Posts Tagged With: community

Final Thoughts & Thanks

We have made it!

One chapter a day, five days a week, every full week of the year.  Really, that is a not a lot of reading.  But I have a whole string of years where I couldn’t even muster the fortitude to be that disciplined.  Maybe you do too.  There seems to be something about reading the Bible that creates a challenge even for the most ardent readers.

Yet we did it.  And we can be thankful for our seemingly small feat.  I know there are big, monumental experiences that shape us in significant ways.  But more often than not I find we are formed as humans by our little habits, small victories, excusable vices, short lines in sand, and tiny changes.

As far as blogging is concerned, I don’t know yet what next year brings.  I will keep my personal, periodic blog going, but this blog comes to an end today, though all posts will stay up and accessible and the comments will stay open.  This is now two consecutive years I have written a blog of this sort — two years ago with the Qur’an and this past year with the New Testament.  I do not have plans to undertake a project like this for this upcoming year.  I have discerned that it is best for me to spend time with physical and domestic health instead.  I am drawn to The Message again, the translation I almost used this year, before N. T. Wright published The Kingdom New Testament, his interesting but not significantly different translation.  I hope to keep reading on the same schedule but without the writing.  Maybe one of you will find value in a writing discipline like this and invite us to join you next year?

As you might expect from a teacher, I would like to end with a question.  Not all of you have wanted to post comments this year and that has been fine.  Do consider posting on this one.

What have you learned from a year spent reading God’s Word to the Church?

 

I share three reflections I have had several times this year.  I look forward to your thoughts as well.

1.  For many of us, there is no better spiritual practice than reading the Bible.  Spiritually, people are wired differently.  Some are shaped strongly my worshipful experiences.  Some have been turned into reading-the-biblewho they are by fervent, honest prayer.  Others become different people through service to those they love and those in need.  For many, though, the regular practice of Bible reading is the number one shaping influence in their spiritual growth.  This is where the Gospel, in its many forms, speaks good news into the vagaries of our life.  This is where we are confronted by words that have been read — spoken, really — and therefore cannot be ignored.  This is where our minds of flesh are turned spiritual.  Almost without exclusion, those I respect the most spiritually all have one thing in common: they read their Bibles.  In a million different ways.  But they read.  And I want to be one of these same people, so I read.  When one truly gives him- or herself to the words of the Bible as we have done this year, we are not left the same person.  Sometimes, like echoes bouncing around in the chasms of our hearts and minds, those words hit us months later, but the word of God is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12).  These words do not “return void” (Isaiah 55:11).

2.  The Bible is always best understood when read and interpreted together.  Blogs have long been cited as tools that have overly-democritized the marketplace of ideas.  Whether you are 8 or 80, you can create a blog and post your ideas.  Then search engines put all search results side by side by topic, not knowledge or research or experience or anything else.  That is why the best blogs always have a robust community of readers and comment-makers so as to raise the discussion past the opinions of the one author.  That is what I was hoping we could produce here.  Likewise, Protestants (as most of us reading this blog are) have always made much-ado about the “priesthood of all believers” and the importance of the Bible.  Put them together and we all feel like we can read the Bible by ourselves and our personal arabs-studying1interpretations have equal authority.  For sure, all should read their Bibles and all perspectives should be considered, but the interpretations that are hammered out in groups of people are almost always better than what individuals come up with themselves.  That is the value of Bible classes in church contexts.  That is why we read other people’s books.  That is why education has (until lately) always been a communal undertaking.  I am extremely thankful to all of you who have taken the time to read my posts.  I am even more thankful to those of you who took time to comment and ask questions and bring up alternate viewpoints (and not all of this was done on this blog; sometimes it was at school or church).  I have learned from you, and where “iron has sharpened iron” our understanding of the Bible has become that much better.  From here on out, I always want to read my Bible with others.

3.  The New Testament is a whole lot simpler than we sometimes let it be.  I saw this repeatedly throughout the year, but especially in our reading of Revelation this last month.  We have tended to make the Bible much more complicated than it really is.  I think this usually comes when we isolate small phrases or passages and neglect the big picture.  I understand why that happens.  We all agree on that big picture, so we focus on the patches of disagreement that we find as we read because those are the things we feel we have to iron out.  Then we make those points of argument reasons for disunity and suspicion.  I completely understand the aggressive desire for truth in all things, but after this year of looking at the big picture of Christian Scripture I am all the more committed to continuing to do so.  With time I have found that small passages of confusion or points of contention work themselves out when we stay focused on the big picture.    I know that one of Jesus’ greatest desires is for Christian unity (John 17:20-21), so I am going forward from here today with the belief that anchoring myself in the Story of God’s good news to the world, not pet doctrines or favorite passages within a denomination, has a better likelihood of creating unity.

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Thank you for being a part of the life of this blog.  I have benefitted from your participation.  Keep reading!  Glory to God our Savior and Teacher!

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1 Timothy 3: Godly Everywhere They Go

I am struck today in this section on qualifications for church leaders like elders and deacons that how these men are viewed in and interact with the wider public of a community is as important to whether they can be leaders as their ability, their church personas, their management skills, their intelligence, and their financial success.

In addition, he [an elder] must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he may not incur reproach and fall into the devil’s snare. (3:7)

Those who serve you well as deacons, you see, gain a good platform for themselves to speak out boldly in the faith which is in King Jesus. (3:13)

Church leaders exist for the church, but who they are to a wider public must be considered as well.

What struck you today?

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1 Corinthians 13: The Better Way

When read by itself, 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful passage.  Great for weddings.  An ideal chapter to learn generalities about love.  Nice for ethics (I’ll guess many of us were taught to replace the word “love” in verses 4-7 with our name as a way to determine how loving we truly are).  I would not wish to take any of those things away.

