Saturday, December 6, 2008

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Keep the Word at the Forefront

Yesterday evening we went to a reenactment of the town of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus that the church we attend puts on every couple of years.  It is quite an elaborate presentation complete with many actors and all of the shops, a synagogue and inn, and of course the manger and a young couple with a newborn baby.  There are shepherds and sheep in the field and Romans wandering around and enforcing their supremacy.  Many thousands visit each time and many come to know the Jesus who was born long ago in a real and personal way.

I noticed that the priests in the synagogue were wearing little boxes on their foreheads and I know from my studies that these were called phylacteries, little leather boxes worn on the arm or forehead, containing scriptures.  They did this because they really wanted to take Deuteronomy 6:8 seriously when it says, "tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." (see also Deuteronomy 11:18, Exodus 13:9, 16).  Scripture was very important to them and if you visit a synagogue today, as I did a few years ago on the Day of Atonement, you will still see the veneration that they give to the scrolls.

While we should not make the Bible an object of our worship, I wonder how most people in the church today feel about it.  Do we hold it in high esteem?  Do we thank God for his word?  Do we treat it with respect and try to take in as much as we can so that we can more faithfully obey him?  Or is it less than that?  And, what do I find when I ask myself how I treat scripture?  Do I really value it as much as I could or should?  No, I am probably not going to rush out and buy a phylactery, but how about doing what I can to keep the word of God front and center in my life?  We can all do more.  And we will most definitely benefit.

This passage of scripture out of which the practice of phylacteries grows is central to Hebrew teaching and is the major part of the Shema Yisrael (translation:  "Hear, O Israel"), that Jews pray twice each day in the morning and evening.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says:

"Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

God felt that not only was it important that we recognize him for who he is and love him completely, but that his word, his instruction, be upon our hearts.  This involves more than just reading.  We can all do that.  And how many times have you read scripture or another book, only to realize that you made your way over the page and read the words, but don't have a clue what you read.  We are to read not only with our eyes or even our head, but our hearts.  Some have suggested that we would benefit greatly from reading scripture prayerfully, expecting God to show us things, convict us at times, encourage us, and that we should pause and pray about each thing that we have encountered and maybe even write it down.  I don't think that anything that gets more of the word in us and us more into the word could be a bad thing!

Apparently any time is a good time too.  When you sit at home.  Have discussions about the Bible and read passages together.  Talk about spiritual things with your kids or your spouse, your roommates or whatever.  Talk about this in the car as you are driving somewhere.  Maybe put on some worship and worship together.  In the morning when you get up and at night when you lie down.  Any time is the right time for the word of God, being taught by it and teaching those around you whom God has given to you.

It should be as though the word of God were tied on our hands or bound on our foreheads.  Always there.  We will need it as we go through our day, but if there is nothing there, God has his hands tied.  He can't even bring something to our remembrance to help.  God told Joshua as he was about to go out into the world and lead the people into the promised land:

"Do not let this Book of the Law [God's written instruction] depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:8).

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