we know Jesus, but more importantly, he knows us (and a lesson in the importance of reading the Bible in context)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

I had another good reminder just this morning of the importance of reading in context, and specifically, I’m thinking of scripture. At work, and at home, I have an ongoing practice of going over scripture slowly during the course of a day, sometimes too slowly, especially if I’m at home, occupied with other things. There is good in this in that it seems like scripture itself advocates a meditation which comes from reading, likely slow reading at that, rather than the emphasis on studying scripture. Thanks to an old acquaintance and servant of Christ, Jim Egli, who pointed this out to me. Not to say that normal reading, or listening to scripture isn’t good, even important and necessary. Along with occasionally studying something, such as the meaning of a word.

Recently at work I was impressed with Jesus saying at a certain key part in his dispute with the people of his day that he knows his sheep. That was a rather cloudy day for me in my spiritual vision, so to see that what is most fundamental when all is said and done is that the Lord knows us, even if we are struggling to have the sense of knowing him, was an encouragement. And actually these words from Paul line up with that:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Galatians 4

I realized in looking at John 10 this morning, that actually there is a strong emphasis on us knowing the Lord, as well as the Lord knowing us. Both are important. Sometimes like sheep, we can and will indeed feel lost. During those times it is good to take as much comfort as we can gather in the knowledge that the Lord knows us through and through, even if we are struggling to sense our knowledge of him. But we do know the Lord as well, even though, unlike him, our spiritual vision will at times be weak.

A good point, I take it, and also a good lesson in the importance of reading scripture in context. May we meditate, as we read scripture slowly, but may we also read all of it, and keep doing both, so that we might grow together with others in Jesus in an interactive relationship with God through the Spirit.

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reading and hearing the Bible together

Probably more than anything else, I’m a Bible person. Two things I like to carry and likely am carrying are my little New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs and coffee. It is good for us to read the Bible, or listen to it, in fact I highly recommend it. That’s in large part within our historical context the result of the Protestant Reformation. And within and around that are both good and not so good influences. A good: examining the translated original texts for ourselves. A not (necessarily) so good: the questioning and often rejection of authority, especially religious authority. But I live in a part of what has come out of that mix. And again, there is great good there, along with that which is not so good.

In churches of the Great Tradition, so much more scripture is read Sunday after Sunday through the lexical readings, so that essentially the entire Bible is read through over the course of I think four years. That is a great benefit, and such churches are blessed. Where we have been attending, taking our grandchildren, the Bible is wonderfully taught in a 45-55 minute message, preceeded by some (surprisingly enough to me) good worship in song, my earplugs intact with the guitars, keyboards and drums (though most Sundays I really could get by without them). But we don’t hear the Book read through except for passages related to the teaching. I would be surprised if most Christians, aside from services, and teaching times, read much scripture at all for themselves.

Within Judaism there’s a practice of reading scripture together, and then discussing and often debating its meaning. I think we can take home something important from that, because we will ultimately better understand the message of scripture together, not apart by ourselves. The Spirit gives the entire church the understanding of scripture and the gospel, and that mediation is more rich and clear through the church, rather than through individuals here and there. Not to diminish the value of scholars who themselves gather from the entire church in their work of helping us understand the text, along with pastors and priests who do the same.

Yes, read the Bible for yourself, and keep reading it. But also find a context where you are reading it with others, and gathering insights from them. And read from the best pastors and teachers, and from scholars as well.

spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There was a morning last week when I got up late, and could hardly make my way around, a pall hanging over me. It wasn’t like I wasn’t able to do what I had to do, but that I seemed to be aware of a sinister presence, probably at least once removed from reality. I had remembered a dream from that night, which itself seemed pretty obviously almost as if evil itself was directed at me, at my wife, and really the entire family and I.

Finally at work the need to meditate on this passage, Ephesians 6:10-20 dawned on me. And as I began to do that, the pall lifted.

I’m wondering how many of us are aware of the spiritual warfare we in Jesus are in. I’m not talking about the idea of seeing a demon behind every tree, and in everything, along with a good number of people, so that we (mistakenly, in my view) begin to cast demons out of people. That, by the way, is a real phenomena, but thankfully seems confined only to a few. Those in ministry who are trained to deal with that kind of thing should be involved in that work. The rest of us can help others, and help in that in more indirect ways. Actually not that different from how we help ourselves when plagued with something of a choking, numbing darkness.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is not just about actual physical rulers and authorities as some Bible scholars have maintained. A straightforward reading of the text makes it clear that it’s not against humans at all, but the spiritual entitities which are behind humans, as well as those who are opposed to us. So that we are in a struggle.

