pay close attention (and don’t let up)

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 2

I’m not sure exactly what it is, although surely it’s a combination of things. The message of scripture and the gospel is fascinating, powerful, and frankly spellbinding, in human terms, but it’s much more than that, since it’s nothing less than a word from God. I find once in a while something like an undertow which might carry a swimmer in the water through what are called rip currents, so that they are pulled out deep into the lake to drown, something which reminds me of that, seems to be not only at work in my spiritual life, but prevailing.

Certain factors can be involved, like being tired. Two Sundays in a row at church I’ve fallen asleep during a good part of the sermon, so that I didn’t get much out of it. But thankfully for me, I’m able to catch it online later, and was much blessed last night with hearing (and seeing as best I can on this tablet) it again, including the large chunk (maybe half of it, more or less) I missed. I want to catch this past Sunday’s message soon. But it seemed like more was at work then simply being tired, which itself should be addressed with more disciplined, regular sleep.

Surely at work in all of this is something diabolical, yes from the devil itself, the demonic. The words of scripture seemed empty, remote, and God seemed distant as well. I just didn’t seem to be connecting well.

Let me suggest that this is not just something which can happen, but is always present with us, which the Spirit through Jesus helps us overcome. Which is in large part why we need to pay the most careful attention to God’s word and the gospel which is at the heart of it, to avoid the dangers the book of Hebrews warns us about (read the entire book; one could start with the link above). That pull is always present, something we must resist, so that we can feed on God’s words and Word, and come close to God.

Paying the most careful attention is the hearing which in scripture is linked to a response by faith, a doing. This ends up being a trust and obey kind of practice, otherwise, we’re not really paying the kind of close attention called for in this text.

So if you sense you’re adrift, then cry out to God, and see this as a part of spiritual warfare. And let’s work to maintain a life that is disciplined in hearing and in faith obeying the word of God in and through Jesus.

keep the Word front and center

For me, to keep the Word front and center means to keep the word, God’s inscriptured, written word in that place. And that is good. In fact, I often need to remind myself not so much the truth of that, but the importance of continuing to practice it. In that thought there’s plenty of scriptural support, Psalm 1 being a prime example.

But what I mean in the title means something more, and gets to what scripture itelf is getting at, the book of Colossians being a prime place to find it: Jesus himself is to be kept front and center as the revelation to us of the Triune God, and of the salvation and kingdom he brings. It is a revelation full of grace and truth, so that we can rest assured on it. Given to us as the bread of God for the life of the world (John 6). That we too might partake and thus come to know the only true God, and eternal life (John 17).

Jesus is God’s final Word to us by the Spirit.

do we have confidence in God’s word, or not?

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4

The NIV‘s heading for this section is entitled, “A Final Charge to Timothy,” and includes this well known important passage:

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.

Something I’ve noticed in my lifetime is that often the word isn’t preached. I think I’ve been blessed with the churches we’ve been a part of to be used to the exception. But as a rule, it seems like an appeal to the word is only from something other than the word itself. Somehow there just doesn’t seem to be adequate confidence in scripture as the written word of God.

I’m not referring to a lack in expository preaching. That can be good, but it’s interesting when you read the sermons in Acts, that actually none of them is preaching a text expositionally as at least was popular in many evangelical and fundamentalists circles, and you still find a few holdouts here and there. I think it’s alright. In fact I think it’s probably safe to say that such a method is much better than much of the pablum which passes for sermons today. Somehow it seems like the goal is to get people’s interest and keep it, and somehow through that, get in something of the word of God.

My question becomes, Do we really have confidence in the word of God itself, because it is God’s very word? And is that a measure of our confidence in God?

Scot McKnight has an excellent post that hits on this very subject in what is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (“The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?“). He states that the Reformers were marked by their deference to scripture, by opening the Bible and reading it. I think it’s good to refer to theological concepts which point to the truth about scripture (or what Richard Wurmbrand said is “the truth about the truth.”). And there’s no doubt that the art of biblical interpretation, which includes kind of a science to it, as well, is important. And we need to reject the Cartesian Modernist, scientific approach (Rene Descartes) as in relentless examination and induction of the biblical text (see John Locke). I am rusty when it comes to philosophical figures, not that I was ever heavy into them, but they are important in helping understand the times in which people live.

Our appeal must be to scripture, and it must start with ourselves. If we don’t see it as vital, and of central importance in our own lives, then we certainly won’t see it that way for others. Of course it points us to God’s final word in Jesus, and the good news in him. But we must be in the written word itself to find the Word himself.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4

And so the measure of our actual faith and confidence in God will in large part be our confidence in scripture itself, the word of God. To be biblical we must get back to the Bible like the people of God in the Bible did, including even Jesus himself. We need to have the utmost confidence in scripture as God’s word first for ourselves, and then for everyone else. And live with that in hand, in and through Jesus.

read the entire Bible (and keep reading it again and again)

Read or listen to the Bible, or both. Read it slowly, read it in large chunks. If it is God’s word written, it should begin to make an impact on our lives. And get into a church which either reads all of the Bible over time (through a lectionary), or preaches/teaches the Bible well (like the church we’ve been taking our grandkids to), preferably both.

Start children slowly, but wisely through the word, through the story and message of scripture. I think Our Daily Bread for Kids (and here) is a good place to start. Of course with the littlest ones, we’ll need materials or practices appropriate for them. Our Daily Bread for Kids Sunday School Songs (and here, scroll down) starts getting them to listen and eventually sing, which is good, even for the youngest age, I think.

