Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Address Book or a Mansion?



To some the Bible is an address book of chapters and verses, houses in a subdivision, sometimes visited and sometimes not. To others the Bible is a mansion in which they not only live; they can’t image living anywhere else.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Snow – It’s All Covered



The other great thing I think about when I think about snow is Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, says Yahweh, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Just as snow covers all things, creating a new landscape, a new perspective, so the forgiveness of God covers all of our sins and brings us into a new way of looking at life; refreshing our minds, our hearts, our souls. Few words have been written that compare to the comfort found in Psalm 32:1-2, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, blessed is the man to whom Yahweh does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.”

How sad it is that people don’t understand that a knowledge of sin and its origin and destructive power is vital to our well-being – it is vital that we know sin so that we may know forgiveness in Jesus; it is vital that we know our transgressions so that we may know what it is to have them covered. The irony is that while we deny the existence of sin on one hand, we spend our lives attempting to medicate it on the other hand – we try to cover what only God can cover, we attempt to cover and deny at the same time.  

As I write this I should point out that the idea of us needing to forgive ourselves is an idea that has no foundation in Scripture; we are taught to forgive others, not to forgive ourselves as if we’ve done something against ourselves. Our sin is against God and it is what God thinks that matters – our solace and forgiveness is found in God in Christ alone – when we repent and ask His forgiveness then we have peace with God and in having peace with God we come to find His peace living within us. As John writes (1 John 1:9), “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Freshly fallen snow covering the land, what a picture of the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ. No matter the breath or depth of my transgressions, whether pubic or private, open or hidden, in Christ God’s forgiveness blankets my life with forgiveness and I may approach each day anew as if my footprints have yet to trod the path of life. Jesus offers me a perpetual new beginning, hope in a new day, and relief from a stricken conscience and guilt.

Sin and guilt cannot be medicated away in perpetual denial; that is torture. We cannot forgive ourselves but we can torture ourselves. We wonder at the self-destructiveness exhibited by teenagers inflicting cuttings on themselves; but adults do the same thing in living narcissistic and hedonistic lives…most of us just learn to do it in somewhat respectable fashion.

Experiencing the snow of God’s forgiveness not only sets us free to live in intimate relationship with God, it also gives us liberty to forgive others, indeed, it mandates that we forgive others…after all…others may have sinned against us but we have sinned against God – who has committed the greater sin?

No wonder walking in snowy woodlands is akin to walking in a cathedral, the snow and the altar both speak of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ who was sinless; He became sin so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It may snow but seldom in our region of Virginia, but the image and reality of snow is something that I can carry in my heart and mind in all seasons of life.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Snow – Walks With A Dog



Snow evokes a number of images and memories, from childhood to seasons of adulthood. From days off from school when kids in the neighborhood reveled in exhaustion and excitement sledding down streets and hills; to the time Vickie and I took a seldom – used back road home in a snow storm and weren’t sure we’d make it up a particularly challenging hill; to the time the snow in Becket, MA came in November and didn’t leave till April…or was it early May?

My most pleasant snow memory is walking in the woods with Darby, our Sheppard – Lab mix, in the deep snows of Western Massachusetts in the Berkshires. I’d buckle my snow shoes on and Darby and I would walk beyond the cleared portion of our lot into the surrounding woods, deeper we’d go, the snow often above her shoulders, deeper into the quiet, into the hush of creation. The stillness of the woods after a deep snow enfolds and comforts the senses, it is a blanket of peace wrapping itself around you, drawing you into it, stilling the mind, quieting the heart – it is a place to listen, to listen to both creation and the Creator, a place for a child to commune with the Father.

Darby stayed close to me during these walks, not by my heels, but just off to the right or left or just a bit ahead of me; when I’d call her she’d quickly come, bounding over fallen branches and limbs; I always knew where she was and she always knew where I was and we always knew which way was home.

 A ways into the woods behind our home was a stone wall, the kind of stone wall you see all over New England. The wall had been lonely for many years for it was now surrounded by woods, at one time perhaps it delineated a pasture or crop land, people built it as they cleared the land, but the land was no longer clear and the wall was lonely. For the most part the wall was still intact, while here and there a section had fallen, failed sections were few and far between. Darby and I always walked out to the wall and then we’d walk along it for awhile, in no hurry, just Dad and Darby, taking our time, enjoying each other, in the cathedral of God’s snowy creation, a canopy of trees above us reaching up to the heavens.

