Thursday, October 20, 2016

Into the Wilderness

When you and I think of a wilderness, we usually have in mind a place of rugged mountains, trees, terrain with few if any paths, let alone roads, wild and possibly dangerous animals, and someplace we wouldn’t normally choose to spend the night alone.

When we hear the term “desert,” we probably think of sand dunes for miles, sand flies, mirages, maybe camels, with only an occasional oasis.

In the Bible these terms are often interchangeable, and the land that is spoken of as either desert or wilderness is chiefly known by its lack of people, not just its untamed condition or missing vegetation. It is a place where life, especially the easy life of settled towns and villages, cannot be maintained. Often in biblical lands, it was due to scarcity of water.

In Christian circles, we apply these terms to hard times when things seem desolate and we feel “lost.” When we speak of being in a “wilderness experience,” it usually carries with it the idea of aimless wandering, uncertainty, and usually a level of oppression like that of the children of Israel—a time when we feel God is not near.

But I was challenged recently to consider a study on how the Scripture references the wilderness, or the desert, when it comes to the experiences of God’s people. The Bible presents us with a very different picture. The qualities we assume may be there, but so are many others. Consider the following.

Moses, raised as a prince of Egypt, takes the deliverance of his people into his own hands, fails, and has to flee to the desert. Was he not supposed to deliver Israel? Well, we know that he was, but at this point, he had decided to on his own, having never yet been called by God for the purpose. Although he was used to power and luxury in the palace of Egypt, he found himself fleeing Egypt and heading to the anonymity of the wilderness. We find him residing with a shepherd’s family, marrying a shepherdess, and having a son in the wilderness of Midian (see Exodus 2). But, think about it. The prince, by age 40, was powerful but self-willed. He had a sense of justice, but an uncontrolled temper (he did murder someone, after all). And while important, he was alone. In God’s providence, it was in the wilderness where he found a wife and had a family. He spent 40 years learning “desert living” (which would, providentially be quite important as Israel's leader). And most important, he met God and heard His call (Exodus 3).

Israel, delivered from slavery, crossed through the Red Sea on dry land, and went into the wilderness where they also met God and heard his voice. They received their “constitution.” Because they failed to believe God when told to conquer the land of promise, they wandered for a generation in the wilderness. Was that wasted time? I would argue that, in addition to the removal of an unbelieving generation, the wilderness experience made these former slaves a nation who saw God provide miraculously for 40 years—manna, quail, clothes that didn’t wear out, pillar of fire and cloud, miracles, deliverances, and more. He led them out of slavery, and prepared them to come into the land of promise in the wilderness.

Where did David flee when Saul was after him and found God close at hand—even guiding his almost daily escapes? The wilderness of Judah.

Where did Elijah go and hear God’s “still, small voice?” The wilderness/desert of Sinai.

Where did John the Baptist go to preach (strange choice!) and find people coming to hear the message of repentance? The Judean wilderness.

Where did Saul go after his conversion to be instructed by the Lord  in preparation for his apostolic ministry—Arabia, which is as “desert” as it gets.

And where was Jesus when he passed the test that Adam and Eve failed when he successfully resisted Satan’s temptation? He was on a 40 day wilderness excursion, led there by the Spirit--see Mark 1.

One more thing: Moses, Israel, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Saul/Paul, all were led by God to the wilderness and met God there.

Perhaps rather than shun our “wilderness” moments or “desert” experiences, we should instead ask ourselves if, since God has brought us to this place, are we ready to meet God there? And in each of these cases, meeting God in the wilderness led to empowerment and effectiveness, and was the path to receiving God’s promises. Isn't that what we all want?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The One Time I Get Jealous of the Freshmen

"Oh to be 18 again."
Someone recently referenced a song with that line in it, and when I heard it, my first thought was "not me!" As a 6'2", 135 pounder, I finished high school knowing I'd miss my friends terribly since we were not only graduating but my family was moving. I was going to school in far away Ohio, and a host of unknowns were in front of me. I spent that summer as a camp counselor at the most conservative Christian camp in Michigan, which was both fun and a little weird as I look back on it, and made $30 a week--I think that's what lots of camps still pay, by the way. Being smart was not considered an asset by my peers, and my lack of any notable (or even noticeable) athletic skills was definitely a deficit. Until I got contact lenses, my rather thick glasses were the perfect finishing touch! I look back now and see what amazing things were ahead, but I'm happy not to relive it.

