What’s in the Bible?

What’s in the Bible?

Sue was a very bright five-year-old. She loved to show what she knew. So when the pastor visited Sue’s home, she was quick to point to a big family Bible on the table. “I know everything that’s in the Bible,” she happily said. When the minister asked, “Tell me, what’s in the Bible.” Sue quickly answered, “some hair from when I was a baby, three pressed flowers, a picture of daddy when he was in the Army, and some Sunday School pictures I colored.”

Sue did know everything between the covers of the family Bible, but there was so much more for her to discover—and that’s true for all of us. Baptists, among others, are people of the book, people who believe that knowledge of God’s Word is an important, even necessary, part of the Christian life. So, we encourage people to read the Bible. We study and teach the Word. We preach it. Often we pray the Word, using God-given words to express our thoughts and needs, and desires. For all of that, does the Bible affect our everyday lives?

Recently in The State of the Bible 2020, the American Bible

Society and the Barna Group published some research on people and the Bible. The researchers asked questions about how folks got their biblical “input.” Did they read the Bible or listen to it (or both)? Was there a regular time when people focused on the Bible? Most importantly, among people who spend time with scripture, how does the Bible influence them in terms of their relationship with God and with others. In short, how does engaging with scripture (consistent interaction with the Bible) shape people’s choices and relationships?

Probably if you are reading this blog, you are a person who reads or listens to the Bible regularly, perhaps daily. So this blog isn’t simply a plug for “we ought to read the Bible.” It is to encourage you (and me) to let scripture engage us:  speak to us, hold our attention, influence our thinking, invite us to a closer walk with the Lord.

The first step in letting the Bible speak to us is asking the Holy Spirit to give life to the Word He inspired. So often when I catch myself reading the Bible as words on the page or as information, I recognize that I hadn’t asked for the Spirit to speak. We can study the Bible without the Holy Spirit, but the study will be fruitless without the Spirit. We cannot experience the awe or the joy or the excitement that scripture can bring unless the Spirit gives it life. And this often takes time. Dashing through a chapter of James or reading three or four psalms in order to get the Bible reading done for the day may seem necessary, but the Spirit has been known to take His time drawing truth from the Word.

The second step in letting the Bible engage us is to look within ourselves to see if and when and how scripture influences our decisions, attitudes, and relationships with others. To do that sort of self-examination we need to grow in our understanding of God’s nature, character, and purposes. We can “camp on” the two great commandments and should reflect on them often. But who is “the Lord your God”? Do we know what it means to love Him? How could we love one whom we scarcely know? Do we understand what “whole life” living is? Has scripture given us understanding of this one called “God”? 

Every advertiser, every media offering, every would-be leader wants to influence you and me. Each day is a tug-of-war between this or that wanting to sway us, push us, pull us. To counter this, God has revealed in His Word not just some of the specifics of how we are to think and to act but also the foundational truths that can engage us. He has revealed who He is. 

If the pollster contacted you or me and asked these sorts of questions, how would we answer?

  • What difference does the Bible make in your life?
  • What influence does the Bible have on your choices and decisions?
  • What influence does the Bible have on your relationships with folks around you?

The Bible is not just another self-help book. Reading it daily is not a way to get a pat on the back from God. The Bible is one of God’s great instruments to change us and to change the way we live.

1   The researchers asked more questions. You can read the questions and the results of the research posted online in the State of the Bible 2020.

God Uses Broken Things

God Uses Broken Things

God uses broken things…and bruised-but-not-yet-fully-broken things.  Truthfully, we are all “damaged goods.”

