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How Do We View the Scriptures: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Devotional Thought of the Day:

21 Christ rules there above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next. 22† God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things. 23 The church is Christ’s body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere. Eph. 1:21-23 GNT

I do not mean that the Bible should be worshiped. Its uniquely sacred character is something that does not need to be exaggerated or even insisted on, because it is self-authenticating. It confirms itself to any earnest and open-minded user. For just as openness to and hunger for God leads naturally to reading the Bible, so the eager use of the Bible leads naturally and tangibly to the mind of God and the person of Christ.

To worship is to be filled with the love we have for the one with whom we enter into communion. None of us worship anyone we don’t love or who doesn’t love us. We are loved by God! We are dear to Him! “God is love”!
This certainty is what leads us to worship God with all our heart, because “He first loved us”
(1 Jn 4:10).

I started studying scripture academically in 1983. Up till then, I had read it and been taught it devotionally, been taught its principles. But studying it in the Greek and Hebrew, specifically looking at the culture and how people would have understood it then, well, that is different.

The challenge is that every pastor, no matter how formally or informally trained, approaches the scripture with a predisposed attitude toward it. That attitude makes a difference in how they will present it to their people, how they preach, teach, counsel, and how their people see their own ministry.

As with anything, there are extremes in this, and a bulk of ministers fall into the middle ground, and then there are a few oddballs, not on the spectrum.

On one side, we have the people who think that the Bible has many flaws, and that it is the job of the pastor )or at least the professors) to help people discern what is true, what is added to scripture, and what should not be heeded at all. They would place the wisdom of man as more reliable than the Bible. On the very extreme, they dismiss all the miracles, and much of the “moral” teaching as only being relevant “then.”

On the other side, we have pastors and professors who confuse the “word of God” (the scriptures) with the “Word of God” (Jesus) Often they will claim to teach and preach “verse by verse” and “book by book”, plunging the mysteries and finding hidden meanings that become rules and doctrines. ( An example of this would be those who adore the KJV to the extent that every other translation is a ruse of Satan)

So how do we approach scripture? Is it something so holy and precious that we honor it and bow down to it, or is it something we can treat like a good philosophy or self help book? Do we take every word of every translation (or just ours) as if sacred, or do we dismiss this part and that, based on our knowledge and research?

I think there is a different route to take (yes, I am the oddball mentioned above).

I believe the word of God is the inspired word of God, the message it conveys is critical for us to understand. It is more than a matter of life and death.

It leads us to praise God, to adore Him, it is there to reveal to our broken hearts, minds and souls the mercy and love of our Creator, and therefore it is beyond all other books.

But it reveals God, it isn’t God. It is a tool, a device, that has to be used with care, keeping in tension doctrines to complex for our minds to fully understand. While this revelation is an incredible gift, the relationship it reveals, describes and encourages is the treasure.

And while it is without error, we are are not. Therefore we have to be careful with our interpretation, with how we understand it, with how we teach it. We have to check what we teach against all of scripture, understanding the covenants, the history, and the tension that exists as scripture reveals our brokenness and the hope of healing that is found in Jesus.

That is why our constant focus has to be on what scripture is promised to deliver to us, to reveal Christ, whose love caused Him to endure the cross for us, to rescue and deliver us from the bondage of sin…and restore us to our heavenly Father.

Heavenly Father, please reveal to us Your love as the Holy Spirit cuts open our hearts with Your holy, inspired word, allowing the work of Christ on the Cross, and at Your side interceding for us to make us holy. May we realize what a blessing the scriptures are, as the words reveal to us Your care. Help us to neither dismiss the scriptures, nor prize them more that the message they bring. In Jesus name. AMEN!

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 254). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Is a Soul worth it?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

3  We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT) 

881 Sacrifice yourself, give yourself, and work at souls one by one, as the jeweller works on precious stones: one by one. Indeed you should exercise even more care, because you are dealing with something of incomparable value. The purpose of that spiritual attention you give is to prepare good instruments for the service of God: and they, each one of them, have cost Christ all of his Blood.

In 2 Corinthians, indeed in several of Paul’s works (and the OT Prophets) we see passages like the one above, where spiritual warfare and pastoral care are challenged, and answered.

