The Pastor as Teacher

St. Augustine has said, “The purpose of Scripture study is both to discover its meaning and to pass it on to others; both tasks to be undertaken with God’s help” (On Christian Doctrine, 106).  Within these words, we can ascertain the importance of a pastor serving as a teacher of the Bible.  To be an obedient teacher of the Bible, a pastor must possess numerous qualities, but three of these that merit discussion at this time are the prayerfulness of a pastor, the studiousness of a pastor, and the generosity of a pastor.  These characteristics will not only prepare the pastor to teach the truth of the Bible to those entrusted to their care, but they also serve as a model for those under that pastor’s care to become teachers of the Bible themselves. 

The central aspect of teaching the Bible is prayer.  In fact, prayer is what ultimately determines the profitability of the study of the Bible for both the teacher and the student.  Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  Prayer guides the teacher and student of the Bible to discern howthe Scriptures are true for the people of God.  Prayer makes people teachable and humble.  It causes one to be submissive to the instruction of the Holy Spirit as it relates to teachers and students.  While some attempt to teach the Bible simply as observation, prayer communicates to the teacher and student the personal necessity of understanding the “living and active” nature of the Bible (Hebrews 4:12-13). Most of all, prayer for teachers and students connects them with the very act of Jesus Christ, who spent a great amount of time in prayer before and after teaching and preaching the Bible to others (see Mark 1:35-39, et. al.).      

A good teacher of the Bible must also be a student of the Bible.  This places the pastor in the role as a perpetual student of the Scriptures, never graduating from the study of the sacred text, but always learning and wrestling with the meaning and application of the Bible.  The most effective teacher is one who still enjoys and is impacted by the lessons they teach.  Jesus, when instructing his disciples about the persecution they will endure, tells them in John 15:20, “A servant is not greater than his master.” The teacher of the Bible is a servant of the Master, Jesus Christ, and therefore, must be continually instructed in the truth of the Bible in order to properly instruct others. 

Lastly, a pastor must be a generous teacher.  A pastor must not withhold instruction from those in their care.  A pastor might be tempted to use preaching and teaching as an opportunity for self-promotion by attempting to impress his or her hearers with Bible knowledge instead of seeking to be a humble communicator of God’s life-changing message of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. After prayerful study, the pastor as teacher of the Bible will be prepared to deliver to the student the profitable meaning of the text and provide them with a grace-filled, vital application for life situations.  Again, the teaching of the Bible should not be a showcase of skillful rhetoric presenting interesting information—it is the communication of the life-giving truth of God, intended to edify and encourage the saints of God as they sojourn in this world, bringing to the saint the comfort of God in difficult times and relief from the condemnation of sin.  The generous teacher of the Bible equips their students with the ability to continue studying the Bible and encourages them to also become a teacher of the Bible themselves.

Therefore, the pastor who properly teaches the truth of Scripture is first and foremost a prayerful, generous student who understands the teaching of Luke 12:48, “to whom much was given, much will be required.”  The pastor has been given the word of life, found in the Bible, to discern and proclaim. May all pastors realize this and be faithful teachers of God’s truth to those God has entrusted to them.

The Nature of Grace

“Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman” by Ferdinand Bol

2 Kings 5:19-27

19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, “My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him.” 21 So Gehazi went after Naaman. When Naaman saw someone running after him, he jumped down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is everything all right?” 22 He replied, “Yes, but my master has sent me to say, ‘Two members of a company of prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim; please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 Naaman said, “Please accept two talents.” He urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and gave them to two of his servants, who carried them in front of Gehazi. 24 When he came to the citadel, he took the bags from them, and stored them inside; he dismissed the men, and they left.

25 He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” He answered, “Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.” 26 But he said to him, “Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants forever.” So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow.

It is no secret that I find great inspiration and wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His life and witness is a powerful example of following Jesus no matter the cost. In his well-known book Discipleship, Bonhoeffer begins by identifying cheap grace as the “mortal enemy of the church” and that the struggle in the church is for costly grace. For Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is the result of ignoring or abusing gift of God in Christ Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. It denies God’s living word and the incarnation. It is selfish and impersonal at the same time. It requires nothing except a weak wink and nod at its general truth and is not a lived faith. Cheap grace is only sought for the benefit of appearance and/or personal gain.

