Posts Tagged With: growth

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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Matthew 13: The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like

I absolutely love the parables.  They are most certainly my favorite form of literature in the gospels.  Matthew has packed this chapter full of them.

They are wonderful word pictures, for those of us who are more visual than verbal.  They pack meaning for those of us who like a good symbol.  They are memorable and popular.  They also teach fantastic lessons about life and how to live life.  But first and foremost, parables tell us about life in God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like . . .

  • a farmer sowing wheat on various kinds of soil with differing results
  • a field of wheat maliciously oversown by weeds that has to wait to be weeded out then harvested
  • a mustard seed that grows of a mere speck to a large, useful shrub
  • leaven that works its way throughout an entire pot of flour
  • a priceless treasure one might stumble upon in a field but then that’s worth selling everything you have to buy
  • a pearl hunter who sells off his fortune when he finds the biggest and best pearl ever
  • a net that gathers all sorts of fish that will have to be sorted out later

Some pieces of art or music or literature are just better appreciated in their original state without much explanation.  I do believe that is often true of the parables.  So, today I am running the risk of ruining great art.  Please forgive.  What is Jesus saying about the kingdom in these parables?

The kingdom of heaven is mysterious:  There is no telling when we will brush up against true Kingdom.  We might be in the middle of our everyday tasks and run upon a move of God that is unlike anything we have ever seen before.  We might simply be walking home, and over there in the corner of a yard under a tree, where we least expected it, will be something more valuable than anything we have.  We just thought it was another hum-drum day, but this is the day that changes our life.

The kingdom of heaven is valuable:  In a world that often lacks any substance or value, when we find God’s Kingdom, we will do anything to have it.  It is worth more than anything we presently have.  We know this is something real and valuable.  It might necessitate a relocation or a restructuring of our life, but we will gladly do it.  There will be sacrifices, but they are small in comparison.

The kingdom of heaven grows abundantly:  The Kingdom usually starts in humble beginnings.  We might look at it and say this won’t amount to much, but often that is exactly where God plants the seeds of His Kingdom and they grow into something that is so much bigger than what we could do ourselves.  And those pursuits bring help and nourishment to others.

The kingdom of heaven is messy:  This isn’t going to go smoothly.  God is working to advance His Kingdom in this world, but there are powers of evil and darkness that want the same soul-territory.  Right alongside Kingdom will be anti-kingdom.  There are people who will swallow up any seed of hope we might plant in another person.  “The world’s worries and the seduction of wealth” choke our devotion like thorns and strong weeds (13:22).  Purification and complete rescue won’t come until the end.

Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will know where Jesus is coming from.  Others won’t.  For some Jesus is just too familiar.  But those who do hear and see are more blessed than even the prophets of old (13:16-17).

Which parable resonates most strongly with you in this reading?  Why?

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Acts 6: A Growing Kingdom

The word of God increased, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem grew by leaps and bounds.  This included a large crowd of priests who became obedient to the faith. (6:7)

This group of 120 sure has grown.  First it was to 3000, then over 5000 men.  Now they are growing by “leaps and bounds.”  Let there be no mistake, God wants His kingdom to grow.

Acts 1:6-8 is considered by many to be a bit of a thesis statement for the book.  Many key themes from the book of Acts launch off from this passage.  We also find here this sentence which also becomes the very structure of Acts:

Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth. (1:8)

Think of it like concentric circles spreading out from Jerusalem, where the events of Acts 1-4 took place.  Now we are in the Judea section.  The Jesus movement is still very much a Jewish thing, though now there are “Hellenistic” or Greek Jews in the mix.  Next, with Philip we will see the gospel move to Samaria, a far less palatable place to a good, upstanding Jew.  Paul and Barnabas will take the gospel in the latter half of the book into the pagan Greco-Roman world until the book ends in Rome, the furthest civilized city to the west where the gospel would realistically be expected to go.  We know from Romans that Paul’s greatest desire is to go to the Far West, to Spain, where the gospel has yet to go.  Unto the very ends of the earth, indeed.

God wants His kingdom to grow.  I see nothing in the Bible that indicates God wants to sell the kingdom like a salesperson hawks his wares to one more empty shopper seeking a new trinket or novelty.  No billboards and slick advertising campaign are needed (and if they are, aren’t we admitting we have turned God’s kingdom or at least our churches into one more consumer good?).  Still, we don’t need to glory in being ostracized outsiders whose small numbers are a badge of honor.  God wants growth.

We can be certain that God wants his kingdom to grow spiritually; maturity is always the goal.  God intends for his kingdom to grow numerically, as we are seeing here in 6:7.  As Acts 1:8 makes clear, God is looking for geographical growth too.  That same verse confronts our insular and even prejudicial tendencies and says God is looking for a kingdom that grows ethnically.  The kingdom is going to be a 64-pack of Crayolas, praise God!  But that ethnic growth is what produces a problem in Acts 6 too as the leaders try to deal fairly with both Greek and Jewish widows.  This verse from Acts 6 also indicates he wants the kingdom to become socially diverse; the Jesus movement was now made up of Galilean fisherman and now Jerusalemite priests too.  Next thing you know, we will have ancient politician’s wives joining in (hint, hint).

Of course, God’s desires are no different today.  What would it look like if our Christian circles were growing in numbers and spiritual depth, reaching out into new neighborhoods and countries, and becoming increasingly more diverse ethnically, racially, and socially?

What made you think in today’s reading?

Categories: Acts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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