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Friday, December 14, 2007

Can vs. Should

A friend of mine recently told me about an experience she had in her college Bible class. The professor boldly stated that any single verse of Scripture could be used as the basis for a sermon. To prove his point, he went on to preach an entire sermon from one obscure verse in the Old Testament. I don't recall the exact verse, nor did she, but the essence of it was, "They went from here to there."

This story brought to mind an issue that I've been thinking about a great deal over the last several months. As we approach life, and even faith, we tend to ask the question, "Can I?" but rarely ask the follow up, "Should I?" Can you preach on one single obscure text of the Bible? Sure, I suppose anything is possible. But should you? Should you attempt to take an entire message out of a detail that is used to support a much larger narrative? I believe that all Scripture is given to us by God, but to me, that doesn't mean that every single bit of it has to say something to us. God communicates through the stories, and the verses make sense in the context which they are given. When we take them out of context, we twist the Word to say what we want it to say.

More than a moral question for preaching, however, I think this is an important idea for our approach to life. We are taught in the American Way to ask, "Can I?" Can I afford this large TV, can I afford a bigger home, can I get a bigger and better job? As long as the answer is yes, we feel like it's OK to move forward. But how often do we pause to say, "I can do this, but should I?" I can afford a larger TV, house, or job, but should I do it? Should I take on the payments? Should I commit to the longer work hours? Should I say yes when I know what impact it will have on other areas of my life?

For me, this brings up an important modification to human freedom. We prize being free, and sometimes we assume that because we're free, we CAN do whatever we'd like. But part of our freedom is an understanding that God has created us with limits; limits to our energy, limits to our money, limits to what gives life and health and what takes it away. As good Americans, we look at these limits as hurdles to be jumped on our way to great accomplishment. But could it be that God has given us limits in order that we might more fully enjoy our freedom? By understanding we have a limited supply of energy, we choose to say no to opportunities that will rob us of the energy we need to give to our families. By understanding our limits, we can turn down the bigger house because we're unwilling to sacrifice other freedoms. Limits are not bad- limits allow us to enjoy the freedoms that matter most to us.

May your journey this week reflect a wise discernment between "Can" and "Should".