Thursday, June 01, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

Today I had the opportunity to go and witness to a fellow umpire that I work with out here in St. Louis. For those of you who don’t know, I work as a baseball umpire part time while I take classes at the Seminary. But I was struggling with something today. Part of me wanted to go online and do theology on this blog instead of go out and meet this guy to do evangelism! Of course, I made the right decision and went out and talked with him and shared my faith—but the fact that I even thought about it at all internally raised some red flags for me. What was I even thinking? Reformation Scholar Dr. Robert Kolb reminded me:

“The church exists for the sake of the unredeemed who are outside it. This is its raison d’etre. If instead it exists only for the sake of its members, it will be in continual conflict with its indwelling Lord. For Christ is the ‘life of the world.’ The Church is therefore to stand open to all mankind, her light is to be the light of the world, and the salt in her is to be the salt of the earth” (Wingren, Gospel and Church, 10-11; quoted in Kolb, Speaking the Gospel Today, 251-252).

What are some things that can occur when we are too focused on ourselves? Or what kind of things can happen when we obsess with discursive/academic theology? First, we can forget what our purpose is as disciples of Jesus Christ. Second, we can begin to critique everyone else on how they do mission, and yet we don’t even do mission ourselves. Further, we can set ourselves above people who are different than us and tailor our evangelism programs to people that are like us. Dr. Kolb also points out:

“But if a congregation make its natural collective predisposition into an exclusive program and so tailors its evangelism and outreach to avoid those who do not fit into ‘Our Savior’s congregation,’ they are shutting up the power of God which the Holy Spirit has poured into them….The judgment of God hangs over those Christians who have preferred to ‘save our kind’ rather than the Savior’s kind, the poor, the imprisoned, the lonely, those not able to contribute most to the congregation of God’s people but whose lives He nonetheless regards as precious” (Speaking the Gospel Today, St. Louis: 1995, 257).

Dr. Kolb challenges us to make disciples of ALL people. Not just people of our race, language, or our social status. As a Lutheran who believes in objective justification, universal grace, and that salvation is through Christ alone, I should not have even had those thoughts today. Are objective justification and universal grace simply theological concepts that never resonate in our hearts? Professor William Utech at Concordia Seminary warned us in our Pastoral Ministry class not to love the theology more then we love people. We must remember that theology is for proclamation, and while studying the Scriptures and Reformation writings is good, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Can we get so caught up in our academics that we fail to sacrificially love people? Can we go out and get our PhDs and argue with people about church practice, but never seek out ways to actively share our faith? Does our pride set ourselves above other people? Do we think that since we are conservative Christian Americans there is no need to spend time with the poor, the lame, the sick, the minority, or the hurting?

Since we have been redeemed by the Son of God who has given His life for us on the cross we have a message to proclaim! Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and that is our reason and motivation to share the good news with others! It was the reason for the first Christians who shared the good news in Judea, Samaria and the rest of Eastern and Western Europe. And the redemptive power that comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our reason as well.

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38-39).

17 Comments:

Blogger kalbasa said...

I wish I was as determined as you Andrew, but a few years ago I made a choice that I still regret and now makes your quote. . . “The judgment of God hangs over those Christians who have preferred to ‘save our kind’ rather than the Savior’s kind, the poor, the imprisoned, the lonely, those not able to contribute most to the congregation of God’s people but whose lives He nonetheless regards as precious”. . . hit home a little hard.

It started like this. . .

