Stay blessed

Psalm 1
For twenty years, I’ve closed all my emails with “stay blessed.” That’s also how I end every daily devotional.

I even sneak in a quick benediction. When I’m done babbling, I say, “Stay blessed…john.” Ellipsis points normally indicate a pause in thought. I use the three dots to offer a final blessing in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I started that when I internalized Psalm 1. It’s my favorite. All the emotions the psalms allow us to express begin here. It frames how we pursue God with our lives as we read any part of scripture. We’re either delighting in the law of the Lord or not. The NRSV calls us happy when we do. I first heard Psalm 1 call us blessed when we do.

And that’s where the emails came in.

Psalm 1 offers us a clear vision of what it means to be blessed. It’s our willingness to know God’s word. But why?

Let me reuse an illustration. It hasn’t been that long since I talked about Wordle, the online word puzzle. Less than one hundred people played when it debuted. Its popularity has grown in only a few months. So much so, The New York Times bought the game for seven figures. Last year, a study shared that nearly half of its respondents used their phone five to six hours a day. Another twenty-plus percent said three to fours hours. In our constant state of connection, a unique aspect captivates Wordle players. It’s that it’s a once-a-day game.

You figure it out or you don’t. Either way, you have to wait until tomorrow to play again. You can spend too much time on your phone, but you can’t do it playing Wordle.

That’s a great way to disengage our digital dependence. But it’s not a good way to approach the Bible. Daily devotionals and quick Bible readings are helpful. But they can lead us to believe the point of reading the Bible is just to read it.

There’s nothing wrong with reading the Bible, of course. Notice, though, the blessing of Psalm 1 isn’t reading the Bible. It’s delighting and meditating on it day and night. That begins with reading, but it doesn’t end there.

We read to fill our minds and souls with the wisdom of God. And so we reflect on what we read all day. Reading a passage of scripture isn’t merely a nice way to start or finish your day. It’s a blessed way to fill your day. According to the psalmist, we’re blessed if we reflect on God’s word all day.

So, stay blessed…john

One and a thousand

1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Someone estimated John Wesley owned more than one thousand books.

That’s quite a few pages to have in your library. Of course, he wasn’t reading Methodist history; it hadn’t happened yet. Apart from that, you can imagine he read a lot of everything. And yet he considered himself to be a man of one book (homo unius libri).

That book, of course, was the Bible. What did Wesley mean by that if he read the Bible and over a thousand other books?

Well, the one book showed him the grace of God and revealed Jesus to him. Other books might have taught him about the Lord, but the knowledge began with scripture. I don’t know this, but I don’t see Wesley reading the other books as much as the Bible. And his writing and preaching center on the words and illustrations of scripture. From what I know, he fits the description of the blessed person of Psalm 1. He read and meditated on scripture day and night. 

Now, reading other material besides the Bible is not wrong or a waste of time. Quite the contrary. That wouldn’t even align with Wesley’s reading or writing practice. He wrote about philosophy and other fields of thought. He also published a medical book. Wisdom is all around us.

But we do need a better fellowship with the Bible. What might it say that many unbelievers seem to know more about the Bible than Christians? Our identity as the people of God doesn’t lead us toward discipleship by itself. The book of Hebrews says this to its readers: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God.

Ouch. Can we say the same today?

We all have experience and insight to add to the church’s ministry and edification. What we need, though, are more people of one book. People who know the scriptures enough to teach and guide others to see the full picture of the Bible. More of us need to learn to speak scripture. I don’t mean to suggest mere memorization of a verse here and there. That’s what we ask our children to do. I mean understanding and vision rooted in the message, structure and revelation of the Bible. Not recitation but occupation. A mind occupied with hearing from God through, among other spiritual practices, the words of holy scripture.

That’s how we obtain and follow God’s wisdom. If the Bible is an afterthought, what thoughts will actually lead us?

Stay blessed…john

Refreshing our memory

2 Peter 1:2-15
Our church has one Sunday School class right now. The class leader and I meet together and stream the class to an online audience. He prepares a lesson each week. I just chime in as we go along and run the media side of the class.

I noticed something this weekend in our conversation. It also dawned on me during the sermon I preached. Yes, during.

The class topic was obedience. My sermon was about God’s peace.

Somehow, both of them got around to talking about the need to read scripture and prayer. It occurred to me I talk a lot about those things.

Isn’t there anything else to talk about? Of course!

But so much of what we learn about faith comes from the Bible. Likewise, prayer deepens our trust in God like nothing else. As I was preaching, I got to thinking about what other topics I bring up all the time.

Without looking up anything, I reflected on what’s always on my mind: discipleship; community; obedience; Bible; prayer. Is there another point you always hear me go on and on about?

Well, if we’ve recognized there are a few faith subjects that come up all the time, we’re in good company. Let’s look at 2 Peter 1 to see.

Peter opens the first chapter with a call for Christians to grow in their faith. “Support your faith,” he said, “with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.”

He wants his readers to receive these traits as fruit of their walk with God. They are important elements of our faith in Christ. So, “be all the more eager to confirm your call and election,” he said. That is, make it your goal to pursue these characteristics as evidence of your faith in Jesus. I’d say as individual believers and as congregations.

These attributes are so important Peter has a plan. He said, “I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you.” It’s only right, he continued, “to refresh your memory.”

That’s what we’re doing when we repeat these common faith topics. We’re refreshing our memories. Peter’s audience needed that reminder. Are we so sure we don’t?

Our sanctification depends on it, actually. We won’t grow in faith and in the knowledge of God if we won’t pursue the things of God. God won’t just make you faithful one day. The Lord doesn’t have a magic spell to make you obedient. There’s no secret sauce to make you a faithful giver or a dedicated servant.

No, all that happens only as you and I remind each other of what’s important about our walk with God.
Stay blessed…john