Force of the nots

Surely one of the most powerful verses in the New Testament is Galatians 3:28, where the Apostle Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We need to teach this to our hearts in divided times like this.

When you look closely at the sentence in Greek, you find that the word “not” is used three times, and the conjunction “and not” is used twice. Five “nots” in one sentence. Paul isn’t saying that our differences are unimportant, or that they’ve disappeared. And he’s certainly not justifying slavery. Paul is pointing to the impact of the gospel; what God has done in Jesus Christ.

Jesus came into the world. He lived the life we could never live and died the death we deserved. Then he overcame death. When we trust him in faith, he adopts us as “sons of God.” In effect, we’re like “mini-Christs,” not unlike Jesus himself.

This oneness in Jesus supersedes every human category. Each person is someone God chose to create, to love, and to be with God for eternity. Each person you meet is literally of cosmic importance.

Yet we live in a culture that insists on labelling and categorizing everyone. Your group, gender, race, religion, preference, and so on, becomes what defines you. And however we see ourselves and others, we can find a cable channel or an internet site to reinforce our point of view, deepening our divisions.

We need to let the “force of the nots” act on our hearts. We need to stand up for the oppressed, and stand against every label that obscures our best and truest identity.

You are all one in Christ Jesus.

Marathon Sunday

Its 5:45 on Sunday morning and it’s still dark, but there are more people on Sixth Avenue than in the middle of a normal workday. It’s Marathon Sunday in Pittsburgh. I’m helping Victor set up the new sound system on the front porch of the church when a lady in running clothes comes up the steps. She’s on her way to the Point for a group photo with her relay team, but first she needs a blessing.

Praying with people before the race is one of my very favorite things about being a minister of this church. Most Christians are reserved about sharing their faith, not sure how they’ll be received. But not Christian runners on race day. They know they depend on a higher power.

We played motivational Christian music over the loudspeakers which you could hear a block away. People loved it. One lady came down the street singing along to Mandisa’s “Overcomer.” Four guys from New York had seen the ad for “Blessing the Runners” and asked me to pray for them. A trembling woman grabbed my hand and asked me to pray for a loved one. A mom asked me to pray for her kids. I approached a big group posing for a picture in front of the church and asked if they wanted to be photobombed by a minister. They joyfully put me right in the middle of their group and asked me to pray for them. Still others left wiping away tears.

I prayed with folks in small groups or one-on-one, and other times I spoke over the loudspeakers to the hundreds of people walking down the street to their corrals.

Adam from New Castle checked in on the church Facebook page: “I wanted to give a shout out to you guys. As I was trying to navigate my way early Sunday morning to my corral for the marathon, I got turned around and started to panic a bit (which I almost never do). I called my wife and asked her to pray as I was nearly in tears because I couldn’t find my way. At that moment, playing loudly from your outdoor sound system was Casting Crowns’ “Courageous”. I immediately became at peace, turned the corner, and directly in front of me was the area with which I needed to be. Thank you so much for the encouragement. Also, praise to Him for helping me on my way.”

What a privilege to serve Christ in the heart of the city.