The Gift of Patient Presence in Discipleship: Do This, Not That

Photo by Roman Synkevych 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

Dallas Willard, on this passage:

Here’s what I found out years ago, and if I hadn’t I would’ve been out of the business thirty or forty years ago, and it’s this: you don’t have to make it happen. The little parable that Jesus tells in Mark about the farmer that goes out and sows seed and then takes a nap? There is a little phrase in there that says, “The farmer knoweth not how this works.” There’s a plant coming up out of the dirt, and pretty soon there’s something edible there. But although the farmer doesn’t know how it happens, you can be sure it’s going to happen, and that takes the load off of you. You don’t have to make this happen. This is one of the most important things for pastors to understand. Don’t try to get people to do anything; just speak the word of the gospel, live as a disciple, lovingly teach, be with people, and it will happen.

“The Gospel of the Kingdom” an interview with Keith Giles, in Renewing the Christian Mind, p. 226.

The other day I was part of a discussion about the felt need to “do” something in ministry moments where the person we are with is stuck. Our friend is disappointed with God, the divine will is opaque, they are confused with what is next, or they are flummoxed due to relationship difficulties.

We want to say the right thing, fix the problem, offer sound advice, provide good counsel, quote the right Bible verse, dispense sage wisdom, or prescribe the right action. But sometimes, we don’t need to do anything other than listen, be present, and pray. God is “doing” all that needs to be done, and we are watching and waiting for God to reveal, act, and direct accordingly. As a minister, it is important to remember that you are not the only actor. God may be hidden, but God is present, and God is most assuredly working.

Notice there is something to be done. Rather than tell or solve, however, we sow, rest, and then see what comes up. We then harvest at the right moment. As Willard says, “Don’t try to get people to do anything; just speak the word of the gospel, live as a disciple, lovingly teach, be with people, and it will happen.” We do what is ours to do. But we don’t have to make anything happen. That is God’s business.

Screaming at a seed does not cause it to sprout. It will do that on its own, in its own time, as God appoints. It will happen.

A Sermon: “Bring It”

I was scheduled to preach today in Truett Chapel, but a winter storm moved in to Central Texas and changed all of that. I recorded the sermon instead. For those who would rather read, the full manuscript is below. Enjoy.

“He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”

Matthew 13:52

Two weeks ago Dean Still asked me to preach on this occasion.

Here is how it happened.

After Truett’s convocation chapel service, I saw Dean Todd Still just beyond our doors. 

I thought his message was quite good. So, I walked up, shook his hand, mentioned his message, and told him “well done.”

He said, “Thank you.” 

Then he said, “Would you be willing to preach during chapel in two weeks?”

I said, “sure.”

The moral of the story is: “Never pay Dean Still a compliment.”

Now, I am thankful I was invited to preach and took time to prepare this sermon. I would like to thank Dean Todd Still and the members of the Truett Seminary community–students, faculty, and staff–for the opportunities I am given to serve, including this opportunity to have meditated on this Bible verse and to open the Scriptures together. 

I am humbled to serve the Lord at Truett Seminary, and among these friends.

A moment ago, I shared that when the Dean asked if I would preach, I said yes. After saying “sure,”my next thought was, “What am I going to talk about?” There are others in the room who have felt that way, maybe regarding the pulpit, maybe for another occasion. 

Thankfully we have great source material. 

While I read our verse a moment ago, if you have a Bible, please open to Matthew 13. We’ll contemplate verse 52 in detail. But we will look elsewhere in the chapter, and you may find it helpful to have a Bible open.

In Matthew 13:52, Jesus speaks to his closest followers, his disciples. This saying is recorded at the conclusion of a larger section of teachings, which Jesus offers in the form of parables concerning “the kingdom of heaven.” 

This chapter begins with Jesus speaking to large crowds from a boat. He first tells a famous story of a sower who goes out to sow seed, with the seed falling upon four varieties of soils; he explains to his disciples the power of the good news message, the results that can be expected by the sower, and the nature and complexity of the human heart and its mysterious, hidden capacity for receptivity or resistance to God’s gracious action and invitation.

Jesus then tells a story about a landowner who sows good seed in his field, but he later discovers an enemy has sown weeds among his wheat. Please think of the implications here for the community of faith with regard to living in unity, developing patience, endurance, forbearance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and keeping the “one another” commands. In the kingdom of heaven we will continue to see a mix of the good and the bad within our fellowship, and the Lord of the harvest will one day come and he will sift us as only he can.

