Reading the Word, Meeting the Word

Last week I wrote about how I can often focus more on what I’ve heard said about the Bible, rather than what the Bible is actually saying.  I set myself a challenge to try to see one of my favourite passages in a new light.

I choose the account of The Rich and the Kingdom of God, taken from Luke 18:18–30.  I’m very familiar with the passage, and even wrote an essay on it at Bible college, but I know that there’s always something more to learn. I wanted to avoid complacency in reading the Bible and really press into the word to discover something new.

As I reflected on this passage over this past week I realized that I didn’t need to learn something new from the word, but that I really needed to meet with God through the word.  I was challenged on Friday hearing Ash Barker speak at the Proximity 2013 conference.  Ash spoke of the need to be filled with God’s compassion in order to show the same compassion to those around us.  Godly compassion comes not from knowing about God, but from being in His presence and being ministered to by His Spirit.

I realized that I’m very quick to learn about God, but that I don’t often take the time to let Him fill me in the way Ash described.  Reading the scriptures should be about developing an intimacy with God, and being prepared for joining in with God’s mission.  To paraphrase Philippians 3, any Bible studies, commentaries, scholarly studies, expositions and homilies, no matter how good in themselves, can be considered as filth when compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus as my Lord.

It’s dangerous to talk about ways to meet with God through the scriptures.  Methods and techniques so easily become mechanical and legalistic.  But there are definitely things we can learn from others who have sought to know God.  Lectio Divina is something I learned about at Bible college.  It’s an old spiritual practice, intended not for studying the Bible, but to help the readers encounter God through His word.  I highly recommend watching the YouTube video of Archbishop Collins on the linked page.

So I decided to re-read the account of Jesus and the rich young ruler, not seeking to learn from it, but seeking to know God.  It wasn’t a grand religious experience where the heavens opened and God came down announced by trumpeting angels, but it was spiritually nourishing, something which gave me one more tiny taste of God’s character, and a time of meeting with God.

I definitely didn’t expect when I blogged last week that the lesson I would learn from this exercise would be so major, challenging me on such a deep level about how I approach reading the scriptures. I know that it won’t be easy to change my learning mindset, but I believe it’s an important step for me to deepen my relationship with God and join Him on His mission.  And I’m humbled by how God has set me on this journey by asking me to consider just a few words spoken by a child!

Seeing the Bible Through the Eyes of a Child

A few weeks ago I led a session in kids church on “What is the Bible?”  I put on the table all the different Bibles I could find in our church, and taught a bit about the Bible, how to look up passages. Then I turned the session over and let the kids ask questions.

One of the kids, who had been leafing through a kid’s Bible when most of the others were looking NIV translations, asked the question “Why does my Bible have different words to everyone else’s?”

I started to explain how the Bible wasn’t first written in English, and needed to be translated so we could understand it, at which point her eyes lit up in comprehension as she said “Oh, is it that their Bibles were written by adults, and mine was written by kids?”

It was a moment in kids church which tested me to the limits of my “don’t laugh at any questions they ask” rule, and it was a funny story to share with the other church staff during the week.  But this child’s question really got me thinking (as seemingly random comments by kids are often wont to do) about how we view the Bible.

If you grew up in church like I did, then you’ve probably sat through years and years of sermons, been to countless Bible studies and read many books and devotionals on the Bible.  Maybe you’ve even been to Bible college, and devoted a significant proportion of your life to formally studying the Bible.  For me this means that as soon as a passage is mentioned, even before it’s read out, my mind is already racing: considering the context of the passage, thinking about the theological significance of what it says, and sometimes even recalling sermons on how it might be applied to my life today.

Even if that’s not you, the Bible has had such a wide influence on our culture that our culture now has even more of an influence on how we understand the Bible.  So much of our language has been shaped by the Bible; books, music and film all give us their own interpretations on biblical themes (think: how does the writing of Douglas Adams, or a film like Bruce Almighty shape our understanding of God?).  It’s impossible to approach the Bible without preconceptions or some kind of agenda.

Children, on the other hand, are still in the process of shaping their worldview, and have much less cultural baggage or Biblical knowledge to draw from.  If you work with kids or have your own kids, you’ll know that they often ask those really basic questions that betray how new the Bible is to them, and often see things from a completely different perspective.

