Friday, September 16, 2005

A lesson from tree swallows

It's funny how God can take opportunities in which I'm supposed to be ministering to someone else and instead turn them around to minister to my own needs and to teach me. I've been reading a book called Honor and Shame, which is about communicating the gospel message from a shame-based worldview. (In the Western world, which was largely influenced by Roman law and Plato's The Republic, we operate from a strongly guilt-based worldview, which is why we find so much connection to Paul's letter to the Roman believers.) In one chapter the author writes about the greater whole of the gospel beyond merely legal redemption and removal of guilt, including how in Christ God moves us from a state of failure to that of completion.

I've become keenly aware of how strongly my sinful nature is still active, and how I allow myself to dance like an idiot at its every beck and call. To think that I not only will be perfected and made whole, but that it's currently happening within me, is hard for me to see right now. Yet it's true: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Php 1.6 NIV). The healing Breath of God won't merely make us whole at the final day, but he's doing it even now, carrying us on until the day Jesus appears in glory to judge the living and the dead.*

My mind quickly went to Romans 5.12—6.23, telling the glory of how the second Adam brings abundant life beyond all the death that my sin can muster and how it frees me to live in true freedom that honors God, the freedom of living in the way we humans were created to live. In his book Run With the Horses, Eugene Peterson writes about a young bird learning to fly. The bird refuses to take the risk of leaving what he's used to, namely, the nest in which he's spent his whole life so far. But the parent bird persistently pecked at its desperately clinging talons until it was more painful to hang onto the branch than to risk flying. The parent knew what the chick did not: that there was no danger, but only joy, in making its child do what it was designed to do. "Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. They can walk; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully" (pp. 42-43).

Baby birds will eventually outgrow their nests and starve without leaving their old, comfortable ways. They will die. So it is with us. "You can readily recall, can't you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as your live in God's freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness? As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything, for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you're proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end" (Rom 6.19-21, The Message).

Jesus, our Physician, you will not break a bruised reed or snuff a smoldering wick! Mightily and tenderly heal your people so that we will turn a deaf ear to sin and instead listen for your voice, to obey it and really live. Amen.

*I know that the ESV says "at the day" instead of "until the day", but most translations, including the NIV and NASB, render the latter. While this verse is difficult to interpret and likely a reference to final salvation, with its eschatological focus, earthly sanctification is inseparable from final salvation (cf. 2 Thess 2.13).

1 comment:

Ryan P.T. said...


Love the baby birds. You crack me up with your translation note. If that isn't for me, then I don't know who it's for. And while I'm at it, you're mingling sanctification with justification, which essentially makes you a papist. Read 1 Corinthians 1v2, 30 and be consoled. Much love.