The High-Tension Middle

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A pastoral perspective on LGBT issues and questions

By Pastor Jack Witt

Mark 8:15 (GW)
Jesus warned them, “Be careful! Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!”

I have watched with great interest as Christian pastors and leaders have tried to figure out what careful language to use in addressing the moral, spiritual and legal ramifications of rising attention on the subject of the LGBT community and gay rights.  It is a very complex issue for pastors today.  The way that we talk about this subject is, by necessity broken up into three different groups.  Some people will immediately be offended here because their view of integrity would require that we say the same thing no matter to whom we are talking, but that disallows for the fact that Jesus spoke differently depending on whether He was addressing the general public, the religious leaders or His own disciples.  As we raised our own children we maintained expectations for them that we did not apply to the neighbor’s kid for obvious reasons, but when their cousins visited, there were overlapping areas of grace and requirements that applied to our kin.

The three groups are: the unbelieving world, the group of people who are committed to follow Jesus and love one another in Christian community, and direct relationships I have with LGBT individuals who are in my immediate circle of family or friendships.

1st Group – The Unbelieving World

The problem pastors’ encounter in addressing their position in Facebook posts is that all three groups are generally involved, so those inside the church who are looking for morally clear language are either affirmed or disappointed, and the same applies to the first and third groups.  There simply is not a way to address this subject without offending someone.  What I see a lot of my pastor friends doing through social media is addressing the first group; the unbelieving world.  Essentially they are saying “Hey, we are not judging you.  We love you and want God’s best for you.  We do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, so please don’t expect us to solemnize marriages between same-sex couples (and please don’t sue us for refusing to do that)”.

The Yeast of the Pharisees

In my opinion, the adjustment back away from being moral police who are here to tell the world how to live is a welcomed and necessary one.  The church has created a good deal of the angst that is now being thrown and flaunted in our faces because we have demanded that spiritually blind people walk a straight line while we have selectively minimalized or exaggerated various moral behaviors as they suited our lifestyle or offended our sensibilities.  The Bible essentially says that no one sin is weighted as more than another.  Sin is sin, is sin, etc…  This incidentally is why the LGBT community is so opposed to the church.  We have vilified homosexuality while winking at other sins like greed, pride and gossip.  A sizeable harvest from many years of planting self-righteousness is coming in off the fields and we have to make some hard decisions about eating from it and planting more, or confessing our errors and sending it off to be burned.  This is what Jesus pointed to on several occasions with His disciples, warning them about the invasive yeast of a Pharisee.  Any degree of tolerance that we give to religious legalism in our own souls or in the institutions we lead will not remain confined in shape or size to that original allowance; it will infect and pollute everything.

There are a considerable number of people in local churches who are relieved to hear kinder and gentler words being used by preachers toward the unbelieving world.  They have felt the angst in the world against the church and have likely had to defend the religious moralism dished out by the church in more direct ways than many pastors ever do.  They work every day with openly gay co-workers, they watch Modern Family and follow celebrities like Ellen Degeneres who are smart, funny, compassionate, in committed relationships, and a lesbian.  It is extremely difficult to hold the course, much less the values toward puritanical morality when it seems that no one really knows where true North is anymore and the compass is missing or suspected of being unreliable.  The message of the church becomes much easier to live with when it agrees with the message of the unbelieving world, so we adjust to accommodate for that, framing our entire existence, purpose and mission by a single, yet personally definable word: love.   Who is going to argue with that?  A collective sigh of relief is breathed out by believers all across the world when Christian leaders tell the unbelieving world that we are not here to judge, condemn or moralize;  we love.  There is in that relief, however, the entry point of another kind of yeast about which Jesus also warned.  We will get to that in a minute.

2nd Group – The Community of Faith

The second group that Pastors address is extraordinarily unique.  They are unique because something has transpired in their lives that has changed everything.  Jesus defined what would take place in people who moved from unbelieving to believing as He gave Paul his commission to, “…open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18 – NKJV).  This transformation is the result of faith in Christ and has nothing to do with our choices regarding holiness which affects personal and social morality.  It is in the afterward of receiving forgiveness and this inheritance as sons and daughters of God that holiness becomes an expected and accountable way of life.  In contrast to the way that we cannot expect those who are spiritually blind to walk a straight line, those with open eyes and being turned from darkness to light should no longer act as if they cannot see right from wrong, good from evil, constructive from destructive.

You may have never noticed that most of the letters written to churches in the New Testament are written in halves.  If you are looking for the personal and social morality of holiness, you will need to skip to the second half of the letter.  If you are looking for the message of faith, grace and what Jesus has done for you to secure your salvation and rework your identity, you will need to start in chapter one verse one.  It is always arranged this way because expecting moral compliance from those who have not first experienced grace and received a transformed nature will only produce frustrated legal compliance.  On the other hand, when no such expectations are placed on those who have received this grace, we short-sell the obligations of new birth in Christ and produce people who call themselves Christian, but are not being in any way conformed to His likeness.  The letter to the Romans is a perfect illustration of this.  Paul spends the first eleven chapters describing the salvific work of Jesus and the effects of that work in people who call on His name through faith.  It is from Romans chapter eight that we mine the words, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1 – NJKV).

Perhaps you remember the words that begin the twelfth chapter of Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will”  (Romans 12:1-2 – NIV).  The words “in view of God’s mercy” point back to the eleven chapters of Jesus exalting, salvation-examining theology he (Paul) has just penned.  The remaining chapters of this letter are highly moralistic; essentially calling for people to live out the obligations that have been set upon them as a result of receiving God’s grace.  The question is real and penetrating:  If you have been born of God through grace, how can you continue to habitually live in ways that are at odds with His character and your making?  This is where the subjects of lying, stealing, murder, gossip and sexual immorality of all sorts find their application.  It is a given that these ways are practiced and endorsed by the unbelieving world.  These sins must not be practiced by those who have identified themselves with Christ and received His grace, but they also must not be applied in expectation of compliance toward those who have not.  We believe that Jesus extends grace and accepts as they are all who would come to Him worn out by religious striving or hollowed out by living in darkness.  But we should not believe for one minute that Jesus would be happy to leave them that way.

