Just got word that our older daughter has started labor, so the birth of our first grandchild is imminent. I have been rooting for Pi Day all week; could we be so fortunate? If this goes long enough, we will have a “once in a century” baby! While doing Nana duty, I will be working with my other daughter, who is first round editor of my book, Slaying the Beast: A Spiritual Journal Through Lung Cancer, which I “finished” (ha-ha) yesterday.  We will be working on it for two weeks, so during that time you will not be hearing from me on this blog.

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Colossians 4:1 is a good place to pause for a bit of a review in our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

After a splendid introduction to Jesus Christ— his primacy, his deity, and his presence—Paul makes the case in chapter 2 that Christians enjoy a particular freedom. This liberty is not license to do whatever one pleases, but practical freedom from human regulations (like the Jewish Law) and secular humanistic philosophies. Life in Christ gives a person the opportunity to enjoy the freedom to do good without the lead weight of counterfeit wisdom or spiritual OCD (2:23).

A good life walks in holiness made possible by the Spirit within every believer. A holy life, as Paul describes it, is not self-conscious, self-righteous, or self-glorifying. In Christ, we have been given a life set apart from earthly things, that is, a sacred opportunity to align ourselves with Jesus and reject the things of earth that lead to death. Ironically, living to Christ means dying to self, but the death of our earthly nature is the means of our liberation to receive all the Spirit has for us.

A technicality: I do not intend to carve out a dualism here between that which is material (bad) and that which is spiritual (good). But Paul uses the language in chapter 3 of “earthly” (perhaps we can interpret this as “worldly”) and “spiritual” (interpreted as “godly”). The worldly wisdom expressed in human regulations is to be distinguished from godly wisdom expressed in holy living, which is described in very practical ways in chapter 3.

So how does this translate into everyday life? We allow Jesus to shape us in his image and likeness. We apprentice ourselves to Jesus (Dallas Willard’s favorite image). To illustrate, it has been said that the longer a husband and wife live together (we’re talking decades), the more likely they will take on their partner’s characteristics. These might be vocal inflections, facial expressions or gestures, or a way of thinking. There have been times in our married life when others who didn’t know Andy and me thought we were brother and sister. When you spend (almost) 40 years in the same household, one personality is bound to rub off on the other! And so it is in our apprenticeship to Jesus. The longer we spend in fellowship with Jesus, the more he is going to rub off on us.

Holiness develops as we walk in close relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who is fully God and yet in whom all things (like us) hold together. When Jesus dwells in us and we in him, his presence has a transforming effect on us. The Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, that same One, dwells in our mortal bodies by faith (Romans 8:11). Resurrection follows! Unleashed within us, the Spirit of Christ goes to work to bring joy, humility, love for God’s Word, and a host of other gifts and attitudes. You see, only God has the capacity and the all-in desire to change us from the inside out. But when God does that, we have the power and the freedom to act in concert with him.

The transformation begins when we come alive in Jesus Christ and it is complete when finally we see our Savior face to face. Along the way, we are people under construction, and God is not finished with us yet. So let us stay close, stay faithful, keep listening, and continue to surrender our wills, minds, hearts, and bodies to the One who will return to us the freedom to live the life he designed us to live.

A few years ago, in response to the drought conditions then (a chronic problem in California), we re-landscaped our front yard. It involved replacing our driveway and putting in a new walkway directly from the street to our front door. Things were torn up for weeks, but on concrete pouring day everybody’s spirits lifted. A crew of skilled laborers congregated in the middle of the now excavated dirt pathway for the 7 a.m. briefing. With water and tools at the ready, the team turned to welcome the big cement truck of your dreams, and an amazing procedure unfolded.

Given wet cement, the crew had to work quickly and in a coordinated fashion. The job was to direct the heavy flow into waiting forms, level the cement, and smooth it within the allotted time. We watched from the window above, with goofy grins on our faces. One of the reasons we were so enthralled was that each and every one of the crew members looked as though he were back in his boyhood playing in a sandbox. The men were having fun, even as they executed the plan with great skill. They were “all in,” fully committed to the task, and when it was completed, they shared our delight at how well it had turned out.

