Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

A Little Punctuation

Several years ago, Doug and I started making our own copies of Scripture. He had found Journibles, books designed for copying on one side of each two-page spread and taking notes on the other side. We have done the Gospel of John as well as James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. As they grew older, we pulled the kids into the copying, and all five of us have our own handwritten copies of Psalms and Proverbs. Doug and I are now onto Ephesians in a book that also includes Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Copying changes the way we read Scripture. Not only does it slow us down, but it also makes us contemplate specific words and phrases that we sometimes completely gloss over. Of course, memorization has the same effect, heightening our attention and increasing our sensitivity to phrases and thoughts that we might otherwise miss.

Copying adds one more factor, however: punctuation.

Now, keep something in mind. Our entire concept of the written language and the way words, sentences, and paragraphs are distinguished differs greatly from that of the original writers. Our English culture and language rely heavily on punctuation, so it is required to adequately translate Scripture. Hebrew and Greek? Well, that’s a whole different story. Consequently, I try to be very careful basing interpretive thought on punctuation. But, as I copied Galatians 2 not too long ago, I couldn’t help but notice a punctuation choice the NASB translators had made. They put quotation marks around everything from the second half of verse 14 through the end of chapter 2.

In this passage, Paul is sharing with the Galatians about a time when he opposed Peter publicly. The whys and whats of this argument are the discussion of another blog post, but the question of how much he might have said to Peter is what caught my attention. Some translators say that the second half of verse 14 was all Paul recorded of his challenge to Peter: “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” But, for some reason, the NASB translators extended Paul’s speech through verse 21 where he ends by declaring to Peter, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Honestly, the context of the passage remains the same with or without the quotation marks. But, the inclusion of this particular punctuation in the NASB forced me to stop and think about how the Galatians would have received the statement of Christ dying needlessly as opposed to how Peter would have received it.

Peter, who was passionate about everything.
Peter, who walked with Jesus through His entire earthly ministry.
Peter, who was devastated after denying Christ during His trial.
Peter, who experienced the incredible joy of being reinstated after Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter, who preached the first public sermon and had to quickly figure out how to organize a rapidly growing body of new believers.

To look at Peter, who had been through all of this yet had recently lapsed into behaving as if obeying the Law was critical to salvation, and state that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” That makes it personal. Very personal.

If anyone could be struck in the heart with the truth of Christ’s death trumping the Law, it would be Peter. Peter lived it. Peter grieved it. Peter saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

Saying this to the Galatians would remind them of the importance of putting obedience to Christ above all else. Saying this to Peter would have brought back every experience, every emotion of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Maybe the quotation marks belong there and maybe they don’t. But the morning I copied those words, I received them with Peter in mind. I imagined what Peter would have felt as Paul closed out his rebuke with that statement. And it was as if I read the statement for the first time.

I’ve never been a Jew, ethnically or religiously. I have never adhered to Old Testament dietary and interactive laws. But I have clung to other things. To Baptist tradition. To habit. To human teaching. And sometimes, I need to hear this statement through the ears of Peter. I need to remember that nothing, nothing, nullifies the death of Christ. His death took care of everything. His grace does not require my traditions or habits or deep-seated learning.

I will have habits and build traditions and receive teaching that help me live out that grace. But, it will never require those things.

Sometimes, even something as little as a quotation mark can go a long way toward reorienting our minds.

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Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

These Things

1 & 2 Peter tug my heart in a special way. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is true, but they just might be my favorite epistles. Although I’m not currently reading in Peter’s epistles, I was recently flipping through my journal and was reminded of a thought from last year’s reading of 2 Peter 1.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
2 Peter 1:5-15

My journaled thought came from the end of this passage – the constant reminding. I am a teacher. I teach my own children. I teach youth. When I have opportunity, I lead or co-lead Bible studies. And I don’t mind repeating things. Ask my kids. Ask my Sunday school class! Half the time when any of the girls ask a question, I look back at them with a look that asks, “What do you think I’m going to say?” They know I’m going to remind them of the importance of a daily interaction with the Word of God. I have told them time and again that it’s up to them whether or not they actually heed my advice and make Scripture a prominent aspect of their lives. I cannot force them to do what they should. But, I can make sure they don’t forget the teaching.