Born Again LGBT

While the social waves of marriage equality, protected status for LGBT, and hyper-exposure to gay subject matter in movies, realty shows and sitcoms was convulsing on the surface, a clear and organized LGBT effort has been growing steadily in churches, denominations and particularly in Christian seminaries throughout the US.  The basic premise is to contest the historic teaching against homosexuality as a sin and accept that God made certain people gay meaning that they can be considered gay Christians, gay Christian leaders, and gay ministers and pastors.  In order to make homosexuality an acceptable practice scripturally, two things had to be done to the scripture.

First the inspiration, authority and infallibility of the Bible had to be discredited. I had heard rumors for a number of years that suggested a majority of professors teaching at some of the oldest and most respected seminaries in America simply did not believe that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative and infallible Word of God.  While attending a theological institute held at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey during my sabbatical two years ago, I heard and saw not only how true these rumors were, but how far reaching the damage to faith and practice had advanced.  One of the professors on the second day of the institute was responding to a question and made this statement:  “We no longer believe that the Bible is infallible.  We believe that it is reliable, but not infallible.”  If you think about it, the barriers against the acceptance of certain practices that are explicitly prohibited in scripture cannot be overcome by any other device.  You must discredit the Bible if you want permission to be called a Christian and live against what it teaches.

The second thing that had to be done to scripture is to wildly reinterpret its meaning.  This has been going on for a very long time outside of the circles of Christian scholarship, but now Christian professors and authors are joining ranks with voices that are challenging traditionally held interpretations of key passages specific to the subject of homosexuality in the Bible.  This is the workaround designed for those groups and leaders who still contend for the inspiration, authority and infallibility of the Bible.  You can still believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, but you must rethink how you interpret specific passages.

You can decide where you want to stand on this subject.  I am committed to act in love, but strongly challenge the harm that is being done to sacred scripture by people with a self-serving agenda.  As far as people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are also gay, I will not dispute that they have received Christ’s free offer of salvation.  Many of you were born again and still operated out of greed, had explosive anger and battled addictions.  An openly gay man attended a couple of services at the City Church a few years ago.  He caught me after the service, informed me that he was a gay man, that he loved God and wondered if he would be accepted in our church.  I told him that I was glad that he had surrendered his life to Christ and placed his faith in Him.  I then told him that he would be welcome here and I would be willing to pastor him as long as he was committed to seek the fullness of Christ’s transforming grace and respond to all that the Holy Spirit was seeking to do to sanctify him and conform him into the image of Jesus.  He knew what I was getting at.  I told him that I saw his homosexuality as a result of sin’s damage and brokenness that was no different than the person who is caught in addictions, chases adulterous relationships, is driven by greed or lies to protect their ego.  If he was willing to seek the fullness of Christ’s freedom we would walk with him, love him and support him, even through failures and setbacks.  It was clear from that conversation that he was seeking affirmation of his homosexuality and he never returned.

3rd Group – Family and Friends

This is where LGBT questions get most difficult to answer.  I have found that most people are not engaged with the national movement for Gay Rights; they are not interested in its social agenda, they don’t care about the politics.  If heterosexual Christians are struggling to find a way to support or defend homosexual lifestyles it is the result of a direct family or friendship relationship that they want to protect or preserve.  Our identification with the person and our affections for them send us searching for ways to rationalize, justify or figure out how they can be okay as they are, because we want them to be okay.  In many situations these family members and friends have shared the deep pain of rejection and judgment for feeling an attraction to someone of the same gender.  We don’t want to be a part of that pain.  We want to be understanding and supportive.

The other primary factor in these immediate relationships is we see the humanity involved.  If homosexuality is only viewed as deviant sexual practices it is easier for us to dehumanize it and reject the behavior.  When we see the struggle, the confusion of emotions and the deep commitment that a friend has had to make in order to “come out” and then dealing with all the whirlwind of questions, misunderstanding, rejection and fixes that are pushed in their face, we can’t dehumanize it as a mere matter of sexual practice.  What we must keep in mind is that this is part of the deception of sin.  Whether their same-sex attraction has been in them as long as they can remember or if it was awakened by sexual experimentation, the best way to keep the moral and spiritual questions off limits is to tie it to their primary identity and to love.  “If you reject what I do and what I want and need, you are rejecting me” is an impossible puzzle to try and solve.  A good portion of this diversion is caused by Hell’s influence as people are deceptively kept away from Christ-provided solutions.  Some other portion of keeping this subject off limits is driven by those who do not want the path they have chosen subjected to questions or discussion.

The motivation we have to face in these complex situations is: We don’t want to lose our relationship with them by calling what they are experiencing something other than natural and right.  You could go to the extreme and say that sacrificing your relationship with them is better than them being lost for eternity.  That is a hard choice to make and I’m not sure that your confrontational disapproval is going to change the way they view themselves and their choices to follow through with their identity and relationship path.  In fact the rejection of key friendships and family relationships is what tends to galvanize the resolve of people who are making choices against the current of acceptability.

Pushing aside your concerns and acting as if it is a wonderful thing that your sister has found her happiness in a lesbian relationship, however, is equally as ineffective.  We have to be committed to live in the high-tension middle where words are chosen carefully, decisions are made through great prayer and the person continues to be loved and regarded as a person.  My nephew is openly gay and lives with his partner in Brooklyn.  He is one of my favorite people.  On trips I’ve taken to the east coast I’ve spent time with my nephew and his partner, eating talking and laughing together.  They decided to marry while on a trip to Europe and posted a picture celebrating this event on social media.  I didn’t want to say anything about it, but I knew that I should.  After some prayer I responded with something about being happy for him that he is happy and that my hope is that he would seek God’s best and blessings for his future.  I never said “congratulations” because it would have been insincere and he would have read it as such.  I sought to live in the high-tension middle by withholding judgment and acknowledging him as a person of great value to God and to me.

I think it is wise for us to consider that we are not as big of players in these situations as we might imagine.  A person’s decisions relative to their sexual identity or orientation are not going to be measurably impacted by either my approval or my disapproval.  When we put ourselves at the center of these matters we will tend to make poor decisions that are motivated by fear, a desire to control something, or some faulty messianic complex.  The central player in all of our lives is the Holy Spirit.  Make sure you are cooperating with Him in the relationships you have with LGBT family and friends.

