2020 is almost here. A new year. A new decade. And once again, I find myself asking: How will I begin this year? As usual, I began intention-setting. I started envisioning and articulating the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to live (Live Your Year 2020). But these words started to echo in my spirit:
"In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1)
These words are from the opening verse of John's Gospel. Here, the writer commences his story of Jesus by going back to THE beginning rather than Jesus' birth story. He goes back to the One through Whom EVERYTHING started. The first beginning started with the Word. Perhaps every beginning should start there, too.
For me, beginning with the Word means taking serious inventory of my relationship with the One Who was made flesh (John 1:14). It means taking stock of my discipleship, my willingness to follow behind the Jesus of Nazareth attested to in the Gospels, and not a corrupted version of the Christ that permeates our culture. Beginning with the Word causes me to reflect upon the ways in which my understanding of God has grown and transformed. It means honestly acknowledging that some of this year's disappointments have chipped away at my faith and diminished my hope. It also includes listening and seeking to honor my heart's cry for deeper fellowship, followship, and friendship with the Divine. All of this leads me to the written word, the Bible. Because when I read the written word, I am positioned to receive a revealed word. In other words, I am able to hear what the Spirit is speaking to me, about me and my life through the words of scripture.
A Daily Dose
Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the Christian faith, knows (at least theoretically) that daily scripture is a key spiritual discipline to develop. The amount that one reads is not as important as the reading itself. The reading of the written word is a way of communing with the Incarnate Word and receiving a revealed word for our lives. It is not merely about knowing the Bible but knowing the One about Whom the Bible testifies.
Beginning with the Word, then, is a yearly commitment to a daily practice. This is critically important because none of us know what life may have in store for us on any given day. My intentions help me to navigate the life and world I know as I journey to what I want. The Word (Incarnate, written, and revealed) guides me through uncharted territory, even the things I hoped would never come my way. A daily practice is needed for daily life because...
The word you need may not be in a sermon
This is not to say anything negative about sermons or to minimize their importance or impact. It is to say that there are verses, chapters, even entire books that we may never hear read or used as a sermon text. If our only encounter with the Word (Incarnate, written, or revealed) is during a Sunday service or sermon, we are missing out on a lot of wisdom, peace, guidance, and direction to say the least. And if I were to be honest, I do not know what my life would be like now if it weren't for three critical encounters with God through the my private reading of the word.
Called to Preach
When I was a college freshman, I was wrestling with what God wanted me to do. I opened my Bible to read and listen. I was led to II Timothy 3 and began to skim through the author's description of the"last days" (which did not excite me). After I ended the chapter (which concluded at the bottom of the page), I looked to the top of the next page. I read the heading and began to tremble: "Preach the Gospel". Then, I read what was below it: "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away* their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry." (II Tim. 4: 1-5) And yes,I was still deeply committed to the KJV at the time.
Completion of my Doctorate
I had just gotten word from my chair that my last dissertation draft was not approved by my committee. I was on my last extension to complete my dissertation (a story for another day) which was due in a matter of days and I still had about 100 pages to write of the most important chapter. One committee member was in Iceland, another had gone on sabbatical and would not be reading anything else I sent, and my chair was frustrated with me, to say the least. My chair didn't even know if I could move forward to the defense without a full committee.
I sunk to my living room floor, books and papers scattered all around, scared, humiliated, and wondering if my decision to work full-time in ministry was my downfall. I was led to Zephaniah (I don't even think I had ever read Zephaniah): 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (3:15-17).
I got up, decided I was going to believe these words, and began working. I posted copies of this scripture all over my apartment. Then, during my devotional time, I read and underlined this: 10 For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. (Heb. 6:10). One week, 100 pages later, I turned it in. It was approved by my committee. At my defense, the chair of the department told me that there is a concern that the quality of one's writing lessens when one is outside of the academy for a sustained period of time. Mine, however, had exceeded the level I had as a full-time student.
A Cancer Diagnosis
Last year, a few weeks before the Lenten season, I was reading II Kings 3. A portion of verse 18 jumped out at me: "This is only a trifle in the sight of the Lord." I returned to this passage as my text for my Ash Wednesday sermon. I preached "To, Not Through" and talked about how we often become so focused on what we are going through that we forget that God has for us up ahead. In other words, God is not simply trying to get us through something (this is not the extent of God's power or concern). God is taking us to something. As a matter of fact, what we are going through may be overwhelming to us, but it is "only a trifle in the sight of the Lord."
As soon as I finished reviewing the sermon before getting myself ready to drive to the service, my cell rang. It was my doctor. The biopsy results came back. I had breast cancer. I went to that service and preached to myself as much as (if not more than) I preached to that congregation. There's more to this story, but let's me just pause here to say that standing on the other side of everything I went through has shown me that God is taking me to some things I never would have imagined.
Where will you begin? I know that just about all of us would agree that beginning with Word is something we should do. However, we often get stuck on the details of implementing it. What to read? Where to begin? How much? When? Well, I can help with 3 out of 4.
Book of the Month
Every month, my blog post will be a Book of the Month. The book will be a book of the Bible. I will provide a brief study and a daily reading plan for the month. All you have to figure out is when to do your reading!