When I Was In Prison You Visited Me

The other day, my colleague, Rev. Robert Bushey, Jr., spoke at a vigil for two men who died in prison while awaiting trial. 

Some people might wonder, “why bother speaking at an event like this?” or “why bother organizing an event like this?” or “but what about their victims?” 

In 2000, I began working for a civil rights lawyer, and one of the cases that was just beginning when I started working for her was us representing six Black men who had been beaten and almost killed in prison. At first, I really didn’t understand.

My first thoughts (that I kept to myself) were something like “Really? What’s the point of this?  Aren’t they in prison for a reason? Don’t they deserve whatever they get?”  

Slowly, though, as I got to know these men from their letters to the lawyer and their phone calls to the office, I began to have a different perspective. Yes, they were in prison for a reason.  Yes, they deserved punishment for their crimes. But no, they did not deserve to feel unsafe and did not deserve to get beaten up. 

And these two men today didn’t deserve to die. 

These were men who had made bad choices, no doubt about it. But they were also real people, humans created in God’s image, with names and faces and hearts and souls, who had their own hopes and dreams. I learned that Black Lives Matter before it became a well-known phrase. 

Something else that people seem to forget is that when people are arrested, they have rights. These rights are not for people who do not commit a crime or who are not suspected of a crime. Rights are for everyone, and specifically for the potential of crimes being committed; a right to a speedy trial isn’t a right for someone who has no need of a criminal trial, but for someone who has been detained, awaiting their day in court. 

Too often, I see people post that a person should just not have committed a crime. Well, yeah. But that is short-sighted, because in any society there is going to be crime. And if you were arrested for a crime, whether or not you actually commit one, wouldn’t you want to make sure your rights were being upheld? 

Would you be ok with you or your loved one dying in prison while waiting for your trial

It’s easy to put ourselves in the position of “I would never do what they did” and look upon criminals with judgment. So for those of us who would never do anything wrong and never get arrested, let’s ask this question:

How would we look upon Jesus?  

  • Jesus was arrested as a criminal.
  • Jesus was flogged as a criminal.
  • Jesus was put to death as a criminal.

The crowd wanted him to die. They wanted Barabbas, in prison for insurrection and murder, released

While Jesus was on the cross, people taunted him. Mocked him. Told him to save himself. Instead, he stayed in solidarity with condemned criminals, identifying as one of them. 

So back to the recent vigil. 

These men had been arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. Does that make a difference to us? Or is any arrest a reason for a death sentence just because we think “they shouldn’t have done it.” 

The crowds surrounding Jesus wanted him to die. They didn’t care if he was innocent or guilty. His acquaintances, especially the women who followed him, stood by him. They didn’t demand Rome’s crucifixion of him. They stood by him, watching, and later, caring for him. Joseph of Arimathea asked for his body, wrapped it, and put it in the tomb. 

Why care for a criminal? That’s the attitude we have today. 

Would we have had the same attitude in Jerusalem, as we watched Jesus dying on the cross? 

Do You Read the Bible like Math or Poetry?

I’ve gotten to know Morgan through the world of blogging and social media for the last few years, and what he writes almost always makes me look at the topic in a different way, which I have appreciated. He’s worked on this book for a long time now and I’m happy for him that it’s finally being published. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the entire book yet; life’s just been a little too busy for me to concentrate well on any non-fiction book. So this reflection is not on the book as a whole but on chapter 6 only: “Poetry Not Math.”

As someone with an English degree who had a love for poetry at one time (where did it go, anyway?) and who is married to someone with a Math degree, I was, of course, drawn to this chapter.

Morgan points out that we’ve turned the Bible into a set of facts to memorize and create a brick wall of truth with them but we don’t actually live by them. “Instead of evaluating the vitality of our Christian faith according to how well our actions emulate Jesus’ character,” he writes, “we measure it according to the sturdiness and thickness of our wall of truth.”