Jesus makes two further statements about the kingdom of heaven and its worth, comparing it to a pearl of great price and a treasure buried in a field. He does not say that the kingdom equals these treasures in value. He says that a wise person is willing to part with everything they have to possess it. In my estimation, our appraisal of the kingdom often needs adjustment. We often value it too little, which is why our passion for it is so often too weak.

Finally, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a net, trolling the waters and gathering fish, both good and bad. As in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, there will eventually be a division, a sorting. But until that day, the wicked and the righteous are in the net together.

After telling these stories, in Matthew 13:51, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Have you understood all these things?”

The disciples answer, “Yes.”

Think about that for a moment.

Jesus assumes that a possible learning outcome for his disciples, following the delivery of these parables, is understanding, or knowledge. 

Sure, Jesus explained the meaning of these teachings to them. 

Sure, when Jesus is your teacher, and he asks you if you understand, you may feel like “yes” is the only answer you can offer without looking dumb. 

But what if it were possible to spend time with Jesus, and with his teachings, and to come away with understanding, given the time, your teachability, and your attention?

Is understanding Jesus something, at this stage, you deeply want? 

How often is it otherwise? What accounts for the gap?

How often do disciples today listen to Jesus but remain without understanding and then accept that lack of understanding, content in our ignorance?

It is on the heels of these teachings about the kingdom of heaven, and, furthermore, on the heels of the question, “Have you understood all of these things?”, that we then come to Matthew 13:52, a statement that begins with the word “Therefore” and then contains what some consider a final parable of the kingdom of heaven. 

And it is a parable of the kingdom of heaven.

But what I see are three major “outcomes” evidenced in the lives of all disciples. 

Disciples are teachers. They are fully trained. And they are entrusted with treasures. 

As these outcomes are manifested, a way of living and being takes shape. This way of living and being applies to all who trust and follow Jesus, no matter who we are with, no matter where we are, and no matter what we are doing. 

What does Matthew 13:52 say? Here is Jesus: “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” 

Three things. First, teachers. Second, trained. Third, treasures. And finally and in summary, we’ll consider the task of those taught, trained, and entrusted with treasures, whom Jesus likens to householders in the kingdom of God. 

I. Teachers

When Jesus speaks to his disciples, those who, remember, claimed to have understood him, he compares them first to teachers of the law.

The KJV, NASB, NRSV, and ESV,  in place of “teachers of the law,” translate this term “scribes.” 

Eugene Peterson, in The Message paraphrase, chose “students.” 

The HCSB renders it “every student of Scripture.” 

The Greek term here is γραμματεὺς (grammateus). It means a writer, someone who is generally learned, but in the New Testament, most occurrences refer to a person who is religiously trained, familiar with the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. “Scribes” are often those who come and question Jesus, engaging him in debate, or even inquiring of him as interested pupils.

When Jesus speaks to his disciples in this verse, he describes them as scribes. He gives them a title, a role description, a term. This term clarifies, sharpens, maybe expands and widens what a disciple is to understand themselves to be.

Who, listening, claims to be a disciple of Jesus? 

How do you understand that identity? How do you apply that term to yourself? And does your definition of “disciple” encompass and include everything that follows Jesus’ “therefore” statement given in Matthew 13:52?

The titles we hold are role descriptors, identity markers, telling us something about who we are, what we are becoming, and, given time, who we will one day, fully, be. They tell others something about who we are and what they can rightly expect of us, too, when we stand in that role.

I’ve had three job titles at Truett. First, I was a covenant group mentor. Then I became the assistant director in the spiritual formation office, and then associate director. If you totaled my time of service in these three roles, I have served Truett five years. I didn’t know this until the Human Resources Department sent me a letter. Snuck up on me.

Each time I was given a new role, with a new title, I knew what I would be doing, but only in part. On my first day, maybe all I really knew was my title, or what I was to say when asked, “So what do you do?” 

But given time, experience, observation, reflection, refinement, and thought, my role gained added definition. I could say more about what I “do.” In my current role, I think I understand the things I do well and what I bring to the community that is valued, as well as the ways I need to grow. But I began with only a name and a few duties. That’s where I began. Growth then became possible through experience in what I was doing, applied parameters, feedback from a wider fellowship, and a desire to serve in my role in a fitting and excellent manner.

