Tag: Scripture

The Deeper Reality of Politics

How have you felt about the upcoming election? One week from today millions will cast their vote for president. Messages of fear, anxiety, angst, and anger have come to the forefront of each commentary on the candidates. Fact-checking gets more and more difficult with the vast amount of information.

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Faith in Jesus does not dismiss our fears, anxieties, and frustrations, but rather responds to it differently. The deeper reality of politics has to do with one of the greater narratives of Scripture; Jesus is the hero of every story.

Scan the pages of the Old and New Testaments. You will find deeply flawed political leaders. David, the most heralded of Jewish kings, commits murder. Solomon exploits his riches to feed his pleasure. Xerxes operated out of insecurity. Nebuchadnezzar had an enormous ego out of his gain. Pilate cared about the polls before they even existed.

I wonder what those followers of Jesus would say to us today. Perhaps, they would empathize with our plight. Even more so, I think they would remind us to look beyond the power systems to see God at work. They had lived through their political chaos to see that Jesus works in the storms.

How do you live out the deeper reality of Jesus in the midst of this political mess? Eugene Peterson in Reverse Thunder, a book about Revelation, has a chapter called “The Last Word on Politics.” Peterson describe living in the deeper reality called the “Politics of the Lamb” or the politics of Jesus:

The politics of the Lamb takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal. The politics of the Lamb, by showing that the plainest of details of our daily faith are significant facts in a cosmic drama, protects us from hubris and guides us into maturity that pours intelligence and energy into what is before us, make a work of a holy art out of the ordinary.

Radically following Jesus in this political climate can look ordinary. Our faith lived out goes well-beyond who will become president. You live out in your practices.

It exchanges the constant fact-checking of policy and insults with the truth of Scripture. It calls us to identify our anxiety and bring it to prayer. We watch our words and thoughts because we recognize each person created in the image of God. Faithfully, we gather with the community of believers sharing in the greater story of grace.

Today, live in the deeper reality of Jesus. No matter who becomes president, He is the hero of every story. Let your faith become practice.

Photo credit by Augusto Navarro.

Remedying Short Attention Spans

Short attention spans come easier and easier. The headlines of last month can get lost in the urgency of today’s news. We move from story to story at an alarming rate, sometimes without taking any time to reflect on the larger issues. Opinions get debated without little nuance or thoughtfulness. It can seem more information brings anxiety rather than peace.

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Remedying short attention spans begins with recognizing Christ’s grace. It requires us to redirect our focus to a greater reality rather than succumbing to distractions. In a world where everything seems urgent, the Gospel constantly reminds us of the resurrection of meaning. We can live life as those created in God’s image and restored by His forgiveness.

A new way of looking at engaging Scripture includes the habit of having a longer attention span. We need this simple practice and reminder of seeing God’s grace. Consider what Eugene Peterson says in Run with the Horses:

We live on the gossip of the moment and the rumors of the hour. It is not as if we never hear the truth at all, but we don’t realize its overwhelming significance. It is an extra, an aside. We have no sense of continuity. We respond to whims, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then Scripture is placed before us. Words are assembled and arranged, and powerful patterns of truth become visible…Amnesia is replaced by recognition. Distraction gathered into attention.

Engaging Scripture has to do with cultivating an attentive heart to seeing God’s presence in the world around us. Not falling into the trap of worry, today’s headlines, and ventilated opinions, but coming to the place where we discover the Gospel in real life; seeing God’s grace in the everyday.

So today, read the Bible seeing the continuous work of God’s grace in the world around you. Take time to reflect on His faithfulness of yesterday. Slow down at a verse that stops you rather than reading for a quick self-help fix. Keep the Scripture as a reminder by writing it down or saving it on an app.

How can you recognize God’s continuous work rather than living with a short attention span?

Photo credit by Seth Doyle.

Acts of Hope

Hope has become commercialized. Politicians peddle it during the election cycles. The endless amount of advertisers sells us on it. Sport’s franchises have asked fans to buy into the rebuilding process. Commercialized hope can lead us to cynicism and disappointment, making promises for today without any accountability for tomorrow.

