The man of God reads the book of God to commune with God, ‘to feel after him and find him,’ to feel his power and divinity stirring within him; to have his soul fired, quickened, animated by the spirit of grace and truth. He reads the Bible to enjoy the God of the Bible. … such a one converses with God as one who speaks by signs. His readings are heavenly musings. God speaks: he listens.
The following “better than average story” is the work of a dear friend of mine, Kathy Read, long-time secretary for the Missouri Street Church of Christ in Baytown, TX.
In today’s normal use of the language, we rarely use the word “exhort,” a word meaning “strong or ardent urging.” However, it seems that God inserts a wide variety of exhortations and reminders into our lives, some being ones we would never have even dreamed possible. For example, who would ever have considered the word used for exhortation to be “Arf?”
Now this year’s Bible reading project in my church family is the Psalms. I will freely confess: a regular reader of the Psalms I am not. I am not! But, I am once again giving this project a try.
Evening is when I do my reading in the Psalms and my evenings are spent with the faithful companion that God put in my life about ten years ago. She is a wee, small thing, currently down to her 98 pounds from her high of 110. In the dog pound she looked so beaten down and sad, but she looked at me like, “Please, take me out of this place!” And so I did and named her Shadow.
Now Shadow exhorts me at times. She has various ways to do this exhorting. Sometimes it is with a look. At other times it is an ear-piercing bark. And at still other times it is by simply walking over to the fridge and staring at the door as she tries to get her frozen marshmallows to materialize for our 7:00 p.m. game of catch. They are a relatively safe item to throw in the house, especially the mini-size. Great fun.
But, back to the Bible reading project. Normally about 8:00 p.m. I’ll say to my companion, “It is time to go read the Bible.” And after several weeks of this it is now routine for us, most nights. We go into the living room where the good old recliner and lamp are and we get comfortable; me in the chair and her laying right next to me on the floor. This year after nearly falling asleep reading silently, I decided maybe I’d get more out of it if I read the Psalms aloud … to Shadow. She doesn’t mind the mistakes or mispronunciations. After a few sighs, she looks up at me as if to say, “All is well” and she stops throwing balls at me and talking to me about various topics I’m still trying to understand and we read half a dozen Psalms or so together.
That is “Normally.” Some nights I doze off in front of the television and that is when my personal encourager/exhorter kicks in. She comes over next to me and stands there looking at me until she wakes me up. I’m supposed to move at this point, but some nights I can’t budge. She begins pacing back and forth from me to the recliner, to the recliner and me. If movement does not take place quickly enough, she walks back to me with a soft bark and walks back to the recliner. If by then I still haven’t gotten into gear, her exhortation kicks into high gear. She has the most ear splitting “Arf” you can imagine! You need ear protection for jet engines … and Shadow. By then, I’m on my way to the recliner, my Bible, and the lamp.
I start in with “O Lord” or “Sing to our God” or one of those beginning phrases throughout Psalms and once again the contented sigh is heard in satisfaction, knowing she has accomplished the work that God has placed in her being, to be that encouragement that a person needs in this world today.
Several thoughts come from this little message – exhortations to us all – but two stand out to me in this moment. First, look for the good, the encouragement in the smallest of things, and you will find it. And the second – the most important – is this: if hearing God’s word brings peace and contentment to an old dog, just imagine the joy and happiness it brings to God himself if we take the time to read of his love story to us.
Peace and “Arf!” to you!
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him … (Ephesians 1.3-4a NIV)
That is our very first memory verse in this project and what a great one it is, no? Week # 1, starting today, Ephesians 1.3-4a. You can do this!
But now, (sigh) on to the excuses …
Excuse #1: Uh, the dog ate my announcement sheet that had the memory verse on it.
A. Bad dog; b-a-d dog! Lucky for you the week’s text is also available on my Facebook and Twitter, on the church’s text message group and e-News (like this one), the projection announcements, and more. Not to mention – you can always make my day and just ask me. 😉
Excuse #2: I don’t like the version selected that we’re supposed to memorize the passage in because it isn’t the one I use most of the time and it sounds different.
A. Get over it. That’s right, that’s what I said – get over it.
Think of it like this. If Jesus showed up and said something to your face one way one day and then, a few days later, spoke of the very same subject, but in slightly different words, would you correct him and say, “Hey, that’s not how you said it three days ago! That was the only right way and this way isn’t!” Uh, not, you wouldn’t. You’d gladly accept both ways of saying it; in fact, you’d be very humbled and grateful he even spoke to you at all, right? In fact, that’s what we have time and again with parallel passages throughout the Bible.
