Friday, August 1, 2014

Christian Practices: Duty or Gift?

I was at one time extremely active in Boy Scouts.  I began working as a camp counselor the summer I turned 15, and I continued that work in one way or another until I left Indiana to go to seminary.  My last year as a camp counselor, I was the Camp Chaplain.  It is safe to say that Boy Scouts was an important part of my experiencing God's call to ministry.

My job as the chaplain was to help resource kids of all backgrounds to learn how to live out their oath "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty, to God and my Country..."

In many ways the Boy Scouts of America is a more "moral" institution than Christianity.

Before I am misunderstood--know that this is not necessarily a compliment.

I find that many Christians are under the mistaken impression that we have a certain "duty to God."  The classic image of a boy scout helping an elderly lady cross the street is a picture of doing a good deed. This is basic ethical morality--there are good things we can do and bad things, we ought to choose the good and avoid the bad as much as possible.

It is with this thinking that many of us approach the Christian life:  If I go to church, help at the food bank, serve homeless families at Family Promise, give my tithe, etc., I am doing my duty to God.  A core problem with this is that these things that are "duties" are no longer gifts, but obligations that hang over us.  Instead of giving us life, such obligations such life away.  "I would go to church, but I am just too tired, too busy, too sad, too angry, etc."  When we consider prayer-life as a moral obligation (our duty to God), we tend to think thoughts like, "I have so much to do, I just can't get in my prayer-time."

Martin Luther, who saw the emphasis of Grace throughout scripture, is attributed with having said, "I have so much to do that if I didn't spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done."  In Christ, we are not called to fulfill obligations--we are given the gift and power of a relationship with God.  I do not encourage the people I serve to worship regularly, and commit to serve in ministry because it is necessary for them to be complete in fulfilling their Christian duty--rather it is a gift into which all of us are invited.  How do you experience Christian practices to be grace instead of a duty?

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