Monday, November 26, 2012

Who Am I? (Romans 1:1)


 

Rafiki: Wrong! I’m not the one who’s confused. You don’t even know who you are!

Simba: Oh, and I suppose you know?

Rafiki: Sure do.  You’re Mufasa’s boy!

The Lion King

                As Simba discovered the son of a king cannot escape his destiny.  Who am I?  I could answer that based upon my ethnic background: I am a British-Ukranian Canadian.  I could answer that based upon my father’s work: I am a union brat.  I could answer that based upon my husband:  I am Andrew’s wife.  I could answer that based upon my husband’s work: I am a retired pastor’s wife.  I could answer that based upon motherhood: I am Rebekah’s mom.  I could answer that based on my view of educating my family: I am a retired homeschooling mom.  I could answer that based upon my education: I am a long-term part-time seminary student.  All these definitions of me have merit—but who am I when I stand before God?

                In Romans 1:1 Paul, the author of this letter written to the early church that existed in that ancient city-state of Rome, opens his work with a description of who he is.  It is a picture worthy of any believer.  Paul begins by identifying himself by name before telling us three defining facts about himself.  Let’s look at this to see if it will help me and you define who we are.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,

Called to be an apostle

And set apart for the gospel of God.

Romans 1:1 NIV

                Paul opens by classifying himself as a servant of Christ Jesus.  Each of us will serve someone.  Many of us don’t define it this way, but when we work hard to move ahead in this life in order to find the good life we are serving ourselves by making sure that our own self-interest doesn’t get lost in the busyness of life.  After all, we are told, who else will look after us if we don’t do it ourselves?  It’s a message that surrounds us on all sides.

                But from very early in human history God has suggested a different answer.  Always God has called us to trust Him in everything.  Over and over again God has called people to make the choice that Joshua makes in Joshua 24:15 NIV . . . “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.   But as for me and my household we will serve the LORD.”

                So I could simply choose to say: Susan, a servant of God.  This line is tempting.  There are many places in the world where a definition this general would keep me out of trouble.  But Paul is more specific and he is more specific for a reason: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.  Ultimately the gospel calls each of us to believe in Jesus Christ because God the Father sent Him to make a way for each of us to become part of God’s family.  His death on a cross and His rising from the dead are integral parts of the whole gospel and can’t be avoided for convenience or any other reason.  Will I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one sent by God, the one who is God and the one who brings reconciliation for all people who will believe in Him.

                So, is my life focused on myself or am I focused on God through Jesus Christ, trusting Him to care for me?   It is a question each of us must decide.  The decision was made in my own life when I was 16 or 17 years old.  The Lord brought me to the point of deciding whether or not He was more important to me than me trying to ensure my own happiness in my own way.  Usually I face most questions from a pragmatic perspective but this one can’t be answered that way.  Was I willing to trust my whole life to God?  Trust is not a pragmatic response to life shaping decisions.  Trust is a step of faith.  And faith is like walking off a cliff not knowing how deep the valley.

                The choice was made in favour of trusting Jesus to be both my Saviour and my Lord in all decision making.  I have continued pursuing God with my haphazard, faltering steps—so I know my walk has not been perfect, but the trajectory is still in the direction of God.  Therefore, I can partially parrot Paul and say:

Susan, a servant of Christ Jesus.

YYYYY

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,

Called to be an apostle

And set apart for the gospel of God.

                Okay Susan, where do you get off suggesting that “called to be an apostle” will help anyone define who s/he is?  Paul, like the twelve apostles commissioned by Jesus Himself during His ministry, met Jesus.  Yes, he met Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus rather than physically the way the others did, but he was warned by Ananias after that vision about the hardship that would be ahead of him in his ministry to the world (Acts 9:1-19).  Paul was in essence given the office of apostle.  How can you get around that?  Actually, Paul’s writings make it easy to get around that when he teaches about the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to all believers.  Let’s take a quick look at what is included in this list.

                In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 we find the following list of gifts given by the Holy Spirit to whomever He chooses to give them:

                                                Wisdom

                                                Knowledge

                                                Faith

                                                Healing

                                                Miraculous powers

                                                Prophecy

                                                Distinguishing between spirits

                                                Speaking in different tongues

                                                Interpretation of tongues

In Romans 12:6-8 Paul lists:

                                                Prophesying

                                                Serving

                                                Teaching

                                                Encouraging

                                                Contributing to the needs of others (helping)

                                                Leadership

                                                Showing mercy.

So far I see no reason for listing these gifts as an answer to the question.  What do any of these have to do with me being defined by Romans 1:1?  However, there is one more list in the letter to the Ephesians 4:11-16 where Paul gives some different possibilities:

                                                Apostles

                                                Prophets

                                                Evangelists

                                                Pastors & teachers.

Oh . . . so apostle is one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives.  So even though we tend to focus on apostle being an office in the church, it is also a gift the Holy Spirit gives.  So Paul was gifted with the spiritual gift of apostleship so that he could do the work of an apostle and actually be an apostle.  He was called to be an apostle because he was gifted to do the work of an apostle.

 

                Therefore, if I know what spiritual gift I have been given, I will know what I have been called to be.  There is no Ananias in my life explaining to me what is ahead.  I have to let the Holy Spirit show me what gift He has given me.  So where do my memories lead me?  What have I done with enjoyment and with skill since becoming a believer? 

                Rebekah was born.  Freedom and family are important to us so we taught her at home using all of life as our classroom. 

Mom as teacher.

                God and His Word are important to me.  Through that priority I first joined and then led Bible studies that dug deep into that Word.

Pastor’s wife and follower of Jesus as teacher.

