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.

Advertisements

the word and the world

John R. W. Stott, was one of the greatest writers of my lifetime, himself a pastor and theologian, and astute Bible teacher wrote a number of books, all of them helpful. One of them which stands out to me is Between Two Worlds. In it he presents a compelling case for in that time having the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Of course today one has to be wary of much of what passes for news, particularly on the internet. You’ll find plenty of bogus, or misleading stories, either the headline not supported by what follows, or the article misleading at best. So one has to dig, and try to find news sources which will present actual facts in a balanced way so as to give the true picture. While letting people from all sides have their say. A challenge, and some outlets are better at that than others.

Although the book is geared to preaching, we can take plenty away from it for our witness. Even the idea itself is stimulating in helping us think through just how we’re to reach our world. A simple witness of what the Lord has done in our lives is helpful, and all the more good if it can speak to where others live, not an easy task, since there are different challenges people face. And different perspectives, along with views on life, which we do well to become aware of.

I’m a strong believer in being in scripture day and night (Psalm 1). But I’m also a believer in trying to keep tabs on what’s up in the world near and far; locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. To especially try to see everything in terms of the gospel making inroads especially into places it hasn’t before. We care about the world, because God cares about it, and it’s only human to do so. We want the best for our loved ones and for others.

A central part of the case Stott adeptly laid out was the need to study and seek to understand culture. He speaks in the book of he and some clergy friends going to a films, and then afterwards discussing their meaning and the ramification of that for understanding culture, the world in which they lived. One of the terms I find unhelpful is timeless, saying God’s word is timeless for example. There is truth in it if we mean the word is in a sense above and beyond time, but it always speaks into time. No, it is better to use a word like timely, since even though scripture was written within a certain cultural context and time, we are to prayerfully study and reflect on how it speaks and impacts our own day. In missional language which used to be commonplace, it is called contextualization. In the words of scripture, we seek to understand the times and what we as God’s people should do. Especially together as the church, each of us individually having our part. And we do better to grapple with these things together.

And so I feel most at home with a Bible in hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. And NPR* along with the internet not far away. I need both, as long as I don’t get caught up and taken away into something going on in the world.  Instead we seek to be those who are present in Jesus, the one who is Emmanuel, God-with-us to God’s people, and for the world.

*And other news outlets. Good to listen to perspectives one does not share, and some of that is achieved on NPR, but good to go to other places as well, to listen and weigh what is said.

keeping at it faithfully, not drifting

Sometimes we experience such grief and downright consternation over life, personal concerns, matters, or whatever, that it seems impossible to keep heart since our heart is utterly broken, or breaking. Or perhaps life is good, and we feel good, with little or no worries. Either way, or with just what can become the numbness of day to day living, we can begin to drift from our God, and in so doing actually from ourselves, since to find and know God is to begin to find and know ourselves, a byproduct of that, not the goal.

I have found myself drifting a bit lately, not purposefully, to be sure. But whatever the challenges faced, it is the heart which one way or another is going to be attacked by the enemy, often through the mind, and when it seems that relationships even in family are not what they ought to be, even sometimes broken, or at least cracked. And so it’s seemed to me that what I do, and certainly whether or not I’m here matters not at all. It’s not like any of us are indispensable, or that God needs us. But God has chosen to include us during this time to his glory in and through Jesus in his good and great work, each of us having a part in that.

But to the point of this post: I realize afresh and anew that I need to keep on keeping on faithfully, for me beginning with my daily meditation in the word, in scripture. Certainly in that with a focus on the gospel, on Jesus. It’s not about looking for some great experience, or any experience at all. God is present with us in Jesus no matter what we’re going through or how we feel. It’s simply about faith in God, and being faithful to the calling of God, yes, in all our weakness, and sometimes sin, or struggle against sin. We want to plod on, and keep going, come what may, by God’s grace, no turning back.

In order to avoid inevitable drifting, we have to simply continue on in the Spirit direction God gives us. That may not always seem obvious, and actually may take some time for us to understand or have a needed breakthrough on a given matter. But part of how we get there is simply by continuing to meditate on the word, and seeking to grow in that meditation. Sometimes to ponder a matter slowly and prayerfully before we sense it’s time to move on. But not stopping. Continuing on in the word, that we might be on the path with others in following Jesus, in and through Jesus.

 

when down, or in the ordinary circumstances of life: turning to scripture

There are a good number of reasons beyond the most obvious one, to turn again and again to the pages of the Bible. Besides the obvious, that scripture claims to somehow be God’s word written pointing us to God’s final Word, Jesus, there are reasons within the text itself, which stands to reason, if this is a text from God.

Humans wrote it, but it is somehow God-breathed, and reaches right into the depths of where we live. Therefore, if we give it sufficient time, it will resonate with us. That has been true in some measure, to some extent, even with those who didn’t have faith at the time of their reading. But since it purports to somehow be a word from God–now in many places that’s obvious on the face of it, while in many others, it is not, or at least we’re left with questions–we need God to help us understand it. Scripture itself tells us that only the Spirit of God knows and understands God, and apart from that, it will at best be guess work for us, and at worst, just plain ordinary foolishness.