Getting Back on Mission

So the question remains, how do we (Christians who make up the church) think, act or respond when confronted with an unbelieving world that is looking for acceptance and approval of their darkness dominated life?  We must go back to our commission.  Jesus did not send us out on a mission to bring about social reform either through legislation or through personal disdain.  He sent us to preach, witness, and testify about Him.  The choice we are making in this generation is whether we are to specialize in getting people to behave morally or if we will specialize in getting people in front of Jesus.

We can trace the loss of power and effectiveness in the church directly back to shifts that were made away from our missional purpose to pursue social reform and imposing ourselves politically as a moral majority.  We weren’t that when we said it; we are light years away from being that now.  Decrying the practices of the unbelieving world communicates that personal improvement is the way to get right with God.  That is humanly impossible and theologically wrong.  Decrying the practices of the unbelieving world also communicates that we are better than them and opposed to them.  Neither of those options is helpful in advancing the Gospel.

Most Christians are aware of this, but don’t know where to stand as they interact with people who want their actions and lifestyle accepted and normalized.  The tendency that I see happening among Christians today is to move past what I call the high-tension middle and land at another place that is equally as unhelpful to the Gospel as is moralistic religious intolerance.  I was confused to see a number of Christians make Gay Pride affirming statements or change their profile picture to the rainbow which is the symbol of the Gay Pride movement on the day that the Supreme Court release its ruling regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage.  That may make them look supportive of these judged and disenfranchised people which I’m sure was the aim.  Let me quickly say that I was equally concerned about the people who posted things like, “This is the worst day in history.  God is ready to release His righteous judgment on America…”  I understand the desire to move away from moralistic intolerance, but in my opinion, to be a Christian and identify with the agenda and values of Gay Pride, is one step too far.

The reality is that darkness ways have their own inherit consequences.  People don’t need to be told they are out of sorts with God.  By the function of conscience and the active work of the Holy Spirit in the world, people know that they are broken and disconnected from God.  The effort that is being made by the LGBT community is not just to gain rights that they feel have been deprived from them; it is to gain acceptance and erase the stigma and social disdain that has historically been placed on them.  It is not really any different than the alcoholic who demands that his spouse and children accept his drinking, never question it and absorb the financial, emotional and physical consequences of it.  The drinking is itself a way to insulate him from the gnawing brokenness from which he cannot escape.  The demanded acceptance of his lifestyle is another layer of insulation separating him from the conclusion that he needs something only a God-Savior can provide.  It is the weight of sin and the natural and spiritual consequences of sin that God uses to bring people to Himself and the provisions of forgiveness, mercy and grace that He offers.

So where religious moralism has not helped bring people to Christ, neither will our smiling acceptance and endorsement. Please hear me, be respectful, be kind and gracious, and don’t moralize with people who are clearly unbelievers. But to identify yourself as a supporter of Gay Pride will be interpreted as an endorsement and with that endorsement you add to the layer of insulation that is keeping them away from feeling the weight of sin and disconnection from God.  The more the church smiles and agrees with the redefinitions of family, identity and sexuality, the more the distinction between holy and profane things is blurred and forgotten.

We have applied the following passage to marriage (probably to the neglect of other applications), but Paul is reasoning with the Corinthians about their continuing entanglements and the draw that they were fighting to return to their former way of life in the world.  He counsels with these reminders, “Stop forming inappropriate relationships with unbelievers.  Can right and wrong be partners?  Can light have anything in common with darkness? 15  Can Christ agree with the devil?  Can a believer share life with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – GW).  Again, this is not a license to get on some moralistic high-horse and reject LGBT individuals.  It is a potent reminder that our role as salt and light in the world can only function in the environment of distinction.  Too close of alignments with the thinking, values and worldview of unbelievers erases that distinction and prohibits the call of salvation which promises a removal from the power of darkness and provides entrance into the kingdom of God’s own Son (Colossians 1:13).    

The Yeast of Herod

Earlier I mentioned the entrance of another kind of yeast.  Jesus warned, not just of the yeast of the Pharisees; He warned His disciples about the yeast of Herod.  Where the invasive influence of the Pharisees would lead to religious legalism and self-righteousness, the yeast of Herod leads to worldliness and sensuality.  Herod was a man who embraced and accepted the Roman way of life and thinking.  He symbolized a deal-maker with worldliness as an attempt to gain favor with everyone.  It is this kind of compromise that James warns about:  “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” (James 4:4-5 – NIV).  James is not telling you to not be friends with unbelievers.  He is warning about the influences of this Herodian yeast.  When you begin loving the things that this world system loves and allow yourself to be impressed and attracted to the wisdom and thinking that belongs to that system, you are adding an influence to your soul that will grow to impact your whole being.

It is very important that we care deeply about people and identify with their struggle, but we cease being ambassadors of Christ when we over-sympathize with unbelievers to the point that we make them right with God through human acceptance rather than leading them to the right-making, saving, atoning blood of Jesus.  The social opinion about homosexuality has shifted radically over the past few years.  Part of that shift is due to the number of people who personally know someone who is openly gay.  It is difficult to stay neutral or to hold distain for people who are close to us.  The other part of that shift has to do with how wildly unpopular it has become to voice criticism toward LGBT individuals and their lifestyle.  Again, I am not encouraging disdain or criticism toward them; I am pointing out how difficult it is becoming in American culture to be liked and accepted while being counter-cultural.