I think he’s on to something here.

Many sermons and articles tell us exactly how we are supposed to apply the Bible to our lives, but it’s often done in such a way that as long as we do those 3 steps or 5 ways, our life and our faith will automatically be better, we will grow spiritually, and we’ll become even closer to Jesus.

The problem is that while those are good intentions–I mean, who doesn’t want to do those things?–they are lacking because they don’t let us wrestle or talk about the Bible and it’s application without a conclusion. In math, there’s a conclusion to a problem. In poetry, there isn’t. It will mean something different to each person reading it, and it may mean something different to that same person at different points in their life. In our desire to make disciples of people and show them how relevant the Bible is, we’ve rushed over the idea of savoring it like a gourmet meal and instead have reduced it to be like fast food.

We have inadvertently taken the mystery out of faith and replaced it with factual certainty.

I’ll leave you with some discussion questions that Morgan asks at the end of this chapter:

  • Does it make you feel uncomfortable to hear the Bible described as poetry? Is poetry less true than math?
  • Which aspects of biblical teaching are timeless, and which are specific to their cultural context?
  • What’s a recent example of a way that the Bible has impacted your daily decision-making?

*This page contains affiliate links. 

Luke’s Gospel Doesn’t Stop in the Book of Luke

After my class on Luke that I was teaching ended, I promised them that since I wasn’t going to teach on Acts as I’d originally planned, I would instead blog about it. My first post on Acts was supposed to be last week. Oops.

When I sent the final email to them, I wrote that as I’d briefly looked at Acts, I’d noticed that it ended with this:

He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. –Acts 28:30-31

We had spent a lot of time in our Luke class looking back to Jesus mission in chapter 4 about preaching the kingdom of God to the other cities, and at the end of Luke saw how it would then progress through his disciples, and we see that even at the very end of Acts.

As I spent the last week reading through Acts in its entirety to get a bigger picture, I noticed that the kingdom of God is mentioned frequently:

  • Acts 1:3  After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
  • Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
  • Acts 14:22 There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”
  • Acts 19:8    He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
  • Acts 28:23  After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.

It’s a big focus of Luke’s continuing gospel (really, shouldn’t Luke and Acts be right next to each other in the Bible?) and I posed the question about whether or not the kingdom is a focus of Christianity today. I’m not sure it is.

Shortly before Jesus announced that his purpose was preaching the kingdom, he read from the prophet Isaiah to describe what this would look like:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” –Luke 4:16-19

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I’m not so sure the good news is good news for everyone, because if it is good news for the poor and oppressed, it’s not good news for those that are rich and doing the oppressing. As we read and I blog through Acts, we’ll continue to look back at those verses in chapter 4 of Luke to see how they continue to play out.

Is the Good News Really Good News?

We’re now halfway through the class I am teaching at church about Luke’s gospel. Six weeks. Twelve chapters. A lot of questions. The biggest question of all that I have is “Do we really take this seriously?” For all our talk about the importance of Jesus and the Bible, I’m not sure we really do.
In chapter four of Luke’s gospel, Jesus makes two statements that frame his entire ministry:

And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” –Luke 4:16-21

But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” –Luke 4:43

 

As we have journeyed through this gospel, we have come back to those statements again and again and again. Jesus is pretty clear on his purpose, his mission, what he is called to do. And twice, when he sends out his 12 disciples and then when he sends out 70, he is pretty clear on what he expects them to do: to preach the kingdom and to heal.

 

To preach the kingdom and to heal.

 

What do we preach today? We preach self-help. We preach that we’re the in-crowd because we are the ones that know Jesus (we may want to take a look at what Jesus has to say to the in-crowd). We preach that if we just follow these certain steps that life will improve for us. We preach that going to church on Sunday and being a member of a church is community.