Satan would use our broken and bruised places to shame us.  Satan wants us to think God can’t love us because we are “too far gone” – too broken, to horrible, to damaged. The truth – that Satan would rather you not ever hear or possess —  is that scripture is loaded up with stories of God using broken and bruised people. Here are just a few:

  • Abram, who lied about his wife to protect himself, was used to bless all families of the earth. (Genesis 12
  • Moses, a murderer who beat people to death, was God’s man to lead Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 2, 3)
  • Gideon, a coward threshing wheat in secret in a wine press, God used to rescue His people from the Midianites. (Judges 6)
  • Rahab, a prostitute, was the one God used to protect Israel’s spies in Jericho. (Joshua 2)

Clearly, the list is long. The sins are many, varied, frightening, and often bloody.  Were most of us to stack our trespasses up against these folks, we would find we haven’t murdered half as many people as Paul, or been degraded nearly as much as Rahab.  Some of us might be able to match them – and my heart goes out to you over that if that is you.  I can promise you did not come into the world as a baby hoping to be beaten, abused, neglected, shamed or hated.  Adults, who can stack their transgressions against the “pillars of the faith” in the Bible and come close to measuring even, often have a long list of injuries done to them that create them to be such a person.   Sin begets sin.  

 This is why God hates sin so much – it creates broken people.  Broken people harm other people.  So as we grow from infancy towards adulthood, we who are broken break others around us in our hate, anger, and shame.

Yet God uses broken things. 

If ever there was a word of encouragement to hold close to your chest it is this:  you can never be so broken that God cannot redeem you.  There is no sin you have committed that God cannot forgive you.  You are never so broken you cannot be healed.  You are more than just an object of pity to God – you are his Beloved and He is more than able to make use of you in His Kingdom.

The Table of the Lord (1 Cor 10:21), The Wedding Supper of The Lamb (Rev 19 7-10), the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 16:19) are not filled with perfect people.  No look-good, smell-good, air-brushed Hollywood perfection here.  It is filled with broken people – ugly, imperfect, sinful, willful, hard-to-love people – who have been made perfect by God’s love and grace.

This is why it is a gift – and not earned.  If we could earn it, we would boast.  When it is only something we can receive as a blessing, then we sit humbly at the table and put head to the dust at God’s feet.  

I am a broken thing.  You are a broken thing.  But oh!  How God’s love covers us all!! 

God uses broken things.

To Do or To Be

The “to do” list is infamous today. Not all of us have a written list of things to do. We may get by with an inner list of what we need (or want) to do today, this week, or whenever. Written or not, a “to do” list can help us set priorities, find the resources necessary to do a task, and even ask someone to help us if we need it. 

That’s true for a “to be” list, also. A “to be” list is simply a list of what we want to become, as in “I want to become healthier” or “I want to become more patient.” With a little thought most 

of us could list qualities or characteristics we want. Some might be “pie in the sky” wishes (I want to be younger). Others might be quite possible (I want to be a better neighbor). 

Wanting to be a better neighbor can help us think about what it means to be a better neighbor. We could learn our neighbors’ names, talk with them when we have the opportunity. In time we might discover we have a Christian neighbor or one who needs the Lord. We might even pray for them. We can do such things on the way to being a better neighbor—and to growing in Christ. 

Christians and non-Christians alike often think of a Christian as someone who does this or that or does not do some things. The truth is that while behavior is important, being comes before doing. We are called “to be” in order “to do.” The new birth, a new heart, and a new way of seeing reality come before trying to do good. 

So what sort of things might be on the “to be” list of a child of God? Certainly, scripture describes qualities and behaviors God wants in our lives. So which behaviors, which qualities are the most important in your life as a believer right now? Which ones has the Spirit brought to mind? Which ones have been difficult to develop over the years? As we let the Holy Spirit teach us His priorities we may find we have to start with some short-term goals. A big goal such as “I want to be more loving” may develop over time as we choose short-term goals such as “I want to be more loving to my children today.” Such a here and now, today sort of goal can be a starting point. The short-term “to be” goal is itself behavior that can bring a smile to God, to the children, and even to yourself. 

A “to be” list can be a reminder that God gives us abilities and resources to grow in Him. He gives us the ability to think and even plan, to pray. Often He provides Christian friends to help 

us. Still, we know that being more loving or kind, cheerful, honest, strict or bold,–whatever God wants us to be–isn’t a matter of “once and done.” 

We don’t get to mark the “to be” items off our list easily or quickly. Often, behaviors we want to change have become ingrained habits and the qualities we want to develop may be hard to put into play. Still, the “to be” list has value—even if we can’t clear items off quickly. The “to be” list keeps our attention on what we need to be or want to be. With diligence and the grace of God, we will see progress on our “to be” items until maybe (just maybe) we can say, “I am a better neighbor” or “I have become more loving.”