Respectfully Counter-Cultural

The idea that we are citizens of another kingdom and function as ambassadors representing and acting on behalf of a heavenly King is rich and rampant in the teaching of Scripture.  It was Jesus in His famous teaching we came to call the beatitudes, who indicated that those who have an allegiance to the kingdom of the world will be opposed to us and would seek to persecute and silence us.  The last in this list of beatitudes reads: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12 – NIV).  Some have taken this to mean that we are to advance the Christian agenda, pushing back at the opposing kingdom through confrontation with their ways and social-political reform.  I think that sort of take on counter-culturalism has contributed to some of the mess that we are in as the Christian church in America today.  To be counter-cultural does not mean that we are adversarial, moralistic finger-pointers, but it does mean that we present a clear alternative to the ways, thinking, behavior and values of those who are aligned with the kingdom of the world.  Jesus would go right from this statement on persecution to identify our role in this corrupt world as salt.  Verse 13 of Matthew 5 reads: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”  The more the church gives itself to the yeast of Herod; adopting and accepting the thinking and values of Rome, the closer we get to becoming “no longer good for anything.”  Here are a couple of the pitfalls of counter-cultural living:

  • You will be asked to take responsibility for the way that your beliefs and practices make others feel

We can’t change or remedy that.  Paul described it in these powerful words: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 – NIV).  In other words, people are making the choice every day to seek Christ’s salvation or to reject Him and go their own way.  To those who are coming into this salvation our lives of trust, love, purity and allegiance to Jesus will be received as a sweet smell; something attractive.  To those choosing otherwise, our lives of trust, love, purity and allegiance to Jesus will be received as the repulsive smell of decomposing flesh.  I don’t get to control or determine which of those two things happen (thus Paul’s question about who is equal to such a task?).  If I cannot control or determine how I make other people feel then I cannot take responsibility for that either.  I will not allow my attitude toward others to become intentionally provoking or stinky; I can control that.

  • Neutrality will not be sufficient for those who are bent on being accepted as they are

As much as you try to not engage with people in debating on everything from legalized marijuana to the question of whether God made certain people gay, the ravenous appetite for approval and acceptance among many of those who are allegiant to the world, will not allow you to any place to stand besides affirmation of their choice.  You will need to get persistent in redirecting conversations away from the lifestyle choice they want affirmed and toward their relationship with Jesus.  “I’m not interested in your sexual orientation; I’m interested in your relationship with Jesus.”  The fact is some will hold your friendship or even your family relationship hostage to your affirmation.  Personal rejection is a weapon regularly used in this conflict of allegiances.  Just make sure you are not the one doing the rejecting.

Edge Species and the Incarnation of Christ

I’ve described at length the outside edges of intolerant religious moralism on one side (the yeast of the Pharisees), and deal-making with worldliness on the other (the yeast of Herod).  What exists in the center between these two extremes is what I call the high-tension middle.  People of faith who follow Jesus are called to live there.  In ecology most species are suited for survival within a particular ecosystem; they will thrive in the wetlands, but they will die in the high desert.  There are certain species that are called edge species.  They live in the space between two ecosystems and can move back and forth between them.  Christians are a kind of edge species.  We inhabit the space between a heavenly kingdom and a broken corrupted world.  Living from the middle we are able to follow the King’s instructions and go in His power to preach, witness and testify about Him; bringing people in front of Jesus so that He can do powerful acts of forgiveness, transformation and freedom in their lives.  It is not a particularly easy place to occupy.  If we get too withdrawn from the world we lose our preserving influence.  If we get too intertwined and attracted to the world we lose our ability to set out a clear alternative and point people to Christ.  The best and truest example of high-tension middle living is the incarnation of Christ.  God took on human flesh and entered the brokenness of a planet and people that He loved.  He was never of the world, yet He entered fully into it; loving, serving, giving, healing, teaching, and delivering.  He is still entering this world by His Spirit indwelling millions of His followers around the world.  We are no longer of, but we are yet in the world… sent!  Because He lived in the high-tension middle and gave us His Spirit so that we might be capacitated to do His will; we can too.

Seek Week, Friday – Enlarged Faith

It always strikes me as a bit odd that we try to improve conditions in our lives by greater obedience without working on having greater faith.  I suppose it is a result of our dependence on religious practices where we imagine we will somehow gain something from God in exchange for our acts of service or obedience.  This sort of religious thinking has led to a lot of disappointment and huge deposits of works-based righteousness that never really helped anyone with anything.  The starting point of everything in our life in God is faith, and that includes the actions of obedience, love, service and worship.

The Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 opens his letter to these believers by telling them how thankful that he is to God because their faith was flourishing (the NASB has it “your faith is greatly enlarged), then as a secondary effect, their love for others had flourished too.  He is commending them because they had a role in this super-growth of faith and love, but he rightly gives thanks to God for what they were experiencing.  God is both faith’s source and object.  He produces faith in us as an internal response to His promises.  That’s why we encourage a regular exposure to the Word of God in hearing it taught and preached and in reading it for ourselves.  Enlarged faith is the blessing that flows out from this exposure.

God is not only the source of our faith; He must remain the object of faith.  We don’t get a good dose of faith from our morning devotional reading and then run through the rest of the day believing that the things we do will be blessed and produce good results.  That kind of faith in specific behaviors or actions leads us to a one-for-one expectation that says “I did this, so I should get this.”  This is what we might call vending-machine spirituality.  If we keep God as the object of faith we learn to trust that at just the right time and in just the right way, He will keep His promises to help, bless and provide for us.

Read through this passage in 2 Thessalonians today and reflect on the size of your faith.  God desires for it to be enlarged so that you believe more and that the steps of obedience you take or the actions of love that you offer toward others are anchored solidly back into Him.  It’s time to leave the puny closets of faith and run in the open expansive fields of a vibrant trust in God.  Seek Him today.  Go back and read the stories of God’s provision to people like Gideon, David, Moses and Esther.  Recall the specific promises that God has spoken into your life in the past.  Your enlarging faith in the One Who spoke those previous promises is critical to the steps you are taking into your future.

“Togethering” Today:  Join together tonight in the Fellowship Hall at 6:00pm for a light pot-luck dinner to break our fast and then a time of worship and ministry following afterward. 

Seek Week, Thursday – Enlarged Hearts

I realize that from a medical perspective that this title for today’s reflection is not a good thing.  The Apostle Paul was not thinking in biological terms when he referred to the way that he had let the Corinthian believers into his thoughts and affections.  Paul was listing all of the things that he and his companions had endured at the hands of the people they had come to serve and ends up appealing to them to not close their hearts to him.  He tells them in 2 Corinthians 6:11 “We have spoken openly to you, our hearts are wide open.”  The KJV translates that last phrase, “…our hearts are enlarged.”

