The Key Nutrient of Blessing [Psalm 1, part 3]

Psalm 1

When Kelly and I were newly married we had a knack for killing the house plants we had in our apartment. One day, we saw one of our neighbors, an elderly woman named Elsie, digging a plant we had killed out of the dumpster. We watched as she took it back in her apartment, left to wonder what she would do with the pot or how she might reuse the soil. It was only later that Kelly discovered that Elsie’s apartment was filled with house plants that she had carefully nurtured back to life. Every plant needs healthy nutrients to experience life. Without those required ingredients, it will die.

The same is true in the spiritual life. The first two verses of Psalm 1 set the tone of how God brings blessing – life – into our lives. Pay attention to verse two with me for some insight into the nutrients required.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

If the environment for growth is related to our relationships and our activities or choices, then the psalmist shows us that the essential food for growth is the Scripture or, as stated here, ‘the law of the Lord.’

The word here is literally the ‘Torah of Yahweh.’ The Torah could refer literally to the law of Moses, or the first five books of the Bible. It is more likely here, however, that the phrase refers to the instruction God gives to human beings for their guidance and livelihood. It does not seem like too far of a stretch to include the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, as relevant to this Psalm.

The Psalmist tells us that, in contrast to one who takes up wicked and ungodly relationships that slowly drag them down into a life of ruin, the truly ‘blessed’ person – the person who experiences the full joy of God’s plans for humanity – is the one who takes delight in and meditates upon God’s instruction.

There are some who come to the Bible with a sense of weariness day by day. Surely, there are times when it is hard work and discipline to get focused on reading the Bible, but the writer’s description here is quite different.

The psalmist says this reader of God’s instruction finds delight in it daily.  Because the Scripture is the powerful and truthful instruction of God, it is not just something we have to read but it is actually a source of deep joy and life for us. It is the place where blessing is found. If we really believe that the Bible contains the instruction of God, we will soon be able to exclaim words similar to those found in Psalm 119:

I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches….I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:14, 16)

Secondly, we come to the Scripture to meditate upon it. Meditation doesn’t mean that we hit some gongs and sit in the lotus position. What it means is that we consider it deeply. We do not simply read it and pass on, but we take time to mull it over. We read it and chew on it, as one author says, like a dog chewing on a bone or like a child who could read the same short book over and over again. We allow our minds to be deeply shaped by the instruction of God instead of by the foolishness of the wicked, or sinners, or mockers mentioned in verse 1.

When we take delight in and meditate upon the Scripture it becomes the food by which we grow in experiencing the blessed life with God. It becomes the source by which, as Paul writes in Romans 12:2, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Like a plant, we were made to grow. But we need to have the essential food for growth or we will not grow at all.

Would you say you are getting the right nutrients for blessing in reading Scripture regularly?

What hinders you most from finding delight in reading God’s word?

What might it look like to take a step forward in reading Scripture regularly?

[This is the third in a series of posts on Psalm 1, which began here.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 9 February 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

190201-syria-church-mc-451_d751479b6750bbbdaa140bb3e7ebd1b6.fit-1240w“Life under ISIS led these Muslims to Christianity” – NBC News reports on this not entirely surprising movement. “Four years have passed since the Islamic State group’s fighters were run out of Kobani, a strategic city on the Syrian-Turkish border, but the militants’ violent and extreme interpretation of Islam has left some questioning their faith. A new church is attracting converts. It is the first local Christian place of worship for decades. ‘If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,’ Farhad Jasim, 23, who attends the Church of the Brethren, told NBC News. ‘Their God is not my God.'”

 

cool_christians_lead_3t.0“The rise of the star-studded, Instagram-friendly evangelical church” – At Vox, Laura Tuner explores the recent trend, for lack of a better word, of stars turning toward Christianity. What does this mean about our culture and about our Christianity? “Pratt, beloved doofus turned hot dad, is part of a growing trend of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, and Kevin Durant, who are vocal about their faith. The churches many of them flock to — Zoe, Hillsong, and Churchome are the prominent examples — may look like they offer something different and more progressive than traditional evangelicalism but are actually quite consistent with evangelical teachings. In an era when religious affiliation is on the decline for young people, these churches can only gain from this proximity to stardom. But how are these “cool” new rising churches different from other churches? What is it about Hillsong and Zoe that attracts this star power?”

 

baby.jpeg“Statement on the New York State Abortion Law of 2019” – Likely you have heard of the recent passage in the New York State legislature of the “Reproductive Health Act,” which allows for late-term abortions, even up to the moment of birth, with some somewhat confusing limitations. If there is one place that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics can agree it is in relation to statements about life. That is why the group “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” produced this recent statement, published in First Things, on this appalling and disastrous piece of legislation.

 

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“The Abortion Wars: What most Christians don’t know about the history of prolife struggles” – In light of that, this 2003 article re-posted by Christianity Today, Tim Stafford offers historical perspective on abortion from the context of the early church in the Roman Empire until today. Here’s a peak into it: “From the first, Christians were outspokenly opposed to abortion on the basis of the child’s right to life. The Didache, an early second-century document summarizing Christian belief and practice, declares, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction.” Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Jerome, Basil the Great, Ambrose—all pronounced against abortion.”

 

commongood“The Church and the Common Good: Can we equate the church’s eternal mission with temporary politics?” – My wife gave me some of the best gifts possible this past Christmas: loads of theological books. A good percentage of those books are related to ecclesiology and political theology. Why? I am wrestling with the meaning of the common good and what it looks like for the church to interact as a polis – a political community – in the midst of the prevailing political community around it. This is exactly what Brad East is trying to do in this article at Comment. Give it a read.