At first glance, the last verses of this passage endorse my tendency to remind. But, as I ponder what verse 15 is really saying, I realize that the reference to “these things” is very specific, hearkening back to the qualities listed in verse five through seven: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. And suddenly, I’m convicted instead of applauded.

If I possess these qualities, I am “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I “will never stumble.” But if I lack these qualities, I am “blind or short-sighted, having forgotten [my] purification from [my] former sin.” If I remember these things, I will be effective as a teacher, not because my listeners will all heed every word, but because every act of obedience brings glory to my Savior, and He uses it to produce fruit in His time and His way. But if I forget them…

My heart breaks with the realization of how often I forget or actively ignore the command to walk in these things. No wonder there are so many times when I cannot find wisdom, when I feel like I can’t get anything right.

Every now and then I put a sticky note on my monitor with a verse I want to regularly see and remember. The one currently staring at me is Ps 110:169, which reads, “Let my cry reach You, Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word.” I think He’s answered that prayer with the reminder of 2 Peter 1:5-15. And now, I think I have a few new verses that need to be stuck to my monitor and seared into my brain that I may live a life in which I am not useless or fruitless and do not stumble.

 

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Be Still

Stillness. Solitude. Silence.

I was recently reminded (in a study through the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney) just how necessary these disciplines are. And, when I am practicing them diligently, I definitely reap their benefits. But, oh how easy it is to fall out of that discipline! It does not take long to forget how to be still. How to soak up the solitude. How to embrace silence.

Any time there is a call to practice these disciplinary triplets, Ps 46:10 is bound to come up. It is regularly quoted and continually promoted as we attempt to step away from the chaos and truly embrace the presence of our God and Savior. But how often do we truly stop and contemplate the fullness of this particular psalm? What do we regularly recall of its context?

The opening verses speak of God’s presence in our trouble, even if the trouble is profound natural disaster. The awesome power of God’s voice and presence pound through the chaos in great might and victory. And that victory does not come in mildness. It is violent. Aggressive. He makes wars cease, but He does so through a show of power – a demonstration of the fact that He is, indeed, greater than all other kings put together and therefore has the authority to cause wars to cease.

In the midst of this, we get the well known instruction to “be still.”

Even though there is more to the verse, we put the emphasis on those two words – the “be still” part. We seek stillness. The ideal getaway. Sabbatical. The perfect season to stop and reconnect. And as we seek, we completely lose the context of what is being said here.

I re-evaluated this psalm lately by reading it in five commonly used translations, and here is what I found:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (KJV, ESV, NIV)
“Stop your fighting and know that I am God.” (CSB)
“Cease striving and know that I am God.” (NASB)

In the middle of an aggressive and blatant show of power, God practically bellows into the chaos, telling every power, every aggressor, every warrior, every nation to stop! Cease! Be still! And know that He is the only One in charge. Period. This is not a calm, reconnective moment. This is a show of true authority. It is seen in the middle of chaos. Utter and complete chaos that is shattered by the truth of God.

STOP! Be still! Stop your fighting! Cease striving!

Stillness is not a natural response to chaos. We keep pushing, keep working, keep trying to get on top. But God says stop and recognize who He is.

Can I? It bucks against everything my soul screams to do! It feels like giving up! It feels like surrendering in the most horrible of ways!

Will I? It is the epitome of obedience. It is surrender, but surrender to the One who controls the chaos in every way.

It is excruciatingly hard and incredibly vital.

So, I will be still, stop fighting, cease striving…
…and know that He is God.

 

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

A Blown Mind

I enjoy a good, fictional story. Whether it’s a movie or a book, I like the experience of working through the tale from start to finish and enjoying the nice, neatly wrapped package of an introduction, a crisis, a climax, and a resolution.

Yes, I know life is not like that. Life never presents us a concluded story. From birth to death, life is one long, complex, interwoven series of stories that never truly find solid conclusion. They are ever evolving, ever changing, and ever intermingling with one another. When we watch movies, read novels, or even dive into biographies, we are essentially pulling a single thread – maybe even two or three – from a much more complex piece of fabric. We focus on this relationship or that experience, but the remaining realities such as work or extended family or history that, in real life, strongly impact those threads are only side thoughts and setting for our compact story.

