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.

 

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learning the language and heart of contrite brokenness

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2

Psalm 51 is the great penitential psalm, attributed to David in the aftermath of his terrible sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba, and being complicit in her husband Uriah’s death. We know the story from scripture, and the fallout which followed. Once when I was going over the psalm and rather overcome by its magnificence, I made the statement that it arguably never would have been written apart from David’s sin, but sin is never ever worth whatever good might come out of it. Yet God is the redemptive God, in the work of redeeming sinners, and even bringing good out of what forever remains evil.

There is what’s called soaking in God’s presence. I think it’s good to soak in scripture, as well, to soak in God’s presence in scripture. And in this passage, which can help us learn both the language and heart of a contrite brokenness. Contrite in the sense of being sorry, but not sorry just over the consequences of sin, but over the sin itself, especially in the sense of being against God, and then from that, grieving over its hurt and loss it has inflicted on others. Not to suggest that we don’t find salvation even in the midst of this, as is quite evident in the psalm itself.

I am in this psalm right now, working on memorizing it to begin with, and then in prayer, offering it to God. So that it must become not only the psalmist’s prayer, but my prayer as well.

A new thought did dawn on me, something that had never occurred to me, or hit me in the same way, something I want to pray through, and perhaps somehow act on. Whatever my own thoughts and wishes, my intention is not to be in a hurry, but let this language become my own, so that the heart from that language might be my own heart, too. In and through Jesus.

memorizing scripture

I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

For years I have avoided memorizing scripture, preferring to read and meditate on it. And not really studying it much, either. I think clearly meditating, and reading (or hearing it read) are promoted in scripture, and studying it, included, as well. I’m not all that clear that memorizing it is, unless this verse might point to that. I think it’s true that in Jewish tradition would be rabbis would memorize large parts of the Pentateuch, maybe all of it. But for me tradition is not on par with scripture itself.

At work I would carry on my practice, with a small New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs. I would look at the next verse or part of a verse, with a clip to help me find my place, ponder it while I was working, and then on another brief time of waiting (if I had it, sometimes between breaks, I didn’t have the opportunity) look at the next phrase, and so on, pondering as in meditating on its meaning.

Recently they banned the use of phones on the floor, so I figured it would be best for me to quit looking at my Bible now and then, figuring some would think that unfair. My team leader thought I was probably right. So before a work week, I’m adopting the practice of memorizing a portion of scripture that I can meditate on throughout the following work week. The first one I chose was Psalm 19.

Decades ago as a young Christian I memorized whole books, though I’m not sure just how well I did that. I would be able to say a part, but really didn’t try to say it all together on a regular basis, or more likely, at all, so that it’s doubtful I really had it all in memory enough to recite it verbatim, but it was still a good exercise. Now that we are taking our grandchildren to an evangelical church which we intend to join soon, not to mention the fact that I’ve been working over 17 years for an evangelical ministry steeped in the world (Our Daily Bread Ministries), the tradition of memorizing scripture, usually just verses, but better yet, passages, like the tradition of having one’s quiet time (something else I haven’t done) is big, or at least present. So that this new practice of mine hopefully will kick in, and become an ongoing habit to help me meditate on God’s word.

Something I look forward to, as I seek to hide (or treasure- NRSV; NASB) God’s word in my heart.

Christian meditation

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

In the Christianity Today edition on Billy Graham’s life, there is a most interesting article on his devotional life, or as Evangelicals call it, “devotions,” or “quiet time.” It is aptly entitled: “An Intentional Intimacy” with the subtitle: “Billy Graham kept the focus on God at all times. How did he do it?”

I’ve done some quiet times which were marked by God’s presence, and used to practice that to some extent, but by and large over my Christian life, I’ve really not been much of one to have a “quiet time” with God each day, or have “personal devotions.” My own way of doing something of the same thing was more to be in the word by listening to it being read over the years, and having my own copy of scripture close at hand. Now I try to be in the word in a number of ways throughout the day as much as possible. But I think I haven’t done as well as I could have in making it more personal between myself and God. Too often it is more or less just cramming a lot of scripture in my head. Since it’s God’s word, that can be good because it’s alive and active and brings needed judgment and correction to us, along with salvation. But there’s also the danger of not acting on what we know or profess, so that we are living in a measure of deception. And in becoming proud over what we think we know, over our head knowledge. But if we press on in scripture, and really ponder it before God, we should remain humble because of its depth, and the realization it gives of just how much we actually don’t know, along with how dependent on God we actually are.

Christian meditation can include tradition and experience, but is primarily marked by pondering the words of scripture, and the message found in it. There’s surely some importance in doing the former, but it is all necessarily based on the latter.

We are blessed, or truly happy, as we learn to meditate on God’s word day and night, giving both our attention, and our lives to it, in devotion to God and God’s will, in and through Jesus.

back to scripture

נ Nun

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
    that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much;
    preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
    and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
    I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me,
    but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees
    to the very end.d]”>[d]

One way or another, I think there’s nothing more basic to the Christian life, to the follower of Jesus than to get back into scripture, God’s written word. Of course there’s never any shortage of questions on just how one should do that, how our reading is flawed now, how we should study, just a number of problems in how even Christians approach the Bible. And we need to listen and weigh these things, and consider just how we might do better.

