9.20.2006

"Can I Get a Witness" and "Thankful"

For a few weeks I have been thinking about the lyrics to a song called "Thankful" by Caedmon's Call (album: 40 Acres (1999)):

You know I ran across an old box of letters
While I was bagging up some clothes for Goodwill
But you Know I had to laugh at the same old struggles
That plagued me then are plaguing me still


I know the road is long from the ground to glory
But a boy can hope he's getting some place
But you see, I'm running from the very clothes I'm wearing
And dressed like this I'm fit for the chase


'Cause no, there is none righteous
Not one who understands
There is none who seek God
No not one, I said no not one


So I am thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own


'Cause we're all stillborn and dead in our transgressions
We're shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
I can't refuse, I cannot add a thing
'Cause I am just like Lazarus and I can hear your voice
I stand and rub my eyes and walk to You
Because I have no choice


I am thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own
I'm so thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own


'Cause by grace I have been saved
Through faith that's not my own
It is a gift of God and not by works
Lest anyone should boast


I am thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own
I'm so thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own

And, as much as I am very much a Calvinist in my theology, I have been troubled by the chorus "I am thankful that I'm incapable of doing any good on my own".

The ironic flip side is that I was troubled by the opposite problem in the sermon at St. Andrew's this weekend. Jim Birchfield preached a great sermon on the start of Acts and a vision for outreach and service that our church does not live up to, but that is the goal of many of us. The sermon was "Can I Get a Witness?", and he did say that Jesus' words state that we will be His witnesses, rather than being a request that we be witnesses. But then the sermon set a vision in front of us of what that could look like for us . . . and I was troubled that it seemed the call to action was to do those things without an emphasis on the fact that those things only happen with effectiveness when the Holy Spirit is doing them through us.

So I'm back at my wonder at that paradox . . . that I am helpless to love Jesus and to follow Him unless the Holy Spirit breathes life into me and uses me on any given day, but that I do have a choice, and am held accountable for it!

And the picture that brought a bit of new clarity to it to me recently was watching the drama of marriages and dating relationships that I see in the lives of some of my friends and family. The passion there -- and the tedium and dislike there at times -- is both "done to them" and chosen by them. When they "fall in love" -- for the initial start of the relationship or in the ebbs and flows of an on-going relationship -- it feels like something outside of them, like something "done" to them. When they choose to remain faithful to that love despite the pressures of real life, it feels like something they each are doing. But, in both kinds of times, it is both. There are things outside us and inside us that create passion, and there are choices we make in honoring and using that passion even when it isn't "controlling" us.

Our relationship with Jesus -- and with the Holy Spirit and the Father -- is a gift of God, and not by works, lest any man should boast . . . and it will consume us and transform how we act, just as every passionate relationship will. And then there will be times where the passion ebbs, and we have to "choose" to be faithful and in relationship with Him -- and yet that couldn't happen without His choice for us, could it?

So we are chosen and empowered and loved and used by the Triune God . . . and couldn't even respond in obedience to that without His empowering of each of us to do that. But we are responsible to turn to Him in joy and passion and participate! And if we don't, we are still dead in our sins.

And "I am incapable of doing any good on my own" -- and I am thankful that Jesus saves us and empowers us to be effective witnesses and to know the passion and the tedium of that calling. Who I am and how He uses me doesn't bear any kind of fruit when I'm creating the vision, writing the agenda, and then executing the plan. But when I yield to my lover, He does amazing things in giving me His vision, His agenda, and His plan to execute. And my motivation is Him -- so that brings a very different response when there seem to be roadblocks or challenges to my "mission".

Each of us -- and our community as a whole -- is called first to relationship with our God and with each other and with the world around us. Agape makes "being right" or "being Holy" or even "being useful and effective" take on a whole new Spirit.

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