October 31, 2014 — lens

We must be doers of the word.
Jesus is the lens through which we read the Bible.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Luke 24:18-32

Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus opens the scriptures to us.

Some people are afraid the authority of the Bible is going to be undermined in the postmodern era as the world believes the narrative of social constructionism. They are right. But protecting an essentially modern way of understanding scripture is not the solution. We do not have a democracy of words, as if they were all created equal. But we also do not have a hierarchy of words, as if the Jesus is not risen. Jesus is risen. Jesus is Lord. It’s in the Bible.

When we say we read the scripture through the “lens” of Jesus it means many things. Among the first things we mean is that we don’t read the Bible through the lens of a principle of theology invented in the 1600s. Nor do we try to submit Jesus to what is in the book, as if he has no reality without that evidence.

We are going with what the Bible says about Jesus by reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus. Paul says Jesus “Is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him God was pleased to reconcile to  himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” We begin and end with Jesus the firstborn from the dead — just like we are taught to do in the Bible.

Just like Jesus revealed himself in the Old Testament to the men of Emmaus, we expect the risen Lord to reveal himself to us as we study and do the word.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Open my heart to believe what the prophets have declared, and all I need to know in the scripture.

Read the book of Colossians today and see who Jesus is. Pick out one thing in that small piece of material that you should do to see life through that lens.

October 30, 2014 — doers

We must be doers of the word.
The Bible should be known and followed, and that is a group project.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read James 1:17-27

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

More thoughts for meditation

James, the New Testament wisdom writer, has profound things to say about how Jesus reveals God.  It goes something like this:

“Jesus didn’t just teach words for us to hear, collect, and reorganize into theory or work into laws, Jesus was the word. When he looked into the word, he saw himself. Jesus did not reveal the sparkling perfection of his absolute truth; he was absolutely true in the unpredictable world of human relationships.

Likewise, we are to look into the word, into the face of Jesus, into the word of God in the Bible, into every act of the Spirit of God, and see our true selves. We need to get used to our new face and live with it, not just keep trying to put on the disguise of the ”word” and appear as something we are not.” – Rod White in A Circle of Hope.

Getting used to our new face is a difficult assignment! It is a good thing we are not in the process of becoming our true selves by ourselves!

James’ teaching is to a plural “you.” He says, “Y’all must understand this.” Doing the word is a group project. We can even do it with James, who died a long time ago. We can certainly do it with people from the four corners of the Philly region and the diverse crew that makes up our cell. What we should avoid is doing it all by ourselves, as if all knowledge begins with “my five senses” and maybe a sixth. We are not trying to be true to ourselves, alone, we are true to Jesus as true selves. We are not losing our integrity to follow the word of our Lord as one of his people, subject to revelation and mutual discernment, we are losing our corrupted lives to receive the abundant life we have been given.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Make me quick to listen today, especially to the word of God the Spirit implants in me to remake me.

Talk about the Bible with someone today; it is your handiest source of God’s word to you. It would be a great phone call or email to have someone call with this question: “What do you think we should do about this?…really.” At least read the Bible today (just re-read or actually read the scripture recommended above) and decide how to do the word of God in it, not just understand it.

October 29, 2014 — exiles

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Nehemiah 1

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’”

More thoughts for meditation

In this great prayer, Nehemiah reminds God of his promise to gather his people when they turn back to faithfulness. At this point in their history, the people of God are scattered, mostly trapped in exile. Nehemiah stands before God on their behalf and then goes to the king on their behalf. He asks for permission to return to their land  in order to rebuild the walls and give aid to the remnant who survived exile. His story (the entire book of Nehemiah) is about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (and all the opposition to it) and the return of God’s people to faithfulness and their home.

Nehemiah’s story is similar to the drama played out time and time again in the life of Jesus followers. God is massively gathering his people from the farthest horizons and bringing them home. Jesus is our home. The exiles return. We return to God. Sometimes the return is drastic… we are far away and find our way back. Sometimes we are near and our return is a matter of reorientation. Either way we are in exile and Jesus gathers us back to himself. He longs to do it.

