What is your first experience with the Bible?

When I write a book, it comes after years of experience, research, and writing in a particular area. I wrote a novel set in Uganda where I lived seven years and listened for hours on end to stories of ordinary and extraordinary Ugandans. I wrote a book on a doctor in Honduras after interviewing and conferring with more than one hundred people.

I’m researching for an upcoming book and I need your help to understand the wide range of experience people have with the Bible.

My experience with the Bible began in the 1970s when I was given my first King James Version Bible by my parents, Terrel and Charlotte Taylor. In the featured image of this post is the title page where my Mom wrote, “[Presented to] Gregory Taylor [by] Dad and Mom: We love you and pray that you will always want to study God’s Word and follow what it says. May God bless you. November 6, 1975. 

While I heard Old Testament stories from Bible class teachers as examples of faith, that two thirds of my first Bible seems untouched, unread. I read and marked New Testament passages about belief and baptism. For those first few years of my experience with the Bible, I wanted to believe and be baptized so I could go to heaven when I died and not go to hell.

To say that I read the Bible with confusion and fear would be an understatement. Anselm’s motto, “Faith seeking understanding” is a good description of my search for God as an eight year old. My early experiences were also marked with what felt like failure. We were given reading plans and encouraged to read the whole Bible. I never did, and tripped up weeks into any plan, growing bored, confused, and feeling like I was missing something.

One last and important thing: As Adam and Eve had a competing desire and sinned, so also in those early years I was introduced to a competing desire and sinned. I was living the early Bible story already and didn’t realize it. Television images, girls, and a magazine that my neighbor, aptly named Adam, pulled us breathlessly into the woods to show my brother and me competed with the words of God for my imagination. Doubts would come later, and I’ll write more about doubt and this competing for my imagination in my book.

What is your first experience with the Bible? I’m looking for brief responses about your first experience with the Bible, and I may contact you for an interview by phone about your other experiences. You are welcome to respond on comments below, or send email to gregtaylormail@gmail.com. Answer the question, “What was my first experience with the Bible?” as deeply and honestly as you can.

Thank you, and I look forward to your responses!

Greg

Supplicants and Benefactors

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you live your life as a supplicant, benefactor, or neither one?

This brings to mind the phrase, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Quick question. Is that a quote from the Bible. Ten seconds to answer. Sure, you can look it up on your phone or computer . . . but you won’t find it in a concordance, unless it’s a concordance of Shakespeare phrases. It’s Hamlet.

The Bible does say much about the relationship between the haves and have nots, the rich and the poor, benefactors and supplicants. A good place to start thinking biblically about these relationships is in Leviticus. That’s one of the first books that lays out these relationships for the community of Israel.

Land belongs to God

IMG_2092Good thing to remember on this Tax Day 2013. Everything belongs to God.

One way Scripture makes this clear early on is in Levitical law. Specifically below I’ll explain what Leviticus says about land ownership. The maxim gets more specific here: Land belongs to God.

Further, I want to begin with a specific principle of “Jubilee” within the life of Israel. The celebration called for families, individuals to return to their tribal land (Twelve tribes of Judah) and acknowledge that it was God who gave them the land, who gives all land and no man can possess it permanently—it is, instead, at all times on loan from God.

Case in point of God’s ownership and Israel’s use of the land is the content of the sale of land to one another. If an Israelite bought or sold crops, what he was really buying, says Leviticus 25:16, is not land. The land is God’s. He was buying a number of crops until the Jubilee. If you are buying land, you might think of it this way: You are investing in the right to receive a certain number of crops until Jubilee from a specific plot of land God has given your people.

An important point connected with the sale of the number of crops—land deals—is this exhortation: “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 25:17). This exhortation develops the second principle that is built on the foundation of the first related to property. First, land is God’s. Second, don’t cheat one another or kick people when they are down. What does that look like in Israelite life? Four examples are given, the first in Leviticus 25:25-28:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property. But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property.

The second example given in Leviticus 25:35 exhorts Israel to treat the poor as one who is an alien among them who is in need, and they were not to extract any interest on this care for them:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

A third example is given relates to the poor who have absolutely nothing of value, except themselves and out of desperation sell themselves as a slave. Immediately the idea is contradicted as implausible with each other. It is dismissed as a disgrace to hold a neighbor or fellow Israelite as a slave but rather could be viewed and treated as a hired worker. Leviticus 25:39-43 describes what this looks like:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

Anything about slavery is difficult for us to discuss, because we abhor it altogether in the twenty-first century. Israel, however, was urged to treat slaves with justice and goodness (reference) and slaves would typically be from neighboring nations (25:44).

Finally, a fourth example is given of reversal of fortunes, if an Israelite loses everything and sells himself or family members to an alien living among them who has become rich. Essentially, the alien must also abide by the Year of Jubilee and allow the Israelite and family members to be free in that year. The Israelite retains the right to be redeemed by his countryman after he has sold himself (v. 47). He may also redeem himself if he prospers, and the price is the number of years from the time he sold himself until the next Jubilee. At the end of this section the second major concern of this chapter—proper treatment of one another—is repeated: “you must see to it that his owner does not rule over him ruthlessly (25:53).

Concluding the chapter is a third major concern for Israel related to property. Remember, the first is that all land is God’s. The second is that they do not cheat one another and not treat one another ruthlessly in property dealings.

The third and concluding concern is that Israel remember always that they are God’s servants in the land. No alien is to permanently possess them. They are God’s possession and servants. The year of Jubilee, then, is to enforce this concern of God’s to preserve his for-all-time people. The exodus is invoked again as the overriding grace that compels them, not as forced unwilling servants but as grateful, humble servants who know how God saved them from slavery itself in Egypt. “They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (25:55).

