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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 September 2021

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. Disclaimer: 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.


“Expect No Ethnic Majority in 2065 America. How Can Churches Fight Fear and Embrace Diversity Now?”Suzanna Edwards at The Better Samaritan: “If you think the U.S. is a melting pot now, just wait another 30 years. By 2065, the White demographic will cease to be the majority, and no single race or ethnicity will constitute a majority. For many people in the current majority, this statistic is cause for fear. But if we let go of our fear and embrace diversity, we will not only be better off, but we will look more like the kingdom God will raise up in glory. The New Samaria, or ‘Samerica,’ as author Alejandro Mandes refers to it, represents the increasingly multiethnic population in the United States. That’s what he unpacks in Embracing the New Samaria (NavPress, 2021), with the goal ‘to help Christian leaders learn to see, love, reach, and ultimately be the New Samaria in a way that brings true transformation to our churches and communities’. Mandes guides readers through each of these steps, providing his own perspective as a non-White evangelical and allowing readers to expand their own views regarding multiethnic communities. Each chapter concludes with a reflection section, complete with challenging questions, spiritual exhortations, and recommended action items.”


american-bible-society-german-bible-large“Bring Your Bible to Class — or Church” – Wesley Hill at The Living Church: “As I prepare to begin my 10th year as a seminary professor, I’m going to begin the biblical capstone class I’ll be teaching by recommending that my students consider taking up a habit they’re likely unfamiliar with: bringing an actual, physical, printed-and-bound Bible to class. My reason for the recommendation isn’t just about nostalgia, though I did grow up carrying a Bible to church each Sunday. The first Bible I recall as being “my Bible” (the possessive pronoun being a piece of Christian-speak that seems to have burrowed its way into the instinctive vocabulary of the faithful) was the Youthwalk edition of the New International Version, given to me by my parents while I was still in middle school. I liked the swath of deep purple that stood out on the cover, but I don’t recall reading it much, aside from thumbing through it to find isolated verses, old favorites that I had already memorized, or gathered that I ought to have memorized. It wasn’t until I was in high school, when I acquired a faux-leather-bound study edition of the New King James Version, that I started reading larger chunks of Scripture, often while sitting at church when I grew bored with the sermon. That’s how I learned my way around the Bible, stringing the verse-pearls I already knew onto a more extensive narrative, historical, and theological thread.”


Workplace spirituality“Why Intel and other top companies make room for religion in the office” – Kelsey Dallas at Deseret News: “Intel has been a star in the technology world for nearly half a century. One secret to its success is a little more spiritual than you might have guessed, according to CEO Pat Gelsinger. In a recorded message that will play during an international conference on business and religion this week, Gelsinger highlights the competitive advantage that comes from building a culture that celebrates personal faith alongside other employee traits. At Intel, workers are free to ‘bring their entire self’ to the office, he says. ‘When we take into account everyone’s nuanced differences, we put our organizations in a position to capture truly sustainable business advantages,’ Gelsinger says. Intel put itself in that position in part by enabling employees to form resource groups based on religion, says Sandra Rivera, the organization’s former chief people officer and current executive vice president, in the same video. Currently, Intel has seven such groups, including one for atheists and agnostics, she says.”


Ambivalent Embodiment“Ambivalent Embodiment: Lessons from pastors’ work in the pandemic” – Peter Hartwig in Comment: “‘There’s something funny about the term embodiment, in the sense that it’s already an abstraction,’ says Dr. Elizabeth Powell. ‘By saying “yes I’m going to write or think about embodiment” it’s already saying we’re in a position in which we look at our bodies,’ as opposed to being in our bodies. She makes a good point, the irony of which is nearly tragic. Embodiment is the term we have come up with to refer to the fact that we human beings experience our lives and our selves through our bodies. Everything we do involves our bodies in one way or another. The creation of art, the completion of work, even the generation of thought all require a body. So, too, our bodies are our way of interacting with the world around. No relationship or interaction we have happens without our bodies; they are just about the most concrete, practical, down-to-earth thing about us. So when I said yes, I’m going to write and think about embodiment, I figured I would need an anchor, something to keep me out of the clouds of theory and speculation. Who better to anchor me than pastors? After all, it has been pastors who have faced the pandemic head-on.”


