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Timeless Wisdom

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Inclusion

I had a gentleman named Daryl Hale for two classes in college, and he was one of my favorite professors. Apart from being a great educator, he was a great person. He taught Philosophy and Religion, and he tried to persuade me to switch from a minor in this field to a major. He reminded me a lot of my parents. While he no longer looked like a hippie when I had him, for some reason, one could tell he was a hippie. Maybe it was the fact that his facial hair consisted only of a mustache and it didn’t make me cringe (It usually does). He also had an Eric Clapton concert ticket taped to his office door.

The first class I had with Daryl, who had a doctorate degree but encouraged us to call him by his first name, was a class called “The Historical Jesus.” It looked at Jesus, His life, His teachings from Christian texts, texts from other religions, and secular texts. We looked at scripture from the Bible for probably half the semester, so on all accounts it was clear that Daryl knew about Jesus and the Bible, but he didn’t speak like a typical believer nor a total non-believer.

As it turns out, Daryl doesn’t attend church, but he’ll read his Bible on Sunday morning every now and then.

In Daryl’s hippie days, in the 60s when he was a young man working on his grandfather’s tomato farm, Daryl had long hair. I’ve seen a picture. It wasn’t shaggy or needing a trim or mid-length; it was impressively, way-past-the-shoulders long.

Daryl went to church and was told that he was going to hell because he had long hair.

Untrue and not biblical. Unnecessary and hurtful. It’s hard to blame Daryl or anyone in a similar situation for an aversion to church.

Evidently this awful behavior dates back to the beginning because it’s exactly what Paul warns Timothy about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. False teachers were saying that it was wrong to do certain things when it wasn’t, making salvation more exclusive than it is.

The truth of it is that everyone won’t get into heaven, but the hope and promise of heaven is available to everyone. There’s nothing you or I or anyone can do that could make God not want to offer us salvation. That would make Him biased and His love conditional, and that simply isn’t God.

Paul goes on to say in verses 6-12, “If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (NRSV).

Training isn’t easy. It’s learning and growing and pushing ourselves past familiar territory.

I worked out for the first time in forever on Monday. Nothing monumental, just some cardio. And you know what? I got a blister on the bottom of my foot. Training my body to get in better physical shape has already been uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Discomfort, in this sense, means improvement.

Paul says here that while being in physical shape is good, being in shape spiritually is far more important because it follows us into our next life, eternal life. And our spiritual training in turn gives us hope because it points beyond our earthly time.

And this training is applicable to everyone, which is why Paul says to teach it to everyone and not to let age (or anything else for that matter) stand in their way. He’s so emphatic about it that he encourages us to be examples of godly attributes, which only come through training.

Paul closes the chapter by writing, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 14-16, NRSV).

Throughout the life of this blog, we’ve discussed gifts a fair bit. Everyone has a gift, and God gives us opportunities to use our gifts for Him. I have a gift of writing well, so I write the blog. Some are musically inclined, so they play in the worship band. Some have cheerful, inviting personalities, so they volunteer as greeters. Some have audio/visual skills, so they work in the sound booth and run slides on Sundays. I could go on, but I think you get my point. If you’re good at something, God has a purpose and plan for you to do it for Him.

Despite what false teachers throughout history have taught, God is an inclusive God, giving gifts to all and offering salvation to everyone. No length of hair, marital status, background, or personality type could make Him love you less and shortchange you. This is why we can all use spiritual training. No matter where we are, we’re all striving to get where we need to be, and God wants more than anything to help us all get there.

By Carrie Prevette

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Love and Law

I remember the exact moment when it finally hit me that my relationship with God wasn’t all about me.

I’m fully aware of how that shouldn’t have been a revelation to me. I’m also aware that I said it before I knew it.

It was my senior year in college, and I was talking to a girl who was involved with a Christian organization I was thinking about joining. We met around this time of year (I remember it being Fall) at lunch time. The girl asked me what I would say to plead my case to get into heaven. My response was that I would tell God that I tried my best to do what He told me to and treat people the way He wants. And she said, “What if I told you it had nothing to do with you?” She explained to me, someone who was already a believer, that it was the love of God that got me into heaven and nothing I did.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that this shook me. Because being a Christian, and one that had been through so much in my spiritual life at that, I knew the love of God. I was all about the love and forgiveness and mercy of God.

