Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Second Class Citizens

When I was a young child, women were limited to certain jobs. When they began to go into jobs that had been dominated by men, they weren't paid as much as men in the same jobs and they didn't climb the corporate ladder as quickly. In college I majored in math and some of the classes I needed were offered through the engineering department. When I took those classes I was often the only female and found the guys didn't appreciate me being there. It was during that time I became acutely aware that people are often partial to others because of race, gender, or socio-economic standing. I think that is one of the reasons I came to love the gospel so much, it is not partial to any people groups. 

In church yesterday we studied Galatians 3:26- Galatians 4:7. I realized even though the Bible was written long ago, it addresses the issues of partiality I recognized in college. The passage says that when we come to Christ by faith, we are found in Him. That means God no longer sees us as people in bondage to sin,  He sees us as Christ! He goes on to say explicitly there is neither Jew nor Greek, which handles the issue of race. This statement was significant because Jews, who were to be a witness to the nations around them, had developed lots of contempt for different people groups like the Samaritans who were of a mixed race. God gave Israel instruction on how to treat strangers who came and lived among them and they didn't always follow his directions. It doesn't matter what ethnicity people are, what culture they grow up in, what borders they are born within, when they come to Christ by faith, they are joint heirs with Him. God does not choose to save us based on the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the culture we grew up portraying. God  doesn't bless one race over another. He blesses simply because He loves. 

Paul went on to say that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. The Jewish law provided a way for people who were poor and unable to provide for themselves by allowing them to indenture themselves with richer people so they didn't starve and could climb out of poverty. That contract was to last a specific amount of time and then it was to end and the people were set free of their obligations. But many masters abused their power and didn't release their servants, causing God tp bring judgment on Israel. What was to be a temporary situation designed to help the poor, became a way for the rich to abuse and take advantage of the poor. I love it that Paul is telling the people in God's economy there no difference between the rich and the poor. The poor are not second class citizens. They, like the rich, are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. They have the same rights, the same privileges, and the same spiritual gifts as richer people do.     

When we come to Christ, He no longer sees us as males or females, which deals with the issue of prejudice based on gender. I know some people believe the Bible is antiquated, but look at what it is saying and think about the time in which it was written. In those days, women did not have legal rights or economic stature. If they were unmarried, they lived with parents. If they were in an abusive marriage or their spouse was unfaithful, they could not get a divorce as that was a "right" only men had. If they were widowed, they were at the mercy of their husband's family members, who may or may not choose to provide or the husband's near kinsmen who may or may not choose to marry them to preserve the dead spouse's  inheritance. In addition, women were restricted to certain areas of the Jewish temple and never worshipped with the men. In the nations around Israel, women were even used and abused in the name of worship to appease false gods, as were children. Father's took young virgin daughters to the temples to be temple prostitutes and offered their babies as sacrifices to appease angry gods. There was an ugly imbalance of power between genders at the time and here Paul tells them that in God's eyes there is no male or female. That doesn't mean we all lose who we were created to be. God creates us. He assigns our gender. He places us in families in the countries of His choosing. I embrace that I was created as a woman and know as a believer I still am one. These verses make it clear that though I was born and raised a girl outside of the Bible belt, I am not a second class member of God's family. I and every other female are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. That means we have the same rights and responsibilities as our Christian brothers. 

I started going to church as a young kid. When I was in fifth or sixth grace I received a letter from the small  church I attended. It told me how much offering I had given and that it cost the church so much money to operate per person and I wasn't giving my share. I was filled with shame and felt like I was a second class person when I went to church because as a 10 year old I didn't make much money. After I got married, we moved to several different locations and became involved in several different churches. I found each church had their own ways of doing things. At one point I was trying to accomplish a task and was told by a woman I hadn't grown up in their church and just didn't understand how things were done. Those words caused those old feelings of inadequacy to resurface. I took her words to heart and tried to ask questions, only to find out later I had offended people, because they assumed my questions were either hidden statements of dissatisfaction for decisions they made or the way they did things.

Every time we moved or switched churches, I found myself feeling defective and inadequate because I didn't know how each new church operated. There were always unwritten rules, traditions, and ways of doing things that defined the culture of that particular church. At times I found it less painful and easier to just plaster a smile on my face and do what I could do to make myself somewhat invisible. That way my words, my questions, and my actions could not offend, wound, or look wrong.

So when I read, "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ." I felt free of those unwritten standards to which I was supposed to live up. When I read, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither, slave nor free, there is no male or female," I realize I was wrong to give other people the power to make me feel like a second class Christian, because there really is no such thing! It doesn't matter how much money our families have when we're growing up or how much we make or don't make now. It doesn't matter in if we grew up in a church family learning how to do church or not. It doesn't matter if we are male or female. We are all joint heirs with Christ and are given spiritual gifts, abilities, and passions to serve and all of us are needed to make the body of Christ function as Christ designed it to function.

Paul also made it clear that even our sin cannot make us second class Christians. He put the title, "The Worst Sinner," on himself. I believe God had him do that so you and I couldn't use it to live defeated because we falsely believe the sin we commit or the sin perpetrated against us makes us second class believers. Instead, we all get to rest and to bask equally in God's grace!

Can you imagine how Paul's messaged rocked the early church? Indentured servants were equal to their masters at church and a master might even have to even sit under a servant who was gifted as a teacher. The poor were just as important in the church as the wealthy were. In God's economy two coins given sacrificially might even be viewed as a more sacrificial, worship-filled act than a someone who gave a thousand coins out of their surplus. And the women who once had limited access to religion were now sitting in the pews with men all because Jesus, Himself, broke the barriers down and allowed women to sit at His feet to both learn and worship. Both men and women could view God as their Abba. I even love it that Jesus called us (women) sons. He is not excluding us or declaring us less than the men as some would have us believe. He is saying, "In my eyes, you are joint heirs with my Son!"   

About thirty years ago, we visited the Church of the Open Door on Easter weekend. Standing at the door talking to the pastor, I saw people of different races entering the church and greeting each other warmly by name. I saw people dressed in blue genes and tee shirts chatting with the people dressed in fancy clothing. I also noticed men and women were respectfully exchanging greetings with each other with heads held high, showing they saw each other as equals and I thought to myself, "This is what heaven will be like!" A good understanding of the gospel helps us realize that in God's family there are no second class citizens. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!