Walter Wangerin, Jr.“Philip Yancey: My Benediction to the Beloved Storyteller, Walter Wangerin Jr.” – Philip Yancey at Christianity Today: “Last week, Walter Wangerin Jr. passed away, and a unique voice fell silent. His wife Thanne (short for Ruth Anne), his family, and a few close friends from Valparaiso University were with him when he died. I first encountered Walter as a speaker at a conference in which we both participated. A slender man with a handsome, angular face and a shock of dark hair, he stalked the stage like a Shakespearean actor. I thought of the accounts of Charles Dickens sitting onstage in the great halls of England, reading his stories to a mesmerized audience. Yet Wangerin was neither reading nor sitting. He was performing in the purest sense of the word, weaving stories and concepts together in erudite prose, directing our minds and emotions much as a conductor directs an orchestra’s sounds—now meditative and melodic, now electrifying and bombastic. We got to know each other mainly through the Chrysostom Society, a group comprising 20 or so writers of faith. Walt usually sat quietly on the margins, stroking his then-shaven chin while observing everything around him with piercing blue eyes. He rarely showed emotion, and when he spoke, he acted as a peacemaker, calming the heated arguments that sometimes emerged from the gaggle of writers. A pastor by profession and calling, he seemed thrilled simply to be in the company of writers.”


Little Miriam RESIZE“In Golan Heights landscapes, photographer reimagines biblical women’s stories” – Nadja Sayej reviews Women of the Bible by Dikla Laor in National Catholic Reporter: “So often when many of us think of women in the Bible, Eve comes to mind. But who else? A self-published photography book, aptly called Women of the Bible, by photographer Dikla Laor, celebrates dozens of biblical women and aims to shine a light on the important roles that biblical matriarchs played in the holy texts. ‘While biblical women have been instrumental to the foundations of human history, the details of their lives are hazy and their voices unclear, often glazed over in stories that are so dear to our hearts,’ Laor told me. ‘The unsung power of the women from the beginning of time is a story begging to be told.’ Placing biblical women center stage in biblical history is part of the approach for the recreated scenes.”


Music: Third Coast Percussion, “Niagara,” from Paddle to the Sea.

The Weekend Wanderer: 10 July 2021

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. Disclaimer: 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.


“The Platform is Not the Person” – Scot McKnight in his TOV newsletter: “We all present ourselves to give good impressions to others. Ordinary community members want other ordinaries to think of them in positive ways. More public figures in a community do the same, sometimes with a more ramped method of image management. Teachers do this in their teaching, pastors do this from the platform and pulpit and in various communications, neighbors can be quite busy in managing what other neighbors think of them. Authors present themselves in their writings in a way that readers trust and then think of them in those terms. What about social media? Not a few critics think the whole thing is little more than image construction and management. I’m not so cynical, but let’s not be naïve: our social media is a forum of self-presentation. Let’s call all this self-presentation the platform. On the platform we create a persona, and the persona is what we want others to think of us, whether we are curating that image or not. Others generate impressions of who we are on the basis of our public presentation. Untangling persona and platform from person, personality and character require discerning eyes, wisdom, and discernment.”


green-burial“Green burial as an act of faith” – Dawn Araujo-Hawkins in The Christian Century: “Hoeltke started looking for a more Christlike alternative to conventional US burial practices—and she found it in the resurgent green or natural burial movement. Broadly speaking, green burial means caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact. That usually includes forgoing any chemical embalming, opting for a shroud or a biodegradable coffin instead of the more popular steel or fiberglass, and skipping the cement vaults that typically enclose a coffin in the ground. It can also mean being buried in a cemetery that practices land conservation efforts. And for some people, like Hoeltke, natural burial also involves a more participatory burial process: washing and dressing your loved one’s body at home, accompanying them to the grave site, physically laying them into the ground, and then fully covering their body with dirt. ‘It’s a really beautiful experience. And I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve seen the beauty of what can happen,’ Hoeltke said.”


