Tag Archives: Bible Study

Tom Fuerst ~ If You’re Wanting More from Your Devotionals, Try This…

I want to propose a different Bible-reading practice that I think will challenge your devotional experiences in ways you never imagined. No, no, I do not have a trendy new interpretative method. I don’t have a magic formula. Rather, I have a very simple (but not necessarily easy) suggestion.

For many of us, when we read the Bible, we read it from the perspective of people who need encouragement, therapy, challenge, hope, or even love. These are all good things that we do, indeed, need. But usually these needs arise from a larger situation that involves someone or something hurting us. For example, we need encouragement because a boss is berating us. We need therapy because of a conflict in our family of which we see ourselves as the victim. We need challenge because we find it hard to keep pressing on. We need hope because our situation seems hopeless. And we need love because we lack self-esteem.

Again, these are all fine to an extent. But I wonder if they don’t eventually become habits of reading that blind us to other things we may need. If we always see ourselves as the underdogs, the victims, the outsiders, the marginalized, etc. then we may in fact be blind to the ways we are not in fact these things.

So here’s my suggestion if you want a different kind of challenge from your Bible reading: Read your Bible as if you’re on top looking down, not the bottom looking up. 

That is, don’t read your Bible as if it speaks to you as a victim, but read it as if it speaks to you as the person/community in the wrong.

Of course, for certain people in certain situations it may be fully appropriate for them to read the Bible from the position of victim. They may need to see themselves as the Israelites in the Exodus story. But for many of us, especially those of us with social privilege, we need to ask a different set of questions. We need to ask ourselves what the Bible might have to say to us if, say, we are the Egypt of the story instead of the Israelites. What if I am Pharaoh instead of Moses?

The point of this exercise is not for me to prove to you that you are Pharaoh. No. That’s not my job. The point is for you to ask yourself harder questions when reading the Bible. Because, most assuredly, God’s word to the Israelites is liberating, but that same word to Pharaoh is harsh and speaks strongly of repentance.

When we read the Bible as if we are on the top looking down, it jars us out of our easy assumptions about our faith and practices. It forces us to look at things that we have been able to hide from our sight. It calls into question our privilege of assuming the other person/group needs to here “this,” and puts the focus solely on my need to hear “this.”

Such a reading forces me to ask, How am I complicit in hurting other people and how might act on their behalf instead? How are the structures of my society set up to benefit me in ways other people don’t have an opportunity to benefited? Am I treating the people who work for me with dignity and respect? In what ways has my cultural heritage – indeed, inheritance – given me access to resources that others are denied because of race, gender, or economic status? And in all, what might the God of Israelite slaves have to say to me about these things? What might Christ, who said, “Blessed are the poor” have to say to someone who is not poor?

Again, let me be clear about this: Victimization is not restricted to non-white, non-wealthy, non-men. Victimization can happen anywhere and to anyone. Thus, there are times it is appropriate to read the Bible as a victim and seek its encouragement. But that should not be a habitual approach for those who are less frequently victimized because of cultural privileges. Instead, people like me – yes, me! – need to challenge ourselves to read the Bible as if it quite often speaks against us, against our assumptions, against “the way things are” for us.

  • What if I am Pharaoh and not Israel?
  • What if I am King David and not Bathsheba or Uriah?
  • What if I am Saul and not David?
  • What if I am Laban and not Jacob?
  • What if I am Judah and not Tamar?
  • What if I am King Saul and not Samuel?
  • What if I am a Pharisee and not Jesus?
  • What if I am the Rich Young Ruler and not the widow offering her two cents?
  • What if I am the accuser and not the woman at the well?
  • What if I am Cain and not Abel?
  • What if I am the Nephalim and not Noah?
  • What if I am the hard-hearted nation and not the intrepid prophet?
  • What if I am Ruth’s original kinsmen redeemer and not Boaz?
  • What if I am Nebuchadnezzar and not Daniel?
  • What if I am Herod and not Mary or Joseph?

You see, if we read the Bible from this other perspective, it may say radically different things to us. Sure, they won’t necessarily by the typical things you find in a Beth Moore devotional, but they might be the very things that save the soul by bringing about the fruits of repentance, holy love for God, and holy love for neighbor.

Aaron Perry ~ Metaphor and Love

I can still see them. More than that, I can still sense them: The images from the first horror movie I encountered, unwittingly, at five or six years of age. This is more than a little disconcerting considering the images are rooted in the organ with which I make life’s major decisions. My brain is shaped, literally, with these images. Our brains contain images that, whether we want them to or not, facilitate our decisions and interpretations. Images are not simply pictures—which is why I can sense more than see the images from that horror movie. Including pictures, images are ideas, concepts, and representations. We try to harness image-power by using them to form our thoughts, to convince others, to explain to our children. We deploy these images everyday and often without thinking. They are called metaphors.

Metaphors are gifts of God.[1] Depending on their quality, metaphors either help us to think well or to think poorly. As a result, we must be careful which metaphors we use and which metaphors are already embedded in our thinking. Sometimes metaphors are found in just one or two words, shaping our thoughts and theology without us even realizing it.

This use of metaphor happens in our theology of love and law. How does love relate to the law? Or, to put it another way: What is the expert in the law doing when he answers Jesus’ question about the contents of the law, by saying we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and neighbor as one’s self (Luke 10:26-27)? Or, what is John Wesley doing when he described love as “all the commandments in one”?[2] He was not original in the description, but merely following Paul’s famous words that all the commandments may be “summed up” as “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9).

It’s a challenging question—this, “What are they doing?” question—because we do not think without metaphor and, having grown so accustomed to metaphor, we may not recognize one when it is present. Perhaps Paul’s answer helps us see how metaphor influences our love and law theology. Paul’s metaphor is clear, even if we missed it. He uses a mathematical image to explain how the law relates to love: the commandments are summed up as love.[3] It is the metaphor Wesley wisely used. And it should challenge our metaphors of love and law.

It is tempting to shift metaphors when it comes to love. Have you ever heard the expression, “It all boils down to….”? The phrase is meant to capture (another metaphor!) the simplest reading of a complex situation or text. And boiling is a metaphor—a picture that may slip into our minds without us being aware. When my wife makes a sauce, it often involves boiling. Into the pot go the tomatoes or the apples and the combination of heat and water refashions the fruit into another (soon to be delicious) form. You may have heard—or even used—this metaphor to relate the law and love. “The law all boils down to love.”