What is given to us for this struggle is no less than the mighty power of God along with the full armor of God. “Put on the gospel armor, each part put on by prayer,” is from a hymn which is an apt summary of how this passage can be applied. Every part of the armor given to us in Christ, is related to the gospel, or good news, by which we stand. And stand is the right way to put it, we’re to stand firm and resist in the evil day. Whether we see evil day as in some sense including all of this time before our Lord’s return, or we see it as particularly some days along that space. I think both is a good way to take it.

Too often we’re too slipshod in our application of God’s inscripturated word through the Word, Jesus, so that when we’re having ongoing issues, or problems, we may well ask ourselves if we’re really doing what we’re hearing (James 1). It’s certainly not the word itself which is deficient.

And so that’s my goal right now: to seek to better understand, to hear more fully, so that I may better apply, and do what this passage is telling us to do. Familiarity might not breed contempt at every turn, but it may lend itself to the deception that just because we know certain concepts, that we actually understand them, and are putting that into practice.

It’s not like there’s one perfect way to put something into practice, in fact the Spirit will help each of us to do this according to our particular bent and circumstances, and in the will of an all wise God. And the point of Ephesians 6:10-20, in the fire, and after all the smoke has cleared, is to stand, to stand firm in the Lord, and in the gospel.

May God grant us the grace and wisdom from the Spirit to do this in and through the Lord Jesus.

processing thoughts (and life)

I can’t forget either Eugene Peterson saying, or I think writing that we should read less, not more. And slowly. I have been told that I am a thought processor in that I don’t jump on something right away with some kind of insight, but rather hold it in tow, to sift through it. I think that’s right. I hope I’m not addicted to thinking, another new thought which is new and you can find on the internet (a TED talk or two).

I would have liked to have read so many more books during my lifetime. Although I’ve read quite a bit from the books downstairs, I would say I’ve not even read nearly half of the written content in my own personal library, though I have read through a number of the books there. My work has not made that conducive, so the dream of really honing in on some subject, reading widely, then hopefully making some sort of contribution in that discussion or field, is now gone. I have listened to the Bible being read over the years, beginning as a new Christian with the KJV New Testament, then the NIV for so many years, though I haven’t been listening lately, but reading myself in a way in which I might end.

In this information age, we have all kinds of knowledge available right at our fingertips. We can easily get lost in it all, probably in more ways than one. And much of it can be quite good. But that doesn’t mean we’re to spend hours on end in it, from one good thing to the next.

Factory work is not something I planned to do, but only a job until I would hopefully get into the ministry, which didn’t pan out. I have second and third thoughts now, still wanting to do ministry, and enjoying the nursing home on Sundays. But thinking I should have worked on landing a teaching job early on. Factory work has its good and bad aspects. I have breathed some bad stuff along the way (not much, if at all, now). And the days have been monotonous, boredom has certainly been a companion over the years.

But boredom, and being in a place of relative silence, now with my New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs in hand, when I can glance at the next line, but such a place can be quite good for thinking on God’s revelation in Jesus as given to us in scripture and the gospel. And how that relates to life where we live, where I live.

I have to try to fit in well to the life that is, the reality in which I live. And be content there, with all the challenges we face, some of our own making to an extent. But much of what easily happens in the world in which we live.

We all have our place, our contribution to make, along with our limitations. We gather from each other what the Lord gives to us, to the entire church. And we work and rest there. Hoping and praying and looking. As we continue on together in the gift that continues to be given to us even in this life in and through Jesus our Lord.

an old fashioned remedy for all that ills us in this life

Although this post will sound like it’s coming from a Protestant Christian, it is really hopefully in keeping with the traditional understanding of the entire church: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and all the other traditions within the Tradition of the church. Of course I know not a few will raise their eyebrows over that last thought. But back to basics.

In early centuries, people usually did not have their own Bibles, and often couldn’t read much to speak of, for that matter. That is perhaps in significance part why when one attends a liturgical church, much scripture is read, usually an Old Testament reading (called the historical reading in Anglican churches), a New Testament reading (often called an epistle reading in Anglican churches), a reading -often responsive- from the psalms, and ending with a gospel reading, from one of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. In this way the church congregation used to be taken through all of scripture in around four years, of course in their hearing the word read, often mentioned in scripture. The idea of reading scripture to ourselves, even silently, is a relatively new practice.