 

johnson_birgitta“Birgitta Johnson on Praise and Worship Music” – From the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: “Birgitta Johnson teaches world music, African American music, African music, and ethnomusicology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. She publishes widely and for years has researched music in black megachurches and the rise of praise and worship in African American congregations. In this edited conversation, she addresses stereotypes about praise and worship music.”

 

johnstuartmill“A (Not So) Secular Saint” – In The Los Angeles Review of Books, James K. A. Smith writes an insightful review of Timothy Larsen‘s new biography of John Stuart Mill. “To both his progressivist heirs and his conservative critics, John Stuart Mill is a secular saint, a priest of the triumphant modern moral order….The real story of this Victorian character turns out to be more complicated, and Timothy Larsen’s brief new biography challenges such caricatures without devolving into polemics.”

 

StJohnBible“A Series on the Saint John’s Bible” – “Transpositions is delighted to kick off an eight-week series on The Saint John’s Bible. For those unaware, The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible of its scale in over 500 years. The Bible gets its name from the Benedictine abbey and university which commissioned it: Saint John’s Abbey and Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The abbey founded the university and its graduate school, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary, and is surrounded by the campus.” [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this link.]

 

Leith Anderson“Leith Anderson Retiring from National Association of Evangelicals” – Leith Anderson, former pastor of Wooddale Church, announced his retirement from the role of President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) after serving in that role for the past 13 years. Anderson served as interim leader for the NAE during challenging seasons with financial decline in 2003 and after the resignation of Ted Haggard from the role of President amidst scandal in 2006. Most recently, Anderson attempted to bring clarity to the meaning of “evangelical” in light of confusing political connotations of the word after the most recent presidential elections.

 

Liturgical Folk LentMusic: “Liturgical Folk, vol 4: Lent” Enjoy some good listening this week with Liturgical Folk‘s fourth volume of work focused on the upcoming season of Lent. [Thanks to Ryan Boettcher for sharing this link with me.]

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Hearing with Our Eyes [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 6]

fullsizeoutput_ae1Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting on Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. I am doing this in part as a way to honor the numerous ways that Peterson shaped my approach to pastoral ministry, but also as an attempt to reconsider – and perhaps recover – the essential aspects of pastoral ministry that Peterson holds up before us.

With the second part of the book, Peterson explores what he calls the second angle of the holy trigonometry of pastoral ministry: Scripture. He launches into the first chapter within this section with his characteristic intensity:

It is an immense irony when the very practice of our work results in abandoning our work. In the course of doing our work we leave our work. But in reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures it happens: we cease to listen to the Scriptures and thereby undermine the intent of heaving Scripture in the first place (87).

This, then, is the central thrust of chapter four of the book: we must release our control over the Scripture text as readers and recover the ability to listen to God in Scripture again. But how do we do this when Scripture is something we read with our eyes, not our ears? Peterson suggests we remember three things. The first is that we recognize that ‘remarkable invention’ of movable type by Gutenberg has simultaneously made Scripture more accessible to us and also increasingly made Scripture reading an individualized experience. The second is to understand how modern education has shaped us through print books into acquirers of disembodied information, often eliminating the relationality present in oral cultures. The third thing we must remember is that our modern culture has transformed us into consumers of goods, which has led us to view everything as a transaction of goods for services.

All three of these realities shape the way we often approach Scripture. Peterson asserts:

These three powerful, hard-to-detect influences operate quietly behind our backs and subvert the very nature of Scripture, which is to provide a means for listening to the word of God (99).

To escape from this cultural captivity, we must re-approach the fourfold sequence of Scripture’s integrity: “speaking, writing, reading, listening” (99). Books connect listeners with speakers from all times and places through the process of writing and reading. However, in a culture that often puts the emphasis upon the middle two elements of writing and reading, we need to recover the radical relationality that must exist in Scripture between the God who speaks and the us who listens.

What is the key to this? Leaning into Psalm 40:6 in the Revised Standard Version – “ears thou hast dug for me” – Peterson says the key is letting God turn our eyes into ears. We have to recover the listening necessary as our eyes scour the pages of Scripture.

The act of reading becomes an act of listening. What was written down is revoiced….No longer is God’s word merely written; it is voiced. The ear takes over from the eye and involves the heart (102).

And so, pastors must recover the ability to hear with their eyes, while engaging their hearts in the approach to Scripture. We must not read informationally but transformationally, and that transformation comes first through our sense being reoriented and reengaged in our approach to the word of God. When we begin to do this as pastors, we can help our congregations do the same. In the midst of that engagement, the words of Jesus again loom large in our imagination – and our ears – with great depth:

He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mark 4:9).

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]

Saturday Prayer 29

How can those who are young keep their way pure? By living according to Your word. (Psalm 119:9)

Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17:17

Lord, make me alive according to Your word.
Take me into the truth, for Your word is truth.
I want to live according to Your word, but am amazed by how I fall out of Your path.
Come and teach me.

Shine upon the crooked, untrue ways in me, that I might live in You.

[This is part of a series of prayer posts in 2012 that began here.]

Devoted to God’s Word

We continued our series “Living Church” this weekend at Eastbrook Church by looking at the statement, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). My message was entitled “Devoted to God’s Word.” The main point was that if we are going to be a church that is alive – a church living out our […]

Guidance for Reading through the Bible in a Year

What follows is an email that I sent out to the group of people who are journeying with me through the Bible this year. I am copying it up here because there may be some who are not on the emailing list I have, and I thought I’d share it. If you want to be on my emailing list for Through the Bible 2011, please drop me an email at this address:

Through the Bible 2011
“Teach me, Lord, the way of Your decrees, that I may follow it to the end.” (Psalm 119:33)

Thank you all for signing up to read through the Bible with me this coming year. I am really looking forward to Read More »