But this is not the metaphor Paul uses. It is not a good metaphor. It is a dangerous metaphor. The boiling process, if left unchecked, will not stop at apple sauce, ready for my pork chop. No, unchecked boiling produces a charred mess—black, indistinct, unrecognizable as the fruit it once was. When we relate love to the law as a “boiling down,” we risk making love unrecognizable—removed from actions and form which it once entailed.

The temptation to boil the law down to love is strong for Christians in a pluralistic world, especially as we seek common ground with people of other faith—or no faith. The metaphor of boiling makes clear what happens with one strain of improper metaphors, but there are others. Whenever love promises to be the base reality of the moral law, then a boiling metaphor is in use. It can be expressed as, “it all comes down to love” or “love is the common ground.” “Love” promises to be the grand unifying theory of humanity. “At the heart of the matter,” (another metaphor) we are tempted to think, “is love. By focusing on love we can find unity with anyone and everyone.” The Beatles, perhaps, said more than they intended with the catchy refrain, “all you need is love.” The song’s verses are replete not with descriptions of love, but with negative phrases: “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done / There’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung / Nothing you can say but you can learn to play the game / It’s easy.” Hidden within the song is the boiling metaphor: everything you do can boil down to love—regardless of the form.

But here’s why the metaphor is so wrong: the law does not boil down to love. Love is the summary of the law. When you add 3+5+7 you get 15 and if you take something away from the left side of the equation, you don’t get 15 anymore. Likewise, if you take something away from the law, you don’t get love anymore. Love is the summary of the law. Love contains all components of the law. If you want to love, put all these things together. If you want to love, it means not having gods ahead of the true God and honoring your father and mother and not bearing false testimony and not coveting, etc. These commands do not boil down to love; they add up to love.

The law is perfectly put together—fulfilled—in Jesus. Love is not the unifying trait of human beings; it is the nature of the Triune God. Love is not the vindication of a human race that really is, deep down, at one; it is the vindication of the Three-in-One God. The unity of the moral law, fulfilled as love, is not found when the law is stripped away but when the law of love lifts our eyes to the unified God.[4]

Do you see why the metaphors we use are important? If the law all boils down to love, then the distinctive of the Ten Commandments and the moral law and the life of Jesus are inconsequential to the form of love. Not only inconsequential, but potentially misleading. Everything but love can and must be removed for us to get to love. We’ve got to boil the law out of love. But in this boiling process, love is left without form, without taste, without color, without texture. It is left, as the boiling process eventually does, as a scorched mess. But if love is the summary of the law, then the commands of God and the life of Jesus are necessary to understanding love. And as the life of Jesus is shaped in us, we will be formed in love and “[t]he one perfect Good shall be your one ultimate end. One thing shall ye desire for its own sake—the fruition of Him that is All in All.”[5]



[1] Colin Gunton’s brilliant, The Actuality of Atonement (New York, NY: T.&T. Clark, 1988) helps in two ways, first to show us how metaphor is used constantly in everyday language and, second, to remind us that metaphors are gifts of God to help us, not human inventions to strive for God.

[2] John Wesley, “Circumcision of the Heart,” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-17-the-circumcision-of-the-heart/.

[3] Oliver O’Donovan, Finding and Seeking: Ethics as Theology vol. 2, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014, pp. 199-200.

[4] Oliver O’Donovan (Finding and Seeking) writes, “The teaching of a unified moral law is the vindication of monotheism” (p. 201).

[5] John Wesley, “The Circumcision of the Heart,” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-17-the-circumcision-of-the-heart/

Mark Trotter ~ Night Moves

The hymn we have just sung, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown,” is based on the Old Testament lesson read for us this morning. It was written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley. Charles Wesley was a prolific writer of hymns. He wrote more than 6,000 hymns. He put the great affirmations of our Christian belief, and particularly those that John Wesley felt were important, and put them into hymns. Other Christian traditions recite their faith with a creed. The Methodists have always sung their faith with hymns, Wesley’s hymns.

Isaac Watts, perhaps the greatest hymn writer ever, was a contemporary of Charles Wesley. He said that this was Wesley’s finest hymn. It was also John Wesley’s favorite. There is a wonderful story associated with this hymn. Two weeks after Charles Wesley died, John was preaching in London. In his sermon he read out the first line of this hymn. When he came to the phrase, “My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee,” he thought of his brother, Charles, who had gone before him to the other shore, and was now in heaven. He stopped, and put his hands over his face, and wept. The whole congregation wept with him as they remembered Charles, the great hymn writer of the Methodist movement. This hymn is one of his best.

It is a wonderful hymn, and it is Wesley’s words that I want us to look at this morning. He tells in this hymn the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the stranger at the River Jabbok. Last week we looked at the story of “Jacob’s Ladder,” as it is called, the dream that Jacob had at Bethel, where God gave him the blessing that he had struggled so hard to achieve all of his life. In order to get that blessing Jacob deceived his twin brother, Esau, and lied to his father, Isaac. We saw also in that story that his name “Jacob” means “the striver,” and how all of his life he had struggled and was driven from the moment of his birth. In fact, even before his birth, the story of Jacob says, when he was in the womb, he and his twin brother, Esau, struggled and competed, fought to be number one. When they were born, Jacob was holding on to Esau’s heel. He was named Jacob, “The Striver.”

As this text begins he has everything he has ever wanted and more. Which is the pattern with “Jacobs,” they often succeed in this life, and sometimes spectacularly. Just as often, they will lose it all, and then get it back again.

We wish the story were written differently because Jacob is not the most admirable character. His character is not the most exemplary. We wish these biblical stories were written in a way to say that that kind of behavior does not prosper. But the Bible is honest, always honest, always realistic about our human life. The fact about life is that “Jacobs” generally get what they want, and they will use any means available to get it. They don’t always break the law, but they will stretch it, push it as far as they can.

Jacob’s main offense was against his brother Esau. He tricked him. But Esau was a fool, and a fool and his birthright are soon parted. Jacob knew what Esau’s weakness was. “Jacobs” go after that, manipulate it, use it in order to get their own gain. And it worked. But Esau is now angry. He swears revenge against his brother Jacob. Jacob flees.

The first night of his flight, you remember, he has that wonderful dream at Bethel, where God blesses him and says, “I will be with you wherever you go…and I will not leave you until I have done for you what I have promised.” With that blessing he goes to Padan-Aram, to his mother’s ancestral home. There he continues to prosper.

