In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.
This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM the Bible as a means of grace for us in our daily lives. In this episode, Pastor Todd will discuss how to know which translation to pick, how to read the Bible and why it is important to make reading Scripture a part of our daily routine.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13 NRSV)
“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). Wait, what did Jesus just say? Did Jesus just tell his disciples, us included, that we are to be PERFECT? How can that be? Didn’t he, as the Son of God, know what Apostle Paul was going to write in Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT)? Okay, I am being facetious here but, honestly, if all have sinned and no one is righteous, then how can anyone of us “be perfect”. It seems like either Jesus is out of touch or he’s a spiritual tyrant, demanding his “subjects” do the impossible.
In order to understand what is meant by this problematic command, “Be perfect”, we need to unpack our own understanding of the word “perfect” and the Western concept of “perfection” and juxtapose it with the Jewish understanding, which will give us a clew what Jesus was intending by this command. What makes interpreting Scripture difficult is that words often don’t translate perfectly from one language to the other, and this is a classic case of that.
Matthew, in writing Jesus’ words, is doing so in Greek. The Greek word for “perfect” is τελειος (pronounced tel’-i-os), meaning complete. This can be complete in terms of the completion of one’s tasks, it can refer to growth, as well as one’s moral character, among other meanings. The way this traditionally gets interpreted when the common person reads it in English, is that Jesus is calling for people to be morally perfect just as Gods is perfect. This misunderstanding causes frustration and/or it causes the reader to dilute the meaning to something less that what Jesus actually says.
Yet, it is important to note that, while Matthew is writing in Greek, he is pulling this word perfect from the LXX (the Greek compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The word “perfect” that Matthew is using can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:13, which comes from the Hebrew word תָּמִים (pronounced taw-meem’). This word can mean “entire” (literally, figuratively, or morally). It can refer to integrity, being without blemish, being full, perfect, sincere, sound (as in sound judgment), undefiled, upright, and/or whole. One can see that, while the word “perfect” and “complete” do factor into both the Greek and the Hebrew words, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two of them in terms of how to interpret them.
When looking at the context of Deuteronomy 18:13, one can see that being “blameless before lord” means to be “undefiled” in terms of following the Lord. Again, in context, the Israelites were being warned against only half-heartedly serving God and falling into the idolatrous practices of Gentiles, among whom they were living. So, in this context, the word is less speaking of moral perfection (in that one is morally “sinless” and, thefore, totally perfect in the sight of God), and is more or less calling God’s people into serving God wholeheartedly. In other words, don’t be tainted by the way the world does things; rather, be untainted and serve God wholeheartedly. Be wholly devoted to God, just as God is wholly devoted to you.
“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This command, as you can see, is not demanding the impossible; rather, it is demanding what is due God: your whole heart! None of us are perfect, none of us are without sin, and Jesus is not demanding we try to attain perfection in that sense. Our Lord, is demanding that we devote ourselves wholly to God and be the antithesis to the WAY OF THE WORLD. With God’s help, we CAN and WILL attain such devotion.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as [some] seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.” – John Wesley, Christian Perfection (Sermon 40.9)
Lord, set me apart and make me holy. Perfect me so that, in you, I am perfect. I want to serve you wholeheartedly and devote my life in your service, not the worlds. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NRSV)
In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”
FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Peace. I am sure most people have heard of the name, John Wesley. He was the co-founder of the Methodist Movement in England along with his brother Charles. John was a man who took his faith seriously, so much so that he and his brother founded what became known as the “Holy Club” while in Seminary. Now, I know it is hard to not read “rollers” into that and, no doubt, many of his peers viewed his “Holy Club” as a “Holy Rollers Club.” To a majority of his fellow students, John and the rest of the club seemed pretentious at best. In all seriousness though, John wanted nothing more but than to live his life fully and wholly according to Scripture.
Straight out of Seminary, John decided to put his “faith” in action and go to Georgia in order to convert the American Indians. On his way across the Atlantic Ocean, his ship encountered a series of fierce and relentless storms. In the worst of the storms, John became stricken with fear. He was afraid he was going to die. The ship was being tossed around like a paper boat and things were looking pretty bleak. In the midst of the stormy chaos, John heard hymns being sung and he walked to the room that the sound was coming from. Inside he found a group of Moravian Christians looking as peaceful as if there was no storm at all. Shocked, John asked the leader, “Aren’t you afraid to die?”
