Thursday, May 25, 2017

What do I read next in my Bible?

I have not done it in many years, but sometimes I have just opened my Bible in a random fashion to see what God had to say to me.  It was sort of a modern take on the casting of lots or Urim and Thurim.  How do I know God's will?  Let's roll the dice so to speak.  I would hesitate to say one should never do this.  One is reading God's Word.  That is good.  In recent years a funny story has crossed my path a couple of times.  A young man want to know what to do with his life so he opens his Bible in this random fashion and the Scripture Matthew 27:5 about Judas is what the page opened to and the eye caught, "...and he went and hanged himself."  Feeling discouraged by such a dark passage he decided to try again and get a more positive Scripture passage.  He opened the Bible this time and came up with Luke 10:37 which told him "You go and do likewise." I have no idea whether that story is real or not.  I'm guessing it is not.  I would say I have often opened the Bible randomly and received more positive and more helpful passages.  Not that positive and helpful is the purpose of the Bible.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that in Question and Answer 3 the following:

Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.1

1. Micah 6:8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

When we approach the Scripture to find out what job I should take or if I should by this business or not, we are seeking from the Scripture something that is askew from the main purpose.  That is not to say there is no good in seeking guidance and wisdom, which often does come from Scripture.  If I wonder if I should explore serving other God's besides the one true living God, the Scripture does tell me what to do.  God of the Bible forbids it.  While my country does not specify whom I should serve in religion, the Bible tells me whom I am to serve.

In deciding what to read in the Bible there are two approaches to take.  The first is to figure out what issues in our life need addressing then read the book of the Bible or select passages that deal with that passage.  Often our questions that we would like the Bible to answer do not line up with that 3rd Question and Answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Our primary questions should be in line with our primary needs, but sometimes our hearts are not ready for that.  Our hearts ask for questions about suffering, marriage, finances, living a good life, and how to be wise.  The Scripture does address these, so going to those passages addressing those sorts of questions that are on our hearts can be an entrance to Scripture reading.  However, if we see the Bible as just a self-help book helping us with temporal concerns in the here and now, we may never get to the greater teachings of Scripture.  We must eventually look at deeper questions such as who is God?  Who is Jesus?  What is salvation?  Salvation from what?  What is sin?  How do I serve God?

What do I read next based on my need?  You can choose a temporal, earthly need or an eternal issue.  Either one can be a starting point.  It should not be an end though.

One way to address the topical issues is to look at Nave's Topical Bible.  Billy Graham in his ministry recommended this tool and there are versions on line.

http://www.naves-topical-bible.com/
http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/naves-topical-bible/

Another way to find topical Scripture passages is to use Concordances.  Today this activity can be easily done by searching for words in Bible Software.  There are many ways this can be accomplished.  There are Bible apps and applications.  Some of them for free such as put out by http://CrossWire.org. There are websites that have the whole Bible on them as searchable text.  Examples: Biblegateway.org, netbible.org, and esv.org.

Google can also be helpful by Googling phrases like, "What the Bible says about wisdom".  The auto complete of "What the Bible says about" can tell you a bit of what is on people's minds.

The other way to read the Bible is to read through the whole thing.  Ligonier Ministry has a bunch of different Bible reading plans on a page dedicated for this purpose.  There are charts for just reading one chapter at a time over three years.  There Bible reading plans that take one through the whole Bible in a year.  There is the M’Cheyne plan which takes one through the whole Bible in a year, but takes one through the Psalms and New Testament a second time.   The ESV.ORG site also has reading plans.

For myself, I am reading shorter passages but listening to a podcast which reads the ESV with the M'Cheyne plan.    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What is Sacred: Reading Mathew 23:16-26

Reading Matthew 23:16-23 helps us see how we are slack in giving respect for all aspects of God's creation.  While we might not use God's name in vain, we might not speak well of our fellow man.  These are beings created in God's image.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that the have it wrong when they teach that swearing by the Temple brings no obligation, but swearing by its gold does.  Jesus points out parallel teachings they have, where they teach about limits of the Law.  Jesus points out how the sacred has relationships and effects to other things.  We might see that we have not been recognizing the holy and the sacred in our own lives.

Another teaching of Jesus in this section has to do acting to advance justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  Justice is seeking the right.  Mercy acting forgiving, not giving punishment that someone deserves.  Faithfulness is being true to virtue and duty when it is costly to do so.  These are in contrast with the Pharisee practices of greed and self-indulgence.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reading Jesus Warnings in Matthew 23:6-15

In Matthew 23:6-15, Jesus talks about the dynamics of being a religious leader. When we are religious leaders there is a temptation to exalt our own reputation. There is a temptation even in obeying to do it for the motive of stroking our ego. In my home in the Ozarks it was the practice the churches I grew up in to not use titles like Reverend. Pastors were often called brother, but then again other men in the church could be called brother and the women sister. It seems that brother could also be used as a title of honor also. The intent is to not do that though. After completing seminary I have found it a challenge to find a traditional ministry with the honor that is common in American Protestant churches. So my heart is sometimes seeking honor exactly in the way that Jesus warns against. My own heart has a subtle desire to seek honor and a not so subtle anger in response to dishonor. This is another call to the life to live daily repentance.

I've been listening on Audible book by Robert Linthicum called City of God, City of Satan.  In the book he tells about how he went to Australia to speak to urban pastors in Melbourne and Sydney.  He said that he felt the pastors were particularly strong in doing urban ministry because they 1. share pastoral responsibilities as a team, 2. have other jobs for their own livelihood, and 3. the church is able to serve in addiction rehabilitation centers and housing.  These pastors serve in a way that enables ministry even in a small church through their sacrificial lifestyle.  A part of my own goal has been to find ministry that is honorable, when I should be looking how to serve, even serve sacrificially.  This example given in the book is a challenge to my own plans and prayers for current and future ministry.

