Friday, September 19, 2014

Instead of more books...

Before: A fraction of our books on 7'X12' shelves
I'm a book lover. We had to shed thousands of books in the past years of downsizing, and W cut and scanned thousands more to take with us electronically when we moved overseas. So I'm not against writing or buying books.

This morning I open email to find messages promoting books on sharing our faith, being better followers of Jesus, and how-tos on being good people. None of the books are bad, as far as I can tell.

But as I listened to Proverbs in my devotions, a few thoughts struck me about dealing with the exhausting heaps of advice and never-ending how-to fads:

1. Do we know the Book? How many observations do we need about scripture - before we actually read it for ourselves? Can we be discerning about what others write if we don't know God's message to us first? Reading the commentaries before reading the Bible is a bit like building a house without a foundation. When you get to a certain mass, the whole thing collapses. Without pouring strong spiritual footings, we may not know where the builder went wrong or the warning signs of a leaning structure, whether of theology or practice.

Idea: read the Bible in big chunks. Read it often and think about the implications of following or not following its principles. What patterns of God's character become obvious? What does he care about? Do we value the same things?

A quiet corner for meditation
2. Live out the Book. W and I have marveled at the complicated "theology" that some preachers work out. We've talked about how much simple and practical counsel the Bible offers - without our complex twists and turns added.

We have a hard enough time doing what the Bible obviously says. Never mind trying to make up more intricate stuff. Lord have mercy! (not said lightly)

Idea: stick close to what we know for sure, without worrying so much about potential rule-breaking. Live a good life, far from the cliff's edge of "maybe I can get away with this because the Bible doesn't specifically forbid it." What happens to the obedient? What happens to the rebellious? What outcome do we desire - for ourselves, our families, and those in our circles of influence?

3. Be accountable in / to a community of believers. In a conversation this week, friends noted that the higher up a leader is, the less willing s/he may be to let others point out weaknesses in his/her character, actions, or thinking.

Gathering one or two people around us who think like we do isn't always helpful. We also need people who see things differently, who challenge our ideas, and who will call us to account when we swerve from what is right.

Idea: let's let God bring people into our lives. Carefully listen and evaluate what they tell us, aligning their advice and their lifestyle with what we learn from scripture.

4. Let others get to know you. Our family, neighbors, and cities will be more greatly impacted by how we allow Jesus to shape and form us into a godly persons, than by seeing us try one gimmick after another from books about: "101 cool ways to share your faith."

Idea: put away the evangelism trends for a few months. Let's take the pressure off. What if, instead, we'd live thoughtfully and truthfully from morning to night. What if we'd pause throughout the day to ask, simply, "What is the best way to speak and act, following close to Jesus?" Also consider: "Am I doing this to please and glorify God or me?" Let's watch how others respond to Jesus, reaching out to them through us.

Read more:
*This was Hannah's prayer: "How I rejoice in the Lord! How he has blessed me! Now I have an answer for my enemies, For the Lord has solved my problem. How I rejoice! No one is as holy as the Lord! There is no other God, Nor any Rock like our God. 1 Samuel 2:1-2 TLB

*The righteous know the rights of the poor. Proverbs 29:7 ESV

*We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Romans 15:1 ESV

*Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

Moravian Prayer: As we go about our days dear Lord, remind us that we are to love one another, weak or strong, just as you love us. Amen.

C. S. Lewis,  Weight of Glory:
When I attempted . . . . to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the land- scape loses the celestial light. . . . . For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. 

Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: “Nobody marks us.” 

A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. 

By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. 

And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

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