The man stood up and replied, “No, we are not afraid of dying.” John, exasperated continued to question, “Well, aren’t your women and children afraid of dying?” The man replied, “No, they aren’t afraid of dying either.” This response left John in awe. The storm was so fierce and the situation looked bleak; yet, these Moravians seemed to be at peace. “Clearly,” John thought to himself, “their faith is greater than mine.” It was a peace he wanted, but wasn’t sure how to lay claim on it.
I believe that John Wesley is not alone in seeking such peace. We all want that assurance in the midst of life that everything is okay and will be okay no matter what circumstances come along. We all want to have the peace that passes all understanding to fill us, especially since most of us are filled with stress and fear and worry. We all long to be at peace with ourselves, at peace with our neighbors, and at peace with God.
A mentor of mine once said that “peace is having no regrets of the past and no worries for the future.” That is true, at least in part. But eternal peace goes beyond that because that statement is still stuck on the subject to whom it refers. True peace moves beyond our subjectiveness and relies on the presence and the sovereignty of our Lord God. When we trust that God is with us and within us, when we let go of trying to know and/or manipulate the outcome, when we give up control, and when we move beyond our own desires and align with God’s, then we will truly experience true peace…the kind that does surpass our understanding.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it from without.” – Buddha
Lord, grant me your peace that I may more wholly know you and more faithfully serve you. Amen.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105)
One of the things I have noticed in the past several years of ministry, is that most people don’t know much about their own faith heritage. I certainly cannot speak for other faiths outside of Christianity, but within the Christian faith, there seems to be more people who DON’T even really know WHAT they believe, let alone why they believe it. To add to that, most people don’t even know the Bible that they claim their faith is based in.
As a Christian educator and, in particular, as someone who has taught many confirmation classes, I have made it a priority to encourage, promote and provide opportunity for Christian education. In confirmation class, I developed a curriculum in which the confirmands had to learn Christian history, become acquainted with doctrine and its historical and theological development, gain working knowledge of the way our church operates, and begin to think theologically for themselves. While, no doubt, this sounds like a lot for someone at the age of confirmation…my students will attest that the process was immensely rewarding for them as they grew in ways they didn’t know they could.
John Wesley believed in the vital importance of “attending to the ordinances of God.” In other words, in order to maintain our spiritual well-being, including spiritual growth, people need to actively participate in their faith. It is important for a Christian to be actively a part of the Christian community (aka church). It is important for a Christian to participate in the sacraments. It is important for a Christian to maintain a consistent prayer life. It is also vitally important for a Christian to study his or her Bible. And, of course, anyone who has read the Bible knows that it teaches us of the vital importance to serve others and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The fact of the matter is that many people do not invest themselves in their faith. When it comes to their faith, most people only know what they have heard from others and have no real or personal understanding of why it is they believe what say they believe. They take what they hear at face value without ever really taking the time to probe into it. As a result, many people find themselves stagnating in their faith, rather than seeing themselves grow and transform. For many people faith is just another one of those “religious” words.
Today’s challenge…and to be honest, this is a challenge for the rest of our lives…is for us to begin to take our faith more seriously. We should be seeking to devote time to reading and getting to know Scripture. We should be seeking to join Bible and/or book studies to enhance our understanding. We should be seeking to participate in all of the ordinances of God so that we not only claim to believe, but that we also know WHAT we believe and WHY we believe it.
It is such conviction that will lead us to live out our beliefs. If we are merely claiming to believe something, then their is no REAL reason for us to carry it out beyond our mental assent. If we do not know WHAT we believe, there is no way we can act upon our beliefs. If we don’t know WHY we believe, then we will not have the conviction it takes to act upon those beliefs. So, take the challenge and find ways to grow in your faith. Seek to gain an understanding of what you believe and why you believe it, study the Bible and it’s historical contexts, and actively participate in the life and mission of the Christian community! Invest in your faith and you’ll find it was well worth the investment!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Belief is so much more than mere mental assent.
Lord, spark a passion for investing in my faith and grounding myself in what I believe so that I may live in a way that reflects that faith. Amen.
“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7)
For anyone who doesn’t already know this, I am a huge movie fan. What’s more, I am an avid collector of Biblically inspired films. The most recent film added to my collection, The Bible miniseries, is perhaps the most epic Biblical film to-date. The series in its whole, runs ten hours long. Unfortunately, while ten hours seems like it would make a long film, it is not enough to accurately represent the entirety of the Holy Bible.