People do all kinds of things that send us reactively into shut-down mode.  The Corinthians, as a result of some difficult things that Paul needed to say to them, had closed their hearts to him and were in jeopardy of rejecting the good that God had sent Paul to do in them and for them.  We have to keep a close watch on the openness of our hearts toward those who take the Holy Spirit-inspired risk to speak honestly with us.  Our self-protection can serve as a great enemy to our spiritual growth and the way that we move forward into God’s plans and purposes.  This might be a good time to pause and think about where we have shut down and shut specific people out.

The other side of this is where we find ourselves under attack or rejected by those we have sought to help.  We reactively retreat from these people and situations to find small and manageable “safe rooms” where we can shut down and shut others out.  This is a common danger in following Jesus into a life of loving and serving others.  People don’t always joyfully receive what we offer to them.  It happened to Jesus.  It happened to Paul.  It will happen to us.  Their reaction to us is outside of our control.  What you can manage is the openness of your heart to them.

Read through this 6th chapter of 2 Corinthians today and think about the way that the actions or inactions of others have impacted the size of your heart.  This is a time for enlargement not retraction.  Not only do people need space in our hearts to be loved and served, the Holy Spirit needs that room too.  Smallness of heart is counterproductive to all that God intends to do in us and most certainly through us.  Pray for the grace to allow others back in.

“Togethering” Today:  Join us for a collective time of prayer and seeking from 12:00 to 1:00pm in the Sanctuary.

“Togethering” Tomorrow:  Join together Friday night in the Fellowship Hall at 6:00pm for a light pot-luck dinner to break our fast and then a time of worship and ministry following afterward.

Seek Week, Wednesday – Settling an Enlarged Land

The promise given to Abraham when God called him from Ur was to establish his family in a land that would belong only to them.  This was a great promise, but there was one problem; the land that would eventually belong to them currently belonged to a number of other nations.  When Moses led Israel out of Egyptian bondage to enter that land of promise, God gave him specific instructions that the possession of this new and wonderful place would require a dispossession of those other nations.  Exodus 34 provides the details of this dispossession, but it was earlier, in Exodus 23:31, where God promised to enlarge the territory that He was giving to them.

The land as presented in the Old Testament is a type of our own souls.  Once held in captivity by sin and Hell, we are liberated and then led into the possession of wild, unsettled places in our souls along with areas that are already settled, but occupied with cultural thinking, values and patterns of life that are different than the life we are called to live within God’s kingdom and under His authority.  The possession of an enlarged territory in our soul includes the same sort of things that Israel was encouraged to face and do.  One Bible commentator I read on this Exodus passage wrote, “There is no possible enlargement without a dispossession of the land that is already occupied.”  We have to recognize the same reality in the domain of our own souls. I speak with people all the time who are living in very small and confined places emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  The primary reason for this confinement is that there are huge areas of their soul that are still wild and unsettled, or land there that remains unconquered.

Jesus is promising you enlargement.  Are you willing to confront those unsettled or unconquered lands in your soul?  Some of you have given up.  You’ve forgotten the promise.  You’ve contented yourself with smallness and limitations that Jesus never had in mind for you.  Take some time today and ask the Holy Spirit to bring you back to a boundary line beyond which He intends to lead you right now.  I framed that as bringing you “back” because I know that you have stood at that boundary before.  We retreat from those boundaries because the work seemed too difficult, or the current possessors too strong.  Please remember as you stand here again that God’s promise to Israel is still true for you, “…For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you,” Exodus 23:31 (NKJV).  This is His work first and your work second.  Receive the promise from God that He intends to enlarge the land of your soul.  Trust in the strength of the Holy Spirit to settle wild places and overcome strongly-dominated patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior.  Your action of driving out the nations follows that promise and trust.  Lift up your eyes to a new horizon; God is enlarging your land.

-Pastor Jack

“Togethering” Today:  Join with others for an early morning prayer time from 6:00 to 7:30am in the Café.

“Togethering” Tomorrow:  Join us for a collective time of prayer and seeking from 12:00 to 1:00pm in the Sanctuary.

Seek Week, Tuesday – Enlarged Stability

We find the songs that David wrote primarily in the Psalms.  The exceptions to this pattern need to be given some attention.  In the historical book of Second Samuel, chapter 22, the account of David’s life is augmented with the inclusion of a Psalm he wrote after God had delivered him from the deadly pursuit of King Saul.  This beautiful song is also powerful in the truth concerning God’s strength and help for those who will look to Him with trust and expectation.

Read slowly through this chapter on this day of Seek Week.  I’d like to draw your attention particularly to verses 20 and 37.  In verse 20 David sings of the strength of the Lord to bring him out into a spacious place.  This idea runs counter to typical religious ideas that the ways of God are limiting and restricting and become even more so as you follow Him into deeper levels of faith and spirituality.  No, God’s ways lead us into broad and open places to live.  The difference is found in the kind of freedom we seek.  If you want the freedom to do whatever your external self (your flesh) desires, you will find a wide open path that leads to the gates of Hell (Matt. 7:13).  If you seek freedom from the confinements and uneven path of being chased down by death, you will find a wide open path that leads to life and peace.  We use terms like being “hemmed in” or “in dire straits” to describe places where options are limited.  God’s promise is to bring you out into spacious places.  What would you imagine that to look like in your life right now?

David goes on to describe how the Lord taught him to fight.  One of the most important elements of hand to hand combat is maintaining your footing.  If your enemy can get you off balance, they have the advantage over you.  David refers to two types of stability in verse 34 and 37.  In verse 34, he says that his feet were made like the feet of deer so that he could remain stable on the high and rocky terrain of mountain passes.  In verse 37 he describes the way that God enlarged the path under his feet, ensuring his stability.  These two verses address the work that God does in us and around us.  What is He doing today to make your feet stronger and more agile?  Be assured that He is doing that because He knows that you will find yourself on highly unstable ground.  What is God doing today to level the ground out under your feet?  Be assured that He is also doing that.  We often don’t notice it because we fail to pay attention to the works of God or give Him glory for the path-flattening work He has done in a particular day.

The enemy of your soul is seeking the opportunities when you are in threat of stumbling.  It would be good to reflect today on the fact that Satan is not the architect of our failures.  He is an opportunist.  You can minimize the opportunities Hell has to push you to the ground by receiving the grace that God is bringing to you to strengthen your feet and enlarging your path.

-Pastor Jack

“Togethering” Tomorrow:  Join with others for an early morning prayer time from 6:00 to 7:30am in the Café.

