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Entries in Matthew (3)

Friday
Aug072015

Teaching: you have to give it some feet

As a teacher of the Bible, and one who enjoys good sermons, I've thought long and hard about applying the Scriptures. Last semester, the class I took was about writing bible study material, and the prof's regular critique of my work was that I wasn't giving "visible" applications, i.e., I wasn't suggesting that the student do something. I've always hesitated about that approach, and even if it meant getting a lower mark than I would have liked, I just couldn't bring myself to conjure up some sort of activity to prove that one was applying the Scripture.

I was happy to find support for my views in Jeremy Walker's book Passing Through. As he introduces his subject matter, he uses a phrase which is absolutely perfect in describing contrived applications:

Though I hope to offer applications, I will not give a series of minute prescriptions, for part of the genius of Scripture is that it provides what is necessary for wisdom for all saints in all times and all places. This is often accomplished by means of broad directives that we must then apply to our lives and situations into which God lead us, seeking the help of the Spirit to do so. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that phrase? Minute prescriptions; isn't that an excellent way to describe some of the applications you've heard over the years? Sometimes, the application is simply, "Wow, God, you are amazing."

That said, as teachers, we do need to provide feet to the theological lessons we want our students to learn. An example of this popped up this past week as my friend and I studied Matthew 6:25-34. In verse 27, Jesus asks: "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" Worrying is s a waste of time, and unproductive. It's like being in a rocking chair: you're moving, but you're not going anywhere. 

In studying who God is, we learn that he is sovereign. That's a huge topic to study, and the ramifications are equally huge. In this matter, God's sovereignty means that God has ordained our days from beginning to end. Psalm 31:14-15 says:

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hand;
Rescue me from the hand of my enemies
and from my persecutors! 

God ordained when we came into the world, and he has ordained when we will leave it. No amount of worry will change that. When we fret over matters and micromanage things in the hopes that we can stave off the struggles of our lives, we are not adding anything into our lives. In fact, we're taking away from living in today.

Over the years, as I have struggled with worry, my husband has shared that encouragement with me time and time again: worry is fruitless. As the lesson was taught in the context of God's sovereignty, the lights finally turned on more fully. Before, they were dim and hazy; they are shining more brightly now.

I think it is a delicate balance to avoid over applying. It takes stime and study to discern the principles. As a teacher, I don't want to over apply and rob the student of thinking through things herself, but neither do I want to present things in a way that they just sound like platitudes. It's hard work; much harder than I reazlied. It makes me look back and cringe over my teaching in the past. I can only throw myself upon the grace and mercy of God for the times when I have not taught well.

Thursday
Aug062015

The tree grows near the fallen apple

We've all heard that phrase "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." As I've watched my children become adults, its truth has become more apparent. Each of my three children are like me in one way: they become very consumed with the things they love. With my younger son and my daughter, it is being consumed with learning. With my older son, it is his music.

As I have watched them, I have learned a great deal about myself. I have often thought that their passions could become things that distract them from the Lord. Recently, it has been impressed on my own heart how I am not immune to that temptation.

I love the pursuit of study. I love studying the Bible, doing word studies, structuring passages, looking into the background, observing the way the writer used the language. I love seeing how the biblical doctrines have been derived, and reading about the pursuit of hammering out those doctrines throughout church history. I love to see how other Bible students, pastors, especially, have approached the same text that I am studying. It is this love that spurred me on to go to seminary. I'm not good at many things, but I'm good at learning. It drives me.

But, of course, it can trip me up. Just as I have exhorted my children that learning and education in and of itself won't redeem anyone, I have to remember that the pursuit, while necessary, is not knowing God fully. In fact, we can comfort ourselves that our spiritual life is going well because we are studying and have a hunger for the Word. But that's not enough. It has to reveal itself in the very fabric of our being, and where the rubber meets the road is how we relate to those around us, both people we know and the larger world.

Recently, my friend and I spent some time looking at Matthew 6:24-36, where Jesus exhorts his listeners not to worry. He says in verse 33 that we are to seek the kingdom of God. Have you ever thought what that means in a practical sense? It sounds grand and very godly, but what does it mean in practical terms? Yes, it means knowing the Word, but it also means being conformed to the principles of the kingdom, doing and being what is consistent with kingdom principles. In his commentary on Matthew, Dan Doriani gives some helplful suggestions:

Seek the King, love him, and trust Him.
Pray for the kingdom.
Evangelize for the kingdom.
Submit to God; obey him. 
Pursuing work that pleases God.
Have an eye on social reform.
Pursue righteousness in public places.

In that last one, Doriani elaborates:

It also means restraining something as small and personal as our tongue -- checking a sarcastic remark or refusing to repeat a morsel of gossip.

Wow. Seeking the kingdom means keeping my mouth shut more often. Seeking the kingdom is indeed a very individual, personal activity. It means evaluating my conduct, motives, and attitudes regularly. Yes, it can involve concentrated study, but it also involves the little daily things. 

As those of us who are mothers can attest to, knowing about infant care through reading baby books is much different from what we learned in those few months of motherhood. Knowing how is not always really knowing. We can know what the kingdom principles are in our heads without manifesting them through our hearts and into our lives.

I have always known that to be true, and there have been times when I have been complacent about it. Sometimes it takes watching someone else to see ourselves more clearly. One thing I have learned recently is that when one is busy seeking the kingdom, she doesn't have a lot of time to be distracted with other things, whether it is worry and anxiety, or things that have little value. It is encouraging to me that I can continue to learn. And these lessons don't come from books, but are lived out, and those are the ones that endure.

Tuesday
Jul142015

There is no treasure with worry

I have been reading Luke 12:22-34 every day since last Thursday. In the book, Running Scared, by Ed Welch, he discusses that God is generous. He refers to verse 32 to remind the reader that God is so generous that he gives his children the Kingdom. When we are tempted to indulge in worry, we must turn our minds back to who God is, and he is a generous God.

In this passage, Jesus says this:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.

There is a parallel passage in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth not rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Too much worry and anxiety is a sure-fire prevention against laying up treasures in heaven. We all have worries, but when we indulge in them, they push out any thoughts that might be of eternal value. We stop thinking about God's goodness, and we become too focused on our situation. We don't have the peace that can be ours because we are too busy indulging in our worry.

I've often thought of those verses as addressing the laying up of earthly treasures, such as material gain, or power and influence. But they are applicable to the every day situations we find ourselves in. When we are concerned about something, it's hard to stop thinking about it. If you are someone (like me) who is impatient and wants to do something about a situation, it's even harder. Suddenly, we become like a dog with a bone, pawing at the matter, turning it over, evaluating it, and we can't leave it alone. That prevents the daily habit of laying up treasures in heaven, such as loving others, being patient, being joyful, being faithful. It is definitely not fostering self-control to replay things over and over in our heads. I am far too often guilty of that, and it wasn't until recently that I have seen how worry can interfere with this call to lay up treasures in heaven. When there is too much worry in our minds, it pushes out the thoughts that are good. Obsessing about our worries pushes out the truths about God, and that's what we need to address our worries. It starts with knowing God. 

Spending too much time rolling over in our minds the various worries we have is not only bad for the here and now, because it can render us ineffective in many ways, but it's also deterimental for the future, for how we lay up treasures in heaven. I'm not saying it's easy to put aside worry and anxiety, but knowing how it can adversely affect us is part of coping with it.