Costly grace, on the other hand, is grace that cannot ignore Jesus. It is grace that requires us to hear his command and obey. It is the grace that encourages us to count the cost and follow Him. It is the grace that makes no sense to an upside-down world of gratuitous living and indulgence. Costly grace reminds the Christian that the freedom we live in was not achieved by some throw-away event; it was achieved by the horrific death of the Eternal Son of God. Costly grace is the grace that unites the Savior with the sinner so that the sinner may live because the Savior dies. It cannot ever forget nor take for granted the cost of such an amazing grace.

For Bonhoeffer, it was cheap grace vs. costly grace. For Luther, it was a theology of glory vs. theology of the cross. In 2 Kings, it’s Elisha vs. Gehazi. Elisha has gone to great lengths to make clear that the one who heals is the Living God, not Elisha. He is not the authority or the power. He is only a messenger and vessel. His refusal to greet the great Naaman with an elaborate welcoming ceremony leading to a powerful service of healing testifies to his humility and submission to the LORD. Instead, Elisha speaks the words that God gave him and Elisha steps aside and God does the healing. This humility and submission is further witnessed when we see Elisha refuse the gifts from an appreciative Naaman. Why would Elisha accept gifts for something he didn’t have the power to do? Any response of Naaman should be directed in the form of worship of the Living God, not Elisha. We see this witness impact Naaman when he requests two mounds of dirt so he can worship the God who healed him. 

Gehazi is not like Elisha. While Elisha points attention away from himself, Gehazi sees an opportunity for personal enrichment and perhaps even a bit of disdain with Naaman seeing that he is a Gentile. Gehazi stops at nothing to find a way to benefit from this miracle of God. He follows Naaman out of the city and tells Naaman a lie—that Elisha has requested some money and clothing for two prophets who have returned from Ephraim. This lie is especially sinister because Gehazi is not only attempting to benefit himself, he is manipulating Naaman, who no doubt is excited to return home healed from leprosy. In the goodness of Naaman’s heart, he is genuinely concerned with pleasing not only Elisha, caring for two returning prophets, but the LORD who had healed him. Naaman approves the request of Gehazi and gives him what he requests. Phase 1 of “Operation Get Rich Quick” has been completed.

Now for phase 2—to hide these new possessions without Elisha finding out. He brings them back to his house, stealthily hides them, and then returns to the service of Elisha. However, we know that Elisha is not easily deceived. It is hard to believe that Gehazi, who had seen first-hand how God works through Elisha in mighty ways healing uncurable disease, would think he could pull a fast one on God and Elisha. Elisha knows the answer to his question before he asks it of Gehazi. In many ways, this echoes the question God asked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” God knew the answer. He knew they had fallen into sin. The question was asked to see how they would respond—with repentance or pride. As Adam and Eve chose pride, so does Gehazi. Elisha’s question to Gehazi, “Where have you been?” is an opportunity for confession and repentance for Gehazi, but he chose to protect his deceitful selfishness and lies to Elisha. He thinks his lie, “I went nowhere.” was sufficient. But because God knew different, so did Elisha. The falling of Gehazi is made complete in the lie and then the punishment for sin was delivered—Gehazi is now a leper along with his descendants. 

Cheap grace consumes us because it does not require us to confess or repent. It doesn’t take seriously the offenses of sins. Cheap grace is a perversion of grace, plain and simple. As we think about our lives and our faith, do we ever act like Gehazi? I would say we do when we try to reap all the good things of God with the sole purpose of becoming rich or comfortable. Cheap grace doesn’t consider God’s grace as sufficient. It becomes a “plus-and” situation where we can find ourselves not trusting God as we pray. Cheap grace treats prayer as a habit we must do, but then after we pray, we think, “Now what are we REALLY going to do?”

May we never forget the riches of God’s grace and promise. He has promised to provide for his children because he is a good Father. May we not fall into the trap of Gehazi and allow selfish ambition and hopes to supplant the promise of God. Trust God. Obey God. Know he is for you and he provides your every need. Amen.

Two Mule-Loads of Earth

Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman by Ferdinand Bol

2 Kings 5:15-19

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. 18 But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

Naaman’s life has changed. His experience with the Living God and his messengers in the world has shown him the power and reality of truth. He desires to respond with gratitude and to give Elisha gifts, but Elisha has no interest in what Naaman has to offer. If anything, Elisha wants Naaman and us to understand one key truth about this event: Elisha has no power to do anything miraculous on his own. He is a prophet only at the behest and calling of God. God has provided for him in all he does so he doesn’t need to peddle miracles for personal gain. The LORD is sufficient and only the LORD is due glory, praise, credit, and honor. More importantly, Naaman’s gratitude should be solely focused upon the God who healed him.

