Fighting for Justice: People in Wheelchairs

I have waited a couple of days to write this post. The reason being that I was so mad, I needed to make sure that I would write something that was God honoring and not rude and out of the wrong type of anger. For those of you who have been in this position, I am so deeply sorry, I don’t even know where to begin. Here is the issue:

My sister is in a wheelchair. And, though she cannot walk with any kind of balance, she is a very smart woman who loves the same kind of things you and I love. She is not mentally a 31-year-old woman but is not dumb or stupid. She is very active with writing, doing business work for my father and other things in which most people just assume she cannot do because she is in a wheelchair. The other day, her wheelchair (an electric wheelchair that costs more than my car – about 30,000.00) was not working. My mom had taken her to the doctor’s office to get a check-up and all and the wheelchair had just stopped. Frustrated and concerned, mom called the place in which we received the wheelchair so that someone could come out to look at it (being that my mom had no electronic knowledge of this nature). The man who answered the phone was ridiculously rude to her, telling my mother that it was her fault the wheelchair did not work. He was almost at a point where he began to raise his voice to her and tell her that he was going to send someone out to fix it but this would be the last time he was going to do it because we messed it up. The more I sat there and listened to this, the angrier I got. I wanted to go down to this guy’s office, bust down the door, and break his nose or something (real Christian like).

A guy did eventually come out though (it took almost 2 hours). After doing a few things (not only giving my sister two new batteries because the other ones were shot but adjusting a lot of other stuff), my mom made a comment that really had me thinking these past couple of days. She said, “What do people do who do not have an advocate to help them out?”

I didn’t know how to answer her. There must be hundreds of people in wheelchairs in the US alone – maybe several thousands. How do they deal with things like this? How many guys are out there like this guy who treated my mom with such rudeness and disrespect, treating other people the same way? Who is accountable to these people who talk this way? How do people in this situation have a voice if there is no one on their side to help them out? Do they simply sit in the corner of their rooms and never come out for fear that something will happen? I don’t know all the answers to this. What I do know though is that I was not a happy camper when this man treated my mom this way – and my sister. My mom had done nothing wrong.

There is a lot of injustice in this world and I believe a lot of it hinges around those who are unable to walk or stand up for themselves (no pun intended) for themselves. I am not trying to save the world. I know that my one voice can only do so much. But what should we do about scumbags like this guy who treats people like this? My mom has told me that this is not her first encounter with this guy but her third. Each time, this guy has been ridiculously rude to her. She has told a management person but nothing seems to have changed. What do you suggest? Any thoughts?

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The Parable of the Four Soils

When was the last time you have read the story of the four soils? I remember reading it when I was a young kid and thinking, “What a dumb story.” I say that now because I have grown a lot since that time. I am glad to say that this story still challenges me.

So it is that Jesus is talking to a crowd of people. With everyone on his or her toes, Jesus states, “The kingdom of God is like a man who goes out and throws some seeds on the ground.” Wait a minute. The Kingdom of God is like a man that throws seeds on soil? Did I miss something here?

The first soil is fine but birds come and eat the seeds – there is no growth of anything because there is no seed to germinate. The second soil has a lot of rocks in it and the seed doesn’t get to grow a firm root. When the heat comes, the seed withers and dies because without a firm root, plants can’t survive the heat. The third soil has a lot of thorns in it. The funny thing about thorns is that it steals nutrients from plants that are trying to grow. If they are not removed – weeds and thorns – they will eventually choke out a plant that is on its way to maturity. The final plot of soil is tilled, irrigated and considered “good soil.” The plant grows well and is able to take root. There are no rocks or thorns in the way because the gardener takes care of it and watches over it so that birds do not eat what he has thrown down to produce a harvest. Day after day the plants grow up and produce a massive crop.

That’s the story.

Confused? The disciples were so confused, a couple of them decided to ask Jesus what He meant by the parable (a fancy word for a story with a spiritual meaning). So, Jesus opened up their eyes to this most important parable – He even said that if they don’t understand this one, how could or would they understand any other one – thus, we can say that what Jesus is going to tell them was uber important.

The first seed is stolen from Satan (the bird that ate the seed). The second plot of soil – with the rocks and stuff – is a person who hears the word of God (the Kingdom of God stuff) but is unable to practice what he or she preaches. They have no firm root in Christ. Eventually, a trial or something comes up – a death in the family, hardship like anyone else, something that challenges their faith in God – and they lose the battle; they end up “dying” to their faith. The third soil represents the cares of the world, and wealth, and power – all the things that people so desperately want in this day and age. The word of God takes no priority in their lives and eventually, the word is forgotten. The fourth and final soil is good soil. It is the kind of soil that produces fruit and reaps a huge harvest.