We are not looking at that story this year in the cycle, but it is the third story in the cycle. It’s a wonderful story where Jacob meets his equal, his future father-in-law, a man named Laban, who is as devious and has as questionable a character as Jacob does. The story of Jacob and Laban is sort of the Olympic Games of dirty tricks. They are both world-class tricksters. Jacob wins that contest, too.

Jacob leaves Padan-Aram a wealthy man with two wives, Leah and Rachel, who are Laban’s daughters. He has eleven children as he leaves (he will have one more son), and heads for home. He leaves with most of Laban’s cattle and sheep, and his servants as well, all of which he has won from his father-in-law.

He is on his way home now to be reconciled with Esau, his brother. He has experienced what so many people experience who are tremendously successful. I notice this about them. They have the talent, cleverness, skill, energy and determination to compete and win in any area of life. They end up with all of the rewards of that striving, and, indeed, fit the image of success in our culture.

But after they have gained everything, they begin to think about all that they have lost, especially the relationships they have sacrificed in order to gain material reward. At a certain point in their lives, usually middle age, but if they are tremendously successful, it comes earlier than that, after they have gained the whole world, they long for a relationship, usually with one person, more than anything else. Reconciliation, that is what they want, with that person from whom they are estranged: a sibling, a parent, or a former spouse, or a friend, someone they haven’t spoken to for years.

Jacob is like that as our text begins this morning. He is going home to get the one thing that he lost and now wants more than anything else, reconciliation with his brother.

The caravan carrying all of his possessions, and his family, comes to the River Jabbok. On the far side of the river is Esau’s land. He sends scouts ahead as peace envoys, to meet Esau and to ask Esau if Jacob can come into his land. When the scouts return, they tell Jacob that Esau is heading for the river with four hundred troops. Jacob divides his family and his possessions into groups, and sends them in different directions so that if Esau attacks, some will survive. Then he sends his cattle and his sheep with some servants across the river to meet Esau once again, to offer him peace offerings.

Now Jacob is all alone, at the River Jabbok. “My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee.”

Perhaps he remembered that night, a long time ago, at the beginning of his exile, when he saw the ladder to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending, and God speaking to him, reassuring him, and blessing him. He longed now to have that same experience again. He wanted from God a sign, a blessing, an assurance, that everything is going to be okay, that the charmed life he has lived up to this time is going to continue, and God will be with him and bless all that he has done. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” That is what he wants, that peace.

Instead, out of the darkness, a stranger jumps him, throws him to the ground. These two bodies struggle in the darkness against each other. All night long they wrestle. The strength of the stranger is terrible. Jacob, the mightiest, the cleverest of men, is having difficulty holding his own. Who is this stranger who has come to him out of the night?

Just before dawn, Jacob starts to win. At least it seems that way. He holds the stranger in a grip. The stranger holds to him. The stranger then strikes him in the hip, dislocates his hip. From that Jacob will limp the rest of his life. The stranger says, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” Jacob says, “Bless me, and I will let you go.”

Now we know what Jacob knows, that this stranger he is wrestling is God. He is wrestling with God. It may be a stranger, it may be a man, it may be an angel, we don’t know. But Jacob knows who it really is. Jacob is at last wrestling with God, holding on now in desperation, crying to God, “Bless me. Give me a blessing.”

The stranger says, “What is your name?” “My name is Jacob.”

“You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and mortals, and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asks the stranger, “What is your name?” He would not answer, for to know somebody’s name is to know all there is to know about him, and God remains a mystery. We do not know all about God. So Jacob does not learn anymore about God from this encounter than he knew before. Nothing has changed, except Jacob. Jacob has changed. Jacob is no longer Jacob, “the striver.” He is now “Israel,” the one who has striven with God, and is changed.

This is an incredible story. It is one of the richest stories in the Bible, and one of the richest stories in the treasury of human literature. For Jews, Jacob is the father of the race. His new name, “Israel,” is their name. His sons, he has twelve sons, will be the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, so this is the story of the origin of the Jewish people. All Jews are sons and daughters of Jacob. This is Israel’s story.

But it is also our story. This is every man’s and every woman’s story. You can see yourself in this story. These stories are called “archetypes,” where you can see yourself in the story, and where you can read the story to learn about yourself.

When I came back to this story of Jacob wrestling the stranger at the River Jabbok, I saw something that I had never noticed before. That is, Jacob is like Prometheus, in the Greek myth. Prometheus stole the fire from heaven and brought it down to human beings so that we could be like gods.

The meaning of the Promethean myth is that there is something in us that wants to be like God. There is something in us that will not be content with the limitations that are placed upon all human beings. There is something in us as human beings, in fact, that causes us to try to transcend these limitations.

The Olympics originated in ancient Greece, in the land of Prometheus. They were religious festivals, really, held in honor of the gods on Olympus. That is why they were called the Olympian games. In the contests the athletes strove for perfection. They tried to be the best that it is humanly possible to be. In fact, they even tried to transcend human limitations with athletic achievements.

That has always been the spirit of the Olympics. Even today, young people, some very young, fourteen year old girls, pushing, pushing, pushing, trying to achieve perfection in what they do. You notice they are scored against the standard of perfection. They are judged by whether or not they come up to a standard of perfection. It is just part of being human to strive for that excellence, to try and be as great as you can be.

You see the same thing in the story of Creation in Genesis. No sooner are Adam and Eve created as human beings than they start to be something more than human beings. It happened immediately. The same day as the Creation, they strive to be more than human beings, to transcend the limits that God has placed upon them. They try to be like God. God gives them the rules of the Garden of Eden. He says they can do anything they want, except eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for that property belongs to God alone.

So what do they do? Immediately they do what Prometheus did, only it’s an apple this time, and not fire. But it is the same thing. They tried to be like God. They were punished, like Prometheus. They were exiled from Paradise; Prometheus chained to a mountain in the Caucasus. Adam blames Eve, “She made me do it!” Eve blames the serpent, “He beguiled me!” But they are both to blame. It is both their fault.

But in another sense, it is not their fault. If seeking to be the greatest that we can be is part of what it means to be human, then we are going to try to reach as high as we can. In fact, that’s the part of human achievement that we celebrate. It is the way we raise our children. We tell our children, “You be whoever you want to be. You climb as high as you can.” That’s what it means to be a fully realized human being. To know that you have within you unlimited possibility. To be successful in life is to be a person who has striven to achieve all that is possible for them to be.