If you are a disciple of Jesus you are a scribe, or a teacher. Your identity, your role, is defined to include service as a scribe or teacher. You are a person who is generally learned, but more specifically, you are a person who has undergone and is undergoing religious training. A scribe is trained in the Scriptures, yes, but is also schooled in practical wisdom, ministerial skill, and spiritual experience. A scribe has knowledge. Jesus has named our role. He has defined that role within a community not only by naming it but by modeling it. Jesus shared his knowledge with those around him. His disciples follow his example.

A scribe is a servant, and one way they serve their community is as teachers. They are sources of communal memory. They are storytellers. They are learners seeking mastery; true masters always know there is more to learn and refine. They are well practiced in moral reasoning. They live according to a defined ethic. They depict for us what is good, true, and beautiful. They are people of upright character and sound doctrine. They are wise. They lead, vocally and demonstrably when necessary, but also quietly and subtly, as appointed and when pressed by the Spirit.

Jesus did not appoint only a few of his disciples as teachers. Jesus appoints us all. If you are his, you are a teacher.

II. Trained

Any objections? I’m sure there are. Some are thinking, “I have not heard this before.” Others, “that was not part of the deal.” Still, others, “but I am not gifted as a teacher.” 

All three responses are worth considering.

I’ll address the first and second by asking us to think about the gospel we commonly preach. We call people to come to Jesus, repent of sin, receive salvation, and then go to heaven. Prior to death: maybe we exhort people to go to church, maybe pray, maybe serve, maybe share your faith. Or, we encourage people to advocate for the “right” causes, and thus identify themselves with the “good” people. But even those actions and efforts are portrayed as being for the “truly committed.” The day to day life of the average person is often left unaddressed by the message we preach.

A few of our hearers get the sense that believing in Jesus, trusting him, asking Jesus into one’s heart, putting your faith in Christ, etc., means we adopt a new way of life. I say, “May their tribe increase.” 

But we will only see an increased number of people becoming disciples if we pay more careful attention to how we preach the message of the kingdom, placing before those we lead a renewed vision of what has been there waiting for us in the New Testament all along.

The philosopher Dallas Willard wrote that the great omission in the great commission is our very recent failure to articulate the good news message in a way that includes a robust portrayal of discipleship to Jesus in our appeals to believe in and follow Christ. 

As a result, we have converts, but not disciples. We have people who claim to be associated with Christ, yet fail to develop any serious intention to follow him, learn from him, adopt his ways, die unto themselves, be made alive to God, and to put on Christ, and thereby display his character. These converts do not become disciples, at least not in the fullest sense of the word. 

The late William J. Abraham, in his book The Logic of Evangelism, made a similar point when he noted that Jesus, in the Great Commission, told us to go and make disciples. Abraham notes that Jesus was explicit, saying this would not only involve baptizing, but teaching, and not teaching generally, but teaching specifically about life in the kingdom of God, which includes obedience to Jesus’ commands and adherence to his way of life. Abraham challenged us to think beyond conversion and toward initiation into a new relationship with God and a new community, which would then entail a new way of life.

If we haven’t heard that Christian disciples are, in their very nature as disciples, teachers and scribes, if we didn’t understand that was “part of the deal,” well, ignorance of something does not make it untrue. Truth stands on its own, whether we believe it or know it or are aware of it, or not. Ignorance is when something remains unknown. Discovering discipleship is more than what you previously imagined broadens your vision of what Christianity is, and, hopefully, compels and invites you to a fuller, deeper, and richer experience of the life of faith.

We heard a third objection a moment ago. If you are among those who don’t think of yourself as a person with teaching gifts, you’re in luck. Those in the company of Jesus are not left without resources. And the teaching task might be broader than you’ve imagined, inclusive of a diversity of educational encounters and instructional modalities. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, where we are his disciples and he is our living Lord, Master, and Teacher, if we take him at his word that he will be with us always, even until the end of the ages, we undergo, and are undergoing, training, not only in the classroom, but through field work. 

We “become disciples” in the kingdom of heaven wherever we are, and wherever he sends. 

In one sense, we “are” disciples, and in another, we are “becoming” disciples. A disciple enters into a relationship with a master, a teacher, to learn the master’s ways, to become like the teacher. In Luke 6:40, Jesus himself said, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” We will not surpass Jesus. But we will remind others of him. We will be like him.

