Friday, 20 January 2012

Living On The Edge Is Not Life In The Middle

Living on the edge?THE EDGE
I'm not a danger man. I generally play (everything) safe. Of course, what I call "safe", Kim calls "boring". But 'safe' doesn't have to be boring - although I can understand why some prefer to live on the "edge" because it brings an element of excitement, a different perspective, and a surge of adrenaline. When it comes to spiritual things, I'm not sure the 'edge' is the place we are most effective...
Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few..
Maybe when it comes to outdoor adventure, going up to the edge is an expected part of the experience. But the gravitationally consequential cliff-top edges usually have fences near their edges for a good reason. Jesus gave an "edgey" picture in His Sermon on the Mount (the Beattitudes) when He said that the way to (eternal) life was narrow and hard. For me, it's not too hard to imagine a not-too-far-away scene of a high mountain trail bounded by a steep cliff where many an impetuous traverser had met an untimely end. Christ's words would have painted a very graphic depiction of what spiritual peril looked like.

Living on the edgeThe old King James Version translation of this verse uses the word "strait" for the modern word "narrow". For us Tasmanians, we are very familiar with what a strait is (as distinct from something that is "straight"). It carries the idea that there is a narrow way through bounded by barriers. Jesus said that eternal life was like this. As we walk with God the path is bounded by two great barriers: 1. Love for God, and 2. Love for others. Upon closer investigation we discover that both barriers bear both barrier markings. God has bounded the path of those who follow Him with these two great safety barricades. Step over either one and the follower of Christ is no longer loving God or people. Keep as close to the middle of the strait and you can only love God and others. So who would want to live on the edge of the strait knowing that the closer to the edge you get the further away from fellowship with God you get at the same time? But is it wrong to go up to the edge? I actually think this is perfectly the wrong question. The one who wants to love God, live for Him, walk closely with Him, does not ask how close to the edge they are allowed to get before it's "wrong".
1Thess. 5:22 Abstain from every form of evil.
There are lots of things that are 'permissible' for a Christian that are also not beneficial or the best way to love God and others. Over-eating, alcohol consumption, gambling, or swearing, might be included in any such considerations.
1Cor. 10:23 ¶ "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.
Avoiding such things might invite the charge of "Legalist" (which is an ironic charge if you think about it). Legalism is not merely avoiding certain things and neither is "freedom" partaking of such edgey things.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
Outcries may come. "Grace!" they cry, "Grace allows me to live on the edge of the path of Life. Your condemnation of my edgey lifestyle is mere legalism!" But "grace" is not permission to live however you want - rather, grace is the power to live as you should (1Cor. 15:10b).

The Master Christian Essayist, F.W. Boreham, writing in 1914 about "Escapes- Not Hairbreadth" (Mountains In The Mist), makes some observations about risky up-to-the-edge living. Boreham eloquently draws on other great writers and even the recent sinking of the Titanic to set up his pastoral comments about risky-up-to-the-edge living.
"Every minister knows that there are no questions more frequently presented to him that those relating to the questionable pastimes or amusements. 'Is there any harm in this?' 'May I play at such and such a game?' "Is it right to go to such and such a place?' 'Is it wrong to take part in this, or that, or the other?' It all arises from our insensate craving for hairbreadth escapes. Even children love to walk on the edge of the kerb, to creep near the brink of a precipice, and  to lean far out of a high window." [Page 240] 
F.W. Boreham goes on to draw an analogy between risky living and spiritual indifference toward God. The man who lives with careless indifference towards the commands and heart of God and then self-confidently assumes he can escape the consequences of such living may be in for an eternal surprise. "On a memorable occasion", continues Rev. Boreham, "the late General Booth was stepping from his carriage to enter a well-known public building. As he did so a drunken man staggered stupidly towards him, and in scarcely intelligible accents exclaimed, 'Say, General, what are ye going to do with the like o' me?' The crowd gathered quickly round to hear the General's answer. The General laid his hand on the drunkard's shoulder, and replied, 'My friend, we can't do much for you; but we're after your boy !' That is a piece of very sage philosophy which I commend to all parents and teachers." (page 242)

If you're on the edge, it's not too late to come back. If you've crossed over the edge and felt the peril of it, then God's grace can also bring you back. If you're pastor pleading with edgey people, call to your people from the middle of God's strait and narrow path, not near the edge.
Father, please help me to pastor by grace to bring Your people into the fullness of Your grace for their lives. Give me the pastoral wisdom to know how I am to live in the middle of the path of Life. Please Lord, empower me with Your grace to draw more people into the middle of  Your will - not merely the edge of it. And Lord I pray that this will result in Christ being seen in us and many coming to know Him.  Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

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