Be Careful What You Wish For – Roman Road 6

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.   Romans 1:28

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Despite our protestations to the contrary, we human beings want what we want. We invest a lot of energy in trying to be less selfish, or at least appearing to be less self-interested. Sooner or later, however, the reality of who we are comes to the surface. Our greatest desire is for our greatest desire.

On its surface, this doesn’t appear to be a negative trait. And if we are pure in heart and consider the greater good when evaluating our own interests then the probability of a positive outcome is measurably higher. But let’s not fool ourselves; we are not pure in heart and our idea of the greater good takes self into account before other.

This is what Paul has in mind as we begin to walk down the Roman Road. He makes a simple case for our greatest desires to be guided by the will of God rather then our natural self-satisfaction. Without diving into a deep theological morass he makes the case that what can be known about the natural order is self-evident to all people. To put this another way, we can evaluate what is proper according to the natural order and therefore judge when our desires are not in alignment with that order.

It’s here that the awful reality of accountability before God strikes our hearts. If we cannot claim to be ignorant of the way in which God intends for things to be then we will only be left with two choices, align with God’s will or our self-will. The consequence of this decision is clear as well.

When we choose and elevate and exercise our desires contrary to the plain evidence of God’s order and will, the possibility that we will find ourselves in a dangerous position increase exponentially. That dangerous position — that horrific position — is that God may turn us over to our desires. Paul makes this awful proclamation three times in the span of four verses and it catches us off guard. The omnipotent God who could force us to toe the line instead appears to throw up his hands and say “have at it!” Enjoy your desire and the consequence of that choice.

“Not fair”, we exclaim. We want the product of our selfish desire without the consequence but this is contrary to the evidence all around us that Paul has pointed to. You can’t have one without the other. It has never happened and it never will since it contradicts the created order.

The direction of our will sets the foundation for the gospel that Paul unfolds as we walk further down the road together. God does not force us to accept his will in place of our own. He makes the superiority of his ways evident to all. He makes the extent of his love for all transparent. He gives evidence to his desire in Jesus. Then God says choose. This call to choose is put in human language by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19); “choose life.” Not choosing life can result in nothing but death.

Grace and peace to you.

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IN ALL THINGS GOD WORKS FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM : CHARLESTON EDITION

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In the title you likely recognized a very familiar passage from Romans often ripped from its context and applied to different life situations indiscriminately. When that happens the meaning of the verse in the larger passage becomes muddled, and even lost. The idea of God working all things for good can adopt a diminished connotation, taking on the secular definition of good — a positive, pleasing outcome.

So where was God at work for those who love Him when the shooter in Charleston entered His house and began making martyrs with a pistol?

The answer requires that you travel back months and years in the faithful journey of the pastor and the disciples of the church who were mindful of preparing their hearts and souls for an event that they never imagined would be visited upon their church. They took seriously what the Lord taught in the Beatitudes and shaped their souls with his command to love your neighbor as yourself. They knew the necessity of recognizing the heart as the wellspring of life and were diligent in prayer and study to strengthen in shape that heart.

The good that God had worked in his people in the AME Church in Charleston was seen almost immediately in the aftermath of the shooting. A feverish news media descended on the crime scene looking high and low for someone who would shout words of racial division or a demand for the scalp of the shooter. Disappointed, all they received from the remaining members of the church were Christ-like words of forgiveness and love for the young man who had made such life shattering decision.

This is a challenge to understand until we grasp what Paul is saying in this verse in its context. The good that God works for is those things that increasingly conform us to the likeness of our Savior. It may be positive things and it may be life-changing events. Both stretch and test our souls in different ways giving the Holy Spirit ample opportunity to shape and mold us into the people that our Father intends us to be.

People whose first impulse is to love and forgive when hateful revenge seems to be the most appealing course.

image by Ken Wilcox

You, Theologian

image I’ll move right to the conclusion. You and I, if we are followers of Christ, are called to be theologians. We, as Christians, have a tendency to assign this title only to a small sampling of our community, perhaps to pastors or scholars but this is wrong. To be a theologian has little to do with academic achievement or vocational calling. Rather, it has everything to do with processing all of our thoughts and actions through the filter of what we understand it to mean to be a Christian. To put this another way, our decision to speed a little on the way to work should be processed not only through the filter of civil law but through the notion of what it means to be a Christian who is disrespecting civil law and representing Christ as you do so. The witness you and I present to the world in the course of our daily lives reflects our understanding of the faith. We are not given the luxury to compartmentalize and separate life from life in Christ.

