Discipleship

Helpful Bible reading tips (podcast episode)

Scot McKnight’s* Kingdom Roots podcast recently posted an episode that presented his talk called “What I Wish Every Christian Would Do When Reading the Bible” (episode 125, episode links below**). It’s about 40 minutes long and has lots of wise and helpful suggestions for us as we read the Bible.

As a teaser, here are the main points he makes:

  1. The Bible is a gift from God.
  2. Get out of the way.
  3. Develop bigger ears.
  4. Locate what you’re reading in the bigger story.
  5. Read the Bible with others.
  6. Learn your church history.
  7. Take advantage of seminaries, Christian colleges, conferences, and other educational resources for reading the Bible.
  8. Avoid taking verses out of their context (paragraph, book, culture, etc).
  9. Don’t be afraid to be mistaken.
  10. When you read the Bible don’t expect too much.
  11. Thank God for speaking in the Bible.

Give it a listen!

*Scot McKnight was for 18 years Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, the Evangelical Covenant’s Church school in Chicago. He now teaches New Testament at Northern Seminary.

**SoundCloud stream, iTunes, and available on other podcast/streaming services as well)

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Tractor Spirituality: connecting with God in the cab and in the kitchen.

The season has begun where a number of you will be spending a good many hours in seeders and trucks. Some of you always do that, no matter what the season. Below are some things you can do to connect with God and your faith in your tractor/truck as the seeding season unfolds. This could also be helpful to those of you who spend much of your time at home or even working a 9-5 job.

  • Begin your work day by committing it to God and inviting his help and presence through your day. End your work day reflecting on when you were aware of God and when you weren’t.
  • Start your day with a 12 minute scripture-based guided prayer: Pray as You Go (there’s also an app for that! // Android // iTunes //). Or do it anytime during the day.
  • Work/drive in silence for 20 minutes.
    • Offer what comes to mind to God.
    • Repeat the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
    • Take time to reflect on your life with God—confess, receive forgiveness, listen for God’s call for what’s next.
  • Pray the Lord’s prayer slowly, reflectively throughout the day. Pause after each phrase and ponder/meditate.
  • Pray for
    • people in your contacts
    • other farmers or coworkers
    • the day’s prayer items from the bulletin
    • anyone who comes to mind
  • Listen to a Christian podcast. I recommend Unbelievable? (available on most podcasting apps and Spotify), but there are many good Christian podcasts out there.
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Paying Attention

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

– Mary Oliver, from her poem “Sometimes”

Lent is already a couple of weeks underway, but I’m going to suggest something for you to do during this season. I’m not going to suggest you give something up, though if you have, by all means carry on with it. But I want to suggest something to take up, something which will hopefully carry on through the rest of your life: pay attention.

We live in a world of distraction—cell phones, social media, Netflix binge watching, and the general hurriedness of life. Moments, minutes, hours, pass us by without us noticing, because we are in a preoccupied rush.

One writer says that “The present moment is the only moment we’ll ever have to live. It is here, and it will never come again.”** This writer notes additionally—and quite importantly—that God is found in the present moment, too.

In Genesis, after Jacob has the dream about the stairway to heaven, wakes up and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (Gen. 28:16). Of course we know that God is always “in this place,” but so often we miss the present moment, the moment where God is, because of our busy, distracted lives.

So I invite you to deliberate attention this season. Mary Oliver, who is quoted at the beginning of this post, is a poet, and poets pay attention for a living. Perhaps I am calling us to be poets for a season.

Below are some suggestions for paying attention. They may require you to give some things up for a time. They will certainly require you to slow down, to add a little margin to your life, to not hurry from one thing to the next:

  • 5 minutes of undistracted silence and solitude every day (possibly first thing in the morning).
  • Step outside and take a deep breath, look around you, listen (maybe go for a walk): what do you see? hear? smell? What do you notice?
  • Pay attention to the world around you as you drive to town or to work or school, as you shop, as you wait in line. What do you notice—about the landscape, the people you encounter, the world around you.
  • Pay attention to the life of Jesus by reading a Gospel.

And then turn the things you notice into prayer.

And to help you with that, I will leave you with one of my favourite poems (it’s on my office door). It’s called “Praying”, by Mary Oliver.

Praying (Mary Oliver)***

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

_____________

*”Sometimes” can be found in her collection of poems Red Bird or in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.
**Adele Calhoun, The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.
***”Praying” can be found in her collection of poems Thirst or in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.

