Entries in Bible (13)
In 1984 a young woman, expecting her first child, couldn’t find information on what a normal pregnancy looked and felt like, so she began to write her own handbook on pregnancy--while she was pregnant. Just hours before delivering her daughter, Emma, she sent off the book proposal for What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Nearly thirty years (and seventeen million books) later it's the standard for what is normal during pregnancy. Publisher’s weekly reports that 97% of women who buy a book on pregnancy buy this book.
But what it things had turned out differently? But what if this book had become a history book instead: as in, “how did pregnant women act thirty years ago?” What if we turned to the book not for information about how to order our lives while expecting, but only to study what people did back then? Four editions, seventeen million copies, thirteen spin-off books, and one romantic comedy movie, all dealing with how people used to treat pregnancy? That would be crazy, right? Expectant parents buy this book because they are entering new territory, and they want to know, well, what to expect. They want to know what is normal, and they want to be normal.
This week’s mediation asks the same question about the New Testament. Do we read this book as history, or are we looking for what to expect in our new life in Christ?
This is the choice facing every student of Jesus: we all must decide whether we will read the New Testament as a history book or a description normative life in Christ. The events reported in the New Testament, the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the life of the newly-formed church happened a long time ago. The record of those events has been preserved for us today--some people might add, “miraculously preserved.” Many Christians are willing to argue (even die) over whether the we can trust the accounts we have received from those early days.
After we settle the question of whether this book is trustworthy, we must also settle the question of the kind of life we will live today. Our answer determines the possibilities of our walk with Jesus. If the book is merely history then the sacrificial love birthed in his followers is not required of us today. If the book only reports the facts of healings, exorcisms, and resurrections accomplished by Jesus and his followers, then we need not measure our life by their example. If the book is rooted in the past, our only responsibility is to believe--and applaud.
But if the New Testament is our “What to Expect . . .” then we have a long way to go.
Some people are realists, others dream. I want to be both kinds of people: first I want to dream, then I want to bring reality to what I’ve seen. I have a dreambook, more popularly known as the Bible. I go to that book like I go to the bank: it is the source of funding for my heart-dreams.
Jesus understood the power of imagination and dreams. His teaching invited people to combine their thoughts with his words and imagine a world born anew. I believe this is how we should listen to the word of God: combine our imagination with his words, producing Biblical dreams of the way things are in heaven and should be on earth:
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:27-32)
Can you imagine living a life convinced of the Father’s good intentions toward you? How would such a life differ from one in which we worry about daily needs? It’s like throwing your anchor into the future. With each passing day you are pulled closer to reality, swayed less and less by the currents of this life. But hearing his words requires that we engage our imagination, and see ourselves living such a life right now. It produces hope: Godly hope sprung from a Biblically-informed imagination.
Walter Brueggemann emphasized the idea that our dreams must spring from a source other than our wants and desires. He reminds us we are not free to imagine just anything. We receive the Biblical witness and become invested in the vision. Nor do we do it alone. Brueggemann suggests that the church becomes “a place where people come to receive new materials, or old materials freshly voiced, which will fund, feed, nurture, nourish, legitimate, and authorize a counterimagination of the world.”
The Apostle Peter said it this way: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4) There is enough astonishment in these few words to change your life forever. Can you imagine a life infused with his divine power--a life where he has given us everything we need? Can you imagine the possibility that we can participate in his divine nature--merely by embracing his promises to us? Can you imagine escaping the corruption and decay of everyday life--being freed from evil desires?
The possibility of living into these possibilities begins with our imagination--an imagination funded by God’s words whispered in our ear. Our hearts are lit by our imagination. The source of that imagination makes all the difference.
Both realists and dreamers face the same questions: What is the source of your reality? Who funds your imagination? What is the source of your dreams? What dreams have you derived from God’s promises? How have those promise-dreams changed your life? I’d love to hear your story.
You make your way down the dusty street. It’s late afternoon and the heat of the day is at its height--it will feel so good to finally sit and rest. Your soul is tired and worn out. You are thirsty as well. The home you enter smells of fresh bread, perspiration and dye--this last smell because Chloe, the woman who lives there, deals in cloth and fabric--she makes robes of purple and sells them in the market. She greets you at the door and leads you in. Some of your family has already arrived, so you take your place quickly. You don’t have to wait long. The leader of the small group carefully unrolls a papyrus sheet and begins to read out loud.