The reason that Paul and the prophets, and even Jesus was challenged is simple, someone who cares for a soul will challenge that which enters a life and obscures the work of Holy Spirit, that denies the presence of Christ and our unity in Him, that which would try to convince us that something other than being God’s beloved is what defines life.   Simply put, if some sin, or some belief that would pull your focus away from God’s love for you exists, the word of God will challenge it, and those of us tasked with shepherding you will bring scripture to bear on life, their lives – and yours.

The reason is your soul is worth it.  Your life, lived distracted from God by obstacles, needs to be encouraged back to Him, and the obstacle?  Will you let us destroy it?  Even as Gideon destroyed the Ba;alite altar and image in his dad’s back yard?  Will you let the Holy Spirit perform surgery on your soul, skillfully using the word of God to remove that which holds you back from knowing you love?  Will you trust God to do that, trusting Him to leave you, and eradicate that which isn’t you?

It’s a scary thought. Especially for those who know some of their weaknessness well.  It might be pride, it might be resentment, it might be clinging to a sin that you think defines you, because it has been there so long.

Paul thought the souls of the people in Corinth were worth it, your soul is worth it.  Christ died to heal you from the damage of those obstacles…that is how much your soul is worth to Him.

Maybe its time to confess that sin… and trust in God  – knowing His promise to forgive you, and clease you from all unrighteousness….

Come – talk to a pastor who would love to point you to Christ, and do battle – by God’s strength – with the obstacles that would deny you knowing how much God loves you…

Godspeed!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3110-3113). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

How Do You Read the Scripture? As the Authority, or as a Pilgrim?

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

105 Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.Psalm 119:105 (TEV) 

“You are badly disposed if you listen to the word of God with a critical spirit.”  ( #943 -The Way, St. Josemaria Escriva)

The juxtapostion of the course I am taking andmy denomination’s convention(held every three years) is causing me much thought about how we view scripture and indeed what we believe and how we communicate it.

In both cases, what is being heard and read seems to indicate we think interpretation of scripture and communicating it gives us some authority over it. In the case of the textbooks, there is a not so subtle projection of doubt, and a definite attitude that we are the authority, not the text.  I have experienced a similar thing as we begin this convention, where people speaking have locked in their mind what they think the scriptures mean – (as well as the Lutheran Confessions)  And if you challenge their assumptions, well let’s just say there is a lot of loyalty to the assumptions.
Again, we find ourselves as the judge – and our interpretation ( or that handed to us) as being the final statement, the final judgment.

I would suggest instead, that we return to the point where God’s word is that which we use as the norm and standard.That we know it so well, and hold it in such esteem, that we do love this communique from our God – and we allow the Spirit to use it to stir up faith within us.   For it is His revelation of His love, of His plan, of Himself to us, to bond us to Him.

May we read it, may we hear it and consume it, knowing that God has given the word to usas a precious gift.

For it shares with us the answer to our plea: Lord Have Mercy!

and His answer is….  I AM.

Let His Message Fill Your Lives!

Let His Message Fill Your Lives!

Colossians 3:12-17

 In Jesus Name

 

My friends in Christ, may your lives be filled with the richness of Christ’s message – that He in love has chosen you to be the Holy People He loves!

What does this mean? 

 

It is referred to as the “Lutheran Question”.  Like our theology, it predates Luther and the reformation that God created – not just in our churches, but in Christianity. It goes back to a Greek Philosopher, named Socrates – a man who, like Luther, and like St Paul, the author of Colossians, irritated more than a few people.

His way of phrasing it was a bit different.  He said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  He would love the way Luther phrased it, as he taught young people and pastors, using the phrase, “What does this mean?”

We need to ask that question about our faith – what and why we trust in God – and we need to hear the answer – really hear and absorb it.  The more I do, the deeper that trust becomes, the more the words of the songs and hymns we sing mean, for the more we desire to worship God.  This is because the more we ask, “What does this mean”, the more we understand how great it is, that God works in our life.

This time of year then, as we gather to celebrate Christ’s birth, is as good a time as any to start asking that question again.

What does it mean that we trust in God, what does it mean that we hear Jesus was incarnate – that He was born into the world and that we are reborn – in Him?

Paul’s epistle this week answers the question, what does this mean?  (looking at the manger …

What does it mean that Christ was born of Mary, that He was incarnate?

What does it mean… for us?

What does the incarnation mean…for you?

          You’ve been chosen!  GULP but that’s a good thing!

Practically, we find the answer to the “what does the incarnation, what does Christ’s birth mean” in our epistle reading this morning.  Specifically there in verse 12.