 

In our class, we’ve learned that the good news isn’t necessarily good news for everyone. Oh, sure, today we say it is–we say God loves everyone (and I believe God does). But if we look at what Jesus is saying and doing and who is threatened by his actions, we see something very different. When the prisoners have freedom and the blind see and the oppressed are released, yes, that is good news for them. But it isn’t good news for those who are keeping people in prison, for those who are causing blindness, and for those who are doing the oppressing of people.
I’ve had people say in class, “why haven’t I ever learned this before?” and “I’ve been in church my whole life and I’ve never been taught this” and “Pastors know all of this; they’ve studied it; why don’t they teach us?”

 

I don’t know the answers to that for sure, but I can only guess.

 

We don’t learn this way because it’s harder, and in our entertainment-focused, instant-everything culture that yes, even our churches are attracted to, we don’t often look at or study the big picture that we see. We don’t learn this because it is a threat to those of us who are in power–even if we don’t even realize we are in power. We don’t learn it because it doesn’t really attract people to come to church to hear it.

 

But if this is the good news that Jesus is preaching, shouldn’t we pay attention?

 

We’re moving on this week to the costs of discipleship and who gets invited to the banquet and why–more challenging chapters. I only hope we can all be courageous enough to be introspective and ask ourselves how we really can apply this to our lives.

Another 10 Commandments Monument Comes Down

I saw a Facebook conversation where someone was upset about a 10 Commandments monument being taken down from public property. A non-Christian person had commented, and then someone asked this person, in what appeared to be a genuine question,”Which of these inhibits your freedom as a non-Christian?” and then listed all 10. This person responded with “the first four.”

Is it really that difficult for us as Christians to understand that if “Have no other gods before me” is legally binding then if a person does not believe in the same god as us, that person would be doing something illegal?

If the 10 Commandments were U.S. Law, how would they be applied and how would people be punished for not following them? What would constitute making an idol? If making an idol is illegal, then would anyone who follows an idolatrous religion be arrested, tried, and put in prison? Anyone who doesn’t follow a religion at all?

If the amount of money that a business-owner makes is of supreme importance to him or her, would he or she be punished for idolatry?? That’s hard to imagine in our capitalistic society.

If my neighbor has a brand new car that I really, really wish I had because mine is 15 years old and I wish I had it, will you arrest me and take me away from my family because I broke the law by coveting?

These are questions that often don’t get asked and answered. We don’t usually go any deeper than “they’re in the Bible and we are supposed to be a Christian nation” and that’s it (never mind that the commandments were given to Israel to follow, not to Gentiles).

If you feel the 10 Commandments are what our laws are about, why do you believe that way? What do you think the punishment should be for breaking them? How would you enforce them? Which version should we follow (Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant)?

If you want the 10 Commandments to be the law of the land, would you follow them yourself? How would you want yourself penalized for breaking them?

As Christians who supposedly believe that we are changed people, that we are a new creation, that Jesus’ law is to love others, as people who often say that the Bible’s laws were “too hard” for people to follow, why do we want to make other people, many of whom do not even believe, follow laws that we cannot even keep ourselves?

NIV Bible For Women: Fresh Insights for Thriving in Today’s World

NIV Bible for Women, Zondervan, 2015
NIV Bible for Women, Zondervan, 2015

It’s a big day today. I’ve been calling myself a writer for a long time now, but now it’s official–I’m published, and it’s been so exciting to experience. I wrote a devotional that is included in the new NIV Bible for Women: Fresh Insights for Thriving in Today’s World.* The scripture I wrote about was Isaiah 9:2:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Often, maybe more often than we like to admit, life can seem dark. The reasons are different for everyone, but often, the feelings that come from it are the same. Sadness. Anger. Questioning God. Wondering if God is even there. It doesn’t help when people are tritely told “just pray harder” or “if God seems distant, who moved?”, adding shame and inferiority to the difficulty.