Naaman understands this and asks for something else instead. He desires to take two mule-loads of earth from Israel back to Syria. Though the request sounds bizarre, we are more familiar with it than we realize. Naaman desires to take dirt from the land where he was healed so that he may make a space where he can worship the Living God. He has had a change of heart from earlier when he was offended by Elisha telling him to dip himself in the Jordan seven times to be healed. Before his healing, the water of the Jordan was not valuable to Naaman, but after, the very dirt evoked new respect and worship in Naaman’s heart. 

It is important for us that see the fine line between worship of the Living God and empty sentimentalism which could evolve into idolatry, but nevertheless, Naaman’s impulse to take holy ground back home to worship the Living God is something that strikes a cord with me. We live as strangers in a foreign land surrounded by the idols and desires of sinful flesh. Reminders of how God has saved us can be helpful for us as we tell our stories of salvation to others. But what is certain, nothing can bear witness of the power of God quite like our changed lives empowered by Jesus Christ.

May we understand and know that we are living testimonies of the One true God who has saved us in Jesus Christ. May the two mule-loads of dirt that is our lives be reminders to all who see and know us that God is great and worthy of all praise.

Prayer: Merciful God, you alone are great and worthy to be praised. Strengthen us and guide us as we serve you in this world. May our words and deeds declare your majesty and splendor so that all nations and all peoples would know Jesus Christ and his salvation. Amen.

Why All the Rage?

Moriah’s Hope Reflected by Iris Carignan (http://www.iriscarignan.com)

2 Kings 5:1-14 (NRSV)

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Why is everyone so angry in this passage? Things start out well enough. We are introduced to Naaman, a mighty warrior who is greatly favored yet suffers from leprosy. He is a Gentile seeking a cure. Where does he go? God’s sovereignty in this passage has delivered the messenger of the gospel in the person of a little girl from Israel who was carried off by the Syrians and now works in the service of Naaman’s wife. The situation appears to be one of great frustration and loss to this young Israelite girl, but she is undeterred. She is faithful and true. Her message to Naaman that there is hope in the presence of God changes everything for both the Gentile and the Israelite. However, everyone seems to be angry in this passage. The King of Israel seems to be put out by Naaman’s request and when Naaman arrives at Elisha’s home and is prescribed a healing dip into the Jordan, he appears to be offended by the cure. Yet, he goes forward in a reluctant faith to be washed. The result—he is cleansed. He is made good as new. 

Ironically, the one person in this story who has the greatest occasion to be angry is the one who continued in faith and lived boldly. The little unnamed Israelite girl who was taken from her home and family and put to work in a house away from her family did not allow resentment, anger, or sorrow to obstruct her purpose in life.

We often find ourselves in situations that are difficult and unfathomable. We may be tempted to lose our hope and vision, but our faith points us to the greater reality in life. Our God is sovereign. He knows the paths we will travel upon. He goes on before us and prepares the way. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 that all the good works we do are prepared for us in advance by Christ who leads us to walk in those works. Today, as you see your life, be hopeful. Know that you are living in service to Christ who has prepared you and placed you to be a witness for the glory of God. 

Prayer: Merciful God, grant us the strength to live our lives trusting you. May we understand that we are to speak your Gospel to others, see people as you see them, and serve others in your name. May we do these things with the humble mind that we were lost and far from you, but you brought us into your family though your most precious blood. In Jesus name, Amen.

Christ Living in Us

Elisha Raises the Son of the Woman of Shunam by Benjamin West, 1765

2 Kings 4:32-37 (NRSV)

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and closed the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite woman.” So, he called her. When she came to him, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.

This is a bizarre moment in the story of Elisha. However, that is a loaded statement for a prophet. Bizarre moments are more rule than exception for the life for the prophets of God. Elisha’s actions here in 2 Kings are very similar to his predecessor Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24. Both prophets are presented with grieving mothers who have suffered the death of their beloved sons; both prophets lay upon the deceased sons; both prophets respond to their deaths by physically giving life to the lifeless bodies. These intimate actions of Elijah and Elisha cause us some discomfort because of how intentional they are—putting mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. It is the reality that the purpose of the prophets is to certainly speak for God, but that is not the end of their purpose. They are an embodiment of the promise of God. God speaks through them and God acts through them. The things they do are the power of God to bring life to those who suffer and freedom to those who are captive. 

