in insane times

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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Paul basically tells us two simple yet profound things here. He says essentially to guard our thought life, not so much here by what we don’t take in, though that’s important, but what we actually do think about and reflect on. And Paul tells us to live as he did. That should be a check on us, on how we often live and act, or react to things.

This is a challenge because Christians are not to turn a blind eye to what is wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, and deserving of rebuke and censure. That’s always to be found, and people are thankfully metaphorically, but still sadly nearly at each other’s throats nowadays. It is a maddening time.

But what’s a Christian to do? Do what Paul tells us here, a part of God’s written word. Settle down and settle in to what is better. In doing so, maybe then we can be helpful to influence what is not. In and through Jesus.

meditate, but keep feeding on God’s word

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:1-4

To meditate on God’s word has the biblical idea of chewing on food. We don’t do what I have done too much in my life, especially earlier on, practically inhale the food on my plate, grab another big helping, and then some, and regret it afterward. No, we chew on it, taste it, and let its morsels go in well dissolved into our stomach so that we can much better digest it.

Job delighted in chewing on God’s word more than a delicious meal (Job 23:12). A believer understands what Job is getting at, even if they lack Job’s depth of experience. Jesus let the tempter know that his most important food was God’s word, and elsewhere to do God’s will (John 4:31-34).

For me, when I am slack taking in God’s word, it tells on me. I live by taking in that word on a regular basis. One thought at a time, chewing on it, then the next thought the same, then the next thought, and on and on.

Jesus is the bread of life to which God’s word, Scripture leads us (John 6:35). We feed on him by faith, and in that feasting savor the meal God’s word has for us day after day. In and through Jesus.

slow down

Related to my thoughts yesterday I think, I want to simply say here that we need to slow down and quit trying to take in big chunks of spiritual food. Instead we need to chew on each morsel, and take things in slowly. And then respond prayerfully, thoughtfully and not be in a hurry.

This certainly doesn’t exclude reading (and/or listening) through the Bible, say like in a year, more or less. That too has its importance and value for sure. We do need to see the big picture, and not just dwell on this or that detail. When we stick to even the “precious promises” as important as they are, our default paradigm is often in place rather than God’s story. So yes, we need to work at getting the big picture. That takes time, something we can’t rush through and get overnight.

But again, the point of this post is that we need to slowly process things, as we engage God in the written word. One thought at a time, one phrase, maybe even one word at a time. Not losing sight of the context, and continuing to go on. But taking our time, or maybe stopping to consider. And never being in a hurry. Slowing down to take in all God has for us, being the goal. In and through Jesus.

the moral fabric of society and the Christian witness

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

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 2:14-16a; 4:8-9

Philippians is a great (short) book to read and meditate on. Interestingly, Philippi was a Roman military outpost, so at least in that respect, it was quite what we would call today, nationalistic. It surely had the normalcy of cities with city life and its own culture. Paul’s letter is written in that backdrop.

Fast-forward to today, and while we see stark differences, I think we can find more similarities than not. For Christians to live in a kind of exile on earth as ultimately citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) had its precedent in Jeremiah 29 where the people of God were to settle down and live as witnesses of God, hopeful for the true good of the nation where they lived.

Paul’s words on what we’re to think on involve terms that were quite embedded in the culture of his day. What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, yes- excellent or praiseworthy. Our thoughts are to be on such things. If we embrace politicians and systems that violate these ideals, are we really adhering to what Paul is getting at here? I would argue that we’re not.

Christians can advocate for the unborn, for the protection of minorities, etc., while not lining up with what is untruthful and ugly. We should never have any part in that, or at least hold it at arm’s length. Someone once told me something we all more or less take for granted: “Politics is dirty.” Okay. But that doesn’t mean Christians should get in that dirt, nor look the other way, thus unwittingly participating in it.

And that gets to Paul’s words quoted above, that we’re to conduct ourselves in keeping with being God’s children: in a manner, first with our tongues, in which we’re blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, as we hold on to the word of life: the gospel or good news of Christ, and Scripture in that context. That we’re to be witnesses of the light of the world, Jesus, and not dim the light we are in him is central to what Paul is getting at.