That is what Jacob did all his life. Then he came up against the limitation at the River Jabbok, and he wrestled with God. Like Prometheus, he was defying the gods. Like Adam and Eve, he was disobeying God. He tried to do that. Jacob tried to defeat God. Only Jacob’s story is different. Jacob loses. He finally accepts his humility, and asks for God’s blessing.

The meaning of the Jacob story is that our human limitation is not a condemnation. God has not created us to strive for the highest only to frustrate us. God has created us for relationship with him. We don’t have to storm heaven to get a blessing, all we have to do is confess who we are, and God will come to us.

The word for that moment in Christian piety is “surrender.” In this story we can see what surrender really means. It means confessing that the one thing that you cannot get by yourself is God’s grace. That surrender is not the end of your life. Jacob discovered that. It was the beginning of his new life. God did not destroy Jacob. God checked him, then checkmated him, and then held-on to Jacob until he could admit who he really was, and surrender. Surrender is not the end of life. Surrender to God is the way to begin your life.

Nikos Kazantzakis, a contemporary Greek writer, tells a story. A young man visited a monk on one of those islands on the Aegean Sea, those islands that come out of the ocean like a big rock.

The monks had built their cells on the face of the rock, lived there alone. A young man climbed up to the cell of the monk and asked, “Father, do you still wrestle with the devil?”

The monk answered, “Not anymore. I have grown old, and the devil has grown old with me. He no longer has the strength. Now I wrestle with God.”

“With God?”, the man asked, “You wrestle with God? Do you hope to win?”

“No,” he said, “I hope to lose.”

Matt Douglass ~ The End Is the Beginning, but Better: A Biblical Argument for Animal Resurrection

In a previous post, I argued that if God is perfectly loving, then at least some animals would be resurrected in heaven—namely, those creatures whose life-ruining suffering was never redeemed during their earthly lives.  Here, I will give a Scriptural argument for animal resurrection, focusing on the beginning and end of the grand biblical narrative, specifically the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9, and the promise of final restoration and renewal as described in Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22. In a nutshell, the argument goes like this:  Animals are featured prominently in Genesis 1-9.  They are, therefore, a significant part of God’s plan for creation.  And, according to Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22, God plans to restore and renew all things, presumably animals as well.  Thus, just as humans can hope for the redemption of their bodies through resurrection, there is good reason to hope that animals will be resurrected as well.

Creation and Re-creation:  Genesis 1-9 The Bible begins with a hymn in which God establishes a kingdom[1]:  God commands all things into existences, bestows names and titles, draws boundaries and establishes domains, and assigns various functions to created things.  Humans occupy the top of this earthly hierarchy.  They are created in God’s image and are given dominion over the earth and over all living things.  Yet animals are important as well.  Along with humans, they are blessed and commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” and to fill creation.

The world of Genesis 1 is orderly and peaceful.  Originally, there was no struggle for survival, no competition among species, and apparently no predation: “And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:30). Animals are also prominent in Genesis 2:4-25, where, like Adam, they are created from the dust as potential helpers for him.  Adam gives names to each of the animals and rules over them, though the Bible repeats that Adam is not given their flesh to eat, but is instead limited to the fruits of the garden (Gen. 2:15-17). After just two chapters of peace and harmony, the biblical narrative takes a sharp dive in Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve, who were supposed to care for Eden and all creatures in it, instead are disobedient and submit the whole world to a curse.   Things get progressively worse until, by the time of Noah, the world is so corrupted that God regrets ever creating humanity. On the surface, the flood story illustrates God’s mercy toward Noah’s family and (a select group of) the animal kingdom in the midst of divine judgment.

But reading carefully, we see that Genesis 6-9 both reflects back on creation and foreshadows the new heavens and new earth. Notice, for instance, how the flood narrative imitates the style of Genesis 1 and draws a clear contrast between them.  Originally, everything in creation is as it should be—the refrain “and God saw that it was good” is repeated seven times in Genesis 1 (on the seventh time, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”)  Compare that to the beginning of the flood story: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5)  Again, Genesis 6:11-12 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.” The deluge, furthermore, represents a reversal of God’s creative activities.  On the second and third days of creation, God separates the waters, holding them back with the dome of the sky and with dry ground.  But once Noah is safe in the ark, God allows the waters to return, and “on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” (Gen. 7:11) Next, God creates all over again.  The waters recede, once again leaving the sky and dry ground.  God brings forth living creatures from the ark to creep across the ground and fly through the air.  And just like the first time, God blesses humans, commanding them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” and gives Noah’s family dominion over all creatures.

Finally, God establishes a new covenant with Noah, his future descendants, “and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark,” promising never to curse the ground because of humanity and never to destroy the world again by flood. (Gen. 8:20-22; 9:8-17) In effect, when Noah leaves the ark, he’s entering a new heaven and a new earth—a world that is like Eden, but diminished:   Whereas Adam and Eve were innocent and unashamed of their nakedness, Noah’s family is still stained by sin, and Noah’s nakedness is now a cause for shame.  And while there was originally peace among the animals, the violence that infected the animal kingdom after Adam and Eve’s sin—competition, predation, and so on—is still present.  Moreover, Noah is allowed to eat meat, and the fear of humanity now afflicts all of the animals.

At the same time, however, while the great deluge is a means of destruction and re-creation, notice that it is not a complete destruction, nor a complete re-creation.  God could have utterly annihilated the old creation and spoken an entirely new world into existence.  But instead, God chose to fashion his new earth from the remains of the old one. This point is significant because several prophecies use the flood as a foretaste of God’s ultimate plan for the world.  In Hosea, for example, God’s promise to restore peace to Israel echoes the covenant established with Noah: “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground.  Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.”[2]  Meanwhile, Peter predicts that just as “the world of that time was deluged with water and perished…the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire,” which will set the heavens ablaze and melt the elements (2 Peter 3:6-7, 3:10-12). “But,” he continues, “in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13).

