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Month: October 2006

The Beautiful Gate

The Beautiful Gate

I’ve been meditating a bit on Acts 3:1-10, the story of the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the temple. Often we look at stories like this and just think it’s a nice story of miraculous healing. But I believe that miracles are intended to communicate a message, and when they are told in detail, there’s a very important message there indeed.

I see this one in two parts. Now some folks are going to agree mostly with the first half of what I’m getting out of this passage, while others will agree with the second, but I think they go together.

There’s something ironic about a lame man begging at the “beautiful” gate. The name of the gate suggests attraction and welcome, and yet here he is, brought every day to watch people go into the temple and beg something from them. The others can go into the blessing of worship, but he’s left outside. There were some who felt that those who were deformed should not enter the temple (Leviticus 21:17-18 applied to priests; Deuteronomy 23:1-7 applies other restrictions, including those against foreigners, all to be removed according to Isaiah 56), but it was a rule that was to pass with the Messianic age (Isaiah 56:1-8).

So as Peter and John pass by, proclaiming Jesus as the anointed one of God, there was a message to give. It was time for this man to enter the temple–and he did.

This passage led me to thinking about open doors. How many people are sitting at the gates of the church, waiting to be let in. I’m not just talking about the physical doors to your church, but the doors to your community, to the body of Christ in your neighborhood. Are there people waiting just outside, looking for someone to help them? Are the folks just walking by, occasionally throwing them a glance or a even a coin, and then going on in, leaving them outside?

What are the barriers? Class? Race? (Yes, it’s still a factor.) Theology? Drug addiction? Cleanliness? Sexual orientation? Known sin that disgusts us? (All theology to the contrary there are clean sins and dirty sins. Clean sins are the ones I commit, dirty sins are the ones everyone else commits. Not really–but you get my drift!)

My church, the United Methodist Church, currently has a slogan “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” There are some relatively slick ads to go with it. That’s the basic idea here. Is the door open?

But despite believing that we need open hearts, minds, and doors in the church, I’ve been uncomfortable with the campaign as it is. When I have a tickling of discomfort about something I agree with, perhaps I need to think a bit more. And reading Acts 3, led me to that point.

Peter and John tell the man that they have no money, but they will give him what they do have. Now I don’t think this is a statement against giving people money. Money is good and helpful, used in the right way. If we have money, it’s right to use it charitably.

But what Peter says is this: “What I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazereth, stand up and walk!” After that he enters the temple. He enters the temple healed.

We do need to ask whether our hearts, minds, and doors are open. But we need to go on and ask what’s going to happen when someone goes through those doors. Is there healing offered? Is there going to be a proclamation of the gospel inside? Will lives be changed? Too frequently in the church today we get people through the door and then leave them just the same. That beautiful gate needs to be open, but it needs to be open to lead to discipleship.

Now please don’t hear me saying that the church needs to be filled with a judgmental attitude. Jesus suggests (Luke 14:12-14) inviting those who need to be healed, but he wants them fed. It’s not a matter of bringing people in and condemning them. Rather we bring people in and together we seek healing from God.

The question I’m thinking about today (and it’s early Sunday morning, before I leave for the church) is this: How is coming through our doors going to change someone’s life? I’m praying that we’ll find a good answer to that. I’d like people to find Someone in our church who can heal them.

Philophronos Blogging

Philophronos Blogging

Laura (Pursuing Holiness) and I started discussing civility in debate about politics in a couple of comment exchanges and have continued via e-mail. As a result she proposed the idea of a blogroll and aggregator to support civil debate. In particular, we are challenging Christians to follow Christian principles in speaking the truth in love.

This is not a request to give up convictions. Rather the plan is to express those convictions with civility. This is not going to make your communication of your convictions any less effective. Insults and negative personal comments often help rally the people who support you, but your opponents are not likely to be persuaded by them in any case.

The actual requirements of this blogroll are in Laura’s post. I fully endorse those and hope that others will join in.

Let’s become better informed voters together!

Scripture Index

Scripture Index

I have created an index of major Bible passages for all my blogs and sites. It is not complete as yet, but I will continue to add all new blog entries and essays to it and to catch up with old ones. It does not include all scripture references but just those passages that are the topic of the particular entry.

The link is Scripture Index.