Jesus says that the teachers of the law in the kingdom of heaven assume the role of an instructor, a person of knowledge, an example of wisdom as they are becoming a “disciple in the kingdom of heaven.” These teachers are also students. They are learners, and they are learning. They are being equipped for their service under God’s reign in God’s realm and in service to God’s people. They have “continuing education” requirements.

If you claim allegiance to Jesus, if you dwell in the kingdom he announced, inaugurated, proclaimed, and embodied, if he is your king and you are a citizen in his domain, if you look to him as Lord, you are a teacher. But teachers in the kingdom of heaven do not know it all. These teachers do not have a diploma saying they have mastered all spiritual knowledge. They are deeply humble. They are humble because they compare their knowledge to the knowledge of Jesus, and, compared to the one possessing all wisdom and power and might, they know that their knowledge remains small. They also know that the image-bearer in front of them, the person in every encounter, and the circumstances they enter into as a servant and as a student could be an occasion for learning in Jesus’ school. 

Class remains in session. The classroom of Christ is conducted in all of life, encompassing the entire sphere of human experience, inclusive of but not limited to human relationships both with the divine and with one another. Learning from Jesus is happening in and through our experiences, our conversations, our cultivation and care for the creation, and everything in between. The Teacher is near, always teaching, but not always from the front or in plain view.

Broaden your vision. The professor of record in the kingdom of heaven is Jesus himself. His teaching methods are precisely calibrated to the needs of every student. His adaptability and range as an instructor is unsurpassed. Jesus is concerned with how we relate to one another and to God. He is also concerned with how we relate to the world over which he is sovereign, the world which was created by him and through him and for him and holds together in him, which he has redeemed and is now renewing and restoring, “for God so loved the world,” and “behold, he is making all things new.”

Training for teachers in the kingdom of heaven is not only for those who speak in front of lecture halls or deliver sermons from pulpits or talk to children seated on carpet squares or who speak to youth in dimly lit rooms. 

Instead, teachers who have become disciples in the kingdom of heaven are learning and leading in every context, in every place, among every people, in a variety of roles. They are teachers in their families, in the kitchen and at the supper table. They are examples on the basketball court. They are bright lights in recovery rooms or in shelters. They are purveyors of kindness in grocery store checkout lines. They serve daily delight in a warm mug, coffee or tea passed over a countertop, prepared by and given from hand to hand.

We do teach with words and by the exchange of information. I hold the firm conviction that Christians should be able to offer reasons for the things they profess, that each should be taught and teach what is in accord with sound doctrine, that we have a tradition, teaching, wisdom, stories, and a gospel message that is to be preserved and passed down from generation to generation faithfully and consistently.

But I also believe we teach love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. I believe we impart practices of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I believe we model for our world peace-making; we “keep justice” and do “righteousness at all times,” as it says in Psalm 106:3. We are vessels of mercy, and so much more. 

We learn from Jesus. He will train us for the way, along the way, in his way. We become disciples trained in the kingdom of heaven. What will result?

III. Treasures

Jesus tells us. We will bring forth treasures, old and new.

Matthew 13:52, again, says, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

What exactly are these treasures?

John Calvin, commenting on Matthew 13:51 and 52, wrote:

[Jesus] says that teachers are like householders, who are not only careful about their own food, but have a store laid up for the nourishment of others; and who do not live at ease as to the passing day, but make provision for a future and distant period. The meaning, therefore, is that the teachers of the Church ought to be prepared by long study for giving to the people, as out of a storehouse, a variety of instruction concerning the word of God, as the necessity of the case may require. Many of the ancient expositors understand by things new and old the Law and the Gospel; but this appears to me to be forced. I understand them simply to mean a varied and manifold distribution, wisely and properly adapted to the capacity of every individual.

I think Calvin is right. A teacher trained in the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings forth treasures from the stores of their life and memory of “a varied and manifold distribution,” which they “wisely and properly [adapt] to the capacity of every individual.” 

I agree further with Calvin. I think Jesus does not speak here of the Old and New Testaments, or “Law and Gospel,” as some commentators assert. The treasures Jesus speaks of, old and new, include the Scriptures, which are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). But there’s more to it than that.

Let’s not miss this.

As Christian people, we believe God has given us the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. The Old Testament contains numerous exhortations given to Israel through Moses, in the Writings, and through the Prophets and Poets to teach God’s commands and pass on the stories to another generation, to instruct the people in God’s ways, that they might know the Lord and the wondrous works God has done for sake of God’s name and the salvation of God’s covenant people.

