Many of us at Mt. Haley are about to embark on a year-long journey through God’s Word. We will be reading through the “Chronological Bible” – every verse of scripture arranged, to the best of our understanding, in the order in which biblical events occurred. Whether or not you have read through the Bible before, this will surely be a fascinating experience!

Reading the Bible regularly is an important part of the life of a disciple of Jesus. But if you are like me, sometimes reading the Bible becomes mundane, repetitive, and – dare I say it? – boring. Sometimes I find myself scanning over words on the page and not allowing them to sink into my soul, to shape how I think, to speak new truths to me. I believe this is a pretty common challenge for anyone who does any task repeatedly. It takes constant dedication to such a task to make it continually meaningful.

An ancient Christian tradition may be of some help to us as we go about the task of reading scripture for our personal spiritual growth. This tradition is called lectio divina, a Latin phrase that means “divine reading.” For centuries, Christians have found this four-step process of reading the Bible to be very meaningful. I recently read a book that summarizes this process quite well:

  1. Lectio. Read the passage carefully, paying special attention to words or phrases that jump out at you. Use your imagination. In a narrative passage, try to picture the scene and yourself as one of the participants… How would you feel? What would you say? … Read the passage again. After using your imagination to place yourself within its world, ask the crucial question: what is God saying to me through this text today? … What am I to believe? What am I to do? Of what am I to repent? For what am I to give thanks?
  2. Meditatio. Meditate on what you have seen, smelled, felt, and, above all, heard in your reading. Dwell. Linger. Abide. Chew the cud. Having entered into the text, let it wash over you so that it becomes the place where you are more fully than the room in which you sit.
  3. Oratio. Pray. Having listened for God’s word in God’s word, respond. Tell God what’s on your mind. Tell God everything, including the intruding thoughts that keep distracting you from attention to the text. Say “Thank you.” Say “I’m sorry.” Ask for help in understanding and embodying this text.
  4. Contemplatio. Contemplate. Remind yourself that in this conversation with the text you are having a conversation with God, that you are in the presence of God, and that by grace through faith God is lovingly with you. As in meditatio, let this mutual presence be the place where, for these moments, you consciously dwell.
    (quoted from Merold Westphal, “Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church,” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, ©2009)

May God illuminate our lives and shape our thoughts and actions through the ministry of his written word.

Memorizing Scripture

If you were raised in church, like I was, you may have committed certain verses of the Bible to memory.  When I was a child, my home church had various Wednesday evening programs.  I remember one of them was called “Bible Mountaineers” – the different age groups of children had labels such as “Cliff Climbers” and “Summit Scalers” – and through the course of the year, we had specific verses and passages of scripture that we were encouraged to memorize.  Those assignments ranged from simple verses (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23 NIV) to entire chapters (I crammed all of 1 Corinthians 13 into my short-term memory one week!).

photo by valleyboy74
photo by valleyboy74

Even if you were not raised in church, or if you are not a believer, you probably know at least part of one Bible verse.  All I have to say is “John 3:16” and some words might come to mind.  (“For God so loved the world…”)  Here’s an easy one to memorize right now:  “Jesus wept,” John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible!  That’s not a flippant idea, by the way; even that one verse reminds us, in its context, that Jesus feels the pain of the loss of loved ones.  His friend Lazarus had died, and while the story ends with rejoicing in Lazarus’s resurrection, Jesus still wept when he was shown Lazarus’s tomb.

In any case, church-sponsored active memorization of scripture usually ends for us when we graduate high school – or even earlier.  If you desire, as I do, that our children at Mt. Haley would be raised in the Christian faith and memorize important passages of scripture, then take this idea to heart:  Our children will do what they see us doing.

This goes beyond memorizing scripture, of course.  Our children will behave the way they observe adults behaving; they will worship how adults worship.  They will resolve conflicts the way they see adults resolve conflicts.  Our children are watching us, and if they do not see us taking discipleship, outreach, and community seriously, then they may not take those components of Christian life seriously when they are adults.

