when the Bible is made boring (a mortal error)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:13-32; NRSVue

There are few things worse, if anything than making the Bible boring. But I fear it’s all too regular an event. Though at the same time I’m confident that most of the time most of the churches avoid the worst of this. Yet I fear that what our Lord reprimanded and corrected here is all too common with us.

When the Bible becomes an end in itself, it becomes a dead letter. Yes, there is much wisdom in the Bible which is helpful, even if one stops there. Beautiful sayings and poetry as well, especially from the King James Version. But unfortunately the way the Bible is taught in even some major circles is “as boring as hell.” Hell understood as an existence in which people have their way apart from God really ends up boring in that all goodness and love are gone, since everything is turned in upon itself and becomes something other, even antithetical to love for God and neighbor. There’s nothing worse than understanding or being taught the Bible in such a way that it is boring.

The Bible becomes completely alive when we realize what it is for. It is to point us to Christ and the good news in him. And all of it is to be read in that glorious light. That is what Jesus was pointing out to these two disciples who were befuddled over what had happened when Jesus had been crucified, the one who they thought was the Messiah. And here he was, standing before them, though they did not recognize him until later when he broke bread in their home. But Jesus pointed out to them that scripture was written in such a way as to find its fulfillment and might I say even correction in him.

Scripture is alive. Avoid like the plague pressing whatever theology you have into it. The best theology worthy of the name comes out of letting scripture be what it is, rather than making scripture conform to it. The latter is dangerous, even deadly. And I wish people would quit thinking that expository preaching is the only way to go. It’s not only not the only way to go but I think often (not always) lends itself toward a misreading of scripture. Scripture is all about where we live and the life to be found in Christ. Again, not to say that we shouldn’t comb every corner of it for insight. But even when doing that, we should try to see every detail in light of God’s revelation in Jesus.

keep it simple

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity[b] and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

One of the endearing things about the Mennonite tradition derived from Menno Simons and his writings is just the simplicity of the message. I like and personally prefer that. A passion I have is to communicate that message as well as I can since I have a penchant for teaching. That emphasis of simplicity along with practicality, in other words not just confessing it as truth, but even more importantly, seeking to live it out is part of what I love about the Mennonite tradition, which after all, I was raised in. The first sixteen plus years of my life in that tradition, and now back.

One of the biggest mistakes any teaching ministry makes in my opinion is to try to pile too much on people. If we can’t really multi-task which amounts to thinking about two things or more at the same time, then I’m not sure how we think that we can readily absorb so much at one time. Believe you me, I would like to, because I know I need so much, I need it all, and I want to get as much as soon as possible. But I am much better off to humbly work on one thing at a time, in prayer. So the best teaching from our churches will try to help us with the Spirit begin to really grapple with one truth, something beginning to get through to us to impact our lives, our individual lives and the life of our church amongst ourselves and in the world.

Yes, times of challenging teachings piled on each other may have their time and place. I remember Paul talked all night to a group of believers, and I’m sure there was plenty he had to say. You can see something of that in his letters. But we do best to patiently take in and share one truth at a time. Work on that. Much said around each truth. You see that in Paul’s letters, as well. With the goal that this will come home to us, and more and more be a part of who we are individually and together. In and through Jesus.

the boring Bible

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Matthew 4:1-4

Evidently we don’t have the time, or more like the will to regularly be in Scripture. Or at least that seems to be the case given the increasing lack of basic knowledge Christians have about the content of the Bible. We have all kinds of helps at our fingertips, not to mention the Bible itself in numerous translations.

Instead we’re obsessed with this or that, for many today it’s politics. Or whatever occupies your mind and time. That’s what moves us. If we’re attending a good Bible teaching or preaching church, we’ll get something good every weekend, if we have the appetite to receive it. God does meet us where we’re at, but we need to grow from the milk of the word into the meat of the word. But that requires the commitment of being in Scripture regularly day after day throughout each day.