And the New Testament contains exhortations to teach, correct, rebuke, train, encourage, proclaim, and share God’s Word winsomely, persuasively, passionately, and convincingly.

In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul encourages young Timothy to “preach the word.”

On the second floor of the Truett building, there is a corner containing couches and computers and a printer, a place where students land to read, study, converse. There are windows and a lot of natural light. Late in the spring term of 2022, I pulled a pink Post-it note from my desk, took out a black Sharpie, wrote, “Preach the Word” and placed one small square in one of those windows. I wanted anyone who walked by, and particularly our students, to be reminded of this exhortation. I hoped they would contemplate our calling to preach the Scriptures, of course. But also to preach Jesus, the Word-made-flesh. It’s faded now. But it is still there. That makes me a little glad. Preach the Word.

The Bible is, for us, an “old” book. It contains “old” treasures, in part because it contains truth, which has an eternal quality to it. Ancient wisdom can take on a modern, timely expression, with the Spirit’s help. When “Christ lives in us,” eternity enters time and old things become suddenly new. When we preach this “old” book with its “old” words and its “old” wisdom, there are times when it falls fresh and “feels” new. 

The Scriptures are one source for teachers who have become disciples in the kingdom of heaven to bring forth treasures old and new.

But what else might this mean? Let’s consider one more thought.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist. In his book Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, Fujimura reflects on art, creativity, and the divine. His work is with paint, crushed minerals, paper, and canvas, and his work has led him to contemplate the meaning not only of the Creation, God’s self-revelation as Creator, and humankind’s being made in the image of a Creator God, but also the meaning of “New Creation,” of which the New Testament speaks. He connects New Creation to his work as a maker. Fujimura writes: “The Bible is a story that moves from Creation to New Creation.” He thinks that we, as Christians, are part of the unfolding of that story.

But we do not always tell the story that way. Fujimura explains that many of the sermons he has heard across denominations focus on God’s “fixing” of broken things. Fujimura does not deny this is part of our message. God is a repairer and a restorer. But when we focus on God’s “fixing” to the neglect of God’s “making,” we miss a key aspect of God’s work of redemption and how God may “make” through us, even now. 

Fujimura calls Christian teaching that focuses only on fixing, “plumbing theology.” He invites us to begin a conversation about why we focus on fixing the pipes, but also what the pipes are for. He asks us to consider what would happen to a person whom God restores and repairs, for whom their “pipes” were mended, healed, restored. What would happen then? What would happen to a person who experienced wholeness in body, soundness of mind, health in the emotions, reconciliation, justice, and harmony in the social sphere, and a refreshing of the soul? What then?

Fujimura argues that God’s renewal and regenerative purposes would be displayed in our lives, in our world, and in our making, that “New Creation” would be evidenced in our present reality. Once the pipes are restored, their purpose is actualized. He writes:

  • Through the pipes flow the Holy Spirit to empower us, the broken people and fallen creation.
  • Through the pipes flows the blood of Christ to restore us and rejuvenate the earth.
  • Through the pipes flow the wine of the New Creation to invite us into the feast of the New. But the wine of the feast will flow backwards from the New Creation to our reality.

Fujimura claims, “All art, music, and poetry, by intention or not, invokes the New…What if we began to create, and live, into the New Creation to come?”

The answer: treasures, old and new, they are made, offered, brought forth, displayed, and shared.

IV. The Task

If it is true that “every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old,” then, what do we do and how do we do it?

First, we live as householders, as residents. Jesus compared teachers of the law who have become disciples in the kingdom of heaven to owners of a house, as people who belong, as those who have a place, not as those paying rent. When you are adopted into God’s family through Jesus Christ, you receive a share in the estate.

In John 14:1-4, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Soon thereafter Jesus declares he is the way and the truth and the life, that no one comes to the Father except by him. Jesus secured for us a home. He has come, and he will come, to take us with him, so that we may be where he is.

Because of Jesus we can claim the promise of Psalm 23:6, which says: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

First, we remember that in Christ we have been received into our true everlasting home, not because of what we do, but because of what he has done.

But we remember something else, a second thing. Who teaches the teachers? Who trains us for life in the kingdom of heaven? Who entrusts us with these treasures? 

Who invites us to “Come, follow me?” Who sends us forth to “Go, and make disciples of all nations?” Who promises to be “with us always, even until the end of the age?”

