September 19th, 2013
Let me begin with two introductory chords and then a riff on a third.
First chord. Margarita’s question during Q&A last Sunday resurfaces an age-old question: is the portrayal of God in the Old Testament markedly different from what we find in the New in Jesus, who, according to Hebrews is the “exact imprint” of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3)? Don Carson ventures an answer to that question, but from an unexpected angle. The claim we have a “kinder, gentler” version of God in the New Testament would seem to defy the evidence. There’s no less a demonstration of the just wrath of God in the New as in the Old, save unto Whom the wrath comes. And it is the Object of God’s wrath in the New that serves to confirm the very mercy He ascribes to Himself in the Old.
Second chord. To our point that the favor of God in Christ dramatically alters the way we view and contend with sin, John Calvin offers some insight into what distinguishes a Christian in that struggle. Ambivalence on the precipice of sin and remorse in its wake offer two sound (but not necessarily definitive) indications that one has succumbed to what C.S. Lewis called the “good infection“–the life in Christ that has overpowered the spiritual immune system and begun replicating His influence throughout.
Now the riff. Last Sunday we took our first crack at what it might mean for us to be faithfully present to God. We examined the ways God has been present to us, and the degree to which He became present to us in Jesus. Then we boiled down what it means to be faithfully present to Him in two interdependent senses: rest and pursuit.
One reason we have elders is that no one person is sufficient to see all that’s necessary in leading and bearing the burdens of the church. Doug’s question during Q&A invited some concrete application of this aspect of faithful presence to God. So let me attempt a real-world synthesis.
Say someone you know and love has entered into a habitual form of destructiveness, whether in their speaking or in the choices they’re making. These aren’t occasional offenses but a discernible pattern. Something has to be said but the saying of which causes you only dread given the potentially dreadful outcomes of saying so. The ostensibly “simpler” route would be to say nothing and hope the corrective will come in due course by some other means.
How would the repose and pursuit of faithful presence to God play out in this hypothetical–with which, sadly, we’re all too familiar in the actual?
When the Psalmist writes “…in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (56:4) he summarizes our confidence to act without fear of the consequences, a confidence both reiterated by Jesus in His life (cf. Matthew 10:28) and deepened by Jesus in His death and resurrection. If the Gospel tells me I may even lose my life as a consequence of my action and yet still lose nothing that will not be returned in glorious measure (Romans 8:18, 2Cor 4:17), then how much less do I have reason to fret over the loss of face, relationship, or remuneration that my action might provoke? The confidence with which to act derives from the “repose” we receive from the eternal pardon and provision of the Son.
In that repose of knowing that the most flesh can take from me is essentially insignificant I can then pursue the presence of God in terms of reflecting His character no matter its cost. As He speaks the truth in love, I have confidence to speak it (Eph 4:15). As He teaches and admonishes so I am led to admonish (Col 3:16)–even if the effort to speak, in that moment and perhaps forever, makes no discernible difference. I practice the presence of God by acting in His way (pursuit) while resting in His promise (repose). The anxiety attendant to the speaking doesn’t simply evaporate by thinking about the source of my repose, but the practice, if you will, taunts the anxiety: “is what you fear really as fearful as your heart is telling you? does what you’re prone to lose really outweigh either the gain of what may come from the faithfulness, or moreover the satisfaction of having trusted God?”
Practicing the presence in the truth of who He is has innumerable applications. So I wonder: who of you would be courageous enough to share your experiences in doing the same or similar? Not just in finding the courage to speak but also to act, even when there was a risk and potential cost in doing so. Help us all bring the application out of the abstract!
Two essays came across my desk this week about two constituencies that aren’t exactly at peace. Even if you don’t fall into one of these two demographics the dissatisfaction they embody isn’t confined to their station. The common thread that runs between them both–and through us all I would argue–is a focus upon themselves and the anxieties that arise from it.
Those in Generation Y–born in the late 70s and early 80s–find themselves, this article says, unhappy. Compared to their parents, whose own parents’ postwar wherewithal spurred them to take advantage of that era’s economic prosperity, Generation Y finds a more challenging set of conditions in which to replicate their parents’ experience. The struggle to find a similar station leaves them crestfallen. Couple the anxiety of that disparity to the way technology, in particular social media, allows users to create an online version of themselves that creates an often misleading perception of their true condition, and Generation Y feels even more angst over what they perceive as everyone else’s success, stability, and satisfaction.
The phenomenon isn’t confined to those in their 30s, though. The 40 and 50 somethings interiorize the anxiety, another article argues, to such a degree that it diminishes their interest in relationships which were at one time very close. As one who just turned 42 this week (and not without its surprises) I had to consider my own practice of letting this season of high-responsibility impinge upon my capacity to cultivate what’s necessary for deep friendship. The author of the article calls it “The Referndum” in which we haplessly and hopelessly evaluate others choices while either inwardly lamenting or defending our own. By this age and stage radical changes seem too costly and risky which only exacerbates the feeling of being constrained in the moment.
Again, what ties these two articles together is a preoccupation with the self: how am I faring compared to others? does my life matter given what I perceive in the lives of others? Comparison is inevitable and not necessarily depleting. Sometimes it can even sharpen. But as both articles attest, the comparison is most often its own form of self-induced tyranny. We search for that sweet spot of life that in time proves ever elusive and ever changing with each new benchmark we see in another person’s experience. We then wile away our days either precariously satisfied that we have outpaced some, or pitifully despondent at being “behind.”
It’s no way to live, and yet doesn’t it sometimes feel as though defying the urge would be as easy as defying gravity?
The Gospel is about God rescuing us from our sin. And that rescue very much includes a rescue from ourselves, in particular from the penchant for self-preoccupation.
So this Sunday we’ll reach for another handhold in our ascent to what it means to live faithfully present to God. We’re in 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2, written by one who was unafraid to vocalize his own anxieties, and who came to elaborate, with fear and trembling, why forgetting yourself is the way to freedom.
With our new home we have new opportunities for service. One such need is for a crew of people willing to serve in the kitchen. Most Sundays we’ll only need help with preparing the coffee and cleaning up. But there will be other occasions for more extensive work. If you have a penchant for hospitality, email us your interest.
Finally, will you pray…
- for wisdom for our session–both present and future–as it considers how to put this vision into concrete practice
- for Kyria Johnson as she raises support to serve with Mission to the World in Senegal (and don’t forget how you can contribute to her support by earmarking your contributions to our “Mission Fund”; proceeds in that account at calendar year’s end will go all to her!)
- for our elder candidates, Jim Akovenko and Hugh Comer, during their time of training. You’ll soon have a chance to become more familiar with them.
- for our new relationship with Fairmeadows Baptist Church–that it would be mutually encouraging and edifying
- for Don and Helen Johnson in his ongoing battle with ALS
- for our covenant children as the Session considers how to both provide for their nurture and moreover to assist parents in that nurture
See you Sunday,
Oh yeah…one more thing: the playground is open for business! A big shout-out to Larry Wiseman for his astute oversight, and to the whole crew that helped him.