With that said, the series was a huge commercial success. In fact, it seems that anytime something related to the Bible is produced, people by the millions stop what they are doing to watch it. The first installment of the series drew in 13.1 million viewers, beating out American Idol and other shows. Those are ratings that nobody can scoff at. Yet, when looking at how many people read the Bible on a weekly basis, polls have shown that only about 37-40% of Americans read the Bible at least once a week (and I think that poll is probably more than generous). If we move beyond that to attending worship, or other spiritual disciplines, we will see even lower numbers.
John Wesley, in the third component of his General Rules, stated that it is vital for Christians to attend “upon all the ordinances of God.” An ordinance is a requirement set forth by an authority; therefore, an ordinance of God would be a requirement set forth by God. Wesley believed that regular prayer, regularly studying scripture, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and being a part of a Christian community in fellowship with other Christians, all helped to not only bolster the Christian’s faith, but helped them to grow in it as well.
In fact, without those things, we often find ourselves dry, empty and lost. The fact is that, just like any other relationship we have, our relationship with God takes effort and discipline. We cannot grow in our relationships with people if we never see, spend time with, or talk with them. How can we, as Christians, expect to grow in our relationship with God if we don’t attend to all the ordinances of God.
Here is a challenge for us all: attend to all the ordinances of God. Search the scriptures regularly, pray regularly, partake in communion regularly, regularly fast (this doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food) and be a part of the Christian community…not for the sake of “going to church,” but for the sake of growing in your relationship with God. Find a community that is actively seeking to live its faith out in the community and join in the work of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those around you. It may seem like work at first, as any discipline does (e.g., exercise, education, etc.), but I promise that through it your eyes will open wide to the grace of God that surrounds you.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How can we expect to grow as Christians, how can we expect to grow closer to God, if we spend our days avoiding the spiritual discipline it takes to experience such growth?
Lord, give me the motivation to spiritually discipline myself to attend to your Holy Ordinances! Amen.
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)
There is this comedian by the name of Emo Phillips that a pastor I served under used to quote all the time. Emo is a really tall, lanky, and odd looking guy who, at least on appearance, seems to be quite eccentric to say the least. Just looking at him you get the immediate sense that this guy is going to be funny.
Emo bases his stand up routines on a lot of different subjects. From politics to history to religion, Emo touched on them all. I always found his religious jokes to be quite funny, not just because they way in which he presents them, but also because there is a level of truth to what he is saying. Often he’ll start off with something commonly held by Christians, and then go somewhere in left field with it.
One of his stand up routines went something like this. “When I was a kid,” Emo would reminisce, “I used to pray every night for a new bicycle.” After making a praying gesture and looking up to the sky, Emo looks back at the audience and concludes, “Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”
While this is funny, it also points to a misconception about Christianity, one that was pointed out in the letter of James. This very misconception was also something that John Wesley, in his day and age, had to deal with. In the Protestant Church, most Christians, Wesley himself included, came to the conclusion that we were saved by our faith in Christ…and by that faith alone…that we could not work or earn our way into salvation; however, despite how liberating that revelation of Martin Luther’s is, it also led some to believe that there was no need for good works.
While John Wesley, and Wesleyan Christians since him, affirmed that we are saved by faith alone, it is also safe to say that such a faith would be bear the fruit of good works. Wesley believed a Christian evidenced “their desire of salvation” by, “in part, doing good of every possible sort” (Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, 52). In other words, a person of faith will not sit by the wayside doing nothing to bring the hope, healing and wholeness of God into the world around them. A faith that does not produce fruit is no faith at all. As James puts it, “a faith without works is dead” (James 4:??).
Have you experienced hope, healing and wholeness in God, through Jesus the Christ? Have you experienced the eternal, unconditional love of God? Have you come to faith in that love? Have you come to faith in Jesus Christ? If so, then you are a transformed person, one who lives by faith…one who serves because of your faith. You are called to life of service, you are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. I pray that, if you haven’t already, you answer that call.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley
Lord, use me as your agent of hope, healing and wholeness and lead me, through my faith in you, to do all the good that I can. Amen.
“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” (James 4:7-8, NLT)
One of my favorite horror movies is the Omen, which stars Gregory Peck who plays an American Ambassador to Great Britain. Peck and his wife, played by Lee Remick, have a child; however, Peck’s character learns that the child died during labor and is offered a chance, by a priest, the child of a mother who died in labor in place of the couple’s dead child. “No one need know,” the priest assures, “You need a child, and that child needs parents.” Peck is convinced and brings in the baby, never telling his wife what happened.