Server Problems/Lost Comments #2

Server Problems/Lost Comments #2

This is the second try. Everything collapsed again immediately after my last post. The server folks say they’re “working on it.” It seems to be up right now, so let’s just hope this will keep up!

I can restore comments and will try to do so over the next couple of days.

My Dad’s Bible

My Dad’s Bible

You’ve probably heard the saying, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” Little proverbs like this can be misleading. I know some folks who are not believers in any sense of the word, and whose main purpose in studying is to find new ways to attack the faith of those who do believe, and who wear out Bibles quite regularly.

But in general, I think this one is quite accurate, and that fact concerns me. The problem is that folks that I encounter in various churches are much more likely to have Bibles that are weighted with dust, than ones that are falling apart. I have learned that I cannot assume that individuals in my classes know the outlines of such stories as Ruth, Esther, Elijah, or King David. That applies even to churchgoers who are active enough to show up for a weekend with a visiting teacher, and thus to be meeting me on a Friday night! It’s hard to teach about more difficult topics when one can’t refer to basic stories without actually tellling the whole story right then.

Our words indicate that the Bible is important to us. I don’t encounter many Christians of any flavor or tradition stream who will say that studying the Bible is unimportant. But if I ask just what they do about that, it’s a different matter. One common request I get is for a quick way to study the Bible, perhaps “How to Know your Bible in 5 Minutes Per Day.” I haven’t invented such a plan, and I think it will always fail, because to study and know the Bible is in many ways also to study and know the God of the Bible, and we will never actually finish doing that (Ephesians 3:18-19).

I have a Bible that I inherited from my father. He was no longer using it for the simple reason that it’s very hard to use. Pages will fall out as you try to turn them. It’s also a pocket Bible, and the print was a bit small at the time he gave it to me. The margins were filled with notes, and there was marking from cover to cover. He obviously needed a new one. But I wanted to keep this one.

Last week, my father finished his race. I was there, and then I preached the funeral. As we were talking about him, my mother commented on how often I talk about that little pocket Bible. She offered me his current Bible, since I was most likely, amongst my generation, to appreciate it. There turned out to be a problem, however, because there were actually two Bibles. One had a replacement cover my sister had made, and was really the last Bible he used. The other was also marked up, with no space left on the flyleafs, and marginal notes throughout. I was paging through it before I wrote this, thinking I might comment on some of what he had marked, but that would largely be a futile exercise. There are markings everywhere, including Leviticus and Numbers. (I’ve heard people claim to have read the Bible through, but admit to skipping those books.)

Now I have a new Bible to treasure in memory of my father. But the question is this: Is this just a book and a memorial, or does it have meaning?

My father was never very demonstrative. He was a physician who served as a missionary. He rarely preached, only occasionally gave Bible studies, but regularly witnessed. His witness remained simple and straightforward. His strength was in Jesus, his Lord.

I recall my parents praying regularly, at least morning and evening, but if possible three times a day, as did Daniel the prophet. (If you don’t know, go find the reference for that. It’s in the midst of some very worthwhile reading!)

My father made it a habit to pray with each patient that he saw, before every surgery, and on his rounds. Sometimes he and my mother, an RN, would even sing for patients when they made rounds.

After emergency surgery in Guyana in 1971, my father was told he would never work again, and that he would not live more than 10 more years. It was suggested that he return to the states. He and my mother responded, “God sent us here to do a mission, and we haven’t done it yet.” They called for the elders of the church, anointed my father with oil and prayed for his healing. Two weeks later he became the sole physician for a 54 bed hospital and worked at that task for a year before he had any relief. He lived until about 1 1/2 weeks ago, and went home at the age of 86.

When he was being taken into the operating room for his last surgery, my mother asked him how he felt. He said, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. It doesn’t matter how I feel!” Before he was given the anesthetic, he called the surgeons and asked to pray with them. He did this when he was so weak he could not walk.

It sounds to me like these “falling apart” Bibles belonged to someone who wasn’t!

My question for myself, and for all of you is this: Are you so sure of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that you can say, “It doesn’t matter how I feel?” Dad didn’t get the ability to say that all of a sudden. It was a lifetime of wearing out Bibles, wearing out the knees, and exercising the faith that God had given him (and he would not accept credit for any of this–“It is the gift of God,” he would say) that let him face the end of this life and the prospect of eternity with simple confidence.

