Give Yourself to Others …

Archive for the ‘analysis’ Category

I discovered a new movie today, Happy.  check it out at http://www.thehappymovie.com.

What’s interesting to me is the ultimate conclusion of the film.  The director takes you thru the typical set up of “What do you want most out of life?”  The most common answer is “to be happy.”  Then, you get all the research on what happiness is, how it can be measured, etc.  There are numerous stories about happy people in places and circumstances which will likely surprise you.

But the conclusion?

The single thing that makes most people happy is to be kind and serve others.  Wow!

I’ve only just begun to contemplate the implications on the message of Jesus.  For all the years, the world has sought happiness, and now the world is discovering (ever so slowly) that Jesus had the answer along.

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Among theologians, both professional and amateurs, there is sometimes a debate over Solo Scriptura, or the idea that everything about God is contained in the Scriptures … variously defined as either the Old Testament and/or New Testament text.

First we have to recognize that the “word of God” as used in the NT Text is not a reference to scriptures.

Second, even the NT Text itself seems to minimize the value of written text. Hebrews 10:16 emphasizes that God will write his covenant with us in our hearts — in contrast with the old covenant which was written in stone.

Third, the NT Text cannot possible be comprehensive in it’s presentation of or about God, the Son and the Spirit. No human text could possibly contain everything there is to know about the subject. You might argue the NT Text contains everything we NEED to know — which is a credible position — but not everything THERE IS to know.

Fourth, the NT Text itself says that a legal or command oriented approach to righteousness is not what the new covenant with God is about. However, what does a reliance on the Text result in? A perpetual argument about what the Text means — which cannot be what God desired. And in fact, it seems to perpetuate a Pharisaical approach to our relationship to God, which is repeatedly condemned in the NT Text, especially in the reports in Mark about Jesus.

The only time Jesus is quoted as describing his own words as commands occur in John 13 and John 15. Both times, his command is to love one another as he loved us.

For me, everything flows from that. If it doesn’t, then it’s not from God.

This is the reason, for me, the debate over IM is so misguided.

Because for anyone to condemn or even chastise me for using IM — whether a little or a lot — requires you to judge my heart. And no one knows my heart, except God. Some times I don’t even know my own heart.

So, back to the initial focus of this post … a Solo Scriptura approach to understanding God is limiting. I won’t say I have a better source than the NT Text. I don’t.

But I also know that God is not constrained by or limited to what is written in the NT Text.

Yesterday, I worshipped at the Arlington Church of Christ, Arlington, Virginia.  My family worshipped there back in the mid-1950’s, when I was in elementary school.  We were visiting friends.

David Condon spoke.  He made a couple of great points about prayer.

First, he used an analogy of being in a boat rowing towards and island.  You can take a rope and throw it around a rock or something on the island and start to pull.

But, are you [1] pulling the island towards the boat; or, [2] pulling the boat towards the island.

David’s point about prayer is that it should take us towards God.  Prayer should be about helping us see things the way God sees things.  That’s when our will begins to conform to God’s will.  And our prayers are answered in conformance with God’s will — not to satisfy our wants or desires.

Oh, that we could see things the way God sees them.  How would that change us?

So, I started looking for the single premise from which everything else comes.  That may not seem like the right question for you, but it seemed right to me — and in fact, still does.

Eventually, I settled — likely to no one’s surprise on the following passage from Matthew 22:34-40 (quoted here from The Message)

The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

After all, we’ve got Jesus saying everything in God’s Law comes from these two commands.  It seems pretty clear.

One of my personal guidelines is that the simplest answer is generally the best answer.  Answers cannot always be simple, but those are still the best ones.  And this passage seems to fit that requirement.  Although I confess, I’m continually a little amazed how many believers seem to refute that these are the most important commands.  They both seem to, and often admit to, placing other, more detailed commands ahead of these.  But ultimately, each of us is accountable for what we individually believe — so, to each his, or her, own.

After finally settling on these, I began contemplating what they really mean.  They are such fundamental principles that they may be simple to quote, but they are very difficult to fully apply to life.

My contemplations resulted in two dilemmas, which I could not easily resolve:

  • What does it really mean to love God?

Now, I get it that my love for God should be all consuming — at least that’s how I understand the implications of the heart, soul, strength and mind references.  But what can I really do for God.  Sure, I can worship him, as I should.  But I also have no illusion that God does not need my love in order to be God.  God is not changed by my love for him.  Much more likely is that I am changed by my love for God.  So, I didn’t know exactly the implications of loving God so completely.

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?

Some folks get preoccupied with the “who is my neighbor? question, but the story of the Samaritan, to me, pretty much clarified that, at the very least, my neighbor is anyone with whom I come into contact, anyone, anytime.

But the other question is what does it mean to love someone the way I love myself?  I mean, I know some people who really treat themselves poorly.  And what would this verse mean about how they treat others.  Surely, it’s not a basis to treat other poorly, just because I have a bad attitude about myself, or whatever.

So, I struggled with what the standard is for loving.

And a related question is the question of what is even means to love.  There are six different Greek words for love, but us English speakers are stuck with just one.  Got to find a better word for love, too.

The link below takes you to a powerful rendition of this great hymn.

I admit to a somewhat visceral reaction when I hear someone say they can’t be around another person, because of what someone has said or what they’ve done.

Disagreements over doctrinal matters have provided the basis for denominational divisions among people who claim the label, Christian.  Similarly, cultural or social differences have provided a basis for similar social divisions by race, ethnicity and other criteria.

So, the question of “tests of fellowship”, while a familiar phrase to religious people, is equally applicable to secular matters.

When I read the gospel of the New Testament, I have not yet found an example of Jesus applying such tests of fellowship.  He dealt with each individual based upon each unique individual.

That’s very hard.  But very necessary, if we’re to “love each other, the way Jesus loved us.”

I don’t want you to misunderstand the point I’m about to make.  I agree there is value is discussion about the meaning to the Text.  It’s an important part of growing in understanding and maturity of our faith.

But, I also believe there is a limit to such value.  Often this limitation becomes even stronger as the vigor of any given position increases.  Here’s why:

In an ultimate sense, when we debate/discuss what the Text means, we are debating what the proper doctrine should be.  Another way to say that is “we’re debating what is right and what is wrong.”  In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that, but such discussions often lead us to judge the faith of other believers.

And the Text itself says we should not be judging the faith of other believers, only God is their judge.

After all, to condemn someone with whom I disagree on some doctrinal matter is to disregard two things:

  1. it is tantamount to imposing a new law on someone, when Jesus repeated said he came to do away with Law as an approach to finding righteousness before God.
  2. by implication, it says what God has forgiven me of is less significant than what he has forgiven you of — which is an absurd position.
After all, “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  So, it is irrelevant that God may have forgiven me of different things than he’s forgiven you of.
We are both forgiven.  And we’ve both been forgiven a lot.
And that forgiveness is evidence of how much God loves us.  And Jesus said we’re to love the way he loved us.  If that is the standard, then what doctrinal view is it that you might hold that would make me not love you and try to treat you with as much love as Jesus did?
There should be nothing that can separate you from me — because there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.
That is the limit of doctrinal debates.

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