Well, it works the exact same way with Bible translations. Same thought/different words. Accept it. Further, learn to like it. Because it is the meaning you’re ultimately after, right, not just some argument over words?
Besides, if you can’t express the same thought two different ways, I dare say you don’t really understand the thought in it well enough yet. So don’t resist variation, rather, run to embrace it. And so, allow such moments to deepen your awareness, learning, understanding, and thinking … not allowing the devil to play with your head and lead you to grumble about the very words of God.
Excuse #3: I’ve got a Bible. Several of them. Paper and digital. On my tablet and my phone. With every word in the Bible so easily and quickly accessible, tell me why I need to memorize these texts?
A. You asked frankly so, I’ll respond frankly: because they’re everywhere except where they can be doing some good for you all of the time. Knowing where your Bible is, what you think it says, where to find things in it – none of these can take the place of keeping the word of God in your heart. It is the difference between having a package of seeds and having those seeds in the ground.
Excuse #4: I. Need. Help. Because. This. Is. Hard. For. Me.
A. Fair enough; that is not an excuse; that’s a sincere cry for help! So, here are four truly helpful tips …
* Memorize the text in small pieces (4-8 words) at a time. Get that piece down cold – meaning you can say it aloud consistently, instantaneously, and flawlessly every time – before you add the next words. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
* Write the passage out several times each day (no typing allowed). This forces you to think about every letter of every word and engages an additional, powerful sense in the work – your sense of touch – which will – write it down! – greatly aid your memory.
* Pay close attention to movement in the passage. As in the sense of time (past, present, future) as well as other matters (who, what, where, why, how). Note as well things like causation (e.g. – “because,” “by,” “from”), company (e.g. – “with,” “in”) direction (e.g. – “to,” “up,” “down”), and consequence (e.g. – “so that,” “in order that”). Think of these matters as something like road signs along the way. Often those “little” words will prompt you to remember the entire following string of words.
* Use your body to help your brain. Get in front of a mirror and use gestures to help convey the meaning of the text as you say it aloud. For example, does the passage speak of something being done to you or inside of you? If so, point at your heart. Does it address a group a people with words like “us” or “we?” Then broadly gesture as if toward a crowd with the sweep of your hand. Is God addressed? Look up while you say the word “God.” You get the idea. Just try it; it works wonders with your memory!
Excuse #5: This really does look like a great project and I’d really like to do it, but you just don’t know how busy my life is right now and …
A. Then you’re too busy for your own good. So get real honest, inventory what occupies your time, stop doing something (or cut back), and make memorizing what the Holy Spirit has said to you a greater desire and a higher priority.
Pick something: spend less time on social media, not as much time with the news, put this in place of some of your music or video time, etc.
Multi-task: write the week’s text on a sticky-note and tack it where you are at the moment (on the mirror while you’re shaving or putting on your make-up; on the equipment or in the palm of your hand while you exercise; on your dashboard while you’re driving; etc.).
You have the time. Reject telling yourself otherwise. Just make this matter a higher priority and let something of lower priority slide, for God speaking to you is rather important, no?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him … (Ephesians 1.3-4a NIV)
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119.105)
Every year at MoSt Church we involve ourselves in a church-wide Bible reading project. This coming year’s project (2017) is called C45 and is a micro-level reading approach.
What does C45 mean? The C in C45 stands for “crucial” and the “45” is the project’s length (45 weeks).
What’s C45 about? In a very few words: as a church, we’ll memorize and meditate on 45 very brief but vital Scriptures between Jan. 8 and Nov. 26, 2017.
Where will we be in the word? We’ll be into the Old Testament (e.g. – Numbers 6.24-26; Psalm 46.1-2; Proverbs 3.5-6; Isaiah 29.13; Micah 6.8). And we’ll also be all over the New Testament (e.g. – Acts 2.38; 3.19; Colossians 3.17; 4.5; Hebrews 4.14-16; 1 John 1.7; Jude 24). At times we’ll focus on a context for awhile, lingering on a chunk of Scripture (e.g. – Matthew 5.3-12a; Philippians 2.2-4; Colossians 1.15-20; James 1.19-21). However, most of the time we’ll be “here and there.”