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves,

There it is – because Christ came into the world, because He was born of the Virgin Mary, because He humbled Himself and left heaven to be here, to dwell among us we have been chosen to be His people. The people He loves.

Get this – His holy people.

We’ll get to what that means in a moment, but I want you to really hear this,

God chose you to be the holy people he loves,

I don’t think you can hear it enough times!

God chose you to be the holy people he loves,

The entire reason for the incarnation boils down to that, the reason He came – was to reveal to us His decision to make us His holy people – whom He loves!

That answer does raise yet again the question – What does this mean that He chose us to be the holy people He loves?  What difference does it make?  What effect does it have on your lives?

What Effect does being chosen mean in in your life

       It changes your behavior – not who you are!      

It’s the difference between getting dressed after your shower in the morning, or just walking outside without dressing!

That’s not my idea – that’s Paul’s!

Hear all of the sentence that begins in verse 12,

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

If you go outside without getting dressed appropriately, you are not ready to face the world- and they are definitely not ready to face you!

This is as true spiritually as it is physically – indeed I believe even more so.  The things that describe how someone lives – who has been clothed with Christ, who has put on Christ, are not something we should dismiss as being legalistic, or to difficult, but it is indeed the way we are to live; for we live in Christ.  The very change is generated in us in our baptism, as we are granted repentance, as we are given the Holy Spirit.

Without these things – without tenderhearted mercy, without kindness, without humility and gentleness and patience – we find ourselves out there naked – raw – our emotions not governed, our reactions neither modest nor controlled.    We become merciless – and cannot find the strength to love – and we find ourselves excluding others and isolating ourselves, rather than being bound together in perfect harmony.

Which is why, in nearly every letter to a church – Paul talks of Christ first – and then of what it means for us to be in Christ – how we live, as members of His body, as living sacrifices – standing firm and reflecting His love to the world.

In this case, the relationships we have are well documented and worked through.

I find it interesting – and we will talk in Bible Study – about the burden being, not on the sinner, but on the one sinned against whom the sin was committed.  The key becomes our acting Christlike, and putting the best construction on things, on making allowances as the passage talks of, of forgiving.

The more then we act like Christ – and do not allow the relationship to be broken, the more we find ourselves living together – even bound together in Christ’s peace, in the completeness that comes in Him. For it takes much more for a relationship to break – when both parties are forgiving and when we make allowance for each other’s faults.

How can This Be? 

I have to admit – this sounds easier than it is, and that is why we need to hear it so often!  To be reminded of how God has designed us to live – how we are to be imitators of Christ.  To get back from where we started.

That is where we are challenged; we think these attitudes, even if we know better, originates by our work, by our will.  Sometimes we get a defeatist attitude because, it isn’t hard to always be patient with each other, and often we do forget that we are dressed in these things, already!

I would so prefer it to read – you must be clothed – or be clothed, the verb there is imperative, but it is not active – it is middle/passive in voice – the work of being clothed – of putting on Christ is more than ours – and it has already been done.

In verse 12 it says that we have been chosen by God, and that we are chosen to be the holy people He loves.  That choice has already been made, the work to present us holy, that has already begun. The peace of Christ, the peace that He generates… that will rule our lives that provides the harmony that too is His responsibility that is a blessing as well of our baptism!

Where our focus begins and ends – what makes living in Christ’s peace, what gives us the strength to love, to be patient and kind, is not our will, but what Paul urges us to do in verse 16.

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives.

There is our key to dwelling in peace, to loving in such a way we are bound together.

It is found as we hear the word of God, as the Holy Spirit uses it, as on the day of Pentecost, to do heart surgery on us, to bring us to life, as Ezekiel says to remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.

A slightly different take- but the same thing as being clothed with Christ – for all those attributes we are to show – are His.  As we are transformed into His image – we take on those characteristics and we begin, whether we realize it or not, to live in them. To dwell in Christ, to cherish the words in our Bibles, to discuss it and deeply drink of its wisdom, and even more – the message of God’s love for you, His holy people – that is how we grow in love.

The more we spend in His word, and in meditation and prayer based upon it, the more we naturally resort to verse 16 – the rejoicing and praising and thanking God as we sing to Him.  As we adore Him, for we realize the depth of His love for us, a love that He demonstrated in choosing us, in cleansing us, in filling us with His word, and His peace.

AMEN?

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