Thursday, November 27, 2008

Taking Liberties

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Rom 8:5)

You my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13)

Christian liberty is a wonderful thing – it is God treating us as adults. Back in the Old Testament the situation was very different – the Law regulated almost every area of a person’s life in great detail. So you were told precisely when and how to worship, what you could eat, what you could wear, what day to take off…the list goes on. The Bible calls that period in the history of God’s people a time of infancy and even slavery (Gal 4:1ff). But with the coming of Jesus those who live by the Spirit have been brought to maturity or adulthood (Gal 4:25). That is, they have been granted freedom from lives strictly governed by rules. Because when you think about it the thing that children and slaves have in common is this: they both live under the authority of others coupled with the threat of punishment if they don’t comply.

In contrast for the Christian there is liberty – liberty to follow God not out of legal compulsion but out of a renewed heart. So no orders about when and how often you must attend church services, no instructions about where or how often you can have a drink, no commands about how much time you ought to take off….

Now at this point, natural legalists that we are, we can start to feel a bit twitchy. We worry that we are opening a door to moral anarchy and a Christian free-for-all. After all if there are ‘no rules’ then surely our churches will go to the dogs with lack of commitment and respectability. Well here we need to go back to the idea of being an adult in Christ…

My six year old son needs rules. For example, he needs his bedtime to be set and enforced by an adult . If it was left up to him he would stay up all night if possible – but it would ruin him of course. He is a child – he doesn’t have the maturity to make a wise decision about when he should get to bed. At age six you will push every boundary and if they are not enforced you will have no rerstraint in doing all sorts of foolish things. I, on the other hand, have no-one to tell me when to go to bed – I am subject to no rules in that area of my life. But as an adult, I have the wisdom and maturity to realise that if I don’t get to bed at a reasonable hour then I’ll suffer for it – so by and large I go to bed at a reasonable time without external compulsion. In fact, I know if I don’t regulate myself then the consequences will be destructive – sloppy at work, irritable with kids and lazy at home. However, once every 4 or 5 years I do stay up ‘all night’ – to watch the election results! You see I have the liberty to do that on occasions – while not allowing that liberty to become a harmful pattern.

So once in while you may have an exhausting Saturday and really need to rest on Sunday morning and thus miss church – no problem, you have that liberty. Once in while you go to a bar for a work night out and have a drink – no problem, you have that liberty. But if every Saturday I commit myself to activities that render me exhausted on Sunday, or if every weekend I’m in the bar drinking – then I need to ask myself if my liberty is becoming an excuse for irresponsibility in other areas of life?

So Christian - all grown up in Jesus: how will you use your new liberties? No-one will force you to get to church regularly, attend a prayer meeting, give time to a service activity – you have the freedom to be involved or not in any such things – you are ‘an adult’ and adults aren’t subject to a child’s regime. But if we use our freedom just as an excuse to regularly lie in on Sunday morning, to skip the prayer meeting or not bother about service – then we are behaving more like children than adults.

Enjoy the freedom and liberty that Christ has brought you – throw off the legalistic guilt that comes from basing holiness on slavish rule keeping. But do so as a grown-up – ‘in your thinking be adults’ (1 Cor 14:20). Remember that while ‘everything is permissable…not everything is beneficial’ (1 Cor 8:12)*.

Being a Christian is about standing in grace – not rigid box ticking (legalism) or living self indulgently (license) – but living responsibly, sacrificially and with maturity for the welfare of others and glory of God.

Paul is speaking here not about moral issues of course, but about issues of conscience and good practise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Shack - a review

'The Shack' by Wm Paul Young is a New York Times bestseller - but why is a book about meeting 'the Trinity' in a shack it proving so popular among non-Christians & some Christians alike.

Paul Grimmond assesses it in The Briefing - see link below.

The Briefing Library: We need more shack time

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Be Gentle

So I say live by the Spirit… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5:16,22-23)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)

...but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children (1 Th 2:7)

Gentleness’ – it’s hardly rock n’ roll, cutting edge or in fashion. Our culture generally regards it as something to associate with kittens, soppy aunts and luxury toilet paper. The esteemed characteristics of our age – the ones perceived to have ‘real value’ – are efficiency, dynamism, single-mindedness, and being an achiever. Alan Sugar, Simon Cowell & Duncan Bannatyne (none of whom immediately conjures up a picture of gentleness) are among the new high priests of this ‘no nonsense, straight talking, not suffering fools, goal driven’ approach to life. An approach that esteems measurable results over what it sees as vague sentiment. Now, of course, in the workplace tough decisions have to be taken and none of this is to say that the above characteristics don’t have value in certain contexts.

The danger is, however, that these values and role models could lead us to develop a certain hardness and insensitivity in our dealings with others. A mindset of being ‘results’ orientated, needing to maximise efficiency (e.g. maximum output for lowest cost) and penalising ‘failure’ can all too easily seep into church-life. Inevitably one of the first casualties when we go down those kind of roads will be ‘gentleness’. We will become desensitised to the individual lives of our Christian brothers and sisters and instead start to assess them just as parts of a 'church machine' or components in a strategy.

One of the outcomes in the history of ecomonic thinking was the development of the idea of ‘human capital’. This meant that people became categorised in the same way as machinery and fields – as assets or components in the profit making exercise. But in a godly world-view people can never just be seen as components in an enterprise. Thus however much such a view of people might prevade the economic world we need to see people through Christ-like eyes – that is, as infinitely valuable souls made in the image of God.

So as un-macho or inefficient as it might appear to our society we need to put being gentle back at the forefront of how we engage with people. Gentleness is a Christ-like characteristic – it means being sensitive to the feelings of others – some fruits bruise very easily, that’s why we handle them gently. It means taking time to listen and not assume we know ‘their problem’ or that our assessment is the best one. It means keeping things in proportion - e.g. the irony that you can expect to be shown grace if you commit some great moral sin but have strips taken off you if you make a mistake with the PowerPoint!* It means speaking to others, whoever they are, with respect and consideration.

Being gentle is not weakness – it is a way in which we give power away and we can only do that from a position of strength – the strength that comes from being secure in Christ and having a confidence about God’s love for us. The off-hand and the bully have the real weakness of needing to feel superior over others in order to have any sense of self-worth.

In a fractured and individualistic world being gentle with others (starting in the church) will be a radical and counter-cultural witness to the power of Christ in our lives.

* Obviously it’s right that we show grace for sins – it’s the contrast – you know what I mean.