Thursday, 24 April 2014

Ecstatic joy to lazy legalism - Breaking Bad bible habits

Romanian Underground church leader during the Communist era, Richard Wurmbrand, writes of the desperate need of access to the bible. It's an historic account, but true in many parts of the world today.
'Two very dirty villagers came to my home one day to buy a bible. They had come from their village to take the job of shovelling the frozen earth all winter long to earn money in the slight hope that they might be able to buy an old tattered bible with it and take it back to their village.
Because I had received bibles from America, I was able to hand them a new bible, not an old tattered one. They could not believe their eyes! They tried to pay me with the money they had earned. I refused their money. They rushed back to their village with the bible.
A few days later I received a letter of unrestrained, ecstatic joy, thanking me for the scriptures. It was signed by thirty villagers! They had carefully cut the bible into thirty parts and exchanged the parts with one another!'

Contrast this story with the latest research to come out of American churches this week. According to Lifeway Research, the nation that faithfully sent bibles to Romania during the Communist era doesn't read their own bibles very much at all! Before we Brits shake our heads and tut at our American cousins, our own habits and hunger for the word may not be too far behind. The research indicates that 60% of American believers only read their bibles weekly. That's not much at all, although even that is better than the other 40% who don't appear to open their bibles at all.

How is it possible for us to sustain ourselves as followers of Jesus in this hostile world, never mind actually grow and mature - without a daily, passionate searching of the scriptures and a hungry desire to meet Jesus in his word? The dirt poor Romanians had the right attitude, receiving even a portion of the scripture with 'unrestrained, ecstatic joy.'

So what about your habits and mine - is their much evidence of thirst and ecstasy in our bible reading? Are you leaping out of bed in the morning, desperate to get to your quiet place of contemplation, privileged to drink deeply from this refreshing, life giving stream? Is it time for a change of attitude?

Last night with our small groups we challenged ourselves with four simple steps in our bible reading. Perhaps the first is to make a fresh start!
1/ Read the passage and ask God to speak to us through it. He loves to show Himself through the scriptures when we simply ask.
2/ Ask ourselves some reflective questions - Who was this written to, what did they understand by it? What kind of literature is it - narrative, poetry, song, prophetic? Where else does the bible talk about this subject? - let the bible interpret itself
3/ Application - what does this passage mean for me today and in what practical ways do I work it out in my life? What does that look like in action rather than just aspiration?
4/ Pray the passage - Let it live by getting it into you through prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to shape and change your heart from the inside out, conforming us more to the likeness of Jesus by aligning us with his truth.

Whether you read this from a place of relative Western comfort, or from within the confines of a more controlling State, this simple bible reading template will help transform our hearts and mature our attitudes after the pattern of the one who longs for us to seek him and find him in his word.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Noah, Phil Collins and a new Bible Gateway!

One of the more surprising stats to follow the flood of press coverage over Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah film is the direct correlation to an increase in bible reading.

Over last weekend, visits to the Flood account in Genesis 6-9 at online bible app Bible Gateway saw a 223% increase over the previous weekend. What we don't know from these headline numbers is who these readers are, and why they are reading.

It's fair to assume that many will have gone home to check the story they've just watched at the cinema against the plot they remember from their Sunday school bible class. We all do that with any story we see which has been adapted from a book. Often we are disappointed at the disparity, witness the latest Hobbit film!
However, it's also entirely possible in this post Christian, secular age, that large numbers of people are reading the bible for the first time after viewing the Noah movie.

Never before in history has it been possible to generate these kind of mass stats on our hidden bible reading habits. When Mel Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ' film was released a decade or so ago, no such online bible reading apps existed. It's quite probable just such an increase in bible reading occurred as people went home to examine the gospel accounts, but we will never know.

Now we do know. And what's more important is that in homes without an actual paper bible on the shelf (up to almost 40% of us in the UK) seekers can simply google the passage in Genesis or download a free app such as Bible Gateway and have the most incredible resource immediately in their hands. At a time when many churches are despairing of decreasing appetite for the scriptures, this is a fact to be celebrated. Beware though - Googling 'Genesis' may result in the unchurched reader inadvertently downloading Phil Collins tracks, but that danger aside, this stat is greatly encouraging!

When we layer this latest research over figures released by Amazon for last year, the trend we find is actually rather encouraging. Bibles, bible reading and books about the bible remain extremely popular. Today's generation simply find these writings in a different place to those of us who grew up before the World Wide Web.
We may find it baffling, even a little unnerving, but this old book is still intriguing, alluring and as popular as ever. As Nicky Gumbel still tells us on the Alpha Course, 'Well, it's such a good book!' This good book may no longer be available in all good book stores because they no longer exist- but it is definitely alive and kicking on the Internet. It cannot be subdued.

Whatever you think of the Noah movie, and I haven't yet seen it - It's worth noting that a film made for a mass market secular audience is at least in some way managing to demonstrate enough of God's redemptive story and mercy, to such an extent that today's lost generation will search out meaning from the old story for themselves. Thank God for the big story of the bible and for the Internet!