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Palms up, palms down prayer

During worship last Sunday, the children and the rest of the congregation was led through the “palms up, palms down” prayer. This is a prayer that anyone can do at any time.

Prayer is simply conversation with God—listening to and speaking with him. Sometimes it’s helpful to use our bodies when we pray to help us focus. This is not unusual: people lift their hands during worship, fold their hands and close their eyes during prayer, or perhaps kneel or lie prostrate when praying.

Palms up, palms down prayer is a way to help us focus on God by letting go of the things that distract us, worry us, frustrate us, anger us, and so on, and giving them to God, and to give us a posture to receive what God has for us. This is a prayer that seeks God, nothing more, nothing less. It is about being in his presence and trusting him.

It’s very simple—even a child can do it, as we saw on Sunday. Here’s how you can begin*:

  • Sit comfortably and take a deep breath.
  • Place your hands palms down on your legs.
  • Imagine letting whatever is distracting (worrying, frustrating, angering, etc.) you drop out of your hands. You could even give whatever it is to Jesus. Watch them drop out of your hands.
  • When you have let go of as much as you can, turn your palms up in a posture of receiving. Tell God that you want to receive whatever he has for you today. Remain in silence with God.
  • When your mind starts wandering, turn your hands palms down and let those distracting thoughts drop away.
  • When you are ready, turn your palms up again to receive in silence.
  • Do this as many times as you need to release the things that burden you and be with God.

*Source: Diana Shiflett, Spiritual Practices in Community: Drawing Groups into the Heart of God (IVP Books, 2018)

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Inviting God into your day (simple morning prayer)

It’s the time of year where many of us have committed to improving something in our lives or to develop better habits. Some of those commitments are large and some of them have been broken already! Here’s a suggestion for a simple habit to develop: first thing in the morning, before you do or say anything else, invite God into your day. This can be a short prayer you say as you sit on the edge of your bed, bedhead, half-open eyes and all (you don’t need to look or smell good to pray!)

Here are some suggestions for prayer. You can use individual ones or a combination (you may even want to start all of them with a “Good morning, Lord”):

  • “Lord, please walk with me through this day.”
  • “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you today.”
  • “May your will be done today.”
  • “Lord, I need your help to get through this day.”

You can, of course, come up with your own. Or you may want to pray something longer, such as The Lord’s Prayer or what some call the Jesus Creed.

This way you start your day in conversation with The One who gave you this day and it will serve as a reminder throughout your day of The One who is with you.

This is a simple practice you can teach to your children as well.

You might also want to end your day with a prayer reflecting on how God has answered or responded to your morning prayer. (In another post, I’ll tell you about the Prayer of Examen, which is one way you can reflect on your day with Jesus.)

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Advent Devotional

Are you looking for a devotional book to use during the Advent season?  The Covenant Conference has published a booklet with daily reflections for Advent.  We have copies in print available for you on the Malmo Info Table in the foyer, or a digital copy is available below.

COV_Advent-2018-Devotional

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Is the Old Testament a complete mystery to you?

Sandra L. Richter, author of The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, has a diagnosis for many of us when it comes to the Old Testament: “dysfunctional closet syndrome.” Most of us have a drawer or closet in our homes where we throw all the random things we don’t know where to put and after a couple of years we’re not even sure what’s in there anymore. Similarly, many of us have grown up with a jumble of various Old Testament stories, stories which have been stuffed into our mental closets, and those closets can be quite a mess. These are stories which we can fairly easily recall but aren’t quite sure how or where they fit into the Old Testament or what they have to do with us.

The Epic of Eden is meant to help us put our Old Testament “closets” in order and to give helpful tools to keep them in order. She does this not by walking us through every detail in the Old Testament, but by highlighting and explaining the major themes, ideas, and turning points in the Old Testament by which we can grasp the larger whole. In this way, Richter help us to see how the Old Testament story flows, how it is intimately connected with the New Testament, and what it has to do with us as Christians.

The Bible is one of the primary ways in which we come to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and encounter Jesus Christ (John 5:39). Note that in both of these passages the scripture it’s referring to is the Old Testament! So reading, understanding, and meditating on scripture, including the Old Testament, is a significant part of being a disciple of Jesus. But that’s difficult to do if two-thirds of the Bible is a confusing mess! This accessible book will help put the pieces together for you and give you deeper understanding of the story of God’s love and faithfulness.

It’s not a difficult read and it’s not long (about 220 pages) and will help you understand the Bible better. There’s a copy available in the church library, or you can order it through Wisemen’s Way, Chapters/Indigo Books, or Amazon.