Those walks wouldn’t have been the same without Darby; she was a gentle soul, devoted to Vickie and knowing that I was part of the package she got with Vickie she was devoted to me, even though I was the second team. She was most certainly Vickie’s dog, if ever a dog loved a human then Darby loved Vickie, wherever Vickie was Darby was there.

When the snow came down in Becket I’d anticipate my walks with Darby, a respite from the world, from the phone, from the internet, from television…from noise.

While the sense of quiet sacredness was palpable during those walks, at the same time there was joyful excitement and exhilaration in reveling in the white-crystal beauty of the snowy carpet and in leaping over fallen trees and then running with Darby as we headed back home.  

I sure miss the old girl; I sure miss those walks. Darby and the snow…what sweet times.

Darby and Lina are below.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snow



So now they’re naming snow storms; give it a name and market it, give it a name and weave a “narrative” and sell advertising. It is sad to see the word “narrative” descend into political spin and marketing hype, it cheapens its historical roots, its philosophical and theological import – peoples used to live within narratives and cultic myths (in the academic sense of the terms) and those narratives provided frameworks for living and a sense of the past, the present, and the future. Now a narrative can last all of five seconds, spin a story just long enough for the public to forget the political or moral scandal, milk a snow storm for all it’s worth until the next weather “event” appears on the horizon.

When we lived in Massachusetts I had an acquaintance whose son was a sports commentator; I recall my acquaintance telling me that when his son was preparing to broadcast a game that he and the broadcast team worked on developing a narrative for the game, a storyline. The game itself was no longer enough, it needed a narrative to sustain it. When Vickie and I watch sports we know that there are two types of play-by-play and “color” announcers – those who focus on the game and those who talk about everything but the game – we look for the announcers who focus on the game.

How did generations live without snow storms being named? Next year there will be trading cards depicting snow storms with statistics printed on the back. The following year a Snow Storm Hall of Fame will open in North Dakota to rival the Hurricane Hall of Fame in Miami, Florida and the Tornado Hall of Fame in Norman, Oklahoma and the Nor’easter Hall of Fame in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.   

Actually I wanted to write about a couple of other things regarding snow, I wanted to write about Isaiah and Darby, but the keyboard seems to have taken me away on another narrative – I’ll be back with Darby and Isaiah in (hopefully) the next post.   

Monday, January 20, 2014

No Acorns




There ain’t no acorns. Oh I suppose I could write, “There aren’t any acorns,” but that doesn’t get right to the point that there ain’t no acorns. Last year we had acorns aplenty, this year no acorns though we do have right many hickory nuts, but since there are many more oak trees in our region than hickory trees the hickory nuts won’t make up for the lack of acorns.

We had so many acorns last year that they carpeted our yard; we raked them in piles and then used a snow shovel to scoop them up and move them off the lawn and into the woods. It was a good year for deer and other critters, plenty of acorns. The only thing good about this year for critters so far is that while it’s colder than last year we haven’t had snow, the absence of snow is good because we ain’t got no acorns.

The hickory nuts are all gone, everyone cracked open and the meat eaten; there are hickory nut half shells all over our back and side yards; there are no acorn shells because as you know by now there are no acorns. Maybe it’s global warming, maybe it’s too many rockets blasting into the heavens and disrupting the natural order of things, maybe it’s because the Chicago Cubs still haven’t won a World Series in ages, maybe it’s because Congress still can’t get anything done that matters – whatever the reason the acorns aren’t here. Is this the equivalent of the swallows not returning to Capistrano?

Those that are in the know knew a few months ago that there weren’t any acorns, they said so in the newspaper and the newspaper is just one step down from the internet. What they said confirmed what we and the critters already knew; we had hickory nuts but no acorns – the newspaper assured us all that we weren’t hallucinating (I tacked the article on a tree for the squirrels and deer to read). There are areas of the country that not only ain’t got no acorns, they ain’t got hickory nuts either. There are areas in the land where squirrels are starving. There is a news story up in D.C. that contains the statement, “There literally aren’t any acorns”; I’m reassured that what I read is literal and I’m puzzled as to why the writer doesn’t think I can discern between the literal and figurative.

