Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obedience? (adapted from a letter I recently wrote to my children)

What is the nature of the term obedience in a Christian context? Many, including me, have held to various forms of legalism to achieve the beauty of obedience--embracing futility with fervor, certainly, and as certainly a residing in death. Andrew and George spar somewhat in the previous post over the issue, as we know Christians throughout time have done and continue to do.

Consider the two great commandments: love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; love your neighbor as yourself. These two statements are a great organizer of a believer's thoughts and actions. Lining things up with these two daily, life works fairly simply. If we focus on the active verb "love" the Bible has more to say. 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind, of course. Here, if we are having trouble sorting out whether or not what we feel is love, we have a guide sure and true. Sometimes what I feel as "love" is really my selfishness feeling sentimental. However, I might insist my action proves my obedience to God even as my “love” serves my own selfish ends. The challenge becomes to learn obedience to one's conscience, the sensitivity of which is developed both according to the Truth in the scriptures and through actively living in the Spirit.

My regular readers, friends and family know I am all about moving Christian experience from a legalistic application of the scripture to the revealed Truth of Jesus in-dwelling the believer. The scriptures point the believer to an experience of being united with the Holy Spirit. Anything less is just sentimentality or manipulation of words. Yet, as I have listened to others speak of the active guide of the Holy Spirit, I have found people saying things that undermine the trustworthiness of the Bible as a revelation of God. I recognize how the Bible has been used to harm as some push its meanings to parameters that are not in line with the revealed Truth of the Spirit of Jesus within. That is a problem, but a pendulum swing away from reliance on the written Word is not the answer believers need. However, on the opposite end of this spectrum, to rely on the Word alone can sometimes create an idol of the self who is one that “keeps the whole word of truth.” The self becomes qualified for adoration by its own “spiritual” achievement.

The paradoxes we face!!

The reality is that we walk a walk with a living God; God actively loves humanity and in-dwells the believer. However, the understanding to begin and maintain this walk is most often supported by the written Word. Thus we enter and live trusting the in-dwelling Presence we connect with through our conscience. Christianity isn't understanding the Bible alone or understanding living from within one's heart alone. These dispositions are in harmony with one another not in opposition. (Since the Creation speaks of Him, I don't think we can discount coming to know Him without the Word. Who are we to limit God speaking of and revealing Himself? Even so, such an experience of revelation is limited if it never comes to involve the revelation of the Scripture.)

Can one live the Christian life fully with the two Great commandments alone and trusting the Holy Spirit within? I think “yes” and “no.” God exists in such singularity of eternity that within the human understanding we must always grasp at knowing Him by holding onto tension created within paradox. This is one example of paradox. The whole of God’s intent might be summarized as the Two Great Commandments. The fullness of its meaning is grasped by embracing with faith the reality of the in-dwelling Christ.

So “yes” this is enough. It is the complete gospel: God has redeemed man who has become a holder, an ark, of the Divine Being. In this place, our personal responsibility becomes to love God and others.

Paradoxically, it is a “no” this is not enough for fully living the Christian life: There are two reasons. First, we are subjective creatures. Humans think according to what they believe in the depths of the heart. This thinking is self-referential. We reflect on what we believe to determine our decisions--thus our belief system which is skewed with error leads our decisions. Also, we will act instantly without true decision-making from an inner place where we do not even recognize we are guided by self and not outside-of-self insights. How does one learn to sort out a direction from God against these feeling-generating beliefs that are ours subjectively? Case in point, how do we know our feelings of love are the pure love of God and not our selfishness to love our own way? This requires taking the command to love and analyzing it, learning it according to other teachings in the Bible which reveal the nature of the word love.

Second, we need other people to hear what we say and think, to watch how we act and react and give us honest feedback. That is, we cannot simply take the two Great Commandments and think we are thus equipped to live life fully unto the Lord Jesus. We must enter into real relationships where love is practiced to fully understand love. We need others to experience our love and respond. How do we know we need fellowship? From the written Word and from within our hearts in union with Jesus. How do we get the courage to risk love? From the written Word and from within our hearts in union with Jesus.