One of the most memorable and—unfortunately—regrettable experiences occurred a few years ago as I was finishing up my undergraduate work at Texas A&M. I was coming back from classes one evening at about six o’clock. As I was walking past the school library, which has a large wide flight of steps leading up to the entry, I glanced up to the top and I noticed a girl sitting on a bench located on the highest step. I did an immediate double-take, because I instinctively knew something was wrong with that picture. Sure enough, when I looked back I saw that the girl had her head in her hands and she was crying.
In retrospect, I am glad to know that my first instinct was to consider going up the steps in order to see if she needed any help. However, unfortunately, as soon as the thought entered my head, I was bombarded by a barrage of other thoughts. As if a voice was in my head trying to dissuade me of any intention of assisting the girl. I can only imagine that this is how Eve felt in the garden standing before the forbidden tree—everything the serpent said made sense, right? So it was with me. For every reason that I could come up with as to why I should help, at least ten excuses would craftily convince otherwise.
I once used this story in a message I gave at a Lutheran day school chapel service and I remember the children’s immediate response upon hearing about the two “voices” in my head. There question was, “where did the voice come from.” I wish I could remember my response, but looking back now I know exactly who the second voice was, Satan! Yet, it did not seem this way at the time. Everything seemed perfectly natural. The voice said “you have too much homework tonight to worry about helping a stranger,” and in fact, I did! It said, “You will only embarrass yourself and the girl if you go up there and talk to her,” and in fact, it was easy to pretend that would happen. On and on this went. I know beyond a doubt that this is how Eve felt I the garden on that fateful day. Whatever the voice seemed to say, I was able to imagine it possible, and once it seemed possible, doing the right thing no longer seemed logical. And so, quite effectively, my original philanthropic feelings were squashed and silenced, and because I had continued walking during all this deliberation, I now was a long way away which did nothing to help persuade me toward good. How could I so easily convince myself to disobey the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself?” When I told this story to the day school children the topic had been “Building up Your Neighbor,” but I think the implications go much deeper and show us a thing or two about what it means to be a theologian.
Obviously, I should have been the Good Samaritan rather than following the example of the Levite. But what could I really have done? Should I have sat down by her and started reading from my Bible? Or should I have recommended a Max Lucado book or some other “inspirational” reading? Perhaps, maybe I should have merely asked if she needed help or assistance and then when she politely declined, I could have quickly left again, telling myself how stupid I was for even asking. While any of these choices would have been better then what I actually did, none of them are the actions of a theologian. As a theologian—a lover of God’s word, both law and gospel—I should have done more then merely ask if she needed assistance, I should have realized that what she needed most was friendship. Who else but a lonely soul would cry like that in public? She needed more than me merely asking to help. She needed comfort. This world had crushed her. But in what way had it crushed her? I will never know now, because of the choice I made. The comfort she needed would not have come because of some biblical passage I could have quoted, and it would not have come from telling her about theology. Instead she needed to know I cared; in other words, comfort would have come through my obeying Christ’s great imperative to “Love our Neighbor.” She needed to know that God loved and forgave HER, and that regardless of what had happened in her life to cause her to feel so sad, God had not given up on her. I might not have been able to convey all this one conversation. She might not have been ready for it. But I could have certainly laid the groundwork for later conversations about Christ’s work and God’s grace. Instead I ran away. I still pray that someone came along later who was not as foolish as I.
This experience has helped show me that being a pastor or “theologian” is more than just giving sermons and leading Bible studies. It is even more then administering the sacraments. Being a pastor is about loving souls and tending them as a servant of God. It is about building relationships where primary proclamation can occur. This understanding has never been more applicable for me than in my relationship with my mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. She constantly is confronted with doubt and depression and feelings of being abandoned by God. Although she is a life long Christian, the devil seems to have little problem making her feel this way. However, what I have noticed most about her is that her faith is never more strengthened than when I take the time to sit down and talk to her about her situation and problems. She actually does most of the talking, usually repeating the truths of faith that she has grown up believing. She never expects me to quote her a bunch of Bible passages (I do when I can and she appreciates it) or to reveal some profound learning that I have acquired during my Seminary training. Rather, she merely needs me to affirm the truths she knows and believes. She needs someone else to speak the promise to her, promises of forgiveness and of salvation. Like Job, she is tempted many days to curse her life and all the troubles it seems God has given her, but it is through her conversation with the believers around her who, unlike, Job’s friends, help keep her faith strong through primary proclamation. It is exactly her misery and sharing it with another Christian that serves to lead her back to the promises and grace of God.

Thanks for the great article. We all need reminders of our failures sometimes so that we might be better equipped to handle these same situations in the future.

Fri Jun 02, 06:58:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Augustine said...

Thanks Aaron for your insightful, and humble admission of wrongdoing in your past. All of us have stories like this. You are not alone.

Jesus Christ lived the perfect life in your place, died on the cross for ALL your sins, and rose from the dead. You are forgiven.

Your illustration using the Parable of the Good Samaratin was perfect. The priest in that parable could have been a multi-lingual, theological, scholar. But the whole purpose of the Bible is to point to Jesus Christ to save sinners. And the purpose of theology is to understand and APPLY God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. Systemactic theology is very practical. But it is only practical when we put it into practice.

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