In contrast, can’t you tell when a person is just going through the motions at the job? What gives them away is the absence of any sense of joy or meaning in what they do. Sometimes you can detect anger, discontent, or mistrust that shows up at the oddest moments. It makes you wonder if the worker is having a problem with his or her employer or co-worker. It has been my observation over the years that a person who is not—in some way, at some phase—enjoying the job is not going to do as good a job as someone who is all in.

We were all designed to work, even in Eden, even before the Fall. Adam and Eve were given responsibilities to carry out as stewards of the marvelous creation God had put around them. Any notion that there is no effort in heaven is mistaken, for John records in the Revelation (the last book of the Bible) that all those in God’s presence shall reign with him over the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 5:10). So work is supposed to be a good thing, a fulfilling activity that bears fruit and offers an opportunity to worship God with one’s labor.

But as we all know, things took a bad turn in the Garden, and hard labor and fruitless toil would become part of the human experience (Genesis 3:17b-19). Not only would the work be difficult, the relationships in the workplace would be twisted by exploitation and injustice. The epitome of this arrangement is slavery, which was present in the Greco-Roman world at the time of Paul’s writing. Slaves were often kept in inhumane circumstances, expected to labor relentlessly, and were abused—all because they were not viewed as human but as property.

In Paul’s worldview, even these people—slaves and their owners—were included in the Colossians 3 instruction to show kindness, compassion, meekness, and humility, as befits the household of the faith. And just like the other power-balancing teaching for husband and wife, and parents and children, it is now applied in the owner and slave scenario:

22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything;
and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor,
but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that
you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.
It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong,
and there is no favoritism.
1Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair,
because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Pow!

Slaves, do not work just to appease your master, but work heartily for your true Master, the Lord! Though you are not heirs in this life, rejoice that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward for your faithful service now.

Masters, enough of this abuse, favoritism, and injustice! It is time to treat those working for you with righteousness and fairness. If you have trouble with the concept, remember this: you have a Master in heaven who will treat you as you have treated others!

So once again, Paul reminds his readers that nobody can truly flourish unless they understand their position as one in complete submission to and dependence upon Jesus Christ the Lord. We, too, must remember that we—as workers—are not just employed by a human being but are responsible to God for honest labor. Just knowing that what we are doing is appreciated by God goes a long way to imparting meaning to our work, with joy as a result. As employers, we are required to do our work as though Jesus were our boss, too, with the expectation that he is looking for evidence of God’s justice and righteousness in the way we communicate with, direct, and compensate those who work for us.

So, regardless of our station in life, let us all serve the Lord Christ in all that we do. It will demonstrate a world of difference to those who only observe the church from afar. Let us show our culture the difference between the power struggles and dehumanizing relationships it experiences and the life-giving interdependence that is characteristic of the Body of Christ.

 

20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Remembering that these two verses follow Paul’s exhortation to the church as a whole, it is a wonderful thing the apostle recognizes: children are a part of the church family, too. Previously, husband and wife were urged to demonstrate to each other the quality of relationship that is to pervade the church. Here, too, we see that children (and their parents) have a special responsibility even as they are given the privilege of participation in the household of faith.

Children are to accept the discipline of their parents, to submit to the rules of the home, show respect to their elders, and otherwise demonstrate full participation in the household’s order. “Honor your father and your mother” is the first commandment of the ten addressed to human relationships, suggesting its fundamental importance.

There’s a tender place in my heart for children, especially right now, because we are about to welcome a new baby into the family. Any day now, my blog will go silent for a time so that I can settle into the role of Nana. In the meantime, my husband and I have been remembering what it was like to become parents for the first time, with all the hopes and dreams parents have for their children.

Our granddaughter, of course, will be one of God’s wonders in the world. She will be a source of delight and fascination, particularly as she grows physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. As she develops, so will her sense of self and personal power. This is all natural and expected and necessary. What is not desirable is for her to become a tyrant. Try as she might, in some years harder than others, she will learn that she is not the center of the universe.

