November 21, 2019- Christian Freedom and Stumbling Blocks- 1 Corinthians 8

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Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—  yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8 (ESV)

Christian freedom is a subject that the apostle Paul has to approach many times in his ministry.  Either people were guilty of wanting to impose all the old rules on everyone (that they couldn’t keep anyway) or of throwing out all the old rules and doing whatever.

What we do or don’t do should consider the example we show to our neighbor.  Most of us in our culture do not believe that man-made idols are real, and most of us do not sacrifice food in the temples of idols.  Paul was talking about going to the pagan temples to eat and socialize.  Many of the Greek and Roman temples had, for lack of a better word, cafeterias where one could get a meal.  The meats and other foods in these temples would have been offered up to the various pagan gods before being cooked and served up at the buffet.

A Christian who knows that there is only one God and that pagan idols are false gods, can partake of food without worrying whether or not it had been sacrificed to idols, because  food is food.  But if by partaking in the pagans’ food we would cause someone who is on the fence or weak in their faith to waver or fall from faith, we would be sinning against them.

We don’t want to use the freedom we have in Christ to make the road difficult for someone else.

A good example is that some of us do not watch R rated movies because we want to avoid improper or immoral subject matter.  Some of us observe very conservative dress standards, while others are more moderate in clothing choices.  There is only one “rule” we need to consider in those things that are not clearly spelled out in for us in Scripture:  Do our actions serve to strengthen or weaken our brothers’ and sisters’ faith?

Loving our neighbor means that we keep our focus on Christ.  There is plenty of room in God’s kingdom for adiaphora- or those things that are not essential to our faith.

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If one feels that watching a Clint Eastwood film festival is wrong and it would be detrimental to one’s spiritual growth, then by all means, don’t watch Clint Eastwood movies.  But many of us enjoy watching Clint Eastwood (and Chuck Norris and John Wayne) and have no conflict between watching good action movies and living out our faith. We have the freedom to choose and to discern what activities are permissible for us as long as they are not forbidden by God’s Law, and they do not damage the faith of others.

The definition of the Law is love- first for God, and then for those around us. We must always consider the weaker ones and treat each other with gentleness, kindness and consideration.

Our activities are within the realm of Christian freedom if they do not contradict how we are taught to live in Scripture, and if they do not cause our brothers and sisters to stumble.

One definition of this teaching is to meet people where they are.  As long as it does not violate our faith we are free to partake in food, entertainment, fashion, etc., but if by doing so we cause others to doubt their faith, we should respect and honor their customs when we are with them.

Lord, help us to be Your ambassadors and good witnesses to people around us.  Help us to build up others by our examples.

 

 

April 24, 2018 – What is Worship Anyway? Psalm 95, Ephesians 2:10

joyful worship

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 95 (ESV)

The Psalmist gives us a beautiful picture of what worship is. Worship is not confined to just what we do in church on Sunday.  Some churches call Sunday worship “Divine Service,” which is an apt term, because when Jesus followers come together to worship, God serves us.

We get to hear the word of the One True God taught and preached, the Gospel that proclaims life forever in Christ. We get to raise our voices in song to praise God, which is not just medicine for our hearts, but also as Martin Luther once said, “singing is praying twice.”  We get to experience God coming to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, where God names and claims His children, and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, where we partake of His Body and His Blood, given to save us from our sins.  We worship by coming together as community on Sunday, but as we are gathered, we are also being served by God as well.

The importance of Sunday worship cannot be understated, because that is where we are equipped to worship the rest of the week, where worship is a little bit harder. As we hear God’s Word our hearts are opened to Him and to His way.

The Psalmist speaks of God’s hands. It’s interesting to envision God as having hands, but it’s also encouraging to know: In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

God holds everything in His hands! Even better, his hands formed: the dry land, as the Psalmist reminds us, but also everything else we can see, touch, hear, taste, and experience.  Nothing is outside of God’s hands.

God gives us hands as well. He gives us vocation– a calling and a purpose in life- not for us to earn brownie points, because He has already named and claimed us in our baptism. He created us for the good works He planned in advance for us to do.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

We don’t earn anything by doing good works, but good works are part of our worship. We use our hands and voices, our talents and our abilities to praise God, not to appease Him, but because we belong to Him.

So how do we live our lives as worship?

It’s good to know that God holds us in His hands. It’s good to know that God provides everything we need to trust Him, to serve others, and to live as He created us.

We worship God as we work. We worship God as we care for others, including the mundane tasks of cleaning or running errands or changing diapers.  Anything we do for the sake of others is worship.

Jesus, help us see our lives as lives of worship, joyfully connected to You.

August 16, 2017 – Wooden Idols and Other Gods Who Cannot Save – Isaiah 45:20-25, Daniel 4:28-33

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Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge—those who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior;  there is no one besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NRSV)

 

In Western culture a wooden, man-made idol is seldom seen as having any other power other than that of an aesthetic appeal. We can appreciate the craftsmanship and the artwork involved in the manufacture of such idols, but generally we don’t regard such things as being divine or deserving of worship.

Our idolatries are much more subtle and perhaps more insidious. The first commandment of God is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  That sounds easy enough until we are put on the spot.

Who (or what) do we run to in times of trouble? Who (or what) do we rely upon for our provision?

Do we think money will buy our way out of problems? How many times have we thought, “If only I had enough money I wouldn’t have to worry about this or that problem?”

Do we think our own intelligence or our connections with other people will see us through trials?

It has been said that the root of all sin (sin being anything that goes against God’s will) is pride- trusting in our way instead of looking for God’s way. There is another old expression that states, “Pride goes before a fall.”

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king of Babylon who had convinced himself that he was omnipotent (all powerful) and in control of everything.  God had different ideas, and found it necessary to let Nebuchadnezzar know who was really in charge:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you!  You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:28-33 (NRSV)

 As much as we would like to believe the idolatry of Western society at times, especially the myth that each of us is “captain of our own souls,” in truth, God is the one in control.  It took Nebuchadnezzar a rather harsh lesson to understand the sovereignty of God, but ultimately he got the message.

When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?”

At that time my reason returned to me; and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom. My counselors and my lords sought me out, I was re-established over my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. Daniel 4:34-37 (NRSV)

Intelligence, financial resources, friends in high places, and even political power are not necessarily bad things. However, everything we are and everything we have are gifts from God.  God expects us to put the gifts He has given us to good use, however, when we value the gift in higher esteem than the Giver, we lose our foundation and perspective.  When we put God first, He brings the rest of our lives into balance.

Are we putting our trust in the One True God?