                Welcoming the newcomer draws my heart.  ESL conversation circles and Bible studies have filled much of my time and get as high a priority as everything else in my life will allow.

The welcomer dressed up as teacher.

                Singing calls me on so many levels and yet without lyrics that get me thinking and a rhythm I enjoy, I often lose interest.  The skill and mathematics of music is not itself enough—the resonance with life is also vital.

A teacher masquerading as a singer.

                The lists Paul gives cover many different talents.  Can I find my talents there?  Oh yes, indeed I can.  In fact can I say: “that’s easy!”?

Susan, a servant of Christ Jesus

Called to be a teacher.

 

YYYYY

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus

Called to be an apostle

And set apart for the Gospel of God.

                The final part of the definition comes from Paul’s statement that he has been set apart for the Gospel of God.  Before he was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul was a Pharisee.  Pharisee, the word itself, means to be set apart to the Law.  A pun: perhaps not designed to make us laugh, but certainly designed to make us think.  From being set apart to the Law and the life of works that entailed to being set apart to the Gospel and the life of faith that calls for.

How will I use the life God has given me?  The holiness God intends for me has two paths leading toward it.  However, only one of them actually reaches the destination of a holy life with God.  I can choose to walk in my own power to please God.  This the Bible refers to as works.  Or I can choose to live each moment by faith and the freedom that brings.  The Gospel of God calls us to faith.   The Law can be used to convince us we must be perfect in our own power.  The Gospel of God, however, constantly calls us to faith: a walk of faith and freedom.

Susan, a servant of Christ Jesus,

Called to be a teacher

And set apart for a life of faith.

 

YYYYY

After defining myself through Paul’s description of himself in Romans 1:1, I’m simply left with a question for you.

 

Who are you?
 

YYYYY

Friday, November 2, 2012

Coincidences . . . & Whitby


Time has relaxed for the moment and I found myself drawn to the idea of beginning a blog—again.  The name for the blog had been chosen years ago—but a discussion topic was conspicuously absent.  As I began finding many wonderful books and the time to read them I began to think book reviews would be a part of the adventure.  I even settled on which book I would look at first: Your God Is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control by Mark Buchanan (Multnomah Publishers, 2001).

And then the control left my fingertips.  Instead of a discussion about a book about walking closely with God on an individual basis I looked at a book about walking with God in the community that is to exist in the church and in the family.

Yes, the control left my hands through a series of coincidences that led me down a very interesting road.

After reading a number of wonderful books all designed to teach me: to teach me about farming and disciplines with God and pastoring and moving to the country and welcoming refugees to Canada . . . I found myself needing something totally different.  My daughter suggested The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow.  The immersion was immediate.  Britain, murder, church history, more murder and detectives traipsing about the British countryside.  Suddenly my attention was captured by an old monastery in Whitby where women and men worked together in the ministry that God gave them to do.

I was raised in a little Anglican church in Whitby, Canada.  I had never heard about such a monastery in Whitby, UK.  I was fascinated to the end of the story.  Not only am I a Whitbyite Canadian style, but I have long been interested in seeing men and women work together as equals.

The next day I went to the library where I found the newest issue of Christianity Today  introducing me to fifty women in Christianity worthy of my notice.  And notice I did—one of them began something called Whitby Forum.  More mention of Whitby.   Wow!

I had to investigate further and discovered Carolyn Custis James chose the name specifically because of the monastery in Whitby, UK.  On her website I found a list of books she has written.

My next stop was the library catalogue.  I may have been raised in Whitby, Canada, but I now live in London, Canada.  This is a university town.  I found nothing by Carolyn Custis James in either the public library or the university libraries.  Sadness.

Then I checked with Chapters and ordered two books.

Once the mailman delivered them I began with The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules.  I discovered a book I have been waiting a lifetime to read.  And without even really stopping to consider what was happening--the direction for my first blog post changed dramatically.
 
 
 
Your God Is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can't Control, by Mark Buchanan(Multnomah, 2001)
 
The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow (Monarch Books, 2010)
 
Whitby Forum (about)
 
 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Working Together


I was reading The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules recently and discovered that this is the book that Carolyn Custis James had been waiting a long time to write.  It’s her life book, the one that formulates for the world the theology that drives her.

My response is that this is the book I’ve been waiting a lifetime to read. 

I grew up knowing that men and women are both image bearers of God and that both were commissioned to be fruitful and fill the earth, subdue it and rule over it.  This was a joint commission coming from the very words of God and yet culture (both inside and outside the church) tries very hard to rewrite it into something quite different.

You have been called to know God personally.  I have been called to know God personally.  It’s that simple and that earth shattering.  The gospel operates on this personal a level.  Each one of us meets God firsthand and each one of us responds to God firsthand.  Jesus made that possible and he made that possible very deliberately—no one is to remove that freedom from us.   I am to know God, I am to walk with God and I am to obey God since man and woman work side by side and the only hierarchy is to God himself.

This leaves man and woman working as a team of equals where consensus must be found so that our actions may move forward together.  The easy way is for one person to say “I’m in charge, so you must do what I want.”  The challenge is to learn to find agreement by finding what God’s choice is and pursuing it with energy, enthusiasm and little regard for one’s own reputation.

In The Gospel of Ruth, we find three people (Ruth, Naomi and Boaz) who love Yahweh so much that they desire to do whatever they can to care for God’s concerns (and He is very  concerned about His daughters even when they are childless widows left with what seems to be nothing but each other).  In the process of obeying God’s intentions for the care of others, these three break conventions and push the community’s understanding of what the law is requiring in order to bring help and justice to ones who need it most.
 
The Gospel of Ruth:Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, by Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan, 2008)