Depending on their personalities, expectations, and parenting styles, Dad and/or Mom might be tempted to believe that they are the center of the universe. But this too is way off-center. Ultimately, the purpose of teaching children to obey their parents is to prepare them to give that kind of submission to God. The best instructors for this transfer of allegiance are those who themselves have given their hearts and wills to God, that is, parents who are submitted to the Lordship of Christ.

So Paul instructs kids to obey their parents in all areas of life, for this pleases the Lord (who is watching even when parents aren’t). In general, a child flourishes if she lets her family shape her and help her please God. [Paul’s great assumption here is that these families are within the church family, operating in the spirit of compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, and love—Colossians 3:12ff.] But Paul also teaches parents—in that same spirit—to restrain themselves from “embittering” their children—more literally, to avoid provoking their children, which can have the result of discouraging them and demotivating their progress. One can only assume that Paul was speaking to the tendency of parents (fathers?) to come down hard on their children, make their parental love conditioned on good childhood behavior, or be domineering and controlling. In just a few words, Paul grabs hold of the essence of parenting: be firm but loving, and point your children to Jesus.

Parents, you are the grown-ups in the family, and from that position you are representing Christ to your children by being mature, selfless, loving, generous, God-fearing, forgiving, and clear with them. Children, while you are not the center of the universe, your parents love you and are providing for your well-being, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. It’s good to be thankful for them when you can, respectful of them on the tough days, and ready to hear them when they tell you how much Jesus loves you. In this way, both parents and children are accountable to God and—in a real sense—to one another. If humility is part of a family’s demeanor, then parents and children can learn from each other as they adopt faith as a way of life.

 

As we anticipate our 40th wedding anniversary in June, Andy and I recall one story we would just as soon forget. But because it holds a good lesson, we share it:

About three years into our marriage, Andy and I decided to take our first backpack trip together. It was a trail to Stanford Lakes in the Sierra Nevada. It must have been in the 8,000 to 9,000 ft. elevation range. What I remember is how out-of-breath I was and so tired I could not make it up this one hill. Andy, up ahead, was getting frustrated that my pace wasn’t faster. And when I insisted, in tears, that I was having a really hard time and needed to rest, he thought I was giving up (not an option) and giving in to something less than the mettle required as a backpacker. It was not a good day.

After one or two other experiences like this one, again at high altitude, and again through bouts of frustration on both our parts, I decided that the sport was not fun, not safe (for me), and I did not want to go anymore. Yes, I was “embittered” (to use Paul’s word in Colossians 3:19), enough that my hiatus from backpacking lasted about ten years. During that time, Andy went with buddies on some terrific and challenging trips. But he missed having me along.

My beloved later realized that in those early days he had not acted out of compassion, kindness, meekness, and humility (remember Paul’s list from Colossians 3:12-15). He also realized that it had been unfair to expect high performance in high altitude without enough training, and that it was no fun for me to be left behind.

Out of all this came Andy’s First Rule for hiking with your wife: your wife goes first. And his Second Rule: If you want to go ahead anyway, remember the first rule. Ever since then, even after I became fit and more experienced, he has hiked behind me on the trail instead of in front of me. He has adapted to my pace. Since it was slower than his normal pace, he took up bird watching. [Another Naegeli Law: If you can’t fix it, feature it!] He knows that I will never climb Mt. Whitney, but it is still okay. He is bearing with me and my limitations. All in all, Andy has found ways to love his wife and not make her bitter.

I share this story, with Andy’s permission, because it seems to capture the essence of what Paul was describing about husbands in relation to their wives:

19Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.”

The Hebrew here for “treat them harshly” is pikros, “to make bitter.”

Husbands, love your wives—agape them. Love them unconditionally for their sakes. Love them, bear with them, forgive them (from the previous paragraph in Colossians); in other words, do not exploit them, treat them as objects, apply unattainable standards to them, nor be unfair or unjust.

The parallel from Ephesians 5 puts it this way:

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her, . . .

In order for a husband to love his wife, he is called upon to “give himself up” for her. What would that look like? Meekness, kindness, compassion, humility, taking up the rear rather than forging on ahead. Does this sound familiar?

