Monday, January 14, 2019

Sword Handling

It's a small church in the centre of a very sleepy small town with a scattered group of faithful parishioners. The platform is, thankfully, barely half-a-step higher than the congregation and the sound system has so many patches it takes an hour to set everything up when our group of five leads the music. This particular day, the pastor/bass player tossed a microphone down the centre aisle of the multipurpose room lined with six rows of six chairs on each side. That was the second microphone found faulty today. Not that we really need the microphones-- for anything other than to hear each other in the monitors --it's not a big room. The sound system is only necessary for the guitars and keyboard, though an un-plugged session would work fine, and is their usual practice.

We come out from the mega church in the city for their encouragement, as it can feel very isolating to be a small group.We want to help them see they are part of a bigger whole of believers in this area. Our community outreach pastor also helps them out with resources they couldn't otherwise obtain. Yet, I gain even more encouragement every time I go. They are a sincere, hardworking, friendly group that carry on a conversation with the pastor during prayer request time, because they care for one another: "Please pray about (the grieving daughter) who's lost her mamma" and "the surgery (one of them) is facing," and "we were so excited to have 33 kids show up for the Sunday school Christmas party! But now we need more people to help out."

After the pastor introduces each of us (the four visiting musicians), and discusses our particular relatives that someone in the congregation might know, he proceeds to introduce each of the attendees by name to us, along with the role they fill in the body of Christ at that particular locale. It's not their normal practice, but Pastor Kevin is very relational and he knows we'll be back. He shepherds us all in helping everyone see we are not there just to sing but to build relationship.

The band leader had asked me to introduce the song "Awake My Soul" (by Chris Tomlin):
Breathe on me breath of God
I come alive when you breathe on me

Awake my soul

God, resurrect these bones

From death to life, through you alone

Awake my soul
Did you know if you Google "Scripture about breath" you'll get 22 million results? (Your results may vary). I pick "28 Bible verses about Breath Of God"-- most of which are about the Holy Spirit. Three of the passages sound really good, but when I read the context, they are words spoken from the mouths of suffering Job's friends. And we know how unhelpful they were. Even though a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut, I don't want to use that judgmental crew's words out of context. It's folly to cram something forcefully into an inaccurate introduction on the true nature of God or our relationship to his life-giving breath.

Then the order of events change, and instead of an introduction, I'm now asked to make it a segue-way into the next song, "Be Thou My Vision." So the search continues for appropriate scripture and my final remarks go something like this:

"When we can't breathe, nothing else matters. Where there is breath there is life. And God's breath gives life. 1. We read in the creation account how God breathes life into Adam after he forms him from the dust (Genesis 2:7).  2. The song lyrics for "Awake My Soul" were taken, in part, from the passage where the prophet Ezekiel is instructed to speak to a valley of "dry bones" that God would breathe life into them so they would know he was the Lord (Exekiel 37:1-14). 3. Paul wrote Timothy that all scripture is inspired (breathed in) by God it is a living, profitable word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So as we move into the next song, let it be our prayer: for God not only to give us breath and life, but also a clear vision of his Lordship and of how we are to live out the vision he has for us.

On the way home, Henry and I discuss all this, including the importance of recognizing the context of scriptural texts. We both know from our experience and training that not "every promise in the Book is mine" (with apologies to Pearl Spencer Smith). Some promises were made to a particular person or people at a specific time in a specific place. Segmenting scripture like an orange for the purpose of proof-texting, is giving scripture a self-serving meaning the writer did not intend. More folly.

This morning as Henry was reading out of Job, he paused and said to me, "Not everything written in the Bible is there for us to emulate," he says, "but it's all written for our instruction."  We continued our discussion from yesterday, and I looked up the source of that idea:
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
All of scripture is for our benefit, but we have to read and understand what it actually says, not what we want it to say.
For the word of God is alive and powerful. 
It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword

cutting between soul and spirit, 

between joint and marrow. 

It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

It is a living documentation of history, of God's interaction with people, and much more. It is also accurate to say God inspired the writers of the scripture to record what they wrote. While much of it reports on ungodly conduct and serves as a warning, much is also a guide for life and his plan for holy and fruitful living. The bottom line is, the Bible is a book about God, not about us. We must learn how to handle it properly, just like we would learn to handle a sharp sword.

What does it say, who wrote it and when, to whom was it written, where were they, what are the historical, cultural, and political influences of the time? These are observable facts you can state with certainty in most cases. Then you move on to interpretation. While observation leads to an accurate understanding of what the Word of God says, interpretation goes a step further and helps you understand what it means. Finally, you will learn to apply what you've learned. Just like when you were in school, if you learn concepts but don't practice them, you quickly forget what you learned.

If you'd be interested in becoming more effective in Bible study ("sword handling"), find a local study group. If you're in Calgary, join me at First Alliance Church for Tuesday Learning and Connection (TLC) to learn with others in a small group setting. Click here for details. If you are elsewhere, consider a study with Bible Study Fellowship or Precepts.  There may be others but these are reputable ones that are available nationally in USA, Canada, and abroad.

Let's continue growing in our knowledge and effectiveness together!

Finally, if you just don't know whether you believe the Bible, or the historical Jesus, or even in the existence of God, consider checking it all out at a local Alpha course. Alpha is an opportunity to explore life, faith and God in a friendly, open and informal environment. No cost, no pressure, and it usually comes with a free meal. Can't beat that! In Calgary, click here. Elsewhere? Click here and choose "Try Alpha" to locate a course in your area.

Photo 1: YouVersion
Photo 2: YouVersion
Photo 3: Dan Kiefer on Unsplash, Text Design by Joyce Rempel on WordSwag

No comments:

Post a Comment