There is a naturalist up in Long Island who is credited with being the first naturalist to observe the absence of acorns, I think they are giving her a plaque or party or parade; I suspect there is many a homeowners or hiker who also probably qualifies for recognition.

As a boy in my slingshot days I would have lamented the absence of acorns the way a soldier despairs at the lack of ammunition, but as I’ve grown older I’ve changed and I am now in favor of gun and slingshot control – if you must engage in warfare eschew the lethal power of the slingshot and just throw a walnut…but wait…are there any walnuts?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Don’t Need No 1964




I like American Experience on PBS, I don’t watch everything on the series but I watch a lot of it. I like it because I like history, I like people, and I like to think about the flow of culture and ideas and also of the little known and the obscure.

The other day I noticed that American Experience had a presentation titled 1964; I decided to record it. Last night I decided to watch it, I watched the introduction and I turned it off, I told Vickie, “It’s too heavy for tonight, I’ll watch it another time.” The introduction pictured the assassination of President Kennedy in November of 1963 (setting the stage for 1964), civil unrest, racial conflict, the Beatles, and the Johnson – Goldwater presidential campaign.

This evening I deleted the show from the DVR and thought, “I lived through that and I don’t want to watch it; I don’t need to listen to an analysis of how the country started going to pieces that year; I don’t need no 1964.”

Maybe it’s kind of like watching Saving Private Ryan or reading Flags of Our Fathers; I can never watch the movie again and I can never read the book again (I watched the first minute or two of the movie Flags of Our Fathers and turned it off) – the images and pathos are just too much; I had bad dreams when reading Flags of Our Fathers.

Now it isn’t that I don’t read and watch some things about 1964, or about the 60s and early 70s, but when I do I tend to focus on one of two areas; baseball and civil rights; the former because I love the game, the latter because it challenges me to this day in many ways.

The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals are one of my great all-time teams; they were 11 games behind first place Philadelphia on August 23, and on September 20 were 6.5 games behind the Phillies and tied with the Reds with 12 games to go. The Cards not only won the National League pennant in one of the great come backs in baseball history, they went on the beat the Yankees in the World Series in 7 games. What a series it was, brothers Ken and Clete Boyer playing against each other as third basemen for the Cards and Yanks; Bob Gibson emerging as a Hall of Fame pitcher, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and the rest of the St. Louis team finding ways to beat the dominant Bronx Bombers – who all too often came to D.C. and beat up on my hapless Senators. I loved the persona of that Cardinal team, the drama of the pennant race, and the intensity of the World Series.

I recall the presidential campaign, it was the second presidential race of which I aware as a boy, the first being the Nixon – Kennedy contest of 1960. My Mom took us to hear the Republican candidate for vice-president, William Miller, speak at a shopping mall in Wheaton, MD. It is ironic that Goldwater was portrayed as someone who would involve us in world conflict and that a vote for Johnson was a vote for reasonable military policy – Goldwater was portrayed as a warmonger. Well, probably neither man could have saved us from the slippery slope…I don’t know.

The 1960s into the 70s were fast years for me, too fast and often too thoughtless; I guess they were like that for the country too – fast and thoughtless. They weren’t fast and thoughtless for my friend and neighbor in Rockville, MD. Bobby Mentzer, he was killed in Vietnam (Marines) on April 1, 1968; he was born December 8, 1948 – he didn’t make it to his 20th birthday; a quick check indicates that 1,014 Marylanders were killed in Vietnam and that of 58,220 Americans killed in the war that 11,465 were under 20 years old – what was that all about?

On April 4 Doctor King was killed and American cities exploded in riots; I was stationed in Germany (Army) at the time and read about it in the papers; it didn’t seem real.

My Mom died in June of 1968, watching her being wheeled from her hospital room (heart disease) to an intensive care unit or operating room (not sure which it was) is an image burned into my mind, it was a flash…then a few hours later she was dead. Lots of unanswered God questions on that one, lots of regrets, lots of things I wished we’d talked about.

The Cards beat the Red Sox in the ’67 Series and lost to the Tigers in the ’68 series; it would be awhile before they were back in the Word Series, but nothing to me equaled the ’64 series – maybe because after ’64 my own life got too fast, too thoughtless, and too crazy.

