Psalm 119:97-104 – God the Teacher

I deeply love your Law!
    I think about it all day.
Your laws never leave my mind,
    and they make me much wiser
    than my enemies.
Thinking about your teachings
    gives me better understanding
    than my teachers,
and obeying your laws
makes me wiser
    than those
    who have lived a long time.
I obey your word
    instead of following a way
    that leads to trouble.
You have been my teacher,
    and I won’t reject
    your instructions.
Your teachings are sweeter
    than honey.
    They give me understanding
    and make me hate all lies. (CEV)

We live in a wonderful, complex, beautiful, broken, and upside-down world. The information we access, the choices we make, and the networking we engage in all require a great deal of wisdom.  Throw into the mix the reality that most things rarely go as we plan, and you have a recipe for disappointment and/or frustrating anger.  So, is there a path, a way of approaching this world that can help us navigate all its twists and trials?  Yes, there is a light through it all. Today’s psalm informs us how to proceed.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the ability to take revealed truth and put it into concrete daily practice. So then, a life marked by the love and study of God’s Word brings both right living and enjoyment. God is our teacher and faithfully guides us into grateful living through his promises and commands. We can put ourselves in a position to sit at the master’s feet and receive gracious instruction for life.

Lectio Divina is one way of doing just that: allowing God to teach us through his Holy Word. Lectio Divina is an ancient Latin term which means “spiritual reading.”  It means to read Holy Scripture not just to know its contents, but to experience its power to restore, heal, transform, provide wisdom, and draw close to God. 

Lectio Divina is a simple way to prayerfully read the Bible, meditate on its message, and listen for what God may be saying for us to do.  It can be done privately, or with a small group of people.  The goal for the Christian is to become more Christ-like.

Lectio Divina is based upon reading a selected text of Scripture three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God (if done in a group).

First Reading

During the first reading, read the text aloud twice. Read slowly and carefully. The purpose of the first reading is for each person to hear the text and to listen for a word, phrase or idea that captures their attention. As group members recognize a word, phrase, or idea, they are to focus their attention on it, repeating it within their minds several times.

Second Reading

During the second reading, read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus their attention on how the selected word, phrase or idea speaks to their life that day. What does it mean for you today? How is Christ, the Word, speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase, or idea? What is Christ, the Word, speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase, or idea? After the reading, a brief period of silence is observed and then group members share briefly what they have heard.

Third Reading

Read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus on what God is calling them to do or to become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something. During this final reading, focus on what God is calling you to do or to be.  After the third reading, there is a period of silence, then group members share what they are being called to do or to be.

The psalms, especially Psalm 119, are meant to be read over-and-over again, to be used for prayer, worship, and study. Devoting ourselves to the psalms and grafting them into our lives is one of the best practices we can do to live a healthy and happy spiritual life.

Almighty God extend your goodness to me according to your Holy Word. Teach me knowledge and good judgment because I trust your commands. I seek to obey your wondrous Word. You are good, and what you do is always good. Teach me your decrees through Jesus Christ my Lord in the wisdom of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hebrews 11:23-29 – Taking the Long View

Enslavement of the Israelites

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (NIV)

Faith looks ahead and sees as clearly as is right now in front of your face. Taking the long view of life, the mature person of faith can set aside temporary pleasure to attain a future hope. Moses, held up as such an example, refused to identify himself as the daughter of Pharaoh. He chose to be mistreated in solidarity with his fellow Israelites, instead of having a good time with his high position in the most powerful empire of its day. Moses knew that the treasures of Egypt were not as wonderful as what he would receive from suffering for the Messiah, and he looked forward to his reward.

It is an understatement to say that our contemporary society assumes practicing instant gratification. We want to feel good, and we want it now. Impulse control may just be one of the best life skills that kids (and adults!) need to learn today. A Psychology Today article effectively demonstrates through some classic and current research that “one of the most effective ways to distract ourselves from a tempting pleasure we don’t want to indulge is by focusing on another pleasure.”

