FABACEAE

fabaceaeI appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]

Controversy within the Church didn’t stop with the creeds and we continue to get bogged down with disagreements over things like purgatory, open or closed communion, the observance of Lent or saints’ days, the way communion should be received, and women in the clergy. Whether we sprinkle or do full immersion, worship on Saturday or Sunday, kneel or stand to pray, stand or sit to sing, or use wine, grape juice, thin wafers, matzo, or Wonder bread for Communion probably are of no real significance to God. Rather than division, He just wants our praise and thanksgiving, our love and obedience, our faith, our prayers, and our witness.

The Christian church, with its three distinct branches of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox that are separated into more subgroups reminds me of the Fabaceae plant family. Like the Church, it has three distinct branches: Faboideae, Caesalpinioideae, and Mimosoideae and each branch is divided into more subgroups. Typically having pea-like flowers, the largest branch, Faboideae, include plants like soybeans, peanuts, peas, and lentils. Usually having 5 distinct petals, the Caesalpinioideae branch has plants like the showy Royal Poinciana and Hong Kong orchid trees. With flowers that look like powder puffs, the Mimosoideae are the smallest branch and includes the acacia, mimosa, and sensitive plant.

While there are around 18,000 different species in the three branches of Fabaceae, it’s estimated that there are over 45,000 different Christian denominations within the three branches of the Church! Within the Protestant branch, for example, we find subgroups like Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans (who are divided into more subgroups like the ELCA, Wisconsin Evangelical, and Missouri Synod)!

While their distinct flower types are what distinguish the three branches of Fabaceae from one another, it is slight differences in doctrine, dogma, emphasis, or style of worship that distinguish the three branches and their various subgroups of Christianity. What unites the Fabaceae into one family is their pods and what unites all of these Christian denominations into one family is their agreement regarding the essentials of Christianity. They all are part of the Body of Christ.

Even though they don’t look much alike, all of the plants pictured in today’s message are Fabaceae and descendants of the same first pea seed God planted millions of years ago. Like the Fabaceae, Christians also trace their beginnings to the same seed: Jesus. While the Fabaceae take root in the soil, Christians are rooted in the Word of God. Instead of the sun’s light and photosynthesis, it’s the Son’s light and the power of the Holy Spirit that makes us grow. In spite of their differences, all Fabaceae bear similar fruit in their pods. In spite of Christianity’s diversity, like Fabaceae, Christians are to bear similar fruit, as well. Rather than peas or beans, however, it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Rather than focusing on our differences, let us focus on our unity in Christ. May we always remember Paul’s words to the Romans that, “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” [12:15]

We need not all agree, but if we disagree, let us not be disagreeable in our disagreements. [M.R. DeHaan]

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. [Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)]
fabaceae pods

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FROM THE BEGINNING (Part 3)

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. [1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NLT)]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  [Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

oxeye daisyStarting with the Judaizers who believed that Gentiles first had to be circumcised and conform to Mosaic Law in order to be saved, the early church faced controversy within its ranks. Without a creed, they were challenged with distinguishing between true and false doctrines. Although not written by the Apostles, an early version of what we know as the Apostles’ Creed was probably in use by the last half of the second century. Created to instruct converts and prepare them for baptism, because it didn’t clearly state the nature of Jesus’ divinity or define the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, doctrinal controversy continued. Along with Gnosticism’s rejection of the incarnation and Marcion’s redefinition of God, there were the Ebionites’ denial of Christ’s divinity, the Arians’ belief that Jesus was neither divine nor eternal, and the Modalists who collapsed the persons of the Trinity into a single person with three types of activity. Rather than destroy the early church, however, these various isms actually did it a favor by forcing it to solidify Christianity’s doctrines.

In an attempt to unify the Christian church with one doctrine, Roman Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325. Over 900 leaders from throughout the Roman Empire gathered to discuss Arianism and its belief that while Jesus was similar to God, rather than being divine, He was a created being. Although the Creed of Nicea resulted, controversy still reigned and it took a second ecumenical council in 381 before the Church clearly defined the Trinity—that God is three distinct persons in one perfectly unified being. The Nicene Creed, the standard of belief for most Christian churches, was the result of the meeting.

