September 18, 2014
The best of intentions languish without a plan. My goal is very simple: to read a little bit of Scripture every day and keep acquainted with the whole counsel of God. To this end, I offer the following recommendations among the many possibilities available these days. All links have been checked today so these are good to go. I start, however, with my favorite because it was devised by one of my favorite people, Dr. Dale Bruner, formerly of Whitworth University and now retired and writing commentaries in Pasadena, California. He sketched this reading plan out on a white-board one day, and it has stuck with me ever since.
Dr. Dale Bruner’s Two Year Reading Plan
Reading schedule covers entire Bible in two years (Genesis & NT twice, Psalms monthly), reading Monday through Saturday: NT Reading in the morning, five psalms at lunch time,* OT Reading in the evening. Sunday: A chapter from Genesis each week
Other Personalized Reading Plans
My Bible Plans
You customize the plan: pick the segment of the Scriptures you want to read, in how many days, starting when; and it maps out the schedule. You can print out the schedule, or sign up to have it delivered by email each day. Uses the English Standard Version of the Bible.
M’Cheyne Bible Readings
Four chapters each day, covering the entire Bible in one year. Two of these daily readings are intended for family reading, the other two “secret” (meaning “private; individual”). Various delivery formats available.
Blue Letter Bible
Takes you step by step through the process of registering for a personalized Bible reading plan. You can choose the translation you want to read, your general time-table (one or two years), and the layout: historically chronological, blended OT and NT, canonical (the order in which the books appear in the Bible), etc. For starters, I recommend the 1-year plan at http://www.blueletterbible.org/dailyreading/PDF/1Yr_OTNTPlan.pdf or the 2-year plan at http://www.blueletterbible.org/dailyreading/PDF/2Yr_OTNTPlan.pdf
Scripture Awakening—The Bible in 90 Days
This is a purchased guide for reading the entire Bible in three months. There are “best practices” for use of the material in small groups, church-wide reading commitments, etc. The claim is that it only takes up to 60 minutes of reading a day to cover Genesis to Revelation in 90 days!
Various options for a daily email, which includes the full text of the day’s reading. The Daily Plans all start on January 1, but there are various options to choose from, such as “The Gospels in 40 Days.”
Ligonier Ministries Bible Reading Chart
Stick this downloadable printout into your Bible and check off Book and Chapter as you read. Totally flexible.
Since we’re in September, I have decided to print out the Ligonier reading chart and start chipping away, generally along the lines of of a customized plan from My Bible Plans. Depending on how it is going, on January 1 I may start at the beginning with Bruner’s Plan . . . So, let’s see how this goes! What I do believe is this:
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
September 17, 2014
Going back to my original list of “why I haven’t been blogging,” today I shall address the last one enumerated there:
I have not been “in the Word” as a daily or even regular spiritual discipline. I realize just how much the Scriptures are food for thought, and I haven’t been eating.
So, this is really a confession of sorts, but not a self-indulgent one, I hope. My aim is simply to articulate an experience that you may have had, too, and to respond to it.
My personal, spiritual disciplines of the traditional kind, especially Bible reading and study, have been shot to heck in the last few months. Maybe it started with the recliner-bound stupor, which made watching Netflix episodes of Foyle’s War (PBS) and West Wing (NBC) just about my speed. Then in April, on my just-deceased mother’s bedside, I found a J. A. Jance detective novel. I’ve now read ten of them! This is not high literature, even of the P. D. James caliber, but just fluff, fun fluff.
I was sharing this admission with a friend on Sunday, and he said, “You’ve taken a sabbatical!” That’s the positive spin on it, but I have to say, even on my sabbaticals in years past, Bible reading has always been a mainstay.
During this period, I have attended worship faithfully. I have prayed, if not systematically, at least regularly. I have even preached a few times and thoroughly enjoyed temporary immersion in God’s Word. I have counseled many, and brought Scripture into the discussion when appropriate. The Bible knowledge is all right there, ready to be accessed in vending machine fashion. And I certainly have continued to live the life shaped by an orthodox understanding of Scripture; I’m not falling off a wagon or anything. God’s presence has been encouraging throughout, though I have to admit a little more distant than what I was experiencing during my cancer treatment.
My appreciation for total depravity and the human propensity to self-deception (like Eve in Genesis 3) raise the red flag. This can’t go on too long, or I will miss something important or starve.
