One of the challenges of reading the Bible, is trying to discern what the point of a passage is. You can read a narrative section and understand what’s happening without really being clear on what it’s there for. What is God trying to say? One of the keys to understanding this is context. What comes before? What comes after? Is there anything tying things together? This week’s e100 reading introduces the life of Abraham, who was initially called Abram. The entire history of the world until his birth is summarized in just eleven chapters, but Genesis devotes fourteen chapters to the events of this man’s life. Why is he so important? What’s the significance of his life? Consider how the clues in the context make God’s intention clear.
As you read through the Bible, there are extremes to which people can turn. Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. We get so caught up in the details that we miss the sweep of Scripture and the broad teachings that God is trying to express. Other times, we skip over details that can add colour and depth to God’s message. One of the details I’ve not thought deeply about until recently is the location of the garden of Eden. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. The garden was ruined through Adam’s sin. Paradise is no longer paradise and so there’s no sense in looking for it. But reading a commentary by John Sailhamer last month showed me that, in another sense, an awareness of the geography of Eden can help in shedding light on some of the symbolism of the Bible. Let me explain how.
On Sunday, Lawson Murray cited research from a study of over 7,000 churches that compared the impact of fifty different spiritual disciplines and activities. The assumption was that lots of church programs and activities were what was most needed to help people grow. But what the survey showed was that Bible reading and reflection is hands down the single greatest determining factor in spiritual growth. If you read the Bible and reflect on it, you will grow in your Christian life. If you don’t, you can do all kinds of other good Christian things, but your faith will languish. And yet a majority of Canadian Christians seldom read the Bible. This week I read about some of the findings of The Canadian Bible Engagement Study. It was interesting to see what factors determine whether people will read the Bible or not.
Last fall we investigated the possibility of running a multi-sport summer day camp in partnership with Scripture Union in 2018. In the end, we decided to postpone plans this year because of unknowns surrounding completion of the parking lot construction. One of the components of the plan however was to apply to the Canada Summer Jobs Program. Hundreds of churches across the country apply for this grant each year for help in hiring students to run various community outreach programs. This year, the government added a new twist however. Organizations that apply are now required to affirm that the student job and their core mandate respect certain values determined by the federal government – including their position on abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The application says that it is intended to prevent youth from being exposed to organizations that may promote positions contrary to the government’s values.
The challenge of parenting takes most parents by surprise. We get used to the diapers and the late nights. We adjust to the new financial implications and the reordering of our schedules. But there’s nothing more difficult than the first time we come face-to-face with a child’s defiance. The battles come from any number of issues: when to wake up, when to go to sleep, what to eat, what to wear, where to sit, how to act. In Ephesians 6, Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” and then he quotes the fifth commandment with the promise, “that it may go well with you.” This confirms what we instinctively sense, but goes against the idea that self-expression is what a child most needs. Regardless of what some may think, rejecting a parent’s authority isn’t a natural part of a child’s path toward healthy independence. But how can a parent help?
Love your God; love your neighbour. God’s desire for the way we live our lives couldn’t be more clear. And yet there are obstacles. We can have good intentions for our lives but if we don’t address some of the habits and patterns that stand in the way, it’s easy for us to live in regret. Loving God surely involves listening to Him through His Word and speaking to Him in prayer. You can’t love someone you never listen to nor speak with. Loving our neighbour begins in the same place. We take the time to connect and listen and speak with the people around us. There’s one obstacle to both of these things that we probably think too little about. Getting a handle on this one thing could revolutionize your spiritual life in 2018. Yes, I’m talking about our beloved cell phones.
I love to listen to the stories that capture people’s imagination, because they often give insights into how people think and what they believe. Popular stories command an audience because they express things that resonate with how people see the world. So when the latest Star Wars installment came out, I was interested to see what its message might be. If you can handle a minor spoiler, I’d like to share what I learned from Yoda about the Bible.
I was reading this week about the evangelistic zeal of the early church. It’s incredible to think how the movement spread. From a small group of discouraged followers at the time of Christ’s death, news of the resurrection and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit transformed Jesus’ followers and they brought the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. Within 300 years, Christianity had been adopted as the official religion of Rome and there wasn’t a place in the empire that hadn’t felt its influence. The article spoke of how the early Christians were motivated by gratitude, responsibility and concern. Their gratitude stemmed from an overwhelming sense of how much Jesus had sacrificed for them. Their responsibility came from a clear conviction that Jesus had commissioned all of His followers to make disciples and be prepared to give a reason for their hope. And their concern came from a deep sense of compassion that people are lost without Jesus Christ. What strikes me is how different their mindset is from what we’re often tempted to think today. Four stark contrasts stand out to me.
On Sunday, we began our new series, Preparing for Christmas. One of the big takeaways for me was the selflessness of Luke, and the extent that he went to share the Christmas story. I like the fact that he didn’t appear to be a great speaker or a prominent leader. He was a behind-the-scenes guy, but he used the skills and opportunities that God gave him and he, perhaps more than anyone, has been used to bring the message of Christmas to people all over the world. His example inspires me to want to get the word out about Christmas, myself. I was challenged by Thom Rainer’s list of obstacles that keep Christians from sharing. Two are related to theology, two are related to lifestyle, and two are emotional in nature. Consider the obstacles he lists and which ones you need to confront to share the message of Christmas this year.
When relationships break down and conflict erupts, how do we get ourselves out of it? How can we find peace where there is no peace? In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” but how do we become a peacemaker? James 3:18 promises that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace,” but how do we make peace? We’ve all seen people we respected and admired for being able to bring peace where there was conflict. At our last association meeting, I had an opportunity to learn from one. Let me share what I learned.