We're covering a ton of ground here. Thus far, we've said that God demands we love him with all our hearts, souls, minds, strength; and that we love each other as ourselves; that he demands holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
(Yes, it took me six posts of ungodly length to say all of that - If you're curious, my Word document version of Observations, not including this post, Political, or Like-minded, is 27 pages long.)
We've also said that God expects us to look to our own salvation with fear and trembling, not to the salvation status of someone else; and that God neither tolerates hypocrisy or self-righteousness.
Anyway - the weekend before last really caught my attention. It was honestly nothing like I expected - likely a good thing. 0=) I'll be honest, this post is mostly me trying to think through that weekend than much else, so it might not be as direct as some of the other.
Sovereignty of God Retreat
Friday night was one of worship. We began the weekend with the Lord's Supper - which I thought was kinda cool. Jesus said to do this as often as we wanted, and few seem to either know that or take it seriously.
But the real cool moment was Saturday morning - albeit I was tired. I came into this retreat fully expecting to get another crash course on Calvinism, basically. Don't ask me why - maybe it was the title. Instead, the area pastor (our church is kinda big, so we have the head pastor, then area pastors - you get the idea) simply read Scripture to us.
This is an ancient practice that I think is a bit lost these days. I don't like being read to. But here's the thing: Instead of simply going all Edwards, Calvin, or Piper on us and giving us a lecture on the total omnipotence, sovereignty, and magnitude of the Most High...He...made it come alive. I can't quite explain this other than it's the difference between someone describing Yellowstone National Park to you and actually seeing it. The beauty is not in the intellectual rehashing or the pretty prose, but in the stark weight of the whole thing.
This was true meditation, in my mind. Rather than an hour of brain gymnastics (that, honestly, for a bunch of college students would either have been tedious or purely academic), we spent an hour literally listening to the breath of life.
It was striking to me, because it's far easier for me to sit there and rattle off a bunch of facts than it is to marinate in Scripture like that. And it's a far rare occasion to do it in a group setting. Made me wonder what it was like when the apostles' letters were circulating, to listen to them read aloud for the first time, to hear the very breath of God pronounced.
The other thing was how much free time we wound up with - I think largely because there was a student mentoring training session the same day, and they didn't want people to not attend in that by being forced to choose between the two.
So it became a true Sabbath, out on a campground alternating between sitting in the sun beneath a tree talking, reading, resting, and times of worship, prayer, instruction, and meditation. Slightly surreal, but the true nature of a retreat, methinks.
It make the story in Packer's Knowing God introduction all the more true. In it, he tells the tale of two men on a balcony, eating, drinking, and talking who watch two pilgrims walking on the road past their home. As the pilgrims walk, the two men watch them, criticizing the pilgrims, how they go about their journey, what they would do differently, etc.
But the point, of course, is, that that two men on the road are merely observing the journey, never taking the journey for themselves. I won't belabor the point - read it for yourself if you think you've missed something important.
So I came away refreshed, convicted, and silenced. Of course, he spent much time on 'the problem with evil,' but you know I don't consider that a question to be asked. He did a good job of it - I just choose not to delve into that.
The rest of the weekend was spent on a practical application Q&A session. If God is totally sovereign, how does that play out in our lives?
I'm actually looking for a quote that I either failed to write down or can't find right now.
Church Brats and Absurd Questions
The other highlight (I am tying all this together) was in between sessions. We were sitting on the grass under a tree, just resting, relaxing, and I was talking idly to a couple girls. One way or another one of the girls asked me what I thought would happen to the local churches if Christians started doing what they were supposed to.
I thought a moment, thinking, Well, same as it always has, I reckon, and finally asked what she meant by it. So she explained she basically thought the church (meaning the gathering in the building) would dissolve into house churches.
I said, "Well, it really hasn't changed much. Churches started out meeting in homes, and when a bunch of them got together it was at the local rich Christian guy's house because he had enough room. So it's really always been the same idea, only more formal."
She thought a minute, then said, "Well, but what's a church for?" I kinda blinked at her, so she went on, and eventually either she or I got around to teaching the Scriptures.
"Well," she said, "They did that because people couldn't read."
"Well," I joked, "People can read now and they don't."
"Because people do it for them," she added, with distaste in her voice.
After that we drifted off and changed the subject - Largely because, one, I didn't want to fight with her, and, two, that's really something that's between her and God. I don't know her beyond that weekend and didn't feel led to pursue the conversation. Beyond that, I wasn't sure she would listen to me on the matter.
And I know the feeling. I've said several time, at fifteen I said I wasn't listening to what other people had to say about God anymore, and I was in college before I really started to make the shift where I could/would listen to other people again. And if anyone had pushed me on that, they'd have lost me.