The notion of going back in time does not appeal to me at all, even though I loved (and own) the "Back to the Future" movies. I can occasionally get nostalgic for aspects of the past that I'd consider superior to today, but we didn't have those good things in a vacuum--there were plenty of limitations and problems in those "good old days." Advances in medicines and treatments have improved the lives of many, and as the beneficiary of such advances in eye care (good glasses, then contact lenses, and then Lasik eye surgery), I am grateful to God for such advances.
Neither do I long for "do overs" in my life--although I have certainly got quite a list of mistakes under my belt that would be worth doing differently. Like most of you, I don't like thinking about my mistakes and past sins, and a few of them have had the kinds of negative consequences that linger or meant lost opportunities. But, I can appreciate the lessons I have learned through my failures, as God graciously forgives and brings beauty out of ashes, and I know that I wouldn't be the person I am now without those lessons under my belt. By the way, that doesn't mean those lessons could not have been learned in ways that were not mistakes or sins--I never want to say (or hear anyone say) that I had to sin to receive any lesson or benefit, since that is perilously close to what Paul forbids when he rebukes saying "let us sin so that grace may abound!" What I mean is that God, in his grace, does not leave us in sin and failure, but brings us out of them by his grace and can even redeem the results in our lives.

Now, I pastor a church in a college town. We see hundreds of 18 year olds show up, and frankly most of them (or you if you are reading this) look 12 to me. Some carry all the bravado you can muster as you try to figure out life away from home for the first time. Others simply have a "deer in the headlights" expression and won't snap out of it for a month or two yet. And your life seems like such a mystery.
No, I don't want to go back to that. I look back with much gratitude, but I'll stay where I am happily. But there is one sense in which I am jealous of you young ones among us (OK, two if you count not being stiff when I stand after sitting a while, or  hurting myself and not knowing how).
I am jealous of you because you are getting ready to embark into life during this amazing day of opportunity to serve the Lord. Yes, I know that we've ruined the ozone layer and the earth is doomed to get warmer (actually that's biblical since Peter says all will be judged by fire and the elements will melt--see 2 Peter 3). America isn't what it was (even if it never was what some people think it was, and it has always been very different for those not in the majority). The world has lots of new dangers from strange new diseases (Zika today) to haters of Christians (ISIS and other extremists). By any measure, the last days are living up to their scriptural billing.

In short, it's never been a better time to live for Jesus and make a difference. Here are some reasons.

1. You don't have to deal with the cultural "of course I'm a Christian, I live in America" thinking that used to keep many away from the gospel. The rise of the "nones" in America (those who say they have no religion) means people are finally seeing that they aren't Christian, that the "civil religion" of the United States is no longer some shade of Christian heritage, and so the contrast is clear. No better place for even a small light to shine than in growing darkness.

2. You have churches (including ours) that are striving to build biblical community and engage with one another in spiritual growth. The "Lone Ranger" approach to growth where everybody worked on their devotions alone, their witnessing alone, and their repentance and spiritual disciplines alone is being replaced by thinking that says we need each other in order to grow.

3. You have tools at your disposal that make biblical knowledge more accessible and shareable than ever. And you have more platforms from which to gain and share such truth than my 18 year old self could have dreamed of. Podcasts, e-books, webinars, conferences, and other resources mean that you can have more quality biblical input than any generation in history.

4. There are more opportunities to get to places in the world that need the gospel with fewer barriers and lower cost than ever before. While a missionary can't go to a number of places as a missionary, tourism and jobs overseas provide easy access to people who have been far from the gospel.

5. We live in a time of unprecedented growth in the global church. God is on the move in much of the world, and through prayer, giving, and going, you can be a part of this work in more places (and know about them through available media) than ever before. Creative means of connection and access already have people here discipling new believers in Muslim countries online in chats and messages.

