How many of you know the story of the Prodigal Son? Good, looks like this talk will be easier than I thought, since you all are reading your bible…
I don’t know about you, but I was in many ways that Prodigal Son. I had left the church right in the first semester of my college years when I was 18. I didn’t like the way the church was presenting itself to me. I had given myself to God, was born again, when I was a youngster; but I was without a faith community. I hadn’t really read the bible, not really, before that, just Sunday school and summer camp. I hadn’t picked up a bible other than the few times as year I went to church with my mother.
I started writing poetry through all of this, starting in 2000 at 40 years old.
I was blessed to see a church, Wesley United Methodist Church, reach out to a lady who had just lost her husband, someone who lived in the same apartment building as me, right next to the church. I started attending, I became more active. I joined the church in January 2004 after having no church for 23 years.
I became a little more active. I graduated from law school in May and I took the Bar late July.
Labor Day week 2004, I began a 34 week bible study, called Disciple I, which is a weekly study with reading, homework, group discussion one day a week, covering most of the bible.
I was excited about the reading, after 25 years without my faith and never having read the bible, and my seeking, wanting a structured study.
My wife, who is now a pastor and in seminary, was another member of the bible study. We fell in love while studying God’s word.
Not only did I gain a wife and 3 beautiful daughters (I can share pictures later); but I got to spend hours and weeks beginning a journey of discovery that continues to this day, drinking in the living waters of the good news, the word of God revealed in scripture, study, and devotionals.
Without this grounding, I was as lost as that Prodigal Son. With this ongoing study I hear over and over the saving message of God’s love and God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1-10), saving us by grace, not by works.
Oh, and that gift of poetry, that started with my first poem in April 2000 - I now have a blog with over 4,300 poems (3,600 of which are about my faith journey)
We are either growing or dying. Study helps us continue to grow.
I’m not sure who said this first; but I think in this information age, in this ADD world we live in, that has never been more true. So it is in the secular world. So it is in the spirit.
Definition of Study
Study is an act or process by which one acquires knowledge of a subject for living.
Study can be one of the most energizing, liberating, and deepening human activities; it is the doorway to discovery.
But, for a Christian, it is more than this;
The purpose of study is not to just learn information but to transform every aspect of our lives. Study helps us to grow.
We are all at a different place in our journey. That is why we each need our own plan. What I am describing here is just my story, my awakening through study, and some things for you maybe to consider.
The aim of study for a Christian is growth in spiritual wisdom and the mind of Christ, through his life and his teachings.
Through Study we give God our minds, as in Piety we give God our hearts.
Our minds, given to God
Spending time in Your Word,
the holy mystery recorded
revealed in the life of a people
and the life and death of a son
A story of redemption
in the sacrifice of the savior,
willingly, lovingly given
The love of the father
Ageless stories of grace upon grace
revealed in our story,
for it is our story too
if we give our minds to God
What does the scripture say (and these are only a few verses).
- Paul said we are TRANSFORMED through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2)
- We RENEW our minds by applying them to those things that are most worthy (Philippians 4:8)
- Jesus said that the knowledge of TRUTH will set us free (John 8:32)
- One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
- Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105).
Another section of Psalm 119 speaks to me especially…
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
- Each of us needs a unique PLAN that will work for us.
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE ON STUDY
Study is a constant part of our life. How much time do you spend studying our Christian priority?
Through study we grow; just as we don’t stop learning in high school or college, so we must study in our faith too.
Study is a Spiritual Discipline – continual discovery.
Our study should center on Christ as he is our model, the example for our lives.
We are informed of the truth and we are being formed in the truth.
Study grounds us in Christ, even as the world is changing so fast around us, so we can share Christ to the world.
There are several Fields of study for growth; things that will work for you:
All of this is a process, a journey, not an end to itself. And, they are opportunities, possibilities, and suggestions, not mandatory…
THE GOOD NEWS – the loving story of our savior
SCRIPTURE – all of God’s word is holy and worthy of study; context matters; it gives us deeper understanding and inner transformation.