Christ does not say, “Pick your field friends.” In fact, if we are to read it in the manner in which it is written, Jesus never says they have an option in what kind of field they possess. If you don’t get to pick what kind of soil you have, how do we understand this parable? How can this be “good news?” ¾ of those who hear the message of the Kingdom of God, for one reason or another will not receive it and grow into maturity. Only a small amount of people will hear the message, receive it, and produce a fruit that is worthy of harvesting.

What about this gardener guy? If we are to assume that Jesus is the gardener, what part does He play in this whole ordeal? If God were watching out for the garden, the birds would not come and eat the seed. If God were busy working the field, there would be no rocks, thorns or weeds to contend with. Why on earth does it seem as though Jesus only cares about ¼ of the soil and not the rest? I can’t answer that question. And, in fact, I am not going to challenge God in that. Job did and he got is butt handed to him hardcore by God the Father. That is not a position I want to be in.

What I do know is that God is gracious and loving. He is full of mercy, and peace. His knowledge and will is made complete through Jesus. And, if the clay has no right to question the potter in how it is being formed, I am only suggesting that the soil has no right to ask why the Gardener isn’t tending one part of the field over another.

This must have been a hard thing for the Jewish people to hear (and the disciples). As Jesus said, “He who has ears let him hear.” I think that is what it is all about. All we can do is listen, and pray that the words Jesus speaks will take root in good soil and that we will produce a harvest that is worthy of the Gardener. Jesus is growing a harvest that is worthy of His Kingdom, a people of God to reign and serve with Him forever. This not only includes the people of Israel but Gentiles as well. Though there have been several unsuccessful attempts in sowing a harvest in different types of soil (the people of Israel through the words of the prophets and kings, as well as God), there will now be a successful sowing of the seed in good soil. When all is said and done, the harvest of the seed will produce a crop 30, 60, and 100 fold. That is a good harvest!

In conclusion, let us strive then to be good soil in which the Father labors. Let us hope and believe that we are growing something worth harvesting. Even though most of the growth happens in the ground beneath the soil, the fruit of the harvest speaks for itself. We must then continue to grow on the inside – the places where people do not see that kind of growth – and allow the outside to reflect what is happening. He who has ears, let he or she hear – and not only hear but do. Amen.

Read my lips. No more programs.

I have this struggle with using the word “programs” in our local churches. It is almost like every time I hear how many programs a church runs, I feel like the dentist is drilling my teeth. I cannot help but be saddened by how much we rely on church programs and very rarely find the initiative within our spirits to be the body of Christ to our neighbors here and around the world. When I think of programs, I think obligation. I will never forget when I went to a church; there was a list of over 20 different programs the church ran each week. I felt almost like they were boasting in their programs. “Look how many programs we have for you to be apart of here in our church” kind of a thing. It was almost like a vending machine of options I could choose from. I still have that list of programs in a file tucked away for a rainy day. I think I read the first five and thought, “Oh my word. What am I getting myself into?” I put it back in the envelope and have yet to open it again.

Through some online conversations and posts, my pastor has been writing on how we do church. We talked about a lot of things, one of them being programs. When I heard that word, I went back to my dentist chair and felt the drill pulsating on my teeth once again. It is a painful word that evokes horror to me for some reason. The whole, “Let’s get plugged in thing” has also been over used in regards to programs. I am not a toaster – I have no plug sticking out of me on my side to turn me on – this analogy simply will not work and should be thrown out the door along with the term programs. Why do I have such problem with programs? I am glad you asked (or didn’t ask and are reading this because you like me).

Programs seem to inflict within the body of Christ an obligation to serve in areas in which they are not passionate. They are usually instituted by the pastoral leadership or ministry leaders of a church in order for people to get off their ass and serve God and others.

There is a girl in our church who went to college and was confronted with a real issue in Philadelphia. There are people who live a whole 20 miles away from us who sleep and live in the streets without love, encouragement, and most of all, without Jesus. She thought to herself how this must make God cry. After praying long and hard about what she should do, she decided to make a few sandwiches and head down to Love Park and use the sandwiches as a way to open up the lines of communication with those in whom she met. The sandwiches worked and soon she was meeting men and women who were longing to share their stories with her. Going home, she knew that a simple act of going to Philadelphia and hanging out with homeless people was significant and important. She felt that perhaps for the first time, some of these people felt like humans. She quickly fell in love with them and was eager to go back the following week after her classes. After a couple of weeks, she shared with a couple of people at church about what she was doing. She knew that if there were more people who were passionate about the homeless, and opened their hearts to go, there could be a greater affect. So, more people went. Soon after, she made an announcement about going to Love Park. Monday nights were decided as the night to go. People who wanted to go were more than welcome but were not required to. People were also encouraged to bring bread, peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches, along with other personal items, bags, and other snacks that we could take down. We would arrange car rides and be back at a certain time later that night. Almost a year later, that ministry is continuing strong.