And it’s best to take it slow, but not stop, to keep going. Two-pronged in reading (or listening) through the Bible in a year more or less, and in slowly going over especially the New Testament. Study of Scripture is good too, with good helps online as well. But most importantly in one way or another we need to have a consistent sustained practice of being in Scripture. Without that we’ll become weak and susceptible to becoming hollow in our faith, nothing much backing what profession of faith might be left.

Something we have to continue to pursue and grow in day after day. In and through Jesus.

 

make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.

“preach the word”

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

We need the simple word of God, period. Whenever I hear something other than that from a Christian teacher or preacher, I completely shut down. We don’t need anything fancy or new, in fact we should run from all such. And we especially need to beware of applications of God’s word, which really have nothing to do with it. Alas, many hear such and equate it with God’s word, God’s truth.

Does God’s word, Scripture have enough, or do we have to add more? We know the answer, but our thoughts and actions often betray us. We want more. Oftentimes the reason we want more is because we haven’t got into the word ourselves, so that we don’t appreciate its fullness and power.

Of course the written word leads us to the Word himself, Jesus. But that shouldn’t minimize the importance of Scripture. It is more than just a guide, certainly not just another guide. It is God’s word written. We best take full heed of it. In and through Jesus.

back to basics: knowing firsthand

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

It is amazing how much help is available online nowadays. You can find something of whatever you might imagine, and it’s usually helpful. I would hardly know where to begin, but I’m impressed with The Bible Project. The Our Daily Bread devotional along with Bible Gateway is helpful in getting us into the word, and I’ll add Bill Mounce’s site in getting into details of the Greek New Testament (and note his version of the New Testament on Bible Gateway.  There’s much more.

It’s fine to get help in knowing about something, but we can’t stop there. We need to get into it firsthand ourselves. For me that is simple as far as an ongoing day to day practice. I simply get into the word, Scripture, one line or thought at a time, meditating and praying over that. And along with that, I have a daily reading through an Old Testament passage, a Psalm (Psalm 119 I divide up according to section), a Sermon on the Mount or Sermon on the Plain reading, and a New Testament reading, one NIV heading at a time. At times I’ll work at reading through a section of Scripture. Though it’s more than I normally do at one sitting, last night I read through the book of Revelation. And certainly not least is hearing the teaching of God’s word Sunday after Sunday (or weekends) at the church gathering.

The goal in this is to taste the goodness of God for ourselves through God’s word. There’s absolutely no substitute for that. It’s good when other things help, but we must get into the word for ourselves. That we might grow in our faith with others toward full Christian, meaning Jesus-like maturity in and through Jesus.

 

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

preach the word

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

We in Jesus as Christians and churches are called to preach the word. And to do so with an orthodox understanding of what it means. Creeds have their place in reminding us what is central to the Christian faith, and the point of it all: the gospel. And the Spirit has spoken to the church as to what its meaning is. The Trinity: God is Triune, one God in three Persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human in one person through the Incarnation, God saves and will judge through Christ. Basic essential teaching.

Faithful teaching is required in churches, and should include matters that are often taken for granted with many of us, like the truth cited above. There was a time when the majority of churches did not hold to the Trinity, or Christ’s two natures in one person.

In my life I’ve seen the word preached and taught faithfully, but I’ve also witnessed what I might call preaching the word lite. The passage of scripture is almost treated like an aside, the stress being on what the speaker is making pertaining to one’s life, or felt needs. It is hard to describe, and I’m reticent to make such an observation since I really haven’t been a part of a church which didn’t preach the word. There’s no way I could have remained or participated in such. It’s almost by degree or grade when one can sense a tendency in that direction. But some churches are obviously there. In which scripture and Christian teaching is indeed secondary to what their message or way of approaching people is, week in and week out.