We are under the best possible care and loved with the greatest possible love. Jesus supplies us with everything we need. He will teach us to teach, train us to train, and supply us with treasures, among which he shines like a priceless, radiant jewel and as our invaluable, unsurpassable prize. 

We not only have a place. We have a person.

We are his. And he is ours.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, call to us, invite us to be your disciples. Enable us to respond to you in the depths of our soul with the answer, “Yes, I will follow you.” Thank you for being our teacher and for calling us to be teachers. Train us in the kingdom of heaven. Help us to learn from you. Adjust our sight, calibrate our hearing, and attune our heart so that we may see, listen, and receive your instruction, wherever you have us, and wherever you send us. Please reveal to us your treasures, gifts old and new, and graciously lead us, your servants, who have been brought into your household. You are our greatest treasure. Thank you for your love. May our love for you increase, and may your grace abound in and through us. Amen.

Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve: A Cool Conservation Story with Theological Resonances

In a recent newsletter, Texas Parks & Wildlife shared this short film about David Bamberger and the Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve, located on 5,500 acres in the Texas hill country. Bamberger acquired the property with money he made from the sale of Church’s Fried Chicken. NPR did an All Things Considered segment on Bamberger’s conservation efforts in 2010. Texas Country Reporter also did a report on Bamberger around that time, featuring his chiroptorium, or bat-cave.

Two things caught my ear in the video above. First, Bamberger’s explantion of the meaning of the term “selah.” Second that the voice asking Bamberger to define the word belonged to a child.

Bamberger says that “selah” means “to stop, to pause, to look around you and reflect on everything you see.” He mentions he learned the word from the Psalms. It is a Hebrew term. It occurs over seventy times in the Bible, mostly in Psalms. Some have interpreted this term to signify a musical rest, a call for silence, a division, or a notation for “end,” i.e. the close of section or stanza. During my seminary studies, I was taught that the precise meaning of the term had been lost, though it was thought to be Hebrew musical nomenclature. My best guess was and still is “pause” or “rest.” When I come across this term in the Psalms, I slow down.

Bamberger’s definition goes one step beyond the term itself. But it does not go beyond the Psalms. Psalm 8 and Psalm 19 are reflections on what is seen in the created order. Psalm 24:1-2 declares that all of creation is God’s making and possession. Psalm 65 contains beautiful poetic language telling of the Lord’s nurturing of plants and livestock. Psalm 95:3-5 describes the world as having been fashioned by and now held in God’s hand.

Psalm 96 describes the creation’s rejoicing at the Lord’s coming to rule, reign over, and judge the earth. While most have a negative connotation when thinking of God’s judgement, here it is anything but. Rather, with God in charge, the creation rejoices because everything will once again be right.

Beyond the Psalms, the Bible tells a story connecting stewardship and sustainability to piety and pursuing justice. When the people of Israel are in right, faithful covenant relationship to God, it is not only the nation that flourishes, but the land. The people prosper, but crops and livestock also thrive. And God is glorified, because there is life, an abundance of life. The world teems with it, as it did when God spoke the world into being, and as the earth was intended to do under the diligent care of God’s image-bearers, God’s representatives.

Bamberger’s life appears to give witness to this link, testified to in Scripture. His conservation efforts seem to have led to a kind of priestly service as a healer of the land, as well as a person who works toward reconciliation in the relationship between people and the world God has made.

Werntz: “Harm Will Happen in the Best of Churches”

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Because the church is a body of persons undergoing their healing in Christ, harm will still happen in the best of churches: it makes no sense to talk about sanctification or healing within the body unless there is something to be healed from.

[. . .]

But ordinary harms are not abuses, and the treatment of the sinfulness of the church-as-such as a potential trauma factory is unhelpful: the harm we experience from others do damage us and others, but it is a harm which we should understand as facets of an ordinary world suffering the pervasive conditions of sin.

And as such, it calls forth a different, ongoing culture of repair and repentance.

Myles Werntz, “Of Course Church Will Hurt Us: How Could it Not? – Part I

These are two quotations from Werntz’s first installment in a series, all addressing “Traumatic Church Discourse.” You may have heard someone describe “church hurt,” and it does exist. Werntz helpfully distinguishes between trauma, abuse, and harm, and how these terms can help us distinguish between encounters with evil that may occur within Christian fellowship. He also adds a lot of theological nuance.