That creed, however, did not come out of thin air. The bishops and delegates spent weeks poring over Scripture. Paul’s epistles, written between 50 and 60 AD, contain several hymns and creeds. Although he wrote in Greek, these hymns and creeds use features of Hebrew poetry and thought and their syntax is decidedly Aramaic which leads scholars to believe they date from as early as 33 to 48 AD. Paul specifically wrote that he was passing along what was passed on to him—most likely from the original Apostles and Jesus Himself. A common theme of these early writings is the death, resurrection, and the deity of Jesus. Contrary to the claim often made by skeptics that the story of Jesus was a legend that arose decades after the man’s death, the belief in a miracle-working, fully divine and fully human Jesus, who died and rose from the dead, was present from the time of His disciples—the very ones who touched, walked, talked, and ate with Him, both before His crucifixion and after His resurrection.

Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say I am?” [Matthew 16:15] With its summary of the Gospel in a few sentences, the Nicene Creed enables us to answer that question both succinctly and accurately.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. [Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)]

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. [1 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

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HERESIES – Polycarp (Part 2)

So, then, just as you received King Jesus the Lord, you must continue your journey in him. You must put down healthy roots in him, being built up brick by brick in him, and established strongly in the faith, just as you were taught, with overflowing thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6 (NTE)]

cross in ZermattAlthough many Christian writings refer to Polycarp, only one of his letters remains. Written to the church at Philippi sometime before 150 AD. Polycarp addressed the behavior of a greedy bishop named Valens, explained that true righteousness sprang from true belief, and warned against false teachings. Containing 12 quotes from the Old Testament and 100 quotes or paraphrases from the New, this epistle has been described as a “mosaic of quotations” from the Bible. Using language from what now are known as the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 and 3 John, his letter is testimony both to the existence of these texts by mid-2nd century and that the early church already believed them to be inspired Scripture.

In his letter, Polycarp addressed the heresies of Gnosticism and Marcionism that had found their way into the early church. Probably a greater threat to the early church than persecution, Gnosticism was a combination of religion and philosophy taken from Babylonian beliefs, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and assorted cults, along with the philosophies of Greeks like Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. In a nutshell, early Gnostics believed in dual realities — essence/spirit/light (considered good) and material/body/dark (considered evil) — much like the Chinese yin and yang. They also believed in the secret knowledge or gnosis of salvation. Of course, such a philosophy can’t really be put in a nutshell. Polycarp’s student Irenaeus (who later became bishop of Lyons) said this about Gnostics, “Since their teachings and traditions are different, and the newer ones among them claim to be constantly finding something new, and working out what no one ever thought of before, it is hard to describe their views.” According to Gnosticism, since God is a spirit (which is good) and the world is made of matter (which is evil), the world couldn’t have been created by a good God; rather, it was created by a lesser deity named Demiurge. Believing flesh evil, they rejected the incarnation; rather than Christ coming as flesh, Gnostics believed He took possession of the man Jesus’ body at his baptism and departed his body before the crucifixion. Believing salvation came through secret knowledge to a select few contradicted Christianity’s promise of salvation to all by grace through faith.

Marcion (85-160 AD) was an influential Gnostic who tried to create a “new brand” of Christianity (Marcionism). In a nutshell, Marcionism redefined God. Rejecting Old Testament teachings, Marcion claimed the God of the Old Testament was not the same deity as the God of the New, Jesus was the son only of the New Testament God, and the prophecies of the Old Testament predicted a yet-to-come earthly messiah for the Jews. Marcion discarded the entire Old Testament and, believing the Apostles misunderstood Jesus, cut the New Testament down to heavily edited versions of Luke’s gospel and just ten of Paul’s letters.

In his letter, Polycarp warned the Philippians that “whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning.” May we do the same!

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. [Augustine]

Watch out that nobody uses philosophy and hollow trickery to take you captive! These are in line with human tradition, and with the ‘elements of the world’ – not the king. In him, you see, all the full measure of divinity has taken up bodily residence. What’s more, you are fulfilled in him, since he’s the head of all rule and authority. [Colossians 2:8-10 (NTE)]

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LOOK FOR IT!

Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God. [1 Timothy 1:19-20 (NLT)]

mimosa1 Timothy doesn’t tell us much about Hymenaeus or Alexander—the men whose faith was shipwrecked. From Paul’s other references to the men, we do know that Hymenaeus denied the doctrine of the resurrection and that Alexander did “much harm” to Paul, but we don’t know the details. Whatever these men said or did, by accusing them of blasphemy and handing them “over to Satan,” Paul seemed to be excommunicating them from the church.