We shouldn’t take any of this for granted. If the Apostle Paul gave the charge to Timothy, and warned him that there would be a time when this wouldn’t be easy, then we need to make sure we shore up, and fulfill the trust we’ve been given. Christian leaders must be held accountable by churches, and Christian leaders must hold churches accountable to this. Until Christ returns. In and through him.

scripture’s centrality for life

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Evangelical Christians emphasize both the centrality of Christ, and the centrality of scripture. Scripture is given an authoritative status to which the church is to submit. I grew up a part of that tradition, remained in it after conversion, and have been in it ever since, even if I have had a closeness to the Great Tradition (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox their cousin, when we were part of an evangelical Anglican church) at one point. Even when we were a part of a charismatic (Vineyard) church, though I did lighten up on the word at that point, while I was trying to get more attuned to the Spirit, I think I was considered a word person by others in that church, even at that point. But this post, and I hope blog is not about me. I only try to share my own testimony, and experience both to help myself, and hopefully someone who might read this.

My consistent testimony has been that it’s the word we need to be in day and night, that it’s there where we can find the real presence of Christ, and God’s help day to day. Not to minimalize the sacraments, especially in churches where a more traditional view is taught from scripture. I have much respect for that. Special place should be given to water baptism and the Lord’s Table, no doubt. We don’t do well by scripture to treat them as merely helpful add-ons.

But my point in this post is that we need to be those who are in the word, in scripture, meaning the Bible, in every way possible. We shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the prospect. but should take it both in large and small pieces. Listen to scripture being read, and go through the entire Bible again and again. Read portions or paragraphs along the way, and let the words sink in.

For me all of this is helpful, because more often than not, I feel quite uninspired in and of myself. Life has been challenging, and there is no let up for the most part. So I feel the great need to be in the word on a regular basis, and at best most all the time. And with that, in response– prayers.

Notice in the scripture passage above, what the person of God, transliterated anthrōpos, which in the context of this letter is aptly translated “servant of God” by the NIV, but literally is either “person” or “man” of God, but notice what scripture is meant to do for them, and by extension, through their lives and ministry for others, and by secondary application, to all who follow their example. It is meant to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness, so that the person might be ready to do good in serving others. It is not for mere head knowledge, but all about life, and all of life (Psalm 119:105). In and through Jesus.

 

truth is caught more than taught

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

Philippians 3:17

I believe in good teaching. Teaching is definitely a vital aspect of Jesus’s ministry on earth. Many Bibles red letter his words, not my preference for a Bible, but seems to be done in the majority of editions nowadays. And every word of this post is teaching.

But truth is mostly caught. Children pick up the habits of their parents, even when the parents might speak against those habits. Either in following them, or reacting against them. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is hollow, when it comes right down to it. Especially children, but even we as adults pick up on what others do. Why do we do it that way? That’s the only way we know; that’s how it was done all our lives.

What is needed nowadays are mentors who live well, and in doing so, can influence others. How we live for good or for ill does influence others, particularly those who watch us. And to some extent we do watch each other. If we rationalize this or that, which we know is either not right, or really the best, then we more or less put our stamp of approval on such an action.

Paul was set apart for Christ and the gospel of God both in terms of teaching it, and living it out. Reading the Acts and his letters makes it clear that an important part of his ministry was his example in following Christ, and proclaiming the gospel, being a witness in word and deed to that.

It can be harder for us who are older to believe we’re taken seriously. I have my doubts, actually. I think we are to some extent, but that we’re often more or less just kind of tolerated with a wink and a nod. But even if such is the case, we need to live not just with ourselves in mind, but others. In fact it should be others first, and then ourselves. We look after other’s interests, not our own (Philippians 2:4). And in so doing, we follow Christ. We seek to follow Christ, but often that is easiest for us through following the examples of others who follow Christ.

Let’s not kid ourselves or anyone else. Our lives aren’t neatly lined up in a straight row, all neat and tidy. We don’t have everything together; there are loose ends. But our passion, what moves and motivates us, and what causes us to critique our own behavior, and make changes, that is what will help others. And it’s all because of God’s grace in Christ at work in our lives. We follow Christ through the Spirit and the word, and through seeing his life and the difference he makes in other’s lives. Through relationships, a big subject in itself, in and through Jesus.