Why is it important for us to memorize scripture in particular?  The Bible is the foundation for our journey of discipleship; it is God’s word for those who would follow him.  The Bible contains everything necessary to describe, understand, and apply salvation in Christ to our lives.  (By the way, this is as far as I go in approaching theological terms like “infallible” and “inerrant.”  But that’s another conversation.)

Memorizing scripture keeps the word of God at the front of our thoughts.  Memorizing scripture helps us recognize false teachings and ethically questionable practices.  Memorizing scripture proves useful in our times of trouble, conflict, or sorrow.  Memorizing scripture gives us words to say to others when they have such experiences.  Memorizing scripture allows us more opportunities to meditate on the word of God on a daily basis.  This is transformational!

So does your spiritual diet include this practice?  Here are some passages that would be worthwhile to commit to memory.  (Can you add to this list?)

  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 46
  • Isaiah 53
  • Matthew 6:9-13
  • Matthew 11:25-30
  • Romans 8:28-39
  • Philippians 3:7-14
  • Colossians 1:15-20
  • Colossians 3:12-17

–Pastor David

Green Beans and Scripture

It’s that time of year again:  the time when our garden’s green beans are in full swing.  Those of you who grow (or have grown) green beans know that once they start producing, you are going to be swimming in beans for a little while.  Tara and I are enjoying our second harvest season here at the church parsonage, and believe me, we love green beans.  We love them so much that we planted twice as many as we did last year!  “Swimming” in beans might not be the right term for what we are experiencing right now.  It’s more like a green bean flood.

photo by zoyachubby
photo by zoyachubby

The amazing thing about picking green beans is that it seems there are always more to pick.  Just when you think you have moved every leaf and branch, another few beans catch your eye as they dangle secretly behind another hidden branch.  You can pick all the beans you can see, but if you move a foot away – or look at the plant from the opposite side – you will see many more beans to pick.  And of course if you manage to find all the full-grown beans in one picking, just come back in another day or two and you’ll have that many more to harvest.

In much the same way, there is something to be said for continual Bible study.  If we read a portion of scripture once, we cannot hope to have gleaned all of its meaning.  It takes continual effort, time, and different life perspectives for us to benefit fully from the Word of God speaking into our lives.  In fact, while I work on each week’s sermon, I read and re-read the sermon text several times – many times out loud – so I have many opportunities to see the passage from many different angles.  Just like a cluster of green bean plants, there is always something more to find.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in scripture: at 176 verses in length, it is quite the work of poetry!  The theme of this massive psalm is the love we have for scripture, for God’s word, for God’s law.  Each of the psalm’s 22 sections (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) repeats the theme:  scripture is worth our love and attention.  Read the next-to-last section, verses 161-168:

Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you. (Psalm 119:161-168 NIV)

By the way, whatever you love you will spend a great deal of time studying, thinking about, remembering, practicing, and working toward.  We find it easy to do these things for people whom we love.  I find it easy to pick green beans, because I love the harvest.  What is your attitude toward the Word of God?


A few weeks ago, our sermon text was Genesis 18:1-11, the story in which Abraham is visited by three mysterious guests.  The text of Genesis is very clear: these were not simply ordinary guests, but in this encounter, God appeared to Abraham.  This is very unusual, because throughout our scriptures, God does not make a habit of appearing to individuals.  When God does show up, it is usually in the Old Testament, and even then the form used in Genesis 18 is unique.  Only here does God reveal himself to someone in the form of three people.

"Abraham and the Three Visitors" by Tissot
“Abraham and the Three Angels” by Tissot

Early Christian theologians jumped on the number “three” and concluded that this was an appearance of the Trinity in the Old Testament.  They suggested that the three men could easily be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The History Channel’s recent miniseries The Bible even portrayed this story with three actors, one of whom – though his face was always hidden from the camera – played role of Jesus later on in the program.  (Remember, our church has a DVD copy of this series which you may borrow any time!)  However, finding the Trinity in Genesis 18 is an example of “reading into the text” – that is, making scripture say something that it doesn’t intend to communicate.

Genesis 18 is ambiguous and vague about the identity of Abraham’s three visitors.  This certainly is God visiting Abraham, but the story is intentionally obscure.  What is important to the story is not who the three men are, but rather what the three men are there to do.  (In this case, they are there to make clear God’s promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a son, Isaac, within a year.)

