practicing God’s word

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 1:19-27

I’ve gathered a good bit of biblical theological knowledge over my life, but mostly in my head, and not so much into my heart and life, I’m afraid. Not that one can belittle what God actually has done in making us his children by faith. There certainly is a big change which accompanies that. We are turned from darkness into light. Although that’s a complete turn, it’s actually only the start.

We can say what matters most is not where we begin, but where we end. And not just what we believe, but what we practice. Not that what we believe isn’t important because after all, what we believe is what we’re to practice. Christian practice is built on Christian belief, Christian teaching, or the doctrines of the faith. But as James puts it, even the demons believe, and shudder.

So that is my intention, to begin to practice much better what I preach. Not just say something is true, but act on it. Faith is never in opposition to effort, but only in imagining that somehow we can merit or deserve God’s grace through our actions (Dallas Willard). Grace comes through Christ, not only to forgive us, but to enable us to grow through that grace. To quit doing what is not pleasing to God, but rather, what is pleasing to him. As James aptly and succinctly puts it, to not just hear God’s word, but put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

hearing (reading) and doing

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

One of our biggest challenges as believers in Christ (James 2:1) is put  God’s word into practice. As those who are born from above, we naturally love God’s instruction. And that means that we’ll want to obey it, and will be unhappy, or at least unfulfilled when we don’t. James calls this a deception, actually a self-deception, when we hear or read God’s word, yet don’t put it into practice.

It seems like the fallacy here is to know, but fail to do. We somehow think knowing is enough. To hear and read God’s word is important; we do need to pay close attention to it, just as James says in the passage above. But for James that means, not only to hear it, but do it.

Of course in order to do, we must know what to do. So a certain kind of knowledge precedes doing. We have to be careful here, especially in an age when knowledge seems to be just about everything. It’s not enough to know God’s will. It’s evidently easy to be deceived into thinking that’s enough. At the same time, we need to be in the process of reading and meditating on all of scripture. And basic before that, humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us (James 1:21).

And after this, after the passage quoted above, James gives us a word to apply:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

why do I write?

Periodically, ever since a trusted pastor asked me why I write, I check myself on this, trying to understand better, myself. In 2004, I began to visit blogs, the first couple years on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, which I still go to to this day. Around 2006, I started my own blog at the suggestion of one of the Jesus Creed  readers and contributors. I was surprised to find that I could actually write a post. And even Scot took to liking my blog. So I thought I must be on to something.

Back in those days, blogs and blogging was hot. Almost everyone was reading a blog. Nowadays, it has cooled off quite a bit, except at some quarters, like where I work, Our Daily Bread, where their ministry blogs get exponentially more hits than the few my blog gets. At the beginning I was on Blogger and didn’t know how many hits I was getting since that wasn’t what I wanted to be in it for. I lost my original blog for a year and a half, until it mysteriously returned. On the day I lost it, I went to WordPress. And (on Blogger) probably a year and a half into blogging, I started to do it daily, as that was recommended for the best impact for readers and blog followers at the time. Besides, I do better whatever I do, regularly, probably daily. And getting back to the point on stats, WordPress simply has that in your blog, whether you want it or not. I don’t think I have to worry about getting a big head considering the number of hits I get.

I think the most basic answer to why I write is simply because I am a writer. I am one who thinks, and thinks and thinks some more. And it’s mostly been in and about scripture. I’ve been in God’s written word, the Bible for more than four decades now. And in the past, year after year, I’ve listened to it being read from the New International Version. That is an accurate and highly readable translation. I still think it’s the best at combining those two traits. And so I learned my English in writing from hearing that. And that word more and more penetrated my mind, heart, and life. Not that I lived up to that, and of course we need grace every day to have any hope of growing in that direction.

I also write, because I’ve sensed a calling on my life right from the beginning of my Christian journey, and perhaps a bit, before. To share God’s word with others, and be a pastor. To this day I go to a nursing home on Sundays to do a worship service which includes teaching the word, along with visiting afterwards. So that is my passion, as well. In my heart of hearts, I’m a pastor. So part of my writing is sharing my heart that way. Trying to help people in all the ways a pastor should.