This chapter comes so much more alive when we read it in context — always a good principle for Bible reading.  1 Corinthians 13 is sandwiched between chapters 12 and 14.  We looked at chapter 12 yesterday and saw its focus on spiritual gifts.  Scan ahead and you will see that chapter 14 has the same focus.  Paul’s beautiful diatribe on love is best understood within the context of a church that is using spiritual giftedness of boast and divide.

Recall that we ended yesterday with Paul claiming there is a better gift than tongues or prophecy or miracles, that there is a “better way” to live than the way of competition and glory based on performance (12:31).  What is that better gift, that better way?

If I should have prophetic gifts, and know all mysteries, all knowledge, too; have faith, to move the mountains, but have no love — I’m nothing. . . . Love never fails.  But prophecies will be abolished; tongues will stop; and knowledge, too, be done away. (13:2, 8)

Love is that better gift.  The best way to judge spiritual fervor is love.  A Christian has reached the zenith when they love.  A church can be congratulated when they love.  If you want to pursue a gift, go after love.

And not just any kind of love.  A selfless, sacrificial, enduring love that banishes the attitudes the Corinthians’ competition was bringing: jealousy, envy, pride, anger, and vindictiveness.

Spiritual gifts were only intended to build up a church until the complete and perfect (13:10) outpouring of divine love came to the church, and to a large part that was dependent on the submissive obedience of Christians to the better way of love.  None of the fancy acts we see on those religious television shows with ladies with purple hair and men with perfect haircuts, shiny teeth and designer suits will be in heaven.  They were only a vehicle to an end.  Heaven is most of all characterized by love.  Love will go on for ever.

A church can major in the minors and they may just find it only fractures the bonds of fellowship.  Or they can keep the main thing the main thing and find that it builds up the very building blocks of community.

What stood out to you in a new way in this very familiar chapter?

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Hebrews 3: Hold On!

I am not much for roller coasters, so when I muster up the bravery to ride one I remember it.  One time as my wife and I stood in a long line to ride some instrument of terror that she would have chosen not me, there were these two tween girls behind us.  They talked non-stop and laughed nervously the whole time we waited to board.  They stated several times they weren’t sure they could handle the ride.  They were afraid they would be thrown off or some other horrible fate they were more than glad to describe.  When we got to the front of the line and boarded, I looked back to see the two sitting side by side, close together, arms interlocked with a death grip on the bar in front of them.

Not a bad idea if you ask me!

Much of Hebrews is a detailed sermon about the superiority of Jesus over all things, especially the Jewish religion from which the Hebrew Christians had come.  Interspersed throughout the teaching sections are several pastoral sections of encouragement in which the author pleads with the Hebrews not to give up on Jesus.  Today’s section is largely one of those.

The Hebrews author is very clear:

We share the life of the Messiah, you see, only if we keep a firm, tight grip on our original confidence, right through to the end. (3:14)

There is no getting off halfway through the ride.  This is no leisurely no-hands bike ride down a peaceful street.  Hold on tight!  We will have some bumps and quick turns.

Because of that, the author makes a suggestion: hold on to each other.

Encourage one another, as long as it’s called “Today” (3:13)

We aren’t in this alone. Lash yourself to a friend.  Tell each other you can do it.  Then hold on tight for the ride of your life!

Whether you respond here or not, ask yourself: who is that one friend you need to hang on to on this ride?

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Acts 4: Giving to One Another

There was no needy person among them. (4:34a)

Really?

No one among the first few thousand Christians in Jerusalem had material needs?

Christians can’t say that today.  Of course, there are many times more Christians today than there was back then, and in many more impoverished areas of the world.  Still, that is an incredible claim.  Oh, for that to be true today!

How was that possible?  We have part of the answer if we back up a few sentences:

Nobody said that they owned their property; instead, they had everything in common. (4:32b)

This is the thinking that makes the lack of need possible: the realization that the material blessings that come our way are not our own.  We are stewards of God’s possessions.  We are conduits not swimming pools — blessings come in order to flow through us and out, not be collected for our leisure.  I need a new mind in this regard.  The feeling that makes this kind of radical care for the community of believers is in the sentence before this one:

The company of those who believed had one heart and soul. (4:32a)

A solidarity of spirit.  A unified soul.  A deep kindredness that has knit people together as one.  When that happens how could we let our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in need?  I need a new heart in this area too.

Maybe that is the secret.  In only three chapters since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have seen a sea change in these disciples.  They have a new understanding they did not have before.  They are now becoming known for harnessing extraordinary power to heal.  In this chapter especially we have seen a boldness they certainly didn’t have two months before.  Now they possess a sacrificial love for each other.  How did they do it?

They didn’t.  The Holy Spirit came upon them in a deeply transforming way.  Their new mind and the new heart came from above.

Come Holy Spirit and give us radical, giving love for each other!

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I Am Glad You Are Here

For those of you who have chosen to follow this blog, and especially those who are reading along in your own Bibles, I am very glad you are here.  I hope what is happening is positive and helpful, and I am open to suggestions on how to make this little community of readers even more effective.  I am loving starting with Mark.  He gets right down to business.  As a Christian, there is nothing as energizing as looking intently into the life of Christ.  That makes me think of our theme verse from school this year:

And all of us, without any veil on our faces, gaze at the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, and so are being changed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as you’d expect from the Lord, the spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, KNT)

I would love to hear your reflections each day; that is when the greatest sense of community will come.  No pressure, if that is not your thing, but please consider sharing.

May your weekend we restful and recuperative.  Back on Monday.

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