I love the title of Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book, in reference to the Scripture and taken from the Revelation to John:
So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. (Revelation 10:9f)
And of course, at a time of great temptation, Jesus relied on the ancient reminder:
One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew and Luke 4:4)
To read the Scriptures, to meditate upon them, brings life and clarity and direction. The Psalmist opens Psalm 1 with this joyful claim:
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Even as I write this post with my Bible open to the Revelation 10 passage, I am again reminded that while the Word of God is sweet on my tongue, in the pit of my stomach I know that it calls me to teaching and prophetic ministry during a difficult time in the church’s history. Maybe my sabbatical has been a break not just from the Word but from the more unpleasant aspects of ministry, especially when the Word one preaches is not finding a hearing among one’s Presbytery colleagues.
The task before me now is to ingest and digest God’s Word as a steady diet. If I were half as attentive to spiritual eating as I am to physical eating, I would be well-fed and nourished for the work God calls me to do. But how does one get back to the table and feast once more? Some steps:
Confessional Prayer: Lord, work your will and way in me and make me hungry for your Word.
Discipline: Lord, I know I am going to need your prodding and your reminders. Bother me until daily reading becomes a habit once again.
Intention: Okay, Lord, I own this. I will not just “try” but with your help I intend to act.
Method: Lord, again with your help and the power of your Holy Spirit, I will pick a reading plan to get me in the habit, and trust that you will woo me with the wisdom, power, truth, and life of your Word.
As to “reading plans,” I’ve never been a fan of the Lectionary (too chopped up), preferring to read whole books at a time to keep the context and get the flow of history and theology. In the short term, I shall read Deuteronomy—a random choice, for now—since last week’s sermon came from this fifth book of the Pentateuch. Tomorrow, before leaving the subject of devouring God’s Word, I’ll share some of the various reading plans that are easy to remember and use. Are you with me?
September 16, 2014
Today I would like to develop further the idea I introduced yesterday of finding one’s voice. Isaiah 40:1-9 has spoken to me lately, and though the topic there is Jerusalem/Zion’s revival after a long season of disruption from Babylonian and Assyrian tyrants, there are parallels to today’s church and the role of prophet therein.
The passage begins with words of comfort, indicating to God’s Chosen that the worst of their captivity is over:
1 Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.
Israel has been through the ringer, undergoing God’s judgment against her apostasy, her empty worship, and her sense of entitlement. But God is saying here, You have paid your debt and have entered a new season of reconciliation with God.
But now, some real work has to be done to rebuild the people of God:
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
In the wasteland of human hearts, a major construction project must be undertaken in order to welcome God back into residence among his people. Obstacles to the Lord’s full access must be removed, what is uneven must be paved level, and what is crooked must be straightened. From a spiritual perspective, what must happen is this: God’s people—including church people who have been wayward—must make preparations for another invasion. This one does not bring weapons of mass destruction but the full Glory of God’s Presence. Only those purified by the refiner’s fire will be able to withstand God’s Glory; that’s why God’s arrival is something that must be anticipated and prepared for. It is the role of prophet, ancient and contemporary, to speak the plan and call people to the work of preparation for the Lord’s coming.
There are always doubters in our midst, then and now:
6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The question is whether mere mortals can muster the courage and the skill for the assigned task. How can inconsistent, fragile, temporary people make ready for God’s Glory? This voice says, Surely people are grass, which does not fare too well in drought and wind and wildfire (don’t we Californians know this?!).
If it were only up to us to make straight and level the road of life, we would fail. But there is hope, spoken by the voice of faith:
8 [Yes, indeed. . .] The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
It isn’t your word or my word that will carry the message of hope and restoration to exiled people, it is God’s Word! God’s is the Word that stands forever, that cannot be shaken, and will be heard (eventually) by everybody! It behooves the prophet(s) in our midst, including me, to proclaim the Word of the Lord and bring that Word to life.