In other words, the prophets are the power of God sent to declare the majesty and victory of God over the powers of evil, sin, and death. 

The prophetic CPR touches every aspect of the life of the son in 2 Kings. Not only does this child have new life, he has new reason to live. His words will be different. He will see things differently. He will encounter the everyday things with new energy and purpose. 

Perhaps the most bizarre inclusion in this passage is the seven sneezes. We may be tempted to skip over this detail, but we would be foolish if we did. Fun fact: Charles Spurgeon preached an entire sermon on this part of the story. Seriously. (Read it here.) Why does the author include this detail of seven sneezes? Spurgeon reminds us that sneezing is an involuntary reaction. We cannot sneeze because we want to sneeze. They happen whenever and wherever they happen. Sometimes we can fight a sneeze. Sometimes we can feel like we will sneeze, but we cannot force ourselves to do it and we lose it. So, it is with life in the Holy Spirit. We live it. Its an involuntary reaction to what God has done for us. Life is a crazy thing. None of us decided to be born. We are dragged dirty, kicking, and screaming into this world and we must settle into this little thing called life. It’s a bizarre thing indeed.

So, it is with the life of Christ. We were all the deceased child in our sins. Jesus gave his life for ours. Just as the prophets, Jesus intimately gives us his life. It is the life of Christ that becomes ours. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Praise be to God for this life that we have in Him. May we know and understand that Christ has raised us from the dead and given us his words, eyes, and hands to live and serve him. Amen.

Prayer: Merciful God, grant us the strength to live our lives trusting you. May we understand that we are to speak your Gospel to others, see people as you see them, and serve others in your name. May we do these things with the humble mind that we were lost and far from you, but you brought us into your family though your most precious blood. In Jesus name, Amen.

As the LORD Lives

Elisha Raises the Son of the Woman of Shunem by Benjamin West, 1765

2 Kings 4:18-31 (NRSV)

 18 When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 He complained to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. 22 Then she called to her husband, and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 He said, “Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” She said, “It will be all right.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite woman; 26 run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?” She answered, “It is all right.” 27 When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.” So he rose up and followed her. 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

“As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” 

This phrase echoes across the first few chapters of 2 Kings. In chapter 2, Elisha is told three times by Elijah to stay behind as Elijah journeys toward his chariot ride to heaven and three times, Elisha responds with those words. Between the taking up of Elijah into heaven (2:1-14) and this moment with the Shunammite woman and her child, quite a bit happens. 

Elisha is commissioned to follow Elijah (2:15-25); Israel defeats the rebellious Moab (3:1-27); the LORD provides oil for a widow through Elisha (4:1-7); and a childless Shunammite woman graciously provides for Elisha and then the LORD gives her a precious son in response to her prayer (4:8-17). 

“As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha’s life has certainly provided moments of triumph and fullness as well as rebellion and loss. During these extremes, Elisha is the embodiment of the presence of the LORD. When the Shunammite woman has her prayer answered for a child, the child becomes to her a great blessing. When that blessing is threatened by illness, her world falls apart. Amid her trial, when her son has seemingly died, she responds, “All is well.” However, the story doesn’t seem to be well. With her son amidst illness and death, she travels to Elisha because he represents the very presence and blessing she has received from the LORD. Though her circumstances weren’t well, her reality was well—not because of she felt well—but because of the presence of the LORD.

“As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” 

These are the words of faith. The words that we have as our confession. These are not empty words of weak soothing. These are the realities we have in Christ. Just as Elisha and this Shunammite woman have uttered these words, Christ has guaranteed them in his word: “I will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

May you be filled this day with this faith as you serve Jesus. May you be filled with the reality that regardless of your circumstances, all is well—because Christ is alive and present in your life.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for this day. Give me strength and vision to see your presence in my life as I live to serve you. Help me to see that though things around me appear to be falling apart, that all is well. Thank you for your word and never forsaking me. In Jesus name, Amen.