Certainly doing and being go together, but the “springs of life” flow from the heart. In time what we are will show itself in what we do. Becoming will result in doing. As God gives us a “to be” list, then, may we keep it before us remembering God has “granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV).

The Spirit Has Come

Do you ever get the feeling that the Holy Spirit is at work around you? As I write this blog Pentecost Sunday is on the horizon. (It’s May 23 this year.) Here at Pleasant Valley, speakers have given a series of messages on the Holy Spirit. And in our particular Community Group, we are studying Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Are these simply coincidences—probably not.

Pentecost Sunday commemorates the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on a band of Jesus’ disciples (Acts 2). The Spirit came. Peter preached in the power of the Spirit. People heard the message in their own language, and about three thousand people believed and were baptized. The rest is history, and what a history! The world has not been the same since then.

In a sense Pentecost was the beginning of the church. It completed the disciples’ preparation for work in the Kingdom. For the folks who heard and believed, Pentecost was the touch of the Spirit, the “new birth.” Jesus’ victory over death would now be victory in life as the Spirit transformed, led, and empowered the people of God. Pentecost was a grand, glorious, miraculous day.

And today? Are you and I celebrating the presence of the Spirit in our lives today? Do we know Him by experience? We haven’t forgotten Pentecost or the Holy Spirit. We talk and read and preach about Him, but are we aware of Spirit’s presence or His absence in our day-to-day lives? For many the term “Holy Spirit,” this third person of the Trinity, has simply become a name for a person’s conscience or emotions or some sort of inner feeling. Even when the fruit of the Spirit is evident, circumstances, good fortune, good psychological or physical health are given credit for producing the joy, love, peace, and the other qualities named as evidence of walking with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said He would send the Comforter, the one who comes beside us to teach, lead, and to convict. Jesus sent Him, and that Spirit is here. What is He doing around us and within you and me?

 What might we discover of the Spirit in our lives if we should:

  • Study what the Bible and in particular the New Testament tell us about the Holy Spirit and His work? (Explore such a well-known phrase as “walk by the Spirit” [Galatians 5:25] or the teaching that the Spirit intercedes for us {Romans 8:26].)
  • Think about the spiritual warfare going on around us? (The chaotic “reality” we see is only a part of the struggle Paul mentioned in Ephesians 6:10-12)
  • Devote some time each day this week to reflecting on where we have seen God at work around us? (We typically credit “God” when we see the Holy Spirit doing the work of the Trinity.)
  • Pray for greater sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, to His presence and His absence?

The Spirit of God is among us to encourage, sustain, empower, and lead us. Therefore, as Gary Burge, an evangelical commentator on the Gospel of John, wrote “we must always be on the alert to see if we are linked to the spiritually unpredictable Holy Spirit of God.”

1 Gary Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John, (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing , 2000) 132.

The World Crept In

Scripture is full of warnings against loving the world more than we love God and His Kingdom (examples 1John 2:15-17, James 4:4).  Clearly this is a very real and present danger for believers.  The odd thing is, I have met very few believers who even talk about this danger, much less admit the ways in which “the world” might have a hold on their affections.  Could we really be the first generation of believers who have (finally) mastered the temptations the world has over us?

Um…I would say, “No.”

I think we are a generation of believers that are very good at not looking at this issue though.  It is a painful issue.  If we really looked at it, it might cause us to have to change – especially in ways that might cost us.

Let us take up the issue of fashion.  I sit among women believers who chat amiably about “cute shoes,” “love your new hair cut!,” and “oh gosh, I spent way too much money for these, but aren’t they just great.”  I don’t think God prefers that we all run around in sack cloth and ashes, mind.  I think so long as we are covered and not lewd, God isn’t too worried about what we wear.  God is not about the outside of us, but rather the heart.  And so this is where this little arrow is aimed:  what lies at the heart of why we care so much about the clothes we wear and how we look?  Are our hearts more attached to looking young than to being holy, or generous, or kind?  You see, it isn’t about hair or clothes or shoes.  It is about discerning when we have set our heart on the things the world values.  But we dare not even talk about it.  Until we have the courage to “chat amiably” about our hearts’ longing, we are in danger of loving the world more than we love God. 

