7/24/16 - Tweetables - We Read

The Bridge Life Connection

Tweetables: We Read                                                                                    Sunday, July 24, 2016

Speaker: Lead Pastor Justin Douglas

There was a pastor once, and he was driving through town one night, one Friday night, and he noticed his friend, his old friend Frank. And Frank was drunk and dressed like a bum walking, seemingly walking, home. And so the pastor pulled up beside him and rolled down his window and started a conversation. Old friends catching up. Eventually the pastor asked him, he said, 'What happened to you, Frank? You used to be rich!' And then Frank told him a sad tale about how he made a bad investment and then another bad investment and had lost everything. The pastor then gave Frank a ride home that night, and while sitting in the driveway the pastor told Frank this advice. He said, 'Tonight, go inside your house, open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page, and there you will find God's answer to your problems.' And so, some time had passed, and the pastor and Frank bumped into each other again. Frank was wearing a Gucci suit, a Rolex watch, and he just got out of a Mercedes-Benz. And the pastor said, 'Frank, I'm glad to see things have like clearly turned around for you!' And then Frank said, 'Yes, pastor, and I owe it all to you and your advice!' Then he said, 'I went in my house that night, I opened my Bible just like you said, I put my finger down on the page at random just like you said, and there it was! The answer to all of my problems. Chapter 11!' That's a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, get it? Chapter 11 bankruptcy!

So, anyway...{congregation and Justin laughing}...wow, it took a minute for a few of you on that one! I like it! You're like, 'What? Chapter 11? I don't get it.' No.

Today we continue our Tweetables series. The first week we talked about how we love God, the second week we talked about how we love others, and today we talk about how we read. Yes, we read the Bible. But it can be confusing, right? Like reading the Bible can be difficult. It can seem like a puzzle we're trying to solve or some code that we're trying to decipher or some magical equation that we hope to get right. Maybe if we randomly open the scriptures, we just hope we point and there, that's going to be the answer to all my problems. And when we read the Bible like this, we can get it wrong, right? Maybe not like Chapter 11 wrong, right? That's pretty interesting to see hey, God spoke to him in that powerful way.

But at the same time, I don't know about you, but there's been times where I've opened the Bible, I've read it, and I've thought, man, this is exactly what I needed. And then like a few years later I come to it, and I'm like, oh, I don't know if that's really what that was communicating. And so it can be difficult. We draw conclusions about the Bible, then something might change. We grow, we journey, things change, and here's what I want us to think about today. Each of us are on a journey with the Bible. Some of you are here and you're skeptical of the Bible. You're not sure what to think about it, and that's awesome that you're here, that you're open to being here. Some of you are here and you're like, 'The Bible is perfect, there's nothing wrong with it, and I have no questions. I have never questioned the Bible, never will question the Bible.'

And what I think I want us to say is like wherever we are in our journey with the Bible, some of us - all of us, I would say - are on a journey of how to live it out. How to live out what it means. And when we're not reading it, when we're not active in it, it slowly becomes less active in us. Does that make sense? And so today I want to encourage us to read the Bible. Here's our tweet for the day. Our tweetable of the day comes from Hebrews 4:12.

We're going to read that in the real sense. Here's what it means. The word of God is active and alive, alive and active. So this is a simple...we're talking about this in our whole Tweetables series...it's the idea of 140 characters or less. This has changed the way we communicate in the modern world. Twitter has changed it. If you want to follow us at Twitter, @BridgeAndRail, you can follow us.

But it changes the whole way we communicate. When we read these small passages of the Bible, it can change the whole way we live. They might be small, they might be very compact, but they pack this huge meaning. And it certainly packs a huge meaning in the way we live and move in this world, and so, "For the word of God is alive and active." Alive and active.

Now, alive...when we say the Bible is alive, we are saying that an ancient collection of 66 books, which is what it is, it was meant for this ancient world, but it is also meant for us today. What an interesting thing. There's life in these words that go beyond the setting in which they were written or said and lessons to be learned, hope to be had, grace to be experienced, salvation to be extended to all. I mean, this book has so much to say about so many of the questions that we ask, right?