The point is, we need to be in the word, day and night. And that word leads us to the Word, Jesus, the fulfillment of everything, bringing all things to their ultimate goal in God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

Why? Not for any other reason, other than the end itself. This is not a means to be a better American, a better world citizen, a better whatever, even though those things might be good in their proper place. No, it’s about being a true Christian, a follower of Christ, whatever the result of that may be.

Begin small, and keep at it. Bible Gateway is a good place to start to look for a Bible translation which might fit you. My preferred translation is the New International Version (NIV) which I think achieves an excellent balance between up to date scholarship, accuracy and readability. My second preference might be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) , but there’s many other good Bible translations to choose from (again, see Bible Gateway).

I can’t end better than from the psalmist, but with the additional thought from scripture that this light is not just for ourselves, but for the world, in and through Jesus.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

the basic importance of words

Does not the ear test words
    as the tongue tastes food?

Job 12:11

These words from Job himself, later echoed by Elihu, help underscore the importance of what we say, or more precisely the importance of words, and the signficance we give to them. We do weigh what is being said, or what we’re reading, whether we’re aware of that, or consciously trying to do so, or not.

Words are obviously important for us humans. They say that the most signficant factor for a child’s success in education is their ability to read. Words are crucial for us performing our work day after day. And important in helping us think through all kinds of matters.

Words are symbols corresponding to reality. They don’t determine reality, though they are important in helping us understand it. What is true and good, as well as real goes beyond words. And so words are pointers beyond themselves.

God gave us scripture as his word written, and meant to point us to his final Word, Jesus, who brings us into the life of the Trinity, and into the life of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And so we have verfication from God of the importance of words. Such is not only an accomodation to humans, but indeed something which corresponds to God himself. We read from scripture that God spoke the world into being, and that God’s word continues to speak into what he has created.

And so with that in mind, I want to be all the more in the word, in scripture. So that everything else I come across can be tested by that measure. Scripture is far from just a bunch of rules or even principles for life. It is all about life, and not only about it, but participating in it. In other words, scripture gets into the nitty gritty, down into the dirt in which we live, not to leave us there, but to lift us up by God’s grace into God’s good will in Jesus.

We can take heart. We in Jesus are part of the royal priesthood of believers, who each have responsibility to weigh everything according to God’s word of scrripture and God’s Word in Jesus. We do that individually, but never apart from the rest of Christ’s body, the church. We contribute to the whole, as we are helped by others, all from God, from the one Lord by the same Spirit.

Words are the starting point, but not the end all. God is revealed and we participate in God’s very life and will through both word and sacrament. Through the bread and the cup of Holy Communion. God’s word directing us to that reality. And helping us live and rest in the truth, not just to know, but actually to experience, to “taste” in and through Jesus.

 

Christ is the center

There is an Antiochian (Eastern) Orthodox church in our area which has a fitting mural on its domed ceiling of Christ with apostles and prophets and perhaps other people of the church surrounding Christ as witnesses to him. I think this is quite apt. We don’t really preach the word, as Paul charges Timothy to do, unless we’re preaching Christ.

Jesus himself pointed out to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection that scripture, the Law and the Prophets taught that he must suffer and die and be raised on the third day. That was certainly a revelation to them, and it should be instructive to us. But I’m afraid that many times in our evangelical churches, Christ gets lost in the details of our message on a given passage and passages from scripture. Which is ironic since evangelical means pertaining to the gospel. Scripture is not meant to be read as it was originally received. We are to read it now with Christ and gospel centered eyes, with that lens in place. Christ and the gospel is the point and end of every passage of scripture, the point of the Story of scripture.

If we don’t do this, then we’re not preaching the word, period. Of course to some extent every evangelical church will preach the word to the extent that Christ is proclaimed. But the message can all too easily become geared toward the individual hearers helping themselves with the truth of the word. And there’s no doubt that all kinds of wisdom can be found in the words of scripture, even at the most obscure places. But Christ himself is wisdom from God, in him are all the treasures of wisdom, so that ultimately we don’t find true wisdom apart from him.

It may well be true that some find true wisdom through Christ, even if they don’t know of Christ and the gospel message. That God might be giving them that light insofar as that’s possible apart from the message of Christ and the faith that comes with that message, as C. S. Lewis might suggest, if I’m understanding him right. But the true light that comes into the world, enlightening everyone (John 1) is fully revealed in the Word who became flesh, and dwelled among us, and gave his flesh (and blood) for the life of the world.

It is also true, as one of the faithful pointed out to me, that we don’t preach Christ apart from living out the love by the Spirit, which is the fulfillment of the law, that is the torah of scripture. If we don’t live out that love, we are not showing Christ to the world. And it’s also true that this unique love comes only from Christ as the source. God in Christ the human, of course himself being God-in-the-flesh, fully human and fully God.

Christ is the center by whom we find through faith and baptism the life of the Trinity in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Apart from that Word, the written word has lost its way, falling short of the truth, and therefore having no life. If we don’t believe that, then we are missing reality, we are more or less missing the center, who is Christ.

 

 

Jesus, the Word made flesh

Scripture is the written word of God, evident throughout the Bible, one prime example where this is taught being Psalm 119. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. God’s final word to us, the fulfillment of the written word. So it ends up that in order to understand the story, we need to see the end that’s in view. It’s fine to start with Genesis and proceed on, and let it unfold, in fact, good. But a Christian reading of scripture will start with Jesus himself, God’s revelation in him, and will see all of scripture from that perspective.

All of scripture ends up pointing to Jesus, so in retrospect we need to look back at all of scripture from what we understand of Jesus. Does this answer all of our questions? Surely not. But it does help us end up in a good place as we see what God’s goal was all along, put into effect through Abraham and Israel. Fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son our Savior and the Savior of the world. God’s word to us and for this weary world.