From time to time I get a note of gratitude in response to a sermon. Most of the notes center around someone’s appreciation for taking otherwise obscure passages in the Bible and making them easy to understand. These notes are always encouraging and deeply appreciated, but I must admit, the task is not as easy as it looks.
The people of God long to be able to pick up the Bible and be blown away by it every time they turn the page. It is an honest craving (1 Peter 2:2). Yet it is not an honest approach. While there may be times when the Bible speaks quickly, there are others in which the text speaks slowly. It is at these points that it beckons us to listen closely, for long periods of time. It is here that God invites us to dig. The fact that it is sometimes difficult to understand Scripture is an honest admission and one that resonates throughout the text. Peter confessed that for him, Paul was hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Paul counseled young pastor Timothy that it would take his best work to be able to accurately explain the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). The Word of God is powerful, but it is not easy.
David often applied what I consider to be the marquee tool of Biblical interpretation, meditation. My office is full of language tools, commentaries, and translations. I use them all. But I think the greatest catalyst for good exegesis is simply time. Get the text in your head. Allow it to rattle around for awhile and eventually it will make it to your heart. My sermon preparation starts early. The course of my sermons, and naturally then the course of my study for this year, was determined last July. Almost every morning since January I read something about Abraham. I will not begin preaching about him until May. I am preaching through Acts this year. I read Acts several times last year. I give the text time to breathe in me. About 7 – 10 days before I preach a passage, I employ the critical tools (dictionaries, commentaries, etc.). But by then the text has already revealed much of itself to me, its form, its outline, its theme. I have already given time for God to say to me, “This is what I said and this is what I mean.”
When it comes to understanding the Bible, there is no substitute for serious study. We must give it time and we must use the tools. I think everyone should read the Bible through, cover to cover, without stopping, at least once in their lifetime. I have done so, once! After you read it through once you get a lay of the land; you get a mental map. Now that you have the map, explore the terrain. Take time to dig. Be methodical. Be intentional. Be patient. I am not at all a fan of, “Let’s just open the Bible up and read such and so today.” I don’t think Paul, or Peter, or David were fans of such a casual approach either. These men were explorers. They dug down deep and found the most intricate ways that the veins and crevices of Scripture intersected and fed one another at the subterranean level. Paul’s vast knowledge of the Old Testament served as his inspiration for his great treatise on the Doctrine of Salvation, The Book of Romans. Writing Romans was not easy; neither is understanding it.
Take courage people of God. The Bible is huge. It is deep. It is vast. It is powerful. If it doesn’t come easy to you, don’t get discouraged. Join in with the rest of us who take time to dig. Take time to dig down deep and you will be greatly blessed.
I write this entry as I watch the intermittent live streaming broadcast of Barak Obama’s inauguration on my laptop. Ironically my Bible reading today was I Samuel 11 – 15, I backed up one chapter for context. It is the story of the inauguration and collapse of King Saul. I try to read five chapters a day. If I had tried to calculate this moment months ago it would not have been able to plan my reading so perfectly to fit such a historic day.
What are some principles to keep in mind this inauguration day?
1) Pray – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Prayer supersedes political parties. There is no doubt that America is post-Christian. This truth was eloquently stated by President Obama just a few moments ago, but it has been a predominant ideological and political practice for many years. A post-Christian environment does not give any follower of Christ an excuse to also become post-Christian. Barak Obama is no Nero or Domitian. In the context of Paul’s writing to Timothy Christians were being fed to lions and lit on fire as garden torches. Under such intensity Paul implored the people of God to pray. Prayer is the force behind preserving our freedom to practice our faith in peace. The church has lost its intensity in prayer. Paul says the first business of the church is to pray. Inauguration day should inaugurate for believers an intense time of prayer. Barak Obama is now our President. We are urged to pray for him. If we do not do so we have failed him as our leader.