And you know what? That’s okay! It is not wrong to enjoy the narrative of a few threads, even learning powerful truths from that narrative if we choose our entertainment well.

The problem comes, though, when we apply the same reading style to Scripture.

Too often, I read God’s Word with a desire for a nicely wrapped package. I enjoy meditating on a passage for days on end, but if I have my preference, each day will bring a thought that I can wrap my head around. Even if the learning grows each day, I want something tangible and solid every time I meditate.

But, it doesn’t always work that way. Some days, what I end up with is the birth of a realization. The first tricklings of learning that completely evade understanding. In a nutshell, my mind is just blown, and it feels like the millions of scattered pieces will never come back together.

Sometimes, the light bulb begins to come on within a day or two, and increased depth of learning follows understanding. But other times it’s a slower development. I’ve hashed through certain mind blowing concepts for years on end, pulling in a piece here and an edge there, assembling the most challenging puzzle I have ever encountered in an attempt to get even the smallest glimpse of what the final picture looks like.

As overwhelmed as I feel when my mind is blown by Scripture – as much as I prefer the nice, neat, storybook package of study, learning, and growth – I am learning to crave this type of open-ended learning more and more. I’m learning to hunger for questions that take weeks, months, or even years of study and exploration to answer.

The written Word that we hold in our hands, creation all around us, and even God’s active work in our daily lives and throughout history are all just a tiny glimpse of the essence of the Almighty King of all existence. He is so much greater. So much more profound than anything we can imagine. His gifts of revelation represent a depth that our hearts and minds will never fully reach, no matter how many years we are given on this earth. But that should never prevent us from diving!

If our minds are not blown at least every now and then, it is not evidence of the vastness of what we know. Instead, it is an indictment against us, showing our failure to even try to plumb the depths of the revelation our amazing, loving Father has so graciously given us.

Oh, may I hunger more and more for a glimpse of just how much I have left to learn.

May I never fear a blown mind.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

There’s More

All my life, I have heard verses and passages quoted about not being afraid. One such passage is found in Psalm 56.

When I am afraid,I will put my trust in You.In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.What can mere man do to me? Ps 56:3-4

Like many of our favorite passages, however, we stop there. What can mere man do to me? We like to stop there, because it gives the insinuation that man can’t really do anything to us. It almost has a super hero feel to it, doesn’t it? I’m on God’s side – you can’t touch me!

The problem is that David didn’t stop there. In fact, he went right on to lay out just exactly what “mere man” was doing to him! They were distorting his words and lying in wait to kill him.

When David stated that he would choose to not be afraid, he wasn’t saying that there was no reason to fear. On the contrary, he outlined several reasons to fear. But then he came right back to what God could do in the face of man’s capabilities.

There are many things man can do to us. There are many things we can and will endure in the spiritual battle against the principalities of this world. The key is not that we’re invincible. The key is that we serve a God who can answer any and every threat. No action by man or spiritual forces stands outside His strength, wisdom, power, and will. For every threat, God has a name. Protector. Sovereign. Judge. Provider. King. Comforter. Master. Ruler.

God With Us.

The passages that we pull out and memorize, knowing they offer comfort and guidance, are fantastic tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit. But, let us never forget that before and after every familiar passage, there is more. More richness. More promise. More conviction. More power.

God is more.

So, what can man do to us? Plenty. But we must never forget that God is more.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Obedience Without Guilt

This may seem like a strange question, but how often do you feel guilty about obeying? I bet you do more often than you know.

Consider these scenarios. Have you ever felt guilty about:

  • taking a few minutes to read a chapter or rest for a few minutes, knowing the to-do list is still long or that you asked the kids to do a chore that you could have done instead.
  • saying no to a friend, church, or extended family activity, not because you had something else going on, but because you were just too exhausted to do one more thing.
  • enjoying what God has provided because you know He has not provided in that way for someone else.
  • speaking the truth in kindness and love because you know it had to be said, even though it hurt someone else’s feelings.

I might be the only one who has dealt with all of those and more, but I have a feeling that at least one of those struck home with you, dear reader. At least one.

