“preach the word”

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

We need the simple word of God, period. Whenever I hear something other than that from a Christian teacher or preacher, I completely shut down. We don’t need anything fancy or new, in fact we should run from all such. And we especially need to beware of applications of God’s word, which really have nothing to do with it. Alas, many hear such and equate it with God’s word, God’s truth.

Does God’s word, Scripture have enough, or do we have to add more? We know the answer, but our thoughts and actions often betray us. We want more. Oftentimes the reason we want more is because we haven’t got into the word ourselves, so that we don’t appreciate its fullness and power.

Of course the written word leads us to the Word himself, Jesus. But that shouldn’t minimize the importance of Scripture. It is more than just a guide, certainly not just another guide. It is God’s word written. We best take full heed of it. In and through Jesus.

sensitivity to wrong in our lives

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We are told in this passage that we need to look intently at God’s word and at ourselves. An implication in this passage is that God’s written word exposes what is wrong in our lives, and that by application of that word, we can change and see change over time.

It’s important not only to be encouraged by God’s word, but also to be open and sensitive to whatever is wrong in our life, in our heart and actions. Jesus said that what defiles a person comes from the heart, and Proverbs tells us to watch over our heart since all we do comes from it.

We need the help from God through his word to address our problem. And we have to be sensitive to what is wrong with us. It is remarkable how quick we can be to pick up and pick on the perceived faults of others and be oblivious of our own. Or simply to sweep our own faults under the rug as insignificant or somehow justified, or we can fail to see them at all. As Scripture tells us elsewhere, we who judge others do the very same things ourselves.

Yes, others certainly have their faults sometimes in plain sight for all to see, though only God can see their hearts. But we have to acknowledge to ourselves that we’re in the same boat, that we’re often wrong, and keep our attention first and foremost on ourselves. As we continue in the word, making the necessary changes along the way. In and through Jesus.

 

continue to soak it in

When we were part of a Vineyard church, “soaking” was the term for spending time in God’s presence, usually I think for hours. I’m not sure I ever participated in a time set apart for that. We probably don’t do enough of that. People can mock “personal devotions,” or practices in church meant to help us draw close to God, but really, we need to soak in- to remain, so as to soak in- to take in, all God has for us.

Part of that is to watch ourselves and our own life. And to watch life in general. In all of that, we want to observe, and be taught by God. “What is God teaching me?” is a good question. Usually it won’t be hard to come up with an answer if we’ve been open. No doubt we are slow learners. We live as Christians with the desire to know God’s word and apply it, but we also live within experience. In some ways experience can help us when we verify the truth of what God says, the Spirit giving us insight. But often we run up against our limitations, our weaknesses, not to mention spiritual warfare.

Where I start as I’ve often said is in Scripture which I take to be God’s written word pointing us to his Word in Jesus. I remain there, with an emphasis on application. I especially want to apply what I think God has been teaching me lately. That will take time. And included in that is more soaking, not just in the word, but in life and hopefully God in our experience as we seek to grow in what God is teaching us. In and through Jesus.

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

a psalm taking a stand against evil

Of David. A psalm.

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?

I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.

I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.

My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.

Every morning I will put to silence
all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
from the city of the Lord.

Psalm 101

All of scripture is for our edification, even if we may not know what to do with all of it. Psalm 101 is a good case in point. David speaks in terms that are quite kosher in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, but when compared with Jesus’s teaching, we may have questions. Yes, Jesus did get after the religious leaders of his day, and he was rather unsparing, to say the least. They were the ones who judged others, being steeped in what amounted to systemic evil, a system of religion that seemed to encourage superficiality, which lends itself to missing the heart of God’s will: justice, mercy, love, and faithfulness.

David’s words remind us, I think, of how we’re not to merely tolerate others in the sense of looking past what is wrong. At the same time, as Jesus teaches us, we’re to love our enemies and pray for them. We’re also to honor those in authority, as the New Testament teaches, the emperor, which was then Nero. So we’re to honor them, even when they may be dishonorable themselves. We leave vengeance for wrongdoing in God’s hands. And we’re to pray for them.