The homeless ministry is not a program in our church though. It is something we do because we believe Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and love the stranger. It is something we do that makes the homeless ministry so exciting and worth going to – not because it is a program I or anyone else feel obligated to do. There are lots of things we do in our church – the homeless ministry is just one of these things. Each one of our ministry opportunities came not through the pastoral staff of the church but through people in the church who had a passion to serve God and others. If you come to our church or do not come to our church, you are welcome to come and serve the homeless in Love Park. We do not have an application you have to fill out or need to set aside time to pose you with questions as to why you feel you should be apart of this ministry opportunity. If you love God, and have a heart to serve the homeless, that is all you need.

In closing, I will suggest a few questions and thoughts for you to consider:

What ministry opportunities are the members of your congregation passionate about?
In what way can you be Jesus to your community (friends and strangers)?
How is God challenging you to serve Him?
What are the things God requires us to do as believers in Christ? Are we doing it?
What programs do we have in our church that needs to be reevaluated?
Are we doing a good job at displaying Jesus to our neighbors and the world?
How can I use my gifts and talents to serve God in a tangible manner here and now?

If we only could get a glimpse of the message of Jesus and hold that close to our hearts, our local churches would grow in ways it has never grown before. People would feel the freedom to be creative and share their passions and desires for serving God and others within their community and around the world. As the passion for ministry continues to grow, so will the ministry opportunities. People will step up and serve. The final result is a body of local believers, passionate about God’s Word and message that are serving God and others faithfully and constantly.

I would rather be apart of a church that has three ministry opportunities in which the body of Christ is passionately serving God and others rather than being apart of a church that has 20 programs in which three-forth the church sits on their ass while one-fourth does all the work out of obligation rather than genuine love for the world.

Doing Church: Acts 16

Today we had a super small group of people at church due to a wedding in Boston. It seems as thought the whole church was invited minus a few of us newbie members. Either way, we had a service to do and there were still a good number of people there for us to serve, which was great. God seems to always provide those who are needed for each service to make things work out well. This day was no different.

We continued our Acts study (which I have not posted on in a while do to missing some Sundays for family events and even sleeping through my alarm). I was glad to be back in the saddle again with church and with our church community. This story centers on this Philippian jailer who comes to know Christ in a way he would have never expected. Paul and Silas end up in jail for rebuking a slave girl’s demon that aided in making her owners very wealthy. What I find interesting through this story is that, even in the mist of despair and heartache, Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns to the Lord. It is when they took the focus off their current situation and placed it on Christ and His goodness, things changed significantly. At once, there was a great earthquake and the chains and doors of all the prisons were opened. The jailer who was supposed to be watching them throughout the night fell asleep. If any of the jailers had fled the jail on his watch, he would have been killed. Fearing the worst, the jailer attempted to commit suicide with his own sword. Paul cries out to the man though and tells him that everyone is still there; that no one had left the jail and there was no reason to commit suicide. I personally don’t know why Paul and Silas didn’t leave, though I suppose it was a God thing that they didn’t. If they had left then, the Roman guards for running away would have wanted them. Since they had not left, they were not in danger of being hunted.

So comes the most important verse of this chapter, “What must I do to be saved?” Very rarely have I ever had someone come to me and ask me that question. It is not something that you hang your hat on in hopes that someone will ask such a thing. Though, I suppose it does happen and did happen in these events. The response is interesting, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your family.”

Salvation here is not only redemption but is a way of life. The Jewish people understood the ramifications of salvation and what it meant to be the elect of Christ. This ultimately goes back to John 14 – I am the way, the truth, and the life deal. Christ gave people a new way to be human (a great Switchfoot quote). In these events, the jailer came to understand something significant about God. Paul and Silas understood the power of what it meant to be an elect of God. The Pharisees who put Paul and Silas learned that you don’t throw Roman citizens in jail without a fair trial privately and expect them to walk out in the same manner. Being Roman at that time meant you were important; you were a person who was treated like a person and not a second-rate citizen. In Christ, we have that same seal, though not Roman, we are no longer considered second-rate. We are apart of the family of God – the elect of Christ. This is a great thing we should never forget.