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Genuine hope moves us from passivity to action. Hope harmonizes the present with the future. What we believe about tomorrow leads us to how we respond today.

Eugene Peterson speaks of hope in Run with the Horses:

All acts of hope expose themselves to ridicule because they seem impractical, failing to conform to visible reality. But in fact, they are the reality that is being constructed but is not yet visible. Hope commits us to actions that connect with God’s promises (pg. 174)

How do we live with hope? Later on, Peterson talks about it becoming “Really Practical.” A coworker once coined the term, the nauseating details. I think this fits for hope because we get to the nitty-gritty of today by God’s promises for the future rather than a mere pie in the sky view.

Practical acts of hope look like this…
Planting because Christ causes growth.
Working with our best effort today at our tasks because Christ sees.
Praying for our enemies and those who hurt us because Christ heals.
Seeking reconciliation and forgiveness because Christ restores.
Showing up, because Christ is already present.
Engaging Scripture because Christ speaks.

The list could go on, but most often acts of hope seem extremely ordinary. Those practices that we can dismiss, but they come back to our minds. They reflect a belief in God’s promises. When we live with genuine hope, we ultimately experience God’s grace today.

What acts of hope has God called you to fulfill today?

Photo credit by Clack Street Mercantile.

Table Talk: Conversations on Scripture

A professor from a state school invited me to a biblical literature class. The students discussed the David and Absalom narrative from 2 Samuel on that day. I attended a Christian college full of classes interpreting, debating, and engaging scripture. This context intrigued me because it allotted me the opportunity to compare my experience with this class’ experience.

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Their discussion wrestled with David’s motives in 2 Samuel 15. The professor and students brought to the surface how David asked God to thwart Absalom, but how he devised his plan to do the same. For this class, King David wasn’t necessarily a hero but a flawed man of mixed motivations. Anyone engaging this passage has to grapple with the writer’s ambiguity of the characters’ motivations.

These students came from various faith backgrounds. Each one of them had a fascinating viewpoint to offer from the passage. This experience challenged me to read Scripture through their lenses of what they saw and heard. Often, we can find ourselves engaging Scripture out of our biases and preconceived notions.

I meet people apprehensive about reading the Bible. People fear misunderstanding the text and then misinterpreting it in discussion with others. Some of us have lost the imagination of experiencing the story of Scripture. It can become another task in the day.

Part of our problem comes is that we were never intended to engage God’s Word on our own. Community becomes a place where we wrestle, interpret, and discuss Scripture. We open ourselves to listen to other’s perspective because we recognize our limitations to understanding the text.

Galatians 6:6 says, “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” What we see people in the Bible discussing the Scriptures: Jesus with Nicodemus, the Early Church in Acts 2:42-47, Peter with Cornelius, Paul with various churches. Engaging Scripture becomes a practice participated in community.

Students of Martin Luther recorded their conversations with him in the book Table Talk. The book references discussions at the dinner table. Table Talk gives us a picture of engaging the Bible in community. We sit at the dinner table with each other discussing passages learning from each other. It becomes part of our everyday life. Table Talk gives us a picture of engaging the Bible in community. We sit at the table with each other discussing passages learning from each other. It becomes part of our everyday life.

Eugene Peterson in Eat this Book says this about Scripture:

Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son (pg. 18)

My class visit reinforced the value of engaging Scripture in community. Not just an academic or intellectual pursuit, but in the realization that we mature not just by engaging scripture on our own but with each other. God speaks to us while we sit at the table together.

How do you engage the Scripture with the people around you? Where do you have your table talk with others on Scripture?

Photo credit by Aaron Burden.

Jeremiah and the Reality of Scripture

We can miss the rawness of the scriptures. The Old Testament book of Jeremiah gets mentions for at least two verses; one of which 29:11 details God’s plans for us. This book tells the heartbreaking story of a misunderstood prophet, Jeremiah. The seemingly positive verses come out of the painful existence of a man, who experienced rejection and loneliness.