How long is each week’s text to memorize? No week’s text exceeds 35 words in length (e.g. – Matthew 22.37-38; 1 Peter 1.3). That is very, very doable; not burdensome at all. In fact, many weeks the text length to commit to memory is 25 words or less (e.g. – Exodus 34.6b-7a; Psalm 55.22). Some weeks the text is even uber-brief: think 15 words or less (e.g. – Galatians 5.6b; Philippians 1.21; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18a).
Which version of the Bible will we use in this project? No one translation, but a variety. However, the CEB, KNT, NIV, NLT, NRSV, and The Voice will predominate. Why? We’ll select on the basis of which works best for that text for this project.
Let me tell you: this is going to be good stuff!
Classes and sermons will supplement. You’ll be encouraged to journal, but memorize for sure. Consider now how you can share such with your friends and/or family then. Get creative.
So, be encouraged and determine to be an encouragement. Gear up with anticipation and prayer. Get thirsty for the word of the Lord and prepare to drink it in.
Remember: C45. Mark it down: January 8. And watch for “C45” in the coming weeks/months and you’ll see much more word to come on this project throughout the coming weeks/months.
All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work. (2 Timothy 3.16-17, The Voice)
You shower or bathe daily, right? For this we’re all even more grateful, right? And yet, what about your ways with others? When was the last time you carefully washed away any filth and scrubbed off all of the stink that’s a part of the way you treat others? Has it been awhile?
You use toothpaste and/or mouthwash, right? For this, we’re all very thankful. But, do you do a brain and heart wash? Have you even done that this week?
To be sure – we all need it. And we dare not think we can “skip a day” or that we’re “good enough” for we all know that there are plenty of times that we think we pass “the sniff test,” but others would tell us, if prodded for honesty and they were true friend, that … parts of us, well, just plain stink or that there’s dirt in places we can’t see. For just as a person will never see 30% of their own body without the aid of a mirror, so there is no small percentage of our ways to which we will always remain blind, nose blind even, without the help of others.
And so, we all need others – especially the others we don’t think we need!
Remember: honest to God Christian faith is not about you and God. It is about God and your relationship with him and all others. Think “one another,” not merely “me and him.”
All of which leads me to note: there are several dozen instances of the phrase “one another” in the New Testament and a significant number of them – quite a cluster, really – appear in the latter part of Romans (ch.12-16). And while we’re reading through Romans right now, I’d encourage all of us to keep our eyes open for these passages.
And why is that? Because they speak clearly and directly to the heart of a very important matter – to use our common and terribly watered-down way of speaking today – how church members treat other church members. All of them. Take the time to seriously ponder what it would look like for you to carefully live these things out in your life, and deeply so. To the point that you became a walking, talking embodiment of each one of them in your ways with others, all others, beginning with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Each of these nine statements are exceedingly brief, so brief in fact that you could easily memorize one in the morning and turn it over and over again in your mind throughout the course of a day.
Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12.10a)
Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12.10b)
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Romans 12.16; cf. 15.5)
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13.8)
… let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14.13)
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus … (Romans 15.5; cf. 12.16)
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15.7)
… instruct one another. (Romans 15.14)
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16.16)
Think of these matters as floss for your heart and body wash for your behavior. And then imagine a church full of people practicing the same every day.
Courteous, to say the very least, no? Respectful, to be sure. In truth – beautiful.
Here are links to five articles that I have found to be interesting and helpful reading.
American history, corruption, fear, hate, hysteria, intimidation, lynchings, racism, revenge, rumors, social memory, suspicion, terrorism & violence: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror [essential reading]
“Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism.”
Bible study, humility & reading: How to Make the Most of Your Bible Study [essential reading]
“We are pulled in many directions: work, family, ministry, fitness and many other activities tug at our schedules. The more we are tugged, the more we have to work to guard the time we give to personal study of our Bibles. When we are at last able to sit down to read, we want every precious minute to count. Whether we have 15 minutes or two hours, we want our efforts to yield the most benefit possible. But how can we make the most of the time we have to read and study?”
Community & forgiveness: The Act of Rigorous Forgiving
“There’s something sad in Brian Williams’s need to puff up his Iraq adventures and something barbaric in the public response. … the larger question is how we build community in the face of scandal. Do we exile the offender or heal the relationship? Would you rather become the sort of person who excludes, or one who offers tough but healing love?”
God, non-violence, violence & witness: Why NO Violence in Jesus’ Name is Justified
“The character of God is manifested when instead of employing violence against enemies to crush them, Jesus loves his enemies in order to redeem them. The kingdom is revealed when instead of protecting himself, Jesus allows himself to be murdered. God’s love is marvelously put on display when instead of clinging to his perfect holiness, Jesus puts himself in the place of sinners. And the nature of the rule of God shines radiantly in Jesus’ final prayer for the forgiveness of those who moments earlier mocked him, spit on him, whipped him, and crucified him (Luke 23:34).