And sometimes, well, devotionals just don’t cut it. In my experience, they’ve often left me feeling as if I didn’t really relate to the story, that something was lacking, that it was too simplistic (so, yes, it’s rather amusing to me that my first publication experience is a devotional Bible. I always did love irony). But as I’ve read through some of the others in this Bible, I’ve thought, “I can relate to these.” These devotionals allow space for the tensions that we experience in life and in faith, they allow for those parts that are varying shades of gray instead of treating life as if everything is just black or white. They allow for hope and disappointment, joy and sadness, not just picking the good or happy at the expense of the bad or sad experiences. It’s not just “I once was lost but now am found” but rather, I am both lost and found.

Such as Leigh Kramer’s:

“Then there are the other days when I simply feel depleted and undone, too much, not enough. When the picture of a dry and desolate field comes to mind and it doesn’t seem far from the truth, I am in need of rest and restoration.” (Devo #27, Leviticus 25:1-6, pages 174-175).

Or Tanya Dennis’:

“I made the arduous trek to the place of opportunity. I sat in the middle of a crowded city, one overflowing with people who need to know Jesus, and then–I declined to act because I wasn’t sure. I wonder what would have happened if I had simply responded to his voice.” (Devo #75, 2 Kings 18:5-7, pages 522-523).

And in mine, I question where God is:

On a warmer-than-usual day in February of 2012, the kids were in the back seat of the car, waiting for me. Before I got into the driver’s seat, I stood by the door to take one last look around at the home where I had lived for the last five years. My eyes took in the scene, and tears began to fall. My heart cried out.

Are you there, God?

You can read a sample of the Bible here as well as watch a video trailer here. To follow almost all of the contributors on Twitter, subscribe to this list. Like the image above? Get your own copy HERE.

 

*this post contains affiliate links

Everything is Meaningless (Or Is It?)

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/people/photo-knight/
Sukkot began last Wednesday evening and will end this coming Friday evening . While it is a holiday that my Jewish friends celebrate, it’s not one that many Christians know or care about, even though it is the one holiday that the Bible mentions that both Jews and Gentiles will celebrate. 

“If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them.  And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the LORD inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.  Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.”  –Zechariah 14:17-19

The emphasis during Sukkot is about temporary dwellings, to remember the time of Israel wandering in the desert. 
On the Sabbath during Sukkot, the book of Ecclesiastes is read. Overall, Ecclesiastes is a fairly depressing book.  Qoheleth, the author, is fairly uncertain about God and life.  He is sure there is a God and that God knows what He’s doing, but humans really have no clue as to what this is. He writes that God “has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
He thinks God has made life confusing:

“Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?  In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.” (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)

“Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

And then there are Qoheleth’s thoughts on death:
  • 1:4, 11  people are forgotten when they die
  • 2:12-17  all his wisdom will get him nothing, just like the fool
  • 2:18-21  hated toil, hated to leave it to his heirs
  • 3:19-21  humans and animals both die
  • 5:13-16  we come in to world with nothing and leave it with nothing 
  • 8:8  you can’t control when you die no more than when you can control the wind
  • 9:4 But whoever is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.   
If God makes no sense and life has little meaning what might people do to find meaning in life?  Qoheleth explores some of what might make life meaningful:

