Aug 26 2010

Trust And Obey

In Sunday School, we used to sing this song:

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of his word,
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
~ Lyrics by  John H. Sammis, 1846-1919

It’s a very interesting little song. If you look at the words, you can see that it would be easy to give the song a legalistic twist so that the message becomes, “If we don’t trust God enough and fail to obey Him, He won’t abide with us.” Unfortunately, far too many of us have been subjected to this kind of bullshit, which is definitely a contradiction to Romans 8:38,39. Fortunately, no one close to me saw fit to pile this kind of legalism on me as a child. There were a few legalists in the area, but I knew enough to be able to shake off their craziness.

The message of this song, as I understood it as a child, is this: We can obey God, because we can always trust Him. If we ask for bread, He won’t give us a rock (Matt. 7:9). Obedience is not so that God will be happy with us, obedience is so that we will be happy. Our lives simply work better when we operate according to God’s direction.

This, of course, is one of the main messages of the Old Testament. It seems that nearly every story, from Adam and Eve to Noah, Abraham and Moses, repeated this theme – God could be obeyed, because He could be trusted.

There’s an old story that I’ve heard over the years about a hiker who falls off a cliff only to grab on to a lone tree branch sticking out over the abyss. The hiker begins screaming, “Help! Is anybody up there?”

After what seems like hours, a booming voice answers, “I’m here.”

“Who are you?” the hiker yells.

“I’m God.”

“Can you help me?”

“Yes. First, let go of the branch.”

The hiker takes several moments to consider this, and finally yells, “Is anybody else up there?”

God is not capricious. He doesn’t ask us to jump through hoops or make sacrifices simply for His amusement. Sometimes obedience is so we can accomplish one of the “good works” that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10); often, however, I suspect it is simply for our own good, so that we avoid or be rescued from our own “cliff-hangers.” In other words, it’s so we can enjoy abundant, happier lives.

Being able to obey – even when it seems our only option – is sometimes difficult. However, if we know God and believe that He loves us, and that He can be trusted, it becomes easier to “let go of the branch.”

Questions:

  1. Are there circumstances in your life where God is asking you to let go of the branch?
  2. What, if anything, is preventing you from letting go?


Jul 30 2010

The Problem with Pietists

Some of us who attended Sunday School as children will recall the song that goes,

Be careful little eyes what you see
Be careful little eyes what you see
The Father up above is looking down in love
So be careful little eyes what you see

Although I sang this song as a child, I don’t recall having any particular thoughts about it. However, I know people for whom this song brings back feelings of dread, and you can see why. While it presents itself as a nice, sweet little song and even says that God looks down “in love,” it has very ominous overtones, akin to Sting’s “Every Breath You Take.”

The message is clear: Don’t screw up, because God is watching and He’d be very, very disappointed. The song presents itself as loving, but it’s really intended to produce a sense of shame – and as many have unfortunately discovered, shame can be controlled (the reason behind anyone saying, “Shame on you!”).

Why do we do this to our children? For that matter, why do we still do this to ourselves? Here’s a dose of reality: If the only reason we aren’t doing something is because we know someone is watching, then we’re not really any holier than if we just went ahead and sinned. Wasn’t this Jesus’ point in Matthew 5? It’s not our actions so much as our desires. Certainly our actions have earthly consequences (which is reason for curbing certain damaging behavior), but spiritually speaking, it really doesn’t matter. If I hit you, I’ve both hurt you and committed a crime, and you could have me arrested for battery. If I only want to hit you, I can’t be charged with anything, but I’ve still committed a sin.

Pietists think that by managing sin-deeds, we become more holy. The truth is, when we let God love us, we become holy, and we don’t want to sin (or at least a little less than we did in the past; it is a process). Sin management doesn’t make people holy, it only makes them hypocrites.

Now, this doesn’t mean that what I will call “holiness reminders” aren’t helpful; holiness reminders are like the advice that Paul always gave in his letters – things like, “submit to each other” and “love is patient and kind, not arrogant or boastful.” These things remind us of our goal, that state of perfection that God is taking us to (and also make living with each other a lot easier), so we can do an internal check to see where we need to ask for God’s help.

Holiness is an act of grace, not of our will. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3 NASB)” Our holiness comes to us through grace, through God’s empowering presence in our lives. In other words, it is the by-product of God’s love for us.

Questions:

  1. What were your experiences with guilt and shame as a child?
  2. What is your experience now? Are you still dealing with residual shame, or is someone in your life using religion to add to your shame burden?