“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever gotten in over your head? You started some project or set off down some path and quickly (or not so quickly) discovered that it was going to be a whole lot more than you bargained for. What did you do then? Did you give up or push through? The path of wisdom in such situations isn’t always clear and is going to vary from one situation to the next. Well, something that can become more than we bargained for in the beginning is engaging with the Scriptures. We are always wise to do it, but as the writer of Hebrews cautions us in this well-known passage, we are playing with fire when we do it. Let’s unpack this and talk about why.
This week we kick off a brand-new teaching series. For the next four weeks, we are going to be talking about how to read the Bible. We’re going to talk about how to read it, why to read it, and what it even is in the first place. If you have ever felt like you didn’t really know what you were doing when it came to trying to read or study it, this is going to be a great series for you. Listen and share it with a friend who’s asking the same questions. You’ll be glad you did.
What Is the Bible Anyway?
If you are someone who’s been around the church for a little while, have you ever been told before that you should read your Bible? If you’re someone who hasn’t been around the church for all that long, do you remember ever being told by a well-meaning believer that you should read your Bible? Okay, here’s a follow-up question for both groups of people: Did you go from there and heed that counsel? I did. The reason I engage with the Scriptures on a daily basis today is because when I was about 13-years-old, two volunteers with my church youth group (who were both men in their late-50s or early-60s—if you find yourself in or near that category and you are not volunteering with our students, you are missing out on the opportunity to change someone’s life forever; case in point: I probably wouldn’t be a pastor today unless I had started reading my Bible all those years ago because those two men told me I should) told me that I should be reading my Bible every day and that if I did it for 21 days in a row, it would become a habit. I did and…it did. If you were another one of those folks who took that advice and started reading your Bible, did you know what you were doing when you got started? I didn’t, and I suspect there’s a pretty good chance that you didn’t either.
“Let your speech always be gracious and seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I don’t tweet. I never have. I hesitate to say, “I never will,” because who knows what the future holds. I was a hold-out on texting until long after it had caught on pretty widely and my lack of texting was actually causing frustration for people close to me. Now I send dozens, if not hundreds, of texts a day. But tweeting is different to me. I understand you’re not limited to 70 or even 140 characters any longer, but it is intended to be a short-form type of communication. I don’t really do short-form communication. Especially when it’s digital. The risk of being misunderstood or misinterpreted or taken out of context is just too great. Even when I text, I use full sentences and punctuation, and my texts tend to have more words than fewer. Also, I write like I talk, and I don’t talk in soundbites. But I am aware that tweeting is pretty popular, that some tweets generate multiple responses, and that sometimes, to be engaged culturally, you have to at least be aware of Twitter. With that in mind, I recently saw a tweet to which someone responded publicly, and this response generated quite a few comments. Normally I don’t give much credence to that kind of thing, but for some reason this one caught my eye…and what I saw bothered me. What bothered me was not so much that I disagreed with the response to the tweet along with most of the comments, but rather that they were generally posted by people I know and respect. Still, jumping into a comment-train is a little like jumping into a swimming pool filled with concrete – there’s no good way to swim across it, and eventually you get stuck without accomplishing very much – so, I held my digital tongue. But as I’ve continued to process the whole thing, I feel like I need to respond. This may or may not advance the conversation, but I am going to be as clear as I can, as charitable as I can, and thorough (remember: I don’t do short-form communication). Here goes.
“Help me understand the meaning of your precepts so that I can meditate on your wonders.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Granting you’re doing at least a little bit of this right now, but when was the last time you made a good faith effort to engage with the Scriptures? Notice, I didn’t say, “read your Bible.” We usually think in terms of the latter, but the first is more helpful. Either way, if you’re like most people who give the notion of following Jesus some part of the time of day, it’s probably something you’ve tried at least once or twice. And if you’re like most people who fit into that category, you probably got started pretty well, but then gradually fell off the wagon. The odds are better than average that the reason you eventually quit is that you ran into something you didn’t understand. Engaging with the Scriptures can be tough. What the writer of Psalm 119 – which is entirely dedicated to extolling the virtues and worth of God’s word – offers us here is a strategy for staying engaged even when it’s hard. Let’s talk about it.
“This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Standing on the precipice of a new adventure is always a complicated emotional affair. On the one hand, there is the requisite nervousness. The unknown stretching out before us is always at least a little bit scary. What if we fail? What if we succeed? Both can be equally frightening. On the other hand, there is excitement. The possibilities before us are rich and we are excited to explore them. Having a little parting advice is always helpful in such situations. What kind of advice is the most helpful?