One of my Bible commentaries contains this quote in reference to the Genesis 18 story:

“Obscurity is story’s way of telling us the truth about this God with whom we daily have to do, by reminding us of God’s hiddenness, of the concreteness of God’s revelation, and of the impossible possibilities that are open to all who believe.” (quoted in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, 1995), p. 8)

God is far beyond our comprehension, and yet he has revealed himself to us in scripture and in Jesus of Nazareth.  God is constantly among us through the Holy Spirit, and yet we sometimes have difficulty in discerning God’s presence in times of difficulty.  God has power to do all things, and yet we can ignore what we consider “impossible possibilities.”

I am not theologically thrilled that The Bible miniseries used the actor who played Jesus to be one of the three guests who visited Abraham in its portrayal of this story.  However, I am thankful that, at the very least, he was obscured from our view during that scene.

Let us always remember that we do not have God figured out.  God is a profound mystery, one who chooses to reveal himself to us in specific ways for specific reasons.  Let us lean into the obscurity of the Bible’s stories, because through obscurity we are reminded of how great and mysterious God is.

–Pastor David

How to be a Levite: Reading Scripture

This past Sunday, a group of us worked together on the practice of reading scripture in worship.  Reading scripture is something that should be taken seriously and done well, because the Bible is the primary way that God speaks directly to us!pros

By popular demand, the notes from this workshop are available here in PDF format.  These ideas may be helpful to you in your own devotional reading of the Bible, even if you are not a regular scripture reader in church.

For more information and for a terrific resource on the public reading of scripture, please check out Clayton J. Schmit’s book Public Reading of Scripture. Buy a copy yourself, or see me and I’ll be glad to lend you mine!

–Pastor David

The Importance of (Total) Bible Reading

Have you ever read the Bible all the way through?  Have you done that more than once in your life?  Do you make a habit of reading scripture every day?  Or perhaps some days?  Or maybe once in a while?  Maybe you have a Bible that’s good at collecting dust on the shelf at home.  Or maybe you don’t even have a Bible at home at all.

I don’t offer any of those possibilities as an attempt to make you feel guilty or unrighteous – or holy or super-righteous, either.  It’s simply true that everyone has a different level of engagement with God’s written word.  Some people are more inclined to make it part of their everyday reading experience.  Others really have no desire to do anything with the Bible at all.  And there are many options in between.

photo by abcdz2000
photo by abcdz2000

So why read the Bible in the first place?  We believe that this book is God’s complete, inspired revelation of himself in written form:  everything we need to know about the Lord is included in its pages.  The full plan of salvation in Jesus Christ is there; a complete set of expectations for how we live, behave, and make choices is there.  Answers to life’s deepest questions are there; even those questions which have no answers are there.  The history of God’s relationship with his people is there.  It is trustworthy, reliable, verifiable, meaningful, hopeful, encouraging, challenging, comforting, disturbing, intriguing, revealing, and enlightening.  For anyone in a relationship with God, or for anyone wondering who God is, the Bible is indispensable reading material.

So why read the whole Bible, then?  Surely there are parts of it that are less interesting or useful than others.  (All those genealogies in the Old Testament, come on!)  I agree, some parts of the Bible are more appealing than others.  That’s because the Bible is comprised of many different genres of literature:  history, songs, philosophy, poetry, gospel stories, letters, prophecies, and so forth.  And each book of the Bible was written by a unique author (or authors) from a unique perspectives.  There’s a wealth of material to learn simply by reading and studying this book.

Jesus is the most important character in the Bible, of course, but his story becomes richer, fuller, more powerful, more complete when we read all of scripture with him in mind.  The entirety of the Bible – from Genesis through Revelation – is necessary reading material for the disciple of Jesus.

So have you read the Bible all the way through before?  If not, why not begin now?  But I’ll caution you:  if you haven’t read the Bible from start to finish before, don’t read it like a regular novel, starting on page 1 and going to the end.  I guarantee it, by the time you get to Leviticus or Numbers, you’ll run out of steam.  If you want to read the Bible all the way through, there are a bunch of plans and translations available to help keep it interesting.  Come talk with me any time – we’ll work on it together!