6. Training opportunities and resources are at record levels of availability. You can have the equivalent of my entire study library available to you on a tablet for a fraction of the cost I paid, and access courses on just about any subject related to scripture and faith. Ministries abound that want to give you resources. Online and in person seminars, education, and training tools are available.

7. It's going to get more challenging to be a Christian in the U.S., and after decades (centuries) of having preferential treatment, the true church of Jesus now finds itself facing into the wind rather than having it at our backs. Real faith will be strengthened, even as false believers will be exposed and weak faith forced to grow. But these are the moments when, as believers, we are able to see life more clearly, and Jesus becomes more precious.

Why am I jealous when I'm in the midst of all this, too? Because, unless I live to be 120, most of my time is past. and my ability to grasp so many of the new opportunities is more limited (though certainly not gone). I don't learn new things as quickly as you who are younger, and the energy and strength of youth isn't mine, it's yours.

So, what shall I do? I hope that these words will excite some of you who are younger to grab hold of the days of opportunity that are in front of you. Even recounting these things makes me recommitted to doing all I can for as long as I can with whatever resources I can. And I also want to do all I can to help all of us at any age to see the amazing days in which we live and how we might grab hold of opportunities God has put before us to really live with excitement, hope, and confidence in these great days.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Do What You Did At First"

Reviving one's first love, zeal, or even organization may require the same correctives 

I've always needed structures in my life to help me do certain things well. Part of that has been structure in my schedule, and I've used various tools to help me do that well. For a number of years I used a written "diary" of my days, not to recount them but to order them. From the old "Five Star" Diary to a Day Timer for years, and then eventually to the Franklin Covey Day Planner, I had a calendar, notes, and daily "to do" lists, along with a tool to visibly remind me every day to do certain things. Then came technology, and I was given a Palm Pilot. Anybody remember back that far? It was small, it was clever, and the stylus was fun (if you didn't keep losing it). From there it was on to Microsoft Outlook's calendar, which was great on my computer, but in the pre-tablet and smartphone days still meant carrying something written. Then came those two other devices, along with cross platform calendars like Google. I've learned how to use them all, and do. My diary was put away, and I've now got an Outlook calendar, a couple different Google calendars, and I've also found a few programs with reminders.

I was thinking about all this recently, in terms of how I feel about my productivity, and I came to a startling conclusion. I'm less organized than I used to be. Oh, I still make and (usually) keep appointments. I have lots of addresses stored in my phone. And that same phone dings and vibrates at all sorts of times during the day. I've linked my calendars and can access them on various devices. But where are the regular times of sitting down with my calendar/diary and looking at what is going on and asking "what's really important here?" Where are the intentional reminders to build things like scripture memory into my day and week? Oh, I know that I can put it in a program, but I don't see it until it dings! 

This is not a rant about technology--some of you are doing all these things so well. It's a confession about me. Somewhere along the way, my shifting to new ways of doing things has cost me some hard earned ground in becoming a more organized (and I think in some cases) better follower of Jesus. 

So, I got my diary out again. I am transferring (by means of pen, not USB cable) my calendars, notes, etc. to it. I'm recreating my list of roles to fulfill and goals I want to fulfill. You see, I've discovered that some things I didn't want to slip have done so, and the best way I can find to deal with that is to go back to what I know helped me gain that ground in the first place. 

That is a biblical principle, by the way. When Ephesian Christians had lots of good going on in their church, there were some important things--especially one--that had been left behind in all sorts of progress they had made. They had left their "first love" behind. It's the love, the zeal, the passion for Christ and his people that had once been present, and until Jesus stopped them in their tracks and pointed it out, they hadn't realized it. Yet, in my mind, I wonder if there had been indicators in their lives, or longings for some of the joys of days gone by. The answer was to "repent"--change their mind and their direction--and do the things that they used to do at first. Maybe it was to sing together more, or memorize God's word together, or more regular times of prayer alone and together--I don't know. Maybe someone would mention an event from ten years ago and it would make someone feel a pang that "things aren't like that anymore." Perhaps the solution was to remember the things they were doing when that love was so strong and seek to walk in those familiar ways once again--not because they are old, but because they were good.

