Entries in Bible (19)
From the very first day I started following Jesus, well-meaning Christians gave me this advice: Read your Bible. I tried to act on this advice right away. I read my Bible. I prayed. And within a week I had a shameful secret: I was confused and lost. The Bible was nearly incomprehensible to me. How could such good advice go wrong so quickly? And why was I afraid to tell anyone my dark secret?
Worse still: pastors realize most people in their congregation—Christians new and old—are in the same state. Christians who attend church faithfully know they should read their Bibles, but so few of us do it, and fewer still find life between its pages. Some of us may manage to fill our brains with Bible knowledge, but this much is sure: knowing what to do is not enough. In fact, knowing what to do might be part of the problem. This common bit of advice can be true and deadly at the same time. Deadly, you say? I do, because knowledge without love leads to pride, and pride always leads to death.
Beyond knowing lie greater things: only desire and love can sustain our life with Jesus. Knowing him begins with loving him. Our faith is not a body of knowledge; it’s love that leads us to learn the Belovéd. Learning driven by love conforms us to his image. Jesus understood the human bias toward the knowledge of things, and tried to point the religious experts toward the source of knowing, and the wellspring of life. “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life,” he said. “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Let me never mistake the book for the reality. And yet: what a gift is the Bible when it leads us to Jesus! “Scripture is the manger in which the Christ lies,” said Martin Luther. “As a mother goes to a cradle to find her baby so the Christian goes to the Bible to find Jesus.”
God himself breathed out this inspired book of scripture, and since his every breath is precious, I will attend. His words are the house of revelation, of beauty, and of wisdom.
If I love God properly I will love his book correctly. If I do not love him his book becomes a weapon in my fleshly hands. The Bible can cut me in the most healing way, but apart from the love of God I can use it to wound others through condemnation or pride. The Bible can speak healing to my soul, but apart from the love of God I can demand that others come to me for the medicine. The Bible can whisper grace and peace, but apart from the love of God I will end up shouting judgment and strife.
And it is the whole of the Bible that shapes our soul. The Old Testament is the Bible Jesus read: it shaped Jesus’ spiritual formation, his understanding of Heaven and earth. The Bible lifts up people over principle: in its pages we meet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David; Mary and Martha, John and James, Paul and Timothy, Jesus and everyone. The Bible exalts beauty and song: creation, psalms, parables, and celebration. It can confound and frighten; it can mystify and induce awe; its mystery is better than our deepest reasoning. But all these wonders will fall upon the deaf ears when we search only for knowledge.
Let’s not tell babes in Christ, “Read your Bible” as a command. Let’s invite them into the mystery that has both fed our souls and yet still stirs our hunger, year after year. Let’s tell them their Loving Father has prepared a feast, a banquet filled with tastes we have never before experienced, wine we never imagined, and bread come down fresh from Heaven. His love he bids us come and eat, and that is how I want to read his book.
Only fools and lawyers argue over the law, and both are highly trained specialists. The rest of us should leave such work to the experts. Sometimes they unite in their work, giving us ordinances prohibiting the transport of ice cream cones in your pocket, or banning birds from flying over city landmarks.
I’d be content to leave the law to the fools and lawyers except for a troubling practice among religious people: they are in the habit of treating the Bible—especially the Old Testament—like a book of law. If there is anything worse than city ordinances against public singing before 8:00 in the morning it’s when religious people become religious fools and lawyers with respect to the Bible.
It’s understandable. The Old Testament sometimes calls itself “the Law” which is an unfortunate translation because life is more like a living room than a courtroom. Hebrew scholars, rabbis and Christian professors alike, would like us to know “Torah” can mean instruction, teaching, or even “the way.”
The Old Testament, that portion of the Bible we so often avoid, was the “Bible” that shaped Jesus’s spiritual formation. Jesus was nourished on the stories of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—and that’s just Genesis! Jesus chanted the Shema, memorized the ten words from Sinai, and paid close attention to the rituals of Leviticus. Jesus sang the Psalms, puzzled over the prophets, and marveled at the courage (and stupidity) of people portrayed in the Biblical narrative.
Jesus did not grow in wisdom and stature by memorizing the rules; he became a deep person by engaging the Old Testament with all his faculties: his mind, his heart, his imagination, his hopes, his questions, his fears, and his spirit.