So how does that translate to blogging ministry? Denominational topics? I’m not sure the PC(USA) is out of the woods, yet, of God’s judgment for straying away from his Word and disregarding his law. Our tribe is still proving the existence of “total depravity” (a Reformation-era concept). It is very possible that in our lifetimes we could see the demise of the PC(USA) simply because it redefines itself to be people who write their own “word.” For this reason, “Comfort, comfort ye, my people” may not be the appropriate message to the PC(USA). The prophet may still have to name the sin and voice the warnings. When things happen (and I have a doozy from last week), I may not be able to avoid the admonitions and exhortations that rise to my mouth! On the other hand, I would really like to be able to point to those moments and occasions when God’s Glory breaks through or when God’s Word addresses life as I am experiencing it. For you, I hope that means encouragement for your effort towards spiritual restoration and rehabilitation—making paths to God straight and level.
So this is an invitation to embark upon this as a project God has given us, to let God’s Word inform and transform us in life and in death. That means reflecting on real life—however it unfolds—in light of God’s Word.
September 15, 2014
One of the interesting, and somewhat disappointing, developments of this summer has been trouble with my breathing apparatus. My lungs check out very well, indeed, but the upper airways (trachea and bronchi) are stiffening. This causes me to wheeze under certain conditions, and if you really listen, you can hear a slight whistle coming from just below my voice box. My radiology oncologist suggests the possibility that last Fall’s radiation treatments are now causing some scarring in those tubes. The matter is being investigated by my medical team, and I’m hoping there might be some sort of definitive treatment to correct the problem. We’ll see!
Miraculously, I am able to sing, and in fact have joined a choir. A week ago Saturday we experienced our first all-day “retreat” with this group, which entailed a lot of vocalizing (most of the day). By the end, I was afraid my voice was going to go completely. As a voice major, I know the best remedy for laryngitis is vocal rest and hydration, so I did the drill and averted disaster. The experience, however, gave me a handle on what has been going on with me in the writing department.
In late Spring, as I was coming out of the cancer tunnel and as the PC(USA) General Assembly was looming, I began to lose my writing (blogging) voice. It takes awhile to find one’s voice, that unique point of view, writing style, even that soul of a writer expressed in words. It was a new experience for me, having nothing to say! [Take her to the hospital! Mary has run out of things to comment upon!]
So, a little history: In the last year, I have picked up some new readers drawn to my experience of lung cancer. Many of you may not know that I had a “previous life” as a Presbyterian activist. As a minister member of San Francisco Presbytery and a national leader among evangelical/orthodox Presbyterians, I reflected on the politics, theology, discipline, and governance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My perspective was, and remains, theologically conservative, biblically anchored, and challenging to the emerging trends in my particular tribe of mainline Protestantism.
The year my tribe was ramping into the season known as “General Assembly,” held in Detroit in June 2014, I was out for the count. Undergoing rigorous treatment for lung cancer, having surgery to remove a lobe of my lung, and recovering in my recliner, my interest in denominational issues slackened under the constant effort just to stay awake. It’s amazing how an experience like this puts life in slow motion, reorganizes priorities, and takes the urgency out of some events.
During this time, however, I found my voice in reference to lung cancer and the spiritual life, and Bringing the Word to Life meant bringing the Scriptures to bear on prolonged illness, the possibility of dying, and the miracle of cure. The medications I took had one quirky side effect I wish I could have back: I was wide awake from 3 to 8 a.m. every morning, providing the perfect quiet and reflective mood for writing. But now that these drugs are completely out of my system, I am slogging away like everybody else, trying to find the time and the quiet to gather my thoughts. I can assure you, the joy of living is a daily gift now, and small pleasures are intensified. My batteries—physical and spiritual—are almost fully recharged at this point, and I’m ready to roll in the writing department.
So now the question is, should I go back to writing about denominational issues? All summer, I have felt the Lord urging me to silence on the PC(USA) topic, literally restrained from writing about the GA decisions of greatest concern to me. I watched the plenary sessions of GA on live streaming, took copious notes, stayed in touch with my colleagues on site. But when the decisions came down, it was as though I had lost my voice. I felt like I had given reasonable warning for years, as a prophet in the wilderness trying to wake people up to the disaster ahead. My warnings went unheeded; my logic was unconvincing; something “newer” and “better” was adopted. My point of view is now considered irrelevant, if not dangerous, to the thought police who are redefining “tolerance” even as they are redefining “marriage.”
My silence has not been due to fear. I am not afraid of what people think of me or my ideas. I don’t have anything to lose professionally. If there’s one thing I have learned in the last year, there is nothing to be afraid of when one is carried by the Savior.
