what is good? dwell on that

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Paul wrote with what has been pointed out to be Hellenistic terms here. In other words the whatever means whatever. And the terms need to be taken all together: what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. Something might be good, but not praiseworthy, for example a person might be quite good at something which in itself is not morally good. That of course is excluded from what we’re to dwell on, according to Paul.

Unfortunately not everything is comfortable or easy. Christians are concerned for the common good through common grace, as well as the gospel. It would be nice if everything could be black and white, but reality requires discernment. We have to sort out the good from the bad in our judgments. And we need to do so humbly, even shaking a bit in our boots, so to speak, knowing that it begins with us.

I have to be in the word every day, regularly throughout the day. And in prayer. And I don’t want to dwell on what doesn’t fit Paul’s list above. Such as media on any side which is riddled with attitudes and words which sadly are anything but good. Maybe one can spend a bit of time in that (I don’t), but one has to be careful. It reminds me of a group of people who had to consider pornography by actually observing it. I remember one person saying how difficult that was. Not!

I personally love to listen to classical music, my favorite being Bach (right now, violin concertos). Anything good, we’re to fill our minds and hearts with. Then we’ll be able to see readily through what is not good, and address that in an appropriate manner, even as we remain committed to keeping our focus on what is good, ultimately our focus on the Lord himself, and the good news in him.

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how do we read scripture?

I’m kind of old school in some ways. I like physical copies of the Bible, have had one near me most all of my Christian life of over four decades now. And still don’t have a smart phone (although other phones are getting smarter). Most everyone nowadays is on their phone. That’s okay, and rather beside the point of this post. Because there are excellent sites to read scripture: BibleGateway and YouVersion probably the two best places.

I think we need to do it two ways: fast and slow. And we could add medium, adding study into the mix, maybe utilizing a good study Bible, especially with biblical background notes. I think it’s important to go through all of scripture, and keep doing that. Because the more one has the entire word in their repertoire, the more they’ll get out of what they are reading. And it’s good to have biblical background too, such as details on the terrain, or what not.

For me, it’s an emphasis on the text itself. I don’t worry about trying to sort out historical detail underlying the text. God’s word is given to us just as it is for a reason. I don’t need the exact historical details. I’m not saying scripture is anti-historical. Certainly either the resurrection of Christ is history, or else our faith is a hoax. The point is that we need the word itself. Not explanations supporting it.

And we need to read it slowly, let it soak in. Memorization can help us there. I only memorize now and then. The big thing for me in this is what we call meditation. Add to that prayer. So that being in the word is about a kind of interactivity with God, hopefully bringing us into a relationship with God by faith in the good news in Jesus. But allowing God to change us by his word: our lives, our priorities, our world view (another phrase which renders me a bit old school).

Make no mistake about it. We need to get into God’s word, and be in it day and night, regularly, I say. Not just as something we aspire to, but which we practice, day after day. In and through Jesus.

scripture’s centrality for life

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

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Evangelical Christians emphasize both the centrality of Christ, and the centrality of scripture. Scripture is given an authoritative status to which the church is to submit. I grew up a part of that tradition, remained in it after conversion, and have been in it ever since, even if I have had a closeness to the Great Tradition (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox their cousin, when we were part of an evangelical Anglican church) at one point. Even when we were a part of a charismatic (Vineyard) church, though I did lighten up on the word at that point, while I was trying to get more attuned to the Spirit, I think I was considered a word person by others in that church, even at that point. But this post, and I hope blog is not about me. I only try to share my own testimony, and experience both to help myself, and hopefully someone who might read this.

My consistent testimony has been that it’s the word we need to be in day and night, that it’s there where we can find the real presence of Christ, and God’s help day to day. Not to minimalize the sacraments, especially in churches where a more traditional view is taught from scripture. I have much respect for that. Special place should be given to water baptism and the Lord’s Table, no doubt. We don’t do well by scripture to treat them as merely helpful add-ons.

But my point in this post is that we need to be those who are in the word, in scripture, meaning the Bible, in every way possible. We shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the prospect. but should take it both in large and small pieces. Listen to scripture being read, and go through the entire Bible again and again. Read portions or paragraphs along the way, and let the words sink in.

For me all of this is helpful, because more often than not, I feel quite uninspired in and of myself. Life has been challenging, and there is no let up for the most part. So I feel the great need to be in the word on a regular basis, and at best most all the time. And with that, in response– prayers.

Notice in the scripture passage above, what the person of God, transliterated anthrōpos, which in the context of this letter is aptly translated “servant of God” by the NIV, but literally is either “person” or “man” of God, but notice what scripture is meant to do for them, and by extension, through their lives and ministry for others, and by secondary application, to all who follow their example. It is meant to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness, so that the person might be ready to do good in serving others. It is not for mere head knowledge, but all about life, and all of life (Psalm 119:105). In and through Jesus.

 

a new calling; a new discipline

A new calling is a bit of a stretch for this post, even a new discipline as well, but there’s some truth in it for me.

I am a Bible person. I always have been, and surely always will be. I have bought plenty of NIV‘s over the years, the kind you carry in your pocket. I’ve listened to the Bible many times over the years. That is what seems to awaken faith in me, and stretch and challenge me in my faith.

What I will be about, is what I more or less have been doing for quite some time. Except there will be hopefully an added twist. I want to apply faith more intentionally, and make it more personal between God and I, as well. That has always been more or less present, except, being a mind person like me, I can too easily just get caught up in thinking, like in an academic way, which may have little bearing on life. Though I really want no part of what really doesn’t in some way or another ultimately contribute to faith.

For me this is vital in the midst of all the other things I have to do. As I get older, it seems like on some levels life is more challenging. There are always plenty of things to do. And my job is that way, as well. I need the word in the midst of it all.

But I also need the word in the midst of rest or play. There’s not a time when we’re not to meditate on God’s word, as the psalmist says, “day and night.” That has been a weakness in my life, and a new calling, and especially discipline, might especially apply to that. Although I think it is okay to have periods of simple rest or enjoyment, and doing nothing more. But one should not stay away from the word for long. We certainly must not neglect the word.

To read it, and let it soak in. I like to read or listen to both large chunks, maybe whole books, as well as plod through the text slowly. Both. The Bible is rich in all kinds of ways, no end to the education you can get by simply being in it over time. And letting it activate your faith, since it’s God’s word. Along with the change that comes with that over time, in and through Jesus.

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.

 

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.