“This is simply who God is and what God is up to in the world, and so living consistent with God’s character, reflected by the cross and the teachings of Jesus, is simply what it means to submit to God’s reign. In sharp contrast to the kingdom-of-the-world thinking, therefore, disciples of Jesus aren’t to act first and foremost on the basis of what seems practical or effective at securing a good outcome. We are to act on the basis of what is faithful to the character and reign of God, trusting that, however things may appear in the short term, in the long run God will redeem the world with such acts of faithfulness.”
Judging, judgment & love: Judgment: Isn’t Judging Others Healthy?
“Isn’t it time to for us to ruthlessly cut out judgment of one another from our sermons, conversations and mindsets? Isn’t it time for us to address personal and social change with long suffering love and when that doesn’t work—doesn’t transform ourselves and those we ought to care for—shouldn’t we try long-suffering love again?”
Here are links to several posts that I’ve found to be interesting and helpful reading.
Ancient world, archaeology, children & toys: Ancient Toys
“It is often easy to forget that the characters we read about in the Bible and in the history books were real people, and lived much like we do today.”
Bible, culture, faith & reading: * These Are the Most Godless Cities in America; * Actually, THESE Are the Most Godless Cities in America
* “The American Bible Society measures ‘Bible-mindedness’ by how strictly survey respondents read the book and believe in its accuracy. … The American Bible Society found that only 27% of Americans are Bible-minded. The data was based up on telephone and online interviews with 62,896 adults …”
* “In response to the ABS study, the popular Bible-searching website BibleGateway.com has released a study of its own with some striking findings. Based only on how often people in a given city use its Bible-searching software (and controlling for population size) … Bible Gateway’s different methodology—which, perhaps most significantly, does not take into account whether or not a reader considers the Bible to be literally true—yields some remarkable differences from the ABS study.”
Fear & idolatry: The Greatest False Idol of Modern Christianity [essential reading; spot-on!]
“Parroting the politicized talk show hosts and reposting the latest terrible news stories, we perpetuate the now comfortable, Evangelical Christian narrative of impending destruction, and we make it clear at every opportunity: The sky is falling.
“Though we will loudly, repeatedly and confidently proclaim Christ as Lord, in reality, many of us no longer practice faith in a God that has any real power, any true control or inherent God-ness. We seem to have little more than a neutered figurehead Deity, who doesn’t seem to be able to handle much at all anymore. He’s lost His Old Testament swagger.
“The truth is, Fear has become a false God, one too many of us worship with complete and undying devotion.
“Dig just beneath the sunny ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ Bible covers, and the ‘God’s judgment is coming’ bullhorn warnings and you’ll find that much of America has imagined a powerless God who’s mostly just keeping Heaven tidy until all the Christians get there. In the meantime, we live in perpetually frightened freak-out mode.”
Fear, manhood, men & respect: The Problem with Men and Why We Ignore It/Them at Our Own Risk
“… human males crave respect. For most males, boys and men, respect is somewhere near the top of their hierarchy of needs. I would go so far as to say that, if they were to be completely honest, when asked which they would prefer if they had to choose one over the other most males would take respect over love. And, perhaps unfortunately, part of that craving for respect is desiring to be respected for their maleness. …
“… “when boys and men conclude they will not gain respect they turn to fear. That is, for many, creating fear of them in others becomes a substitute for respect. Fear feels, to them, like respect or at least is an acceptable substitute. Boys and men who feel respected rarely turn to fear as a substitute. They are satisfied with respect (or the real prospect of it). However, boys and young men who believe respect is out of their reach often turn to implied violence if not real violence such as intimidation.
“Nothing I have said implies this is how things should be. However, I have concluded that this male habit of the heart is so deeply ingrained that it is unlikely to be changed by social engineering or anything else. We ignore it at our own cost as a society.”
God, providence & sports: Aaron Rodgers: God Probably Doesn’t Care Who Wins Football Games
“‘I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome,’ Rodgers [quarterback for the Green Bay Packers] said. ‘He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.’ …
“… [meanwhile,] Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — an outspoken Christian — told reporter Peter King that a divine influence made Sunday’s barnburner so exciting. ‘That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special,’ Wilson said, according to King.”