Needless to say, that action was a HUGE mistake and, as the child grows, more and more weird and crazy things start happening. At the child’s 6th birthday party, the nanny hang’s herself after yelling, “It’s all for you, Damien! It’s all for you!” Eventually, after his wife has been seriously injured by their maniacal child, Peck’s character learns that the child he was given was actually the son of Satan; in other words, his child was the unholy incarnation of evil.
While many of us flock to the movies to watch “evil” play out in various ways, and while many of us acknowledge the existence of evil when we see it splashed across the new channels, most of us live our lives as if evil doesn’t exist. We wake up and carry out our days activities as if we aren’t affected by evil in the slightest. Worse yet, many of us think of evil as something alien to us…after all, we could never do any evil, right?
The truth is that we can do evil and are most definitely affected by the evil we do and the evil that is surrounding us. John Wesley said that a life of faith is one that seeks to do no harm, “by avoiding evil of every kind” (United Methodist Book of Discipline 2012, 52). As people of faith, we should be seeking to do no harm. How? By avoiding every kind of evil.
If you see someone in need and don’t help them. That is evil. In this case, you avoid evil by helping those in need. If you judge others, even the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, that is evil; rather, pray for such people and work to change yourself in a way that brings hope, healing and wholeness into this world. If you see injustice of any kind taking place, it is evil to do nothing about it. Be a person who stands up for what is right and seeks to do justice on this earth.
Evil takes many shapes and forms. It is not just murder and the grotesque things found in Hollywood horror movies; rather, it can be ever so sublte. Evil is anything that keeps you from living the way that God has called you to live. From murder to holding a grudge, we are called to do no harm by avoiding evil of every kind. And the only way to avoid evil, is to resist it, to counter act it, to take a stand with Christ and oppose evil with God’s love. May God strengthen you as you seek to live this out.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all.” – Origen
Lord, I seek to not only avoid evil, but to resist evil. It is from you that I gain my strength and through you everything is possible. Amen.
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)
One of the things that profoundly attracts me to Wesleyan Christian theology is the focus on spiritual discipline interwoven into it. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, strongly believed in the importance of maintaining a life of spiritual discipline. It was not just enough, for Wesley, to pray the “sinners prayer”, ask Jesus in your heart, and be done with it.
While Wesley did believe that we are saved by faith, and faith ALONE, he believed that such faith would manifest itself in good works. In other words, good works are the fruit that grow on the tree of faith. And the way to grow as a tree of faith is to practice spiritual disciplines such as observing a sacred time of rest (aka Sabbath), daily reading of the Scriptures, attending regular worship service and/or being active in the life of the Church, living out one’s faith through acts of compassion and mercy, studying, and other such things.
Today, in our fast paced world, it seems that we barely have time to brush our teeth and tie our shoes. Just this past week, I took my daughters to a couple softball games, softball practices, and a school Spring concert. And that stuff was just for my children. How can I or anyone find time to incorporate spiritual discipline? Yet, in reality, we do have time. We have all the time in the world for the things we prioritize.
The truth is that, if we are to be honest, most of us don’t prioritize practicing spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s not that we don’t have time to read the Bible, to pray, to observe a time of sacred rest, to be an active part of a community of worship, or to be a presence of love, mercy and compassion to those around us who need it; rather, it’s that we have not prioritized doing those things. Sure, we may do them here or there, but if the truth be told, we don’t find them to be THAT important in our lives.
Neglecting to nourish our soul, it’s no wonder many of us find ourselves so burned out and depressed. It’s not wonder some of us feel so overwhelmed by the challenges that seem to burden us day in and day out. If we are to maintain a healthy balance in our lives, if we are going to be whole and well beings, then we must maintain our spiritual health as much as we do our physical, emotional, and psychological health. Just like it does your body good to consume fresh vegetable and fruit produce and to feed your body whole and wholesome foods, it does your soul good for you to feed it the “food” it needs. Remember, you are not just a body or a mind, you are also a soul and if you are going to truly care for yourself—the way God wants you to—then you will make sure to prioritize spiritual discipline in your life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” – John Wesley
Lord, help me to prioritize spiritual discipline in my life, that I may draw ever closer in my relationship with you. Amen.