Saturday, May 19, 2018

New City Catechism: Question 1 - What is our only hope in life and death?

New City Catechism:

Question 1:
What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.
 
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἑαυτῷ ζῇ καὶ οὐδεὶς ἑαυτῷ ἀποθνῄσκει· ἐάν τε γὰρ ζῶμεν, τῷ κυρίῳ ζῶμεν, ἐάν τε ἀποθνῄσκωμεν, τῷ κυρίῳ ἀποθνῄσκομεν. ἐάν τε οὖν ζῶμεν ἐάν τε ἀποθνῄσκωμεν, τοῦ κυρίου ἐσμέν. (Rom. 14:7, 8 NA28)

For no one of us lives for himself and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  If then we live or if we die it is to the Lord.  (Author's Translation)

      We all live for some purpose.  It may not be a well thought out purpose.  It may be a purpose that has selfish or sinful motive.  Our underlying motives are often difficult to discern without self examination.  In 21st Century western society, we usually do not think of us dying for a purpose unless it is for rendering emergency aid for others or some times for combat.  Martyrdom for one's faith would be unusual not in our century but in our geographic surroundings.  Those things we do that risk our lives are things that we may very well die for, however, it probably will not be what we intended as the trade off.  By and large in western culture our goal is not to die for anything but simply to avoid death as long as possible.  Perhaps it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said "There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live."  It may seem morbid that we would want to talk about dying for some purpose, however, it is true we are going to die and how do we die with a purpose?  Purpose in life and death means that our heart is tied to something it loves.  What do we give ourselves?  Or to whom do we give ourselves?  In other words, what do we love? 

     Paul is dealing with the concept of each person living according to his own convictions of what the Lord desire for that person.  We each have to live according to those conviction.  Convictions are not our preferences.  Convictions are those things we believe we are obligated to live up to. There is a sense that if we desire to tell someone what exactly they should believe and do, we might be urging that person live for social acceptance rather than to the Lord.  We as a member of the covenant community must guard against requiring obedience to man made laws.  This is not a live and let live strategy of harmony, but a recognition that obedience to the Lord requires one to live according to convictions.  In order to live according to convictions there must be seasons where the individual who is a member of a family or a church must weigh in for himself or herself.  The person has think it through for himself.  In this life we can often defer to others about various opinions.  However, when it comes to our obedience to God, we must obey what we believe God wants and not some other person.  This is part of how we ensure we are loving God and not just settling into social norms.  The tension of discerning (not deciding) what we think God desires and it being in conflict with other godly people is exactly the sort of tension that keeps our eyes on the Lord and not on the church.  If I follow social norms of the church against what I think God has shown in the Bible, I love the church more than God.  If I follow the social norms of my parents rather than what I believe what God would have me do, I love my parents more than God.

Lord, 
We belong to you.  We desire to increase our love for you both in how we live day by day.  We desire to give our lives in humble service to you.  We belong to you Lord.  We belong to you. 

Amen

Charlie-in-the-Box from The Island of Misfit Toys

ἕκαστος καθὼς ἔλαβεν χάρισμα εἰς ἑαυτοὺς αὐτὸ διακονοῦντες ὡς καλοὶ οἰκονόμοι ποικίλης χάριτος θεοῦ. (1 Pet. 4:10 NA28)

Just as each one received a gift so also serve one another as good keepers of the varied grace of God.  (Author's Translation)

Of note in this verse is how there is coordination between receiving a spiritual gift from God and the type of service one renders.  This is not merely a nice idea that could be a strong choice, rather it is a matter of proper care of the thing that God has given.  The reason for serving according to one's given gift is οἰκονόμοι (Transliteration: oikonomoi), which is the word from which we get economics.  Rather than theory about finances of the world, nation, or other human grouping, this word emphases originally the wisdom needed to make a household orderly.  The beginning of the word has house in it (οἰκος).  In ancient times, the home was not just a place to relaxation or retreat.  The home had many functions, to include things like food production, clothing production, safety, etc...  It was a place that required orderly administration.  This is the emphasis of the word "steward" or "keeper".  If we fail use the gifting from God, we fail to cherish his gift.  We fail to preserve his gift.  We fail an orderly administration of it.

In a world that emphasizes theories that account for all cases, this verse emphasizes understanding with an eye towards variety.  All people are the same.  All people are a bit different.  In fact, the whole of human experience cannot be experienced narrowly.  Those who are different are a part of variety God has given.  Aptitudes, dispositions, interests, abilities, and discernment all are a part of our gifting.  No one has a corner market on what ministry should look exactly like.  In fact each person's gifting is unique.     

Meditating on this verse in 1 Peter has been a blessing to me because it shows that not all have the same gifts, and definitely my gifting does not run on the same tracks as the well travelled routes.  In fact, my path has been highly off from norms.  I have been tempted to get discouraged that I have not normalized my progress in ministry.  When I look at the ministry path I have taken, one way of looking at it is to say I have done it wrong.  There is definatly a truth in saying that.  For instance I did not complete my Masters of Divinity (M.Div) in my 20s as is more in line with normal paths in ministry.  In many ways I wish I had completed my M.Div in my 20s, but finishing after I was 50 has brought me humility and recognition of my own limitations.  Coming face to face with our weaknesses is grace.  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor. 12:9 ESV)"  God's power is made perfect in my weakness.  My weakness is his tool to bring me closer to him.  I do not naturally rejoice in my weakness.  I do thank God for my frustration and slowness of completing my M.Div.  Another area where I am off of the norm is my focus on engagement with the academic side of Bible interpretation.  This bent may hinder some of my desires for the future.  However, this may aid me to focus less on pleasing people and perhaps focus more on pleasing God.  It is yet to be seen how it works out, but seeing that my "Island of Misfit Toys" disposition it is good to know that it has not been out of God's plan.  This brings me comfort.