  • Pleasure (2:1 ff), but his conclusion is that it is vanity
  • Work (2:18-23; 4:4;11:6), but his  conclusion is that it is vanity
  • Wealth/Possessions (5:10-12; 6:1-2), but his conclusion is that it is vanity 
  • Learning (1:12-18; 2:12-17; 9:13-16), but his conclusion is that it is vanity
  • Religion/Piety (5:1-7) but his conclusion is don’t get involved; it’s dangerous, relationship with God is based on fear. 
Vanity does not mean vanity in the sense that it is all about me as an individual (although it definitely can be that way for many of us).  When Qoheleth uses the word vanity, it is the Hebrew word hebel, which means vapor or breath.  It is something that dissipates, something that cannot be grasped.  It is something that is meaningless.  This is Qoheleth’s view of life.  
Qoheleth seems to be desperately trying to find meaning in life before it ends.  
In the book When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life that Matters, Harold Kusher writes that “Ecclesiates wrote his book many hundreds of years ago to share with us his disappointments and frustrations, to warn us that we should not waste our limited time as he did, in the illusion that wealth, wisdom, pleasure, or piety will make our lives matter. He tells us his story with mounting desperation, as one road after another leads to a a dead end and he begins to see himself running out of years and running out of options. But he has not written his book only to express his frustration or to depress us. In the end, he has an answer. But it is an answer that makes sense only to someone who has shared his earlier dead ends and disappointments. That is why he offers it to us at the end of his story rather than at the beginning.” (42)
Qoheleth tells us all the things he’s done to give life meaning that haven’t worked throughout his life journey.  He is afraid of dying before learning how to live.  He doesn’t really wonder “what does life mean” but “what does my life mean?”
What does my life mean?
I think we all wonder that at some point in our lives, and maybe at multiple times.  I’ve been wondering that myself for the last couple of years as I’ve been searching for my current and next purpose(s) in life; that is one reason I began my “Come Alive” series and my “Year of Renewal” project.  
I have wondered off and on, if my writing really is worth it, if it really has any meaning. I read all the advice out there about frequency of blogging and length of posts and platform building and networking and going to conferences and time management and don’t make these 5 mistakes or do these 10 things and so on–and it often all just seems like it is too much to take in and too much to implement. 
In addition, in such a fast-paced world, if a blogger doesn’t write her thoughts out in reaction to whatever the biggest current event of the day is, then it ends up becoming irrelevant and old news.  Or, sometimes, I read something that another blogger writes and I think “I wrote a similar post three years ago” or “I had a draft started about this very point; why bother now?”  Sometimes I just don’t understand the popularity of some posts.  Maybe sometimes, what I write, has also been written by someone else; I am just unaware of it.  And so, I wonder, where exactly do I fit in this world?
Or where do I fit in church?  I’ve often found that there seems to be a “right” way to do church, to teach people:  keep it very simple.  It’s ok that I love the Bible and love to learn it in depth, but most people aren’t like that, and it scares them off from the Bible.  I can just study it on your own, as always.  There’s no community in that (But I am slowly finding real-life people who do have this interest, and am hoping it is the start of something wonderful).
I’m not crazy about Qoheleth’s view of life. I think I dislike it, though, not so much because of its negativity, but because it is often something that I feel.  Why bother cleaning up after the kids when they just mess it all up again?  Why bother trying to be organized when it doesn’t last?  Why bother trying to write and study and enjoy it when I have so many other responsibilities that must take priority?  Why bother with anything?
There is something positive about Ecclesiastes, though.  If we read through it carefully and ask the questions “What is good? and “Who gives enjoyment?”, we will find some answers.
  • 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 3:22 5:18-20; 8:15 Eating & drinking & finding enjoyment in work 
  • 4:9-12  friendship
  • 9:7-10  enjoy life before you die 
These are activities in which we participate every single day in a variety of ways.  Every day, we eat and drink and do some type of work.  Every day, we have the opportunity to participate in friendships and to enjoy life.  
So many of us are looking for the One Big Thing in our lives that will define us and give us meaning.  For some, it’s finding the perfect marriage partner.  For others, it’s climbing to the top of the career ladder.  It could be fame, or money that we desire.  We often feel as if we are wandering in the desert of life–and perhaps because that is something all experience, it is the reason the Bible mentions that all will celebrate this holiday. But life is not about the One Big Thing. It’s about everything, the good and the bad, together. All of life matters. 
I’m not sure that after writing this, I’ll really remember my own words.   Every day brings frustrations and feelings of inadequacy.  Even they will be hebel and dissipate.  But for now, at this moment in time, Ecclesiastes means to me that yes, life is a mist, but yes, life–my life–and yours–matters. You are not a finished product. 

