A life (continually) examined

After a friend sent me this link to a Cal Thomas op-ed, a couple of things came together for me this week.

Combining thoughts from four books: A Thicker Jesus, Vanishing Grace, Jouful Exiles and Faitful Presence I have no changed perspectives, just new/fresh words and reminders—here are a few reflections.

Two of these books point to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and what I think Thomas is encouraging…it’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer promoted—it is the idea that by living completely in this secular world that we learn to love God…to have faith in Him…abandoning attempts to make something of ourselves and “living unreservedly in life’s duties, challenges, problems, successes, failures, experiences and perplexities.”

Developing a mindset of continual self-examination of my ideas and worldview that may be holding me captive, is important, looking for whatever is holding me back from bringing God pleasure. If I find something is not consistent with his Word, I repent.

My friend, Chris, would put it simply, “Just show up!” In doing this, we throw ourselves completely into God’s care. As Father Pedro Arrupe said, “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”

In his book, Joyful Exiles, Life in Christ on the Dangerous Edge of Things, James Houston,  suggests we be like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. We must admit that we do not know the way…we find our way by fixing our eye on the light and to following it whoever it leads. It almout feels like a contradiction: our ability to be divinely guided arises from our uncertainty, our inadequacy, our doubts, and fears—we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corintians 5:7).  As we limp along on our spiritual journey, our compass point to where God’s grace can meet our deepest need, transforming it into strength.  Like a light we set our eye on it, and we move forward.  

While this may feel like a free-fall for some, with another perspective, in doing this we can joyfully embrace life’s opportunities to exhibit moral excellence, godly knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, affection, and love for everyone in a secular age (‭2 Peter‬ ‭1‬:‭5-7‬ NLT). We can embrace the perfect example of the humanity of Jesus Christ in a way that allows us to enjoy the good things of this world as gifts from God (‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3‬:‭13‬ NLT).
Too often I have lived my life in a way that communicated what well meaning “cultural warriors” have sometimes exhibited—too preachy, too judgmental—inappropriately taking a moral high ground when I should have characterized my life as flawed, just like everyone else. As Yancey puts it, “If I make progress at all, it is not so much that I always am making right decisions but I make progress by responding appropriately to wrong ones.”

It’s seeing my  life more as a series of failures punctuated by God’s gracious response to my mistakes.

I think Thomas is right—writing in the context of the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage—the decision is not the real issue. The issue becomes, how will I respond in love and grace, not with judgment and finger pointing. Thomas is right when he says we can affirm our commitment to traditional marriage while at the same time loving people who need the warm embrace of Christ.

I believe we can let the Holy Spirit of God sort out the complexities and perplexities in people’s lives…he doesn’t need me to do that. This is incarnational discipleship.

I love the way Staasen characterizes a life of incarantional discipleship. He says Jesus taught incarnational discipleship as a part of the quest for every one of his followers. What does it look like? Believing and acting as if:

  1. Jesus Christ reveals God’s character and provides norms for guiding my life (I cannot reduce Jesus to a thin principle, high ideal or only doctrinal affirmation);
  2. Holistic understanding of the Lordship of Christ and sovereignty of God throughout all of life and all of creation (God’s will on earth, in our secular environment, as it is in heaven);
  3. Belief in a strong call for continual and ongoing repentance from captivity to ideologies that create barriers, divisions and prisons for my mind and actions.

Holding on to this strong commitment to the soverignty of God, combined with a life-long commitment to self-examination, requires me to leave room for change. While Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8 NLT), God does sometimes do something new—always consistent with his nature—but he is not bound by tradition.

“I, yes I, am the LORD, and there is no other Savior. From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done….[But] I am about to do something new, and I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭43‬:‭19‬ NLT)

In the midst of unimaginable evil in Germany, Bonhoeffer was an eternal optimist because he believed what God said through the Scriptures. Bonhoeffer often spoke of Jesus Christ as the “man for others,” as selflessness incarnate, loving and serving others to the absolute exclusion of his needs and desires.

So, maybe like Bonhoeffer, and as Staasen puts it, “I am on a life-long quest “searching for solid ground that can only be found in the God of the Bible where I find a faithful and solid identity for my faith, ethics and behaviors that become my identity and compass in a rapidly changing and interactive age.” I am looking for normative guidance—not an authoritarian mandate.

Yancey poses a good question, “What did I do to bring God pleasure today?” He postulates that part of what brings God pleasure is dispensing grace…freely given to us…freely dispensed. So even if we disagree with others, and we will, we are given a strong example of how to live our lives…as Christ did. He spent time healing and working for the inclusion of those who were untouchable, unacceptable and marginalized in the larger society. He didn’t condemn them but rather encouraged them, as he did the Samaritan woman at the well, to drink from the living water only he could give.

In his great sermon, Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven…if you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭43-45, 47‬ NLT)

We are different because we are called to dispense compassion and grace…that makes us standout; it makes us different.

Finally, in his book, Faithful Presence, James Hunter argues for “faithful presence.” Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. “If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world,” Hunter writes, “it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.” In the world but not of it…

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews‬ ‭10:36‬ ‭NLT)‬‬

About Bob Creson

President/CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Orlando, Florida. It is an injustice not to have the right to read the Scriptures.
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