I’m making my way through the series. I suspect there are ideas here that will help me clarify what is a very difficult truth: until the return of Jesus, we will sin against one another. We will cause harm. The truth about these harms should be named and confessed. Repentance should follow. Justice should be sought. And, by God’s grace, we pray healing, mending, and repair will take hold.

The church isn’t the only institutional source of harm in our world. It isn’t the only institution with resources for addressing harms. But it is an institution with biblical resources, theological convictions, and practices to identify and acknowledge harms, and then, as Werntz says, to undertake the work of repair and repentance.

The TEXT Bible: A Review and a Chance to Receive a Giveaway Copy

The front cover of Thomas Nelson’s just released The TEXT Bible.

Thomas Nelson just put a new Bible on the shelves: The TEXT Bible [Amazon Affiliate Link]. I received a copy for review. I’ll share what The TEXT is, some key features, and a few images from my copy highlighting what you can find inside. Keep reading. If you like what you see, leave a comment to be entered in a giveaway. One winner will be selected to receive a copy of The TEXT Bible on Friday, January 20, 2023.

The TEXT Bible was created by Michael and Haley DiMarco (Own It, God Guy, God Girl) and provides every reader with a method for Bible study consisting of four steps:

  • Talk to God, praying and thanking him for his Word and that it’s true; ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the truth.
  • Encounter God and humanity as you read and reflect on two simple questions: 1) What do these verses say about God, and 2) What do they say about humanity?
  • eXamine your heart. As we reflect on the text, we ask what needs to be confessed, added, taken away, or maintained as a follower of Jesus.
  • Talk to others. We thank God for revealing these life changing truths and ask who needs to hear them too.

Simple, straightforward, and helpful for those who have never read the Bible with a method to aid in reading for understanding.

Questions for reflection are found in the margins.

The TEXT method is paired with the New English Translation (NET) version of the Bible. This is an accessible, readable translation. The “TEXT THE TEXT” box seen above shows you how a passage of Scripture is explored by using one step in the TEXT method, inviting further reflection.

The introduction to Ephesians.

Each book of the Bible is introduced with an overview, background information, and identification of key themes. Above, you see that Paul is identified as the author of Ephesians, a dating of the letter, a key verse, and a summation of this book’s purpose, or why it was written.

TEXT Threads are key ideas you can trace through a letter.

Each introduction also includes TEXT Threads, which are key ideas you can trace through a book. These threads are reminiscent of what you find in the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, a Bible designed to assist the reader in making broader connections as they move through the Scriptures.

The TEXT Bible has other features as well. There are about 100 short devotionals throughout which follow the TEXT method and answer, “Who is God?” These devotionals often teach a core Christian doctrinal idea (i. e., “There is Only One God” in the exploration of Deuteronomy 6:4). There is instruction on how to pray the Scriptures. There is short commentary on people and places in the Bible. There are descriptions of the different literary genres found in the Bible and definitions of key terms.

The TEXT Bible also features wide margins that are dot lined, which is great! It’s my favorite thing about the layout.

Lastly, this Bible includes a list of prophecies fulfilled at the cross, a catalog of spiritual gifts (with corresponding references), an index of passages for “Praying the TEXT,” Bible reading plans, a concordance, maps, and two ribbon bookmarks.

While this Bible could be used by anyone, it is designed for an emerging generation of readers. It plays on idioms and concepts commonly encountered while using digital media or digital devices, particularly social media and the cell phone. It is not an academic or scholarly Bible, filled with commentary or extensive background notes. Rather, it is suited to those who are new to the Bible and learning the Christian story of salvation. I can see this Bible on the lap of a teenager, reading, thinking, and jotting an occasional note.

I’ve handled countless Bibles. I’ve come to see that every Bible translation has shortcomings, some far more than others. And every “version” of the Bible has strengths and weaknesses. Scholarly, academic Bibles can be impenetrable for some lay readers; popular paraphrase translations can seem too flippant or too lacking in detail for serious readers. Bibles with commentary always represent one theological vantage point or stream over another, and word counts limit what goes in and what stay out in the introductory material, backgrounds, or notes.

This Bible has an intended audience. And I think it can connect with that intended audience. I think The TEXT is a timely presentation of God’s Word for an emerging generation. It could help a young reader get their feet under them as they explore and consider the Christian message.

If you’re interested in receiving a copy of The TEXT Bible, comment with your name and a valid email address and share the Bible translation/edition you most often read or study. One winner among the commenters will be chosen at random at the end of the week and I will contact you via email to receive your address. Your copy will be sent from the publisher.