My take on the marriage issue is that both husband and wife are called to put the other first, to align their lives with the other, to submit together to the Lordship of Christ, to love each other despite faults and failings, to give themselves up for each other. Whether these actions come out of wifely submission or husbandly headship (a rationale not used in Colossians but in the Ephesians parallel) does not really matter. It ends up that two people are instructed to show mutual respect, tenderness, obedience, and cooperation in all aspects of life. In Christ, wife and husband are called to the same standard of behavior and attitude toward one another.

Any woman who has been told (by Paul) that now, in Christ, it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, you have equal standing before God (Galatians 3:28), is going to expect to be treated like a full-fledged human being. The balance of power between husband and wife is based on common humanity and the imago Dei. When power becomes unbalanced (which happens sometimes even without a couple realizing it), conscious mutual submission to the power of Jesus Christ is sought, and followed. One may not dominate or control the other (and believe me, in today’s world this applies both ways). One may not hide behind the authority/power/wishes of another nor assert authority/power/wishes merely on any assumption of superiority or priority. Two people come together not to blame or shame or demand, but to help each other live into the grace and mercy of God. They do that by appreciating the gifts the other brings, by solving problems together or deferring to the one with more expertise/knowledge or more at stake.

For twenty years, before I came down with lung cancer, Andy and I—with kids and friends usually—had many redeeming, wonderful backpack trips together. But the lessons learned in the late 1970s are needed once again, due to my new post-cancer limitations (missing a lung lobe and dealing with pronounced asthma). And to be honest—remember, this is mutual submission we are talking about—Andy has his own issues that come with creaky knees. So we have the opportunity to practice patience with each other and find new ways to enjoy this good earth and God’s creation. And we are still married!

 

 

 

 

 

As we come to the Apostle Paul’s very brief instruction on marriage, there is one point to be made in general. Whatever Paul has been teaching up to this point has direct application at home as well as the church. In one sense, the household is a mini-church, a community of believers centered on Jesus Christ. I picture this centeredness with the following analogy:

Imagine a Chinese acrobat who spins a plate on the tip of a pole. Imagine that pole extending all the way through the plate to become the axis around which it spins. Think about your plate—your life and all its various relationships and activities—as spinning around the center axis, which is Jesus Christ. All analogies have their limitations, and this one does, too. But the idea is that as long as Jesus is at the center, everything else holds together around it by centripetal force.

As long as all other relationships and activities revolve around Jesus, they find order and balance. Marriage is one of those relationships, that, when ordered around Jesus Christ at the center, holds together in a God-honoring way.

Here in Colossians, from verse 12 on, Paul has been giving a positive exhortation to the church on how to be with one another in Christian community. In similar passages, like Ephesians 5, Paul uses the same pattern:

21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,
22wives, to your husbands as you are to the Lord.
23For the husband is the head of the wife
just as Christ is the head of the church,
the body of which he is the Savior.
24Just as the church is subject to Christ,
so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her, . . .

He exhorts the church community to live in mutual submission to one another, under the authority of Jesus Christ. [In the Colossians context, this is described in terms of compassion, kindness, love, meekness, humility, faithfulness, and forgiveness.] With this as a backdrop, wives are to submit to their husbands as they are submitted to Christ. Their husbands are not Jesus Christ, for they, too are to be subject to him out of reverence for his Lordship. So when, in Colossians 3, Paul writes: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” he is applying specifically to the household what is required of the whole Christian community.

This teaching speaks to reality with a biblical understanding of human nature and the stresses possible within a marriage, since Adam and Eve in the Garden. Remember, after their sin against God, God described the kind of life they were going to have together: [to the woman]

“ . . . yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b)

The word translated “desire” in this context means “fixation,” or “longing,” or even “with an eye to devouring.” The idea is that wife Eve is likely to find ways to manipulate husband Adam in order to get what she really wants. I know I am treading on sketchy ground here with my sisters in the faith, as if we are not aware of how we do this. But people who, by station or rank, do not have imputed power nevertheless attempt to gain power over another by manipulating situations to land in their favor. It’s called “reverse psychology,” and we even use it with our two-year-olds who are in their self-defining period. Given a choice, they will not do what Mom wants, but anything else just to assert their independence, right? It is a smart mother who can use this fact of life to best advantage. Yep, I did it myself. And wives are capable of doing this to their husbands as well.