Rosh Hashana: A Year of Renewal

Rosh Hashanah begins tonight (remember, Biblically, days begin in the evening because Genesis tells us “and there was evening and there was morning…”). 

We see references to it in Leviticus, Numbers, and Nehemiah:
  • Leviticus 23:24   24 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts.
  • Numbers 29:1 On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets
  • Nehemiah 7:73 – 8:3  73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants,and all Israel settled in their towns. When the seventh month came– the people of Israel being settled in their towns–  8:1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel.  2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.  3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
So why is the Jewish New Year when it is obviously the seventh month?  This is because there are 2 traditions as to when the world was created, one is Tishrei (the seventh month) and one is Nisan (the first month).  So, it’s the head of the year in the sense of when the world was created therefore years, that count age of the world, are counted from then, but months, such as when holidays are, are counted from Nisan because Hashem told Moshe “this month is for you as the first month for the months of the year” [you can thank my friend Yaakov for all that info].
There are many meanings and symbols for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time in the Jewish calendar for being introspective about the past and upcoming year.  There’s a theme of judgment (based on the word mishpat in Ps 81:4) of all people (both Jews and Gentiles) connected with their successes and failures of the upcoming year.  Traditionally, apples and honey are eaten as a symbol of wishing for a sweet upcoming year, and challah is shaped into a crown to signify that God is King. The greeting on Rosh Hashanah is l’shanah tovah which means have a good year. The readings on the first day of Rosh Hashanah are Genesis 21:1-34 and 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10  (because the Gemara says these events occurred on Rosh Hashana). The day is also called Yom Zikaron (Day of Remembering) because it is the time when God “remembers”, or rather, chooses to pay attention to His promises. 

As Christians in the U.S., we typically utilize the secular New Year’s holiday to make resolutions; it’s not something that we think of doing in the fall, the time of year when the leaves change color and die, when the weather starts to cool, birds migrate south, and the landscape starts to become brown and barren (many of us even pay little attention to when our Christian year begins with Advent, unless we attend a very liturgically-oriented church). Fall is not really a time we associate with new life–even as new experiences begin (i.e. new school year).  But new life happens every day, even when we aren’t expecting it (as happened recently when my nephew was born 8 weeks early!). 
It can be beneficial to us to remember and improve upon our past year, or simply be introspective about one or more areas of life. We are often too busy and caught up with all of our day-to-day activities to really do this well. I’ve recently taken a “Christian Life Profile Assessment” and while there is a lot about it I didn’t care for, it has prompted me to think about some of the various categories it covers, and so I will be starting a new blog series soon based on that Assessment.
Do you practice being introspective on a regular basis?  When do you do it and what do you do?
Other posts in this “Year of Renewal” Series can be read beginning here.

Facebook Conversations & Digging into the Bible

Facebook is notorious as a place where conversations devolve into anger and accusations.  I typically use my personal timeline as a place to interact in a more fun than serious way and rarely do I have long conversations there. 

