Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Bible reading

I don't know how you do it. I don't even know if you do it. But if you do it, you need to discern whether, for you, routine is a friend or an enemy, or a little bit of both. I'm talking, of course, about Bible reading.

Bible reading has fallen on hard times in America, and in American churches. Awash though we are in Bibles, and claim though we do to be Christians (at least on overwhelming majority of us), we are ignorant of the Bible.

It's time for we who know Christ to recover, or begin, the habit of encountering God through the scriptures, because it's by absorbing God's glory and responding to God's revelation that we're transformed, and thus able to increasingly fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Our purpose, of course, is to make the invisible God visible, by manifesting increasing doses of mercy, truth telling, humility, forgiveness, courage, justice, beauty and more in our world. God will express these things uniquely through each of us, but the means by which He will shape us is the same. We're shaped in response to revelation. Thus, if I'm ignoring God's revelation, I'm cutting myself off from the means of transformation. What's more, I'm choosing instead to be shaped by other forces, since the reality is that none of us are autonomous agents shaping ourselves.

For me, I need both routine in variety. I need routine in setting a time of day to receive from God through the Bible. For me this is morning, before the day is swallowed by activity. I can manage to squeeze other things into my life in the margins - exercise, eating, reading, even blogging. But if I miss the appointed time for reading, it's rare that I catch it later in the day. So I try to make it an appointment.

But I need variety in how I digest the Bible. I've been in a period of doing daily readings out of the Celtic Daily Prayer book, a marvelous little work that exposes one to Old and New testaments around a theme each day. But I'm missing the continuity of a larger story, and feeling the need to fortify myself in preparation for some summer teaching, so for the next little while, I'll be reading through I and II Kings, and Romans.

This morning, in I Kings 1, I was struck by the discord among God's children over who would be David's successor to the throne. God's people fighting over positions of power? You've never heard of that, have you? This story reminds me of how easily our own needs for security, or meaning, or power, or intimacy, or ________ (fill in the blank with your own story) can create in us a demanding posture, rather than a submissive one. "I will be king, God's will be dammed!" was the attitude of Adonijah.

Only he wouldn't say it that way, which is too bad, because had he done so it would have been much more honest, and easier to see the deception. Instead he hired priests to offer sacrifices, so as to 'bless and sanctify' his rebellion. It's always this mixture of our lust with God words, worship songs, offerings, and prayers that create the problem. The mixture confuses us. And the reason for this is because we can't really know the heart of Adonijah, at least not on the surface of things. He appears to be following God. So do many cult leaders. He offers 'killer' worship services (with all the sacrfices being offered, this is intended to be a pun). But beneath it all is rebellion born from insecurity.

I'm reminded this morning to open my hands, to quit grasping or clinging to power, authority, position, vocation, geography, or any other thing. It's much simpler to rest and let God run the show. But to do so, I need to trust that God will take care of me, a lesson I learn well by, of all things, reading the Bible regularly.


At 29/4/08 13:27, Anonymous Richard K. said...

Overall, I agree with your post, but I had a few things to add.

A few years back, I was traveling through old cathedrals in Germany and marveling at the richness and detail of the stained glass windows and giant tapestries depicting bible stories. The tour guide explained that back then, most people were illiterate and that this was the way many of them received their biblical teaching. And so I've often wondered, is bible reading a relatively recent historical phenomenon? Before Luther and Tyndale, how did most non-clergy Christians get exposure to scripture? I've always pitied the lay Hebrews and early-century Christian who probably got their exposure to the Word from occasional public readings (e.g. 2 Kings 23). Gosh, the pressure to remember everything heard that day would be so immense!

Secondly, there was this very popular course where I went to college called "Bible as Literature." Many of my non-Christian friends took this course (supposedly an easy A), and by the end of the semester, they covered large swaths of the OT and NT. In talking with them afterwards, I was always amazed at how little of an impression it made on them. Part of it was because it was treated as myth and not divine revelation, but I kept thinking of that verse in Isaiah that says "my Word will not return void," and expecting more of a response. And in my own life, I have been amazed by how quickly I move from scripture to sin in the same day. Sometimes I think that I would be a better follower of Christ if I were exposed only to one bible passage a year, to keep it "fresh," and tried every day to live it out.

At 29/4/08 13:51, Anonymous kylesale said...

I've also been amazed at how quickly I move from times of prayer/scripture reading to acts of sin. I can go for weeks in what seems like cruise control, 'lacking freshness' as you say. But then I hear a sermon, have a conversation,listen to a song...whatever, and a truth is revealed to me.

It's like the 'stale' times in the word were times of sowing that seemed boring but God's word planted a seed to grow in me a deeper understanding. I'm hoping that as my life continues the time between planting/cultivating and realization continually shrinks.

At 29/4/08 14:53, Blogger Meepsie-dom said...

At a baby shower my former pastor and dentist were finishing a conversation as I approached, with the dentist saying, "okay, deal. If you promise to floss every day I will read my Bible every day." Are we always looking for a "return" for our Bible reading? - revelation, joy, conviction, "spiritual exercise"? Given the many misinterpretations of the Bible we hear about, how is God's truth revealed? Reading it with a spiritual leader or mentor helps me with more difficult parts, while reading familiar passages offer daily guidance.

At 30/4/08 13:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thought-provoking and gentle reminder for me and I'm sure all of us.

Thank you.

At 8/5/08 12:08, Anonymous Kristi said...

Thanks, Richard. I really appreciate your reminders of the importance of reading the Bible. I have a lot of thoughts on your post and some of the other things people have commented on. Here are some of the things that you have said on various occasions regarding this discipline - phrases that run through my head like a mantra at times (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the actual quotes):

- Sometimes reading the Bible acts as water, quenching a thirsty soul; giving me exactly what I need in exactly the right time. Other times, it's more like snow; I read it and it's alright, but no major epiphanies come from it - at least not right away. Many times, I've been "fed" by something I read on one of those days and it was like snow being melted and quenching my soul at a later time.

- Reading the Bible is a discipline. That means that you do it when you feel like it and you do it when you don't feel like it, too.

- Reading the Bible is the way in which we learn to recognize God's voice. We come to know his character, his interaction with we humans, his desire for us to be reconciled with one another and with him by reading about his interactions with people throughout history. By becoming familiar with God in this way, we also become more able to recognize God's voice in our daily lives.

I have always said that I'm great at being disciplined for about 2 weeks and then it goes downhill from there! But for the last 6 months or so, I've tried to read the Bible and spend some time in prayer more regularly (and I've given myself grace when I miss a few days,) and it's been a really amazing journey. Not amazing in terms of epiphanies, but amazing in the sense that I feel that God is meeting me in those times, even though it's only 10 or 15 minutes sometimes. It's been refreshing to be reminded of who God has been throughout human history. It's even been good to read a passage and struggle because what I'm reading about God is uncomfortable for me. In this time I have also felt a greater ability to discern God's movement in my life and that too has been awesome.

I find myself trying to find ways to encourage others to read the Bible more regularly - not so that we can look a certain way or brag about being discipline, but simply because it's such a great journey!


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