Stories from the Homeless (21)

There are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless. There are those who believe people are homeless because they are a bunch of alcoholics and deadbeats who could care less about them and society. Others believe the homeless are a bunch of money-grubbing, waste of tax dollar investments. Still others find the homeless to be murders, homophobes, stealing thieves, who are constantly running away from the law, sleeping in back alleys, drug addicts, who are forced to live the way in which they do. Well, I have met a lot of homeless people over my past 21 trips to Love Park. There are those on the streets who fit these categories – some more than others. These are, in my experience, a minority of people who I have met. The majority of those who I have been blessed to know throughout my 21 visits to Love Park are people like you and I. Some are black and some are white. Some are old and many are young. Very few still have their teeth but have no problem giving you a smile if you make them laugh. Some are handicapped while others are vets from wars past. Many have fallen into bad times and some have lost major investments, which have forced some to live on the streets. Some are mentally retarded and have no hope in making it in “the real world”- at least without some help along the way. Before you assume a homeless person is on the streets for a certain reason, try talking to them first. Listen to their stories (even if they seemed a little fabricated). Each person is on the streets for a different reason. Each person has a different story. That is why I take so much time to write about their stories. That is why I hope you read them and pray for them as I do. That is why I go and love on those who are considered the unloved of our society.

We had thirty-five lunches tonight and no clothes to hand out. Tonight we were hoping to do a lot more talking than giving tonight. When we first showed up, there was a man in a wheelchair who called after us. His name was William Lake. He was hoping that he would see us before we made it to Love Park so that he could get a lunch. His leg was bandaged up and seemed to have trouble articulating what he was going to do for the night. We soon found out that he was going to wheel himself eight blocks to his cousin’s house to sleep for the night. It would take him at least thirty or so minutes to get there. With a lunch in his hand, he smiled and thanked us for not running off. We wished him luck and ran to meet up with the rest of the group who were a distance ahead of us.

It was still light out when we made it to Love Park. We were amazed to see so many people out and about. I knew that we would soon run out of lunches before long. All we could do was to set out our stuff and wait until people came to hang out with us. The person I thought was Daniel last week I found out was actually John. I told him that I accidentally wrote his name wrong in my journal and he laughed. John helped us hand out lunches and pour coffee tonight, which I thought was really cool. Here was a homeless guy serving the homeless. I knew that we had to have had an affect on him in order for him to care so much for his brothers on the streets.

There were many familiar faces that I saw coming up and grabbing lunches and talking with other people. A guy named Joe came up and said that he remembered me. He had apparently been in jail for three months for hitting some guy for stealing his clothes. He never forgot that we came out on Monday nights though and handed out food. He said that thinking about us made it easier for him to deal with being in jail for that period of time.

As Joe left, I turned around and saw Aaron. He is the guy with the long, long hair I have written about several times over in the past. As I looked at him, I noticed that he had shaved his face. He actually looked, from the front side anyway, like someone you wouldn’t mind talking to if you saw them reading the paper on a park bench. His uncut, unkempt hair though continues to grow. As I later found out, Aaron has some serious issues with his scalp and head, due to his hair. One guy named William told me that he offered to pay for Aaron to have his scalp fixed and his hair cut. Being homeless, William wanted to befriend Aaron and help him out. Aaron simply was not interested in receiving help though. As I looked at the back of Aaron’s head, I could see where the nits had been eating away at his scalp and the puss and scabs had been opening up over time. It was very hard to stomach. Here is a picture of Aaron from the front and his hair from the back. If you look at the one picture, you can see the hole where the nits had eaten away at his scalp and his hair no longer grows. Needless to say, it is pretty crazy.

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After talking to Aaron and William for a little, I saw a man in a yellow hoodie in the Love Park fountain gathering coins as quickly as he could before the cops came. Had they come and caught him, he would have been arrested and put in jail for the night. When I went up and talked to him for a little bit, he saw that I had a camera in my pocket and told me to take a picture of him picking money out of the fountain. He said that I should post it and share it with others who might read this site and tell them that this is what the city of Philadelphia has done for him. Spending nearly 40 minutes in the fountain, his feet were cold and he was sopping wet. He wanted others to see what he had to do in order to eat some kind of a meal each day. Though he would probably only find a dollars worth of change in the fountain, it would be enough for him to get a burger or something to rest his stomach.

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After spending some time talking to this guy, I saw a younger white guy with a goatee hanging out with our group. When I went up to see him, he was kind of startled and just looked at me. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Bob. He had just gotten out of jail for check fraud issues and was trying to figure out what he was going to do. I asked him if I could pray for him for anything and he said that he was hungry and wanted to eat. Upon hearing this, William came over and offered Bob a sandwich that he had received from us earlier that day. Bob was taken off guard and extremely thankful for something so simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was truly awesome to see how God was working in this situation.

