A Holiday Meditation

mulledciderLast Sunday’s message followed the rubric RAMP. Read it here  Being Light

  • Read
  • Apprehend
  • Mull
  • Practice

In the “M” portion of this message we mull this over.  I use the word “mull” because that is what Meditate is in the Bible. In some forms of meditation, such as mindfulness mediation, the point is to empty our minds and be present without thinking. The Bible’s use of the word mediation is to think about God or the Word of God.  It is to “mull things over.”

Have you ever had mulled apple cider? Someone pours a bunch of cider into a pot, adds cinnamon sticks maybe orange peels and other spices and lets it simmer. We call that “Mulling.” In the process the spices work themselves into the cider and the result is delicious.

That is Biblical mediation. You are the cider and the word of God is the cinnamon sticks and orange peel. You need to apply time and thought so that the word of God works itself into your thinking. From there it works into your living.  It becomes part of you and determines how you live.

 

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Thoughts on Narratives

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There are lots of ways to preach a passage of scripture.  One is to put the narrative into a formula such as this: Give it a title; identify a thesis, make three points, preferably alliterated, and find other stories to illustrate.

For Example:  David and Goliath:

  • Title:Taking on Giants
  • Thesis: You can overcome the impossible.
  • Three Stones:
    • Stand Tall
    • Say a Prayer
    • Shoot!
  • Illustration:  maybe an Olympic Athlete who overcome a hard life to win a gold medal.  If you are up to speed, play a video.  If you are a big church, invite the athlete to speak before the message.

Nothing really wrong with that.   You have heard a sermon like that if you attend a church with a preacher.  Maybe you can see a certain preacher delivering this message. You could probably preach it yourself.  But, do you think that is really what the story is about?

I’ve come to think of preaching narratives differently.  The Biblical stories are already crafted.  They need to be presented freshly. some obscurities need to be explained and the larger context of the story needs to be pulled in.  But mostly the preacher needs to stand to the side and let the story speak as intended.

Here are my thoughts in bullet points:

  • Narratives have a built in structure. Do not squeeze them into your formula – such as three points and a punch line.
  • Narratives are illustrations. They don’t need you to illustrate them so much as explain what is not clear.
  • Stories have power.
  • Use a little freedom in telling it, but make clear what is in the story and what is your own take on it.
  • Don’t over-principalize.  One author has built a book on a sentence of scripture. That seems to be using the text as a scaffold for adding your own thoughts.  It is not hearing the text.
  • Let them remember the story, not the preacher.  People will be telling the story of David and Goliath a lot longer than they will talk about Pastor Bob.  That is a good thing.
  • I prefer the word “Story” to “Narrative.”  Yes, narrative is a literary category, but it has also become an over used bit of semi-scholarly name dropping.  “Story” is  short and clear.

If I get my listeners to hear the familiar in a fresh way, and they have the Biblical story in their minds, I can trust that the Original Author can apply the story to His listeners.

 

 

The 9th Commandment and Politics

 

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We are in a political season.  Our TVs are filled with men and women running for office.  They are all the way from President down to the City Council.  You will see commercials.

One groups tests political ads for truthfulness.   This is helpful.  It is sad to say, but not everything you hear on the news, on a talk show, in a debate or in a commercial is truthful.

There are those who like to get the people afraid and angry.  This is never good.  Important decisions need to be made with the facts, not with angry feelings.

So let me suggest this verse, proverbs 29:8

    Scoffers set a city aflame,
but the wise turn away wrath.

We can actually cause acts of violence with our words.  Wars and riots have been caused this way.  Whole parts of cities have been set on fire.

Let us choose wisdom.  In this season of politics here are some suggestions:

  • Check to see if what you hear is true. It may be a lie that people have come to believe.
  • Before you repeat it or send it out by the internet, ask if this is truthful and helpful? Sometimes we can do harm by telling the truth at the wrong time or with the motivation of anger.
  • Before you accept the lie and repeat it, ask yourself what you can do to make the community better.

Complete Sermon Here: Say No to Lies

1st Commandment

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“To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart…to have a God, as you can well imagine, does not mean to grasp  him with your fingers, or to put him into a purse, or to shut him into a box.  Rather, you lay hold of God when your heart grasps him and clings to him.”

(Martin Luther, Book of Concord, quoted in Interpretation: The Ten Commandments, Miller, p. 19)

Deuteronomy 13

            Scholars agree that Deuteronomy 12 and 13 are applications of the 1st Commandment.  So we will take a look at Deuteronomy 13:1-4

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.  (ESV)

This chapter is a warning against false prophets.   What I want to focus on is a verse that adds to the positive description of the 1st Commandment, verse 4 has six expressions that define and clarify what it means to have no other God and to love God with all your heart, soul and strength.

You shall walk after the Lord your God.  So we start with our feet.  We can with our feet walk away from god.  We can walk in the wilderness with not plan or goal. Or we can walk after the Lord our God.  Our “walk” is the way in which we live. It is the direction and pattern of our lives.  So this means that God is the one who sets the direction and establishes the pattern of our lives.

You shall fear him.  We sometimes see fear when men or women encounter God or an angel of God. They fall to the ground, they withdraw from what seems terrifying, until the Lord says, “do not be afraid.” Synonyms for “fear” are revere respect.  You shall  fear, revere and respect the Lord.  Maybe we should think of this as our bended knees or if your knees are stiff, your bowed heads before the presence of God.

You shall keep his commandments.  We use our eyes to read the word of God, but we can see without seeing.  We need to see them as they are written and then keep them.  If we don’t keep them they will soon slip from our minds like the forgotten jokes and quotes of last week’s newspaper.  These are commands to keep.

You shall obey his voice.  So our ears hear the very voice of God.  We believe that the Bible is not only a historical record and a collection of great literature. Yes, we can start with that idea, but we soon come to realize that it contains the voice of the Living God and we need to obey them.  For us it is not in one ear and out the other. It is in the ear and down to the heart where decisions are made.

You shall serve him. The word for serve can mean to worship him.  We worship in church, and in private devotions, but we also worship him with any part  of our time or treasure that we give to him.

You shall cling to him.  This is the real definition.  We do not have faith when we stand far off with abstract knowledge. We have faith when we cling to him, as if we are holding on for dear life.   Cling to him the way a new born clings to his mother.  Like that newborn, we have no way to live without the strength of the mother and father.