Friday, September 12, 2014

The Courage to Read: Ps 1 (Part Three)

Psalm One’s vision for life is more than a self-help plan or self-empowerment. It lifts up a moment-by-moment reflection on Scripture as our roadmap for the journey of faith. A Scripture saturated and shaped life is one that prospers in advancing God’s kingdom. It offers us the security of a moment-by-moment relationship with God that empowers us to live in the now of the present as God’s hands, feet, and mouthpieces of his grace, love, and justice.

Psalm 1 ends with an assurance of the future.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed. (TNIV)

A Secure Future
Evil and wickedness will not be the final word. God’s ways of righteous will stand the test of time. This is not triumphalistic in the sense of reveling in the destruction of enemies. It is a word to us in the present to bolster our courage and confidence to walk in God’s ways with Scripture as our guide. It recognizes that the way forward as God’s people is not always easy. There will be desperate times ahead. In fact, beginning with Psalm 3, we find some of the most desperate prayers imaginable as God’s people cry out to God for help as they seek to walk faithfully through the world as God’s witnesses.

God is With Us
Verse six ends with a key reminder of the agent of success and security. It is God. Scripture serves as our guide only because it grants us access to God. God is the one who secures our future and blesses our lives. The spiritual life is never a 2 + 2 = 4 proposition. It is dynamic and relational as we live and breathe and walk moment by moment with God. The way of the wicked ultimately ends because the way of wickedness and evil is purposeless and without meaning.

Psalm one’s view of life is audacious even in its presentation. The first word on the Psalm in Hebrew begins with aleph the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The last word in verse six beings with tav the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet. This is a poetic way of declaring that psalm one’s vision of two ways in all encompassing. Verse six reminds us that it is the God of the Exodus who is the decisive factor. As followers of Jesus, we have now experienced God’s climactic act of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the fullest expression of God’s power to save and guarantee the future. Jesus is the living and breathing Word who calls us to follow him into the world on mission.

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament serve as our map for this life. Psalm one reminds us that the journey to true success begins word by word and phrase by phrase as we come to Scripture expecting delight and breathing in its life giving message. This will give us the foundational roots to live as the people whom God created us to be.

How Rooted Are you?
When I first moved to Florida in 2000, there was the threat of a hurricane. It ended up being only a tropical storm by the time it reached shore, but being new to the state I listend to the news anchors and moved all loose yard items either into our garage or onto our patio. This included a number of potted plants that decorated our yard at the time.

I had just purchased three beautiful Jasmine plants that I intended to plant in our front yard. I put them on the patio for safe-keeping from the storm and went to bed. During the night, the storm weakened and amounted to nothing. It caused zero damage. My dog, McKenzie, though, decided that the jasmine looked appetizing. So when I awoke the next morning I found our patio covered with dirt and the three Jasmine plants eaten all the way down to the root ball. Only about an inch of stem remained above the root ball and the plants were strewn across our backyard.

The nursery had said the plants were guaranteed for a year but I didn’t think that the guarantee extended to damage from a crazy dog. So I simply picked up what was left of the Jasmine - the root system. Replanted it and watered it.  And know what?  It grew back and these plants look absoulutely beautiful to this day.

How is your root system?

Let’s pray:
As we read Scripture, grant us ears to hear, minds and hearts to believe, and hands and feet to move forward in faithfully. Thank you for guiding us into the world.
In Jesus’ name: Amen

© 2014 Brian D Russell

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Courage to Read: Psalm 1 (Part Two)

Psalm 1 challenges us to muster the courage to read Scripture and ponder it deeply out of an attitude of delight. The end of this mode of life is the happy life.

Let’s listen to verses 3–4:
3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-- whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Models a Constant Attentiveness to Scripture
Psalm one does not merely advocate that the blessed person will meditate on Scripture constantly. The Psalm itself models this by actually using the words of Scripture to make its point. We already pointed out that verse 2 echoes God’s words to Joshua in Joshua 1.

Verse 3 draws from multiple texts as well. Virtually every word is drawn from another OT text: Jer 17:5-8; Ezekiel 47:12, and Genesis 39:3 and 23. Like Jeremiah 17, the psalmist describes the blessed person as one planted by streams of water. Like Ezekiel 47:12, there is always fruit and the leaves do not whither. Like Joseph in Genesis 39, there is always success. We’ll say more about these in a moment, but the key is to recognize the need for the words of Scripture to permeate and shape us for our journey of faith. There will be good times as well as times of hardship. The Psalter itself with its mix of lament, praise, and thanksgiving demonstrates this. Scripture is our guide to navigating the waters of life successfully as the people whom God calls us to be.

New Matrix for Success
Ps 1 redefines success in terms of being near to God and implementing the divine
will. Success does not equate with material possessions or wealth necessarily. Success does not mean an absence of suffering for the righteous. When read in light of the texts from which it was constructed, the tree imagery of Ps 1:3 becomes a potent call to choose the way of life. Clinton McCann aptly writes, “The point of the simile is not that the righteous will not suffer, but rather that the righteous will always have in God a reliable resource to face and endure life’s worst” (“‘The Way of the Righteous’ in the Psalms”, 137).