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
The sound of the pastor’s voice gently works it’s way through the room and the words find deep passage into your ears. The sound of the words engage your mind, vibrate your spirit. You are hearing the very words of God.
Since the very beginnings of the church most believers have received the scriptures by listening. Letters were difficult and expensive to reproduce and distribute. In the centuries we call the “Dark Ages” God’s word was read out loud every Sunday: Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels.
The way we sit down down and read a Bible, alone, holding in our hands or staring at a screen is something new. For centuries church services included reading from both the Old and New testaments because books were expensive and consequently rare. Believers trained themselves to attend to the word of God as it was spoken. They captured the words with their minds and digested them with their heart. They did so together, in community. What was true then is still true today: God designed us so that we benefit by hearing the words of life.
Does that seem strange to you? Imagine husbands and wives reading out loud together; friends gathered in a room with but one copy of the Bible--all of them receiving the spoken word. Imagine an assembly of people hungry to hear the voice of God.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with reading the Bible: I recommend it! In our society we are surrounded with audio opportunities: ear buds, audio files, and car radios. Yet how many of us listen to the word of God today? Let me share a recent story of how God spoke to me through the Bible. I heard his voice in my ears.
I recently drove 80 miles to visit a family member. Knowing I had an hour-and-a-half drive ahead of me, I downloaded the audio file for 1 Corinthians--the whole letter--into my iPhone. Me and my ear-buds were ready to go. As I drove, I listened to a steady human voice reading the words I thought I knew so well. Suddenly, I was over whelmed with two sentences I had never heard before! They were so startling I pulled my car to the side of the road, grabbed my iPhone and looked up the passage I had just heard. There--before my eyes--the words I had read dozens (hundreds?) of times before, but there on the roadside to Lexington KY, I heard them for the very first time. They were a revelation!
I know: you are wondering, “which two verses?” It doesn’t matter. They were for me--for my ears. But what about you? What verses are waiting to crash into your head--not through the eye-gate, but through hearing God’s word for the very first time?
The only way to make the music come alive is to sing or play. To realize a script requires you and your friends to act, film, and edit.
Students of Jesus have been given a gift filled with music to sing and roles to play. It’s called the Bible. The Father has given us an inspired instrument for taking the yoke of discipleship. He waits for those who will take the instrument and learn to play. One of the great challenges in the life of a believer is learning how to experience the life God intends for us through the instrument of the Scripture.
To some, the Scripture is a book of rules. To others, the Bible is an object of study, not much different from learning math or history. And sadly, for some Christians the Bible is the primary resource for criticizing others. They use the Scripture as a measuring stick--one they hold up against others but rarely to themselves. Perhaps you’ve met believers like this: people who get the words right but the music all wrong. After all, it’s easier to relate to a book than a person. Books don’t talk back. You can pick and choose where to read. And if you’re among the smart kids in class you can demonstrate your superiority through your mastery of books.
I’ve posted previously my suggestions on how students of Jesus can relate to the Bible. I hope those suggestions are life-giving because the Bible is meant to be a life-giving experience for God’s people. Time with the scripture is meant to be time with the Creator, an event to be lived, breathed, sung, acted, collaborated, shouted, and danced. The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s permanent address, and he’s always home--yet he is not confined to ink on a page. He’s the Breath of God, the wind which blows where it wills.
Would it be too heretical to suggest that the words of the Bible on the printed page are not really the word of God until we act upon them? Music on the printed page isn’t really music until the musician brings it to life. When an actor speaks the words of the script a thousand meanings jump to life. The word of God is meant to be living and active. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is called “the Word of God.”
Eugene Peterson says it this way:
“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in the company of the Son.”Who could argue with a Bible that's alive in every neighborhood, acting out the love of God? Don't tell me you have the right answers, show me how those answers impact the way you live. Is there really any other kind of Christianity except applied Christianity? That’s the kind of book I want to spend my life with. How about you?