Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Learning By Doing

You would think I'd know how to read the Bible. I grew up in the church, was raised in a scripture-reading family, have two theology and biblical study degrees, and have served as a pastor for the last 15 years.

But I just now feel like I'm learning to read the Bible well.

These last 3 years of preaching on a near-weekly basis, combined with the weekly rhythm of teaching Bible study, has done wonders in my ability to read the text well. I'm asking better questions of the text, I'm more curious than ever, and I've loved the grind of hunting for answers to these queries.

I'm finally experiencing what I always knew to be true: that you learn best by doing.

For years, I spent innumerable and invaluable time in classrooms and study sessions, learning about the mechanics and technique of reading the Bible. But I rarely, actually read the Bible. I wasn't practicing what I was learning. It's only through diving deeply into the rich, sacred text of scripture that I have walked away with its rich, sacred meaning for my life. I've finally given the Bible the room to work in and on and through me, and it's most-certainly doing its work.

So, may we all be people who take scripture really seriously. May we wrestle with scripture, diving deep into its truth and significance, not surfacing until we've wrangled blessing from its pages. Let's not just be a 'Bible-believing church,' but a Bible reading church. But, more importantly, let's allow our time in scripture to actually mold us into more committed followers of Jesus.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Discomfort of Scripture

that's what I'm afraid of!

Yesterday, in my sermon, I called out both capitalism and democracy as potentially idolatrous! Yikes…I’m surprised to still be typing this as a First Baptist employee!

Now, to be clear, I didn’t comment on partisan politics in any way. And I didn’t universally critique the economic model of capitalism, but specifically named the ways we allow this neutral economic system to become corrupt. But still, I’m well-aware that those subjects have become taboo in our culture and I was saying some things that probably made people squirm.

But it’s not my fault – Paul made me say it!

The beauty of critiquing these staples of Western culture within the framework of a sermon series on a book of the Bible (in this case, Colossians) is that I simply get to blame the author (in this case, Paul) for making me say what I said. Throughout Colossians, Paul is constantly critical of the corruption, oppression, and abuse of the Roman Empire. It’s an incredibly political and revolutionary letter. So, if Paul didn’t want me to critique the economic and political systems of our day, then he shouldn’t have done so himself –  boldly critiqued the hollow and deceptive philosophies that were trying to take the Colossians captive.

It’s not my fault – Paul made me say it!

And I absolutely mean that. For the first time in my brief preaching career, I am committed to not watering down the gospel and sanitizing scripture to make it more palatable for myself and my congregation to digest. As Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat say in their profoundly brilliant book Colossians Remixed, “Any rehearing of a biblical text in a different cultural situation must attempt to maintain the audacity and offense of the original text." If a passage of scripture is political, challenging, and/or offensive and we don’t read it and preach it in a political, challenging, and/or offensive manner, then we are doing a great injustice to the text and aren’t reading, interpreting, and living it the way it was intended.

And for me, the preacher of that text, it probably means I’m being a coward.

So, no more cowardice from me. If the text is challenging and hard and would have ruffled 1st Century Roman feathers, then I need to communicate this feather-ruffling truth as accurately and faithfully as I can for our contemporary culture. I’ll try my hardest to never take sides. I’ll work to keep my bias out of the pulpit. But I won’t apologize for reading the Bible accurately and faithfully and the telling the truth each Sunday – even when the truth is hard to hear and even harder to live.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Learning to Trust

I’m probably no different than everyone else, but when difficult and tenuous situations arise, I can pretty easily fear the worst while allowing my anxiety to surface and my blood pressure to rise. I like change and embrace newness, but the unknown is still quite scary and unsettling. I much prefer it when life is smoothly and simply streaming along, without hiccup or hindrance. I dread dealing with difficulty. I fervently fear failure.

So, when our childcare worker at First Baptist, Rachael, announced to me a month ago that her family was moving and she would be leaving in June, I dreaded the human resources nightmare of hiring her replacement. We’ve had a hard time finding good people to care for the kids at our church—striking out left and right. We’ve sometimes gone months without filling that position. We’ve hired people we were excited about only to have them quit before they started. We’ve had employees that were good, not great. But Rachael has been incredible, and I feared trying to replace her.

But God continues to teach me about trust.

We had listed the position on the web and were receiving some interest, but none of them seemed qualified or right for the position. And my cynicism, fear, and anxiety was growing. But then, out of nowhere, our Administrative Assistant at the church said she would ask a friend if she was interested. To be brief, she was interested, her resume was spectacular, the interview went great, and Ali will be starting as our new Childcare Worker on June 17—with only one week of gap between employees.

Why don’t I trust more often? Why do I let my fears get the best of me? Why do my fantasies almost always conjure up the worst possible scenario?

One of my favorite verses of scripture as a kid was Proverbs 3:5 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understandings.” I too often think I know how things are going to happen. I’ve been burned in the past, a project went badly, or a task was terrible – so I just assume that it will be the same the next time. I lean too heavily on my own understandings.

But God is helping me learn to trust him with all my heart – even through simple things like hiring a new employee – and I hope He will be patient with me, because I’m not a very quick learner.