Consummation: Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22 According to Scripture, then, the post-deluge world is like Eden, but diminished; in contrast, the new heavens and new earth will be like Eden, but elevated.  Paul’s letter to the Romans paints this picture beautifully:

 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

This passage continues a line of reasoning begun in Romans 5, where Paul says that “we boast in our sufferings” because they produce endurance, character, and hope (5:2-4).  The cause for this hope, he continues, is Christ, through whom the righteous have been justified, reconciled to God, and freed from sin.  Whereas Adam’s sin introduced death into the world and enslaved humanity to sin, Christ’s death and resurrection bring life, freedom, and ultimately adoption into God’s family.  In the passage quoted above, Paul ties together these themes and extends them to the created world: We should have hope and wait patiently for the redemption of our bodies because all of creation waits in eager anticipation, both for its own redemption and for God’s children to be revealed.[3]  In other words, since God’s plan from the beginning has been to redeem creation (“creation was subjected to futility…in hope that [it] will be set free”), we can be sure that God will bring this plan to completion.

Similarly, in Revelation God is the Alpha and Omega, the creator of the universe and its perfecter.  The consummation of all things is described in Revelation 21: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:1-5a)

Like Romans 8, Revelation brings us back to Genesis.  John’s description of the new heaven and new earth draws from the prophecy of Isaiah, in which God promises to end the futility and misery of the present world, bring joy to his people and dwell with them, and establish peace, even among the animals.[4]  Revelation 22 makes an explicit connection to Genesis 2: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2) While a single tree of life grew in Eden, the new Jerusalem has several trees of life lining its central river.

The clear implication is that the holy city will be like Eden, but much better.[5] Noting how Revelation 22 merges the temple imagery of Ezekiel 47 with the garden imagery of Genesis 2-3, G. K. Beale argues that the new Jerusalem is a “paradisal city-temple” that encompasses the whole earth.  According to Beale, the Jewish temple was a microcosmic model of creation, and “the Garden of Eden was the archetypal temple in which the first man worshipped God.”[6]  So Adam was the first priest of God’s temple, and his task was to subdue the earth and extend the boundaries of Eden until it covered the whole earth.  Beale continues, This meant that the presence of God, which was initially limited to Eden, was to be extended throughout the whole earth. What Adam failed to do, Revelation pictures Christ as finally having done.  The Edenic imagery beginning in Rev. 22:1 reflects an intention to show that the building of the temple, which began in Genesis 2, will be completed in Christ and his people and will encompass the whole new creation.[7] Full Circle From the above texts, we can take three important points:

  1. When Scripture talks about the end times, it often alludes to the creation and fall stories of Genesis 1-3.

An underlying message in these passages is that the end will be like the beginning, but even better. For example, in his epistle to the Romans, Paul argues that because of Adam’s sin, all of creation is in bondage to death and decay.  In Romans 8, he gives us reason to hope:  Freedom from sin and suffering comes through Christ, not just for humanity, but for all of creation.  What Adam has bound, Christ will set free. Similarly, in John’s apocalypse (which draws heavily from the Edenic prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel), the new heavens and new earth is a cosmic do-over: where Adam failed in the beginning, Christ will succeed in the end.

  1. Other end-time prophecies use the flood narrative as a foretaste of God’s ultimate plan for the world.

For example, recall the prophecy of Hosea 2:18, which echoes God’s covenant with Noah and the beasts, as well as 2 Peter’s prediction that the new heavens and earth will be born, not from the destructive waters of a flood, but from an all-consuming and transforming fire.  In other words, while the post-deluge world is like Eden, but diminished, the new heaven and earth to come will be like Eden, but exceedingly greater.

  1. Animals are an essential part of the creation and flood stories.

From Genesis 1-9 we learn about God’s power and authority and goodness, about humanity’s relationship with God and our place in the hierarchy of creation, and about humanity’s relationship with other living things. According to Genesis 1-9, animals are not an afterthought; they are not simply an embellishment of an already beautiful creation.  Rather, animals integral to God’s original plan for creation.  Indeed, they are so important that God delivers some of the animals through the flood so that he can use them to repopulate the new world.  It stands to reason, then, that God will use the same animals from this world to populate the next. To this point, I have given two arguments for animal resurrection, one philosophical and one biblical.  Perhaps neither one, by itself, is totally convincing, but when taken together, they begin to make a strong case.  In a later post (or two), I will add two more arguments, one that focuses on the relationship between humans and animals and one based on the scope and effectiveness of Christ’s atonement and resurrection.

[1] Sandra Richter explores these themes in a pair of excellent videos, “Reading Genesis 1 in Context.” (Part I and Part II)

[2] Hosea 2:18.  The New Testament authors, and subsequent Christian theologians, typically interpreted Old Testament eschatological prophecies as being inaugurated with Christ and brought to completion in the end times.   Accordingly, it is common to interpret such prophecies about “Israel” as including the church and all of the righteous.

[3] There is some question about exactly what “the whole creation” refers to.  Wesley’s translation of 8:19-22 says “the creature,” which he interprets as “every creature” and “the meaner creatures”—that is, to non-human animals (see “The General Deliverance”, II.2).  The NRSV, however, reads “the whole creation,” which I interpret as referring to all of material creation, living and non-living.  Either way, Paul’s hope extends at least to the animals, for in this passage Paul seems to have Genesis 2-3 in mind, which describes the animals as an important part of creation.

[4]“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress…The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!” (Isaiah 65:17-19, 25).  Notice the reference to the serpent’s deceit in Eden, suggesting that the new Jerusalem will reverse the effects of Adam’s sin.

[5] For more on this, see Mitchell Glenn Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Pub, 2001), 421.

[6] G. K Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1110.   See also Sandra Richter’s Seven Minute Seminary video, “Genesis 2 and the Ancient Near East,” which touches on this Eden-as-cosmic-temple theme.

[7] Beale, Revelation: A Commentary, 1111.

Otis McMillan ~ When You Are Embattled

Are you embattled?

When you are embattled, remember that the battle and the victory belong to God: God uses man because of choice, not need.

“And the Lord said unto Gideon, ‘The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, mine own hand hath saved me.’” – Judges 7:2

Because of sin, Israel found themselves oppressed by the Midianites. Responding to their cries, God chose Gideon and 300 men to deliver them from the hand of their oppressor. The Lord made it clear, by the small number he chose, that the battle and the victory would be his. Though he worked through these men it was by choice, not by need.

God uses people to fulfill his will. As God uses you to accomplish tasks or to bless others, it is essential you understand it is by choice, not need that you are being used. God needs no one to ensure victory. The battle and the victory always belong to him.

When you are embattled, some answers must come from God. Ask, and God will respond. In 1 Samuel 30:8, we read, “And David enquired at the LORD, saying, ‘Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them?’ And he answered him, ‘Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.’”