Thanks for reading, and for those entering the giveaway good luck!

Dimitri of Rostov on Unceasing Prayer

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

But someone may ask: “Why did the Apostle say in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, ‘Pray without ceasing?'” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Usually in the Holy Scriptures, the word “always” is used in the sense of “often,” for instance, “The priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service for God” (Hebrews 9:6): this means that the priests went into the first tabernacle at certain fixed hours, not that they went there unceasingly by day and by night; they went often, but not uninterruptedly. Even if the priests were all the time in church, keeping alight the fire which came from heaven, and adding fuel to it so that it should not go out, they were not doing this all at the same time, but by turns, as we see from St. Zacharias: “He executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course” (Luke 1:8). One should think in the same way about prayer, which the Apostle ordains to be done unceasingly, for it is impossible for man to remain in prayer day and night without interruption. After all, time is also needed for other things, for necessary cares in the administration of one’s house; we need time for working, time for talking, time for eating and drinking, time for rest and sleep. How is it possible to pray unceasingly except by praying often? But oft-repeated prayer may be considered unceasing prayer.

St. Dimitri of Rostov in “The Inner Closet of the Heart,” from The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p. 49

Paul’s instruction to “pray without ceasing” has given me something to ponder. I’ve done my best to make sense of it, reasoning that if this is possible, prayer must mean something other than what I’ve experienced or thought thus far.

Above, Dimitri of Rostov reasons from Scripture that “always” does not always mean “always.” As a result, Paul must be exaggerating to make a point. Praying “often” must be what he meant. And besides, we have other things to do. Praying must cease so other activity can be done.

But this is not the only answer on offer in church history. Theophan the Recluse, another Christian in the Orthodox tradition, differentiates between spoken prayer, prayer in the mind, and prayer in the heart. When our words align with our thoughts, and our thoughts align with our inmost being, fully attentive and present to God, this is “inner spiritual prayer.” Theophan writes, “[U]nceasing prayer is only possible by praying with the mind in the heart.” He thought it was possible.

I agree with Theophan. Prayer without ceasing is possible. Christians believe they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us by searching out the human spirit and lifting our deepest needs to God “with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). This truth, combined with other biblical passages that describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit, lead me to believe that prayer is not only a practice that involves speaking and thinking, but is a posture of the heart. When we pray, we do not pray on our own, but in, through, by, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. We have a Helper. Even if we are not actively praying as it is commonly understood, the Holy Spirit is actively advocating, praying on our behalf.

This does not negate our responsibility to seek God during appointed times of prayer, or to pray aloud, or to think carefully about the words we form as we praise or petition God. But it does encourage us in faith, helping us to know that while we may conclude a time of speaking and thinking our prayers to God, a fire is kept within our hearts by the Holy Spirit within us, and we remain in communion with God.

Theophan writes, “The principal thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.” With God’s help, it is possible.

Theophan the Recluse’s Three Types of Prayer

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

You have probably heard such words as: oral prayer, mental prayer, prayer of the heart; you may also have heard discussions about each of them separately. What is the cause of this division of prayer into parts? Because it happens that sometimes through our negligence the tongue recites the holy words of prayer, but the mind wanders elsewhere: or the mind understands the words of the prayer, but the heart does not respond to them by feeling. In the first case prayer is only oral, and is not prayer at all, in the second, mental prayer joins the oral, but this prayer is still perfect and incomplete. Complete and real prayer of word and thought is joined by prayer of feeling.

Spiritual or inner prayer comes when he who prays, after gathering his mind within his heart, from there directs his prayer to God in words no longer oral but silent: glorifying Him and giving thanks, confessing his sins with contrition before God, asking from Him the spiritual and physical blessings that he needs. You must pray not only with words but with the mind, and not only with the mind but with the heart, so that the mind understands and sees clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind is thinking. All these combined together constitute real prayer, and if any of them are absent your prayer is either not perfect, or is not prayer at all.

Theophan the Recluse in The Art of Prayer, p. 66-67

The divisions are helpful, as they enable us to be more attentive to our inner dispositions as we pray. Are we speaking empty words? Do we understand what we say? Is our heart aligned with both thoughts and words? Are we humble before God in our inmost being, and does the Spirit intercede with our spirit in identifying and requesting divine help for our deepest needs?

Our goal is to come before God as complete selves, and, as Theophan says, unite body to mind and heart, thus entering “real prayer.”