Sunday, October 15, 2006

How To Lose A Life

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.

In Him,


grace said...

well....since it's all really about the state of your/our could be, that He may very well expect you to give up your literal life for Him....but mostly, He wants to know that you'd be willing to do so, should push come to shove....and only He knows that, because He sees your heart....
just a thought...
love you!

Jay said...

Good point. The reason I looked at those verses from a materialism/worldliness aspect was because that was the way the conversation went this morning.

But you're absolutely right. You know, you have a way of making things seem simple, while I tend to go overboard and make them more complicated than they really are. God bless ya, Pam.


Irrational Entity said...

As an agnostic who thinks the materialists may be correct, I would think we could praise and blame God for the current universe, assuming omnipotence and omniscience are part of this being’s nature.

More directly on topic, I believe Pam’s explanation is pretty accurate. Paul makes dying to sin and presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice into major parts of his theology on the issue, so a case could be made for Christians giving up worldly things to help others. Jesus’ injunctions to the rich man and the early Christian community’s communal activities would provide examples. However I think other portions of the Bible argue against denial of general physical enjoyment for spiritual benefit. Jesus seems to have liked the nicer things of life and even commented on the criticisms of his behavior in Luke 7:33-34. “For John the Baptizer came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Shh… Do not tell the Southern Baptists.)

Jay said...

Praise, blame, all the same thing if you as me. It depends on whether or not you like the universe ;-)

Don't worry, I won't tell the Southern Baptists :-) I agree with Pam that a lot of this has to do with willingness and the state of one's heart. It doesn't exaclty mean we have to live like Mother Teresa, but perhaps that we'd be willing to if that is what we were caused to do.

Irrational Entity said...

I guess I would give the universe a B-. It has a lot of open real estate, and who ordered quantum physics? Still I agree; there are better ways to live self-sacrificially than self-flagellation.

Jay said...

Well, at least it isn't failing the grade. :-)

I just noticed two glaring errors in my previous comment: "as" instead of "ask" and "caused" instead of "called." Man I wish Blogger had an edit function.

Irrational Entity said...

You may want to type your comments on a program with spell-check. I sometimes run mine through Word, which is far from perfect but usually catches about half of the mistakes.

Tin Man said...

Jay - Great post. Good discussion. Another point of the whole exercise is that you are letting these scriptures work on you. I think that is very important regardless of the interpretation. Grace, as usual, is right on here. However, don't shortchange yourself. The big picture is very important but the details are too. That is pretty much what all of the letters in the New Testament are about - how to live out the details of the big picture. As far as your scriptures go, the James passage I think has everything to do with materialism. I think that is the key to unlocking the main issue in the letter. And the world? Well, I agree with you about the universe, but is this what the Greek word for world "world" means? I think one of the main points about the James passage is who you are trying to impress with the nice clothes, car, etc. As far as losing a life. I am not so sure he is not talking about a literal life. No servant is greater than his master. He also said that. And the Romans passage about living sacrifices that Irrational Entity mentioned? Well Paul was writing to a people that were being heavily persecuted (sometimes to the point of giving their life). When Jesus said "lose your life" I think he meant it literally to the crowd he was talking to. But your question is a good one. Does it mean the same for us today? We assume it doesn't, but maybe it does.

Stan said...

It's interesting, I grew up in the "revival churches" so I have a harder time going on to quieter churches. But like you said you need a balance.

Again, it all depends on your heart. It's not the quantity of "hallelujah" and hand clapping, it's the quality.

For a while, I use to put myself on a rigourous schedule, pray day and night, read 5-10 chapters a day. After a while, it became routine, my heart wasn't into it, I was just doing the prayer and bible reading rituals because I had to them and wasn't enjoying.

I came to the point that it's about quality time, don't come to prayer thinking about your exam tomorrow but praying as a requirement. Prayer is just talking, it could be done in the shower, while you're washing dishes.

Now, it's not when to pray and when to read the bible, it's more about finding various time slots during the day to devote to God. It can be five minutes here, 10 minutes there. and instead of reading 10 chapters, it's more about finding what's the word of the day. In 10 lines, I get more than 10 chapters I use to read.

By the way, it's fun a sunday school class for college students.