As I looked over to my left, I saw a guy by a pant holder looking around while two other men “kept watch.” Curious, I continued to watch until I realized that the man was peeing on the wall! I was completely taken off guard. And, even though it is not proper to do so, I took a picture of it to remind me that being homeless is a lot harder than you or I would expect. Sometimes, you don’t have a bathroom to use so you have to do what you can do. In this case, the man had to go and there was no bathroom. So he peed on the wall as a way of marking his existence as a homeless person, living either in the subway or on a park bench in Love Park.

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After taking the picture, I turned around and saw a woman walking with a cane, drinking a cup of coffee we had provided for her. When I went up to her to talk with her, she smiled, showing that she had no teeth to the naked eye. Her name was Cathy and walked with a cane because of her back and her knee. When I asked how long she had been on the streets, she told me it had been five years. Her own family members had thrown her out of the house because they did not want to take care of their own mother. After being stripped of everything she owned, she was forced to live in the Subways. She said she would never go into a shelter because they were not safe for women. Other women would steal your stuff and complain about you, getting you in trouble with the cops and all. So she went to the subways to sleep each night, praying that no one would try and take advantage of her or steal her stuff. She said he cried almost every night because of what her family had done to her but she still loved them. With that, I told her that I would pray for her and she looked me straight in the eye. It was almost uncomfortable for her to do so but I saw that she knew I was genuinely caring about her. She then came over and gave me a big hug and smiled. After walking away, my heart broke for Cathy and I began to pray for her even as she walked down the road.

As I was watching her walk down the road with her cane, a young homeless family showed up with their young son. I didn’t have an opportunity to ask their names but I bent down and played peek-a-boo with their son while they got a few lunches and drank some coffee. He was adorable. As they were leaving, he gave me a “high-five” to which I could only smile.

My final interaction with someone tonight was with a guy I had seen several times before but had not known his name. Bill was a big guy who gave big hugs. The smell of his shirt was rancid but I tried to pass it by and genuinely love him. He wanted to show me his turkeys he had gotten and so I went over and saw them. After we gathered for prayer and left for the night, Bill told me to come over and take a picture of him with one of his turkeys he had gotten. So here’s Bill and one of his two turkeys!

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The more I serve the homeless, the more I know I am doing something that honors God. My inner walls break down and I am able to love people that I thought I would never be able to love. God is so good at breaking down wall if you are willing to be stretched by those you would never believe you would meet. Each one of these brothers and sisters are made in the image of God. Therefore, it is no question that I should keep them in prayer. I pray that God will be God in the city and watch over those who we have met. I pray that he would keep them safe and warm throughout the night. Ultimately though, I pray that they would come to encounter the living God and know that they are loved by him. Amen and Amen

Jesus and Paul

In my devotions, I am going through the book of Isaiah. When I came across this passage, It made me stop and think for a moment, the significance of its meaning. “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste’” (Isaiah 28:16). The word “cornerstone only appears in thirteen places within the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) Scriptures. As I have come to understand the purpose of a cornerstone – a stone in which every stone within the foundation is laid against, measured by, and level – my thoughts concerning the mission of Jesus seem a littler clearer. Jesus is our cornerstone; He is a stone in which every stone within the foundation is laid against and measured by. Upon this foundation, we are laid. To put it another way, Paul states, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20). With this in mind, it is the purpose of this paper to understand the mission of Jesus in His historical context and the relationship of Jesus’ mission to the mission of Paul and the early church. I am convinced that Paul took his cues from the OT and the early Gospel writings (that of Matthew and Mark).

Understanding Paul:

The first question we need to ask ourselves is: “Who was Paul?” Though, to answer this question would take pages and pages of information, we will make a few assessments of who Paul was in light of His calling and his mission. Almost everything we know about Paul we know through his letters to real people about real issues and circumstances. Outside of that, we have a small glimpse into Paul’s life through the writings of Luke. Paul was an apostle (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Titus 1:1) called to bring the good news to the Gentile people (Acts 9:15; 13:16; 13:46-48; 22:21; 26:17, 20; Galatians 1:16; 2:2, Ephesians 3:1, 8; 1 Timothy 2:7). We also know through the book of Acts that his given name was Saul who was strictly trained in the law as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5) and was also a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 16:37-38, 22:25-27, 29; 23:27). To earn money, Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 13:8).

