Week One, Barcelona: Neither Jew nor Gentile

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I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been refreshing to escape the insanity back home as I’ve spent this past week staying in an old Spanish monastery placed on a hill in the Barcelona countryside. The 75˚ climate with clear skies with a refreshing, steady breeze blowing in from the Mediterranean Sea does an excellent job of making one forget about the troubles back home—at least for a moment.

I had no expectations coming into this missions conference (typically the best way to go about things when the work of the Lord is involved), but I did have a slight fear that it would be like the countless Christian conferences I’ve attended in my life back in the States. Of course there’s nothing explicitly wrong at all with those conferences, but in my own experience, they were filled with alike individuals from uniform backgrounds and limited actual missions experience. Sure, perhaps those leading those conferences were seasoned missionaries, but a lot of the time the attendees were just those who wanted to know what it was like to be out of the bubble of comfort that surrounded them in the United States. Such has not been the case this week with Operation Mobilization (the organization through/with which I will be adventuring with this summer).

At this conference, I am in the minority. Thankfully, there are a couple of other Ags here that can understand my love for college football or usage of the system of imperial units (always having to convert Celsius and kilometer measurements is almost more frustrating than not knowing the country’s language). The majority of the other Christians at the conference are of all ages from all parts of the world. Seriously, ALL parts of the world. Just off the top of my head, I can recall meeting people from Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, France, Portugal, South Korea, China, Syria, Panama, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, Brazil, Peru, Serbia, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, and even Portland, Oregon (basically a foreign country). There’s young people who have been in the mission field their whole lives, middle aged married folks who have sold everything to plant churches, and old people who have spent time in prison or had loved ones killed for the sake of the Gospel. It’s been unbelievable. And there’s been something I’ve noticed about all of them: they’re so free. They don’t care about whether or not their beliefs fall under Calvinism or Arminianism or fundamentalism or progressivism or any other possible -ism. They just love Jesus.

I love Reformed theology. I’ve found it to be the most God-glorifying and doctrinally sound line of thought that there is, but if I’m being honest with myself, sometimes I love “being Reformed” or acquiring knowledge more than I do learning as a form of worship. In America, we LOVE placing people and issues into their respective folder so that we can keep all this messy “supernatural being” stuff domesticated and organized. Can’t find the folder that fits your profile? Fret not! Just pick up one of the unlabeled folders over there on the side and make your own. Heck, you can even call it “non-denominational” if it helps you feel more independent! You would think (myself included) that as we increase in denominations and branches of theology that the freedom in Christ would increase since everyone can find their place. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Most of the people here in this monastery with me only have one choice as to what “evangelical” (whatever that word means anymore) church they get to attend. They don’t have the privilege of church hopping to see which church has the funniest pastor, loudest worship band, or most spiritually comfortable worship service. Even if they did, they don’t have time for that! Europe is on spiritual life support and the Gospel must be advanced! And if THE PEOPLE in our country (not the government, not the education system, not the economy, not the ethnic group you want to blame) don’t pick it up, we’re next in line for life support.

“Clearly you’re mistaken, Chase. My 4th grade history book and Fox News told me that America is the freest of the free, and people from other countries hate us because we’re just so dang free.”

Sure, in some ways, we are quite free. But make no mistake, American Christian, the believers in these other countries are more free in Christ than we are right now. And it’s our own fault. I’ve stayed in touch with some friends to keep up with the devolution of morality back home. One of them summed it up pretty well, but it broke my heart:

“Dude its bad here. Christians are at each other’s throats, both black and white. And they are losing the entire concept that this is worldly, that none of this should VITALLY concern us. What we should be concerned with is how to reach people for Jesus, and it’s not by fighting for racial equality on Facebook. I’m just watching [church people from my childhood] eviscerate each other.”

The book of Galatians has been on my heart this week. In many people’s minds (myself included for a while), Galatians is just another one of Paul’s letters. Though obviously each book in Scripture is vital, I would go so far as to say that Galatians is the most important non- “Gospel” book in the New Testament.  It can be summed up in this statement: you are free from the law.

Did you hear that? You’re free! No really, you’re FREE. Ephesians 2 says you were totally dead and now you’re alive in Christ. In light of this fact, Paul spends the first two chapters of Galatians setting up the bombshell with a personal example and some theology, but at the beginning of chapter 3 he drops the hammer, and it’s a hammer American Christians need to be hit with as well:

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?” -Galatians 3:1-6

Our watered-down translation of the original Greek has managed to sissify the heck out of this passage. The word “foolish” in the Greek is essentially the equivalent of calling someone a “dumbass” in our language. I like to imagine the church in Galatia eagerly gathering around to hear what Paul has to say just to them and picture the faces of the congregation turn from excitement to horror as this passage started.

“But Chase, everyone knows swearing is one of the worst things one could possibly ever do to ruin their witness. And what about Ephesians 4:29? Why would Paul swear when he clearly says to never ever do it ever and—wait, where are you going?”