As my poem above said, it is a wonderful story of love and grace.
Fields of study for growth:
YOURSELF – who better to start with (that person you see in the mirror), something that will be touched on throughout this weekend; to grown, to know and to use your God-given gifts.
OTHERS – especially fellow Christians, the saints who have gone before us. Through piety and study we can all people as God sees them.
Fields of study for growth:
SPIRITUAL CLASSICS – The lives and wisdom of the saints, the writings of the masters of spiritual life, and the experiences, wisdom and courage of those who have gone before, adding understanding to our own challenges, our own journey.
THE CHURCH – the history of the church universal and your own denomination, to enable you to be a leader, an active member.
Fields of study for growth:
HISTORY - it gives us a context and a perspective on our own times. And yes, that’s John Wesley, who gave us the vocabulary of prevenient and justifying grace. Through study, at least in part, I am trying to follow his guidance on moving on to perfection.
THE WORLD – current events and the state of humanity today; we must love the world as God did, as he sent his son, so we are sent.
OBSTACLES / E X C U S E S
“I just don’t have the time.”
We all struggle with time
But You can make time; make it a priority
“I don’t know what to study.”
Then seek guidance; ask someone
There are a lot of choices, many that are a day at a time
“I don’t like to read books.”
A variant on this for me, at least in law school, was “I can’t read until I get bi-focals).
Try something else; listen to bible on tape, read journal, join group
“I don’t understand the Bible.”
You can use a bible commentary or get an annotated bible (like this one). I rely on these notes at the bottom of the pages. I cannot just read the scripture itself.
AND, I mark mine up a lot! How many of you write in your bibles??
“Theology confuses me.”
Theology is all around; don’t get hung up on the word; it is how we experience God
So, what do we do about all of this, these excuses, these other obstacles to spending time studying, drinking in the word of God, the message of God for our lives? It all goes back to Priority and Piety, making a choice, making a commitment, choosing to do this, and making a plan.
DEVELOP A PERSONAL STUDY STYLE, that is right for you
Make it a Priority, make it regular, and if you miss days, start again
Balanced Diet of Material
Carve out Time, the same time each day if you can
Find the right Place, make it a place set apart if you can, holy ground
Keep a reading Journal
You should see my pastors when I start taking notes when they are giving a sermon…
Find a way to share what you have learned
What I read / What I do: and again, this is what I do
At the beginning of the day (or end of day)
In our living room
Bible, like this annotated bible
Weekly bible study (Acts)
Upper Room, with bible readings and reflections
Alive Now, which follows the weekly common lectionary
Upper Room Disciplines, which also follows the weekly lectionary
Men’s Daily Devotional
Golden Texts – one verse a day, going through the bible
Practicing the Presence of God
I keep a pad as I read the passages, the studies, and I write in my bible all the time, so the thoughts are there too, and the passages that really challenge or speak to me are there.
Write notes in church
For me that is my poetry – daily. Through study, God has gifted me with over 1,400 poems in the last year alone.
I have 5 sites that I post to, with over 17,000 copies of my poems on the web, over 14,600 about my faith. They have been read in over 167 countries.
I have been blessed through study.
Challenge Yourself – we didn’t stop learning when we left school
Mature in the faith – in the same way, we as Christians should continue learning.
As I read recently in a Lay Speaker book, Go Preach, “You have been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Immerse yourself in God’s Word, so that the Word may come alive in you.
Have Determination – we must be intentional
Feel God’s Loving Grace in the growing of your mind
I would like to close with a poem I wrote as I prepared this talk a month ago, for this moment:
Through Your Word
In the quiet of morning
the still of the room, in the written word
a message of grace, for me, this moment
Through your word, I grow
I live, transformed, by your spirit
speaking to me, deep within me
writing more of your story
onto the flesh of my heart
through your word, growing
living my journey