As I begin comments on Chapter 5 of Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, today is the day I began my 2016 golf campaign [aka my first round of golf for this year].
The title of the chapter is “Finding the Sweet Spot.” For the non-golfer, a little explanation is in order. The sweet spot is the spot on a golf club where the golfer can get the maximum distance from a shot. It is usually in the center of the club face. Strikes to the golf ball away from the center result in shots that can go all over the fairway and distance suffers due to off- center hits.
I have been around several pastors who love to play golf. I always figured that getting out in the fresh air is a stress relief, but why would Pastor Hamilton talk about the sweet spot for a chapter?
The sweet spot represents something to him. It represents the perfect blend of extremes and Seeing Gray is definitely not a book dedicated to extremes.
The extremes he discusses are legalism and libertinism. Legalism in Christian theology, is the act of putting law above gospel by establishing requirements for salvation beyond repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and reducing the broad, inclusive and general precepts of the Bible to narrow and rigid moral codes [Wikipedia]. Libertinism refers to a lifestyle or pattern of behavior characterized by self-indulgence and lack of restraint, especially one involving sexual promiscuity and rejection of religious or other moral authority [Wiktionary].
Neither extreme is effective for the best Christian living. Most people would say “well duh” to the idea that libertinism would even be practiced by a Christian.
However, one view has too many rules and regulations and the opposite seems to have no rules and regulations, no boundaries.
I am in a special place right now as a student of the Bible. Last fall I blogged on a book that impacted my life, Dallas Willard’s Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. It took me deeper into knowing my faith than I thought I would ever go, especially my knowledge of the Bible. As I wrapped up the book and began to look forward to the new year, I felt a burning desire to read the Bible. I knew that there were so many blank spaces in my Bible knowledge, especially my knowledge of the Old Testament.
The pastor at my church insisted that my whole church read and study Pastor Randy Frazee’s The Story, which was a narrative “introduction” to the whole Bible and that was a good starting point for me. Being a Sunday school teacher, I got to dig into the chapters as we went from Old to New. As I read The Story, I began to look at episodes of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s “The Bible” and that was a good thing. Even though a visual image can distort a person’s imagination, I let go of those concerns and just watched the whole miniseries to get a flavor of the Middle East in Jesus’ time. Well this year, I have finished the Old Testament [New International Version] and I am now reading the New Testament.
You might be asking where am I going with this?
I see from my New Testament reading, a Jesus who frequently challenged the religious status quo. Jesus came to establish a New Covenant with the Jewish people. He wanted to establish the fact that life was not always about strict adherence to the Law. Some things that are immediate and necessary sometimes have to take precedent over the law. “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” [Luke 14: 5]. Time and again Jesus finds himself doing what needs to be done regardless of the rules. He puts people over regulations; He puts needs over rigidity. If someone needs to be healed, He heals them regardless of whether the healing is on the Sabbath or not.
As you read the New Testament, you get an overwhelming sense that He is right in what He does. He is trying to show the world that some religious leaders are missing the “sweet spot” as they overemphasize the Law. Jesus would rather take care of His “sheep” than enforce the law.
We know of the Pharisee, the person who wants to put on a show, the person who wants the power of the Law, the person who is better than others due to his obvious devout behavior.
“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’”
As Jesus tells this, He is obviously not happy with this kind of behavior.
He is more accepting of a tax collector than a Pharisee when He says “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Honesty over dishonesty, care and concern for people rather than disregard and lack of concern for the needy, humbleness rather than prideful behavior, selflessness as opposed to selfishness. Jesus came to show us the “sweet spot.”
As I found today in my inaugural round of golf in 2016, even though I did not hit the sweet spot every time, I kept on swinging. I know what it means to hit it.
Folks, it feels very good; it feels right.