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In the fall of 2007, I spent fifteen weeks in the book of Jeremiah. Dr. Malcolm Brubaker taught a night class on the 52 chapters of Jeremiah and five chapters of Lamentations. We journeyed with this prophet through his calling from God, conflicts with kings, getting thrown into a cistern, and the rather anti-storybook ending.

Why spend the time engaging this difficult book of the Old Testament? It speaks to the reality of our lives. Somewhere in the footsteps of Jeremiah we encounter a man who vents to God while also experiences His faithfulness. Not because his circumstances improve, rather because God remains present.

The first class Dr. Brubaker read from Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk chapter “Jeremiah as Writer: The Necessary Other.” The “Necessary Other” refers to how our calling from God separates us from others. He read this portion:

In the Book of Jeremiah we encounter a very human prophet, and a God who is alarmingly alive. Jeremiah makes it clear that no one chooses to fall into the hands of such a God. You are chosen, you resist, you resort to rage and bitterness and, finally, you succumb to the God who has given you your identity in the first place. (pg. 45)

The scriptures shockingly invite us to vent and contend with God. They do not hold back the reality of our often painful existence. We end up finding a God, who is there. Not an insecure God to dismiss our laments, but willing to listen to our doubts. The difficulty and encouragement of reading the prophet of Jeremiah has to do with us identifying with him and his relationship with God.

Reading Jeremiah gives us a glimpse of Jesus in the New Testament. Through this prophet, we can understand a Savior, who experiences loneliness, rejection, and pain. The book of Hebrews further explains how Jesus identifies with us so we can pray to Him. Part of the Gospel, the Good News, is Jesus has walked where we walked.

At times, we walk through the seasons of difficulty and doubt. The scriptures introduce us to friends like the prophet Jeremiah. A person we can identify with their pain. Even more so, these portions of scripture reveal the presence of a Savior walking with us in our season of struggle.

Let the reality and rawness of scripture speak to your circumstances, so that we might see the grace of God at work in us.

Photo Credit Ryan McGuire in Gratisography.

3 Starting Points for Reading the Bible

I received my first personal Bible around the age of nine. Like many other children growing up attending church, I carted a blue hard covered Kid’s Life Application Study Bible to every service. Along the way, I started reading a chapter at a time. You could see the uneven underlining of verses and squiggly highlighter marks on the pages.

991902_98839418A friend and I have had the opportunity to develop and teach a class on reading the Bible. Many people experience apprehensions to studying the Scriptures. Questions arise like; Am I reading this right? Did I miss something in this passage? Where do I even start? Both skeptic and growing follower of Christ may understand relevancy of reading the Bible, but also will need direction on how read the Bible.

This process has brought me to ask the question, what do I wish I knew about studying the Bible when I started? Here were three points which have enhanced reading the Bible for me.

1. Think Big Picture 

Graeme Goldsworthy in According to Plan says, “The Gospel is the fixed point of reference of understanding the meaning of the whole range of biblical revelation.” The big picture of Scripture is the Gospel – the saving work of God for humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Genesis to Revelation directs us to a congruent message. Dr. Daniel McNaughton, a professor from college, summed this up by saying, “God is the hero of biblical revelation.”

2. Read a Book in One Sitting

I started reading one chapter of the Bible a day. This practice gave me micro understanding of the text. When we take time to read a whole book in one sitting, then we have the opportunity to understand the flow of the whole book. Many books of the Bible were read aloud to the original audiences. Philippians, a letter from the Apostle Paul, develops with certain themes and ideas relating to his personal relationship with the church. Reading a book as a whole allows us to see the message unfold. You may want to start small and then move to longer books.

3. Study in Community

The term “quiet time” implies isolation. So the use of this term can equate to an inaccurate understanding of reading the Bible. Christian community gives us the opportunity to share what God has revealed to us in Scripture and to listen to others on the same journey. Hearing each other invites people to relate experiences. Community invites us to seek other resources and perspectives. We were never meant to read the Bible devoid of community.

These points have helped me read the Bible. What starting points have assisted you in reading the Bible?

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