emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

“You should read your Bible.”

My family has a fairly consistent Sunday afternoon tradition that I love participating in. We come home from church, eat lunch, and watch Andy Stanley’s sermon for the week via NorthPoint TV. We very much enjoy him and his messages, and they regularly resonate with the Spirit of the Living God within us, and move us to act as better agents of the Kingdom of Heaven here in our community and lives. He also is very witty and funny, which only endears him to us all the more.

One of his oft-used quotes, employed after imparting something extremely moving that brings with it an obvious call to alter our daily lives, goes something along the lines of, “Did you know that this is in the Bible? No. Because you don’t read your Bible. You should read your Bible!” He always chastises in a loving and humorous way, and so the audience on the screen laughs as we also do in our living room.

But Andy’s gotten me thinking. And that got me curious. And that pushed me to start paying a little more attention. Of course this was all done very informally; I’m not a research scientist and I don’t follow any research patterns or rules. But I observed my social circles among friends, Bible studies, church functions, and regular daily lives for several weeks, and here’s what I found: Andy’s right. We as Christian communities don’t read our Bibles, individually or corporately.

Don’t misunderstand me – we talk about the Bible a lot. We even open it and peruse it, momentarily, most Sunday mornings. But really, in many churches on average Sundays, we open our Bibles for about five minutes at the beginning of the sermon and follow along for the handful of selected lines that the pastor wants to highlight. We don’t often read or discuss context, and we don’t often focus on the passage much. Many times, sermons are created in which scriptures are used to strengthen the ideas we intend to communicate. The Bible becomes our spice rack in the kitchen: we open it, move some bottles around looking for the nutmeg, sprinkle a little bit onto this week’s dish, put the bottle back and shut the cupboard doors.

Just to clarify, that’s not a good thing.

 But of course we don’t admit that’s what is going on, and because we all seem to know what the Bible says, we keep a charade going on and on; a fantasy world in which we’re all pretending to be doing what we all “know” we should be doing, and hope nobody calls us out on it. Some of us even go on the offensive, armed only with what we think the Bible says about things. Motives are often varied, but I find two to be extremely recurrent: we’re convinced that we do know, even though we don’t study it at all, or else we purpose to talk so much about it that we hope everyone, including ourselves, will buy it.

I’ve even had conversations with friends about this in which we’ve admitted that yeah, we intend to read our Bibles, but we don’t. So then when we get together with others we pretend that we did, in fact, read our Bibles. Because we can’t, of course, be open and honest within our communities. That would require letting people inside our comfort zones into the truths that our lives aren’t as great as we want them to believe. That would require being, well, uncomfortably vulnerable. That would require relinquishing control. [Side note: if we would read our Bibles, we might find out that it says something about that.]

My point? There’s life in there, my friends. There’s power that brings change. Purpose to engage it, to approach it as something important to the Most High God, who is much bigger than you, and to enter it on his terms.

And I’ll tell you why you should.

Yes, we’re here. We’ve all probably heard it before: why you should be reading your Bible. 9 times out of 10, the arguements as to why we should read our Bibles are one of the two following:

1) God says to read your Bible, I’m sure, somewhere, and He’s God. He can like, burn you in hell forever and stuff. So… read your Bible, buster!

2) You should read your Bible because in the Bible it says ______.

I rarely find bullying an effective motivator, and while I don’t discount using the Bible to say that reading the Bible is important, I also find that circular reasoning always leaves me feeling like somebody cheated somewhere, and explained something without explaining it.

So I’ll tell you why reading the Bible is important, and I’ll use logic. (What do they teach them at these schools?) Yes, I’m aware – I used the ‘l’ word. It’s kind of a big deal in a lot of the Christian circles I’ve been involved with, as if we’re supposed to somehow live life never engaging our brains in the experience of living for the Most High. I say, the Everlasting created me with a brain, and I’ll use it. Logic and all!

So let’s assume that we believe God is the Creator God who loves us, Jesus is his Son who died on the cross to reconcile all things to the Father (including us), that Jesus rose again, and the Holy Spirit moves like a wind in and among us. God holds time and creation in his hands, and he’s doing something. He’s going somewhere with this, with us. I know very few Christians who would argue those things, so let’s just assume that we can start there.

Do you, free of any outside influences or information, know what that plan is? Do you know where or what God is doing? Do you even know what God is like? Do you know anything about anything that God says is important?

Now take where you are there, and factor in the experience of human aging and perspective. Have you ever changed your mind about something? Have you ever believed something that you don’t anymore? Have you ever been wrong about something?

Where am I going with this? Well, it’s this: we, as human beings, have a very limited understanding and perspective. If left unchecked, I can go on and on down a line of thought, becoming more convinced of its veracity and unversality, and it would all be awesome if I wasn’t dead wrong. I don’t think I really need to expand here, as it’s fairly basic. We need to be corrected and reminded of reality, or else we run amok in fantasy worlds. We need to be educated as to the reality of existence, or we run amok in fantasy worlds. It’s why, for all of recorded history of humanity, we’ve taught our children. Because there’s a reality that doesn’t change to accomodate our whims.

Logically, if you believe that God is the God that our Christian subcultures worship, then he must be about something, no? There must be things that are important to him, to put it in terms that humanity can follow. How do we know what those things are? Because again, if he’s the God we worship, then we should probably care about what he cares about, right?

The best way we have to do that is to… listen to what God himself tells us he’s about.

A really good way we have to do that is to read ancient texts in which those things are written.

Or at least reading the writings of people who read those texts. That’s a good start.

Then we’ll begin to see what God’s about, who God is, why he’s doing what he’s doing, and how we fit into all that. All the answers to that last sentence are in the Bible. Did you know that? You should read your Bible.

And keep reading it. Because as long as you live, you will understand it differently. I have read, since childhood, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I re-read them probably at least once a year. But they don’t mean to me now what I understood them to be when I was a child. As I live and experience life, as I learn, my understanding of the allegorical stories changes. So is it with the writings collected in the Bible. Understanding what the Creator is about and what that means for us is a process that will take our entire mortal lives.

Hildegard of Bingen (a person who existed in history; she did and said some stuff that enough people thought was important, so she got put in books so we could read about her later) stepped onto the scene in 12th century Europe, in the middle of a Church overwhelmed with leaders buying their way into church offices to play games of politics and power. In short, she lived in a time when the church had been co-opted by the world, and finding out what God was about was no easy task, especially in the churches. Hildegard charged into the fray with many of her own problems, to be sure, but one of the things she said cuts to my heart:

Faith wavers among the nations and the Gospel limps among the people, and the mighty books in which the church fathers had summed up knowledge with great care go unread from shameful apathy, and the food of life, which is the divine scriptures, cools to tepidity.

We look at her words, hundreds of years later, and nod sagely because we collectively refer to her time period as The Dark Ages. [The key there is the name ‘dark ages;’ it should communicate something about the state of things, and that’s when ‘Christianity’ literally ruled.] We know that, at the very least, she understood something about what the Church was missing.

I may not be able to control the flow of history, and God may not choose to use me as such a tool. But if ever there’s someone reading about our times in a few hundred years, I’d love to be one of those guys about which it is said, “In a time, culture, and society in which the Church became co-opted by things that were not the Gospel, at least there was someone who purposed to know what God was about and make it known, to the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Because if there’s enough of those someones, it starts to change things.

That is why I read my Bible.

Because it matters.

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