When I took what is known as AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Dix after Basic Training in 1967, among other things we were trained in riot control. While we were mostly trained in combat for Vietnam (I was stationed in Germany and then in Maryland after Mom died), we were also trained for riots…now ain’t that something?

When I was reassigned to Fort Meade, MD from Germany in June 1968 I was likely going to a unit that was on 24/7 riot alert; knowing that and wanting to be able to go home to Rockville on weekends to see my family I volunteered to be a cook at a large mess hall (the 24/7 unit allowed virtually no passes on weekends). Now I didn’t know much about cooking but I figured I could learn and I guess I did okay because nobody died or got sick as far as I know.

After I’d been working at the mess hall for a while the mess clerk was discharged from the service and they needed someone who could count and type, so because I knew how to use one finger in typing I volunteered and got the job.

There was a lot of turmoil in the land in those days, turmoil I don’t care to relive except to challenge myself at times, and at times to question societal assumptions. I know Doctor King wasn’t perfect but I think he was a great man, a man of great courage. Those Civil Rights workers, Freedom Riders, and those who supported them in nonviolent fashion had amazing courage and conviction…not much of that around today…they were self-sacrificial…not much of that around today either.

Well, I could go on but I need to close…no need to watch 1964, I don’t need no 1964…I’ve had enough.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Today's Builiding Materials

I don't know what building materials the truck from the supply company will bring me today; but by God's grace and help I will choose to build the best possible "today" I can to His glory.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Problem With Tape Measures



The problem with using a tape measure and a level to build a house is that if you follow the architect’s plans the house will have the same dimensions as indicated on the blueprints.

It’s a problem…right? It must be, because in virtually all other areas of life we don’t want to apply consistent measurements, we want to build our lives as we go, on the fly, eyeballing right and wrong and making adjustments to our beliefs to satisfy our immediate desires.

If we wouldn’t build a house relying on our sight perceptions, why do we build our lives that way?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tilling the Land – Cultivating our Hearts and Minds



This morning I read a favorite verse which connected nicely with my meditations in previous posts on The Bible, The Word, and the Seed; it is Proverbs 12:11: “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.” There is a similar thought in Proverbs 28:19, “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.

As a vegetable gardener I know that I have to pay constant attention to the soil, to the food-bearing plants in the soil, and to the weeds. I can’t take a week off during growing season and think that the garden will take care of itself, it won’t – if I don’t care for the garden the weeds will have their way. During growing season there are some plants that require daily attention lest their fruit spoil or grow so large that it looses its tenderness and taste – okra and zucchini are two examples. I sometimes wonder why we bother with okra because so much of our crop gets out of hand and we can’t use it.

A garden tended daily is a healthy garden; a garden tended daily also is healthier for the gardener than the gardener trying to play catch-up every few days – a garden tended sporadically will not yield its potential and it will be wearisome work for the gardener. There is nothing quite so demoralizing as to see one’s work of planting overrun with weeds.

The man or woman or young person who tills the ground of heart and mind with God’s Word on a daily basis will have a perpetual harvest of food; food not only to eat himself (or herself) but food to give others. Those who work the soil to the point of having dirt under their fingernails, those whose hands have the color of earth impregnated in their pores, those whose love of the earth make them one with the earth so that the two are indistinguishable – these are those who are one with the Word, those who have embraced the Word, who have responded to the exhortation of James (1:21), “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

What does my harvest in the Word look like today?

What about yours?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

West Virginia Water



Regarding the poisoning of water in West Virginia:

The authorities say that the water is not deadly, yet they also instruct the citizens not to drink it, wash clothes or dishes with it, nor bathe in it. They have declared an emergency and they are shipping in water for people to use. Yet they say it is not deadly, that whatever harm it may cause is minimal.

When a toxic container breaks, and the barrier and containment system fails, waterways are poisoned.

There used to be containers and containment systems for pornography, now that they have been dismantled do we not understand that our moral waterways are toxic? Once we had at least the myth of morality and ethics – now all is pragmatic, narcissistic, and pleasure is the one infallible rule; what is the logical result when a society drinks from this water?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Bible, The Word, The Seed – Part 3



Concluding (I think) our reflections on the seed sown among thorns, Luke’s distinctive contribution to the parable is the following:

“The see which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity”, Luke 8:14 (emphasis added).

