Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Better Freedom

Joan and I had the opportunity to attend a retreat at Laity Lodge near Leakey over the Labor Day weekend with Michael Card. We knew that we would enjoy ourselves. First, just the opportunity for me to have a "Sabbatical Sunday" away from pulpit responsibilities, and just for us to be together for a weekend was going to be quite nice. Second, we knew we would enjoy being at Laity Lodge, a beautiful setting in the Frio River canyon near the river's headwaters. Both of us have had the opportunity to be on the H.E. Butt Foundation property there on several occasions. I served a number of times as a counselor at church camps at one of the more rustic camp facilities years ago, and then both of us have been on private retreats at their cottage called "The Quiet House," Joan 2-3 times, and me about half a dozen times. Because those private retreat experiences have been so meaningful to us both, the whole H.E. Butt Foundation Camp is sort of like "holy ground." But I had been to an event at Laity Lodge only once before, and Joan had never been, so it was wonderful.
er reason we knew we would enjoy our time there is that Michael Card was both the speaker and musical artist. We have enjoyed and been blessed by his music for many years, and it had been a long time since we had heard him in concert. We had never met him or been with him in such an intimate setting. So we knew we were in for a wonderful time.
But we had no idea how significant it would be. The people who participated in the retreat with us, the wonderful music (of course) were a really a blessing.
But the teac
hing Michael presented to us was very challenging. It was a Bible study he entitled "A Better Freedom." What he basically did was point out that slavery is a major theme throughout the Scripture, and a primary way to understand God's relationship with his people. He gave us good background information on the history of slavery in ancient Israel, the Roman world of the New Testament, and African-American slavery in America. He pointed out the prominent image in the Old Testament of God as master and the people as slaves. For example, the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt, in order for Yahweh to become their Lord (which means - Master). Most particularly he talked about how prominent and pervasive the slave theme is in the New Testament all through. A large percentage of the parables Jesus told are slave parables. An interesting note is that there is a Greek word translated "servant" much of the time in English translations, that more accurately means "slave" (doulos). Paul refers to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ (ex. Romans 1:1) in numerous places. Paul also talks a lot about sin as slavery, but also talks about being a slave to righteousness or to God's law (Romans 7). Further, the word in the New Testament translated "Lord" (kurios) most clearly means "Master." This sheds a whole new light on much of New Testament Scripture.
What is most significant is that Jesus portays himself as a slave. One of the things that really struck me was Michael's pointing out that the price of a slave in Jesus' day was 30 pieces of silver. Does that figure sound familiar? It ought to - it was the price Judas was paid for his betrayal of Jesus! This is one of the paradoxes found in the New Testament. Even though Jesus was himself God, he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave - there's doulos again - slave, not servant (Philippians 2:6-7). He said that in order to be rich, we must become poor; to save our lives we have to give them up; to be mature, we have to become like children; and in order to become great, we have to become slaves. And if Jesus is our Lord and Master, we are owned; we have been bought. Everything we are, and everything we have belongs to our Master. The point of his teaching was that complete freedom is really slavery, and that slavery to Jesus is real freedom - "a better freedom." It's going to take me a while to digest what Michael presented to us. I encourage you to study on your own the New Testament and notice the pervasive theme of slavery and Jesus as "Master." It is certainly my prayer that I might find "a better freedom" as I surrender myself to my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. But I know that this is tough stuff.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I'm Finally a Blogger!

Well, here I am blogging around in cyberspace! Another opportunity for a preacher to talk! Oh, well. This will give greater opportunity for me to have a greater audience to witness my sticking my foot in my mouth!

Seriously, I hope doing this blog every week or so will give me an opportunity to think about some things out loud. Hopefully it will help me grow in my own thinking and understanding, as I reflect on various things serious and not so serious. I also hope somewhere in the midst of all the verbiage I post here, you might find some little piece of my thinking that helps you in some way - if in no other way than to give you a laugh or make you think. I'm new at this (actually brand new), but we'll see how it goes! May God's grace be at work in you during these days.