Maybe the key to my life as far as what I do is my constant turning to scripture to be informed, formed, and indeed transformed by the words in it. This happens in many ways through its reading, and of course I’m referring to all 66 books of it. We turn to it again and again, and we do so looking to God, breathing prayers as we do so. Logically the prayers following, as we respond with our words to God’s word.

And so, we have that word from God which will help us through the good times, as well as the bad times, through every season and circumstance of life. In and through Jesus.

 

what keeps us going

There are many ways to become discouraged, and to essentially quit. Fear paralyzes and debilitates. Feeling overwhelmed over difficult challenges in life in which there is some inevitable stumbling. Or not measuring up to some self-imposed standard which one may have imbibed through their upbringing, experiences, ideas floating around, or a combination of a number of factors.

What keeps me going is the faith and hope and love in Jesus. To boil it down, for me, the written word and the Word himself, Jesus. I accept something of the Real Presence in Holy Communion, but I believe something of that is given to us in scripture, as well. So whether I feel like it or not, and I might say especially when I don’t feel like it, I keep going back to scripture, and seek to read it all in the light of Jesus who brings us into the life of God.

For me this isn’t a nice thing I do, or something I find enjoyable so that I do it, though there’s some truth in both. For me it’s a matter of life and death. I have to do this, but I want to want to do it as well. My want is good enough for a number of reasons, but essentially so because of God’s grace, that I just keep on doing it. When I wane in doing so, it’s not long until I feel and see the consequences.

In this is a matter of not just surviving, but in Jesus experiencing a sense of thriving. It seems like faith is always on that edge, the precipice of on the one hand falling into the abyss, though for us in Jesus, underneath are the everlasting arms. And on the other hand, finding ourselves in a kind of paradise right in the midst of a broken down world. That is known even in what can be the aloneness of life. I remember when Paul said that everyone had abandoned him, but that the Lord stood with him so that the proclamation of the gospel would go forward. God’s presence should be even more palpable, or perhaps better put, steadily manifest and tangible amongst God’s people, those in Jesus in his body, the church.

So for me, I carry on for a number of reasons I’m sure, all through God’s grace and working in Jesus. But essentially due to the written word which leads us to the Word, Jesus, Jesus actually somehow mediating that word to us through his fulfillment of it, all of this in and through the Spirit. That last sentence is breaking boundaries I ordinarily don’t believe in crossing. I am moving into what is too high for me, too much to understand. Mystery. Yet we know that it’s both the word then the Word, and the Word then the word. All of this, of course, in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

a commitment not to worry

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

A good number (thankfully) of years back I called in to a radio program in which a wise pastor and writer was taking phone calls and answering questions. I was sick of whatever it was I was struggling with, likely worry, and I asked whether one could simply make the commitment not to sin, and be able to follow through on that. I probably and hopefully knew better from my own reading of scripture and theology, though had been influenced in the past by a holiness group which aspired to “a second work of grace” which was supposed to “eradicate the sin nature.” I certainly considered anxiety or worry a sin, not trusting in God, having a wife who made that clear, that to worry meant that I wasn’t trusting the heavenly Father. And it was coming to a head for me, so that I wanted to get rid of an exacerbating problem, once and for all. Enough was enough.

I like to see the commands in scripture as loving directives of the Father, who doesn’t come down hard on us when we fail, and we inevitably do at times. And I know that some of us have more of a propensity toward worry than others, some suffering with anxiety attacks who might benefit much from medication and counseling. I get that. And it might be true to some extent that I fit in that category, although worry is not something I wrestle with every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever had an anxiety attack. Just the same, I am beset with worry and anxiety probably more than any other weakness. Amy Simpson, by the way wrote a most helpful book on the subject, which I would do well to reread: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

We most certainly need to read the entire book of Philippians (quote above), and keep reading the entire Bible to get everything in context, so that we see the bigger picture. It’s certainly not about us and our agendas, but about God’s good will in Jesus, and the gospel, and from that living the life of love in God. But I have found a bit of a freedom in viewing, in the hard places, God’s commands as something of God’s enablings by grace and through Jesus, to help us do better. I certainly like the idea of simply deciding not to worry.

As Amy Simpson adeptly points out in her book, the emotion of anxiety is not something we can deal with; if we’re anxious, we’re anxious. Worry is our own preoccupation with one thing or another, maybe even a number of things, usually one at a time, in which we are afraid of this or that, what might happen. It actually does expose the reality that we’re failing to trust the heavenly Father, as Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount.

And so, by grace, and endeavoring to do what we’re told to do in Philippians 4:6-7 (see above), I want to once again commit myself to trusting in God’s provision and care for our needs, and that whatever happens, the Lord will be present with us, and never forsake us. And for me it seems like a good focus point is the refusal not to worry, or be anxious in the sense of worrying. Instead I will once again be endeavoring to trust in God. While not abandoning my own responsibility for this or that, which can make this tricky, since the problem isn’t necessarily out of the picutre (it can be in and out, for sure). I will be seeking through meditation on the word and prayer, to find God’s peace, and live well with it. Something I’m sure I’ll have to do again and again. While hoping I’m growing more in a maturity which makes worry less and less a problem, as I learn to trust.