There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about having pleasure in life; there is something warped when pleasure is the driving force and purpose of life. We cannot seek God and seek pleasure simultaneously any more than we can seek God and seek anything else simultaneously. One reason that we cannot serve God and money is that, as Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters”. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake leads to an opium den in which our lives are passed-away and wasted in a dream-like state of being; unresponsive to surrounding realities, particularly eternal realities.

In the West the raison d'ĂȘtre is pleasure; pleasure derived from money, from power, from fame, from adventure, from sex, from possessions – we are intoxicated by pleasure, we are seduced by pleasure, numbed by pleasure, blinded by pleasure, and made morally and spiritually bankrupt in our pursuit of pleasure. Pleasure, in its myriad forms, is our drug of choice.

Jesus does not say, “If anyone comes after me let him pursue his pleasure of choice,” but rather, “If anyone comes after me let him take up his cross and follow me”. Keep in mind that a cross was a form of execution, not a form of narcissistic self-fulfillment and gratification.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant…conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power…”  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (emphasis added).

It is difficult to live in a society that worships pleasure; it is more difficult to live in the context of a professing church that tends to place personal comfort and pleasure above the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ. Giving no offense is not only the recurring theme of the world, it has become the recurring theme of much of the church; not only do we not witness to others because we don’t want the risk of offending, we shy away from the Cross as the way of life in our preaching and teaching because we dare not offend congregations lest they stop attending and giving. Our vision of the Cross is obscured by misty shrouds of pleasure, we may be able to find our pews in church but we can’t seem to locate the Cross. We either sing The Old Rugged Cross sentimentally or we don’t sing it at all; and while what is termed “praise and worship music” has its place, the Cross has little place in it. It is more important that we leave church gatherings feeling good than as broken bread and poured out wine for others; we often come to church seeking to have lives of pleasure validated rather than seeking to have our lives transformed into the image of the crucified Jesus. (Consider Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that he determined to know nothing when he was with them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.)

What is it that typically displaces reading of the Word of God, meditating on the Word, and obedience to the Word? It is love of money, worry, desires for other things, and pleasure – we rationalize away our lack of love for God and His revelation through the Bible. We put other things, including ourselves, before God and His Word.

Today, as I prepare to begin another day on this planet, another day that God has given me, am I taking up my cross to follow Jesus? Am I preparing my heart in His Word to seek the Cross in all I do and say? Whatever this day holds, will I look to the Cross of Christ as my North Star?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Bible, The Word, The Seed – Part 2



Continuing our focus on the seed sown on soil with thorns in the Parable of the Sower; we saw in the previous post that all three evangelists record worry and a desire for riches as thorns choking the seed, choking the Word of God in our lives. Mark and Luke each add another element to the picture of thorns, first Mark:

“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”, Mark 4:18-19 (emphasis added).

The clutter of weeds can kill a fruit-bearing plant, the clutter of things can kill fruit in the Christian life. If I plant bean seeds in my garden but do not keep the rows weeded the weeds may soon cover the rows, blocking light from the beans, absorbing moisture, growing tall, to the point where a passerby would have no idea that someone planted bean seeds in the area, a garden would no longer be a garden.

We can only have so many things in our lives, we can only use our time in so many ways. The West, with its consumer culture, has the mantra – consume, consume, consume. Like a dog grown fat by being fed too many treats, our lives have grown fat with consumption. The shopping malls serve us treats, television and other media feed us treats, restaurants spend millions to entice us to consume their treats – consumption chokes out the Word of God, not giving it room to breathe, to germinate, to grow, to develop. We think we deserve to be consumers, that we deserve more, that we deserve bigger and better…and we convince ourselves that surely God will understand why we have no time for Him and His Word and for the welfare of others…we’ve convinced ourselves that God understands that we need to consume and that it is perfectly understandable that we don’t have time for His Word.

Entertainment stifles the seed sown; we justify hours upon hours of weekly diversion while the Bible sits unopened and unknown. We are like disembodied spirits flitting in and out of television channels, games, special events, activities that we just “have to do”…and all the while the thorns grow, sinking their roots into the ground, choking the Word of God.

Jesus says that desires for other things choke the Word. Do we desire His Word? Do we desire the Seed that He has sown? If so, what does that desire look like? Would an observer see that desire? Do friends and family members see that desire? How does our desire for the Word of God compare with our desires for other things? Where is the proof of our desire for God and His Word in our lives?