In theological terms, Paul was writing about apostasy, coming from the Greek apostanai meaning “to stand away.” When someone commits apostasy or becomes apostate, they renounce or abandon their faith in Christ. Like Hymenaeus and Alexander, believers can lose their way and even fall. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times and Thomas had his moments of doubt. Every fall, however, doesn’t mean apostasy. Unlike Hymenaeus and Alexander, Peter and Thomas never fell beyond the point of no return. When Peter repented and Thomas’ doubts were assuaged, their relationship with Jesus was fully restored. But, what of those who don’t repent or whose doubt turns to unbelief? Is it possible to lose our faith?

Recently, my husband lost his wedding ring. As soon as he noticed his empty finger, we revisited every place he’d been and searched high and low in every store and parking lot. At home, we sifted through our waste baskets, carefully inspected the car, looked in every nook and cranny in house and garage, and even checked the garbage disposal. There’s not a spot we haven’t examined and more than one prayer was said but, alas, the ring has disappeared. My husband feels awful about the loss but I reminded him that it’s just a piece of metal that can be replaced. Although it symbolized our marriage, he didn’t lose that; we still have what’s important—each other. Be that as it may, I admit searching for it again today!

If we’re willing to turn our house upside down, rifle through the trash can, and drive all over town in search of a ring, I don’t understand the person whose excuse for no longer attending church is that he simply lost his faith. “Go look for it!” is my response. “Where were you when you last had it? Go back there and start looking!” I’d suggest starting in church, the Bible, in prayer with God, and in conversation with mature Christians. Unlike a wedding ring, which is a mere symbol of a relationship (and a replaceable one at that), faith in Jesus is an irreplaceable relationship.

At one time or another, we all will have crises of faith. There will be times we are overwhelmed with troubling questions about things like evil, pain, and suffering; the world of the Old Testament; or the truth of Scripture. There certainly are times we’re disappointed in God and want to know “why?” Like Thomas, it’s only normal to have doubts but doubt is not disbelief. The real issue isn’t doubt, it’s what we do with that doubt. Do we call out to God and seek the answers to our questions or do we simply give up and say we’ve lost our faith?

Scripture seems to make the case that once we’re saved (by God’s grace through our faith), we remain saved—we can’t lose our salvation. When people claim to have lost their faith, I wonder if they ever truly had it—whether they were true believers in the first place. After all, calling oneself a Ford and sitting in the garage doesn’t make you a car any more than calling oneself a Christian and sitting in a pew on Sundays makes you a believer! I can’t know if a person who’s “lost” his faith is an apostate like Hymenaeus and Alexander, is having a crisis of faith, or if he ever truly had faith. I can’t see into a person’s soul and only God truly knows the status of anyone’s salvation. What I do know is that God isn’t playing hide-and-seek; unlike my husband’s ring, He’s right in front of us and waiting to be found! Let us never stop seeking Him!

Faith is not the complete absence of doubts. Faith is trusting even in the presence of doubt – even when I don’t understand. [Chris Goswami]

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. [Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NLT)]

The Lord says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me.” [Isaiah 65:1a (NLT)]

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IPUWER’S VERSION

And all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. … And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile. [Exodus 7:20b-21,24 (ESV)]

The Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. …There was hail and fire flashing continually… And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. [Exodus 9:23a,24a,25b (ESV)]

great egretNo story is repeated more in the Old Testament than that of the Exodus. Although it is the defining moment in Israel’s history and faith, there are many who choose to disbelieve it ever happened. Yet, if it didn’t, Jews and Christians alike are basing their faith on an elaborately constructed lie. In the early 1800s, a papyrus was found in Egypt that tells the story of the Exodus from an Egyptian’s point of view. Although the papyrus itself dates from around 1550-1069 BC, it is believed to be a copy of an earlier document written between 2040 and 1782 BC. Housed in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, and first translated in 1909, it’s commonly known as the Admonitions of Ipuwer or the Ipuwer Papyrus.

Appearing to be an eyewitness account, the papyrus describes mayhem, drought, starvation, the escape of slaves (along with Egyptian wealth), and death throughout Egypt. Compare today’s verse from Exodus 7 with these from the Ipuwer Papyrus: “Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere. … The river is blood. Men shrink from tasting… and thirst after water… That is our water!… All is ruin.” [2:5-6,10,13] Compare the words from Exodus 9 to Ipuwer’s: “Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire. Lower Egypt weeps… Forsooth, grain has perished on every side… The entire palace is without its revenues. [2:10,6:3,10:6] Even the mention of “lower Egypt” weeping is notable since Scripture says that only in the land of Goshen (in the upper or northern part of the country) was there no hail.