Is there anything about your life right now that might have you saying, "What happened to the progress I'd made?" If there is, perhaps a return to the things that helped you make that progress might be a good start toward gaining back that ground. If you ask me, I'll pray for you and with you about that. I'll write it in my diary. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Strong Convictions; Soft Words

Learning when to seek to win an argument winsomely, and when to pass

In the world of social media, polarized politics, and a society that seems hell-bent on drawing lines between people, I find myself being smacked in the face (metaphorically) by all sorts of arguments and assertions by people of varying degrees of thoughtfulness, demanding that I pay attention to what they say, or arguing for a point with such woefully weak logic or Scriptural support that it almost makes my eyes or ears bleed. I see it on Facebook, hear it on the news, and read it in the paper (probably an electronic version). 

I understand the passion that people feel over the issues they make such pronouncements about. In fact, my own passions make me want to take up my pen, keyboard, or microphone, and answer with just as much passion. I can just imagine how my slashing, incisive counterarguments would leave the original writer repenting in dust and ashes. But, usually, I don't do it. In fact, more and more I am checking my impulse to show these people just how flawed, unbiblical, or just plain wrong their reasoning is. Often when asked directly for a comment, I will encourage the writer/speaker that such passion or concern about an issue is good, and perhaps she/he should examine certain conclusions or reasons on one particular aspect of what was said. I have found that if a person responds defensively to a small inquiry, challenge, or question, spending more time trying to engage will probably be one of those "giving pearls to pigs" activities that Jesus discouraged. That's not to say all my thinking is "pearl-ish" because it isn't. But engagement on an issue requires a willingness to listen, to allow one's ideas to be challenged, and to be willing to change if one is convinced by an appeal to higher authority (not me, but Scripture, or logic, or history, depending on the subject discussed).

However, I fear that some people may think that because I don't respond, especially with passion, when such things are posted and the authors know I must see it, let me offer these general disclaimers.

First, my failure to comment on your statements does not imply agreement or disagreement. I may have not even read them. And I may have read them and concluded that this is not a case where dialogue is being sought, but a diatribe being made. I have no interest in engaging in the social media equivalent of standing toe to toe yelling "oh yeah?"

And you can be pretty sure I'm not going to willfully be drawn in to a social media argument, especially one between commenters on one of my or another person's posts. I've sometimes written something and had a commenter go off on what he perceived was an error or mistake, and then someone else joins in attacking the comment, and pretty soon I have 185 comments, none of which are really about what I wrote. 

I would encourage us all to develop strong convictions--but convictions that are not an emotional response to a moment, but rather the thoughtful consideration of truth revealed in Scripture as it then applies to life. Yes, I must insist that convictions must be anchored in a biblical worldview and by the truth claims of the Bible. Those that are not will not carry weight with me, and they shouldn't with believers. That doesn't mean that any of us perfectly reflect all biblical truth in our thoughts or writings. But I work hard to do so, and I hope that those I would engage would do so as well, or be open to an apologetic as to why biblical truth can and should be heard.

If you know me, you know I have strong convictions and opinions. I am also willing to share them, but less and less in an accusatory or angry, argumentative venue (which social media has increasingly become). Yes, as a pastor I do have to warn, and sometimes with great energy and indignation against damnable heresies such as the prosperity gospel. Such soul endangering lies do not deserve courtesy. But sometimes people who hold such views do not know they are in error, and while I can condemn the heresy, I might first wish to speak more engagingly to that person and help them see that Scripture nowhere supports what they are thinking. 

I've shared one of the more puzzling parts of Proverbs with you before. In Proverbs 26:4 we read "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." In the very next verse, it says, "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."


How can I follow both of these wise pieces of advice? I do it by realizing that there are degrees or types of foolishness according to Scripture. There are those who say silly things because that is what they were taught and they don't know any better, or they have reacted to a situation based on their feelings or what their foolish peers have encouraged, but they haven't really examined their thinking. Many in cults and false religions are here. 

Then there are those who have a measure of intellectual ability but reject God's truth as revealed in creation and Scripture (think Romans 1-3), and assert what is false, and sometimes ridiculous, as true. For example, those who argue passionately that gender is a "construct" divorced from biological and physiological realities, is fluid, and is "choosable" are demonstrating a willful foolishness. 