But Paul says, no, in Christ there is a better way that is based on mutual submission. Do not be afraid to fully invest yourself in aligning your life with your husband’s! With Christ at the center of your life (and, we hope, in the life of your spouse), keep an eye on the Lord Jesus and act unselfconsciously and generously toward your husband.

Some of you are protesting, because your husband is abusive, absent, or adulterous. Are you to submit even to him? No, of course not. Paul conditions his instruction with “as is fitting in the Lord,” and I think that covers a lot of this ground. Unlike some of the early teachers of hierarchy, who used top-down dominance to subjugate and control women, the Apostle Paul—in the Spirit of Christ, I am sure—is not requiring women to be victimized by their husbands in order to show biblical submission. If it’s not mutual, it’s not biblical or “fitting in the Lord.” This will become more clear when our discussion extends to Paul’s instruction to husbands.

 

In the months leading up to our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband and I occasionally look back to our experiences together since we met as Stanford freshmen in 1971. Of course, our nation has observed a huge cultural shift in the practice of marriage; but Andy and I have also experienced phases and seasons in a relationship that has evolved and strengthened through the years.

At Stanford, we were assigned to Rinconada House within the Wilbur Hall complex during the days of the famous “Stanford ratio,” two men for every one woman. The first and third floors of Rinc were men, and the women’s floor was sandwiched between. Quaint, I know. Andy, from southern California, had declared an engineering major; and I, from the Seattle area, entered as a mathematics major. Consequently, we had the same academic advisor who invited a handful of freshmen to his campus home for a barbecue a few days before classes began. This is where Andy and I met.

It wasn’t until the Spring of freshman year that our dating focus turned to each other. By this time, Andy had given his life to Christ, which put him on the eligibility list as far as I was concerned. We had been through the rigors of freshman calculus and introductory physics together. He was brilliant and took to the disciplines like a duck to water. I was in over my head and would never have passed that first physics course if it had not been for Andy’s tutoring. Perhaps you know the feeling: everything you learned in high school on the subject was covered in the first three weeks of class.

By the end of my four years, I had shifted majors first to mathematical sciences (with courses in computer programming and algorithms) and finally, as my blood pressure skyrocketed from the stress, to music (majoring in vocal performance). Andy remained in the school of engineering throughout, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering. Through thick and thin, our relationship was a steadying force, and we became engaged the summer before our senior year.

We started out thinking we were quite a lot alike, but over the years discovered that our gift-mixes were quite different indeed. The beauty of our pairing was that we had complementary ways of processing thought (the engineer had an active right brain and the musician had an active left). We were both intelligent in our own ways, were hard workers, and came from long-married middle-class parents. We were a very good match.

At the time, the Christian fellowship on campus was nothing short of spectacular. Hundreds of students gathered weekly, on Sunday morning through the ministry of “Seminar 70” (a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church) and on weekday evenings (Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship). It was the height of “the Jesus movement,” and though the university itself was challenging to people of faith, being a Christian was cool, and discipleship was taken seriously.

With the possible exception of InterVarsity, in which I did not get involved until senior year, the general mindset on the issue of marriage promoted a hierarchical view of the relationship between husbands and wives. Through Bible teaching and the mentoring of older couples, we were taught about the loving headship of the husband to which the wife submitted in all things. We soaked it all in and adopted the concepts as our own.

We owned the hierarchical model, though it was not reinforced in our premarital counseling (done by a Presbyterian pastor). Two weeks after graduation from Stanford, we were married in Memorial Church; my marriage vows included a promise to obey Andy. There was an audible gasp from one section of the congregation, people who knew me well.

I share this story because it is important to be open about where I have been on the subject.  Having said that, forty years of experience as a married person and twenty-eight as a pastor have taught me a lot:

  1. While general teaching about marriage is indispensable for preparing couples for life-long relationships, the fact remains that every marriage is unique because the two individuals bring their unique personalities and gifts into the union.

  2. Couples have to work things out between themselves. “It takes two to tango.” Help is available, but husband and wife are primarily responsible to engage in the life-long process of “two becoming one flesh.”