And I’m a thinker. I’m forever and always thinking on something. That can drive me nuts, and those around me if I don’t keep my mouth shut. Thankfully my wife is used to it, and listens. And just like anyone who knows a few things about the subject they’re engrossed in, be it sports, music, politics, or whatever, I have learned, and more precisely am learning, mainly from the Bible itself, but also through the tradition of the church, especially the evangelical tradition I’ve been a part of for so many years. And thinking on scripture makes one think on life. You become a student both of scripture, and of life. You try to read both.

Bloggers are a dime a dozen, mostly just reading each other’s blogs nowadays. Of course there are many good ones out there. And anyone can write a book if they want to. If the Lord gives me the time and health to do it, I would like to write a book or two myself. But we’ll see. It would be like along the lines of my blogging. Hopefully helping someone, maybe a few along the way. And helping me sort out some things myself.

Blessedly, not everyone is like me. That without question would be a boring world. We need each person, and the gift from God that person is, with the gifts they have. But I try to do my part, and a big part of it, it seems, is in and through my writing. And as I always like to say, all of this always in and through Jesus.

 

we need all of it, that is, scripture

Yesterday I shared the life change I’m embarking on in simply slowing down, and Jesus’s call to be yoked together with him in his work as recorded in Matthew 11. And that day, one passage brought life to me.

But the next day was a difficult one in that I was probably experiencing one of the flaming arrows of the enemy, and experienced darkness most all day. Not the normal gray with sunshine, but clouds, I usually experience. Not that we’re to be focused on our experience, though it’s not like it’s unimportant, either. Combined with the hard work, it wasn’t easy. Add to that, being tired, and that in itself can be a challenge, and in fact, can set us up for difficult days. Of course there is always God’s grace to sustain and help us overcome such, but just the same, we’re still human. We certainly have our limitations.

So I realized in that darkness that while of course I always need the Lord, and frankly felt abandoned, which I’m sure is not the case, though sometimes God might possibly withdraw a sense of his presence for a reason, but most often, it is we who have moved, but I realized anew and afresh that we really need all of scripture. So a few passages came to mind on which I meditated: Philippians 4, James 1, and at last the great spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6, verses 10-20. All of that helped me, but meditating on that last passage through saying it again and again, begin to help lift me out of my darkness.

I have found along the way that it seems God impresses certain passages on my mind for my life, such as Proverbs 3:5-6 a couple years back. And I can see why, especially later on. And then the Matthew 11 passage for me on Monday. But the point here is that whether we can understand it or not, and often we won’t, we need all of scripture. And we do well to memorize certain parts. I used to memorize years back, but have avoided the practice in recent years. But now am doing it again, since I choose to no longer refer to my small Bible during work time, since there’s a new rule against phone use. And I’m finding this surprisingly, rather rejuvenating.

Of course to be in all of scripture means we need to be reading it, and/or hearing it being read. There’s much good in both. For listening, I would recommend Max McLean for a good straightforward reading of scripture, and it’s available online through Gateway. But there are other good options online and elsewhere. And there’s no substitute for reading it yourself. Actually both can have a special impact, but when you have the text in front of you, you can stop at certain points, and ponder a bit, or reread when needed.

And then there’s the good old fashioned, what some would call evangelical practice of memorizing scripture. And the more, the better, but key passages such as those I mentioned above.

The point here is that we need to be in all of scripture. We need all of it for a reason (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 15:4).

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

May God help all of us to be more and more in his word, imbibing and living in that, receiving all we need for life, in and through Jesus.

the importance of being in the entire word

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Much of my Christian life, now well over forty years has been spent listening to scripture being read, so that I would hear the entire Bible at least twice a year, and often more. I haven’t been doing that lately, but continue to read through the entire Bible, though slowly. But I’ve begun to listen again through Bible Gateway. You could start here and/or here.

There are parts of the Bible that are ponderous and downright difficult, along with other parts that are exhilarating, interesting, and downright beautiful. We have to take it all together for it to have the effect needed. It’s a matter of reading in context, and it’s important in taking in everything, just as we have to take in everything in life: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

So that’s my challenge for all of us during this new year, 2018. To read and listen to the word, all of it. Yes, to meditate on it as well, and even to study it. But the point today is the importance of being in all of it. As we go on in all of life in and through Jesus.

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.

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.