I am happy to engage the former (a verse 5 kind of fool) in order to keep them from full embrace of error. My approach to the latter (a verse 4 kind of fool) will only come if I see an opening to try to break through error or to protect others from the error being espoused.

In either case, one further principle comes into play. It is that other proverb, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). I don't want to promote anger but understanding. And it is here that social media is so dangerous, because "soft" is as much a tone as it is word choice. How does someone hear my inflection or see a compassionate look as I write? This is why I will often invite a person into a personal conversation if they want to talk about something rather than an exchange of posts. Writing can certainly accomplish the task, but the discipline of writing well, and with an irenic spirit, is not one that Facebook encourages or models for us. 

So, don't be surprised if you don't see me engaging your latest #neverTrump or #neverHillary rants. I have strong opinions (hopefully formed and governed by Scripture) on gender identity and gender roles, but I'll probably not weigh in on your latest rants or reposts of the latest hot blogger on the subject. But I'll like the pictures of your children and grandkids, and your insights into your life as it unfolds.

Oh, and when you post something that begins, "I want to see how many of you will post this..." you can be sure I won't. I won't be cowed by social media shaming!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Vacuums, Hoes, and Striving for Godliness

Giant Tasks, and the Small Steps Needed to Accomplish Them

The other day I was waling the track in the CU field house when I noticed a worker doing what seemed ridiculous. The field house had been used for weeks by various youth groups and conferences, and the residue of these groups still remained on the floor. The red, rubbery track section had all sorts of dirt, small pebbles, wrappers, etc., all over. And as I began to walk I saw, ahead of me, a girl with one of those portable vacuum cleaners you wear like a backpack used to clean in hallways and rooms. There she was, vacuuming the track--all six lanes, plus the surrounding red surfaces. Back and forth the vacuum stroked the track, again and again as she worked from the outer wall inward to the blue infield, and then back out. It was a massive job, and here was this one girl and one vacuum. It seemed overwhelming to think that she would be doing this. Imagine showing up for work, picking up a vacuum and heading to a cavernous building to start--you and your "wand." And yet, as I completed lap after lap, I noticed that she would be a little further along each time--not a lot, but still noticeable. As I was finishing I was passing her and looked back--she had covered nearly a quarter of the track! It was still a long way to go, but look how far she had made it!

This reminded me of a time I'd faced a similar task--actually a number of them. For two summers, I worked for my uncle in eastern Washington on his farm. He had grape vineyards, but also pasture for his cow and a grassy field for his horses. One day I was given the challenge of grabbing my hoe and going out to the nearly 20 acre section of the vineyard with immature grape vines. My job was to hoe out the weeds--getting below the surface to try to pull at the roots. And of course I was to miss the grape vines! I was to start on the first row, work my way all the way down, and then back up the next row. I don't know if you have an idea of how big a 20 acre vineyard looks, but I couldn't believe what I had to do. But I started, and I hoed, and hoed, and hoed. I can't even remember how long it took (more than a day or two, I believe), but I remember when I finished the last row and couldn't believe it.

Another time my uncle decided to have my cousin and me fence a large area for his horses--again the size of the field was daunting, and each post for the fence had to be dug using (what else) a post hole digger that was heavy, hard on the hands, and tedious work. Each post seemed like a personal challenge. And there were hundreds of them. But, post by post, we progressed until one day, we were done. At various times I remember looking and thinking, "we'll never finish this," but we did (and I got paid $2.00 an hour, before taxes, too--woo hoo!).

That is how I think about godliness. It is such a giant goal to reach, and even after all these years of walking with Christ, I feel like my obedience and efforts are so small, so feeble, and really don't seem to be accomplishing much. And yet, if I take to heart God's encouragement that he will complete what he has begun in us, and I believe that grace is at work in every step of progress I make, I can think of my progress as being like those back and forth strokes of the vacuum, those swings of the hoe, and the holes dug and posts placed. They add up. They move you forward. And while there are plenty of moments when you might look ahead and think, "I'll never get there," one day, by God's grace, you will.