After the stoning of Stephen, Paul entered the town of Damascus. A great light from heaven was set ablaze and the voice of God said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” For a period of time, Paul was blinded and neither ate or drank anything. After three days, a God fearing man named Ananias came to Paul and healed Paul. After this period, Paul immediately began to make significant changes in his life. Those who saw Saul/Paul after his conversion were curious and scared of Paul because he had made such a dramatic change in his life. Within the contents of the book of Acts, we are able to follow along the journeys of Paul’s ministry and mission.

Paul takes at least three missionary journeys that ultimately shape his life and many of those in whom he had come in contact with, namely the Gentiles in whom God had called him to serve. In some final observations, we are told that Paul was eventually arrested on charges of bringing Greeks into the Temple area in Jerusalem and then we imprisoned for two years in Caesarea (Acts 21: 27-36). It is here we learn that God had planned this out from the beginning of Paul’s ministry and conversion. Paul appealed his case to the emperor in Rome and was sent on a ship to plead his case. After being shipwrecked on the island of Malta, Paul eventually reached Rome and was placed under house arrest for two years. Tradition states that Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ but it was not recorded in the Bible.

Paul and the Law:

In order to understand Paul’s mission and the mission of the church in which Paul labored for, we must come to grips with what Paul believed in respects to the OT and how his understanding of Jesus made the things of the OT clearer for Paul to understand. As was the custom of most young men, Paul (then Saul) grew up learning about God and the law. We know very little about Paul’s early education but are told through Paul that he studied under the Rabbi of Gamaliel who was one of the greatest Rabbis of his time. Gamaliel was the son of a Rabbi named Simeon, and the grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel. We also know that Gamaliel was also a Pharisee, and therefore the opponent of the party of the Sadducees. Gamaliel is the same Rabbi that offered counsel when an uprising took place in Acts 5. Since Paul’s father was a Pharisee and have the tribe of Benjamin (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5), perhaps that is why Paul followed in the same footsteps.  Though we know nothing of Paul’s mother, we must insist that she was a woman of character who aided in the education and support as any mother would have for her child during that time. With his father and mother as God-fearing Jews, we can only infer Paul’s desire to be zealous for God and become an educated man. As was the custom of every young child, there was a need to learn a trade in order to support him when he was in need. Thus, Paul learned to become a tent maker. This was a normal occupation and most common trade in Tarsus. With the ability to support himself and the teaching and training from one of the greatest Rabbis ever, Paul soon became a Pharisee.

Being a righteous zealot and Pharisee, Paul would have repeated the Shema everyday while covering his head with a prayer shawl. It was a simple statement: “Hear O Israel, the LORD or God, the LORD is one.” Any Jewish person would have known its importance. N.T. Wright states, “Within his monotheistic argument, to make a monotheistic point, Paul quotes this, the best-known of all Jewish monotheistic formulae, and once again he puts Jesus into the middle of it” (95). Wright continues saying, “Looking outside the immediate impact of this, we observe that he has thereby done with Jesus what was sometimes done with the figure (personified or personal) of Wisdom, the one through whom the creator made the world, the trust content of God’s self-revelation in Torah” (94). In this, we learn that Jesus became subservient to the Father, even in death and dying on a cross so that we might be willing to follow His example in love towards one another.

Paul and the Gospel of Jesus:

Before we move on in this section of thought, I would just like to state a personal response to what I have heard concerning Paul and his desire to begin or start a new religion called Christianity. There are those who believe this was Paul’s intent from the beginning of his missionary life. From personal study and a large amount of reading concerning Paul, I have to say that those statements are not supported within the Scriptures of the Bible. As with any person who has had an encounter with God, Paul simply wanted others to experience Christ the way in which he experienced Christ. Within the book of Acts, Paul shares his testimony at least three times to three different groups of people. From his testimony, Paul shares the message of Jesus and his calling to share this message with others. The Church had already been growing for sometime back in Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit came in the form of “tongues of fire” resulting in three-thousand people being baptized and believing in Jesus. By the time Paul came on the scene, there were several thousand people who were considered followers of The Way. These are the people in which Paul persecuted before his own interaction with Jesus in Damascus. Though we cannot give Paul credit for beginning the church, as we know it today, we can thank him for his diligence in writing those who believed in Christ. His words of encouragement, rebuke, guidance, support, and experiences have helped shape the church today. Without Paul’s letters, we would be crippled as a body of believers. This is something that must be understood from the beginning.