“On Re-Reading Acts” – Alan Jacobs at Snakes and Ladders: “I’ve been re-reading the book of Acts, and my chief response this time is: It’s wonderfully encouraging to see how bluntly and unapologetically Luke records a chronicle of confusion, ineptitude, and misdirected enthusiasm. The apostles are often a collective mess, and Luke does nothing to hide that from us. I find this strangely consoling. It’s also fascinating to note how little the apostles understand the message they been entrusted with. They know that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel, and they know that the Christ’s own people rejected him and demanded his death – but beyond that they’re a little fuzzy about what the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus mean.”


faith doubt“Writing in the Sand: The Poetry of Doubt and Faith” – Christian Wiman in Plough: “A few years ago I was asked to give the convocation address at Yale Divinity School, where I have taught for the past decade. Not only did I happen to be reading George Marsden’s biography of the great eighteen-century minister and theologian Jonathan Edwards, who was both a student and tutor at Yale, but I happened to have paused at precisely the moment when Edwards himself was about to address the student body. Teaching in an institution to which I would not have been admitted as a student (bad grades, bad ‘life choices’), I was flattered by the association, and it occurred to me that many of the students in attendance might be as well. To be welcomed into a place with so much august history, so much intellectual curiosity and attainment, so many great names – surely it’s worth a moment of pride. But maybe just a moment….What I do have instead are two things. The first is a first-century Jew from Nazareth well known for his oratorical skills but nevertheless, at a crucial moment in his ministry, remaining silent and writing in the sand. It is a strange moment – and one of my very favorite stories from the New Testament. I’ll come back to that. The second thing is another form of writing in the sand: poetry.”


Wendell Berry's radical conservatism“When Losing Is Likely: Wendell Berry’s Conservative Radicalism” – Brad East in The Point: “The lesson: “cultivating our own gardens and learning the virtues we have forgotten will not suffice to save the world.” Scialabba is surely correct about that. But I think he is wrong about Berry, and in a way that opens the door to larger questions. Those questions concern the connection between public justice and private virtue—or, put differently, whether justice is at once a private and a public virtue. Furthermore, they raise an issue facing a variety of factions and social movements across the world today: namely, whether it is possible to live with integrity, not to mention a clean conscience, when the causes in which one believes and for which one advocates are likely to lose.”


Patriotism?“How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?” – David French at The Dispatch: “Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power. The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer?”


Music: Mordent.IO, “The Foundation”

3 Transformational Ways to Read Scripture

This past weekend in my message, “The Messiah’s Call,” I emphasized the importance of regular, transformational reading of Scripture. If we are going to truly hear Jesus’ call toward discipleship, we need to put ourselves regularly before the Scripture, asking God to speak into our lives.

For some of us, this is an easy practice to develop. We have experience with reading the Bible and we may have figured out what works well for us. For others, this may seem overwhelming or hard to figure out. Because of that, let me suggest four ways we can read Scripture for transformation. Each of these approaches to reading Scripture are things I have written about previously, so I hope you don’t mind if I refer you to other blog posts about them.

First, let me encourage us to consider slowing down to read Scripture meditatively through the ancient practice of lectio divina, or divine reading. These three posts will help you familiarize yourself with this practice:

Second, if you have never read through the Bible in a year, let me encourage that practice. There are many Bible reading plans that you can access, such as Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan or the One Year Bible reading guide. Several years ago, I invited our entire church to read the Bible in a year and I have an introductory letter about that: “Guidance for Reading through the Bible in a Year”.

Third, while reading the entire Scripture through methodically can be powerful, I have found that a helpful balance to that is slowing down to memorize passages of Scripture for ongoing meditation and prayer during the day. Read this post for guidance on Scripture memory: “Tips and Tools for Memorizing Scripture.”

What have been some of the ways you have most transformationally engaged with reading Scripture?