In Matthew 23, we get a clear picture of God’s heart when Jesus cries out to the very city that Nehemiah rebuilt: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

God wants us back home. And so he finds us — even those of us who are at the furthest horizons, and he brings us back to himself. Paul puts it this way to the Ephesians: He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

With Jesus as the foundation (the cornerstone) we together are being built into the dwelling God has chosen to live. Feel Jesus gathering you back to that space.

Suggestions for action

Pray:  Jesus, help me to find my home in you today.

You may feel in exile today – far away from God. Feel that distance and in a moment of silence, listen to Jesus’ desire to gather you to himself.

You may feel like you are the remnant – close to God but in trouble. Stay strong and in a moment of prayer, pray for those who are returning to lend you aid.

October 28, 2014 – cast

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 5

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

More thoughts for meditation

The central metaphor throughout 1 Peter is the “alien” nature of being a Christ follower while living in the world. As aliens, Peter acknowledges that we will experience distance – from our old-shaped selves, from society’s values and scripts, and even from our expectations of what being a Christian looks like in regards to suffering. Peter’s antitodte to the transitory, uncertain nature of being “alien” is three-fold:

  1. Jesus experienced the ultimate distance from society (and God!), and came out alive and in glory,
  2. We don’t do this alone (as the church, we are a race/nation/people on the move together),
  3. God is capable, steadfast, and trustworthy.

It’s this last point that Peter especially focuses on at the end of his letter. He perceives the anxiety his hearers are experiencing as aliens and testifies to the mighty and gracious hand of God. Whereas the devil is “prowling” – i.e. unpredictable, mobile, and anxiety-producing– God is caring (v. 6) and capable (v. 10).

In fact, the Greek word for “cast” in verse 7 is used only one other time in Luke 19:35, where the disciples threw their garments on the colt that Jesus then rode into Jerusalem. Peter, therefore, is not saying, “Cast your fishing-pole-of-worry out and see if there’s a bite” or, “Scatter your worries into the air and hope God catches one.” No, this command to “cast” is to heave and throw, to completely let go of the anxieties we wear like clothes, and to let Jesus sit on top of them as he is continues on his mission, with us following close behind. This action doesn’t mean our problems will disappear, but it does mean that we have given them to Jesus and that he promises to sustain us.

Suggestions for action

Pray: God of all grace, sustain me in my suffering, and help me to stand fast in your love today. 

Reflect: What anxieties is the Lord calling you to throw fully onto him? Imagine passing each one off.

October 27, 2014 – good

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 4

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

More thoughts for meditation

As Peter moves towards the end of his letter, he wants his marginalized audience to know that one of the miracles of faith is that we get to see everything in a whole new way. The lens that makes the difference is captured in one tiny word (one of Peter’s favorite words!) in the first verse – since. For Peter, when we put our faith in Jesus, that tiny word provides an inexhaustible source of motivation, meaning, and hope  – “since Christ suffered in his body,” so we will suffer as the body of Christ, and so we will be overjoyed with the glory of Christ, too (v. 13). Where once we looked at the values of the crucified and resurrected Messiah with confusion, disgust, or fear, we look at the same person and story with joy, awe, and gratitude. That’s the miracle of seeing we get through the gift of faith. With these new eyes, Peter encourages the church to embrace their suffering, and ends the chapter with the words: “continue to do good.” He doesn’t mean, “Now, stay out of trouble,” or, “So, follow the rules.” No, Peter is saying, “Bring fresh goodness, fresh kindness, fresh peace and fresh wisdom into your lives, your blocks, your families, your cells, even to strangers, and to the whole world!”

Suggestions for action

Pray: God, I do trust you. Help me continuing doing good with these gifts you’ve given me, and with this life you’ve given me, for your glory. 

Reflect: What would be a clear, practical way in which you could show you “entrust your life to the faithful Creator” by doing what is good this week? For inspiration, here is Peter’s list in verses 7-11:

  • be alert
  • be sober in mind
  • pray
  • love each other deeply
  • offer hospitality to one another without grumbling
  • use whatever gift you have received to serve others
  • steward God’s grace
  • speak the very words of God
  • serve with the strength God provides