The conclusion I draw for myself is...The Bible reveals Truth, Jesus, and can be trusted in what it says in guiding us into the living, active relationship with the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals the insights we need to fully dwell with God, neither squandering nor exaggerating the meanings of life or love according to our subjectivity. Living in the Spirit and considering the Word cannot be separated functionally.

As a young believer I searched the scriptures to understand Jesus. As an older Christian, I rest in Jesus to reveal more Truth to me through the scripture and my daily life among others.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Excerpt from The Landlady's Master

1888 is the publishing date for The Elect Lady by George MacDonald. Michael R. Phillips has rewritten much of MacDonald's work into a more contemporary English. The Landlady's Master is the new title with Phillips listed as the editor. Here is a brief excerpt between the main character, a young Scottish farmer named Andrew Ingram, and a foil named George.

"You don't mean you can read your Bible as you hold the plough!" said George.

"On no," answered Andrew with a smile. "It would hardly be possible to manage a book between the stilts of the pough. The Bible will keep till you get home; a little of it goes a long way. I was speaking of nature. Paul counted the book of creation enough to make the heathen answerable for not minding it. Never a breath of wind wakes suddenly, or a cloud moves over head, or a drenching rainfall stops my work, but that they talk to me about God. And is not the very sunlight itself the same that came out of the body of Jesus at his transfiguration?"

"You seem to have some rather peculiar notions, Mr. Ingram."

"Perhaps. But for a man to have no ideas he counts as his very own is much the same as to have no ideas at all. For a person to adopt as his beliefs only and nothing more than what he has heard from others seems to me a hollow faith. A man cannot have the ideas of another man any more than he can have another man's soul, or another man's body. Ideas must be one's own or they cease to truly be ideas at all."

"That is dangerous doctrine."

"Perhaps we are not talking about the same thing. I mean by ideas what a man orders his life by."

"Your ideas may be wrong."

"The All-wise will be my judge."

"So much the worse if you are in the wrong."

"Having him as my judge is good whether I be in the right or the wrong. I want him as my judge all the more when I am wrong, for then I most keenly need his wisdom. Would I have my mistakes overlooked: Not at all! Shall he not do right? And will he not set me right? I can think of nothing so wonderful!"

"That is a most dangerous confidence."

"It would be if there were any other judge. But it will be neither the church nor the world that will sit on the great white throne. He who sits there will not ask, 'Did you go to church?' or 'Did you believe this or that?' but, 'Did you do what I told you?' "

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How's the Journey?

Carey said in his comment to the last post, "I think we are all still egocentric adolescents."

I agree. We remain such until we gain maturity in Jesus, which occurs when we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.

We often hear folks refer to the Christian walk as a journey; I have and do. Yet this morning it occurs to me there is a subtle problem with the metaphor.

Functionally, it allows one to acknowledge he or she does not understand everything but has faith to believe the right path has been found. Within the paradigm of a journey it becomes acceptable to veer at times as an unavoidable circumstance. This I describe may be a moment or days of being confused, rattled, distracted, or feeling somehow separated from God. Some water-cooler discussion at work brings us to a statement of Christian platitude, perhaps, which on reflection in a quiet time we feel failed to answer the other person's question or challenge. We realize the platitude itself doesn't satisfy us.

I once stumbled upon a blog post that was three years old. All I remember of it is that the author was a British Christian and this post was reported by him to be his last. The three or so lengthy paragraphs were everything he needed to say on the topic; and in his estimation, all that needed to be said on the topic which I cannot remember. It was a Christian topic I do recall. Anyway, he determined to leave the blog open for others to read, yet he had finished this blog for all time as the contents were that important for Christians to understand. I guess I should have bookmarked his blog or worked harder at remembering his position.