The Weekend Wanderer: 10 October 2020

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.


read aloud“Why you should read this out loud” – When our children were young we began reading aloud to them even when they were babies, inspired by the work of Jim Trelease and Gladys Hunt. As they grew older we found that we still enjoyed reading aloud. As they have begun to leave the house we continue to read books aloud as a couple because we love enjoying a good book or article together. Recent research suggests that reading aloud might not only be good with others but also on our own.


image 1 - COVID-19“N. T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann look to the Bible for wisdom during the pandemic” – When two wise and seasoned students of the Scriptures write about how to think Christianly about the pandemic it is worth paying attention. Both N. T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann are renowned biblical scholars of the New Testament and Old Testament respectively and both have written about recent works, God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath (Wright) and Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty (Brueggemann) that Jason Mahn helpfully reviews in The Christian Century.


Spiritual Formation of Evelyn Underhill“Book review: The Spiritual Formation of Evelyn Underhill. By Robyn Wrigley-Carr – Evelyn Underhill is one of those unique authors from an earlier era whose writings continue to have relevance in our own day and time. Perhaps best known for her important work Mysticism, Underhill moved from an open-ended psychological spirituality to a deeper yet more rooted approach to the spiritual life  as evidenced by her works Worship and Concerning the Inner Life. Underhill’s words continue to speak to us today about prayer and also have set the stage for evangelical engagement with spiritual formation and spiritual direction. With a notable preface by Eugene Peterson, Robyn Wrigley-Carr’s recent work The Spiritual Formation of Evelyn Underhill is a work I look forward to reading and is worth paying attention to.


Ravi Zacharias“New sexual misconduct claims surface about Ravi Zacharias” – There are certain stories I hate to mention but still know it is important to discuss because it shines the light on paying attention to and overcoming the dark side of ministry. This is one of those stories. Just five months ago we marked the passing of Ravi Zacharias, who has been Recent reports, however, show that Zacharias may have been involved in questionable activities, which are now being investigated by his own ministry, his denomination, and others. Stories like this remind us both to be aware of human failings, even in our heroes, and to guard the weak from being misused by those who hold power.


For the Health“For the Health of the Nation: A Call to Civic Responsibility” – The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and World Relief issued a joint statement and sign-on letter built upon an earlier work of the NAE called “For the Health of the Nation.” This latest efforts seeks to promote faithful, evangelical, civic engagement and a biblically-balanced agenda as Christians seek to commit to the biblical call to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. I encourage you to read and explore the website which has a number of very helpful resources.


Time Distortion“Why Our Sense of Time is Distorted During the Pandemic” – Here is an enlightening interview with Dr. E. Alison Holman by Jamie Aten, Executive Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, about why we often feel like we’re in a time warp during the pandemic. “Altered perceptions of time and its passing are common experiences of people facing trauma, as trauma can peel away the façade of the future, and interrupt the flow of time. This creates perceptual distortions such as feeling like time has stopped or that everything is in slow motion, experiencing a sense of timelessness, confusing the order of time and days, and perceiving a foreshortened future. My research suggests that these changes in perceptions of time and our views of the future may have significant implications for our health and well-being.”


Jefferson Bible“‘The Jefferson Bible’ Review: The Gospel, Sans Miracles” – Many have heard of Thomas Jefferson’s famous editing of the Bible, in which he rearranged portions of the New Testament into something radically different with Jesus less as a Savior than an insightful teacher. He called this project “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” but kept it secret out of fear that his work would be too controversial. With “his scrapbook of New Testament excerpts, the third president offered a dramatic revision of Christian tradition. The New Testament presented ‘the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man,’ he recognized, even if he hoped to sharpen those qualities by means of redaction.


Music: Johannes Brahms, “Piano Quartet No.1 in g minor, Op.25 4. Rondo alla zingarese: Presto” performed by Paul Huang, Jung Yeon Kim, Ole Akahoshi, and Jessica Osborne at the Seoul Arts Center

[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.]