Committed to Christ Series
For six weeks, we are in a series called Committed to Christ. In this post-Christian culture, we encourage you to do a series each fall on the purposes of the church or the marks of discipleship. What does it mean to be a Christian? How does one belong to The Way? We cannot assume that people know what it means to follow Christ. Our world is as spiritually hungry as ever, but when they come to the church they often get inducted into club membership, rather than invited to grow spiritually. This series focuses on what it means to follow Christ.
My weekly blog posts for these six weeks are going to focus on six marks of discipleship.
Six Marks of Discipleship:
- Bible Reading
- Financial Giving
The goals of this series are:
- To engage the entire congregation in praying and growing together in faith
- To develop small groups that grow faith and bond the congregation together in strong friendships
- To welcome newcomers and close the back door of the church
- To grow faith and generosity
The key components of the series are:
- Daily devotions
- Weekly home groups
- Sunday worship
The texts appointed for this coming Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary are posted below. Here you can read a post that focuses on the gospel text, Luke 18.
October 16, 2016 – Pentecost 22C
Jeremiah 31:27-34 – The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
Genesis 32:22-31 – Jacob wrestles with the angel at Peniel.
Psalm 119:97-104 – Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.
Psalm 121 – I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 – Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Proclaim the message. Be persistent.
Luke 18:1-8 – Parable of the Judge and the Widow (pray and don’t lose heart)
The gospel text from Luke 18 really fits better with last week’s theme on prayer, as does Jacob wrestling with the angel and Psalm 121.
This week’s theme is scripture reading. The second Timothy lesson works fine, but you might consider using Romans 10:13-17:
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
For the Hebrew lesson consider Isaiah 55:6-11, on the power of the Word:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For the gospel reading, consider John 1 on the Word becoming flesh.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists the Bible as the top-selling book of all time. It would be hard to overestimate its influence and reach. Stories like the Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, Adam and Eve, and many others are stories known by people in nearly every culture. Most homes in the U.S. have a Bible, and now many people have it for free on their phones. There’s even a free app that will read the Bible to you on your phone or in your car.
The Bible records the lives of dramatically flawed leaders that God uses to accomplish amazing things. These are not heroes. Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. The Bible uses stories to trace the drama of human civilization, while showing the anger and grace of God through it all. There are parables, laws, poetry, history, songs, prophecy, apocalypse, and more. It is the greatest story ever told.
The Bible is not as much a book as a library. This library expresses often conflicting viewpoints, to convey the complexity of life. Through it all, it invites us to love God and neighbor.
This book is at the heart of human civilization, and it is the source and norm for the Christian faith. How well do you know it? Have you ever read through it entirely?
A lot of people quote the Bible. Sometimes they quote it to support their viewpoint on this or that. With 66 books, 1,189 chapters, and over 800,000 words, the Bible says a lot of stuff. Written in three languages, by 40 authors over half a millennium, you can find some verse to support any viewpoint, if you want. But when you read it cover to cover, you get a better sense of the thrust and meaning of the message. Once you’ve read the whole Bible, it’ll be much harder for someone to simplistically quote a verse out of context to show you with their opinion. You’ll know too much.
Consider reading the Bible in a year. It works out to be around 3 chapters a day. If you started in Genesis on Monday, October 17, 2016, and read to Revelation, it would look like this.
But maybe you don’t want to read it front to back. When Pastor Chris Lake introduced the spiritual practice of reading scripture daily to the congregation, his first word of advice was, don’t start in Genesis and plow through. Here’s why. Many Bible pilgrims have started off in Genesis only to get stuck there. Sure, it starts off dramatically with creation, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. But by chapter four you run into to stuff like this:
Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
Now this stuff has its place in the Bible, but for the novice Bible reader it is sleep inducing. To mix it up a little, the International Bible Society has devised a plan that has you read an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, and a Psalm or Proverb every day.
Regular Bible reading is an important Christian faith practice to develop. It will feed and inform your faith. It will deepen your understanding and broaden your perspective. Biblical literacy may be one of the biggest challenges the U.S. American church faces today.
Another option, which offers daily readings that track the Sunday morning readings in worship, is using the daily lectionary. The daily lectionary readings can be found in the ELW, along with other prayers and helps.
If those options feel too ambitious for you, start with a simpler plan. Read through the Gospel of Matthew, a few verses a day. Read at your own pace. Or read whatever gospel is being read in your church on Sundays. For those in the Revised Common Lectionary, we are finishing Luke this fall. In December we begin reading Matthew, and continue through 2017.
If you read in this slower fashion, with shorter passages, I suggest you use a traditional type of spiritual reading called Lectio Divina. In Lectio, you read a verse or two several times, pondering it silently each time with a different question. In the first reading you simply listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you and ponder it for a while. After the second reading, you might ask what the text is trying to say. After the third reading, you might consider what action the text is calling you too. Lectio Divina is a way of dwelling in the Word, rather than dissecting it. It is prayerful and life-giving.
Lutherans believe Jesus is the Word of God, made flesh. Faith is a gift that comes by hearing. Daily, we are fed by reading Scripture. Weekly, we hear that Word proclaimed, and we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is how faith is given to us and grown in us.
I invite you to take out the commitment card for this week. Check all the boxes that apply.
Luther said the Bible is like the manger that holds the Christ child. The Bible reveals Christ to us. It is there that we encounter the deepest truth about the world in which we live, in the crucifixion of Christ, and it is there that we hear the word of hope in the resurrection.
Give yourself this gift of the ages. The all-time bestseller. The greatest story ever told. For faith comes by hearing.