For the Christian who desires to follow Jesus in all things, looking ahead to a future heavenly reward which will be shared along with all God’s people needs to be kept at the forefront of our thinking. If we only consider today, there are scant resources for responding to the temptations and fluctuations of life. However, if we will put some energy into clarifying and embracing our most cherished values, we will then let those values inform everything we do, or not do. In the scope of eternity, suffering a bit now is nothing compared to what Christ has yet in store for his people.

Deferred gratification causes us to live differently. In a twist of irony, folks who orient themselves toward the next world are able to effectively impact and change the world they currently reside within – whereas those who focus solely on this present world find themselves falling woefully short with their short view of life. We need the wisdom which faith provides us:

We are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. We live by faith and not by sight. We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. So, our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home. We all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:6-10, CEB)

Future hope, fueled by faith, gives shape to how we live today. It enables us to live in solidarity with those who suffer and are mistreated. It ennobles us to live above short-sighted desires and act on behalf of the common good of all persons in the here-and-now.

Lord God Almighty, the One who is and was and is to come, may we, along with your servant Moses, see the plight of all those who suffer in our midst. Give us courage and compassion to live in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten, and all who live with misfortune and misery. May our hearts, burning with love, bear the burdens of all in our care. And may our loving example ignite the hearts of others to accompany the vulnerable in their affliction. We ask this in the gracious name of Jesus through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Exodus 2:11-15 – Time Out

A Time for Everything

In the course of time Moses grew up. Then he went to see his own people and watched them suffering under forced labor. He saw a Hebrew, one of his own people, being beaten by an Egyptian. He looked all around, and when he didn’t see anyone, he beat the Egyptian to death and hid the body in the sand.

When Moses went there the next day, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. He asked the one who started the fight, “Why are you beating another Hebrew?”

The man asked, “Who made you our ruler and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought that everyone knew what he had done.

When Pharaoh heard what Moses had done, he tried to have him killed. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian. (GW)

Faith is not a static phenomenon that one possesses, or not. Rather, faith is a dynamic movement which is continually either being strengthened or weakened through our life choices.  Moses needed to learn how to make healthy decisions of faith, just as much or more than the rest of us.  The fact that he was eighty years old before he became the human agent of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians, after a forty year stint in the backside of the desert, tells us that it took him awhile to mature.  Even though Moses may have had a sense that the Israelites needed freedom from slavery and acted on that sense by killing a ruthless Egyptian, his method and sense of timing were off.

There is a time for everything, said the writer of Ecclesiastes.  Wisdom, which is the ability to apply faith to concrete situations with appropriate forms, is often in the timing of things.  To know when to speak and when to listen, when to act and when to wait, is an important facet of faith.  The ancient Israelites were slaves in Egypt for a long time.  Moses knew they were suffering, and he acted in “good faith.” Yet, it was not yet time and it was a rash movement.  Eventually, the Jewish cry of suffering arose to God, and God heard them, remembering his covenant with them.  Why God did not act sooner, or use Moses earlier, is information that is only privy within God himself.

If we are to develop a strong and wise faith with an opportune sense of timing, we will need to rely on God.  Trusting in ourselves, our own efforts, and our own gauge of how things ought to proceed will usually not end well.  We may, like Moses, find ourselves taking a “time out” from God in obscurity until we learn to wait on him.

In the fullness of time, Paul said to the Galatians, Jesus came, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4-5).  God knows what he is doing, even though it might seem like he is sometimes slow to act.  God sees.  God delivers.  And he does it in his timing – not ours.

Redeeming God, you control all things, including the clock.  Give me wisdom so that my sense of timing might reflect your will and your way, through Jesus Christ, your Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign supremely as one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Matthew 16:5-12 – Be Careful of Bad Teaching

Do not be deceived
“Don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you do not understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (NIV)

I tend to think in metaphors, which is probably one reason I like the teaching of Jesus so much. While on this earth, he used a range of metaphors from common everyday life to communicate his point. Seems as though the disciples were more concrete thinkers.