In all honesty, the teaching question (and answer) was...absurd. It's only a good question if you're seeking to understand your own faith, to become more discerning of who you listen to - and I think that girl will.
(I am not saying I've arrived or matured past any point - Just saying I know the feeling and sympathize to a degree. It's not a matter of maturity - just...where you are. And it seems that an increasing number of twentysomethings wind up that route - for better or worse.)
Interestingly enough, Sunday morning the 9am service at The Village let out early enough I made it to Denton Bible's single's Bible study class (and caught Elizabeth, which was the point since I knew she'd be there), which just so happened to be on II Timothy 3, titled in my notes as "Theology and Application."
The highlight of the whole thing was this: Without the principle, there is no application. You can use the same principle applied a dozen different ways in a dozen different scenarios, but the principle itself cannot be broken. Without it, all these disciplines, rituals, regulations, and the like we put ourselves through are....pointless.
So the renegade in me sees all these applications -- church service, tithing, fasting, praying, singing, preaching, teaching, Bible study, fellowship -- and thinks "What the heck is all of this for?"
So we must go back to the principle of the thing.
Why do we attend church? No, really. Like my pastor said, "Church is a lame hobby." Why do I sit there for twenty-five minutes to over an hour (or a whole weekend) listening to some guy parrot about his interpretation of Scripture?
Because we are to engage in the public reading of Scripture, in teaching, preaching, admonishing, in edifying the body, whether by encouragement or exhortation. Because you will never be able to understand what the death and resurrection of Christ 2000 years ago means today otherwise.
Because God commands such.
Because everything must withstand the test of Scripture.
Here's the thing: That girl was right - no one person gets to dictate their own version of Scripture unchecked, for we are indeed a royal priesthood, and our only mediator is Christ.
But consider this: Just as one preacher's public interpretation and instruction on Scripture must be subject to full scrutiny by others, so must my private rendering of the text.
In other words, to suggest that we don't need teachers because we can read and interpret Scripture for ourselves is to become the very thing we despise. Protestants disdain Catholics because they demand a single understanding as interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church itself. However, Protestants who turn totally renegade, each leaning on his own unchallenged understanding of Scripture, falls prey to the exact same thing.
After Bible study Elizabeth and I found Robin and went to lunch. I'm really just throwing this in here to finish the story. So I spent the retreat meditating on this idea of sovereignty and what exactly that meant, what the implications might be (terrifying) and talked to a girl totally not into the institutionalized church. That said, Sunday honed on the point of, one, the Kingdom (Beau's sermon) and the principle v. application of Scripture (a stark answer to the question posed the day before).
Lunch continued the trend, ironically enough. We talked about how people tend to neglect the Old Testament, and how you miss so much of the riches of the New without it, using, ironically, Hebrews as case in point.
All of that is an incredibly long and roundabout way of saying this:
God is totally sovereign. He orders our steps and numbers our days. In truth, my entire weekend was but one question and answer at a time, like an ongoing dialogue between God and me. Thus, not only did I have the teaching of his sovereignty, he flat out showed such to me.
Let all be silent before him.
Here's the thing: There is a right and wrong way to do most things. Yes, anyone can, theoretically, interpret Scripture (or anything else) however they choose. That does not, however, mean all interpretations are equally valid or accurate. I'm a writer. I can make Scripture say whatever I want, whenever I want, all in the name of creating a nice vile antagonist with a warped theology and perverted morality.
But just because I can twist it that way and make some sense out of the logic doesn't mean it's right. Deconstructionism doesn't work - especially with Scripture, otherwise you make a mockery of God.
But here's one thing out of all of this: Sometimes God says "Trust me."
And what I love about him, or one thing I love, is that God likes to wrestle as much as we do. God wrestles his kids. "Israel" means "God-wrestler." (Just be careful - he has a habit of pulling limbs out of sockets to make a point.)
So, I guess to the disillusioned, to the renegade, unorthodox God-wrestler, that's what I have to say. There is such comfort in his sovereignty, such confidence in his grace, and such steadfastness, such solace and strength, in his truth.
Look for answers, but be willing to accept the answer, "Trust me." He makes everything beautiful in its time, restores what's been destroyed, and even if you walk with a limp,
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself (II Timothy 2).
Remember also: Many people over thousands of years have asked the questions already. And in the end Jesus usually pulls a hip out of its socket, names you a God-wrestler, and says "Trust me."
"Cease striving, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in all the earth" (Psalm 46).
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is difficult for you to kick against the goads."
Next time: Political (aka - How to Make Non-Christians Despise You)