Why do you read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? What do you expect to gain from reading it? Is it something you do because you feel like you have to? Do you read looking to mine out timeless truths claims that you can believe? Are you looking for existential comfort or encouragement? What is it that draws you back? Or are you drawn back? Do you lack desire to meditate on Scripture? Do you find it dry and boring?

You might find yourself on one end or the other of this spectrum (and, for that matter, anywhere in between). But wherever you are, I hope you might entertain a different idea with me for a moment. As Christians, we believe that Scripture possesses a unique authority in our lives. It is the norming norm by which all other knowledge of God is weighed. Reason, tradition, and personal experience all find their better in the deliverances of biblical revelation.

Right? Yes, I think we could all agree with that.

Unfortunately, I think the next move we often make is mistaken. Because we believe the Bible is authoritative, we’re often tempted to scour it looking for essential truths that we can live by. To our chagrin, those truths are often buried under fluffy narrative and anecdotal “Sunday school” stories, so we try to sidestep the story to get to the “really good stuff.” This isn’t a malicious move we make – I think it’s done more unaware than anything else. However, I think in doing this we might actually be missing out on something HUGE that God is trying to communicate to us.

Don’t forget, God could have chosen to reveal himself to us any which way. He could have written the “Top Twelve Things to Know About God” on a piece of parchment and disseminated that to the whole world. He could have had a voice from the heavens eternally repeating the Ten Commandments. But he didn’t do anything like that. He gave us records of a narrative.

A story.

A drama.

So what does this suggest to us? What might God be inviting us to by revealing himself in such a way?

Well, I think Scripture as narrative unreservedly draws us into the throws of an unfolding cosmic tale. It offers a redemptive background for us to discover ourselves against and a foundation for us to anchor our lives to. We each have a personal history; a sequence of past events that have made us who we are. Scripture offers us an opportunity to tether that personal history onto the unfolding Divine plan. The message of Scripture is not at its core a list of “15 fundamentals” or “6 Essential Beliefs.” Instead, it is a narratival invitation to an experiential relationship with God the creator. Jonathan Edwards captures something of this necessity of experiencing God in his Religious Affections when he says, “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” Story engages our affections and pulls us into truth via our hearts in a way that propositions cannot.

It strikes me that God is keenly aware of the effect that story has on us. Don’t you think he chose to reveal himself in this way for a purpose? I welcome you to meditate further on the narratival form of Scripture and ask the Lord how your reading of the Bible might afford you the opportunity to be further caught up into His grand narrative. Who knows? Maybe this exercise will change the way you read the Bible. Maybe it will help you see that God is after your heart and not just your head.

– Dave Strobolakos

Epiphany Readings: Sunday, February 16

Readings:  Psalm 119:1-8 and Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus invites us to move beyond the limits of the Law and human religious traditions and into heart matters – to get to the heart of things. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day loss sight of the heart:  their own heart, the heart of God’s holy Law, and the heart of God’s intended way of being in the world. Jesus is not teaching us to abandon God’s Law (Mt.5:17) but rather to see God’s Law as a way to live a humane life: a fully human, robustly life-giving and loving life as God intended.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Begin your devotional reading by sitting and soaking in Psalm 119:1-8. What do you notice emerging from your own heart as you meditate on the words of the psalmist? How do the psalmist’s sentiments evoke reverence for God’s holy Law? What goodness does the psalmist envision for life by interacting with and living out God’s commandments?
  2. Sit with Matt. 5:21-37 reading it through a couple of times listening deeply to Jesus’ teachings as he corrects core misconceptions of Kingdom spirituality.  Of all the real human and relational issues he addresses – anger, reconciliation, lust, marital relationships, truth-telling, lying, oaths – which one resonates with you? Why? How do Jesus’s teachings expand or correct your perspective of the issue?  From his teachings, how do you understand the connection between the heart (interior condition) and behavior (external way of being in theworld, relating to others)? (For an alternate reading go to Mark 7:1-1-23 to assist you in thinking through Jesus’ teachings.)
  3. Take a moment to reflect on your own heart as well as your current relationships with others. Is there something you’d like to address with Jesus about your life or have him address with you? Open to the Holy Spirit in these moments, asking for the grace to hear truth, to desire God and his good instructions for life, and the courage to make changes if necessary in order to live in a God-honoring way in your relationships.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

 Psalm 139:23-24

– Elizabeth Khorey

Homo Consumens and the Desire for Presence

More than one writer has observed that entering the modern upscale mall is like stepping into a cathedral. (See most recently, James Smith, Desiring the Kingdom). Large pillars or high arches frame the entryways. Vaulted ceilings with skyward glass or regal rotundas give us a sense of the sublime—a feeling of transcendence. Looking down at the veined marblesque floors, we feel ourselves sliding across antiquity. And the shops—they are like so many quaint chapels where we can taste and see the sacraments of our age. If we are supplicants in these modern cathedrals, coming in search of some Real Presence, we do so as a new breed. We are not worshippers, but consumers. We are homo consumens.