2) Enthusiasm is not a substitute for righteousness – Today is a great day for all Americans. It is a celebration of our nation. Today is a season of joy. We should celebrate it together as Americans. Yet enthusiasm is no substitute for righteousness. In 1 Samuel 10:6 the prophet Samuel is telling Saul that the Spirit of God would change him. “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” Today inaugurates a change of ideas. Today needs to inaugurate our desire not only for national change but for spiritual change. In order for America to succeed we need to become a different kind of people. We must become people that seek the righteousness of God. In his farewell address Samuel tells the people to act in repentance. “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty (1 Samuel 12:20-21). The crisis of our nation is not as much economic as it is spiritual. We have morally collapsed. The themes presented in our art and media are a reflection of the seared moral conscience of our nation. Furthermore there is a moral crisis in the church. Rampant participation in all things ungodly characterizes the people of God. In order for God’s blessings to return to the church we must return to God. Sunday by Sunday we cover our unrighteousness with a veil of enthusiasm. It is time to return to righteousness and seek the Lord.
3) Be a student of history – On inauguration day it is not a bad idea to brush up on history. A marquee of post-modernism is the freedom of historical re-interpretation and revision. The rule of context is categorically ignored. Over the past few days we have been bombarded with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and the inaugural speeches of past presidents. There has also been a sea of historical references to events that have shaped our nation. Unfortunately in citing many of those things the historical context has been ignored. Moments shape meaning. It is a tragedy to solicit the enthusiasm of a movement and ignore its ideology. I may be frowned upon for writing this but there are a lot of things flying around in the media right now that are hypocritical and not honoring to Dr. King nor the civil rights movement. That sort of thing happens when not only journalists but also the masses are bad students of history. We easily swallow the placebo; empty with no substance.
4) Identify – Wherever you fall in your political persuasion there is an amazing ability in humans to be able to exercise empathy. Last night there was a program on television that featured President elect Obama’s wife and daughters. His daughters look to be about the age of my girls, maybe just a tad older. In that moment of watching those girls I sensed a connection with the man who was sworn in today to carry the burden of our nation. Though our contexts are not comparable, as a leader of people I felt something for our President and the strain that his family will experience. Those girls are so young. To us Barak Obama is the President, to them he is a daddy – no election will change that fact. We so carelessly criticize our leaders without any thought for their humanity, their family, their heart. We detach ourselves from one another and believe it then safe to throw bombs. If you don’t know a man it won’t hurt you to destroy him. “Don’t get attached, its just business.” As a man who has experienced my fair share of critique I can testify that it hurts and it is impossible, at least for me, to emotionally detach. Let us, especially the people of God, respect the family of our President. May we take some sense of responsibility to protect the sanctity of his family as he has taken an oath to protect our own.
May our President serve us in righteousness, integrity, and honor. And may God bless America.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:14-17)
The dark cloud is here. You feel it. I feel it. We all knew the New Year would inaugurate uncertainty. Welcome to 2009.
In the midst of the pressure the initial reaction of the soul is not to bend but to snap. People snap. In a moment of time whether it be for a momentary illusion of comfort, in a futile attempt to relieve panic, or the fruit of something that has been festering for years; in times like these one can make a horrible decision that may be irreparable. It becomes a bitter root.
Bitter roots are sown when:
· People malign an individual over something that is otherwise inconsequential. Tamper with someone’s convenience and it is like a lamb to the slaughter. When you are under pressure, somehow remind yourself of the fact. You are not emotionally 100%. Be careful how you talk to good people. Others may be closer to snapping than you are. Words create chasms. Words connect. Words are creative. Words are chaotic. Choose them and use them wisely.
· You feel alone. You walk alone. You treat others as if they should leave you alone. Crazy people don’t know they are going crazy. So if you feel like you have it all together right now just remember, you may be on the brink of insanity. If you are crazy enough to believe you are not going crazy just realize that people need community. In desperate times people desperately need community. Be supportive. Be supported. Chase after holy relationships.
· You do something dumb with your last dime. Money is a seed. You sow what you reap. We are reaping. The question is what will you do now with the seed in your sack? How will your current spending/earning/saving/giving practices impact your life in 2010? Don’t spend your last dime on bitter root. Esau sold out for soup.