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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.

How do we treat scripture? How do we teach people to treasure it?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
11  I keep your law in my heart, so that I will not sin against you. 12  I praise you, O LORD; teach me your ways. Psalm 119:11-12 (TEV)

Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony

Yet I was forced; and this was well done towards me, but I did not well; for, unless forced, I had not learnt. But no one doth well against his will, even though what he doth, be well.

Augustine’s comment from my devotions this morning is something I need to think about, as I prepare my sermon for tomorrow.  How do I teach people to see the Bible?  Do my sermons, and what and how I teach lead them to treasure this incredible gift of God?  Or does what I teach and preach cause them to dismiss is, willingly twist it, and allow them to create a god that appeals to their desires, rather than meets the needs of their deepest brokenness?

The same for the scripture that resounds from within our worship – the liturgy which is so full of scripture.  Do I facilitate their worship with a passion that honors God as He blesses us through the words He dictated, that He breathed through prophets and apostles, kings and leaders of worship?

If we preach about other than Jesus, if we teach Christianity as a simple set of rules to follow or something that changes from what was written, we dismiss the blessing of scripture. If we treasure theology over the word, we again dismiss the word of God, for the word of mankind. We dismiss the message of His loving-kindness, His mercy, His presence in our lives, which the scriptures reveal.  The very treasure that reveals that we don’t need to be God, for He loves us.  That real, lasting pleasure comes through His word.  That peace is found in Him, and as we live in Him, we realize this incredible blessing, this incredible grace.

Scripture, the word of God, can make us uncomfortable.  If afflicts us in the places we need to be corrected, the very place of our brokenness.  It confronts our broken and twisted desire for pleasure, our love of self, our illusion that we are truly master’s of our fate.  It is hard to learn to love that which hurts.  Even so, when we realize the Holy Spirit applies it to our brokenness, even the discomfort is embraced, sure that God’s peace will comfort us, and bring us to wholeness.  If we are to find hope for our brokenness, if we are going to offer and provide it to those people we are to care for, where the Spirit reveals it is in scripture. It is there the Lord who is our hope of glory, of life eternal, is found.  There what He needs to heal us of is shown, as is the cure, His presence, His blessing of us through His word, joined to water as He baptizes us, as He nourishes us with His body and blood.

Back to the original thought, of teaching and preaching in such a way that the word of God is treasured.  That our words portray His word, which He, the WORD, is revealed.  That people know this isn’t just man’s words written on paper, proclaimed in our message. It is the word of God, the One who desires to love us, reveals to us that this love has no limits there on the pages of scripture.

If we show them we treasure it, they will begin to as well, and they will do well as they hear it, as they read it, as they treasure His word in their hearts.

As we do this, as we treasure the word that reveals to us the love of God, as we set an example for our people, we shall find that He has answered our plea.  That our thoughts and words are acceptable to God, our Rock and Redeemer.  AMEN!

Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Why a Lutheran Pastor Would Quote the Catholic Pope about the Church’s Mission…

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day –

For God’s Kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of the righteousness, peace, and joy which the Holy Spirit gives.  And when you serve Christ in this way, you please God and are approved by others.   Romans 14:17-18 (TEV)

 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man who was driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.”  “Do not try to stop him,” Jesus told them, “because no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say evil things about me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.  Mark 9:38-40 (TEV)

 Of course some of them preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome, but others from genuine good will.  These do so from love, because they know that God has given me the work of defending the gospel.  The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition; they think that they will make more trouble for me while I am in prison.  It does not matter! I am happy about it—just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives. And I will continue to be happy,  because I know that by means of your prayers and the help which comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ I shall be set free.    Philippians 1:15-19 (TEV)

“The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24) ” (1)

If you haven’t heard, Pope Francis is visiting the USA.  In green, you see one of my favorite quotes from him, one that hasn’t been pushed much on Twitter, or quoted on FB.   It is both this lack of attention AND the truth of it, that makes it possibly my favorite quote of his.

Some people are excited, some people are worried, some people are mad, and want everyone to know that the visit of the one they think is “the” anti-christ, in combination with a harvest moon, in combination with the green stuff growing in their refrigerator resembling the hairstyle of a prominent presidential candidate means the means to the end is near.

I do think it providential though, that the gospel reading this week contains the middle quote from scripture. The one that has Jesus crying out, “do not try to stop him!”

Let me start out with this,  According to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, some of what I preach is anathema.  And likewise, some, repeat, some of the things that are doctrines the are to hold to are heterodox and even heretical.  One could do several Ph.D. thesis outlining these things.   And several more outlining the things upon which we agree. Those need to be discussed not hidden.

But therein is the rub.  To dismiss each other entirely it is to dismiss where we agree as if it were as false.  For example, the truths found in the three Creeds.  Or the promises that God is faithful to the promises He makes to us, including the promises attached to the proclaiming of the Gospel, the promises attached to Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the forgiveness given us in Confession.  We can never dismiss each other entirely, because the core of our creed, we share in common.  We share a hope found in Christ Jesus.  For me to presumptuously say everything the Roman Catholic Church teaches is wrong is to dismiss the Christ in whom I find hope, and the mission, the apostolic mission given to the Church.

With this particular Pope, Pope Francis, what resonates of his message is what is found in 1 Peter, that God doesn’t desire any person to be lost, but that all would come to repentance, that all would be reconciled, that all would know the love of God, and the mercy poured out on us because of the death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection.

That message of his won’t make the evening news often, nor will it make the conservative or liberal blogospheres in either of our church bodies. That won’t get attention, because it won’t cause hits to come in large numbers.  Controversy does that.  It draws us in; it creates elitists, groups that will become, as Francis points out – apathetic.  They will become apathetic to the real ministry, to the real mission, to the real apostolate. Their focus will go from that to their own personal crusade, and the Missio Dei will become a distant memory for them.  Not for all, for God has promised that as well.   That Missio Dei is our mission,  the reason we are sent to this world, which is the reason Christ was sent,

as Francis says,

“to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.”

May we bring that life to all,

A life in which Jesus guards our hearts and our minds, a life of peace the world cannot give, a life of incomparable peace which the Father in Heaven desires to share with us. The peace that is the answer to our prayer,

Lord have mercy on us sinners… AMEN!

(1)  From the Homily given by Pope Francis on 9/24 found here http://opusdei.us/en-us/article/canonization-of-junipero-serra/

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