Let this Lenten season lead you on a study of Scripture

February 14, 2018

It’s unsettling, jaw-dropping and alarming to hear the seemingly unending reports of Christians in lockstep with the prejudicial practices, policies and proclamations coming from a chorus of our country’s highest elected officials.

To be sure, our democracy and sense of autonomy begin with individuals. However, the fundamentals of our Christian faith take precedent over party allegiance — a fact particularly celebrated in Protestantism and American Baptist heritage. Ours is a history birthed through social unrest.

We are “called to be Christ’s witnesses for justice and wholeness within a broken society.” We have been in the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. Therefore, “something within” is triggered by the racist rhetoric we hear, and the slow and constant advocacy of pernicious actions aimed at Muslims, immigrants, people of color and the poor.

We don’t simply go along to get along. That’s not who we are.

As local congregations move into the season of Lent, we’re uniquely challenged with a praxis moment. We can and should use this time to consider our Christian identity and how we earnestly “walk it out” in these troubling times.

Lent is the period of the Christian liturgical calendar that pointedly directs believers to the redemptive works of Jesus Christ. It’s the reflective prelude to the two most important celebrations on the church calendar — Good Friday and Easter.

During this time, attention is given to individual self-examination, penitence, devotion and spiritual renewal.

Like the navigation system in my wife’s Volkswagen Passat, intentionally and seriously studying the Scriptures keeps us heading in the right direction — and helps us make corrections when we unintentionally, unconsciously lose our way.

The Holy Scriptures strengthened Jesus throughout his life. In the only biblical glimpse we have of his childhood, we find a 12-year old Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). The temple crowd was amazed with the youngster’s grasp of the Scriptures.

Years later, when led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness and tempted by the adversarial devil, Jesus relies on his storehouse of Holy Scripture to combat and fight off every evil the devil fires at him.

During the end of his earthly life, while painfully and courageously enduring the agony of the crucifixion, Jesus’ final words (Luke 23:46b) quote a portion of Psalms 31:5: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.”

Jesus studied the Holy Scriptures. For early Christianity, the Scriptures meant the Old Testament. The New Testament developed shortly after the organization of the church. It was around A.D. 367 that the New Testament was accepted as the authoritative canon of Christian Scriptures.

While Jesus was a student of the Scriptures, unfortunately, far too many of us confessed Christians fall short when it comes to serious and disciplined Bible study. We affirm the centrality of the Bible, but do we study it? Is it really our “mandate for faith and practice”?

A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. This means we follow the teachings of Jesus and earnestly try to live the life he exhibited. This means disciplined study of the Holy Scriptures. Concentrate on reading and studying the Bible this Lenten season. Take full advantage of the learning opportunities in your church.

Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor said it so well in “The Certain Sound of the Trumpet: Crafting a Sermon of Authority” (Judson Press, 1994): “God has revealed in Jesus Christ a paradigm of personal, spiritual, moral and social excellence; also, the high promises of human potential in Christ call us to strive toward a genuine community to supplant our hatreds, our racism, our tribalism, our classism, our sexism, and our idolatrous nationalism.”

Like the lodestone keeps the compass needle pointing north, studying God’s Word keeps the Christian disciple on course in faith and practice.

The Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter Sr. is senior pastor at Queen Street Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va.; adjunct professor of Religious Studies at Tidewater Community College; and volunteer chaplain with the City of Norfolk Police Department. He is author of “Journey With Jesus Through Lent” (Judson Press, 2017).

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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