Reading 12 Times

Reading 12 Times

One of the things that I recommend for Bible study is reading a passage 12 times before you start examining the details. This is, of course, intended for serious study of a passage. I discuss various types of reading here.

This is easily my most ignored recommendation. In fact, I have yet to find anyone who actually carries it out. So why do I go on recommending it?

As background, I learned this method from my mother. For her it was primarily for a text to be memorized. Before settling in to set the details to memory, she suggested reading the whole passage 12 times. When I was younger, we did a lot of memorizing, and I found this process very helpful. In fact, when memorizing a passage I will also stop after a period of time working on verses and phrases to read the whole passage several times. I’ve found that this helps avoid memorizing unevenly, e.g., knowing the earlier part of a chapter, but being unable to finish it.

But the reason I continue to practice this procedure and to recommend it is simple: I believe anyone who does use this method for serious study of a passage will receive a significant blessing. Alternatively, never start digging into a passage without reading it through three times, but that’s not really as good. One of my classes once challenged me on this point. They said that a reader would quit getting anything new after a couple of times through a text. So I told them as an experiment that I would see how many times I could read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) through and still get something new from it. There is no way for you to check me on this, but I had read this passage over 30 times before I simply quit. I used the Greek text and multiple translations, reading from a different one each time, and then compared my underlining and marginal notes to make sure. The point here is not to tell you how much I get out of scripture reading, but to suggest to you how much God’s word and the Holy Spirit can accomplish if you’ll just let God have the time with your mind and spirit. There is nothing like seriously taking in the scripture to open your mind’s door to God. At least I’ve found it that way.

So despite my lack of success in getting people to take on this challenge, I’m going to keep recommending it.

Let me give some suggestions if you’re thinking of trying it.

  • Use multiple translations. When memorizing, of course, you use only one, and I suggest selecting a single version for memorization. But when reading for an overview and to fix the general ideas of a passage in your mind, using multiple translations will help you concentrate. It also prevents you from “seeing what you already know is there.”
  • In the early stages, choose a passage that interests you and for which you have the background. If you’ve never done this before, don’t start on Leviticus, for example. The Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’s sermons in the gospel of John, or even the whole epistle of 1 John are good examples.
  • Have a pen and/or marker handy. Don’t get too caught up in notes, but mark things each time and write marginal notes.
  • Follow up your reading by serious, line by line study of the passage without too much delay.
  • Allow yourself enough time. If you are reading a chapter, you probably need to do this over several days. (For memorizing, you want to do this as quickly as possible. For study, allow yourself time to think and meditate.) For a book, you might allow yourself weeks.
  • Always study prayerfully and with time for meditation and listening for the Holy Spirit to apply the passage to your own life.

I know this whole “12 times” idea sounds way over-the-top to most, but for me it has been a great blessing.

Family Time

Family Time

Family time is a phrase that means many different things to each of us. The words recall memories and regrets.

When I ask my children about family time, it shouldn’t be surprising that it is the time when their parents gave them undivided attention that they recall most vividly. Concerts, meets, and ball games are the events that my children were a part. Knowing that I was going to be there long before the event and then coming on time and showing it was a priority was what wrapped them into secure feelings and gave a boost to their confidence and ego.

Meal times were also big to my children. Even meals that involved a ballgame or show on television were remembered if we did it together! I dip my head in shame as I admit that my parents were correct when they said that coming to the table together with no television or distraction and giving attention to each child and the stories of their day is part of the foundation of a healthy family. This is when important questions of “why” and the impact of world and local events were also discussed. Even spiritual questions were raised. It should be said here that it was a “conversation” not a lecture on my views but time to allow the children, especially in pre-teen to teen years, to express their view and begin to look at what went into their view.

My children are grown now with children of their own. They live in cities halfway across the continent and across the continent. Meal times are often quiet without their activities and voices coming in overlapping waves! But family time is still important. Even with the number around the table being two, it is important to come together and spend time listening to each other.

Soon we will be coming into Thanksgiving and Christmas. Families come together in masses. Maybe there will only be two at your table. Maybe there will be a “mix” at your table that is not connected by blood but by a spirit of friendship and respect. Whatever the number, let us come together and make the most of the family time that is given to us