I was forced to look at my salvation as a living, breathing entity. What birthed it? What sustained it? How much of a role did God’s love play in it?

“But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane…” (1 Timothy 1:5-9, NRSV).

Paul goes on to list specific issues and sins that were a very big deal both then and now, but I’m going to stop here because this alone pretty much covers it. Doesn’t it? Have any of us always strictly obeyed the rules set out before us, been constantly obedient, been a believer, been pure and holy and righteous? Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all of us – every single one of us – have sinned and fallen short. And in a much longer way, he says that here too.

The law was established for all of us. This means I have no real right to demean or judge or condemn someone for not upholding one aspect of God’s law when and if I’m not upholding another part of it. It’s for all of us to follow.

This is sort of where I was caught in my spiritual walk. In some way, I felt that the law was going to make or break me. I knew that God’s love was what saved me, but it was like I thought that how I acted from there on depended on whether or not I got to keep my saved status.

In retrospect, I know exactly where this came from. I got saved at age nine, and what growing up I did in church was spent listening to a lot of sermons that proclaimed God’s love but mostly focused on what to do and what not to do. After hearing that preached so much, the message had embedded itself in my brain. Knocking it loose took the wind out of me.

The trouble with all of this, and this is exactly what Paul is getting at in 1 Timothy, is that we often don’t associate the law of God with the love of God. We get so caught up in following the law that we either forget the why of it or never bother to find it out.

It starts with love. From the moment God created everything, it all began with love. The world, the law, Jesus’ sacrifice, Paul’s letter to Timothy, God reaching out to you individually, all of it. Paul says the point of instruction comes from a place of love. He then says that people have lost that connection and are teaching without understanding what exactly it is they’re teaching. These rogue teachers, without the love behind the law that they’re speaking about, are just preaching rules. And without love, there’s room for so many things – condemnation, bitterness, slander, hatred. These people preaching without love lack compassion and ultimate understanding.

Let me rephrase. Since these teachers aren’t motivated from a pure place and don’t really care about why, they don’t know what they’re saying.

I always talk about how sin hurts God, but it hurts other people too. Me being reckless in my spiritual life often wrecks something for someone else whether I mean it to or not. My being disobedient and irreverent impacts someone else somewhere along the line. This is why Jesus brought every godly law back to two simple ones: love God and love your neighbor.

It’s the concept of our actions and sin affecting God and other people that lead us to understanding how love and law are related. If I don’t love the people around me, as difficult as that may sometimes be, I’m going to break one of God’s laws. If I uphold the laws of God out of a sense of duty, I’m missing it.

I shouldn’t have been so stunned that my relationship with God isn’t about what I do. Don’t get me wrong; I believe my actions have consequences and can drive a wedge between God and me. But for me to think that I have to do certain things or check off all the items on a list makes God’s love so conditional. It reduces who He is and how strong His love for me is. There’s nothing I could do to make God love me less. How well I comply with what He’s told me to do reflects how much I love Him back, but it has no effect on how He loves me.

The reality I had to face when I sat outside with that kind girl was that my salvation has relatively little to do with me. Yes, it matters that I accepted Christ, and yes, it matters that I do what I can to show God how thankful I am for salvation and how much I love Him back, but without God’s love, none of that would matter or exist. All of the credit for my salvation is due to God and His love.

The love of God is why we should obey the law of God. It’s why we should do anything and everything. It should be our motivation, our hope, our outlook. And that’s a lot. I know it, you know it. The great thing is that God also knows it. And when we run out on God or when we run low on ability to demonstrate God’s love, His love will still be there to meet us and carry us through, free-flowing and potent as ever.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – I feel sort of awful that I can’t remember the name of the girl who pointed the bottom line of all of this out to me. She helped me in a really huge way. But on the extremely slim chance that she’ll ever come across this and read it until the end, I would like to thank her. If she never does anything else (although I’m sure she will), she’s had an immense impact on me and my spiritual life. And that’s invaluable.

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