Seek Week, Monday – Enlarged Horizons

Bird on a wire

Myopia is a condition of the eyes that indicates nearsightedness.  In common language we have adapted the word myopic to describe an attitude or limitation of perspective where we cannot see the larger picture.  The proverbial, “Can’t see the forest for the trees” is a myopic condition.  There are large barriers that impose themselves into our lives that tend to confine or shut down our vision.  I love visiting Manhattan Island in New York because of the architecture and the immense size and scale of the buildings there, but you really need to be outside the city to gain any sense of the skyline and placement of structures in relationship to each other.  Even in the widest of streets in that city your sight is limited to a narrow concrete canyon.  Our understanding of where we are and how our current circumstances fit into the larger landscape of our past and future can easily get crowded down into a very small patch of ground just around our feet.  There is hope from God in these closed in spaces.  The image that is projected from David’s words in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path” indicates a ring of light that does not shine 25 feet down the pathway; it illuminates a circle around us exposing more of the path with each step that we take into that immediate light.

In His goodness and care for us, however, God does provide a way for us to make our way to higher ground and catch much-needed glimpses of the horizon.  The promise in Psalm 40:1-4 lets us know that God not only inclines His ear to us, He pulls us up from the pit and sets us up on a rock.  David was faithful in his writing to identify the source of his troubles, and being that he mentions neither a sickness in his body or the assault of an enemy against his life, we are left to conclude that David was in a pit of some inward unsettledness.  We all know what those pits are about.  Pits are “horrible,” as David describes his, because of the confinement of movement and the lack of ability to see anything around you besides the pit.  The solution God offers to us is not just to get our feet unstuck from the mud in the bottom of the pit; He lifts us out of the limitations of vision, clears the skies and sets us on a rock from which we can see, orient ourselves and move confidently forward.  The key to this kind of help is found in the first line of the Psalm: “I waited patiently for the Lord…”  That is the primary posture of our time in Seek Week.

Waiting is not a strong suit for most of us.  If we ask for help or answers, we typically go straight from asking to acting on what we think will help us out of the pit.  Waiting in this passage implies that David was looking with expectation of God’s help for some time before the answers came his way.  This is what we are setting ourselves to do through this week.  Waiting on God’s answers is not a passive process.  We lean into that expectation by asking, reading Scripture and listening for the voice, impressions, affirmations and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Set yourself to pursue that kind of waiting this week.  Spend some time today asking specific questions and meditating on this Psalm 40 passage.  Getting yourself started off on the right spiritual foot will serve you well in getting unstuck from a dark and muddy pit.  Expect that you will be lifted up and set on a better vantage point from which you will be able to see an enlarged horizon.  We need to see where we have been, where we are, and gain perspective on where we are headed.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

-Pastor Jack

“Togethering” Tomorrow:  Join us for a collective time of prayer and seeking from 12:00 to 1:00pm in the Café.     

Seek Week 2015 – “Enlarged”

In late November, I was reading the passage in Isaiah 9 that predicted the coming Messiah with the words we used for the child dedication and blessing in our Christmas service, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”  In the verses that begin that chapter, Isaiah declares: “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder” Isaiah 9:3 (NIV).  This word “enlarged” has been coming up in my spirit regularly since that time.  Every year that we have been calling this church to a concentrated time of fasting and seeking, I have provided a framework or guide for that process.  This is not to restrict you from praying or seeking along a different path or in ways that best suit your life and needs right now.  The guide is offered as a way to go about something that many of us don’t regularly do, and in my experience with irregular things, some guidance and encouragement is usually helpful to get us started and moving along.  So I want you to be free to use Bible passages or even some devotional guide that may be helpful to you personally if you so desire.

I do believe that the theme that we follow from year to year is significant to the way in which the Holy Spirit speaks specific things into the life of the whole church as we begin another year, so please at least read through the material I’ve provided.  As much as a Seek Week is beneficial to you as an individual, I believe that this is a process that is significant to City Church as a whole and the common theme, focus and times of common prayer during Seek Week are important to all that the Holy Spirit intends to do in us through this special week.

We are providing this Seek Week guide the day before Seek Week actually begins for a reason.  A concentrated time of prayer, fasting and listening is something that will require a bit of preparation to do.  In the same way that you would plan a trip to go out of town for a few days, I would advise that you take a few minutes and put some preparations in place so that you don’t forget your toothbrush or end up without a place to stay along this spiritual journey.  As I’ve already said, this guide is intended to provide a general theme or roadmap for the week.  In addition to familiarizing yourself with the guide, I would offer a couple additional travel-preparation suggestions:

  1. Plan your stops.
    Our lives regularly fill with activities and responsibilities without much effort on our part, so if you want to create space for stopping, reflecting and seeking, you will have to plan for those times and defend what you have planned. Consider creating a seeking calendar that allows the intervals of seeking like rest stops along a major highway.  You may want to try mixing it up using an early morning on Tuesday, a lunch time on Wednesday and perhaps the last hour of the day before you go to bed on Thursday.  The important thing is that you plan these stops. Otherwise the week will fill up and the sacrifices you have made in fasting and culling out other distractions will be wasted.   Also keep in mind that there are gathering times planned for prayer throughout the week, and breaking fast together with a time of worship and prayer on Friday:
    Tuesday, noon-1:00pm & Wednesday, 6:00am-7:30am in the Café
    Friday, 6:00-Light potluck and prayer and worship service in the Fellowship Hall

 

  1. Decide now what and how you will fast if you choose to do so.

These decisions are never made very well in the moment.  If you find yourself standing at the refrigerator on Monday morning considering what to eat for breakfast and then remember that you were supposed to be fasting, the choice to forego food at that moment will not be as effective as a decision about what and how you will fast through the week that is made on Sunday afternoon.

Some Fasting Guidelines

Fasting is a spiritual discipline designed to remove the comfort that our bodies receive from food and raise the sensitivity of our spirit to the presence and voice of God.  This is accomplished through substituting our regular food intake with Bible reading, praying and journaling.  The overall goal is to experience a genuine hunger for spending time with God.