Jesus knew his Bible as something beyond the scroll in the synagogue. It was all around him. He saw grass whither and fade, and then reflected on things that last forever; he saw the clumsy gait of an ox and saw the folly of following a prostitute to her house; when the thunder answered the lightning he heard the voice of God; he gleaned insight from industrious ants. The sweetness of honey tasted to him of his Father’s wisdom. When he wrestled with the poetry of Isaiah, Hosea, and the prophets the wisdom of God spoke to him through his parents’ marriage, the oil his mother used to cook, the tramping of soldiers through his home town, and the in-breaking of God’s mercy in each new sunrise. Jesus did not need some someone to bring the Bible alive, his world was alive with the Bible. He understood at a gut level that God’s word was living and active, and that everyday life teemed with the deep truth of the word of God.
Meanwhile, in our modern age, we think “Bible study” is the stuff of ancient languages and word origins. Like either lawyers or fools (you decide) we ponder over the meaning and application of cross-cultural studies or socio-psychological interpretations. We think Bible study is more like hard work and not at all like a feast. We march with grim determination through our “quiet times” and we wonder who will make the book of Job feel more like Jimmy Fallon.
The Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is the Father’s indispensible grace-gift to followers of Jesus. Our Lord has modeled every aspect of life for us. We can follow his example, including his loving embrace of the written word, which brings us to the Living Word.
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I’m through with Biblical commands—they’re not the boss of me. But then, when’s the last time a library of books ever commanded anyone to do anything? In my spiritual life I’ve grown weary of the phrase, “The Bible says . . .” followed by some authoritative pronouncement of whatever hot topic is trending that day. We’ve all experienced this: that moment when people quote the Bible as if the sacred word of God is somehow separate from that God.
Are you getting nervous? Do you think this post will somehow destroy the authority of God’s word, the Bible? Rest easy: if I do my job well you will come to love the Bible even more, because it is a gift from our loving Father. The Bible reveals God’s heart and mind; the Bible is Holy Spirit email; the Bible testifies of Jesus, who is God the Son. My worship—and obedience—is directed toward God, the Son-Spirit-Father. And this last word is the key: to receive God as Father is to enter into a new relationship with the gift of his word.
In the far-away world of the 1970’s someone put a Bible in my hand and explained: “You wouldn’t try to drive a new car without reading the owner’s manual, would you? Well, the Bible is your owner’s manual.” Other folks from the age of Evangelicalism explained that the Bible was “God’s rulebook,” or “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” (or, B.I.B.L.E.—get it?). When we receive the Bible as a rulebook or an owner’s manual we are separating ourselves from the Father in Heaven, and us from our humanity. The result is a ministry of the “word” that brings death instead of life.
The Bible commands me to “be angry, and sin not”—which is like commanding me fly. The Bible commands me to “love your neighbor”—but how does love flow from a command? The Bible commands me to “be perfect as God is perfect"—and, well, what do you do with that? (If you feel the urge to explain any of these commands to me, it may be a symptom of a Biblical neurosis.)
Who can save me from a Bible-boss that issues one command after another? Only a father.
Once we discover that God is a loving Father his book takes on a new tone. When we see the Father as a perfect parent, we are able to trust his judgment and direction. Instead of thinking, “the Bible commands me,” we can hear, “the father assures me.” The difference is life giving: the commands of scripture move from a burden laid upon us to an encouraging word from the Father. Of course, there’s no getting around it: the Bible contains commands. Ten of them are rather famous. What makes all the difference is the source of each command. What a government commands, it enforces. The rulers of this age care nothing for me, only my compliance. What God commands is something else altogether: his commands open my mind and heart to what is possible in my life.
With every command comes a promise: that we can do what is commanded. John Milton, the majestic 17th–century saint, asked, “Doth God exact day-labor, light deny’d?” by which he meant would God command of us something impossible to give? What kind of God would command me to love without showing me how to become the kind of person capable of love?
Life with God is a living room, not a courtroom. Have a seat and watch: mothers and fathers alike encourage their babies, “Come on! You can do it—take a step!” After celebrating a single shaky step, parents urge their child, “That’s it! Walk to Mommy!” Can you imagine the absurdity a loving parent who would command a baby to walk? “Junior! You are 13 months old, the manual says you should be walking by now! I command you to walk!” No: walking starts with a promise from Mom: “You can do it!”
Every command from God is a promise. The book that used to fill me with guilt and anxiety has become a treasure of possibilities. What he commands he empowers. I need only trust the one who speaks the word.
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Yes, the numbers are staggering, a man asks for $37,000 in start-up financing and receives at total of $1,400,000 from thousands of people all over the world. Even more staggering, this business venture (and labor of love) aims to publish a new edition of the Bible—already the best-selling book in history. But the more interesting—and more important—question is, “What can we learn from this phenomenon?”
If you’re not up to speed on Bibliotheca you can start here, or check out the eight-minute video. Either way, as you review these sites ask yourself what caused a response thirty-nine times greater than the creator asked for?