My silence is not an indication I have given up. I do not plan to roll over and play dead while the assault upon a biblically faithful and historically orthodox theology continues.
My silence itself is not acknowledgment that I have lost a contest. I believe a contest has been decided, with erroneous teaching and an abandonment of the rules, but “losing” is not what has rendered me silent.
It is “the fear of the Lord” and his holiness and righteousness that has me standing in awe-full silence, for now. I don’t expect it to be permanent, but I do expect with vocal rest and hydration (drinking the Living Water), it won’t be long before the Lord will give me permission to bring his Word to life, be it in the PC(USA) or in other aspects of life yet to unfold.
Tomorrow, some thoughts from the Major Prophets.
September 14, 2014
My dear readers, it has been over three months since I last blogged. Some of you have been asking if I am all right, and your concern has touched me and challenged me. Yes, I am just fine! Last week I had the six-month post-op evaluation of my condition, with CT scan and blood work, and I remain “cancer-free.” My strength is back and I have been remarkably busy enjoying life and catching up. Just normal life stuff, vacation, sorting and disbursing my deceased mother’s possessions, ¼-time work, things like that.
Only three reminders of my illness remain: 1) the VAP is still installed and won’t be removed for two years “just in case we need it again”; 2) nine hours of sleep is about right, still, and after a really big day I don’t just get tired, I crash; and 3) some breathing issues persist and investigation of their cause(s) continues.
Item 1 is simply a reminder of my mortality, which is not a bad thing.
Item 2 means I do not wake, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, at 3 a.m. anymore. All last year, 3 to 5 a.m. was my prime time for writing! Getting up at 7 a.m. has changed all that and I’m still trying to figure out how to get everything done in a day’s time, especially those activities that need to be done “first thing in the morning.”
Item 3 means I have been preoccupied with self-maintenance and medical detective work, attending a rigorous pulmonary rehab program, keeping a series of diagnostic and monitoring medical appointments, and exercising up to two hours a day.
The bottom line, though, is that I am now able to do just about anything physical I want to do, at sea level; I may be a little slower on the uphill, but I can get there. It gives me great joy to witness God’s creation in the quiet nooks and crannies of my town’s Open Space and even up high in the Sierra Nevada, where, after some acclimatization I can actually hike and breathe in the pristine air and soak in the silence.
My professional life is a mish-mash of interesting activities, including serving as a gap-filler, officially titled “pastoral associate” at the Lutheran church (ELCA) near my home. This is my day-to-day faith community and the context for exercising my spiritual gifts since returning from medical leave on June 1. But I have also been retained as counsel in some Presbyterian legal matters, which has required a bit of travel and intense days (the ones I crash after). I am still the Moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition, but expect to step down from that role as soon as our post-GA work is done, probably in October.
The question you have asked, though, is the one that has been in a “stuck” position since last April: “What is happening with your writing?” There are two sides to this question, my book-writing and my blog-writing. The first one I can dispatch easily. The book-writing is all in my head and not on paper, with the exception of Slaying the Beast, which is half done but has been dormant since June. Too busy, pure and simple, with other priorities and constant interruptions for Item 3 above.
The writing of the blog, however, has a much more complicated answer. I share some thoughts on this, finally, only because I believe my personal dilemmas might resonate somewhat with my readers. Today I will just list them, with the intent of unpacking each one in the coming week:
I feel I have lost my voice, figuratively speaking.
I have, at times, been overcome by sadness at events unfolding.
Some of the interesting topics are so broad and global, I hardly know where to start.
Some of my thoughts have been on topics that cannot be discussed because of confidentiality agreements. I won’t be saying anything more about this, for obvious reasons, but when I am “working on a case,” it dominates my thoughts and writing time.
My illness, such rich fodder for spiritual reflection, is basically done and gone. Now what?
I have not been “in the Word” as a daily or even regular spiritual discipline. I realize just how much the Scriptures are food for thought, and I haven’t been eating.
So there you go. God is stirring me up to repentance, re-engagement, and reflection. You’ll be the first to hear all about it.
“Silent No More” Mary
June 13, 2014
The third mandate Jesus issued regarding the witness of his followers is found in John 13, right after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. His humble and socially shocking demonstration apparently got a conversation going among the men. Jesus said to them (among other things):
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34f)