There are numerous ways to go about fasting.  Some people will fast all five days drinking only water.  Others modify that by the inclusion of fruit or vegetable juices.  Some people will participate in a sunrise to sunset fast each day eating a light meal in the evening.  Still others fast by removing anything but simple or bland foods in the style of a Daniel fast.

We have found great benefits by fasting certain activities and entertainment.  Media not only consumes time, it provides a significant distraction from the matters of soul and spirit.  Often we cannot hear God’s voice as a simple result of having some noise or visual stimulant constantly drawing away our attention.  Please consider replacing time in front of a computer, smartphone or television screen with quiet reading, prayer or worship.  You will be bored at the beginning of the week, but as your spiritual sensitivities grow stronger, you will gain far more than you give up in this area.

A food fast is not suited to everyone.  Pray about your participation and use wisdom in selecting how you will fast.  Those who work in jobs that require the expenditure of significant physical energy will need to provide something for their body to use for that energy, so some food intake may be required to keep up with these demands.  Those who follow rigorous workout routines may need to modify the elements of the fast or adjust their routines in order to do without food.  Also, if you have any known medical conditions or suspect such conditions that may be impacted by fasting, consult your doctor before beginning the fast.

Keep the purpose in mind!

Religious activity that is done for the sake of religious activity has never really helped anyone.  Spiritual disciplines must be pursued with specific purposes in mind so that you don’t end up suffering with a growling stomach for a few days and end the week with an unfed soul.  Think about this in terms of replacement.  Turn off the TV for an hour each evening and replace that activity with some time spent in focused reading of Scripture, praying or worshipping.  Skip lunch a couple of days and replace the time spent eating with meditating on a Bible passage or finding some solitude and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Here are some specific suggestions on making your seeking purposeful:

  • Purposeful Fasting – This may mean fasting food or television, coffee, sweets, etc…  The point is that you select a behavior that most comforts your flesh or distracts your soul and you give that up for a specific period of time.  Then, in the absence of that comfort or distraction, set your heart to seek God by prayer and listening.  Some of you do the single-day sunrise to sunset fasting which is great.  During Seek Week I would encourage you to try to step that up a bit, perhaps fasting food for three or four days.  At the very least, please consider fasting some part of your routine that would free-up time that you would in turn devote to actively seeking God.
  • Purposeful Prayer – Most of us are good at “prayer on the fly.”  Quick prayers that you pray walking from your car headed into a meeting muttering “Oh God help me with this…” as some new or challenging situation is thrown into your day.  What we have lost some capacity to do in our busy modern lives is waiting and lingering in prayer.  I am calling this congregation to a season of seeking.  Each day of Seek Week will carry a specific emphasis in prayer.  Some of these days will include a gathering to pray with or for others.
  • Purposeful Listening – While listening is (or should be) included in any time of prayer, I have separated it for the purpose of emphasis.  The reward of seeking God is that we find Him!  I want to develop the anticipation in our hearts through this week that we will hear from the Lord; biblically, intuitively, conversationally, meditatively, and prophetically hear from Him.

Check in daily next week, Monday through Friday, for directions in prayer and scripture reading.  Let’s Seek the Lord together!

Come to the Manger… by Pastor Dora Clarkson

nativitywoodcarving

Shepherds came.  The Bible says they came “with haste.”  They wanted to see what had happened.  And after they saw the newborn Babe, they began telling everyone they could find what they had seen and heard.  What did it do in them?  They returned to the fields glorifying and praising God.  They experienced wonder, hope, joy, and excitement.  I believe their worship was transformed.

Wise Men came.  They came “from the east,” guided by a star.  And when they came into the house, they worshiped Him and opened their treasures for Him.  What did it do in them?  They experienced joy like no other time.  It was not only joy, but it was exceeding, and great joy!  The Bible says they greatly rejoiced.  I believe their worship was transformed.

To come to the manger, we have to go to Bethlehem–to the city of David–to the city of Kings–to the “House of Bread” (which is the meaning of the word Bethlehem.)  What will we see when we come to the manger?  Why, a feeding trough, of course.  And isn’t that appropriate, for Jesus later said of Himself, “I am the Bread of Life.”  When you come to this manger, you will experience a silent amazement, a moment of awesome wonder, and fall to your knees in speechless humility.  I believe your worship will be transformed.

During this season, I like to bake Cranberry Nut Bread with orange zest.  This bread has red berries it it, crimson, like our sins, and also like the blood which was shed to cover and pay for those sins.  There are nuts in this bread, which were first roasted in the oven, and then crushed.  Our Savior went “through the fire” on our behalf.  He was beaten, whipped, tortured, and crushed for our welfare and healing.  There is a little essence of orange in this bread, which gives it a sweet aroma.  And this makes me think of the great, sweet, wonderful love of the Father and the sweet smell of the humility and obedience of Jesus, as He made the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption.  When I give this bread to friends, or serve it to my family, I like to think they are receiving a gift from the House of Bread, a taste of the Bread of Life.  I want their worship to be transformed.

So, hear the invitation:  Come often to the House of Bread, to the humble manger, the eating place of cattle, and be filled with the Bread of Life–the only One who can satisfy your deepest longings, hunger, desires and dreams.  Don’t fill up on the world’s junk food.  Don’t be satisfied with crumbs from the world’s table. Your worship will be transformed.

Pastor Dora Clarkson

December Letter from Pastor Jack…. Merry Christmas!

Christmas-Cat-58

Merry Christmas!

I trust you are doing well and growing in your faith in Jesus.  I wanted to get out a quick note to let you know about the opportunities that are right in front of us and occurring around the Christmas season.  There are three events approaching quickly that I wanted to highlight.

  • This Saturday at 10:00am there is a Women’s Ministry brunch that apparently includes wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.  To be honest, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a non-ugly Christmas sweater, so that category for me is wide open.   You ladies will have a great time together.
  • This coming Sunday morning at the conclusion of our 11:00 AM service, we will be baptizing people in water. If you want to participate in this spiritually important step of following Jesus, bring a towel, a swimsuit, and a T-shirt that you can wear for the baptism.  It is going to be awesome!
  • That night, at 6:00 we will be celebrating the graduation of students from our leadership institute here in Redding and the first class from the satellite program in Red Bluff. Everyone is welcome to attend, so if you have been curious about what Qadash is and does, this is an excellent way to find that out and support some amazing students as well.
  • On 12/11 Encore will be hosting their Christmas party and white elephant gift exchange. If you are over 45 and have not attended one of these parties, you are missing something pretty fun.

