel and “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v.14). She tenderly received the truth, obeyed it with her household and invited the men to stay with her. Again, there is not much text to go on but what is recorded is significant.

Being a Jewess, Lydia would have been familiar with the book of Proverbs. It is no coincidence then that her godly character is cut from the same purple cloth of Proverbs 31, a woman of whom Lydia bears a striking resemblance.

The Proverbs 31 woman is diligent, hardworking and successful (vv.13-19), like Lydia who was herself a businesswoman. She even wears “purple” (v.22), the same color of Lydia’s stock, a color reserved for nobility and royalty (cf. Mt. 27:28). But the godly woman’s true adornment is “strength and dignity” (v.25; 1 Tim. 2:9-10), the very raiment of Lydia evident from this encounter. She is compassionate, “reaching out her hands to the needy” (v.20), much like Lydia reaching out to a tired band of preachers, inviting them, even insisting, that they lodge with her.

 

Lydia understood that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is worthy to be praised” (v.30) and so Luke described her as a “worshiper of God” or a God-fearing woman. I love how she “prevailed” (!) upon the men (v.15) asking Paul, “If you judge me faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” Who could argue with that? She showed her faith by her works (Jas. 2:18) and her faithfulness was worthy to be praised. Paul and the gang had no choice but to oblige. That’s called wisdom, another trait of the Proverbs 31 woman (v.26).

 

In the same town Paul and Silas got thrown into jail for casting out a spirit from a slave-girl who was greatly annoying Paul (vv.16-19). After being released, and converting the jailer in the process, “They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” (v.40) Again, Lydia extended her hospitality to these haggard preachers by receiving them into her home.

 

Lydia heard the gospel with an open heart and responded to it, leading her whole household to do the same. She showed her faith by her works and love of the brethren. Her profession of godliness was evidenced by her actions (1 Tim. 2:10). How much like the godly woman of Proverbs 31, who leads her family by example? What a woman! What a great example of faith! Ladies, Lydia is the kind of example you need. Think of what the world would be like if there were more Lydias!

Temporal Provincialism

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

(Jeremiah 6:16) 

 

A “temporal provincial” describes someone who is ignorant of the past and proud of it. Those who hold this view are convinced that the present time is the only time that matters and that anything that occurred earlier can be safely ignored. Today is shiny, today is new, today is exciting. Yesterday has no bearing on the present. To those suffering from temporal provincialism, studying history is as pointless as learning Morse code; that takes learning, patience, and a great deal of time to decipher sentences, and it has no bearing on the present. Hey, I've got a smartphone, that's instant, that's better, that's now.

We can clearly see the temporal provincial plague at work in our present generation. The clearest example of this is today’s media news cycle. The turnover rate of most stories is so fast that we forget the news of yesterday. The 24-hour ticker at the bottom of the news screen steadily scrolls by even when there is nothing substantial to report. Reactionary ‘reporting’ is published online without the bother of fact-checking (or spell-checking). In this world of immediacy we have to be up to date. Up to date with our phones, with our news, with our social media, because we have to know what's going on right now because we believe right now is the most important thing.

There is really nothing wrong with wanting to be on top of current events but the tragedy comes when all we care about is stuffing our brains with information that, in reality, we're all going to forget tomorrow anyway. Nothing simmers, nothing is analyzed, no lessons are learned, no wisdom is gained. Why not carefully gather the facts, weigh the information, draw your own conclusions, and test what you've found? Because that's Morse code, that’s yesterday. That takes learning, patience, and a great deal of time and mental effort.

 

That is the provincial view of studying the Bible. The Scriptures are old, therefore that must mean they are out-of-date. But Romans 15:14 and 1 Corinthians 10:11 say different: there is inherent value in understanding and applying the lessons of history. Even to the 1st century audience, the Scriptures of the Old Covenant were at least 400 years old, yet Paul commanded Timothy to immerse himself in them (1 Tim. 4:15), and to continue studying them so that he would be “a worker approved by God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

 

Studying history, especially Biblical history, can only help us. In fact, that is the very reason it has been preserved (Gal. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). What God did for us in the past has a profound effect on our understanding of the present and our hope for the future.

 

We would greatly benefit from ingesting God’s word and the lessons of history slowly, contemplatively and thoughtfully. It’s the difference between stuffing your face at meal time and savoring each bite. Let’s all take a moment this week to unplug from technology, divorce ourselves from media overload, put down the selfie stick (break it, preferably) and invest our minds in the lessons of history. Right now is important but if we neglect the lessons of the past it will be at the expense of the future.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My great grandfather, Pietro (Peter) Cafarelli, lived out his adult life at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. My mother can vividly remember her father Dominic, Pietro’s son, a wise man of few words and soft speech, telling her soberly to “be careful who you run around with,” marking the story of his father as testimony.

 

Peter Cafarelli was one of many Europeans to immigrate to the North Hill area of Akron, Ohio in the early 1900’s. Growing tensions between the mostly Irish police force and the Italian and Greek immigrants reached a boiling point just before the Great Depression. The Greeks and Italians were viewed as the dregs of society, living in the poorest neighborhoods scrounging for work in sometimes unsavory places.

 

The story goes that Peter was stealing chickens with two ‘associates,’ one of whom was in possession of a firearm. Apparently, the other men were in the employ of a local mafia. Peter pleaded ignorance to this fact but could never prove it. Nevertheless, they were caught in the act and traded gunfire with the police. One officer was killed. The man with the gun escaped while Peter and the other man were taken into custody. They were each tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

 

At this time the media engaged in what history calls “yellow journalism.” What ought to have been an unbiased factual report would often turn into columns colored by local opinion rife with racial and ethnic slurs. An article from this very story ‘reports’ that Peter was a “dark Sicilian” despite the fact that he was not born nor had ever lived in Sicily.

 

The testimony of my great grandmother was that Peter was by no means a model citizen but he never killed a police officer. He was simply doing the wrong thing (stealing chickens) with the wrong people (Italian mob) at the wrong time. She struck a sad sight in the courtroom; another tired Italian mother, swollen with child and nursing her infant son. Later, Dominic remembered visits to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus to see his incarcerated father. The OSP was famous for its poor conditions, overcrowding and sweeping cholera outbreak of 1849. In 1893, a prison superintendent wrote, “Ten thousand pages of history would [not] give one idea of the inward wretchedness of its 1,900 inmates.”

 

On April 21, 1930, in one of the worst prison disasters in American history, a fire broke out on some scaffolding killing 320 inmates, some of whom died locked in their cells, and seriously injuring 130 after the roof eventually collapsed.

 

Peter died in the fire when his son Dominic was only 12 years old. Dominic would grow up without a father. Living in squalor during the Depression, the county eventually came to take the children away from my great grandmother. This wisp of a woman allegedly barred the threshold with her broom, children behind, and shouted in belligerent broken English, “You take my children over my dead body!”

 

The county officials thought better of it and decided to leave the crazy Italian alone. Despite the tragedy of losing a husband and father and the resultant constant hardship, each member of the family grew up to be upstanding citizens. St. Vincent DePaul, a Catholic organization that provided for the poor, did much to improve their physical situation. Later, my grandfather Dominic would be an active member.

 

To this day, some of the only advice my mother can remember from her dad was to “be careful who you run around with.” I got the same advice growing up. The impact the people around us can have on our lives, emotions, morality, intellect, faith and godliness is truly staggering. For better or for worse we will always be a product of who we “run around with.” We all have stories of being torn down by the wrong kinds of friends. Hopefully we can have more stories of being built up by the right friends. Thank God for the church, a community of friends that sticks closer than family! (Prov. 18:24; 27:17) 

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