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Tractor Spirituality: Listen to a Podcast

Tractor Spirituality: spiritual practices for the seeder, the combine, the road, the shop, and the home.

Practice: listen to a podcast.

One thing you can do as part of your journey of discipleship is something you might call a practice of “guided listening.” That’s a fancy word for listening to a podcast, something you can do in the combine, on the road, in the shop, over lunch, or in bed. Podcasts can encourage, grow, and inspire your faith.

There’s a whole range of Christian podcasts out there to choose from—teaching, preaching, theology, current events, and many other topics—and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Below are two different kinds of podcasts that have been meaningful for myself and many other people. One engages the mind, the other engages the heart.

Unbelievable?: A weekly podcast featuring “apologetics, theology, debate, and dialogue” about various Christian topics. Be encouraged in your faith, hear different points of view, and be stretched in your thinking.
Website: www.premierchristianradio.com/unbelievable (also available through most podcasting apps).

Pray as You Go: a daily 12-minute guided prayer podcast featuring music, scripture reading, thought prompts and time for reflection and prayer. A great way to start your day!
Website: www.pray-as-you-go.org/ (also available as a standalone app and through podcasting apps).

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Why Do We Sing in Church?

Tomorrow morning we will gather at Malmo again, as we have been doing faithfully for 125 years or so, to worship together through fellowship, prayer, scripture reading…and singing.

Singing has been a part of Christian worship since the first Christians gathered. In fact, some parts of the Bible are widely believed to be taken from early Christian songs of worship. For example, Philippians 2:6-11 is often referred to as the “Christ Hymn”:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

These stanzas contain not only generic praise to God, but they tell a story—the salvation story, in fact: God becomes human, dies on the cross, is raised from the dead and made Lord and Messiah.

But why do we do this? Why do we sing together in church, especially when some people don’t like singing or think they don’t have a good voice?

I can think of several reasons, and none of them have anything to do with being able to sing or carry a tune: singing brings glory to God; it helps us remember the gospel story; it is modelled and encouraged (even commanded!) in scripture; it brings believers together and encourages them (have you ever been at a concert or worship event where thousands of people sing along together? There are few things more unifying and beautiful).

(There are more reasons, I’m sure. In fact, here are a couple of further explanations for Christians singing that I have come across that you might find helpful: “The Three Rs: Why Christians Sing” and “Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters.”)

So as we gather tomorrow and in the weeks to come, consider: can I choose to participate in worship, including the singing, even if I (think I) don’t sing very well, even if I don’t fully understand why we do it?

Author and pastor Eugene Peterson wrote, “Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.” Often we talk about worship, and especially the singing part of worship, as an expression of our feelings for God. That may be true, but there are some people who do not express their feelings for God in that way, and there are some days when my feelings for God are not great.

In a much more important way, whatever our feelings may be on a given day, our singing praise, our singing the gospel, plays a significant role in transforming us bit by bit over time, through low seasons and high seasons, as individuals and a community, into the people of God…if only we will open ourselves up—both our mouths and our hearts!

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Helping our children embrace faith

This morning I came across an article in the latest edition of Faith Today (May/June 2017**) called“Help Your Kids Embrace the Faith.” It’s a short article reflecting on the experience and findings of a 22-year-old Christian in relation to the question, Why do some children remain faithful to God and why do others rebel? 

As parents we want more than anything for our children to commit themselves to Jesus and his kingdom. But we fear this not happening, so we take steps that in the end are more about making faith happen in our kids (a fearful response) through what in the end amounts to control. This is not, it seems, conducive to healthy, long-term faith in our children. Instead, the writer suggests that we best facilitate faith or make room for faith to grow (a loving approach) though authenticity, trust, and openness, among other things—helping faith rather than forcing faith. These appear to be the hallmarks of Christian parenting and families with children that have remained faithful.

Of course, these are not a guarantee. There are all kinds of factors at play in our children’s spiritual development that we are not aware of, but generally speaking the approach of gentleness and love seems to be more successful than a demanding and legalistic one. In any case, this short article will at the very least provoke some thought about the ways in which we instil faith in our children. In addition to hardcopies available at the church, you can find the article online here: “Help Your Kids Embrace the Faith.”

(The author, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, is releasing a book on the subject in October. It’s called Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow—and How Your Kids Can Too.)

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**if you are a regular attender you would have received a copy in your church mailbox and there are extra copies on the Malmo table)

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