I’m sick of this abhorrent obsession the Christian community has for placing barriers and lines around the Gospel. Can you not see that this book was written for YOU?!? YOU DON’T GET TO DO THAT ANYMORE!! So you know someone who professes to be a Christian and drinks or smokes or is gay or looks at porn or says bad words or thinks that #BlackLivesMatter/ #BlueLivesMatter? Approach that brother or sister in love NOT to correct them, but so that you may understand their position better. But guess what? That’s all you get to do. And concerning that passage in Ephesians, a post that I shared from an older blog covers it pretty well:

“Of course it made you uncomfortable to read that word “shit” on this nice religious blog, and for the Apostle Paul to be saying it in a letter considered to be Holy Scripture?  Even moreso!  But that’s the very effect he wanted.  He wanted it get awkwardly silent in the room right after they read the Greek word skybalon (a different swear word that Paul uses in a different verse). Can you feel the tension as people look at one another with awkward glances?  Can you hear the silence as everyone stops breathing for just a moment?  Can you see the confusion as they all want to look at the letter and see for themselves if the reader read it right.  “How could it be?” they ask themselves.  How could Paul, the very one who wrote to the Ephesian church not to let any unwholesome talk come out of their mouths, write such a thing?

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

–Ephesians 4:29

How could he say that???  The answer is simple.  In this case, Paul’s carefully planned use of a single vulgar word brings any who subscribe to works-righteousness out of their hard shell.  His vulgar word breaks through it and suddenly they hear his words for what they are.  Was his talk unwholesome?  Yes.  But was it helpful for “building up others according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen”?  I would say yes, a resounding yes.”

“Ah see Chase, you’re wrong. He says right after that bolded sentence that swearing is only alright if it’s useful for building up others, so people who swear ARE bad and horrible and terrible and—why are you leaving again?”

Because you’re missing the point. Here’s what Paul says in Galatians 3:10-14:

 “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Alright, this one is a doosy, so try to stay with me hear, as not even I can fully grasp this one. Luckily, Paul is the master and founder of expository apologetics, so he backs up each of his premises with Scriptural evidence. [Thus, if you don’t want to take my word for it, go read the context for yourself because it’s there.] Let’s break some of these premises down:

  1. “All who rely on works of the are under a curse…”

AND

  1. “…no one is justified before God by the law…”

HOWEVER

  1. “…the law is not of faith…”

SINCE

  1. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…”

HOW?

  1. “…by becoming a curse for us”

SO THAT

  1. “…in Christ, the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.”

WHY?

  1. “…so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Still with me? I hope so, because there’s this little concept in there which is that JESUS BROKE THE LAW! And not just some petty law like picking wheat on the Sabbath or healing people on the Sabbath or not stoning an adulterer, but a law that Deuteronomy says makes you CURSED by God Himself if you break it (“cursed by God is everyone who hangs on a tree”). Paul states that the verse in Deuteronomy 21:23 says “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”, whereas that actual part of this verse Paul refers to says, “a body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury it the same day, for a hanged man is cursed BY GOD.” Those are two MAJOR words to leave out in your argument there, Paul. Now, we can go a few different directions in saying that Paul intentionally left out the words “by God” in his quoting of the law:

  1. Paul did not see the books of the Law as inspired by God, but rather he saw them as made by man to keep the people in order.

This is a bold, scary claim that I’ve heard argued before. Quite frankly, it’s hard to disprove. However, it’s even more difficult to prove, considering both Jesus and Paul refer to the Old Testament as God-inspired Scripture (Matt. 15:3 and 2 Tim. 3:16 respectively).

  1. Paul is showing that Jesus, as the fulfiller of the law was creating the new covenant with man, freeing them from the law.

This option is the strongest I believe. As an aside, this is another example of how those poor Israelites just did not understand Jesus, even immediately following His death. The first part of John 19:31 says, “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away (as if Jesus had not displayed enough times that He didn’t give a rip about the Sabbath).” I feel like secretly, those Jewish followers of Jesus feared the first part of Deut. 21:23 where it says that a hanged man should not remain on the tree overnight. If Jesus cared about keeping the whole law, He surely would’ve tried to control the timing of His death a little better. But He didn’t.

  1. Paul is a fraud for eisegetically cutting our Scripture in order to fit his argument.

Unlikely because of the above choices.

I’m approaching nearly 2,500 words at this point, so I’ll try to wrap up for your sake. The Lord revealed to me this week some wisdom: the ultimate enemy in this world is not bombs or guns or armies or disease or death; it is comfort. All the things mentioned first kill the body, but comfort erodes the soul.

“Oh look, another millennial who leaves the US for seven days and suddenly becomes an expert on what it’s like to ‘suffer’.”

I hope this is not the impression I’ve given at all. My accommodations have been fantastic, better than I ever expected. But I speak with some authority not because I have suffered, but because I have been comfortable for my entire life. I have seen its effects on me and its effects on other people. Yet comfort is the American Dream, is it not? Concepts like early retirement, gated communities, easy living conditions, and big pay with little work are supposed to be not only the goal, but also the right of every American. I beg that you would see right through that lie, reader. Growth cannot happen without being stretched. One week in, I have hardly been stretched, but I pray that when the time comes, I will not shy away from it. I urge all of you follow the words of St. Francis:

“Grant that we may not seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Thank you to all who are praying for me at Houston’s First Baptist, Restoration Church in Bryan, Sojourn Church in Houston, Sharpstown Baptist in Houston, and those in other places in the world. I pray the Lord will keep in my mind that the Spirit is with me on your behalf.

Blessings,

Chase

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