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Growing and Outgrowing

08/16/2014 2 comments

One of my students asked me, “How do you come up with such deep insights?” He was obviously looking for a way to develop his own ability to interpret Scripture.

At first I tried to explain it to him in terms of the biblical languages, cultural studies, historical background and commentaries. But, even while giving this explanation, I realized that’s not really the way I receive insight. I’ve done all those things, but they’re not always fruitful. There’s something else. That student raised the question a number of years ago when I’d not yet raised it for myself. The answer had to wait for another level of maturity.

Through the years many students have testified to a level of life and ministry beyond academic information that comes across when I teach. So I‘ve known there’s something real happening when I open new vistas in the classroom. But I didn’t know what made the difference, and I didn’t even ask. The difference obviously has something to do with what Father God has done in me and how he gifted me. I know this much; it’s not about me.

Here’s how I understand it now:

When Jesus said we must leave father and mother to follow him, he wasn’t speaking of a geographical departure. Wise fathers and mothers give us boundaries, a fenced-in place to play safely, but then they send us into the world beyond the fence hoping we’ve learned what we’ll need to know to help us deal with life as it comes to us outside the fence. Children need the safety net of established boundaries while they’re growing.

Jesus was saying we must leave the fenced-in backyard of our parents’ house to follow him into a bigger world, the world of the kingdom of God. Children outgrow their need for their parent’s house. For me that also meant leaving the fenced-in backyard of my early religious training. As a child I was indoctrinated into a legalistic way of interpreting the Bible. In my youth, I needed the safety of the rules and the security of “certainty” in doctrinal matters.

Legalistic rules and confidence in our biased interpretations of particular Bible verses don’t apply in the kingdom of God. Jesus disregarded the Pharisee’s parochial interpretation of the Sabbath. The only thing that mattered to him was following the leading of Father God. We must leave outgrown concepts behind and embrace reality as it’s revealed to us by the Spirit each new day. The new will never contradict the Bible, but it often does contradict our group’s parochial interpretation of the Bible.

Truth never changes, but our understanding of truth does change – if we grow. When we learn something new, if it’s true, it was true before we learned it. But, if we take new insights seriously, the new truth will often force adjustments to other things we thought we knew. I once “knew” that our church was the only one who had the truth. That had to change when I discovered true believers in other denominations. Here I am 60 years later and some of my brethren still believe they’re the only ones.

My academic life began by adapting to the fenced-in backyard of my professors. They made room for creativity within the fence. That gave space for me to develop my own skills of analyzing and interpreting the data of Scripture, but it was all within the context of their doctrinal presuppositions. Having learned to analyze and interpret, however, I came to realize that no theological backyard is adequate to hold the fullness of God. I had outgrown the home of my theological fathers

If you can wrap your head around God, he’s no bigger than your head.

So we must work hard at seeking truth, but then we must rest in silence to receive Father’s call that comes from beyond our present theological backyard. We also need to hone our skills of expression so we can share new insights when they come. The problem is that many think the honing of the skills is the end of the process. They’ve developed skills to express what they learned in theological kindergarten. They only find new ways to say what they were taught in their church school. They don’t know they’re fenced-in.

So how do we get out of the mentality of the yard we grew up in? How do we come into the larger perspective of the kingdom of God?

Here’s what I do: I continually listen for Father’s voice calling from outside the fence I’m presently in. Realizing I’ve not yet learned everything there is to know, and knowing that I’ve not yet grasped the full meaning of what little I have learned, I am at rest in Father’s presence as I “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Col. 3:14). I don’t find truth; truth finds me while I’m resting within my fence, open to whatever Father may have for me outside my yard.

That’s also why I’m relaxed while I teach. I’ve learned to rest in the presence of Father and work in tandem with the Holy Spirit…at least sometimes. We must learn to work and rest at the same time. That’s how Jesus lived his life. He didn’t break the Sabbath when he healed. He was resting in his Father’s bosom as Father did his work (Jn. 14:10). Those of us who teach must learn to rest in Father’s bosom as HE brings HIS teaching to HIS people.

Fount Shults, President
On Word Ministries http://www.onword.org

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