Until recently.  I’d posted an article about an atheist’s take on the portrayal of atheists in the movie “God’s Not Dead” and it set off quite the conversation.  Through it all though, people remained civil to each other.  It made me think that miracles do happen.
And then a friend send me a private message asking me what I thought about some verses in Matthew, and later that night I was able to spend some time looking at them and reading them in the context of the gospel as a whole.  As I explored the topic of the Kingdom of God throughout the gospel, I found my faith being reignited–and I didn’t even know that it needed to be. With the text in front of me and my thoughts about it and what I’ve read on the subject forming in my head, I felt myself coming alive.  
It really makes such a huge difference to look at verses in context.  I know I am guilty of being lazy and not doing that at times, especially if it’s a verse that I really like for some reason, but when I do actually put in the effort to learn the context, it ends up meaning so much more to me than just taking a verse here and a verse there and thinking I know what they mean because I’ve heard it in a sermon or have seen it on a calendar.
As I wrote up my notes and thoughts, I even learned something new.  I had always known the verses when Jesus talks about only going after the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and I had known the verses at the end of Matthew about making disciples of all nations, but I had never really looked at the progression of getting from one to the other, and as I noticed that, I could visualize how Jesus’ movement started so small and narrowly focused, yet then opened up to include all people everywhere.  
And that’s good news.
Because we often think of the Bible as a guidebook, we have a tendency to look at it as abstract pieces of information on how to live.  And while I do think it teaches us how to live, I don’t think it’s in the way of a checklist; it’s more holistic than that.  It’s easy to check off memory verses without understanding them or hold up a reference at a sporting event. But I constantly find myself wanting to go deeper than that.  For many people, the way I read and study the Bible would probably be considered too boring or difficult, because it doesn’t provide automatic answers or advice.  But for me, when I do this, I find that the Bible opens up the world of faith to me in ways I don’t experience any other way. It forces me to look at big pictures and challenge any suppositions I unknowingly have.  It causes me to think, to question, to wrestle.  Most of all, though that, it causes me to focus on God more than if I pluck out a verse.  
I think the Bible is beautiful, and am thankful for the conversations it fosters and the way those conversations make me look harder and dig deeper.  

document.write(”);

get the InLinkz code

Reading My Bible: A Year of Renewal

For two months, I’ve been reading more Scripture on a regular basis than I have in a long time.  As part of my Year of Renewal project, I’ve been reading the parashah, haftarah, and Revised Common Lectionary readings for each week.  

Reading so much scripture has been great; it’s made me wonder and it’s made me question.  It’s made me think of connections–and disconnections–between what I am reading and in other books I am reading (Galatians, What St. Paul Really Said).  I see themes that tie together and themes that contradict each other.
A couple of weeks ago I tweeted:

This was referring to the fact that I haven’t signed up for one class at church. Not Sunday morning, Sunday evening, or Wednesday evening. There are some great options that are being offered. They just aren’t for me at this time.  I miss reading and studying my Bible and I’m planning to take more time to actually do that. 
I have spent far too long going to various groups or activities because I feel obligated to do so: to meet people, to have a social outlet, to spend time with other adults. But I often still find that something is lacking.  It’s like I’m attending a salad luncheon when all I want is a steak dinner.
Then I read this article by Ben Irwin on Q Ideas in which he states

“We buy a lot of Bibles. We just don’t read them. And if we do, it’s usually a verse here or a chapter there. We don’t read; we cherry-pick. And cherry-picking is a guaranteed path to a miserable reading experience.”

That’s exactly what we do. We read a verse here and there, or have a topic and find all the verses that we think go along with that topic, and we ignore whole chapters and books and context.  We want to skip right to application.  I’m so tired of doing that.  I’m tired of reading, say Galatians 1:3-5   

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

and skipping over it, or just thinking, oh, ok, Jesus died for our sins. What’s next?  
Why, when we read the Bible, do we tend to not ask questions? Such as:
  • What did Paul mean when he says “present evil age”?  
  • What was considered evil in that period in history?
  • How does Jesus giving himself for sins set people free? What did it mean then? Is it connected to Luke 4:18?
  • How did Paul define sin?
Those are six questions about one small part of these verses that we usually skip over, if we even read them at all, because usually we’d rather just get on to an inspirational verse that we can memorize to pull out when we’re feeling down (or a verse for when we want to prooftext something).  
I think part of the problem is that we see the Bible as our self-help guide and we’re looking for 3 steps to stop worrying or 5 ways to grow faith or 7 ways to parent Biblically. But the Bible is so much more than that, and treating it as a self-help book can detract from what we can experience if we actually were to read it for the benefit of reading it and what we can learn and how we can grow through that process, and not just for a quick few steps about how to do something.  
How do you read the Bible?