Not many people like that word. Upon hearing it used, you may harken back to the days of your childhood and all of those silly rules your parents enforced. Or, your first mental image may be the same as the first result from a google image search for "obedience"...
Either way, it's not exactly our favorite word, especially as Americans. But it's what God loves.
Sometimes when I think about God and hear other people talking about Him, there's a common view that you may be familiar with: that the "Old Testament God" was all about rules and sacrifices, but the "New Testament God" is all about faith and the heart. It's a pretty simple breakdown, but maybe too simple. It seems to be a requirement that everything, even such weighty theological material, be categorized into bite-sized fragements for our society's fast-food consumption. This accessibility has its merits, but sometimes this simplicity needs to be challenged. For me, this bipolar, black-white view God was challenged today.
As I sat in Global Village, toward the end of an all-too-long computer binge, I was confronted* by a particular piece of Scripture that I'll share with you. Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." Yes, it sounds so simple, but isn't that always the case? After a few hours on the computer, and having not yet been in Scripture today, these words were incredibly convicting. The illumination of my priorities was painfully life-giving. I admit that I even reared back against the verse, not initially wanting to relinquish my perceived freedom. I eventually packed up my bag and headed home to obediently spend some time in prayer and reading the Bible. Looking back now, in light of the time I spent between then and now, I vocally stand behind the words of Psalm 19:7 "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." Before I get into my eureka moment from this evening (which is starting to seem much less pressing at this point), I'll ask one more question:
could you use a healthy dose of soul-reviving?
If you say no, I'd probably say you're lying. No matter how good of a mood we may find ourselves in, or how blessed of a season we may be experiencing, I think we all yearn to have our souls be filled to the brim. I'd say to you, follow the nudging of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of Scripture, and find a truer, fuller life on the other side--even when it doesn't look appetizing or as fun as say, facebook :)
OT God v. NT God.
Sacrifice/rules v. Faith/heart issue. What was this grand revelation I had? Well, don't get too excited. It was really more of a cool passage that I had never read before, that I'll share, and we'll be done (minus the extensive footnote--sorry about that one).
So, I've been reading in 1 Samuel this past week, and I'm at a part about halfway through, when Saul is chilling as the King and ruler of Israel. God gives him another directive, via Samuel, to wipe out a people, the Amalekites, and all their possessions. When God says "wipe them out," He means it. Long story short, Samuel does what he thinks is holy, which doesn't happen to be the case. Rather than completely wiping out the Amalekites, he kills them all but their king, plunders all the booty, and in true kingly fashion, takes the best of the best from the loot and sacrifices it to God. Pretty good execution of the plan, eh? God even got some pretty pimp sacrifices.
Well, it wasn't the plan. That's the problem. Let's hear from Samuel, after Saul starts showing off his victory bling: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22)
This is when I got thrown for a loop. I was thinking that Saul was good-to-go with all that sacrifice, but God actually pushed him to forgo those practices in obedience to His specific calling. Today, we would call Saul's actions legalism--a staunch adherence to an established guideline, preculing discernment and following of the Holy Spirit. In our culture of Christianity in the South, I would go so far as to call it a blind adherence. Not only do we firmly stand behind our rules, but sometimes we even forget why they're around. This is very dangerous. That said, I'm not going to go into a discourse on legalism, but I'll suffice to say that the opposite--rampantly sinning under an "umbrella of grace"--is equally destructive. We have to live in the awkward tension that happens when something doesn't fit into our neat boxes. And we have boxes for everything. In high school you could see the boxes all around throughout lunchroom, and we called them cliques. Churches are the worst. When we meet another Christian, within 30 seconds of questioning we can categorize them into their church denomination, worship preference, and most-frequented coffeeshop.
Basically, we want to be able to immediately categorize any new experience, to where we understand it. I'm so bad at this. I wish everything in my life had a big underlined hyperlink to Wikipedia. My life would be so much simpler, yet I would miss out on so much learning. Real, messy learning--the kind that never gets erased. Just ask my co-workers: I read so much Wikipedia to pass the time, and I feel so good about my pursuits of knowledge, but I find myself re-reading articles because it's never a deep-seeded, learned experience. Real, messy learning happens when you're in a cross-cultural setting, and you get yourself into a situation that you have no business being in. Real, messy learning happens when you've wronged a loved one, and you can't take it back. How do you even take a step forward?
Real, messy learning happens when you've disobeyed God's direct orders, and you have to pay. That's not the same as whimsically reading a Wikipedia article about how God deals with sin. You're living it.
Today I was reminded that we aren't supposed to box God in. Who wants to worship something that you can take out of a drawer when it's time to go to church? "Just a second, sweety, I have to put my religion on before we get in the car." No. God is real, and He demands everything we have. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it..."
If we want to follow Jesus, the cost is our lives. We have to give up our comfort, our boxes, our control over awkward situations, and our dignity. The reward is a new life--a true, fuller, deeper life.
"...but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mk. 8:34-35)
I'm praying for all of us, that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. And to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. (Sounds pretty good, eh? Paul's words - Eph. 2:14-21)
*Here I'll add a note about how exactly this verse came to "confront" me. I was simply replying to some birthday love that I received on facebook, and the verse spontaneously popped into my head. You know how? Memorizing scripture. It's legit, guys. I mentioned this in a post on April 27th, and I'm glad to tell you today that it has worked for me. If scripture memorization were a marketable product, call me Billy Mays. After hearing the verse mentioned at church a few weeks ago, I made a point to intentionally repeat it to myself to the point of memory. Now, I find myself being randomly assaulted by Scripture when I'm just trying to enjoy some free time, and not of my own doing. It's what memorizing Scripture does to you, and it's incredible to see a personal discipline actually provide room for the Holy Spirit to work, even when you're not trying to.
**I started out writing inspired by Saul's disobedience in 1 Samuel 14-15, and my desire to box-in my religion just like he did. I ended on a Gospel rant. And I deleted a lot of stuff in between (you're welcome). Thank you so much for reading--I really can't express how much it means to me, even if it's just a perceived audience. The Lord is at work in my heart, especially when I read His word and live out the messes of life with His children, but you're helping me make sense of it all on here. It's new to me, so I'm going to keep working on my editing, but every so often I'm afraid you'll have to endure one of these workings-out of my thoughts and heart. Thanks again!