What Do You Know?

given on Sunday, February 7, 2010

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I Timothy 4:6-14

from the Message

6-10 You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching.  Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus.  Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion.  Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please!  Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.  You can count on this.  Take it to heart.  This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally.  We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers.

11-14 Get the word out.   Teach all these things.  And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young.   Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.  Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching.   And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.

15-16 Cultivate these things.  Immerse yourself in them.  The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching.  Don’t be diverted.  Just keep at it.  Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.

What Do You Know?

Children, especially teens, always ask the same question:  What do you know?  I am sure you have heard that tone of voice and seen the face scrunched up in anger as you are accused of not knowing anything.   The question can go on and on as you try to explain a rule or something you learned or a fact.   Wouldn’t it be nice if just once when you tried to tell your kids or grandkids something, they did not question, doubt, or ridicule you?

Maybe that is the same thing God feels when he watches us and wonders why we are not studying the Bible or meeting in small groups.   Maybe God thinks we are just sassy children who think we know everything there is to know.   Maybe we have not put a priority on learning more about our faith.   Maybe our faith development is stagnant and needs an upgrade.

What do we know?  We know what we have lived.   We know what we hear.   We know what we have read.   We know what we have seen.   Is that all there is to know?  I cannot imagine that there is nothing more to know about this life or this world, so how could we ever presume that we know everything about God.

How to develop our faith is a challenge, but I know that Sunday School is not the only way to learn about our faith.   There is just no one way or one end to learning.   Life never stops so learning never stops.   We will never know everything.

Bishop Schnase has tackled the problem of learning about faith in the five practices.   The practice of intentional faith development is not a theory; it is a practice.   In his study book, Cultivating Fruitfulness, he presents seven mini-lessons about faith development.   The questions for discussion fuel discussions for small-member churches to the mega-churches:

  1. Outside of worship, how do we deepen our understanding of the Christian Faith?  How do we cultivate our relationship with Christ?
  2. What is one learning experience in your faith life that has changed how you live in a significant way?  How did you learn it?  How have you shared it with others?
  3. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—these are the fruit of the Spirit,  From whom are you learning these?  To whom are you teaching them?
  4. What initiatives are underway in your congregation to start new studies, small groups, or classes?  How can you help?  How are newcomers and those outside the church invited to these?
  5. How is your church point at offering opportunities for new people to feel welcomed, engaged?  Are the “middle doors” open?
  6. How can your congregation change the “values” of hospitality and faith development into the “practices” of Radical Hospitality and intentional Faith Development?  How will you help?
  7. Have you ever helped forma new Bible study, class, or house group?  Would you like to?  With whom could you speak who might also be interested?  What’s stopping you?  (pp.  45-58)

The questions cannot be answered quickly; it takes time to carefully and prayerfully consider them.   Small-membership churches may have the most difficult time managing these questions, but even among the small-member churches, the rural churches have the additional challenge of location location, location (the oldest rule in real estate) to manage.

All my life I attended church.   I have gone through the traditional Sunday school structure of the 50’s and 60’s.   I attended MYF then UMYF even UMPYF (combined with the local Presbyterian church).   I discovered during my college years and early 20’s that little was offered in Christian education or small groups so all I attended was worship service.   Finally, I jumped into an older Sunday school class where it was all women in their mid to later years.   My experiences allowed faith to develop, but I have to admit that very few experiences taught the Bible or how to use faith in today’s world.

The time came when I had to face just what do I know.  We must all ask ourselves just what do we know or maybe more importantly what do we not know.   The time is now to stop and evaluate the status of our faith development and what we need to do to continue growing in faith.

This will not be easy, but I am sure Jesus found teaching his disciples and the new Christians difficult at best.   They certainly did not have all the tools that we have to share information.   Why they did not have a individual copies of the Torah, they simply had to rely on listening in the temple and their own memory skills.

Today we are beginning a new phase of faith development.   We are going back to the basics and look at our faith, our practices, and our future.   During Lent, we will start with God’s gift of love, then move into 40 days of discovery.   Personally, I want to commit to a more disciplined life of reading the Bible and listening for God.   Step one will be to learn lectio divina and practice it.   My challenge to you is for you to join me in this practice, too.

Lectio divina is the Latin term for sacred reading.   Reading the Bible is reading literature.   The language is not always easy to follow, considering the culture of the stories and ideas is important, but the words provide timeless ideas, principles, and concepts which are as important today as they were at any one time in the past.   The words have literal meaning, true; but the words have metaphorical meanings, also.   Using the method of reading lectio divina, provides each one a unique experience because God talks to each of us individually through the Holy Spirit.

First, begin with a translation of the Bible that you like.   Make sure you know the words being used and have the study notes that help when the stories or languages do confuse the words.   I certainly have a variety of Bibles that present the sacred words in a wide range of matters.   I depend on the study notes to add deeper understanding.   Today I am using Eugene Peterson’s The Message because it provided the most direct focus on teaching as a means of spreading God’s words.   Timothy was new to preaching and he had a very strong teacher, Paul, so to prepare for today’s introduction to intentional faith development, I searched for guidance in three different translations:  the New International Version, the Message, and the New King James Version.

Using lectio divina, one reads the scripture, thinks about it a bit, reads it again, thinks a bit more, and reads it again.   Some references to the process recommend reading it three times, some simply refer to reading it over and over again until you “hear” God’s message in the words.   As a teacher who has researched how to learn language, I have found that reading three times is usually enough to move an idea into long term memory—or at least get past that short term space so the passage at least sounds familiar when heard again sometime in the future.

One other very important element of lectio divina is prayer.   Remember that if we are to hear God in the words, we need to talk to God.   Whenever I ask students to stop talking, it is never one student I have to correct but at least two.   Conversation, or talking, takes two people—one to utter the words and one to listen.   Talking to God in prayer is the same thing.   First you have to talk to Him, but then you need to be quiet and listen for his reply.

The Bible’s words are the words spoken to the characters in the stories, but the understanding comes from our listening for God to guide us in applying those words.   The historians, the theologians, and all the preachers since Paul have been reading, praying, and sharing God’s words with us.   Fortunately, we each can read, pray, and listen for God independently.   For me, being a Methodist means having the freedom to read, pray, and listen for God directly without the need for an interpreter.   As a Methodist who desires to learn more and to practice my faith, I also need dialogue with others.   Faith is not a precious commodity to bottle up and store away in a safe place, faith is a gift to share openly with others, too.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, let us focus on the basics of reading the scripture.   Let’s step into the practice of lectio divina so we can talk with God and grow in our faith.   Today, we have read what Paul told Timothy, and it certainly would not hurt to review those words during the week; but look ahead and practice lectio divina by reading the scriptures in various translations and praying about the words and how to apply them in today’s world.

Dear Heavenly Teacher,

We are talking with you today and trying to listen to your answer.   We are seeking to grow in our faith and it has been a long time since we have been in school.   Help us to read your words, to talk to you, and to hear what you have to say.   We know that Jesus learned the Bible as a child and as a young man; and we know that when struggling, he relied on those words to help him through even the crucifixion.   We ask you to teach us, too, that we may have strong faith and hear your words clearly as we live in our busy lives today.         –Amen

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