The Church Calendar: Ordinary Time (or better yet, The Growing Season)

We have entered into what is called by some “regular time” on the church calendar. But this time is anything but “regular” (at least it should be). Our liturgical color for the next several months will be green, which represents Christian growth in knowledge, faith, grace, and service. To me, the word regular connotes a sense of blandness—of routine. But it should be a time of life and for life. The important factor that nurtures growth in the Christian is gratitude. So, allow me to share what I am thankful for as we begin what I will now call, “The Growing Season”.

I have been blessed in life to meet faithful Christians who love Jesus enough to be obedient to his command to love others. These Christians form an important network for me as I go about serving Jesus as a disciple, husband, father, friend, and pastor. This community is vital to my life. As Bonhoeffer describes it, God blesses Christians with community. During this “Growing Season”, then, should be a time for renewal in our lives and growth in the faith. My hope is that each person at HCPC will allow God to work mightily in his or her respective lives. Allow God to encourage others through you. Work actively to restore broken relationships. Give up the things that divide your family and dedicate time and your presence with those that you love. Be a blessing to others by speaking words of life instead of selfish criticism. Inspire one another and keep from burdening others with guilt. Above all, seek to worship Christ genuinely with your whole heart, mind, and body.

It is by grace that we are able to experience the family of faith, so let’s not neglect one another. Let us submit to Christ as we enter this “growing season.”

The Angst and Peace of the Psalms

The Psalms reveal to us how we are to pray and how God answers our prayers.

The prayer book of the Bible contains the requests and praises from God’s people as they travel the road of life. As we encounter the Psalms, we become aware of the joys and tumults of life—things that open the mouths of God’s people to praise him as well as things that open those same mouths in lament and frustration. The Psalms stand as the open invitation to all to call upon the Lord with raw reality and unfettered hope.

One of the most difficult things for some to do is pray. What should we say to God and how should we say it to him? The Psalms give us a beautiful testament to the freedom we have in our approach to God. Furthermore, the Psalms show us that even during the angst we have in our lives, the peace of God in Christ is always present with us.

Take for example Psalm 69. The psalmist David begins his plea to God with what sounds like hopelessness. He is in danger of drowning. He is weary. His throat is parched. His eyes grow dim. This all happens as he waits for God to save him. David’s situation doesn’t relent. He is aware of the multitude of his enemies and how they attack him to destroy him. He recounts his weeping and humility. He even asserts his consuming zeal to serve the Lord. In all theses situations, his spirit is filled with uncertainty and angst.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do life’s anxieties, pains, and sufferings cause you to question the presence of God in your life? Do you sometimes feel as if your prayers during these trials are going unheard? Do you ever wonder what the point is to pray if God doesn’t seem interested in giving you an answer, a hope, or salvation? All of this can be compounded when we are doing our best to be faithful and obedient to God and his call on our lives.

If we were to stop here, we would certainly be overcome by our angst. But in this same Psalm, we see David grapple with his angst and not stop until peace prevails. The peace of God resounds throughout the Psalm. As David seems to be filled with despair, his constant cry to God is filled with reminders of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God is the only one who can deliver him from his tribulation. He looks to no other for his rescue. As the Psalm ends, David is filled with the assurance of God’s power and ability to rescue him. At one point, he cries, “But I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high!” Ultimately, in the throes of affliction and with the hope of salvation, David rejoices and worships God for his mighty strength to save. God has given David his word and David trusts in that word regardless of his situation.

In our celebration of the birth of Christ, we must remember that God has given us his Word in the flesh. As we live, we have the hope, love, joy, and peace that can only be given by Christ. May we not neglect to keep our eyes upon Christ no matter how dire our situations. We will have times when we are under attack and seemingly ignored by God. But remember, we are never ignored by God. Jesus is the proof that God is always with us. He took on flesh and encountered the very enemies and angst that we battle. He defeated these threats and gives us his peace. So, as we end one year and begin another, may we never give into our angst and instead embrace the peace we have in Christ Jesus our Lord. “For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.” In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Meditating on the Word

The spiritual discipline of meditating on Scripture can be intimidating. Why should we do it? What comes from it? How do we do it? How do I overcome the difficulties of meditation on Scripture? These are certainly four pressing questions to anyone who desires to dwell in the Word of God faithfully and hear God’s voice each day.