The homo consumens, wrote Psychologist Erich Fromm, is one “whose main interest becomes, aside from working from nine to five, to consume.” His attitude is that of “the eternal suckling” who “with the open mouth . . . consumes everything with voracity — liquor, cigarettes, movies, television, lectures, books, art exhibits, sex; everything is transformed into an article of consumption.” More than 30 years ago (On Disobedience and Other Essays 1981), Fromm’s words may have seemed cynical. Now, it is a way of life. Although we may wince at the label, our life as homo consumens—to the degree that we can afford it–is the new normal.

As a good psychologist, however, Fromm looks at the thing behind the thing, and this is what he sees:“we know that behind this urge to consume there is an inner vacuity — a sense of emptiness. There is, in fact, a sense of depression, a sense of loneliness.”And he knows “there is something very deeply wrong with this.”

Philosophers and cognitive scientists have confirmed that we live much of our lives through “image schemas”—quasi-pictorial representations that fit and make sense of our lived experience, however unconsciously. For instance, TIME as MONEY: we “spend it,” often don’t “have it,” and so can’t “spare it” or “afford it.” Emptiness and fullness also are dual metaphors that seem to capture our lived experience. We might say someone is “full of anger,” “filled with jealously,” or “full of it!” Alternately, an event or incident may “leave us empty” or “hollow.” The loss of a loved one has left a “hole” in our lives. We sometimes feel “drained” or like we “have nothing left to give.”

Of course, many of these metaphors are rooted in our very bodies. In the case of hunger, to be filled feels better for most of us than feeling empty. (Aristotle observed that it is not taste that is pleasurable, but the sensation of swallowing—the anticipation of filling. Otherwise, dieting would be easy; we’d just taste and spit it out!) Emotionally, too, we dread feeling empty and instead long to be filled—with passion, with vision, with love. And this brings us back to Fromm’s concern. That the consumer impulse that we now see as normal is instead a symptom of a deep and increasingly untreated malady that he calls “a sense of loneliness.”

Contemporary psychologists of Attachment Theory tell us that we are at root relational beings. We are hard-wired to connect with others and, while the data is still coming in, the modern versions of connection (social networking, hooking up) do not seem to be filling us up. The symptoms are not just linked to consumer throngs, but can be seen even where noble aspirations and activities substitute for the real presence of relationships.

For Christians familiar with the Bible, this discussion should remind us of the invitations to a filling of presence: be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), Christ living in me (Gal. 2:20), Jesus’ In them and You in me (John 17:23). And we recognize that our enthusiasm to learn about God or work for Him is not always the same as letting ourselves be filled with Him. Granted, this filling is a mystery, though not much more mysterious than love itself. It cannot always be easily described, although it can be pursued and known—or else there would be no sense in commanding it. And this calling to “be filled”–to let some One’s presence grow in us–is a high calling, for this relational presence is our deepest human need–by design. If we humans don’t follow this invitation to a Person, our emptiness will seek to be filled with some-thing. But then, we will only be left alone with our things.

– Todd Pickett

Epiphany Readings: Sunday, February 9

Readings:  Psalm 112:1-9 and Matthew 5:13-20

Reflection Questions:

The heart of the Sermon on the Mount is the heart. Jesus’ teaching to his disciples revolves around Matt.5:17-20 and governs what came before and his remaining (through Matt.7:28). Jesus stands juxtaposed to the religious leaders of his day and expresses the real intent of the Law that was given to God’s people on Mt. Sinai (see Matt.22:38-40). Jesus’ criticism was toward a purely moralistic or behavioral oriented religious system without a change of heart. Jesus himself embodies the entire message of the Law and the Prophets: a self-giving love for God and others. His followers are invited into a different kind and quality of life that derives its reality and way of being in the world from a Person and relationship rather than a handbook for behavioral management or modification.

  1. As you sit with Matt.5:13-20 listen to Jesus’ vivid description of his disciples:  You are salt…light…a lamp…a city on a hill. What one image captures your heart and imagination? Why? Is this how you see yourself in the world?  If so, how does the way you see yourself in the world enhance your perspective and experience of life in the world? In what ways are you salt, light…etc…in your family, at work, in your church community, with strangers? If not, how do you see yourself, your life in God? How might these descriptive images expand or change your perspective of your identity in God and way of being in the world?
  1. As you think about your life and way of being in the world, take time to discern any inner struggles, circumstantial difficulties, or real people in your life that might be diminishing your experience of God’s kingdom and goodness, and your influence or way of being in the world? Have a conversation with God about these things.
  1. While reflecting on Jesus’ teachings, what invitations do you sense from God? How might you respond to God in concrete ways today? What changes might you make to live more fully into God’s kingdom life?
  1. Read through Jesus’ descriptives of his followers again. What assurances or encouragements do you receive to your heart and life, right where you are, just as you?

– Elizabeth Khorey