  3. The Bible’s teaching on marriage is rich, true, challenging and applicable, even today.

In my next post, we will tackle Paul’s teaching on marriage, beginning with his instruction to wives in Colossians 3:18.

 

A few years ago, my plans changed at the last minute, preventing me from accompanying my husband to Yosemite National Park for the annual Spring Forum. My ticket was prepaid, and I had registered for some interesting seminars. So rather than let all that go to waste, Andy decided to invite his friend Ron to accompany him for the long day-trip. Upon arrival, Ron claimed my nametag, but whited out the tail on the Y to make the nametag say “Marv Naegeli.” For the day, “Marv” lived in my name. I told him before they left, “Make me proud. Don’t embarrass me.”

This idea of doing something in another person’s name is legalized with a “Durable Power of Attorney.” When one has DPA for another, one feels very responsible to carry out the wishes (if known) of the person who signed the document.

So does it surprise you to know that God has given each one of us his “durable power of attorney” to act in a manner and with the same authority that he himself possesses? This DPA was first issued back in the Garden, when God told Adam and Eve to steward and tend the earth. Creation has always belonged to God, but he commissioned human beings to take responsibility for its care and feeding.

All along, our task has been to ask, “What would God do in this situation if he were in my shoes?” This focus is embedded in the Judeo-Christian psyche, to act on God’s behalf according to God’s purposes, for the glory of the One who made us and for the good of the creation we are stewarding.

The Apostle Paul concludes this first round of positive exhortations in Colossians 3 with a reference to this stewardship mindset:

17And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a blanket statement! Paul is saying, whatever activity you are engaged in or whatever you are saying, conduct it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This instruction can be understood two ways, firstly, “representing Jesus,” and secondly, “with the power and authority of Jesus.”

As an ambassador for Christ, Paul was well aware that he was representing Jesus Christ to those who were just being introduced to the Savior as well as to established believers (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20). It didn’t matter what the particular activity was, but Paul aspired to do it representing the goodness, life, power, love and message of the One who had transformed his own life. He is telling us in this verse that we are to do the same.

Further, whatever we do, we can (and should) do it in the power of Jesus Christ. We can expect Christ’s power only for those activities and words that are in the Lord’s service, consistent with his values, demonstrative of his nature, and aligned with his purposes. When we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, we are inviting the helpful scrutiny of the Holy Spirit to stay on the straight and narrow. Rather than feel threatened by God’s interest in what we are doing, we are reminded to give thanks to God, our heavenly Father, who loves us so much as to entrust us with important decisions. The least we can do is honor him and act in a way that would help others recognize God at work through us.

There is another “whatever you do” passage coming up, so I will save the rest for later. In the meantime, though, Paul is elevating all normal activity to the possibility of divine ambassadorship. Food for thought, don’t you think?

 

I have been reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila this week, and am taken in by the character development of the girl without a home. Not wanting to spoil the book for anyone who has not read it (and I’m not even finished with it myself), let us just note a habit Lila started when she landed in Gilead. She pinched a pew Bible in order to gain some insight into what the preacher was talking about. To achieve her other goal—increased literacy—she opened the book at the beginning (Genesis 1) and started writing out verses one at a time, ten times each. It helped her ponder the texts and enter them into her memory for referral later.

On my piano rack stand several pieces of vocal music that must be memorized for a choral concert tour we will be making this summer. My struggle has included listening to the pieces many times, plunking them out on the piano, singing my part frequently, but they are still not memorized. My next step is the Lila method: write out the words, find the patterns, note the changes from verse to verse, and otherwise parse the lyrics in order to get them into my brain. Next will be loading the pieces onto my iPhone so I can practice holding my own with the rest of the choral parts.

Early in my walk with Christ, I memorized one hundred Bible verses and their Scripture references. Memorizing was so much easier then! But it always included writing them out (by hand) a few times, just like Lila did, then saying them out loud. Exposure to them through reading, writing, and speaking them finally enabled me to “hear” them. By this rather pedantic method, I succeeded in storing those verses into my mind and heart, where they reside and are available anytime they are needed, even today.