God’s people succeed because they are rooted in Scripture. The text from Ezekiel links the waters with the waters of life flowing from the Temple. In other words, Scripture is a pipeline and conduit to God. The promise of success is success in accomplishing God’s will for the moment. Verse 2 alludes to Joshua; verse 3 alludes to Joseph. God gave each success in different circumstances. Joshua succeeded explicitly in life; Joseph succeeded and prospered from the bottom up. Genesis 39 speaks of God prospering him as a slave in Potiphar’s house and as a prisoner in Egypt. It is important for us to recognize this new matrix for success. It is living faithfully in the present moment to advance the will of God.

How Deep are Your Roots
Verses 3 and 4 challenge us with a contrasting view of life. Will we be the successful tree or simply be blown about as chaff in the wind?

The key is our root system. How deep are your roots? If our roots are strong, we can be battered by storms. We can lose all of our leaves in winter. We can experience broken limbs. But at the end of the day, we will continue to grow and prosper as long as our roots are near the streams of life giving water. This life giving water is available to us today in the Scriptures.

As we seek to follow Jesus faithfully into the world today, will you find the courage to take up the Scriptures and allow their words to shape your life and guide you to true success in accomplishing God’s work and mission in the world?

Let’s pray:
Our Loving God,
Make us as strong as oaks by empowering in us the courage to read your Word. Allow your life giving words to flow into us so that we may allow your love and justice to flow back into the world as we seek to serve as your hands, your feet and your mouthpieces in the world today.
In Jesus’ name: Amen

© 2014 Brian D. Russell

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Crafting a Missional Ethos through the Study of Scripture

The Scriptures reveal the true God and God’s mission to redeem a lost humanity and heal a fractured creation. God’s mission assumes the active involvement of God’s people in the advancement of God’s kingdom. It is crucial for local communities of faith to reposition and realign their goals and resources to engage the world with the Gospel. Scripture is our road map toward this end. Mission begins in the book of Genesis and is central to the overarching narrative of the Bible (Creation—Fall—Israel—Jesus—Church—New Creation).

Mission as Center
Followers of Jesus Christ need to rediscover God’s mission as central to the story that God desires to write through our lives. From the story of Israel through the spread of the Gospel in the New Testament and up till today, God has been working to establish a missional community in the world that would serve the Creation by embodying and reflecting God’s character to, in, and for the Creation. This community exists to testify to the world the reality of God. Too often today, however, mission exists on the periphery of communities of faith. The work of mission and evangelism can easily be handed over to a few with the “gifts” for this work or to a “missions” committee. Studying the Bible carefully will demonstrate that mission is a value for all rather than a gift for a few.

Mission and Reading Scripture
The biblical narrative envisions all of God’s people as active participants with God in God’s work in the world. When we engage the world, we will return to the Bible with a different set of questions than we would ask if we only read the Bible within the four walls of our churches. When we only read the Bible in or for the Church, we unwittingly mute the voice of Scripture because we will find ourselves only “preaching to the choir.” The Bible was inspired by a missional God who worked through human authors who were engaged in God’s work in the world. As followers of Christ, we exist in two realities—we are the Church and we live in the World. It is only when we take this dual existence seriously that we can hear God’s Word in all its fullness. The sweet spots for reading the Bible are those places where God’s work, the world, and God’s people intersect.

The Missionally Devout Life
When we read Scripture as the roadmap to mission, spiritual formation is not separated from missional engagement. A devotional life becomes more than personal spiritual growth. Instead, our devotional life empowers us to live as God’s ambassadors in the world. Reflection upon Scripture is a necessity for life. Study is a gift that we are giving to those with whom we will interact in our lives. Scripture serves as a fuel for mission rather than merely food for devotional thought. Our engagement with the world will drive us back to the Scriptures with new questions and fresh perspectives. Active participation in mission takes us out of the safety of our own communities of faith and sends us out into the uncharted seas of the world. These are places where our stock Christian answers and insider talk may be incomprehensible to those with whom we speak. It is encounters in the world that necessitate a missional reading of the text. The way forward is a passionate and rigorous return to the principal source of our knowledge of Jesus and the mission of God - the Bible. Being on mission demands that we are intimately acquainted with the Scriptures in their totality. In the Bible, we encounter the mission of God to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, and we meet humanity in all of its potential, fallenness, and ambiguity. If we learn to read the Bible in light of our missional practice, we will be more discerning in our conversations with others and learn to speak in the language of persons created in God’s image.

Transformation not Information
Last our goal in reading is transformation rather than information. We come to the Scriptures to learn how to function as God’s people in the world rather than to fill our minds with facts and propositions. Scripture shapes an ethos of expectation for God’s people in terms of their actions, holiness, and community. A missional reading engages the Scriptures with all available tools, but recognizes that interpretation is incomplete without obedience and change on the part of its hearers. The transformation demanded by Scripture is heard as a call to conversion. Followers of Jesus are called to (re)align to God’s intentions for God’s people and those outside of the faith are invited to convert to God’s intentions for humanity by becoming part of God’s people.

What do you think?

© 2014 Brian D. Russell