And lest active professing Christians become complacent, we’re talking about a desire for God’s Word, not church activities, not a desire for popular Christian books, not a desire for speakers who make us feel good, who motivate us, who have large followings or boutique unusual teachings – we are talking about our desire for a personal encounter with the Word of God, the Bible, and the God who lives and speaks to us through His Word. If you found yourself in a land with no Bibles and you had no Bible, would you be able to take the people of that land from Genesis to Revelation? If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time and the answer is “no”, then why not? Functionally literate people who read the Bible, and then read it again, and then read it again ought to be able to go anywhere in the world and share the Biblical narrative with others – that is, after all, our calling and commission in Christ. We are called to be disciples.

Is the desire for other things choking the Word of God in your life?

For me, I know that I must weed my garden everyday…I must desire the good plants so much that I’ll weed come rain or shine, whether I feel like it or not.

What about you?

To be continued…

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Bible, The Word, The Seed



In thinking about the Bible, about knowing it, reading it, living it; about what the Bible should look like in my life in the coming year, I find myself drawn to the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. As some have pointed out, this teaching of Jesus might be better titled, The Parable of the Seed, for in the parable we see four trajectories that the Word of God can take in our lives – we might call them four frameworks, four storylines. There are three camera angles in the parable, the perspective of the sower, the perspective of the seed, and the perspective of the soil; the soil being those who encounter the seed of the Word of God. How do we, the soil, hear the Word and how do we respond to it? What does that look like in our lives right now?

I am particularly drawn to the third type of soil:

“Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out”, Matthew 13:7.

“Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop,” Mark 4:7.

“Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out”, Luke 8:7.

Now let’s look at Jesus’ explanation of the above:

“And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of this age and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”, Matthew 13:22.

“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”, Mark 4:18-19.

“The see which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity”, Luke 8:14.

There are two elements common to Jesus’ explanation in all three accounts – worry and money. Since wealth means different things to different people, we need not think in terms of the super wealthy, we do better to think of ourselves. I recall the time I received a pay increase from $3.75 per hour to $4.00 per hour – I thought I had arrived! Does my desire for economic security and advancement choke the Word of God in my life? A person making minimum wage can answer “yes” to that question as readily as can someone with millions of dollars. Neither the poor nor the wealthy nor the middle class should deceive themselves into thinking that they need not look in the Biblical mirror on this issue. If I justify my lack of Bible reading and meditation and reflection and prayer on the grounds that I have work to do (a common temptation when we are connected via the internet) then I have a problem, weeds and thorns are growing in my heart and mind and they are choking the Word as a boa construction wraps itself around its prey. The desire for money will swallow us.

Worry is the other element common to Matthew, Mark and Luke. As wisteria kills a host tree by blocking the sunlight, so worry blocks the Word of God, setting itself on the throne of our hearts, infiltrating our minds, so that we function in darkness, groping for direction, groping for peace, groping for rest…and finding none. We choose to worry instead of reading God’s Word, we elect to fret rather than meditating on the Bible, we drink from the tap of worry rather than drink from the cup of God’s love and grace and lordship. We exercise our wills in self-focus rather than on the God who deserves our praise and surrender.

What does the garden of my heart look like? What is growing within me? What fruit am I bearing? What am I cultivating? What am I weeding out? What am I nurturing? How sad to have planted good seed and to see it choked and wasted and unfruitful as a result of weeds. Am I a good and faithful gardener of the Word that Jesus Christ has sown in my life? Where am I in the Parable of the Sower?

To be continued…     

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Psalms




In addition to reading at least one chapter of a Gospel each day, I include the Psalms in my daily reading. The Psalms are, after all, the church’s ancient prayer book and hymnal; replete with praise and thanksgiving, with repentance, with questions we all want to ask God from time-to-time. Psalms takes us to great heights and it meets us at our lowest depths; it speaks of unbridled joy and dark despair; it draws us into intimate relationship with our Good Shepherd while giving us a sense of pilgrimage in the company of saints.

I have found great comfort and hope in Psalms over the years; I have also found myself under the searchlight of a righteous and just and holy God as I have journeyed through these 150 hymns and prayers; and thankfully I’ve also found His sweet mercy meeting me in these pages. The passages are old friends, and while they are familiar they also continue to hold hidden treasures and I never know when a particular psalm will extend its hand to me, displaying new insights and delights to my heart and mind.