First things first. You do not need a bunch of books or education to begin meditating on Scripture. All you need to begin a daily routine of meditation on Scripture is time, a bible, and perhaps a journal. A final important aspect one will need for meditation on Scripture is a community to walk through God’s Word faithfully with you. This final component is neglected many times when we begin to meditate upon Scripture. However, it is of immense importance because it creates a relationship built upon a common reflection on God’s Word and it can help prevent faulty readings and interpretations of Scripture.

Bonhoeffer answered the four questions I listed above by sharing how he meditated upon Scripture and offered up prayers each day.

Bonhoeffer believed that Christians should meditate upon Scripture first and foremost because they are Christians. If we say we follow Jesus Christ, then it is imperative for us to know how Christ calls us to obedience. It is in Holy Scripture that we hear God’s will for our lives—how we are to love God and love others.

He also believed that we should expect transformation from our meditation on Scripture. As the people of God read and allow God’s Word to penetrate their souls, they understand the reality of Christ living within them. When we meet with Christ each day before we meet others in the world, we will be strengthened by the grace of Christ for what we will experience.

The final two questions help us to understand how we are to go about meditating upon Scripture. Bonhoeffer believed that the Christian should be concerned with the quality of their time with Scripture over the sheer quantity of reading a text. For Bonhoeffer, a Christian should spend an entire week meditating upon the same ten to fifteen verses of Scripture for at least thirty minutes a day. This repetition may not make sense to us, but for Bonhoeffer, when we allow our hearts to meditate upon the individual words of a small set of verses, then we would be more aware of their power and meaning for our lives. One may begin to feel their heart or mind wander as they meditate upon those texts, but we should engage that wandering and allow it to be the fertile ground for our prayer life. We may perceive that our wandering mind is a problem—but it is not a problem. It is the occasion for prayer. As you read and ponder a text, a family member or a friend may appear in our mind. We must take that opportunity to pray specifically for them as we meditate upon the text. Through this discipline, we are understanding the grace of God and seeking it for our lives and the lives of others.

Most importantly, be patient and faithful in your meditation. One may believe that thirty minutes is too much time to devote to such an exercise, but as we all know, time in God’s word is never a waste. Don’t let the frustrations of life cause you to miss hearing the life-giving word of life that we have through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Importance of Sunday School (or Awesome Sauce Life Group)

It's back to school time! As teachers and students begin a new  school year, we all get a reminder of the joys of learning, friendship, and early bedtimes. I am grateful that my three kids are much more successful at making friends than I was when I was their age. Ava, Braden, and Drew were happy to go to school today in large part because of their friendships and the value they see in what they learn in school. It is amazing how elementary school children understand, in their own ways, of course, relationships and the value of what they are learning. What's more amazing is how we adults forget both of those aspects as we live our lives.

Since its back to school time, I was pondering the importance of Sunday school to my life as a pastor. I know that, in general,  over the last few years, Sunday school has fallen out of fashion in favor of "life groups", "small groups", "home groups", or other inspiring groupings of people. Be it Sunday school or "awesome sauce life group", the purpose remains hopefully the same–a faith community for people to gather around the Word of God in order to deepen relationships with one another and understand the eternal truth of Jesus Christ. This is called discipleship. Usually people will stop attending Sunday school if it doesn't provide meaningful, Christ-centered relationships or if it doesn't contribute any type of meaning or purpose to our lives. When this occurs, it is a mournful thing because the community of Christ should be built around the relationships that God has knit together focused upon the testimony of God for us in our world. We need each other more than we realize.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed heavily in Christian community. For him, it was not a social club. It was not an activity group. It was not something to be attended to whenever we felt like we should. It was communion. It's purposes were plenty, but central to this purpose was the presence of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." What an incredible promise! Sadly, this is a promise that never gets experienced by so many in our churches. Bonhoeffer tells us in his classic Life Together,

"God has put this word (the Gospel) in the mouth of men in order that it be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure."

Sunday school (or Awesome Sauce LG) provides us with the opportunity to come together as brothers and sisters who are navigating through life clinging to Christ and needing to hear that someone else is trodding that same path with us. In our discipleship we can encourage one another, rejoice together, pray together, mourn together, work together, sing together, and commune together. And with this communion in the name of Christ, we get Jesus. 

So, may we always understand the importance of our relationships and the value of our fellowship each week as we meet together for worship and discipleship. For when we gather each Sunday, Christ is present with us and nourishes us for the lives we've been called to live. Amen.