Or if that issue doesn’t ring any bells for you, how about this one:  where is your money going?  Again, this is not for me to point fingers at others over money.  This is an issue (like hair/clothing and so many others) that is first an issue of the heart.  If it came down to the choice of tithing or paying the cable bill, which wins?  Does my heart rate speed up when I see a collector car or motorcycle – does lust creep in over these things?  If I see someone in need and have a few dollars in my pocket, what are the thoughts that run through my head about giving it away?  Is money a thing for me to accrue or is it a matter of mercy?

No one can answer these tough questions for you or for me.  We each must ask them and answer them in our time with God alone.  Only God sees the heart.  We can even lie to ourselves (and often do) – only God knows the internal truth.  

All I can say is that God thought “the world” was such a danger to our journey of faith, He warned us of it over and over and over.  Why then are we silent in our church, in our Bible study groups, and among each other on this issue?  Do we – as the family of God – have the courage to ask ourselves and each other where “the world” has invaded?

I fear if we ever have such courage, we will find that, indeed, “the world” has not only invaded, but taken up residence and made itself at home.  We may love Jesus and we may be saved – but our witness to the world is tainted.  And that, my brothers and sisters, suits Satan just fine.

The Garden Shed

Much to my surprise, I have learned that many people are not “gardeners”.  Their eyes don’t twinkle with anticipation when seed magazines show up mid-winter, or watch the temperature like a vulture waiting for things to get above 40 degrees.  They may not even have a shed filled with a chaotic mess of tools and supplies just waiting to be deployed.  Being a gardener, I have all those things.

The garden shed is a fine metaphor for our spiritual journey, though.  Some people don’t have one at all – and don’t want one.  Others have one and face it with resignation because it is only a place of labor and no joy.  Others have a shed that wafts out possibility and hope and all things renewed every time they open the door.  If we place “garden shed” with “Bible” it still fits:  some don’t have one and don’t want one, some have one but it is a chore, and others open it with anticipation every time.  

You know the truly shocking thing?  No one wants a shed.  No one wants a bible.  We all want the results that come from those things, but none of us want those things.  Gardeners want the produce, not the shed.  We all want to be near to God, the tools and work and toil we are told are just part of it.  We are told we must do these things if we are ever to feel the presence of The Most High.  

Here is another shocking thing:  that isn’t true.  Jesus did not show up to those who had the most time praying in the synagogue.  He did not reserve himself only to those with memorized scripture, devout and holy.  He came for the lost, the broken, the ones without a shed at all.  He came for those with sincere hearts and those with devious hearts.  He came for those who were praying, and for those who were living lives of sin.  You know whom He did not come for?  Those who thought they already knew it all and had it all figured out – you know, those with an organized shed, a tight maintenance schedule, and a list of things of things to judge as worthy and not worthy.  But He came for the rest of us.  He came as a gift – not a thing that could be earned.

And this is what I take away every time I work in my garden: my garden is a gift from God.  Nothing I am doing is producing growth or harvest.  God is doing it all.  He is doing it whether I show up or not.  He makes seeds to grow: roots down, leaves up.  He makes pollinators do their job so they can reproduce their young to do their job again next year.  He does it all – or at least all the truly important parts.  I do my bit – I water and weed and assist.  But God is really the miracle worker still.

This is how He is with us as well.  He is doing it all.  He is gifting us with his presence and his mercies.  We show up.  We do what we can to participate in the work God is already doing.  And when we do that – participate – we are close enough to see the miracles.  That is also a gift from God.

So if your “Bible-time” is nonexistent, or a chore, or a time of love and joy, hold fast to this:  God is still God no matter what we do or don’t do, what we feel or don’t feel.    The work of the garden is all being done by God.  Our job is to show up, participate as best we can, and watch for the miracle of His hand.