Saturday, September 27, 2008

God's Approval Rating

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

                        2 Timothy 2.15

Irresponsible Rhetoric

Occasionally, I swing by gay discussion boards to check out new topics in their “Religion and Spirituality” sections. The subjects are fairly consistent: Is homosexuality a sin? Will I go to Hell? How can Christians discriminate against gays? (These same questions rest beneath the purpose and much of the content here.) Each board has a few stalwart contributors who reassure deeply wounded, impressionable readers that God loves and accepts us all. I’m always gratified by their caring responses. But I’m also appalled at the irresponsible rhetoric from obviously smart people who exploit anguish and confusion to push their own bitter agendas. Forget Christianity, they argue. The Bible’s a fairy tale (no pun intended). Don’t worry with Jesus—just be a nice person. Shame on them!

Do Your Best

Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to win God’s approval; work hard to correctly handle the truth.” As another Timothy with similar responsibilities, his advice rings in my ears. I’m forever aware how we handle God’s Word is just as important as what we present. That’s why closely studying the Scripture, rather than plucking out the odd verse here and there to support our views, cannot be overestimated.

“The word of God is living and active,” Hebrews 4.12 says. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” By reducing Scripture to case law we cite in self-defense, we lose its real purpose. It’s not there to help us change someone else’s mind. It’s there to change us, to help us earn God’s approval. Any time we use the Bible as a weapon on our adversaries, regardless how skillfully we wield it, its double edge swings back on us. It splays us open, exposing our ugly intentions, leaving us to our shame.

On the Job

As true followers of Christ, we must be on the job, primed and prepared to share His good news. At the same time, we always remember His truth has no effect if it’s incorrectly handled. In our sports-crazed culture, many Christians imagine God stays glued to our games, cheering “our side,” and keeping score on His celestial JumboTron. Only God and they know how they concocted such an idea. They of all people should remember He’s the victor in our story.

When Pharaoh pinned Israel against the sea, Moses told them, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14.4) And, oh boy, didn’t He do it! Winning Scriptural debates is a silly, inexcusable waste of the Word. Winning God’s approval, however, is serious business.

A lovely postcard found online...

...with an unfortunate story to tell.

(Tomorrow: Give What You’ve Got) 


FranIAm said...

Oh Tim- what a lovely post and so wonderful to encounter so early in the day.

You say "That’s why closely studying the Scripture, rather than plucking out the odd verse here and there to support our views, cannot be overestimated."

How true is this. The Word is alive - and filled with hope. The Word is not to be treated like items in a cafeteria line.

I see this rather as diving into a sea, deep and vast and beyond my comprehension, but warm, welcoming and filled with so much that will buoy me if I but surrender to its depths.

It is to be entered into - the Word, Jesus Christ - is entirely relational and not just linear.

The dreaded proof text is but a jagged stick plucked from the whole house, instead of inviting someone into the house, it is a weapon to keep them out.

All of which is most antithetical to a loving God.

Pax my brother and thank you!

FranIAm said...

PS - love that postcard, melancholy and beautiful... perfect companion image for this post.

Tim said...

Fran, love the sea metaphor--"warm, welcoming, and filled with so much that will buoy me if I but surrender to its depths". And the jagged stick, how appropriate!

I know Jesus tells us to come to him like innocent children, but I also believe the Word is "adult literature." It presumes a degree of life experience and wisdom is needed to apply its principles. When I read your "jagged stick" reference, I flashed on an image of ornery brats playing with pointy objects...

It surprises me how many mature Christians believe using the Word to hurt someone will make him/her decide to live by it. That's a bully mentality if ever there was one and, you're right, it's most antithetical to God's nature.

Re the postcard, I loved it the minute I saw it and its handwritten message broke my heart. I imagined being in Cornwall on a rainy day, stopping by a pub for a fireside pint, and being delighted to find the proprietor studying her Bible. What an exquisite way to redeem a nasty afternoon, sharing the Word with a fellow believer! And yet...

It's also interesting that while the writer identifies the pub owner's Methodism, we don't know his/her tradition or the nature of their disagreement. This led me to think religious dust-ups may be par for the course for the writer more so than the owner. And I couldn't help wondering how many other golden opportunities like this one have gone south for him/her.

If avid members of the religious debate squad could be still long enough to realize how much joy they lose from arguing about right and wrong instead of sharing truth, they--and we--would be so much happier and richer!

Thanks for the comment, Fran. It's always a joy when you swing by!

Be blessed, Tim.