Since beginning my studies in seminary almost 18 months ago, I have often found myself barely able to keep my head above water. While in the midst of a semester with 3-4 classes along with my other responsibilities, I am pretty much operating at my capacity (sometimes just a little beyond it) at all times.
For this reason, some of my favorite pastimes have been forced to take a seat backstage for the time being, and this includes writing for this blog. This does not mean that I am not writing. In fact, I am not sure I have ever written so intensely in my life as I am currently in seminary, particularly for the online courses. But, we have decided that I will not take an intensive course for the January semester this year, so I am free from studies until the first week in February. So, I thought I’d try to use some of this time to touch base a little.
In this brief time, there are a few issues I would like to address. But as I only have a few weeks here, along with other areas of life that need some attention, I ask for grace as I may tend to ramble and meander through various streams of thought (although this may allow for a greater sense of intimacy, as this is the way I generally communicate in person as well).
As I have had the opportunity to study a bit more the lives and writings of believers who have come and gone through the history of the Church, one of the things that has become clear to me is how very flawed each of these individuals truly was. Maybe there were issues of misogyny, or bigotry, or dangerous tempers. But all of them – ie Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Wesley – all had their own “thorns” that we in the modern Church often try to gloss over or ignore all together. I believe this highlights our strong inclination to idolatry. This practice may also allow us to set up the men and women who have gone before us in the Church on such high pedestals that we sort of our give ourselves an “out” from trying to walk out our own lives with the same sort of discipline and sacrifice that they exemplified.
Recently, I was reading through the second Psalm, and was struck by the first paragraph: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’” (Psalm 2:1-3).
I’d never noticed this accusation against the kings of the earth before, that they are attempting to break the “chains” and throw off the “shackles” of the anointed of God. What are the “chains” and “shackles” here? From what are the kings of the earth conspiring to set believers “free”?
I remembered something from the passage just before this in Psalm 1, which says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
This is the “chain”, the “shackle” upon the life of the believer: the holy Law of the Lord. The Lord condemns the kings of the earth of conspiring to break the authority of this law from the lives of His children. God calls believers to find their delight in His law, to crave it and to meditate on it day and night.
Well this really struck me, because this is not the message that I have for so long received in my congregational experience.
What is this “law” we are talking about here? What did Jesus say about this?
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This is the law. This is the yoke from which the kings of the earth (often even “kings” within the church today) desire to set God’s children “free.”
But, as I consider again those who have gone before us in the Church, the servants, the prophets, the reformers through whom the grace and word of God has been carried faithfully through the generations, even weaving through all of their dark, often crippling weaknesses and vices stands one, striking similarity: a sincere, sacrificial commitment to the law of Almighty God, in Christ Jesus.
Over and over again we see that these individuals earnestly sought God through His Word (even as that Word appeared in the flesh), through days and weeks and a lifetime of fasting and prayer and meditation on the Scriptures and sacrificial service. Each one followed Christ through his or her own personal nightmare of the reality of the hell they deserved, sank dangerously close to unbelief through fits of terror and rage at the experience of having their eyes opened to the reality of the pain and devastation their own sin was creating in the world around them. These are men and women who’s intimate knowledge of the pain and suffering that comes with following Christ was so that even the utterance of the law of Christ – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” – would leave them weeping, broken, and hopeless, knowing that for them such a standard of law was utterly impossible.
Read Romans 8:2 again. It is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus that sets us free from the law of sin and death. There is no such thing as “lawless” life for the created being. If we are not continually seeking Christ, and waiting upon His grace, so that we may be enabled to submit ourselves to the law of the Spirit of Life, then we are by nature bound and condemned to the law of sin and death. It seems that there is no other option here.
I share all of this as a way to begin the conversation. As we step into this New Year by God’s grace, and as I try to share a little about where we are in this season, I guess these are some of the questions with which I hope to wrestle: In what or whom am I placing my faith and my hope in these days? Under which law is my life being directed? And how are these things reflected in my actions and in the decisions I am making?
Thank you very much for checking in with us. With love in Him today, Miki