Is God listening?

In my twenty years in ministry I’ve heard myself and many I walk alongside asking the question, “Is God really listening?” Great question. Let’s dig in. In the next few weeks on my blog, I’ll reflect on a few of the pressing questions we ask as human beings.

Is God Listening?

Hagar was Father Abraham’s second wife, and his first wife Sarah didn’t care much for her and nagged Abraham till he send Hagar away.

Sent into exile, the trembling Egyptian servant girl huddled in the desert between Kadesh and Bered where an angel of the Lord appeared to her. The angel said she should name her son Ishmael, which means “God hears.” The angel added, “for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

In her passion and misery, she gave the Lord a new name: Beer Lahai Roi, which means, “You are the Living God who sees me.” For she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

The stories in Scripture intend to sweep us into their drama and get us to ask the same questions. Does God really follow lonely people into the desert? Does God enter the cancer ward, 11th Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a brothel where forced sex workers cry out to God like Hagar?

Does God listen to us? Most of us don’t really know. Why?

The biggest reason we don’t know if God is listening is because we don’t speak to him, don’t know how or find the whole enterprise intimidating and lack the patience to learn how to speak to God.

A few years ago a book came out called, How to talk so your teenager will listen and listen so your teenager will talk. What if we put that in terms of talking to God. What would it be like if God spoke so his creation would listen and listened so his creation would talk?

Through Hagar we learn God does listen and see us. The prophets are exemplars of what it looks like to be crazy enough to believe that God is really listening and interacting with us.

The psalmists believe God is listening but they also apparently believe it’s OK to question the fact simultaneously. It’s almost like the whole exercise of writing poetry/songs implies that belief that God is listening but the words themselves make us wonder otherwise.

David cries out in Psalm 39:12, “Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.” Psalm 5, David reminds God to listen. So is it OK to remind God to listen? According to the psalmists, it sure enough is. Have you reminded God to listen lately? We often talk about God, as I’m doing in this post, chunking back and forth ideas about whether he listens, whether he doesn’t. What if we got about the business of reminding God to listen?

Did Jesus remind God to listen? Jesus believes that God listens, and in the Gospel accounts we find Jesus taking time to climb mountains and find solitary places in gardens to speak his heart to God.

Jesus also knew the psalms and would have prayed them like Jews of his time did in worship assemblies. He even talked back to God on the cross, quoting Psalm 22. “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?”

One way to find out if God is listening is to pray psalms and call on him to listen. God’s word to us in the psalms is also humanity’s words to God, many times asking God to give an ear to our cries. Pray the psalms. Take Psalm 5 or Psalm 39 and call upon God to listen, to give ear to your cries. Lift up God’s name and his qualities of lovingkindness and goodness.

The words of the psalms give us a voice when we often lose our voices. The psalms are a collection in the middle of our Bibles that teach us to talk to God and reminds God to listen. If it bothers you that you’d have to remind God of something, then quit complaining that he’s not listening or wondering if he does. Speak that doubt and that reminder to God who can be entrusted with your heart’s deepest, darkest doubts.

Some of these reflections come from working through the book, Talking Back to God by Lynn Anderson. I’m preaching through the book this summer at Garnett, and we’d love to have you come and join us 10 am Sundays.

Good Soil

“Don’t scoff at the idea of a pastor who is also a farmer writing about Jesus’ parable of the sower. Robinson is the real deal–a farmer who lived off the land for two decades, raising children with his wife and without electricity. . . . The book resonates with the injunction to live simply so others can simply live and has a profound simplicity of message and tone. . . . In a gently admonitory tone the author offers a radical call to all believers to join in the harvest of a healthy crop of followers in the fields of the Lord.”–Publishers Weekly

One man’s search for God in the cosmos

This journey of a minister to reconcile his faith with the natural world and wonder and mystery has been a fascinating read for me. Check this out.

I'm reading this book at the recommendation of a good friend, Jon Hart. Author Bruce Sanguin is minister of Canadian Memorial Church & Centre for Peace in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Because of a particular conception of the nature of God (in which God occasionally intervenes in history, but otherwise exists outside of natural processes), many clergy, liberal and conservative, tend to dismiss these experiences* as flaky, or more dramatically as heretical. Admittedly, as [Richard] Tarnas points out, we can get carried away, rendering every triviality in our lives with deep purpose and meaning. There is also a danger of spiritual narcissism, in which everything that happens is significant only in relation to one’s own reality.”

Many churches negate these experiences, risking disassociation with the natural world and God’s involvement. Some overemphasize them, risking spiritual narcissism. Sanguin’s call is for re-connecting the Spirit of God within, above, below, behind, and in front of all creation, and this is his foundation for the book as he builds on an ecological ethic. I’ve not finished the book and don’t agree with his total package, but finding this a worldview expanding and intellectually recharging read.

*He had referred earlier in the chapter to experiences that are variously called miracles, supernatural, random, coincidence, what Carl Jung calls “synchronicity”–no, not talking about the Police/Phil Collins CD.

Autumn tears

Today, on the way to take my soon-to-turn-13-years-old daughter to school, as we were rounding a curve in the neighborhood, the sun shining across the road seemed to highlight one moment when one tree was molting its leaves, but there was no wind and no other leaves were falling; just from this one tree, and they weren’t merely fluttering one by one but pouring as if a kid were in the treetop unloading a bag full of leaves–at that I said to my daughter, “Look, leaves falling from just one tree, isn’t it great?” and she indulged her doofus dad and said, “Yes” and I smiled for only a moment because then I realized the tree was weeping.

“We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth” (Romans 8:22, The Contemporary English Version).