Consider that the psalms are over 2,000 years old; they have been prayed and sung across the world in countless languages and in myriad circumstances. They have been intoned in great cathedrals and they have been the last words uttered by those tortured for their faith in Jesus. They have been proclaimed in the midst of fear and uncertainty and they have been shouted in triumphal thanksgiving. For every situation, for every quandary, for every day, for every season – there is a psalm.

Beginning each day with Psalms…that is a good way to begin a day and a good way to live life.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reading the Bible

Building on yesterday's post:

There are various Bible-reading plans available, just check the "web" and you'll find some; one size does not fit all. The important thing is to start, to turn the ignition and actually drive the car. As you learn to read the Bible you can figure out what schedule of Bible reading appeals to you, you may very well devise your own plan over time - but the important thing is to actually do it, to really read and know the Bible - not just portions of it, not just pieces of it, not just a verse here or there - without the entire scope of Biblical context you'll never really know the various sections of the Bible - because all of the sections, all of the books, are part of a great story, woven together they are God's revelation of Himself to mankind.

In my own Bible reading I want to always be reading a Gospel, at least one chapter per day. Whatever else I'm reading I want to include a Gospel in my reading. My thinking is that it is the four Gospels that portray our Lord Jesus, that contain most of His recorded words (there are sections of the letters, Acts, and Revelation in which His words are also recorded). While all of the Bible reveals Jesus Christ (and we ought to always be looking for Christ in what we are reading) the Gospels reveal Him in particular and focused ways, and each Gospel has a particular presentation of Jesus. After all, Jesus Christ is Christianity and Christianity is Jesus Christ...at least Biblical Christianity is...I want to know Him and love Him more today than I did yesterday. The Gospels seem like a good place to center my life.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

260

There are 365 days in a year, 366 in a leap year. Then there is the number 260.

There is also the number 1,189; which if divided by 365 gives us 3.25 - let's round it up to an even 4.

As you read this, the very moment you read this, there are men and women risking their lives to bring a precious gift to others, a gift which we in the West take for granted, a gift that Christians in the West take for granted. Some of the risk involves living in harsh conditions, exposure to disease, unsanitary environments, civil war, famine, and brigands. Others risk arrest for transporting and distributing the precious gift, and if arrested they face torture, imprisonment, and death. Yes, as you are reading this there are such women and men in the world; they are not in comfort, they are not in safety, and they are not certain about what tomorrow may bring.

These men and women have always been among us, for the past twenty centuries they have traveled this world in the midst of myriad cultures, languages, governments, and peoples. Most of their names have not been recorded, many of them have died isolated deaths with no earthly person to provide solace in their dying moments - but none of them suffered or died in vain. They suffered on behalf of others to provide a priceless gift, a gift which we in the West take for granted. 

The priceless gift these men and women paid for is the Bible; translating it, printing it, conveying it, distributing it, proclaiming it - we who speak English have our Bibles because centuries ago others paid dearly to translate it and print it and distribute it - and now we merchandise it, make it a profit center, and much worse...we don't read it, we don't know it, we don't treasure it. We treat the Bible the way we treat designer jeans, at least in terms of marketing it; while we might wear the jeans, we seldom use the Bible. 

Luther, who risked his life to translate the Bible into German, lamented the likelihood that one day people would read everything but the Bible - he was right. I know people who can tell me all about books written by a popular religious author but who can't talk to me about the Bible - these are church-going people, these are professing Christians, these are folks often raised in church - how oh how can this be?

No other book transmits the Person of God and Christ as the Bible; no other book washes our hearts and minds and spirits as does the Bible, no other book has the Bread of Life residing in it as does the Bible, and no other book trains our minds to think and our hearts to feel as God thinks and feels and sees as does the Bible. And yet...and yet...we are strangers to its pages, foreigners to its drama, aliens to its thoughts...what should be the atmosphere of our lives is instead air that we are unaccustomed to breathing. 

The New Testament consists of 260 chapters, if you will read only one chapter per day you will have read the entire New Testament in 2014. Both Old and New Testaments consist of 1,189 chapters; if you read just 4 chapters per day you will have read the entire Bible in 2014. Whether is it 260 or 1,189...isn't it time to begin your journey?