Let me combat that strike with some truth. The enemy’s goal is to mar all that is good. Oh how clearly we see that displayed throughout Scripture! It started in the garden. We see it in Satan’s conversation with God in Job. We see it in the temptation of Jesus. We see it over and over and over again. If Satan can twist everything good – especially for those he has lost for eternity through salvation – then he can prevent truth from spreading. That means he is even going to try to make the things of God appear bad.

Yes, he’s going to make us feel guilty about obedience. We have to choose truth instead!

Our biggest battle comes when we begin to doubt whether our decisions are actually a matter of obedience or personal preference. The only way we will win that battle is by fully immersing ourselves in the Word of God. Last week I studied Psalm 1 in preparation for Sunday school. I love this entire song, but the first half resonate with the truth that obedience will always be clear when we’re immersed in God’s Word.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NASB)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the consequences of obedience were always positive? If the choice to obey always meant that everyone agreed with us and the hard work was rewarded with beautiful results?

More often, though, obedience results in us feeling a bit like Job. Or staying hungry like Jesus. Obedience is hard. And it is always combated, contradicted, and belittled. Sometimes even by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who do not quite understand why obedience directed us into such a hard place.

Obedience will be a challenge as long as we walk this earth. But, may we stop feeling guilty about it! May we instead ground ourselves so solidly in the Word of God that we are girded up when attacked, strengthened as we rest, and stand firm to draw others closer to Christ along with us.

Be obedient, my friend. Without guilt.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

The Enjoyment of Rest

Do you ever read the early verses of Genesis and sigh with longing? I do. The beautiful garden. Perfect interaction with nature. An intimate relationship with God. True, perpetual rest.

Interestingly enough, though, the true rest was not an absence of work.

We honestly don’t know how Adam and Eve spent their days in the garden. All we know is that they didn’t just flit around mindlessly without purposeful activity. They were the garden’s keepers. Because all we know is the curse, we have no idea what it looks like to keep a garden in an environment of perfection. We know the effort it takes to coax food out of the ground through toil – to work hard to ensure good soil, keep back the weeds that also love the good soil, and maintain a proper balance of irrigation. Without a day-to-day description of how Adam and Even lived before the Fall, we can only make guesses as to what beautiful, rewarding, curse-free work looks like.

But, what does that have to do with rest?

Some time ago, my family made a change in our schedule. We realized that we were going non-stop seven days a week for weeks on end because the normal down time of our culture simply did not work for us. Sundays are work days for a pastor’s family. Period. Even for the kids. They might not have as many responsibilities as Dad or even Mom, but they still have to be “on” all day on Sunday. It’s work. And, most of our Saturdays were becoming consumed with this obligation or that. Even if it was enjoyable obligations, it still was not optional and was not rest.

So, we shifted school and my work so that the whole family could share Doug’s day off.

Obviously, as a pastor, he doesn’t always get that day off. Sometimes needs that fall on a Friday are just not optional. But, we have still been able to become much more proactive about distinguishing between those things that are and are not optional and preserving Friday as a day of rest.

But, the rest part has not been automatic. Thanks to the curse of sin, rest – real rest – is not something that comes naturally. Our natural inclination seems to be to replace rest with escapism. Run from work. Run from obligation. But escapism is never truly rest.

So what is rest? Real, biblical rest?

Well, we can look at what little we know of the garden. We can look in the laws God outlined for the Israelites after rescuing them from Egypt. And we can look at the discussion of Sabbath rest in Hebrews. Gallons of ink, millions of words, and hours upon hours of thought and study have gone into this question. There is no way I can simply or definitively solve the problem in one simple blog post.

But, I can share one thing that I know for sure: Rest is not about the absence of work. On the contrary, rest is enjoying the things God is doing around us. His work.

I can’t find the exact Mark Buchanan quote, but in his book The Rest of God, he talks about orchestrating every day of our week around the Sabbath. The three days before look toward it, working in preparation for it. The three days after look back upon it, implementing its message into the routine of life. (Great book – I highly recommend it!)

That is Sabbath rest. Taking a day to enjoy the work of God so greatly that it permeates every corner of our curse-soaked work week, allowing us to see God’s hand even as we fight through what so often feels like mire.

I hunger to learn more about true rest each week because I know it drives me a little close to the way I was created to live – in the beautiful rest of perfect work alongside my Savior and my God.