being mastered: scripture (part I)

I recently listened to a great podcast entitled Good News to the Poor by Rick McKinley of Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. He offered many ideas that I’ve thought of, discussed, or heard in one of my many conversations with other Christ-followers. There was this example he gave explaining the way the church looks at success. He spoke of his son being good at memorizing scripture, while his daughter is just as bright, but doesn’t memorize things as well as his son. The basic idea is that his son receives the gold star for reciting scripture with flawlessness. On the other hand, his daughter struggles and does not receive the gold star. Here the gold star is the picture of success. Unfortunately, that is not true success in the eyes of God. Is that how we approach our faith? Do we try to present an image of perfection? That must be difficult when in fact we live in a messy world influenced by a messy humanity.

McKinley’s example brought to mind a situation I witnessed in 2006 while enjoying lunch at Fuddrucker’s. I overheard two gentlemen in the booth next to me, engaged in a heavy discussion about faith and developing “godly habits.” The conversation was between a young man and his mentor. Here is the discussion as best as I can remember:

Mentor: How has your quiet time been?

Young Man: It’s been a struggle.

Mentor: Have you been able to make any time in the morning for a quiet time?

Young Man: Well, it’s been tough because my wife and I are trying to have a baby, and the morning is the best time to try and get pregnant. That’s because our schedules are so busy.

Mentor: You do realize it’s important for you to wake up with the focus of God and his word?

Young Man: I know, but we’ve been married for 6 months and we feel ready to try and have a baby.

Mentor: Hmmm. (long pause). So, how are your days going at work?

Young Man: It’s not bad, but I still struggle with my motivation to serve my boss like you suggested I do.

Mentor: You know there is a solution to all this.

Young Man: Really? What is that solution?

Mentor: You need to master the Scriptures. It’s obvious that you are not mastering the Scriptures because your life is a struggle in every area. You are replacing your time with God and the Scripture for time to make a baby. It is important to have a baby, but your life needs to be right with God first.

Young Man: But I spend some of my time at lunch reading my Bible. I’ve tried to memorize the passages you gave me, but my life is busy and it’s difficult for me to memorize stuff.

Mentor: So, why don’t you quote last weeks passage for me and we’ll see how you’re doing.

Young Man: What was the passage for last week? Was it in Romans?

Mentor: This is my point exactly. You must master the Scriptures so they can master you.

Slumped down in the booth, the young man asked his mentor why it was necessary to memorize the Scripture. He asked if it wasn’t better for him to read the passage and discuss the essence of the message. He explained again that he had always struggled with memorization. In the end the Mentor said, “Well, if you want to grow in your faith it is important to memorize the Scripture so it can be written on your heart. This will allow you to grow in your faith. This is why a quiet time with God and His Word is important.”

After all this, the young man left Fuddrucker’s with much frustration. I’m only speculating, but I bet he questioned the commitment of his faith in God. I’m sure he questioned the authenticity of his being redeemed to God through Christ. I’m sure he felt like a failure because he didn’t “master the Scriptures.” Being a mentor myself, I understand what the mentor was trying to do, but his approach was faulty. From my observation he put too much emphasis on the “words” and knowledge of the Scripture and not the heart of the Truth, which is revealed by the Spirit. I saw a clear picture of a legalistic Pharisee. It bothered me that an older mentor was not willing to understand his student. He didn’t take the time to listen to his young disciple’s plea for grace and understanding. It was written all over the young man’s face how frustrated and angry he was over the entire ordeal. As they prepared to leave the young man said, “Thanks for having lunch with me Pastor X.” This, my friends, broke my heart. Here is a pastor who was focused more on the memorization of Scripture than on guiding the relationship toward godliness through the truth of the Scripture.

As I look at the lives of those who call me their mentor (past and present) I hope they saw and see a man of grace whose only expectation for them is to be mastered by the Spirit and Truth. Is the Scripture of any value and importance? Absolutely! Without question! The truth revealed in all the Scripture is of great value for living on this earth and expressing the heart of God. The Scripture helps us cut through the crap in our lives and guides us to the very heart of God. We should allow the truth to be written on our hearts; however, to each of us that happens in different ways and experiences. I don’t mentor each the guys with the same approach because they each have a different personality and calling in life. They are at different places on their journey of faith and life. I know that not everyone of these men can memorize an entire book of the Bible. Yet these men can tell you the deepest meaning of each passage as God has spoken it to them for their life. They can give me examples in their life of God’s movement and touch of their heart. Those are the times when I listen closest because it is a true revelation for them of the significance of the Scripture. I see it on their face. Their eyes are filled with excitement, while their voices shake as though they have just discovered a chest full of treasures, which in reality they have.

Personally, I’m one who struggles with memorization. In school I sucked at test taking because it required me to memorize the chapter of a book, or a handout with too much information. Yet, if you asked me to tell you the essence of something I’ve read I can usually explain it with confidence. Like the young man at Fuddrucker’s, I am very experiential, conversational, and relational. It is for this reason the issue of “discipleship” is very important to me. Some have questioned if the ministry I’m part of is too focused on discipleship and fellowship. At first it did bother me, and it caused me to question whether we were doing what was right. Well, when I look at the life of Christ and examine one of his final challenges to his disciples (Matt 28:18-20) it is clear that we are doing what is right. The strength of what we do is based on relationships, and not on programs, buildings, or events. We are not identified by our building (we don’t own one), or by our style of worship (we approach it differently), or by a full parking lot (we don’t have one of those either); rather, we are identified by our commitment to tap into the lives of those in the dark and broken places. We approach things with simplicity and are very subversive. We keep it on the down low.

To be continued…

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