I was struck by how often I read a passage and immediately jump to a conclusion about the meaning, rather than letting the Bible speak into my life at the moment.  So I came up with some ideas on how to give the Bible itself, rather than our own thoughts about it, the louder voice:

  • Read the passage in a translation you’re not familiar with
  • Try practicing lectio divina—reading a passage multiple times pausing each time to meditate
  • Listen to the passage read aloud, or watch a visual adaptation
  • Read the Bible with others, and especially with others with very different life-stories to yours
  • Read the Bible with a child, asking them what they think it says!
  • Take time to consider the passage from the perspective of each character, and imagine what they might have felt like in their situation

Ultimately I believe that there’s always something more we can learn from the Bible.  So I’ve challenged myself to take one of my favorite passages (the rich young man in Luke 18:18–30), which I know really well, and spend the week studying it and seeking to learn something new.

What do you do to keep Bible readings fresh?  Will you join me in re-reading your favorite passage?

We are all Missionaries

What does the title ‘missionary’ make you think of?

William C. Morris (far left) and one of the many schools he founded in Buenos Aires.

William C. Morris (far left), missionary to Argentina, with one of the many schools he founded in Buenos Aires.

Perhaps this photo resonates with the idea of a missionary for you: someone who travelled a long way to set up schools, orphanages, churches, or other social works.

Or perhaps you think of someone with an incredible devotion to God and nearly as impressive a beard, like this man:

Hudson Taylor

Closer to home, it’s likely your church has a missions noticeboard or similar, which shares information about what members of your congregation are doing overseas.

All these are really great, and it’s wonderful to see the sacrifices people are (or have been) willing to make to serve God all over the world and see his kingdom built.  Still, sometimes we can forget how important it is to encourage everyone to do mission everywhere that we are.

Mission doesn’t have to be big or scary, like battling through the jungle, facing malaria, or mediating between warring tribes.  Mission at its simplest is sharing God’s love with others.  David Bosch, the missionary-theologian who wrote the book on mission sums it up like this: “[Mission] is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world”.

It’s really important to support our overseas missionaries, as well as those who work in churches in this country, but it’s also important to not forget that mission is something all Christians are called to. The two greatest commandments are to love God, and to love those around you (Matthew 22:36-40), and mission, as Bosch said, is about loving those around us.

  • Mission can be as simple as stopping to chat with someone (friend or not) who needs a listening ear
  • Mission is loving those in our communities (neighbourhoods, churches, workplaces) and sharing each others’ burdens
  • Mission is prayerfully discerning where God is already at work around you, and seeking to join him in building his kingdom

It took me a long time to get over the missionary-hero complex I had from reading about people doing great things for God, past and present.  Even after spending eleven months working for a church overseas I was still reluctant to call myself a missionary!  But the truth is all us followers of Jesus are called to take part in the great commission and be missionaries, by seeking to build God’s kingdom wherever we are.

Where is your mission field?  How can you share the good news of God’s love with some of the people in your life?


What’s the point of theology?

After all, we have the Bible, isn’t that good enough? Why should we care about what people have said about God?

In the 11th century, Anslem of Cantebury famously described theology as “faith seeking understanding”.  Theology is about combining reason and faith, and seeking to understand what significance words written and events occurring millennia ago could have today.

Take the Trinity as an example.  The word ‘Trinity’ never appears in the Bible, nor is there a good explanation of the Trinity anywhere in the New Testament (Philippians 2 is the closest we come), yet Trinitarianism has been a foundational belief of virtually every mainstream Christian denomination in the past 1500 years.  The Trinity is a theology, developed in the first few centuries of the Common Era, as Christians sought to understand the teachings of Jesus and the Bible about the nature of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But theology isn’t just something for the past, nor something left to the academics.  Theology is about asking questions, about our faith, about the Bible, about our church traditions, and about how we act.

Asking “What Would Jesus Do?” and seeking to act faithfully upon it is theology.

Watching The Matrix with friends and discussing free will and salvation in the movie is theology.

Wondering how you can present a Bible story in a different way to help people better interact with the text is theology.

Reflecting on something that has happened to you, and asking what it teaches you about God, your relationship with him, or how you should act differently because of it is theology.

As Christians, our mission is theology; we’re meant to work out our faith in everyday life, continually asking how following Jesus of Nazareth changes the ways we think and act.

To be engaged with the world, our mission must inform our theology; our experiences lead us into asking questions about God, the Bible and the church.

What is something you’ve seen or done recently which taught you about God?

This is the first of two posts looking at the relationship between mission and theology, and the meaning of this site’s name: Mission:Theology”