We need all of scripture. I think David’s words here are not just something we should pin to him, thinking, well that was a different era and has little or no application for us today. We surely do need to read all of scripture through the lens of Christ and his coming. But to write it off as irrelevant would be a mistake. What exactly to do with each line, with each thought, how we’re to interpret that, is problematical. We don’t simply carry over David’s thoughts and actions for us, even if we might pray his words looking to God for God’s answers.

Jesus welcomed all, and would appeal to all. But sin is not swept under the rug. We do no one any favor to do that. We must first look at our own sin, and we grieve and pray over what we see as the sin of others.

So we need to read all of scripture, and pray. The psalms are rich for forming us. And we read them as followers of Jesus. Looking to God to help us, as we prayerfully read and ponder them, in and through Jesus.

a God-ordered undertaking

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.

Psalm 18:1-3

I ran across a lecture by one of the best Old Testament evangelical scholars, Tremper Longman III, entitled, “God is a Warrior: Coming to Terms with Divine Violence in the OT.” If you have any interest in this subject at all, it’s well worth your time. And it grapples with something of the heart of the same issue which Greg Boyd works on in his The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and the concise version of that, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence.

A major point I took away from it, was that the violence undertaken in the Old Testament was limited in scale and quite purposeful in intent, ordinarily God’s judgment. The main point for me being that those of Israel engaged in such, had to prepare themselves according to what God prescribed, so that in a certain sense they were set apart by God to participate in something of God’s work (my own way of expressing it).

Of course in this age the only warfare Christians can be involved in, as Tremper Longman III made clear is spiritual, against forces and entities not human, opposed to God, to the gospel, and to humankind.  Although Longman sees an argument for Christians serving in the police force and the military. And how when Christ returns, something of that ban will be lifted, when Christ subdues all the enemies of God and humanity, perhaps even with just the breath of his mouth.

The main takeaway, or direct application for me here is this: We are in a spiritual battle and undertaking, for sure. And we need to go about it according to what God prescribes for us in scripture, for us in Jesus, in the New Testament. But how we need all of scripture, the Old Testament as well, maybe in ways we can’t understand at times, but like here, in ways which can help us understand what God’s people should do, what we’re to do. And it encouraged me to see the Old Testament, and specifically passages which we may not easily track with as “a message to be understood,” rather than “a problem to be solved.”

Psalm 18 therefore is not to be relegated to some lesser status, even if supposedly inspired scripture, according to Boyd. While it was of a different era, it has direct bearing on us today. In and through Jesus.

encouraging one another in our faith

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Hebrews 3:13

The word translated “encourage” in the NIV might better be translated “exhort” (as in the NRSV) except for the fact that we don’t use that word today. “Warn” (NLT) fits the context, yet might be too strong. And there’s another Greek word which means to warn or instruct. Perhaps a good rendering might be to “strongly encourage.” (See Bill Mounce to consider that word in the New Testament transliterated parakaleo.)

The book of Hebrews was not written to us, but is definitely for us. It was for a group of either Jewish believers, or believers who as Gentiles had previously been God-fearers in Judaism, now under pressure, being persecuted for their faith (at least the beginnings of it), and tempted to go back to Judaism. But no one should think they are signed, sealed and delivered, as to their faith. We need according to the text, daily encouragement, mutual encouragement in our faith (Romans), but also some pointed loving words, to help us stay on track. When we see faith in others which encourages us, we should let them know, so that they might be encouraged by what we see.

The nature of scripture is– what had application for others, now has application for us. We have to consider the writings in their original context, but we must look at it in our setting, circumstances, and situation of life, as well. There has to be a measure of contextualization. But in that process, we have to be careful not to think that their needs were different than ours. At the heart of it, the need is the same. Wherever we find ourselves, or more precisely in this context, others, we need to take this seriously, and apply it to our lives. We need each other in Jesus to help us along, especially through the most difficult and potentially dangerous times. To not turn back, or drift away, but go on in Jesus toward full maturity in him. To the very end.