Monthly Archives: April 2011

Are you God’s man? Or a law man?

No Dancing!

For most of my life, I believed that being a Christian was mostly about following rules.  And that those rules were primarily about stuff you weren’t supposed to do.  It’s not too surprising, really.  If you asked 100 random Americans what it means to be a Christian, they’d probably have several “don’t do X” in their responses.

And that isn’t surprising either.  The church has consistently supported this thinking by making its most visible public statements about things that people ought not to do.  Don’t drink.  Don’t dance. Don’t _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite “don’t.”)

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m not saying that there aren’t thousands (millions?  Gajillions?) of things that we can do that are displeasing and dishonoring to God.  But I am saying that when all the public sees of us is a series of DON’Ts, it’s logical to assume that Christianity is really about following the rules.  IT ISN’T.

It is about loving God with all your heart, soul and strength.  It is about loving your neighbor as much as  yourself.  It is about loving and serving all.  Including – no, especially – your enemies.  It is about living like Jesus did.

What struck me during my bible study today is that this has been an issue since the beginning of the church.  Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, summed up the issue like this:

I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. – Galatians 2:19-20, The Message.

I’ve been trying to think about how I can show the people around me – through my words and my actions – what Jesus was like.  How loving he was – to people who were “unloveable.”  How he came to serve.  How he enabled people to change from the inside – and not by the force of law.

God’s law provides guidance for us, and shows us how to live his way.  As Paul said,

But I can hear you say, “If the law code was as bad as all that, it’s no better than sin itself.” That’s certainly not true. The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, “You shall not covet,” I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it. – Romans 7:7, The Message

We are fools if we ignore the law.  But we are greater fools if we mistake God’s law for God himself.  I, like Paul, want to be God’s man – not a “law man.”

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Puritan Prayer – the Valley of Vision

I’ve always had a fairly negative view of the group of people we call generically “The Puritans.”  I imagine that my negativity stems from highly publicized events such as the Salem Witch Trials, but I also think that it’s probably also colored by our society’s view of Puritans as hypocritical repressors.  In some ways, all most of us know about Puritans, we learned in The Scarlet Letter – a book that certainly doesn’t paint a very positive picture.

However, from time to time at the Austin Stone, either the pastors or one of the worship team will read a passage from a book called Valley of Vision.  It’s a book of collected Puritan devotions from authors primarily in the 1600s and 1700s in France, Holland, England and America, edited by Arthur Bennett, an English pastor.  And whatever shortcomings – real or perceived – may remain in my consciousness, I can say that the prayers they prayed were remarkable.  Deep, thoughtful and beautiful, I find them completely relevant to my spiritual journey, though they were written in a much different time and place.  I typically close my morning bible study with a reading from Valley of Vision … Below is an excerpted example that moved me as I read it this morning.

O Holy Spirit,
As the sun is full of light,
the ocean full of water,
Heaven full of glory,
So may my heart be full of thee.
Vain are all divine purposes of love
and the redemption wrought by Jesus
except thou work within,
regenerating by thy power,
giving me eyes to see Jesus,
showing me the realities of the unseen world.
Give me thyself without measure,
as an unimpaired fountain,
as inexhaustible riches.
I bewail my coldness, poverty, emptiness, imperfect vision, languid service, prayerless prayers, praiseless praises.
Suffer me not to grieve or resist thee.
Come as power,
to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and to keep me thine;
Come as teacher,
leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding;
Come as love,
that I may adore the father and love him as my all;
Come as joy,
to dwell in me, move in me, animate me;
Come as light,
illuminating the scripture, moulding me in its laws;
Come as sanctifier,
body, soul and spirit thine;
Come as helper,
with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step;
Come as beautifier,
bringing order out of confusion, loveliness out of chaos
Magnify to me they glory by being magnified in me,
and make me redolent of thy fragrance.
– Spiritus Sanctus, The Valley of Vision

Reading works like that tells me that there is much more to the dour, hypocritical repressor in the heart of the Puritan … and makes me want to learn more about my spiritual forebears.