Ipuwer reports the deadly plague that struck cattle with these words, “All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan… [5:5] The plague of darkness is reported with, “The land is without light.” [9:11] In reporting the final plague, Exodus 12:30 says, “And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” Ipuwer reports that, “He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere.… It is groaning throughout the land, mingled with lamentations.” [2:13,3:14] The Bible tells us the Israelites carried away the Egyptians’ wealth and Ipuwer tells of the “gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze” that were “fastened on the neck of female slaves.” [3:2]

The plagues are but a part of the papyrus and a large portion of it concerns what happened in Egypt after the plagues. While Scripture doesn’t address the after effects of Egypt’s loss of livestock, grain, wealth, first-born sons, or Pharaoh’s troops, chariots, and charioteers, Ipuwer does. He writes of the resulting chaos and ruin in the land—bankruptcy, crime, famine, rebellion, and invasion. If, like me, you ever wondered why Egypt never bothered the Israelites as they wandered the Sinai Peninsula for the next 40 years, Ipuwer’s papyrus offers a logical explanation. They were a broken nation!

Ipuwer seems to have been a real historical figure and his name (along with the title “Overseer of Singers”) was found on an ancient stone listing a group of royal scribes for the 19th dynasty. Nevertheless, the papyrus is not without controversy and scholars differ on whether it is an historical account of the events surrounding the Exodus or fiction (something called “national distress” literature.) Let us remember that once a skeptic accepts the historicity of the Exodus—the supernatural plagues and parting of both the Red Sea and the Jordan—then he is faced with the existence of a supreme being who rules over the world and directs its affairs. For those who do believe, while we don’t need extra Biblical evidence, it makes for interesting reading and even more interesting discussions with non-believers. Let us also remember that even if there were no extra-biblical evidence, lack of evidence does not mean something didn’t happen. The only way to disprove something is with evidence that it didn’t occur and that we most definitely do not have!

The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. [Exodus 14:28-29 (ESV)]

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INCLUSIVE IN AN EXCLUSIVE WAY

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

Since no man is excluded from calling upon God the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief. [John Calvin]

hibiscusGod’s plan for salvation was all inclusive; He made that clear in Genesis when He said that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. In announcing Jesus’ birth, the angels said it was good news for all nations. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, it became clear that He came not just for the Jews but for all people. Jesus invited all who were weary and heavy-laden, not just a select few. He healed the Roman centurion’s servant and the Canaanite woman’s daughter and ministered in Samaria and the Gentile city of Gerasenes. In what is called the “great commission,” Jesus instructed his disciples to spread the good news to all the nations. The Gospel’s message of salvation is offered to both Gentile and Jew, women and men, slave and slave holder, the destitute and rich, the merchant and beggar, the tradesperson and day laborer, the able and infirm, the demon-possessed and rational, and both the upright and those with sullied pasts. No one is turned away when they repent and come to Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior. Indeed, the Christian church is all-inclusive in its love for mankind and its invitation to all the people of the world.

We are, indeed, an eclectic group of people of different backgrounds, races, traditions, languages, and politics but, as inclusive as we are in our love and message, the followers of Christ have a shared creed that unites us into an exclusive group. Christians are diverse and inclusive but Christianity is not.

While we may find wisdom and inspiration in Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita, the Buddha’s words in the Dhammapada, the Chinese philosophy of the Tao Te-Ching, and even in the rabbis’ discourse in the Talmud, we know those texts are not sacred and the words in them are man’s, not God’s. Christianity doesn’t allow for a mingling of faith in other philosophies or gods.

We don’t get to pick and choose from a variety of beliefs as if we were at a smorgasbord. We can’t start with Jesus and add a bit of reincarnation, dollop on some karma, sprinkle on one’s own spiritual authority, ladle on a bit of astrology, add a side of Zen, and then top it off with some channeling. If it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t get put on our plates! Our God is a jealous God and he won’t share His position or Word with anything or anyone. Jesus made it clear that he was not one of the ways but, rather, the only way to salvation.

It’s been said that all roads lead to Rome, meaning that there are many different ways to accomplish the same goal. While that may be true when it comes to such things as cooking, painting, gardening, and possibly even getting to Rome, it’s not true with salvation. Let’s never make the mistake of thinking that all roads lead to heaven!

Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is he the best of several ways; he is the only way. [A.W. Tozer]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6 (NLT)]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. [John 3:16-18 (NLT)]

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