If we care about society, then we can’t accept something less than that. Our main concern by far is our witness, and being faithful to Christ. We hope and pray for the best in this world, and acknowledge its limitations, while pressing for better. And we realize that the one true life is found only in the church through the one good news in and through Jesus.

keep on keeping on

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 3:14-17

There’s much to be said around this, and right from the pages of Holy Writ itself, but I plan to continue to plod along in the Bible from one day to the next, to just keep going. Right now in my slow meditative musing I’m in Song of Songs in the Old Testament and Acts in the New Testament. Then I have my daily Scripture reading at the end of the day from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount (or the Sermon on the Plain) and the New Testament, according to the headings in my Bible. Nothing fancy for sure, but just my way of continuing on.

For years and years I used to listen to the Bible being read straight through, mostly through cassettes and CDs. Though I certainly missed plenty of detail along the way in doing so, it did give me a good basic understanding of the whole. Now my way of being in the word is much more slower, and less. I miss going through it all in a relatively short time (anywhere from a time and a half to three or more times a year I imagine, though I never kept track). I recently heard of a man who went through the entire Bible I think once a month and had to read over two hours a day to so do, but was one of the most ungracious, critical people you ever could meet. Being in Scripture doesn’t mean you’ll be Christ-like or godly. The Pharisees were in Scripture all the time, but missed the point of it all. It was empty religion to them and actually idolatrous at its core, because it amounted to a worship of God that was more about them and their identity than anything else, or so it seems to me. So we all have to beware. Are we understanding the point of it all? To love God and our neighbor, even our enemies; to find our way in Christ.

At any rate, I push on and plod along. As bored as I can be at times, and tired. As long as I try to understand the main points and seek to practice them of course by the help the Spirit gives, and the church, then it’s all good enough. Something we’re meant to do by ourselves and with each other. In and through Jesus.

when it comes to the Bible, ponder yes, and just keep reading

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

The Christian faith is centered in Jesus and God’s good news in him. And the church, the body of Christ made up of all believers and followers of Christ, made new by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Spirit on what’s essential is also an indispensable part of the faith. So when someone reads the Bible, they don’t do so in a vacuum. It is true that people can read the Bible apart from the church, and come up with all kinds of sectarian views. But the Bible is central in receiving the gospel, the truth in Jesus. And for good reason, evident when you begin to turn its pages. And the church has always regarded it as foundational for understanding the faith. Certainly there are disagreements among various church traditions, but the good news in Jesus remains central to all.

For me, the go to reality day after day is to return to Scripture. I have decided to capitalize Scripture, after years of not doing so, to mark it as distinct from all other religious and faith writings. It is God’s word written. So I return to it again and again. And in so doing, I expect to hear from God, and be changed more and more into the image of Christ. To be shaped by the renewing of my mind through Scripture.

When doing that, I often am weary through life, and most times the words don’t really jump off the pages at me. But I keep pondering. And something important to remember: there may seem to be many dead spots because of our weak reception, but we just keep on reading. We move on to the next point or part. Oftentimes that can shed light on what we didn’t understand. But regardless, we just keep moving on.

Paul’s words to Timothy tell us that Scripture is able to give us wisdom to save us through faith in Jesus. Salvation in Scripture is past, at the cross and when we believe. It’s present in the ongoing process of God’s saving work in our lives by the Spirit. And it’s future in the promise of Christ’s return to make all things new, including the resurrection of all things, not least of which, the resurrection of our bodies.

So I’m much encouraged to keep opening the Book. And keep on reading and reading, yes pondering slowly, prayerfully and thoughtfully. And not stop. In and through Jesus.

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.

meditation day and night

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

While the point of the Bible is the gospel, we still need every detail written in it, to best understand the whole, including the gospel. And for the interactive relationship with God we need.

Scripture is challenging, but also encouraging, and everything else we need. While helping us look heavenward, it is down to earth where we live.

We have to be in the word day and night, taking it to heart, and letting it change us through and through from the inside out. And we view all of life in this world through its pages.

God meets us as we do so, with all that we need: the promises, blessings, warnings, etc. 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.

 

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.