Yeast was a common symbol for evil, which is why the Jews ate unleavened bread.  Jesus was trying to get the point across to his disciples that, like yeast, even just a little bit of unhealthy teaching can have far-reaching effects. Partaking of bad teaching works through the whole batch of dough and ruins the spiritual life.

We might think that after seeing Jesus heal the sick, raise a paralyzed man, cure the blind, restore the demon-possessed, walk on water, and feed the masses with only a few loaves of bread that his disciples would be clamoring with praise and responding with a big “Wow! Look at what Jesus did!  Tell us what to do next!”  Instead, they stood around mumbling about how to interpret the great feeding of the four thousand.

The math lesson Jesus explained to the disciples about the baskets of food that they had gathered was that the less the disciples had and the bigger their problem, the more Jesus did.  Jesus Math adds up to grace.  And grace means that who we are, or are not, and what we have, or do not have, is immaterial; what matters is that we have Jesus.  We give him what little we have, along with ourselves, and let him do the work.

We must avoid the trap and the temptation of thinking, “If only I had ___; If only I were ___.”  This is unsound doctrine because it denigrates the image of God within us and the good gifts God has already given to us, as if we ourselves are not enough. Yet, even if we have next to nothing, with few abilities, when offering it to Jesus, he turns it into a miraculous bounty of blessing for the world.

Seeing ourselves, our relationships, our stuff, and our world through the person and work of Jesus Christ is our task.  It does not take great powers of interpretation to see that the times are evil and bad information gets disseminated and spread.  What is more difficult for us is discerning that there is a great opportunity for mission and service amid this decaying world.

We will miss that wonderful opportunity if we partake of bad teaching. It is imperative that we feed upon sound teaching and be very discerning about who we listen to and what they are really saying to us. Words which are heavy with judgment and light on grace are to be suspect because such teaching is antithetical to the gospel. Instruction which sets apart and demonizes groups of people or characterizes certain individuals as monsters or animals is completely out of step with the way of Jesus Christ.

Wolf in Sheep Clothing

We are to be on our guard against any teaching which places an unrealistic and dispassionate heavy load of guilt and shame upon people. We must be vigilant to not accept teaching that plays upon people’s fear and twists reality, making groundless and unsubstantiated claims without evidence. In short, the Holy Scriptures are not to be used as a club to beat people into submission toward our way of thinking and acting.

The spiritual abuse and objectification of others by using the Bible is a terrible condition which unfortunately exists in today’s world. The sad reality is that there are people who engage in harassing others by using God’s Holy Word. People have been created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect and civility, regardless of their creed, color, or condition.

So, let me be clear and deliberate about the use and abuse of God’s revelation to us:

I do not condone any use of the Bible which seeks to intimidate, bully, impede, or affect any person’s ability: to work effectively at their jobs, to worship joyfully at their church, or to live without fear of being blacklisted or red-lined to the periphery of society.

I do not condone any use of the Bible which intends to control either by threat or by use of physical force any person, their family, and/or their property through inducing fear.

I do not condone any use of the Bible which justifies touching any person without their consent, or coerces, or physically forces another person to engage in a sexual act against their will.

I reject any use of the Bible which encourages any sort of hate crime, act of violence, or hate speech against any person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, or religion.

I reject any use of the Bible by any clergy and/or church leadership which demeans and marginalizes women in their basic humanity, role, function, or leadership.

I reject any use of the Bible by any church member and/or attender which demeans and discounts the worldwide Christian community.

I uphold any use of the Bible which seeks to communicate its theology and message gently, carefully, graciously, and lovingly for the spiritual edification and healing of all people.

I uphold any use of the Bible which intends to cultivate one’s own soul and develop a teachable spirit.

I uphold any use of the Bible which looks for truth, wisdom, beauty, and humility.

I champion use of the Bible for both personal and corporate encouragement.

I champion use of the Bible for critical inquiry, scrutiny, and learning.

I champion use of the Bible for all people, regardless of age, including genuine seekers and spiritual misfits, as well as the hurt, abused, lonely, lost, confused, and concerned.

Soli Deo Gloria