Theology is not some arcane art, to be grasped by a select few who have made the epic journey across the wild and unforgiving seas, fighting dragons as we go. Theology is the knowledge and understanding that you and I have of God. Theology is dual-faceted and it encompasses our doctrine and the resulting practice that comes from applying that doctrine. Doctrine can be generally defined as our beliefs about the nature of God and His actions, who we are as His created beings, and what He has done to restore our damaged relationship with Him. To the extent that we find our understanding in line with those of historic Christianity is the degree of our orthodoxy. The behaviors that result from this understanding are the external display to those around us of what our doctrine is. Orthopraxy defines our allegiance to our doctrine through the act of daily living. Say and do are not separated in theological reflection.

The tools of theological reflection are within the grasp of all Christians. We find our content in the sixty-six books of the Bible, the revealed word of God to and for His people. We bring to this content an assent to our personal biases and suppositions and are honest in admitting how they might tint our reflection. Finally, we bring our faith to bear on the whole of the endeavor. We believe in God who has revealed Himself to us in numerous and varied ways yet remains elusive. We have yet to be privileged to see Him face to face and so we trust. Here, we come full circle. Some have described theology as faith that is seeking understanding and this is is an excellent baseline definition. To understand what you believe and why you believe it and then apply this structure to your life, this is the task that you are called to Theologian. Godspeed.

 

image by size8jeans

The Blue Parakeet 6

BPkeetDo not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

The Lord’s brother reminds us that although having a correct view of the Bible regarding its inspiration, inerrancy, and authority are essential, because the Bible is God’s personal word to each of us we must also be doers of that word. Our training in reading the Bible has a goal of developing our listening skills. We want to be more than information gatherers. We want to approach the words in love, with attentiveness and intention so that our thoughts and behaviors become naturally driven by the voice that we hear emanating from those words. In this week’s chapter of  The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight devotes a short chapter to the importance of listening intentionally.

God speaks to us through His bible for a reason. He speaks so that we might know Him and enter fully into relationship with Him. In the context of that relationship we tend to listen differently. If we were to happen upon a cache of love letters between two strangers, we might sit and read them marveling at the turn of a phrase or the depth of emotion expressed but they would not necessarily speak to us as an outsider. On the other hand, finding the letters that we received from our husbands or wives early on in our relationship we hear a different voice. It is no longer our own voice reciting the words but the soft, gentle voice of our wives telling the story of the letter. It speaks directly to us because we know and love the person who put the words to paper.

The Bible is intended to be read the same way, in the context of a love relationship. God speaks through the story directly to you and I in order to move us. It may be for the purposes of mission or it may be to put up a guardrail in our lives by hearing Him tell the story of others who failed to do His word. Either way, the voice we hear is personal and loving, not the technically disconnected voice of the Greek interpretation of Paul. We aren’t moved by Paul or John or Micah, we are moved by the story that God tells through them.

This concept is amongst the easiest to understand when we ask ourselves what our significant others want from us more than anything else…to be heard. Listening is loving (thank you Alan Jacobs.)

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Scot McKnight establishes a key idea in The Blue Parakeet mid way through chapter four. He posits that the Bible that God gives us to read is presented as the unfolding story of His ways with His people. When we approach the text as something else, we lose the power of reading the book as a story. In doing so, we lessen its impact on our lives and may even ‘discover’ interpretations that differ from the original intention of the authors or The Author.

Context is everything in reading the Bible as we’ve seen countless times. Context can be viewed as the concentric rings of a pebble in a pond; there is an immediate ring or context, and then one a little further out, and so on. Each of the verses exists in a context of a passage and that exists in a book and so on until we can see that each of the smallest contextual markers contributes to the whole of God’s story. Rather than standing on their own trying to carry the full weight of biblical revelation, the stories contribute to The Story. McKnight gives us a valuable example in asking us to consider our perspective on paying interest on a loan. Many of us have home mortgages or car loans on which we have agreed to pay a certain percentage of interest. We do this as Christians despite the clear biblical prohibition against it in Leviticus 25:35-38. Why? How do we justify dismissing this (and many other) passage when we claim the whole Bible as the Word of God? We do so saying “that was then, this is now” pointing out culturally how our time in God’s story is different from that of the Israelites. We stand correctly in this assertion because we read the Bible as a story with many different eras and cultures represented for the purposes of God’s expression of His relationship with His creation.

The question that we must address is what determines “what was for then?”  If we read for promises and blessings or morsels of law we lose sight of the story and we are tempted to say that ‘this was for then’ and ‘it is also for now’ to everything, despite the obvious cultural differences. Tempering this is the easily remembered device: God spoke to Moses in Moses ways in Moses days, to Amos in Amos’ days in Amos’ ways and to us in our days in our ways. If we are able to read the Bible as story and we understand the thread that runs throughout, we see that same thread running through our own lives in our own modern ways. Each author reworked the bigger story for his audience and we should read what God has left for us in our own context.

I struggle a bit with this chapter. Is it for everyone to decide what ‘was for then’ on their own? Is it only in the context of reading as a community that we can discover that? I’m interested to hear your views on this and on the book as a whole.