Keep at it. Don't give up. Be faithful. Don't quit. Remember the old joke--"How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time." 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Inadequate Words for Insensible Times

I sat with my computer at various times Thursday, trying to figure out how to write about what I have been reading and seeing in the news about the shootings of two black men by police officers this week, on top of other recent shootings. These recent cases seemed to be especially bad because they began with a broken tail light and selling CDs in front of a convenience store.

As one commentator echoed my dilemma in trying to write sensitively and correctly, he wrote about not knowing how to enter fully into the pain of African Americans while wearing his "protective layer of white skin." He is right. I've spoken to one of our African American members who has had the police called--in our community--when he was seen by someone walking one of our streets wearing a sweatshirt. That doesn't happen to me. Other black friends have told me of how they must warn their sons about special dangers they may face due to the color of their skin. That doesn't happen to my son. How can I say, "I get it" when clearly I don't?

I gave up, and finally went to bed. 

Then I got up Friday morning and read about police officers shot in Dallas--at this moment five officers are reported dead and seven more people wounded (some critically) after a peaceful protest against police violence (especially these last two shootings) turned violent. One shooter--who is dead--claimed he was acting alone in this ambush. His stated reason was that he wanted to kill "white people," and especially white police officers, because of anger over the recent shootings. Three other suspects are in custody and not cooperating.  All of the officers were working to protect the protesters and others.

As a father in law to one police officer, and friend to quite a number of others, I don't know what to say that would enter in to what they must be feeling--I don't wear a badge and choose to protect a public that I don't know other than as citizens of my community. That is a level of sacrifice embraced in a career that most of us don't choose to undertake.

There is no "equivalence" to be found here, nor elevating one devastation over another. To families, friends, and community of a man shot in his car by a police officer, there is only grief and loss--and anger. The same is true for the families, friends, and fellow officers--grief, loss, and anger.

I was already feeling heaviness of heart for the families of these shooting victims in Minnesota and Louisiana, and for the black communities for whom this appears to be too common. My seven years of service in a minority community during my time in an inner city church doesn't make me an expert on this, only one who knows that such communities can have a very different experience of the presence of law enforcement than mine. The witness of my black brothers and sisters in Christ to this difference confirms it. That doesn't mean there aren't reasons, or history, or anything else. It is simply what is true. Far too many of my black brothers and sisters (as well as my Hispanic ones in other places) can tell me stories of those who are supposed to protect instead becoming a threat or danger. That is the day  we live in.

My police friends and family feel under attack, and this morning's evidence is only another confirmation of the elevated dangers they face doing their job. Police and fire officers, along with our military personnel, choose to place themselves in harm's way for others. No one can be prepared for the day when the protectors become the targets of those they are seeking to protect. Heaviness of heart just continues to compound. That is the day we live in. 

I've already written (just last week!) about other tragedies around the world, and this week it was an ISIS-planned suicide bombing in Iraq that killed over 400 people in a marketplace--more victims than any other bombing by this terrorist group. Smaller bombings in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia hardly made the news. That is the day we live in.

As an American, I grieve for the evils perpetrated in our nation, as well as against her. The injustices experienced by minorities are what they are, and none of us who are not a part of those minorities can say it isn't so. 

As a Christian, I have the precious truths of God's Word that become my only source of insight and hope, and they also guide me to know how to lament and interpret the times. They remind me that God's evaluation just before the Flood in Genesis would be true today--the thoughts and intentions of men's hearts are "only evil continually." We are not less evil than those that perished, only those who have received God's covenant that he wouldn't wipe us out with a Flood. Rather, God's great mercies have led to his redemptive purposes being fulfilled in Jesus Christ, where sinners can be changed into saints. It also means that another judgment will come on those who reject God's redemption. God allows the world to continue from bad to worse, but he will, one day, judge the earth in righteousness. The wicked will be punished forever, and the righteous vindicated.

I know this. But how can I, in this moment, be one who brings some sort of grace and comfort to bear?

First, I can pray with a broken heart for the broken hearted. I can ask God to bring comfort that I can't.

Second, I can reach out. I can speak to my black brothers and sisters and say, "I can't 'identify' with what these shootings may mean in your heart, but I ache over this, and I grieve over however much this may resonate in your experience. I'm so sorry. When you are wronged, you should be able to tell that to me without me trying to explain why that isn't really what is going on. I want to be an understanding and faithful brother, and I need you to help me know how to do that."