David was uncertain as to how he should react. As he and his men returned to Ziglag, they discovered that their city had been burnt, their wives and children had been taken captive, and David’s men spoke of stoning him. David knew that there was only one that could direct his actions. He inquired of the Lord and the Lord told him to pursue.

You will face situations in your life that will leave you uncertain as to what actions you should take. In some circumstances, there will be no one that can offer sound counsel. The key is to know that if you ask, God will respond. He has the right answer for every situation, do not hesitate to inquire.

When you are embattled, you are one adjustment away from a great breakthrough: whatever needs set aside, do it now.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1

Many of the lives of God’s people contain one or possibly more areas that hinder their growth in the Lord. Unfortunately, their dreams and aspirations are not fulfilled because of these areas. The scripture tells us that every weight, as well as the sin that besets us must be laid aside. The race cannot be run successfully until the adjustment is made.

As you seek the blessings of the Lord in your life, it is essential that you recognize anything that hinders your relationship with the Lord must be corrected. As you commit all to the Lord, you will become a recipient of the fullness of his promises. You may be just one adjustment away from your breakthrough. That adjustment needs to be made now.

Are you embattled? God does not need you, but God does choose you; ask God for wisdom – he will respond; make any adjustment necessary in areas hindering your growth. The battle and the victory always belong to him.

Maxie Dunnam ~ On Guidance

Guidance in the Christian life is a matter of grave concern and a place where discipline is sorely needed. Christ followers have two primary sources of guidance. One is Scripture. Scripture not only promises guidance; it assumes the fact of guidance throughout its pages. For the second, Jesus promised his own guidance through the gift of the Spirit.

The discipline of guidance deserves careful attention. We must learn as much as we can and, as disciples of Christ, depend upon and practice guidance. What are a couple of issues about which you have searched for guidance in the past few months? Lord, give each one of us the grace and the will to be completely yours, to receive your guidance and to follow.

The Cross Style of Submission and Serving

Scripture not only promises guidance; it assumes the fact of guidance throughout its pages. This is one of the reasons we must be attentive to the discipline of study. We can’t be people of prayer, or Christ-led people apart from living with his Word. We can’t know the “way” of the Lord and be “happy” in him without living with his word. The Psalmist made it clear: “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways” (Psalm ll9:1-3).

Secondly, Jesus promised his own guidance through the gift of the Spirit: “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world”(John 17:13-14).

These, then, become our primary sources of guidance: Scripture and the Living Christ (again, spiritual disciplines are essential to cultivate awareness of the indwelling Christ).

For the Christian, the Bible is the final authority for belief and action. Of course we read other books, and we discipline ourselves in study. But the Bible stands alone as the resource to show us how to live on earth and how to get to heaven. No discipline is more crucial for Christians than immersing ourselves in Scripture. No discipline provides more power and direction for spiritual growth than Scripture.

The writer to the Hebrews refers to the message of Scripture as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Scripture as divine guidance includes judgment. It sheds the light of God’s justice and righteousness as well as the healing balm of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Along with Scripture we have the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the living Christ, present with us to guide. He did not use the word guidance, but the fact and the promise of his guidance are prominent in his speaking. In his time with the disciples in the upper room, before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus underscored the promise of his presence and of guidance.

(Read the following passages to immerse yourself in the promises of Christ to guide us: John 14:18-23; 15:7; 16:7, 22; 17:13-44.)

The big idea in these passages is that Christ indwells us Christians; the Holy Spirit is his abiding presence in our lives. To the degree that we cultivate an awareness of and are responsive to his Spirit, Christ will guide us. Paul said, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).

The guidance of the indwelling Christ is consistent and ongoing. This does not mean that there are not specific times when we seek explicit guidance in particular situations. It does mean that through prayer and other spiritual disciplines we seek to cultivate the awareness of the indwelling Christ to the point that we are delivered from a frantic disposition of mind and heart in the face of decision. We do not come “cold turkey” to a minor or a major crisis. We have the inner sense of Christ’s presence. When we call upon that presence, direction is often so clear that the right decision does not even require deciding (Maxie Dunnam, Alive in Christ, p. 84).

Conditions to Receive Guidance

In “The Lower Levels of Prayer,” George S. Stewart says we must meet three fundamental conditions to receive divine guidance (pp. 166-67). First, we must be traveling the same road as our guide. Second, we must habitually seek guidance and watch for it. Third, we must habitually follow the guidance given.

These conditions may, in fact, become ongoing disciplines. We practice them to enhance divine guidance in our lives. Let’s focus on these conditions for receiving guidance as disciplines for spiritual growth.

The first condition, that we must be traveling the same road as our guide, needs no comment except maybe a word about the mercy and grace of God for those who don’t follow the guide. Dr. Stewart said it well in “The Lower Levels of Prayer”:

There is much Divine Guidance in lives that do not observe these conditions, restraining and saving while [people] are on the wrong road and following the wrong guide. There is light that comes to those who are not seeking and to those who are living in disobedience. This is the mercy of God which is ever seeking [people] in their wandering, and in pity saving and delivering (p. 169).

John Wesley would call this prevenient grace—God’s going before, loving, leading, constraining, restraining, in every way seeking to move in a person’s life until that person yields to grace. So we affirm that sort of guidance for all. Yet, the truth remains: for a “guided life,” we must walk in the same way as our Guide.

Second, we must habitually seek guidance and watch for it. Occasional guidance may come to those who sporadically seek, but ongoing guidance—guidance that is not episodic and crisis oriented—comes to those who habitually seek. Jesus sounded the requirement: Ask, search, knock. He also offered the reward: “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).

What pleases God more than a life yielded to God? God is always seeking us; that is God’s nature-seeking love. It takes open eyes and minds and hearts longing for and sensitive to God’s coming to perceive the guidance God continually offers.

Third, habitually follow the guidance given. Obedience is the added essential ingredient here.

Unfortunately we think of obedience as an issue only in huge events and at the crucial intersections of our lives. Not so. Obedience in the mundane and daily affairs of life, even the “little” things, makes obedience possible at the “big” times. Responding to the promptings of kindness and love that the Spirit initiates; doing the word as we discover that word in Scripture, even if it means as simple an act as taking a meal to a sick person in our neighborhood; exercising the indwelling Christ, visiting widows and orphans, clothing the naked, sending a sacrificial offering to feed starving children—these are examples of daily obedience to God.

