Saturday, November 17, 2007

Degrees of Separation (Thorns). [Part 2]

Okay, just to recap the main points from last time:-)
- The advanced world around us (particularly in the U.S.) confronts us with a deluge of distractions from God... oftentimes in unassuming areas of our lifestyle.
- A key temptation is to separate our faith from our lifestyle... to justify certain aspects of how we live (or to glaze over particular social issues) as unrelated to what we believe about who Jesus was and the movement he came to enact on this earth.

Let's jump to some excerpts of one of Jesus's parables (that I'm sure many of you have heard) as recorded in Matthew 13:
"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop - a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear."

I want to pull out some ideas from the italicized section above regarding the thorns. Let's hear how Jesus later explained this particular section of the parable:
"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful."

Also hear how Eugene Peterson adapts the same passage in his interpretation, The Message:
"The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it."

This is where I conclude degrees of separation = thorns.

Thorns that separate... temporal worries... deceptive "wealth"... wanting more and more... chokes it... precludes fruit. What are these thorns? Fashion trends? Houses? Cars? Electronics? Debt? Church buildings/financial-"needs"? Television? A Job? Career goals? Food? Obviously none of these inherently strangle-out what God is trying to do with those who believe in Him. But I do know that various combinations of this list act as degrees of separation for many people around me... especially myself. And this isn't the kind of situation where we realize what's happening and say, "Hmm... yeah, that's not too good. I should get around to making some changes at some point." If we are who we say we are (follower of Jesus), and we're about what he's about (building the Kingdom), then these separating thorns are severely important to identify and address.

Now, I don't really know exactly where I come down on the whole "once-saved-always-saved" debate, but I find myself leaning towards there being a much more dynamic reality at play than simply saying the proper prayer to shore up your eternal destiny. I guess what I'm resistant to is this view's lulling sense of security that often creates complacency and impotence in its adherents.

Life is to be lived, not won. People are to be unconditionally loved, not converted. The kingdom Jesus spoke of is not simply an enchanted afterlife that we get our ticket for now, but rather it is intended to be brought forth within our world today, our city, our neighborhood, our home by humble action. humble. action.

This takes me to a few final thoughts on degrees of separation = pride.

The common thread in all of this is an adjustment of how we perceive ourselves. I would argue that at the core of building the Kingdom is the minimization of self. The deception of wealth pumps pride into our veins: I need this, I deserve that, I want this, I'm unhappy without that. As we hack away at the gaps between God and ourselves we begin to see how little we really do need (by our cultural standards), and it also bears a genuine mind of gratitude for the essential things that God does provide for us: health for my little girl, shelter for my family, lack of violent war in our streets, etc.

Don Miller gave a fantastic talk at Mars Hill last week titled Story. (I highly recommend giving it a listen). The key takeaway for me is that our lives are all stories being written in real-time. And stories where the main character is primarily driven by self-service, by shallow goals, and by near-sightedness are boring. They don't draw interest to the character's personality and they lack value.

Degrees of separation make our stories boring. They feed our bloated sense of self, and they distract us from what would make for a wildly interesting journey: one charged with challenge, action, devotion, uncertainty, & faith; lined with selfless love. And this is a lesson that I'm trying to learn so that I can pass it on to the next generation.

*Image credit: Flightsaber


Yard said...

Awesome stuff. The hard part of course is the application of these truths.

On one hand you have this route: 'well, (your list of separations) differs from person to person, so, in essence, to each his own'. Who's to judge?

The flip side of this causes us to be silently judgmental of one another, with no easy basis for which to bring it to the surface. (saying to oneself, 'he did this' or 'she bought that') And of course that's not productive either.

So we must settle somewhere in the middle I suppose? And trust that the community that we belong to (and that may be the key alone) will hold us to these truths in addition to our own faith.

AdamBam said...

Jake, I think you've touched on the key, in my mind. The community of people around us seems to be one of the only workable instruments of accountability in addressing these matters. As you say, the complications come when we start dealing with gray issues such as how we spend our time and money (in contrast to very defined issues such as pornography or deceit).

I think these are difficult, yet important waters to wade through as we explore new ways to live missionally and in community...

Thanks for the thoughts!