Was his journey with God finished? Did he understand something we all needed to know, but which I failed to understand since I wasn't moved to remember his point? Was he a bit ego-centric? I wonder how he thinks today about that summative and "final" position he took. Is the journey no journey at all, if we have figured it all out? How do we interpret Ecclessiastes' lament that there is nothing new under the sun, if we assume that our life journey into God allows that we discover something we have not known?

I think I raise two questions at once as the double tines of a large and piercing fork. A fork I often feel impaled upon!

1. Is walking with God not a journey but a destination? It is full and finished as is, though I have yet to fill up the number of days allotted to me.

2. Is question number one an ego-centric position that I, as a mere human, actually understand all of my life?

Back to the journey metaphor: I think we feel safe living within the metaphor. It gives us a mental and emotional space to contain our failures before God and our aspirations toward His holiness within the same container of the self. We wrestle our selfishness with some measure of self awareness that to be selfish is a characteristic of being incomplete, and that is accurate. We then in contrast know, piecemeal perhaps, God. From this level of awareness, we see spiritually and recognize much that the one who is truly lost will not see. Thus caught between two opposed realities of our existence, we have to explain why we are not fully in God all the time. Hence we adopt the metaphor of the journey. Being held a moment or two in the briar patch because we took a misstep off the path in the Wild Wood is to be expected, eh?

Or is it?

It is finished--at least His side of it. There is no journey, if we mean by journey to find more of God. Yet it is also true that something remains to be "discovered" by us. It is not anything new. But if we do not have it, then it remains to be found. Many of us (perhaps not all) are stuck in the briar patch until we do something together: it is written above as copied from Ephesians.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Random Thought #7

Large quantities of time, chunks of five to ten hours, are a huge benefit for a variety of reasons:
  • those piled up small projects can be tackled
  • the stuff you know will bless the wife can be done
  • any backlog of one's regular job -- sifted, prioritized, accomplished and checked off
  • long moments of reflection experienced
  • reading, both for relaxation and mental stimulation, practiced
  • creative projects -- planned, started, pushed along, or finished
  • computer games can be played-- almost without guilt
The compelling thing that happens for me in such a boon, is self-awareness. With the pressure off to perform required tasks by a particular deadline, my real self begins to emerge. My decision-making, its patterns and directions, are no longer a mental sub-program that I live with but largely do not notice. In the slow down of life, decision-making over time use is right up front in my consciousness.

One thing I noticed about myself these past two snow days with the demands of daily life ratcheted way down, there is not much I want to do just because it is something I want. Most of the items I tackled were for other people. Many of these projects had some selfish aspect to them, though I chose them for others. The selfish aspect was the positive return doing projects for others would bring me.

This is not a bad circumstance to be avoided. Practically, others being aware of how you spend your time and making the choice to do something someone else wants done is noticeable. (The converse, not choosing to do something someone else wants done when you have the time is very noticeable, as well-- particularly by one's spouse!) People tend to know I have done something if for no other reason I cannot make myself invisible. Actions in the real world are seen. Giving in secret, an act of kindness or support done without others able to view and evaluate, is the exception.

That last point was a bit of a tangent. I guess I'm just rambling here.

I enjoyed the free time, but it actually makes me a little aimless. I realized that I tend to write when I want to mount my bully pulpit. My purpose in writing is a motivation to make my opinions known. Not a bad thing necessarily. The sharing of thoughts and opinions is part of life. However, I confronted me these past two days over why do I keep blogging. When I don't have a an opinion needing to get out, I am little motivated to write.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Blizzards in March

The storm started March first as rain and continued through the day on Sunday as snow.
Our largest snowfall in eleven years caped our region in deep, soft white. It is one of the reasons around here, March "roaring in like a lion" is almost expected. The blizzards of '93 and '96, 34" and 21" respectively, were both in March. This weekend's snowstorm of 12" is mild in comparison and no one is calling it the Blizzard of '09, but it has been fun nonetheless!

I know this much attention paid to so little snow in light of the Rockies or all points around the Great Lakes is a bit presumptuous on my part. But remember, we are south of the Mason-Dixon line here by several hundred miles!

Picture from the local paper online, the Watauga Democrat.