The more we exercise obedience the clearer will be our perceptions, and guidance will become more and more real in our lives. When we are in fellowship with Christ through Scripture and disciplined prayer, we will experience the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Quenching that Spirit is sin. Such resistance of the Spirit dulls our sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit and stops our ears to the Spirit’s voice. In fellowship with Christ, we will know his striving within us.

Clarifying the leadings of the Spirit, acting upon them habitually, is a discipline for spiritual growth that most of us rather desperately need.

I invite you to spend time in quietness thinking about whether you desire more divine guidance in your life; if not, why are you not currently experiencing the guidance you need and want, and what are you going to do to discipline yourself in receiving guidance?

What most of us need is not desire for guidance but the will to discipline ourselves and to be obedient.

I invite you to pray for that will. Lord, give each one of us the grace and the will to be completely yours, to receive your guidance and to follow.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Disciplines for Spiritual Formation: Study

In the context of the Christian faith, a disciple is not only one who subscribes to the teachings of Jesus and seeks to spread them, but one who seeks to relive Jesus’ life in the world. Discipline for the Christian is the way we train ourselves or allow the Spirit to train us to be like Jesus, to appropriate his spirit and to cultivate the power to live his life in the world.

So discipleship means discipline. We have to work at being Christian. The purpose of discipline for Christians is spiritual growth and ultimately our total transformation. Study is an important way of “abiding” in the teaching of Jesus and using the tools Scripture provides to rightly discern the truth. We want cultivated in us the deep desire to rightly divide the truth.

Renewing and Abiding

Paul sounds the mandate for those who would be disciples:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

We are what we think. We are transformed by the renewal of our minds. So study is a necessary discipline for spiritual growth.

Moreover, consider the relationship between transformation and abiding. The word “abide” appears frequently in John’s Gospel, particularly in Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches (John 15). In that setting, it is often translated “remain” (“remain in me”…that is, “stay with me”).

In John 8:31, the word is translated “hold to” (“hold to my teaching” in the NIV), “continue in” (“continue in my word” NRSV), and “remain faithful to” (“remain faithful to my teachings” NLT).

What might these various renderings mean for the way we discipline ourselves through study?

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Unfortunately and shamefully, study is not often high on the priority of most Christians. For some, there is even a suspicion of learning, and to be “smart” and to be Christian are incongruent.

A story from John Wesley’s life chides us here. He received a letter once from a pious brother who declared, “the Lord has directed me to write you that while you know Greek and Hebrew, he can do without your learning.” Mr. Wesley replied appropriately, ”Your letter received, and I may say in reply that your letter was superfluous as I already know that the Lord could do without my learning. I wish to say to you that while the Lord does not direct me to tell you, yet I feel impelled to tell you on my own responsibility, that the Lord does not need your ignorance either.”

Jesus made it clear that knowledge is essential, absolutely essential: knowledge of the truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Some in the crowds that were following Jesus believed in him. But Jesus dealt with the issue of how deeply they were committed. Would they break loose from the crowd and cast their lot with this one who was claiming to be “the way”? Could they handle the pressure of their leaders who felt that this itinerate preacher was threatening their religion and way of life?

He makes clear the terms of discipleship for those who believed him. They must not only hear what he was teaching, they must “abide” in his word if they were to be a part of his company (John 8:31).

To Jesus’ word we add Paul’s word to Timothy, “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).

Paul is specifically addressing Timothy in his vocation, urging him to distinguish himself from the false teachers by being a teacher of the truth. Yet his word has general application to us. The phrase that is relevant to our discipline of study is “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

William Barclay in his commentary, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, provides unusual insight into this phrase by examining the Greek word for “rightly divide.” It is the word orthotomein, which literally means to cut rightly. It has many pictures in it. The Greeks themselves used the word, or the phrase, in three different connections: for driving a straight road across country; for plowing a straight furrow across a field; and for the work of a mason in cutting and squaring a stone so that it fit into its correct place in the structure of the building.

When we rightly divide, we rightly handle the word of truth, driving a straight road through the truth and refusing to be lured down pleasant but irrelevant bypaths. We plow a straight furrow across the field of truth. We take each section of the truth, and fit it into its correct position, as a mason does a stone, allowing no part to usurp an undue place or an undue emphasis, and so to knock the whole structure of truth out of balance (Barclay, 198-99).

What Scripture Provides

In practicing the discipline of study, we seek and hopefully find the truth, which makes us free.

  • Teaching It is true that Christianity is not founded on a book but on a living person. Before we had a New Testament, we had Christians and the Christian church. But not much time passed before it was necessary for these first Christians to present this living person, Jesus, by writing his story – the Gospels. So, the fact now is that we get our firsthand account of Jesus and his teaching from the New Testament. There is no place else to get it. The Bible is irreplaceable for teaching us who Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are, what they have done, and what they are calling us to be.
  • Reproof  We normally think of reproof as finding fault and criticizing. Here it means conviction. Scripture convicts us, confronting and convincing us of our sin and error, but also bringing us face to face with the pursuing grace of God, the forgiving love of Christ, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • Correction We considered earlier Jesus’ claim about knowing the truth and the truth setting us free. The correcting work of Scripture is the testing of truth. We must always use our minds, dedicating them to the pursuit of truth; and truth is truth wherever we find it. The point here is that we are to test all theology, all ethical teaching, all moral codes by the Bible’s teaching. The key to this testing lies in the teaching of Jesus Christ as the Scriptures present it to us. That means that isolated teachings of the Bible must be tested by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. In him the divine Yes has been spoken.
  • Training in righteousness This is the end of it all, training in righteousness, and for what purpose? “That everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:18).

We study the Bible that we may live a godly life now, doing the will of God, being used by God for the salvation of others.

We Are What We Think

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul calls us to be renewed by the renewing of our minds. In Philippians 4:8-9, he urges us to meditate on those virtues, that is, on what we want to become. Paul might even say, “we are what we think.”

The body of evidence to confirm this assertion is growing daily. Yet we each have to learn this lesson for ourselves: we are what we think. Sour dispositions create not only sick souls but also sick bodies. Feelings of worthlessness, bitter resentment, and self-pity diminish us to fragments. A possessive nature, self-indulgence, self-protectiveness, and self-centeredness shrivel the soul, create dysfunctions within us, distort perception, blur perspective, and prevent the healing we need.

