Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 in Review: Bible Verses and Passages

Nate Hughes did a little blog about the most meaningful Bible verses for him this past year. Reading his post gave me a better insight into him as a person as well as giving me some space to reflect on the exact same thing myself. So I decided to do it too, hoping you will see a little bit more about what makes me, me and to also give me a good reflection to end 2011.

“The Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” –John 1:14
To be fair, this verse came to the forefront for me at Urbana 2009. The entire conference revolved around the richness of this verse: the incarnation. Since then, this verse has been the foundation and sustaining passage behind our call to Asia and the thrust of our team. Being people living in the reality of the incarnation, or the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, is of the utmost importance.

The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, -Matthew 5-7.
This passage could easily show up each year, and probably will. There is a movement – a growing movement – of people who are rediscovering the radical message and life of Jesus and desiring to live into it (no matter how flawed the human endeavor ends up). Whenever I open the Bible my heart and eyes are naturally drawn to this part. This is so much the case that I literally read it about every two weeks. I learn something new each time I dig in, which means I need to keep reading on!

The True Fast, by God through the prophet Isaiah, -Isaiah 58.
A new movement was launched earlier this year called “58:” (learn more here). This past year I have been closely following this movement and participating in it. This movement is looking to end extreme poverty – noting that most of the world’s evil is linked directly to issues of poverty, but that equally we currently have all the resources we need to end poverty now. What do we lack? The will.

This movement is based on the Isaiah 58 passage. It is in this passage that we see clearly that God is not moved by our worship, our preaching, or our Christmas celebrations. In other words, He does not want empty ritual, words, and religion. Instead, He wants us to “chose the fast He chooses” and “let the oppressed go free”, “share your bread with the hungry”, "bring to your house the poor”, and “extend your soul to the hungry”. Needless to say, it’s a powerful passage that refocuses my energies and efforts every time I read it.

The Good News, -Isaiah 61 and Luke 4.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good news to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Just a mere three chapters after God tells us what type of life He wants – justice, mercy, helping those in need (Isaiah 58, the true fast) – He gives us the fulfillment of those passages – Jesus.

When Jesus enters into Nazareth, his hometown, He is given the entire scroll of Isaiah to read from. The people want Him to teach them, to do the Scriptures for them. He opens the scroll, and out of 1200+ verses, He picks out a verse and a half (above), reads it, sits down, and says, “Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It has been said that the entire book of Isaiah is like a miniature Bible, incorporating virtually every theme of the Word. In other words, as some would call it, a “systematic theology”. So it is indeed a watershed moment for his listeners then, and for us now, that from all of the book of Isaiah, Jesus chooses to read these passages and end his teaching right there.

This passage is another foundational passage and foundational theological emphasis behind our move to Asia to do the work He has called us to there.

As a side note, only a few verses later in Isaiah 61 we read, “For I, the Lord, love justice,”….further driving home the point.

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand….” –John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2.
Repentance and the kingdom, both central themes and messages in the New Testament. Jesus primarily talks about the “kingdom of God” and similarly calls all to “repentance” within the context of the kingdom, which it turns out is equally a confessional movement as well as a turning away from sinful practices. In this particular passage, and its parallels in the gospels according to Mark and Luke, John the Baptist gives concrete examples of what “repentance” looks like, which includes things like – “if you have two of something, give one away”.  That is what the kingdom looks like. It is tangible expressions of love, or as Cornel West has put it, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

This past year or so most of my personal biblical studies have revolved around the “kingdom of God” and what it all entails. I have a looooong way to go. But as I have studied this, and try to practice living into a kingdom ethic and lifestyle, I have found life, truth, and meaning. I am truly thankful for those who have helped me in this endeavor. 

"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." -Jesus Prayer in Luke 11.
Jesus wants the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is already in heaven. This is revolutionary. This changes everything. We are to be kingdom people, living into a kingdom reality no matter how unrealistic, hard, or sacrificial.

All of these passages and verses, and many more, have been key for me this year. As I prepare to charter into the unknown, into suffering, chaos, and darkness - these passages will continue to provide the Light and foundation I need. 

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