Paul seems to have a clear sense of what the Gospel of Jesus is. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he states, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I saw again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (1:8,9). The question then remains, “What was Paul’s Gospel message to the Gentiles?” 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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith”” (Romans 1:16-17). The first thing we must conclude about Paul’s message of the Gospel is that it is for everyone (even the Gentiles). This is a radical statement Paul is making. During Paul’s life, the Gentiles were not seen as equal citizens through the eyes of the Jewish populous. Since it was and is still today a Jewish custom to keep kosher, a Jewish person would not have had any dealings with a Gentile on the basis that they were considered “unclean” or “not kosher.” Paul calls this act of salvation for both the Jews and the Gentiles a mystery that has been revealed through Christ.

Paul’s understanding of the Gospel, I believe would have also come through his knowledge of the OT and God’s desire to dwell among His people. From the book of Genesis and following, we can see God’s desire to dwell with humanity even after the fall. One simple example of this desire is found in the book of Exodus, where God calls the people to make a tabernacle in which He will reside in. In order to do so, the people of God would have to live and act a certain way. Thus The Ten Commandments and other laws were made in order that the people of God would be distinct and “different” from the rest of humanity. It wasn’t until the birth of Jesus however, that God actually dwells with His humanity in the flesh. We are told that Mary and Joseph are to give their child the name “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” John’s Gospel tells us, in provocative words that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1: 1,2, 14). As Paul begins to lie out his message of salvation, both for the Jews and the Gentiles, I am convinced that Paul would have understood the implications of what this meant. The mission of God from the beginning of time was and still is, to dwell with His creation. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, this was no longer a dream or a hope but was actually possible.

The last aspect I would like to suggest aided Paul’s understanding of the Gospel concerns Paul’s education and knowledge of the OT. Paul knew the Law of Moses. He was most likely fluent in all 613 laws but most likely had to come to grips that perfecting the entire law was impossible.  To understand Paul’s dealings with the Law and the Gospel of Jesus, we will briefly look through the book of Galatians. In this book, Paul deals with the law and the Gospel of grace and salvation through faith. For Paul to speak in the manner in which he speaks being who he was, and knowing what he knew, Paul’s message takes on a whole new meaning for both Jew and Gentile.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

What we quickly learn about Paul’s understanding of the Gospel is that it was not given to him from a man (in this respects, that would include the other apostles and God-fearing men). It was however given to Paul “though a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). This revelation was unlike anything Paul had ever experienced and challenged Paul to reevaluate what he knew concerning the law. He writes, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:15,16). Paul’s message to the Gentile believers must have been a sigh of relief. For the Jewish leaders though, it was a hard pill to swallow and no doubt caused a strong division and bitterness towards him. Paul’s message though was one in which he had to come to grips with in order to share such a message with others. Before we read these words of Paul, we are told that he spent several years n Arabia for about three years after which time, he returned to meet with Peter and James. I speculate that during these three years, God revealed the Gospel of grace to Paul and taught him about it is by grace we are saved and not by works. Having dealt with this issue, Paul is ready to share it with both the Jewish believers in Jerusalem and the Gentile believers around the world. So it is that faith comes not by the workings of the law but by God’s grace. For, if it had come by works rather than by God’s grace, Paul states, “then Christ died for no purpose” (2:21b). This is the radical message Paul delivers to a very young Christian group of believers.

The reason Paul’s message is so important, especially to the Gentile people, concerns the manner in which the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were treating these new believers. The Jerusalem council called for these new believers to be circumcised and to become “Jewish.” And, since most of these Jewish believer and leaders had already received the Holy Spirit years earlier than these Gentile believers, many of them were being swayed to listen to them and be circumcised. When Paul caught wind of what was happening in the church in this regards, he wrote this letter to encourage both the leaders of the Jerusalem council and the Gentile believers to remain as they were. They did not need to be circumcised in order to be a believer in Jesus. As already stated, these Gentile believers received the Holy Spirit not because of circumcision and following the Law of Moses but through the justifying work of Jesus Christ through grace.

Paul wants us to understand is that the Law of Moses was given because of sin. He states, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3:19). Paul then clarifies what he means by saying, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith that would be revealed… But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:23,25). In Christ, we are now free from the law and are able to live by the Spirit of Christ. In this, there is also freedom from status and distinctions that once held higher positions and importance. Stated simply, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:28,29). So here we learn that the Gospel has freed us from division and has brought everyone to the table of fellowship. Those who are in Christ are equal. Before Christ’s death and resurrection, we were subordinate to the law because we had no way of make a proper sacrifice for our trespasses. Christ, being our perfect sacrifice, provided a way for you and I to be freed from the law and alive in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of Paul’s message to the church is this idea of adoption as God’s child. He states, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (4:4-7). In this, we are now sealed with the Father, through Christ. In any adoption process, the orphaned child takes on the name of the parents in which he or she is adopted. Given my own personal and unique understanding of this process, being adopted myself; I find this to be one of the greatest aspects of our salvation in Christ. We have a Father who provides for us and loves us unconditionally like any earthly father would for his son (at least in most cases).

