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

Is the hand of God upon you? Study, Observe, Teach

Of Ezra Scripture says “the hand of God was upon him.”

Ezra did three basic things with the law of the Lord.

  1. Study
  2. Observe
  3. Teach

Ezra devoted himself to studying Holy Scripture. He was “well-versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given.”

Ezra also observed the law. We ought not teach until we observe.

Finally, Ezra taught. One who studies cannot help but share. One who shares must reflect upon, speak out of, and show forth from observance, what he or she is teaching.

The hand of God was upon Ezra. When the hand of God is upon us, we can’t help but study, observe, and teach what God is showing us. Is God’s hand upon you?

Reading the Times

For a long time I’ve been a “reader of the Times.” Yes, I read the NY Times occasionally, but I’m talking about another reading of the times. There’s a manner of speaking that we “read the times” by staying aware of the news and what God is doing in the world. I do that occasionally, too. But I’m talking about another way of reading the times.

The kind of reading the times I’m talking about is that I use the date as a guide for Bible reading, using the number to correspond and direct my reading. In this way I respond to the invitation of God to listen to His voice through the Word daily and regularly in a way that keeps me moving through His story over and over.

There are hundreds of methods of Bible reading, but this one I keep coming back to. It goes something like this:

Today is August 15.

I divide the Psalms by 30 days to read five psalms a day. Lots of people do this, it’s nothing new, but doing it, memorizing, reflecting, praying these Scriptures is tried and true and the most ancient of spiritual practices of Israel and the church. It’s a tried and true method, but it’s only true when tried.

I try to read an Old Testament book daily and a New Testament book daily. There are 39 OT books and 27 NT books, so basically I use the day to pick a book.

So on August 15, I would read Psalms 71-75, Ezra, and 1 Timothy. I don’t worry if I missed yesterday, because yesterday’s book will come around again next month and the month after that.

You may wonder if I read straight through the Chronicles, running my eyes over all the name lists. No. I skim those and read for the story, stopping at places, making notes, enjoying a prayer of David or a song of Moses.

This kind of reading has nothing and everything to do with the reading I do for preaching. It has nothing and everything to do with the way I live my life. It has nothing and everything to do with what’s going to happen in my day. It has nothing and everything to do with what happened in Egypt yesterday. It has nothing and everything to do with politics. It has nothing and everything to do with how I treat my neighbor. This kind of reading has nothing and everything to do with how I relate to my wife and children, my co-workers.

When I read these books tied to a date, the only thing that matters is that I’m reading Holy Scripture and Holy Scripture when read, matters. It doesn’t have to be crammed into relevance in my life. What I learn when I read Holy Scripture is that my life is not what matters, and that my life truly matters.

In reading Holy Scripture, I learn that my life is consumed in the life of God. I learn that God’s story must become my story, that my story is a drop in the ocean. I learn that I am a bucket (I use this to mean vessel but it’s a little easier for us to picture today) that may contain God but realizes containing God is impossible, that God exists and is experienced outside of me infinitely, and I am learning to enjoy that, to desire to get my bucket in the ocean to float, sink, be surrounded by God and not “merely” inviting Him into my life. God invites me into His life.

God invites you into His life. Repeatedly, He said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Then in Christ incarnate He came to make that invitation personal to a bunch of fishermen. Come, follow me.

DEUTERONOMISTIC POETRY

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deu...

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 6:1-15, Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chances are, even if you are a Christian who has read the Bible, you haven’t read this beautiful text from Deuteronomy 4:32-40. This is one I memorize from time to time (meaning, all the poetry doesn’t always stick in my brain so I have to re-memorize it). One reason you may not have read it is because it comes right after Israel wipes out the population of conquered lands. We don’t always know what to do with those texts, but it’s important to me that we don’t gloss over those particular contexts when we quote “beautiful” poetry from the Bible. We have to take the difficult texts with the cross-stitchable ones.

Deuteronomy is the catechesis of Israel’s young who are being trained to possess a new land and be a people for God. Moses repeats their story going back to Abraham, particularly the Exodus, gives the 10 Commandments and many other stipulations of being God’s holy people.

The following comes from the New International Version, which titles this section, “The Lord is God.”

“Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.”

Then God said, “That’s enough. Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.”

I found this a profound, fascinating story about Moses pleading with God to allow him to cross over and see “the good land beyond the Jordan [River]–that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

This is from NIV (3:21-29):

At that time I pleaded with the Lord: “Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afa...

English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in Numbers 27:12, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.”

What a moment it is when God says, “That is enough. Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.” God relented to let Moses see what he would be missing, but He did not change His mind over this particular matter with Moses.

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.

Shine brightly today

I’m in Owasso this am for a meeting and over the hill to the East the sun is rising. I’m reminded of one of our readings last night in the congregational meeting at Garnett. We gathered to take another step into The Story and read passages to one another from Judges.

In particular some of the ladies read from Deborah‘s Song (Judges 5). Seeing the sun at dawn, I’m reminded of the last line we paused to concluded with last night. I want to encourage us today with this verse.

“But let everyone who loves you shine brightly like the sun at dawn.”

One problem is that you must know the context of this verse, and it may spoil the above verse for you, but more importantly perhaps it will draw you and me more into the amazing story of God and his people. Jon Hart knocked it out of the park Sunday when he preached in my place on the Judges. You are indeed a Jedi, Jon.

So back to the line before this colorful scripture I quoted above about the sun. The preceding line says, “O Lord, may all our enemies die like Sisera.” Deborah and Barak are singing about “Jael and the nail,” an old Neal Pryor-ism. Look it up (Judges 5:24-31).

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.

What our church is reading

We’re working through several books in our church right now.

1. We’re doing a Route 66 study on Wednesday nights. Each Wednesday we survey another Bible book. We’re on Jonah this Wednesday night. I start each class with, “Well, Jeremiah (or whatever book we’re studying) is my favorite book.” God’s word is incredibly powerful and rips apart our assumptions and changes us. When we read it again with open hearts, we find we are not reading as much as it is reading us.

The Leader's Journey

2. The leadership team (shepherds and staff) are reading The Leader’s Journey right now. The book is by three authors out of Houston, Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, Trisha L. Taylor.

3. Our Garnett staff is reading Seven Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, Lane Jones.

Women, Slaves, and Homosexuals

4. Finally, one of our church classes is reading Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals to help us with reading and interpreting Scripture on roles of women in church and life.

Sabbath-keeping

I’ve been sadly mistaken about the Sabbath. I’ve often waved off this commandment when talking about the 10 Commandments . . . that all others are ones we can continue to keep but we Christians don’t keep it . . .

Perhaps it ought to be phrased, “we Americans are clueless about how to keep it.”

Walter Brueggemann says, “the sabbath commandment functions as the center and interpretive focus for the entire decalogue.” Majorie J. Thompson, from her book Family the Forming Center, continues “The Sabbath is an affirmation that God’s sovereignty and governance are to be trusted absolutely. After all, God is so secure about the order and goodness of creation that God can rest; and if God can rest, who are we to try to improve on God’s example?”

As my seven-year-old says . . . “Busted.”

Perhaps Sunday is your Sabbath? Practically this is my family’s Sabbath, but I don’t take it seriously enough at this point, but I want to learn more. My good friend, John Ogren, has written and we have talked much by phone and personally about family traditions and Sabbath-keeping. He wrote a piece in Wineskins about it, A Call to Inaction. If you can’t access the article, link Wineskins from your site or blog, then create a Wineskins log in, then tell me by email, and I’ll comp you one year subscription.