Friday, April 12, 2013

just realized this one never got posted.

            There is a lot of teaching here in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 from Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul covers three main topics in these verses: a statement of why they are doing what they are doing, a point-of-view adjustment for the letter recipients and finally a note on what the church’s role is in this world.

            So, looking at the three sections in pieces, Paul starts this selection with his statement about what his true motives are. He says that it is their (the church and himself) responsibility to work hard and that God will see how sincere their hearts are in searching. He says that if they seem crazy, it’s only to glorify God and not to draw attention to their own actions. Paul then draws a parallel between the Christian life and the life and death of Jesus. He says that since Christ has died for the entire world, they believe that all Christian believers have died to their old lives and are re-defined as living for Christ. This moves into his second section in which he says that, as Christians, we have to look at our lives as new in nature and in purpose. Living with this perspective on life will keep us from evaluating things from a human perspective. He ends chapter five with a section that functions as a replacement identity for the church in Corinth. He basically says that God’s whole point in sending Jesus was to reconcile people to him; in the same way, Christ is sending us to continue the work he started in bringing God and people back together. He says “we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us” (NLT v. 20).

            This passage was extremely important for the church in Corinth as they were dealing with all types of immorality and non-Christian traditions penetrating the church there; as people who were fairly new converts they were slowly losing their mission focus without a solid Christian leader living among them. This passage gave them a point of reference on how they should be assessing ideologies and traditions that were leaking into their church. This portion of Paul’s letter also gave them a sense of purpose and belonging in that he gives them the title of “Ambassadors for God”; they are the one’s pleading with people to come back to God through accepting Jesus and what he did to bridge the gap between man and God.

            This message is just as applicable in our lives as it was to the church in Corinth. We all too often as materialistic, western Christians forget that evangelism and calling people back to God is a central mission accepted by us when we accepted Christ and that in deciding to become disciples, we are also deciding to make disciples. It is all too easy in this age of communication and technology to forget that we are dead to our materialistic selves and our identity is now in Christ as the continuation of his message of love. Paul also gives a word about directing glory to God and not bragging about how spectacular our ministry is, but rather having a sincere heart for lost people. This charge for this ancient church is the same charge for our church.

            My reaction to this passage was that of a student listening to a teacher. Paul writes in such a direct way (this being a letter) that everything he says is instruction for my life. All we have to do is place his instruction in current day terms and settings which, strangely, is similar to the sinfulness of the church of Corinth. I know I can learn something from Paul and I think that any Christian can also grow by applying Paul’s instruction based on its validity and not on his reputation.


Through the difficulties of decision making.

In the last few weeks or so, I’ve been going through what I’ve come to call my “quarter-life crisis”. This has been a time for me to stop and evaluate everything that I’ve been doing, what my goals are, what I want out of my education and who I want to be. Needless to say, this has been a heavy time. Out of this heavy time, however, there has been beauty. There is something great about stopping to survey the landscape of one’s life. You get fresh perspective on what you’re doing and it can be an encouraging and energizing time. One of my favorite people, Michael Gungor, covers it well in his book “The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse”. He describes times like these as climbing out of the valley of the Grand Canyon to the edge and looking at the big picture in all of its God-given beauty and then making one’s way back to the bottom where the work gets done.

From a lot of these ponderings, there is one thing that has come to light and that is that I have some serious decisions to make; ones that could change everything. While I’m not studied or skilled in metaphysics, I do believe in some sort of butterfly effect. I believe it’s evident when I reflect on how (for better or worse) one selfish decision in my past set in motion events that would eventually put me where I am today. Now, I can’t know whether some of these things would have happened regardless of that decision, but I do know what did happen and it’s the actualities that lend themselves to support some theory of chain reactions where if we had chosen a different page in life’s “choose your own adventure” book, things would have been dramatically different.

So, I thought I’d share some of the insights that have helped me along in this big-decision-making time in my life. If you can use them, God love you for it. If not, well, thanks for spending some time reading my thoughts; it does mean something to me that you’re just reading it at all.

First and foremost in our decision making process, we need to understand that some things in life simply take priority. For me, this is an easy enough thing to distinguish. I intend to devote my life as a servant-minister to other Christians in some capacity. What that actually looks like is evolving and what that will look like in ten years, no one can say. But for me, the bottom line is simple.

 This got me thinking about how one can feel assured that one made the right decision and the truth is that you can’t. It’s difficult to swallow, so take some sugar with it, but the truth is that you will never know beyond a shadow of doubt that you made the best decision. Thankfully, Scripture and tradition tells us that God has our best interest at heart and, though we’ll mess up (and we will), he can make beautiful things out of our mess. This isn’t an excuse to not try, but it is encouragement in the face of uncertainty. So in order to attempt to make a broader rule of thumb in regards to decision making, I’ll offer the following statement (that I tweeted earlier):

“The only true obligation you have is to love God with all that you are and then to love people like he does”.

It seems like a simple modification of Jesus’ two greatest commands and what theologians refer to as Jesus’ “new command” and it is, but what I have done is set it in the context of decision making. For those of us in the position to make these decisions, we need to keep one thing at the forefront as our primary decision-making filter: love God. Thankfully, this can be done in innumerable places, times and processes. So this first and greatest command actually alleviates a lot of stress while still narrowing our options down. Thus, we must first ask “which of these options best demonstrates my love for God?” Now, don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t narrow it down too much; like I said, loving God can look like any number of actions.

The next filter or standard we then use is “loving people” and not just loving people like we’re comfortable loving people, but loving people like God loves people. This raises the standard to an unreachable height, but it is inspiring because we can reach beyond our natural capabilities (via God’s Spirit) and touch the heart of those that God loves. Loving like God means loving when it’s hard and uncomfortable or even painful. It means costing you something of yourself and it means possibly facing rejection. Take heart, though: Jesus himself faced those things so that he could demonstrate God’s great love for us. So this next filter also doesn’t narrow down the options too much because there are people everywhere and, thus, you can love people wherever you are in contact with them.

Now, you might be thinking “I thought this blog was going to be helpful” or “can’t you just tell me what the right thing to do is?”And while I wish I had all the answers, the reality is that we’ve each been given tasks to accomplish and no one can do yours for you.

We can, however, be encouraged that God extends ridiculous amounts of grace. I’m writing a song right now that starts with this line: “God is not the god of the necessary, but he is the god of extravagancy…” I believe that’s true and within that extravagancy, we find that he only asks two life-defining things of us: to love him with everything and love people like he does. When these are our parameters of decision making, we find that it takes a lot to get outside of his grace. He gives us room to make real decisions and while many Christians will pray “your will be done”, many don’t realize that within his perfect will, he gives us choices. God is so creative that he created creatures that create and can reason like he does and make decisions like he does. It’s part of who we are.

So I apologize if I didn’t make your decision-making-process any easier, but I hope you can take this as encouragement that there is grace extended to you in whatever you decide. There is a broad plethora of options, all of which allow for your only true obligation (as opposed to the ones we place on ourselves):

Love God with everything that you are and love people like he does.

Grace and Peace to you all,                                                       
The Dread