The opposite of this is also true. Those who fill their minds with positive affirmations, who concentrate on the noble virtues that make life meaningful, set the stage for healing and make possible the wholeness that is God’s design for all. Two thousand years before psychologists were teaching this truth, Paul discovered its power. “Meditate on these things,”he said – things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report. We are what we think.

The discipline of study is important because how we use the dynamic power of our thinking determines whether it is Christian or not. Much of our culture reflects a perversion of this power. The “power of positive thinking” is supposed to make us millionaires, yet all too often it also turns us into self-serving people bent on satisfying all our desires. Thus we have a consumer economy of indulgence and waste. It is not arrogant, I think, for Paul, as he calls people to meditate on the great virtues, to add, “the things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9, NKJV). You cannot separate what Paul said from the style of his life and his passionate commitment to Christ as Lord of his life. Christians can use the “power of positive thinking” with integrity by keeping in mind where we are to center our thinking. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who…emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant…humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:5, 7-8, NKJV).

The disciplines we pursue are aimed at letting the mind of Christ grow in us. Jesus spoke of having ears but not hearing, eyes but not seeing. Seeing clearly and understanding the significance of what we study is why we practice study as a spiritual discipline.

Over and over again in his letters to the early Christians, Paul insisted that the power to live the Christian life faithfully came by studying God’s word. In fact, on 19 different occasions in his letters Paul says to the faithful, if you want God to truly resurrect the power of Christ in your own heart, it begins with knowing God’s word. That’s why God gave us his word, so that the more we know of it, the closer we will be drawn into understanding God’s will.

We study Scripture because it informs us about God’s presence in our lives and it warns us when our will and God’s will are moving in different directions. Ultimately, when we study God’s word we are nurturing our souls to be closer to God, to have God’s image restored in us, and to be like Jesus.

Tammie Grimm ~ Discipleship: Who’s It For Anyway?

It’s nearing the end of summer and there is a pretty good chance, if you are a Methodist or attending a church in the Wesleyan tradition that either your church newsletter or weekly bulletin is currently showcasing upcoming Bible studies or spiritual formation classes under a banner headline, “Fall Discipleship Opportunities.”It might be that there is an advertised afternoon volunteer for a project in the community. If so, you are in pretty good company as it means your congregation’s leadership has been proactive about recruiting persons to head up this essential component that fosters health in congregations. If your newsletter or bulletin isn’t advertising for upcoming classes – hold fast! It might be that the next one you receive will be doing just that!

As you peruse the menu of offerings it is not uncommon to ask, “I wonder if I am prepared to sign up for this course?”or “Should I do this class….or maybe I should try this study?”or even, “Do they really want me to volunteer?”It’s always helpful to ask someone in leadership or a friend you know who has taken a study because it can be easy to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the possibilities that lie before us.

Unfortunately, some of us will decide to opt out because either we don’t think we have the background and we will be in over our heads or we remember that we did a study similar to that a few years back and it doesn’t seem worth our while this time round. Truth be told, we are susceptible to falling into patterns ingrained in us during our formal education in high school or college as teenagers and young adults. Just as then, we are apt to decide from the course catalogue that a particular study is “too hard”or another is “too easy”and not worth our while. Often, we pigeon hole discipleship as something necessary for new Christians who do not know the Bible or feel comfortable praying out loud, yet. Alternately, it is possible to think that discipleship is reserved for the “super”Christian – the seasoned believer who seems to have a handle on their faith. And there are some of us who volunteer for a service project because we want to see tangible results – if we are willing to make that commitment at all!

The truth is this: every Christian – regardless of our stage in faith – is in need of discipleship! And here is another important thing: I am not just referring to an 8-week class or a long term study. Discipleship, attending to your relationship with God, is more than a class – it is a way of life! Discipleship is to literally respond to the call of Jesus, “Follow me!”As disciples of Jesus, our discipleship is to discover what it means to become like Jesus. John Wesley often referred to discipleship as “having the mind that was in Christ so to walk in the way that he walked.”Another way Wesley discussed the idea of discipleship was with the phrase “holiness of heart and life.”In short, our discipleship entails being like Jesus, so we can do like Jesus.

Discovering what it means to be like Jesus in a constantly changing world means each and every Christian can benefit from another opportunity to intentionally engage learning what it means to be Jesus’disciple. Discipleship is a lifelong endeavor! For most of us, our discipleship benefits from joining a Bible study or becoming a part of a group exploring various prayer practices – or even learning how to pray! But our discipleship is not measured by our small group experience. We experience the mind that was in Christ and walk in the way of Christ when we engage our everyday life – answering the phone, responding to emails, or shuttling the kids to and from their various activities.

When we take advantage of a Bible study of spiritual formation class at church or in the home of a neighbor, we are intentionally cultivating our discipleship by opening our hearts and minds to learn what it means to be like Jesus. When we enlist to serve lunch at the soup kitchen or assist in the construction of a local building project, we are intentionally cultivating our discipleship by earnestly offering our particular gifts and talents – our strengths – and doing as Jesus did. It is important to carve out intentional times and places where we learn and rediscover what it means to love the Lord with all our heart, our mind, our soul and our strength.

It is equally important to have those “in between times”to reflect on our discipleship and discern how our heart, mind, soul, and strength are integrated, demonstrating our love for God and for our neighbor – times that are not devoted to learning or service, but are carved out of everyday life as well. During those times we can ask if we are really loving God with our whole heart. Are we becoming more like Jesus? Are we more holy in our inward being and outward doing? Sometimes it serendipitously happens when we linger in the parking lot chatting with one another after a study or comes up in a conversation with a trusted friend over coffee or a meal. But it is especially helpful if there is a small group in your church or neighborhood that intentionally seeks to discern the integration of heart, soul, mind, and strength. Wesley called these “class”and “band”meetings. Today, we might call them “Reunion Groups”or “Accountability Groups.”The important thing is that in addition to learning what it means to be like Jesus and act like Jesus, we reflect that these classes and service projects are really affecting a change in our hearts and lives.

So, as you wonder while you examine the opportunities your local congregation is officially sponsoring, the answer is, “Yes!”There IS some sort of discipleship endeavor for you this upcoming year. If you don’t spy something that seems suited for you at your stage of the Christian journey, ask. Better yet, search your heart in prayer and see what doors God opens up! Maybe it is time for you to launch a group or begin by asking a few spiritual friends to reflect together on your discipleship; on how your heart, mind, soul, and strengths is connected with one another to express your love for God and for your neighbor!

Discipleship isn’t just education – it is a lifelong endeavor!