–Pastor David

The Hunger Games

Yesterday, I finished reading Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  These are new fiction books that have become very popular in the past few years.  In fact, the first book has already been made into a movie.  The series portrays a distopian society in which violence and bloodshed are used by the government to keep the population controlled and obedient.  The books tend to be fairly graphic, especially later in the series, so I suggest that you use sensitivity and discernment when choosing to read The Hunger Games.

What I find fascinating is a theme that persists throughout all three books.  The main character, a teenage girl named Katniss Everdeen, frequently faces situations in which she must observe, confront, or even participate in violence – often directed against innocent people like herself.  Yet from beginning to end, she is never comfortable with the violence that runs rampant in her society.  She always desires peace and considers it a virtue worth pursuing as long as possible.  Here is a quote that illustrates this theme, taken from the end of the final book:

…something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.  You can spin it any way you like.  [One government leader] thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control.  [Another] thought [a bombing campaign] would expedite the war.  But in the end, who does it benefit?  No one.  The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen. (Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, p. 377)

The above image is part of a photograph of the old “tabernacle” meeting house on the Church of God campgrounds in Anderson, Indiana.  The building hosted multiple worship services every day at the Church of God’s annual week-long campmeeting.  Over 5,000 people packed into the tabernacle to worship together and to hear preachers from around the movement.  And where everyone could see them, banners printed with various scriptural phrases were hung around the building.  One of these, which you see here, was printed with a quote from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (KJV):  “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.”  Notice how the words “God of peace” are much more prominent than the other words on the banner.

As followers of Christ, we are to be in the business of bringing about peace in our world.  We serve the God of peace – even Jesus the Messiah, who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  We strive for peace between God and us, a peace that comes from the God who forgives our sins.  We strive for peace between human beings, among family members, and in neighborhoods, because we value human life and understand that God (who is love) calls us to love him wholeheartedly and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We strive for peace among people groups and nations so that the kingdom of God, which the angels heralded as “peace on earth” at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14), might grow throughout the world.

What The Hunger Games lacks is an understanding that peace is only available through reconciliation with God.  Katniss Everdeen ultimately desires peace but must live in a world of violence.  If you are interested, check out a copy of The Hunger Games (that’s the title of the first book) and listen carefully for its cry for peace in the real world.

–Pastor David

What are you reading?

photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy

I have a stack of books in my office that I want to read.  These are great books that have been recommended to me by various people.  For my own personal growth and for my continuing education as pastor of this church, I really do want to read through these books.  The only problem is this:

My stack of books to read grows over time – it doesn’t get smaller!

You might think that I would actually make progress in my reading list, but unfortunately there are more books out there than anyone could ever read.  By the time I finish reading one book, three or four more have been recommended to me.  So many good Christian authors, especially in recent years, have written about the life of discipleship, obedience to Christ, faithfulness to God, church-related topics, and so forth.  What are we supposed to do?

It’s at times like these that I remember one particular Bible verse:

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  (Ecclesiastes 12:12b NIV)

This was a favorite verse for me in seminary, because it seemed like all I did was read books in school.  But my seminary friends and I always quoted this verse to each other tongue-in-cheek.  It really is a blessing to have access to so many different perspectives, authors, and ways of thinking about following Jesus Christ.

On my reading list right now are several books.  “You Lost Me” by David Kinnaman explores why young people who have been raised in the church are leaving it now that they are adults.  “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan is a book about our lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit in our churches and our lives.  “10 People Every Christian Should Know” by Warren Wiersbe summarizes the lives and teachings of ten important Christian leaders from the past three centuries.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

What’s on your reading list?  Do you have a book or two handy (in addition to the Bible) that you are reading to help you along in your walk of discipleship?  Are you sharing your books with your friends and family?

If you don’t have anything to read that will help you grow in your faith, come talk with me!  I would be happy to share my books or the church’s books with you.  We have more than enough for everyone to use and to learn from!

–Pastor David