Well, I went to church this morning. It's been a while since I've been able to get up in time to go, but since I didn't really do anything last night, I was up plenty early. The church I go to down here is an Evangelical Presbyterian church (sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it?) I actually really like it. Growing up Methodist, I'm used to pretty quiet services, so I get very uncomfortable in settings where there's a lot of hand-raising, arm-waving, and "Hallelujahs!" going on. I've never really been moved to worship like that (some would say that's because I'm not in the Spirit enough *rolls eyes*)
Still, I do like some energy in my services, so that's why I like this church I'm going to. It's traditional, but there's some arm-waving and the occasional "Hallelujah!" going on too (just not by me :-) A good balance, in my opinion. Not to mention that the preacher's a very effective speaker and the congregation is very welcoming. I enjoy it, and I can see myself calling this my church home over the coming years.
I especially like my Sunday School class. The church is big enough that they can have a class of just college students, so that's the one I'm in (along with one guy and five other girls). Today they were doing an examination of Mark 8:34-38. I've heard it before, but I've never really thought about it before, and it raised some good questions.
"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels. Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)"
Like I said, it's a verse we all know pretty well, and it seems pretty cut and dry: put Jesus first in your life. Lose your life--that is, the things that your flesh desires--for Christ. Does this mean deny yourself everything that your flesh wants? I've never taken it that way. I want nice clothes, a good-sized home, a cool car, etc. But those things are usually both morally and spiritually neutral. I've always thought that by saying one must lose his or her life, the verse meant one must remove--or at least diligently try to remove--the workings of sin in one's life. If it isn't a sin, it's fine, right? Well, things don't seem to be as cut and dry (to me, at least) when you look at James 4:4-6
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:4-6 (NIV)"
That verse seems to go along the same lines, but it's a little less forgiving than the first. I mean, love God though I do, I consider myself pretty friendly with the world. I certainly don't hate it. In fact, I think it's a very wonderful world and frankly I enjoy being here. Part of the reason I am so reverent to God is because I know that he Created this world. As C.S. Lewis said, he filled it full of pleasures: things we could do all day long without Him minding in the least (it's in Screwtape Letters somewhere; I'd quote it directly, but I'm letting a friend borrow it right now). So yes, I consider myself a friend of the world. It's God's world after all; and it's all I know.
But then again, I'm probably just taking the verse too literally. After all, with the first verse, I didn't actually think that God expected us to literally lose our lives to follow Him. How does one lose a life, anyway? You can't exactly misplace it ;-) I interpreted life to mean selfish desires--i.e. sins. And basically I decided that God means for us to put Him first, others second, and ourselves at a very distant third. I guess this verse is the same way. One doesn't have to hate the world; one just has to realize that God is the world's Maker, and thus He deserves the praise for it. That's my interpretation of those verses, put into words the best I could (which isn't very well, mind you). What do you guys think? Anything I kind of missed out on? The tricky thing about the Bible is that even the simplest verses can be so open to interpretation. Makes you wonder how God thought it possible that we'd all come to the same conclusion.