After reading Paul’s message to the church in Galatia, with respects of being adopted, I seem to always find my way back to John 14 where Jesus is speaking to His disciples. It is here where Jesus states, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (14:1-3). We are the prodigal sons and daughters of Christ that are welcomed back into His family with a place provided for you and I to dwell and live with Christ forever in the Father’s house. As heirs and adopted children of the Father, we have this privilege.

Conclusion:

Jesus states in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” This is the heart of the mission of Jesus. His desire was to show common people, even Gentiles, that they could be like Him in word and in deed. When Christ confronted Paul on the road of Damascus, there was no doubt that Paul had stumbled over the Cornerstone of our faith, namely Christ Himself. Though we only know as much as the Scriptures tell us about Paul, his life and ministry, we know that he had an encounter with God and it transformed this highly educated man to consider everything “crap”– literally dung, compared to knowing Christ as His Lord. Paul’s ministry grew out of a response to this encounter, reaching and challenging not only the Jewish believers but also the Gentiles to grab hold of the faith of Christ, which was given not through a law or through works but rather through the Holy Sprit and by grace. I believe Paul took hold of the mission of Jesus and, through the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, aided in the overall growth of the Church – the body of Christ, as we know it today. Thanks to Paul’s efforts and relentless determination to spread the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles, we are able to enjoy the fruit that has been produced by his labors. We are now able, as Gentiles, to experience Christ without holding to the law. It is a beautiful picture of grace that is still unfolding as we speak

Stories from the Homeless (20)

For the past couple of weeks, I have taken a break from going to Love Park with my church. I never want this ministry to be something that I do out of tradition or out of habit but because it is something that I believe it is something we, as believers, should be doing. Taking a break every once in a while helps in that regard. It gives me an opportunity to evaluate my reasons for going and helps me appreciate those whom I befriend once I am there. I think it is important to do every once in a while. So, after a couple of weeks, I decided that it was time to go back and serve and love on people who are considered less fortunate than I.

When we showed up, the rain had subsided for a bit, allowing us to set up on our park bench and wait for the people to show up. One guy actually walked with us a couple of blocks and talked with us. Though I do not remember his name (I believe his name might be Daniel if my memory serves me right), I know that we have seen him almost every week. He just sat there, eating a sandwich and enjoying a cup of coffee. I could tell that he needed the company and we were there to provide that for him. As we began the night, a couple of guys showed up and got in line for some coffee. I had never seen them before but knew that we would be probably seeing them in the near future. They just grabbed their coffees and left. As I looked over, Gary was talking to a guy I had not met before and two other people were talking to a group of homeless people. As I sat and watched, I prayed that, in some small way, God would use me that night.

It was then that I met Chris. Chris was a homosexual who, being 6’6” and well built came and asked me for a cup of coffee. At first, I did not want to make a big deal about this new person I had met. The more flamboyant Chris acted, the more I felt a need to talk to him about whatever was on his mine, which, I found out, was more than I had bargained for. When I first noticed Chris, I noticed that he was wearing lip-gloss. I don’t know why I noticed that first, but truth be told, that is what I saw. At first, we just shot the breeze. “Where are you from?” and, “Where are you going to sleep tonight?” where the first thoughts on my mind. Though I guess I could have begun my conversation with Christ and his b/f Daniel (a different Daniel from the one in which we walked to Love Park with), I figured a “normal” conversation might be a good place to start. Chris was staying at a shelter not far from Love Park while Daniel roughed it on the streets. He had only been on the streets for a week and wanted out. Chris on the other hand seemed to love the streets and “meeting new guys” when he had the chance. Within a few moments, Chris got a phone call and had to go. They left on their way and I was left to wonder about what the phone conversation might have been about.

Before we were about to pack up and go, a man came up to our group and wanted to know if we had a sandwich. Unfortunately, we didn’t and so one guy from our group apologized. In hearing this, the man started cursing off the one guy in our group, stating that “we can’t feed the world” and stuff like that. He was really ticked off. He went off cursing and shaking his head.

After we prayed, Daniel (the guy who walked up with us) told us that he was glad that he was able to hang out with us. He was thankful that we were there and that our ministry was to the people of Love Park. He felt that we were doing a great work and it was actually affecting the other homeless people. He could tell how the people treated one another differently and attributed it to our ministry. I don’t know if it had to do with us being there (with the Lord’s leading of course) but I do know that we are making a difference. Even if it is only one person at a time, God is using us to touch lives and love people. Sounds like a good deal to me.