What I’m suggesting in this post is nothing novel, or new. And it’s not without its dangers. But all I’m saying is that we need to be in the word of scripture, in all of it over time, and little by little every day, or at least regularly. We need to take in both a lot, and look carefully at different parts in the context of the whole. And we need to keep doing this. The church needs to be doing this together, even as its congregants do it on their own as well. Both.

Dangers to anything at all exist. In this case we face the danger that as we individually read scripture, we’ll end up dividing over different interpretations. While there is room within the church for differences of interpretations in some, perhaps many matters, the danger in even that is missing the true point of the prose, narrative and poetry of scripture. What is most basic here is to realize that no prophecy of scripture is to be interpreted privately, as 2 Peter reminds us. We need to have a respect for tradition, in other words how the Spirit has led the church to understand the scripture which the Spirit gave to the church in the first place.

Maybe it’s not accurate to call us people of the Book, but instead, we’re people of God who receive from God through the Book.  We receive God’s promises and an understanding of God’s will and the grace from God through Jesus to begin to realize all of that in community as the church in our witness of the gospel to the world.

We need the big picture found in the whole of scripture, from creation to consummation in new creation. And we need the details within that story with its different acts. To understand God’s will for us now. What’s important and what is not. As well as what’s good, and what’s evil.

Scripture is a special gift from God, God-breathed (2 Timothy) and for all of life in the present. A unique, one-of-a-kind book. Through it we begin to enter into the interactivity of God’s love and work in the world in and through Jesus. The good news which helps us see what is important, and what is not, as well as what will last.

study and the intellect

I was once a pastor of a little church called “Faith, Hope and Love Gospel Center.” It was run down and not resurrected through my work there of only about a year. I look back on that and shake my head, partly because I really needed a mentor, someone to guide me through that time. And I had one, but due to my youth and lack of wisdom (and his use of Robert Schuller* just on the side with a book to encourage those discouraged like myself), I left that great opportunity behind. But after that time on my own with my new wife Deb, I had come to realize that I needed or at least wanted more training, precisely more theological education. And having been influenced by a Baptist pastor and church nearby, I headed off to Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan (now called Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).

I was hungry for some intellectual food, and at the seminary, I certainly found it with some outstanding professors. That was a good season for me, I take it, laying a foundation for my life that was needed, although not enough of a foundation was laid on the church side to really get me going in the pastorate. My degree, following my Bachelor of Theology one (from Prairie Bible Institute) was a Master of Divinity. I wish I would have started on all of that when I was younger, and I wish I would have had the kind of mentoring I needed to become a pastor, or a teacher somewhere. And I wish I would have read and studied much more during my life. Some years back I thought the Lord gave me this one word: “Read.”

Study and the intellect is far more important than many of us Christians make it out to be. I am blessed in that where I work, RBC Ministries, such endeavor is valued, their/our mission being “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

There is more to life than just the mind, but the mind is part and parcel of the fullness of life we are to have in Jesus. Of course how that works out for each one of us will be different. Not all of us will want to head off to school to study more, or read books, one after another. But every one of us needs to have a thirst to read and study scripture, and try to understand God’s will as it applies to our own lives as well as the mission to which we are called. I would suggest as a minimum that each of us needs to be on a Bible reading (or Bible listening) plan or agenda. At least once a year through the Bible would be good, although what is essential is to be regularly in the habit of doing it. And we need to study and meditate on various books and passages in scripture. Any and every one of them over time would be a good goal.

At the same time, we also need to read those who are gifted in communicating something of God’s full will in Jesus. In all kinds of genres. And I think we need to learn to read widely over time. Read those who are not of the faith. Learn in areas that interest us. Again, we are all wired differently so we will all go about this differently, which doesn’t make whatever we do any less of a gift than whatever anyone else does.

Back to my own story, a bit. I wish I would have been much more faithful in reading and studying.  It is over years of doing such that wisdom is developed. And the aspect of study and the intellect is underrated and therefore underplayed in the quest for a Spirit-filled life. As Jack Levison pointed out in an excellent book I recently read, Daniel is a good case in point. He studied with some of his friends in the best education of his day, even that which was not of the faith, and surely was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures as well. And it was noted repeatedly in the book by those outside the community of faith that he was one in whom was the spirit of the gods.

And so read, and study as the Lord would lead you. As we seek to follow our Lord together for the world.

*This is not meant to put down Robert Schuller. I find good along with what I see as not so good in his message. I think he would say it’s grounded in scripture, but it seems to me to be in some line with Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. In my view, scripture taken out of context to support something which in the proper context is true.