The Christian marketplace already noisy and busy with Bibles. There is a never-ending flow of new Bible editions: super-thin, celebrity-endorsed, ever-hip graphics, accompanied by footnotes, endnotes, sidebars, alternate readings, and book-by-book introductions. There are Bible editions for men, women, students, student-athletes, skateboarders, quilters, and cowboys. The Bibliotheca success demonstrates the remarkable intersection of design, production, faith, and personal passion. Let’s start a discussion about the meanings of this crazy level of engagement. Here are three entry points:
- People are hungry for beauty as well as truth: Bibliotheca creator Adam Lewis Greene gave an interview to Bible Gateway. He observed, “I began to conceive of ways I could translate these scholars’ abstract ideas into concrete aesthetic expression.” Scholarship is certainly important, but perhaps we've ignored our soul's need for beauty?
- The Holy Spirit inspired large parts of the Bible as story: here’s Greene, again: “Readers are ready to enjoy the Bible as the great literary anthology that it is, rather than as a text book. The idea of the Bible as story is moving and spreading rapidly. I have been deeply affected by this movement, and Bibliotheca is my attempt to create an elegant vehicle for it.” You can come away from Bible study with principles or stories--which will you remember?
- You Version is here to stay, but so is the printed page. Here’s Greene, one more time: “No printed Bible can compete with the efficiency, economy, and portability of [on-line study tools]. We should gladly welcome these new forms, and I see it as an opportunity to re-evaluate the goals of printed Bibles . . . There are plenty of benefits to the sensory experience of a well-made book that digital mediums are as yet unable to provide.” In a world where the Bible is available everywhere, how can we carve out simple and quiet space to hear the Spirit of God in the Book, and how can print help us do so?
This is a conversation open to anyone interested in faith, design, marketing, Bible study, and the culture at large. These three observations are merely the invitation to discussion. What’s your opinion of the Bibliotheca project? Are there lessons to be learned or dangers to be avoided?
I’m looking forward to reading your comments.
Homer left us the Iliad and the Odyssey. Aristotle wrote on every conceivable topic. Moses wrote down the law of God. King David penned a thousand songs. Mohamed wrote down the words of the Koran. Confucius left us the Analects and the Dalai Lama is a publishing juggernaut. And if it’s Thursday, that means Deepak Chopra has a new book out.
And then there’s Jesus. The smartest guy who ever lived didn’t write a book. Instead, he wrote himself into the hearts of men and women—and only a few at that. It seems Jesus is more comfortable inside the humid chests of humanity than the dust-dry collection of pigment and paper.
Every student of Jesus should consider Jesus’ lack of a publishing dynasty. It’s a challenge to how we read the Bible, and how we hear the Lord’s voice. Nor does this diminish the importance of the inspired, the inscripted word we call the Bible. I’ll show my cards early, because I’m not trying to win the hand. The Holy Spirit breathed upon men, who wrote things down. Important things. Dependable things. Holy things. I read the Bible because it’s a signpost to Jesus. It’s reliable and true. True-er than any other book. It’s filled with wisdom I must have, as important as food and water. I trust the Spirit who breathed it, the men who wrote it, and the communities who preserved it. The Bible is a gift to treasure.
But it’s dangerous to read this book apart from feeling the still-fresh breath of the Spirit. The Bible is a portal, not the path. It’s a message, not the mentor. Even when we recite those sweet words from the proverbs, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” we understand there’s a path to be traveled and a life to be lived, not a test to be taken. In the wise words of Bishop Todd Hunter, “the Bible is the menu, not the meal.”
Jesus doesn’t live in the Bible. He lives in the hearts of men and women all over the world. He’s capable of looking me in the eyes this very day. (He also lives at the right hand of the Father on a shining throne surrounded by a crystal sea, but that’s a post for another day.)
Ten days ago my friend Andrea Giordano introduced this topic, and you really should read her guest-post. It’s practical and life giving.
To her insightful words I want to add one observation. Jesus wrote himself into the hearts of men and women because he wanted to use the longest-lasting media available. Men and women, created in the image of God and awaked by the Spirit of God, will live forever. Ink fades, pixels falter, even stone will crumble, but the sons and daughters of the King will remain forever. Mature children of the King will carry the presence—and the word—of the King to every corner of creation. In a billion years the people of God will still have the word of God written in their hearts.
If there is an investment to be made, we should value what Jesus valued: people. The value of knowing the Bible is because it equips us to serve others and see Jesus more clearly. The surest way to preserve the precepts of God is to love and nurture the people of God. I believe what Isaiah said, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” I just think it will happen in surprising and beautiful ways.