Jesus talks specifically about over seas mission. He says that when we do such work is that we may be responsible for propagating even more sever forms of religious pride and ego. I have personally wanted to be involved in missions overseas. While trying to fulfill the great commission in Matthew 28:19,20, I must not fall into the sin warned against in Matthew 23:15. At the same time, I can see the warnings in Matthew 23:6-15 being used to justify not going to the mission field. I can also see it being used to criticize those who would set an example that challenges our comfort and ease.

Pray with Me:

 Lord, Our hearts are full of pride. We take our duty to love you and make it a contest which we want to win. Forgive us. For give us for also making others join in the contest. We have these and many more sins. Forgive LORD we pray. Amen

Saturday, April 08, 2017

We Minister to The Grieving By Ministering to the Whole Person

The Bible sees the human as wholistic. The greatest command addresses the whole person in loving God. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut. 6:5 KJV) As we look at people to whom we minister we must use the wholistic approach. Tim Keller points out in his book on suffering that the western cultural mindset is to approach suffering by solving it through the use of a specialist. If you have a marriage problem one goes to a marriage counselor. If one has a legal problem one goes to a lawyer. Suffering of neglected children is solved by social worker. Each type of suffering is solved by a particular type of specialist. However, when we suffer it is complex and affects the whole person. When people grieve we often think of grief primarily as an emotional symptom that needs to be relieved, solved, or endured. Grief is the emotional response to loss, however, as Christians we must rightly see the whole person is involved in grieving process. While grief can be defined as emotional response to loss, there is almost always more emotions going on than a sense of grief. A widow may also feel apprehension about the loss of income. She may feel nostalgia at the memory her late husband at the most precious years together. A widower may feel disoriented if his wife was the organizer of the social calendar or check book. Someone terminally ill may grieve the end of their life, but he also may feel anger at a system that could not conquer the illness. Alternatively, he may feel contempt for those who did not come visit him in his closing hours. Death and illness are complex life events that push and pull on more than one emotion. These life events also push and pull on practical needs of individuals and their families. A dying person may refuse to write a will or dispose of property, leaving loose ends for the family or friends to figure out. Some start preparing to dispose of property, perhaps very early or too early. Someone who has lifelong health issues may have not key event that tells them something is now different. These emotional and practical needs are complicated by social practices. Some communities do not wish to see the illness or death of a person, so isolation of the suffering is the practice. This means that loneliness may be added to other suffering. Other communities the family and friends gather at the hospital, home, church or other communal place. The person suffering may or may not welcome this. It may be that the person desires privacy while suffering but at other times the person needs companionship while suffering. Another social factor that effects how someone suffers are the key examples the person has observed or heard about. Many people take queues from those they have observed; this is the way to go through the suffering. If an exemplar suffered by counting her blessings and reviewing her life blessings, that may be what the following sufferer does. If exemplar isolates herself or keeps the suffering a secret up until it can’t be hidden, that may be what the observer will also do. Personal habits can be very powerful way, of why someone acts a certain way even if cognitively it does not fit the situation. If someone in small things tries to always put a good face on something bad, then that may be the answer when the big questions of life arise in suffering. A denial of the bad may be the habit of the mind. If someone has a habit of blaming others when things go wrong, then unconsciously one may blame someone and anyone. Some but not all coaches tell athletes to ignore pain so that performance is not degraded by the pain. If this practice becomes a habit, a person may have difficulty navigating an illness since the person automatically moves to ignoring the pain. An aspect of the human that can be difficult to examine is the unconscious self that responds. Desire, motive and other responses are sometimes difficult for a person to recognize in himself. The Bible talks about the function of the Bible can be to expose hidden thoughts. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12 KJV) Jeremiah also touches upon this issue. “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jer. 17:10 KJV) The existence of the unconscious self is exposed by Scripture but also by it slipping out in other ways. Famously Freud pointed out that someone may substitute the word “mad” instead of “made” because there is deep anger. This is called a Freudian slip. This someone esoteric observation is probably not the primary way that we should pastorally discern motives and intentions that are unspoken and unexamined. Biblical preaching and pastoral visits are a part of exposing the unconscious self to the conscious self. In pastor visits talking with the person with an emphasis on listening can help. Asking what they feel or want can also be helpful in moving from unconscious to conscious. Good friendships and personal mentoring are also part of this journey. A lifelong practice of self-examination and repentance means that when storms of life hit there is some chance of being more in touch with the whole self. The Bible does not simply address the unconscious self though. As mentioned the greatest commandment to love God involves the whole being. Throughout Scripture the whole person is addressed and when appropriate a particular aspect of the human is discussed. Psalm 1 and 2 discuss the mind or the cognitive self. Many of the Psalms address the emotions felt at various seasons of life. The book of Proverbs discusses desire. The practices of holy living along are discussed in the Letters of Paul. The rich variety of whole human are addressed with great variety. While the temptation might be for pastors and other Christian workers to address one aspect, such as the emotion of grief in suffering, a more compelling approach to ministry is to minister to the whole person. The Scripture accounts for the whole person, so must our ministry. If we do not look at the whole person we may be guilty of violating this passage. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deut. 12:32 ESV) If we do not view a person wholistically we cannot obey this passage.