Lastly, I wanted to give you a bit more information on our December 21st Christmas service.  The theme of that 11:00am service is “Unto us… Unto me.”  In addition to some usual components to that service we will be focusing on the gift of children that God has given into families.  God’s gift of His Son presents us with the opportunity of salvation as we receive that gift by faith.  God’s gift of children presents us with certain responsibilities that we accept and dedicate ourselves to do by the power of the Holy Spirit and with the support of the church.  Our plans are to provide a large scale child dedication that includes newborns and children up to age 11.  I know many parents who came to Christ well after having children and did not have the opportunity to make this commitment and offer their children in dedication to God.  We have put something together for parents that will help describe the purpose and process of child dedication.  You can find this by following this web-link http://citychurchredding.org/child-dedications/ or hard copies will be available in the welcome center beginning this Sunday.  We do need to have an idea of how many children will be included in this dedication ahead of time, so please call the church office to let us know or sign up at the welcome center.

Additionally, in that same service we will be praying over and offering words of blessing over each child in attendance.  This will include all children up to age 18.  Families will stand together and bless each child speaking prepared blessings and spontaneous words over them.  Groups of elder-leaders will be ready to stand in surrogate roles speaking blessing over youth who are in attendance without their parents or other family.  We have put together a simple guide for parents to use in preparing and writing out these blessings over their children.  You can find this by following this web-link http://citychurchredding.org/blessing-your-children/ or hard copies of this guide will also be available in the welcome center beginning this Sunday.

I believe that is it for now.  Look for another letter from me in the last week of this month that will outline our Seek Week dates and theme for 2015, and information on what I think are exciting changes and developments that we will experience early in the New Year.

Grace and peace to you,

Pastor Jack

That Sounded Way Different in My Head…

cupI’ve been told I can “carry a tune” as the expression goes.  When I try to match a note with my voice that someone is singing or playing around me, I think I do an okay job of doing that.  There are some notes I would really like to sing, that I just can’t quite pull off.  The pure, clear tone that I hear in my head sounds very different when I try to create it with my voice.  It comes out of my mouth strained, cracking, and not quite there in pitch; unpleasant was not my intent but it is the result nonetheless.  Some people are what we call tone-deaf.  The way they hear the note they are singing is not any different to their ear than the note that is being sung or played around them, and what they hear in their head is exactly what they hear when they belt it out loud.  The tryout rounds of American Idol provide enough evidence of this.  There are people who are convinced that they sing exceptionally well and they boldly stand in front of a panel of music professionals and tell them so.  I figure one of three things is happening in their lives.  One, they have no true friends who are willing to tell them, “Hey, that business management degree that you gave up so you could pursue a singing career… yeah, you might want to consider reenrolling in that.”  Two, they have friends and family who would like to tell them that they really can’t sing, but they don’t want to hurt their feelings or crush their dream.  Three, all of their friends and family members suffer from the same condition; they too are tone-deaf.

Last Sunday I ventured into some waters in the message that had some people a bit surprised and others perhaps concerned about what I said.  I talked about how too much of a good thing is not necessarily good for us and the one good thing that I feel has gone out of balance is our focus on personal and private devotions.  I wanted to follow that up with some additional affirmations on both sides of this matter, and to add back in some of the thoughts that wound up not being communicated because the clock and I are in a weekly, unhappy street brawl.

First let me affirm the practice of daily private devotions.  Yes, do that.  My encouragement on Sunday was for you to focus this time on prayer and seeking and meditation.  All three of those practices are helped and indeed dependent on the inclusion of Scripture, so don’t leave Bible reading out.  What I was contending for was a counterweight to the excessive emphasis that is placed on the learning and understanding side of private devotions.  This ideal has been reinforced by the personal testimony of spiritual people and an entire division of Christian publications.  You can log onto Amazon, Christian Book Distributors or any other number of websites today and purchase a topically themed book, a companion devotional guide, a small group workbook and in some cases a music CD that is provided to aid in your time of reading and meditation.

I identified that the accessibility of personal Bible study materials falls into a not-so-beneficial agreement with a strong cultural bent among American Christians.  We are people who passionately crave independence and fight for our rights of individualism.  The pursuit of Scriptural learning and understanding primarily in this private, individual fashion disallows the vital practice of getting what we think out into the open.  Just like an attempt to sing a particular note that you “hear” in your head, but when it comes out of your mouth it sounds very different, the spiritual ideas and conclusions we reach in private devotions also sound very different when shared outside of the realm of thought and imagination.  And for those of us who are a bit truth-deaf; making even the things we say out loud always seem “right on pitch,” the solo pursuit of learning and understanding will leave us without the necessary dissenting voices that can help us evaluate what we cannot discern for ourselves.   Some of us just need Keith Urban to say, “Yeah baby, that was not really good at all, sorry.”

The message last week identified three benefits of learning in community that I won’t use this space to restate.  Please check out the podcast on the media tab of the City Church website to catch those points or refresh your memory.  One important item that I left unsaid on Sunday has to do with thinking about this in terms of a sliding scale.  The newer or perhaps a better way to say it would be the more underdeveloped your Biblical understanding is, the more time you should spend learning and wrestling with the implications of the Gospel in community with other believers.  In that group you will likely have people who have read more of the Old Testament than you have, or understand the context of things that Paul or James wrote in the New Testament that will really help your reading and understanding of those passages.  The more developed and mature your understanding of the Bible is, allows for more private times of reading and study and more benefit from such times.  Just be honest in this assessment of your development.  Most of us know far less than we imagine and understand even less than we imagine we know.

One of the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the young pastor Timothy was to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).  Some might assume that the need to read Scripture in public expired with the common availability of printed Bibles.  I believe that this is a wrong assumption to make, especially when taking the Bible “private” disallows for so many of the community-provided benefits that keep our understanding balanced, our “hearing” accurate and our personal application of truth from becoming, well… just weird.

Thanks for reading the thoughts I needed to get out of my head.  Perhaps now I can get back to sleep.

Pastor Jack Witt