But the crucial point is that we need to get into the word little by little, and all of it. Best case is to both be reading it through, and meditating on it along the way. I have listened to scripture either being read in a conventional way, or dramatically for years. Now I mostly read it for myself all the way through, as well as another track much slower, thinking on each part.

We need to see the whole, and see scripture as God’s story with all its different sometimes seemingly at odd parts, the 66 books all contributing uniquely to the whole, each one important in its place.

This is not about following some kind of religious prescribed order. It is more about both relationship and community together in God in and through Jesus. It is both individual and corporate, so that we find our own God-given place within the community of believers in the church. Where did that come from? From scripture itself. And that’s the entire point: We need to be in all of scripture, see it as the unfolding story of God which comes to its dramatic fulfillment and conclusion in Jesus. We find that while we have to take each part seriously in its own terms, in the end we see it in light of Jesus, and the fulfillment of it all in him, through the gospel, mediated by the church, and in mission to the world. All of that together. Not discounting how God impacts us individually as we get daily into God’s word.

At the church where we’ve been attending to take our grandchildren, and plan to soon join, they emphasize what they call the row, the circle and the chair. The row being our coming together weekly to worship and hear God’s word taught. The circle being the small groups which they strongly encourage people to become a part of, coming together to consider God’s truth in Jesus. And the chair, which is called personal devotions. I guess I have not really practiced personal devotions in the conventional evangelical way over the years. For me the point is that we need to be regularly, daily in God’s word and in prayer ourselves. But to have a space of quiet time before God would certainly be good. I try to do something like that throughout the day, whatever activity I’m in, simply picking up in my little New Testament where I’ve left off throughout the day, a small clip allowing me to open the page I’m on.

Again and again I get back to this theme. Back to scripture. Because I believe God is uniquely at work through it. And through the good news of the gospel. Saving us from so much for so much in and through Jesus.

meditation on God’s word

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Psalm 1

When I think of meditation, I think of meditation on God’s word, the words of scripture. And that means to ponder it, so that we end up treasuring those words in our hearts, even as Mary treasured in her heart what was said about her infant son, Jesus.

It is not memorizing, though that can be helpful. Instead, it is considering what is meant as it were in God’s presence, with the help of God’s Spirit. It is tossing and turning those words in our heads, so to speak, to see what God might be saying to us, or simply what God is saying.

Certainly meditation does not set aside the need to read scripture well, and study it, particularly with word studies.

Meditation should be something we engage in as much as possible as the heart of our day so that we might have something of the heart of God for us, and out through us to others. It involves a commitment.

I like to carry around a little Bible, preferably a New Testament (maybe with Psalms and Proverbs), with a complete Bible, for me nowadays, preferably large print, close at hand. And I use a small metal clip to mark where I’m at, so that I can get there at a moment’s notice. I actually use three such smaller Bibles: one for work, one for work at home, and one for my normal everyday activities.

With that and my coffee, I’m content. Anything beyond that can be helpful, like a good book and classical music playing. But that should be where we start as Christians, people of God, and our prayers should be largely in response to that. Hearing God’s word, and praying in accordance with that. In and through Jesus.

radical reliance on God

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

I like the NRSV rendering, “and do not rely on your own insight.” We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, or at least I’ll speak for myself. I read scripture daily, but I also go over it slowly. I find especially at certain parts, that I do well to slow down, sometimes back up then slow down, and ponder all of it in its parts, which hopefully will help me understand it better as a whole.

For me the first thought here, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” is particularly striking, and actually challenging, unfortunately, given my own propensity to depend on information gathering and reason. Not that those shouldn’t be in the mix, but in the end we’re to either trust in God, or rely on our own insight. One or the other.

I like The Message‘s rendering of this passage:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.

It’s important to consider each part, but it’s a mistake to isolate it from the whole. We’re to consider each part carefully with reference to the whole. And what I find is nothing short of a radical dependence on God, which does not imagine that anything short of that is satisfactory in and of itself. So that when we’re confronted with something in which we know we’re in need of special wisdom, wisdom from God, we can proceed on this track, that of radically relying on him.

Of course this doesn’t at all mean that we ditch science, or human knowledge, along with rationality. Those in their place can be part of the equation, in their proper place, indeed gifts from God. But we don’t do well to put our confidence in the gifts, but rather, in the Giver. Our confidence in the end has to be in the God who gave us those things, or the ability to come up with the working knowledge we humans come up with. But we know that we’re limited even in that God-given sphere, and in the end that we not only do well to, but actually need to put our trust completely in God, and quit trying to figure everything out and arrive to a satisfactory place ourselves.

This will require prayer, being in the word, more prayer, certainly regular participation in church, prayer, being in the word, more prayer, and more participation in church. And time, with the waiting on God that goes with that.

God is at work in ways we probably are not capable of fully understanding and appreciating. We need to work at trusting in him. God will give us the insight and help we need if we commit ourselves to radical dependence on him. Which means we are willing to wait and take our hands off the process. Waiting for his peace to keep us on his path for us in and through Jesus.