I can also reach out to my police friends and tell them, "I can't comprehend both the risks you have embraced and the dangers you face and how that must feel some days, but I am thankful for you, and I grieve with you as you mourn the loss of others who, just like you, have chosen to protect others. I want to be a support to you and encourage those I know to honor your courage and sacrifice, and to pray for God's protection and wisdom for you."

Third, I can humble myself before God in these sorrowful times, when the marvels of our technology and media alert us to terrible events in "real time" and barely give us time to contemplate them, let alone grieve over them. I can ask him to do what I cannot in ministry to the broken hearted. I can also ask him to open my eyes to ways that, in my world, I can bring a small measure of grace and comfort to those who may need it. And I also can ask him to help me see ways that I can work in my own setting to address injustices and wrongs to which I may be insensitive or just colorblind.

Finally, I (and all of us) can pray the two word prayer (in Aramaic) that the church has prayed as it faced its evil days throughout history, and looked for the fulfillment of our hope--"Marana-tha": "O Lord, come!"

Friday, June 10, 2016

Deepening Your Delight in the Word of God

This past Sunday we kicked off our Summer in the Psalms with a look at the first one, and there we discovered that the "blessed man"--that man or woman who is experiencing the favor of God--finds delight in the law of the Lord, meditating in it day and night. I drew the rather plain implication from the text that if you don't delight in God's Word, you may well not be a blessed person at all. The one who does not love God's Word cannot claim assurance of salvation, since it is the Word that gives us the promise of salvation, not to mention the gospel, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the story behind our need of him.

But I would readily admit that our delight in God's Word can and should grow and deepen. How might we see that happen?

I would suggest that the passage itself gives us one clear way--the action that follows the description of this truth is "in this (God's) law he meditates day and night." The simple truth is that there is no substitute for regular, consistent exposure to the Word. Here are some things that may or may not be a part of your life, but should be.

1. Bible reading. You have the tremendous privilege of having a Bible. Use it. The vast majority of church goers in the USA do not read their Bible regularly with any significance. The satirical site "The Babylon Bee" had this "story:" Local Man Still on Track to Finish Reading Entire Bible By End of This Century. How I wish that weren't actually the common practice--read a few verses when you feel like it. You would never read a letter or a novel in dribs and drabs. And you wouldn't read a letter by choosing random sentences. Choose a book and work through it. Make it a goal to cover the entire Bible--you don't want to miss the riches you might find in a book you've ignored.

2. Bible reflection. You must take time to think about what you are reading. What is it saying? Why? Can I understand why this is here? You should also think about the riches you may be reading. Are there promises or provisions from God that you are taking for granted? Are there sins to be avoided? Are there reminders of great things that are ahead or deliverances received in the past?

3. Bible memorization. Find passages of Scripture that speak to your heart, or address a particular sin you battle, or encourage you with a truth you need to remember. Learn it by heart. It can be a verse or two, or it can be a paragraph, chapter, or more. The Bible tells us that hiding God's Word in our heart keeps us from sinning (Ps. 119:9, 11).

4. Bible listening. You can use the "YouVersion" Bible app to follow any number of plans through the Bible where you hear it read. This is how most people learned the Word of God for generations, along with listening to sermons and learning scriptures set to music. That's another form of Bible listening that is helpful, too.

5. Bible study. You may discover that your reading and your reflection don't give you confidence that you know what the text means. Learn how to study the Bible. One method you can learn is Inductive Bible Study, used by both Bible Study Fellowship (available in our area) and Precept Ministries (there are Precept classes taught here at Grace). There are other methods, too, that teach you how to understand the text, how to use Bible study tools that are easily available, and how to come to a point where you can be confident that you have learned the basic meaning of the Scriptures. A book that has been helpful to many is Dig Deeper. It teaches you the basic principles of study that guarantee you don't go off into accidental heresy!

This coming Sunday, Chris Miller is going to give you an example of a psalm that shows what the writer thinks about the blessings of the Word of God, and how it changes your life. Listen, and then ask yourself, do I want those experiences, those comforts, and those riches? Be ready to be encouraged as you hear about Psalm 19.