Of course, in the meantime, lots of homework has supported this early effort. I have read the entire Bible (more than once), studied theological concepts, outlined entire books of the Bible, and explored implications for everyday life. In other words, Scripture has taken root in me over the decades I have been known by Christ.

The Apostle Paul’s lengthy exhortation to the Colossians continues with the urging:

16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;
teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;
and with gratitude in your hearts
sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Paul knows the importance of keeping a firm grip on the Word of God. Something happens internally when we set something to memory. It becomes ours. It speaks to us when we are not expecting to hear from it again. We find ourselves making connections between something happening and what we have remembered. This has been my experience of internalizing the Scriptures. Paul calls it “letting the word dwell in you richly.” Namely, allowing the Word of God to abide in both mind and heart so that and until it bears fruit within. But he goes on to say that this Word is something that we, together as the Body of Christ, share with one another through teaching and correction. When the Word dwells in us, and particularly in our Christian community, in our worship and study together, we become a people of the Word. It isn’t only an individualistic thing, to know the Word of God, it is also a corporate thing to know, experience, taste, and handle the Word of truth among fellow believers.

And a joyous, comforting thing it is. Last week I had the privilege of spending an evening with several of Steve Hayner’s friends, who shared poignantly of walking alongside him on the journey toward heaven. Scriptures just “popped” for them. Old, familiar verses that had brought so much solace in life were now reapplied and richly expanded at the moment of death. I will never read Psalm 116 the same again.

Years ago, the wife of a dying man in his 90s called me for a visit. He was a retired pastor who had been in perfect health until just a few months before his death. My husband and I called on him in the hospital at a time when he was feeling discouraged and down, desiring more than anything for the Lord to take him home. He had been unable to read for several weeks, which further depressed him. As he shared this, his wife gently chided him, saying, “But honey, you have so much Scripture memorized, you hardly need to read now.” And then she prompted him with the opening verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne . . .

He immediately joined in, and before our very eyes he enthusiastically delivered the entire chapter and Isaiah’s call to the prophetic ministry. It was just amazing. He was a different person when he concluded his recitation: encouraged, seeing heaven, awestruck.

There is a man in whom the Word dwelt richly. Is this not an encouragement to all of us to grab hold of portions of Scripture, memorize them and carry them with us? There will come a day for us, too, when we will be unable to read. But with the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised would help us remember everything he taught us (John 14:25ff), we can “eat this book” (Revelation 10:9, The Message). Lent is a perfect time to get going on this, don’t you think?

 

::Sigh:: It has been one of those days. Technical difficulties are keeping me from Bible study today. I guess that is not entirely accurate. Technical difficulties with my Bible software program have slowed me down. I tried to install an upgrade, and failed. The program now lies in a crashed heap, and I am awaiting tech support.

My sigh is followed by laughter, however, as I realize my big ol’ Bible is sitting right here on my desk. And today’s text is simple and probably tailor-made for just such an occasion!

15 And be thankful.

Up to this point, the Apostle Paul’s positive instruction in Colossians 3 has covered the following exhortations:

• Be virtuous as an expression of true love.

• Bear with one another.

• Forgive each other.

• Let peace reign in your heart.

• Let peace reign at church.

And then Paul just sneaks this brief exhortation into his list without elaboration:

• Be thankful.

It isn’t even specific, like “Be thankful for _______!” Nope, just “be thankful.” Now this takes me back to what Dallas Willard wrote about love: the goal is not so much “Help me to love this cantankerous person” as it is “Help me to become a loving person.” 

With “Be thankful,” I don’t think Paul intends to be specific at all. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, he instructed them to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:18). His life modeled the attitude that regardless of what is going on, one can remain thankful to God. He does not say “be thankful for” but “give thanks in all circumstances.” Thankful people just carry gratitude around with them wherever they go. It’s a beautiful thing when one runs across such a person. What Paul is saying is that it is part of keeping our sights on “things above” (Colossians 3:1)  to walk in a general state of gratitude to God. Then when it is time to say “Thanks” for something specific, the words naturally come out of the heart.

So with that short, pithy encouragement, I shall sign off with a grateful heart. Thanks be to God, who has created this day, who has loved me even in my frustration, who has given me the energy to tackle today’s problems.  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).