We desire grace, we desire love, we desire hope, and interestingly enough, these are all main themes of this collection of books. So there's something even about the human experience that is alive within this collection of books, and then it's active. And then if you go to the dictionary definition of active, you're going to see energy and movement. And so energy, the scripture is full of energy. The scriptures explain this as the Spirit of God working in and around us and even through us as we read the scriptures. So there's this energy, this life force that's flowing through us as we open the Bible and as we read it.

There's movement because it moves us to act. It's not something that we just read and we're like, 'Yes! I'm smarter!' and then we walk away from. Some people read it that way, but that's not helpful. It's moving us, it's drawing us into a different way of living. So for us, the Bible is alive and active. But what happens when you're not sure it is? What happens when you're not sure if you can trust the Bible is alive and active?

I was wrapping up my seminary study when I took a class, it was my last semester in seminary, and I was wrapping it up and I had to take this class where we focused for a period of the class on the textual criticisms of the Bible. And this class was supposed to be a class that would firm up my belief in the Bible because we would look at the textual criticisms and then I would have all the right arguments. Right? Because that's what you do, right, sometimes? So, because, I mean, we all live in this world, right, where you just have all the right arguments to every question that's at you. And that's what this class was supposed to provide me for. It provided pretty much the opposite. I went in, I started reading, and I was like, 'What?! What is this? I've never heard this.' And this became a real problem for me. So I want to share a little bit of that journey.

So I'm finishing up my master's class. I'm a pastor at the time, I'm preaching every Sunday, and I'm starting to conclude like, I don't know if I believe in the Bible. Now let me tell you how awkward it is {laughing}, okay, to get on stage, okay, open the Bible {laughing}, read it, give a message, okay? That's awkward in itself, right? And be like, 'I don't know if I believe this thing,' right? Like I felt like I was trapped. Like because it's really tra...you really feel trapped when you're preparing for a message while you're also wrestling with 'What is happening to my faith?'

I had been taught my whole life that the Bible was inerrant. This is the word I was constantly told from a young age, all the way through my high school, all the way through my undergrad, and even all the way through my seminary, and inerrant literally means without errors. And I'm reading like conservative people who are saying, 'Yeah, the Bible has this error here and this error here,' and I'm like, 'What?! No! It has NO errors!' I had built all my faith, kind of this house of cards, on this idea that there are no errors, there's nothing wrong with it, it's perfect as is, like, and I'm just sitting here like, 'What is happening? Am I an idiot? Why would...why did no one tell me this?'

And then, the conundrum really amplifies when like after you give a message and you're really not sure what you think about it, you get...you know, this literally happened to me during this like two-month window, okay? Because it was about two months of this window where I got off and someone came up to me, 'The way you share the Bible is so profound. I just got so much today. Oh, man, like, you just fired me up to study the Bible. I'm going this week and reading that whole book of the Bible.' I'm just like, 'Amen,' {laughs} right? Because you're kind of like, I don't...I can't tell anyone this. I am trapped!

And so I'm trapped. I'm on these discussion boards in my class, like challenging these other students who at some point, at some level, are just kind of like taking whatever it takes to get through. You know, because we're all on a journey, and for me the journey was inerrancy wasn't going to work for me anymore. Like I don't know how I'm going to work that back into my vocabulary. I was in a hard place. Like it seemed fake, it seemed false. There were errors, and to me they weren't monumental. I could see and see that they weren't monumental errors, but there were errors. So what do I do with this? What do I...where do I go? And I felt duped.

Let me say it this way: I felt like why didn't someone tell me this? Why didn't someone say when I was in junior high, when I was in high school, when I was in undergrad, early on in graduate school, why didn't someone tell me that these things existed? That these textual criticisms, historical criticisms of the Bible, existed? Why are they flooding me right now in this moment, and why is it hitting me like a ton of bricks where I'm like, I have a...okay, at the time I have a Bible degree in undergrad, I'm about to finish a Bible degree in my master's, and I'm like, 'I don't know if I believe in the Bible.' Right? Could you imagine if you're like, 'I don't know if I believe in science anymore, and I'm a scientist.' Like, that's a problem, right? This is like an existential crisis that I'm going through!

But then I realized that there was a tradition that considered the Bible to be inspired, alive, and active, and generally reliable and authoritative and transforming and needing to be read and understood in the context in which it was written. No matter some of these petty errors, I still believed the Bible was alive and active, and I still believed in God. Because at this point, there was nothing challenging my view of God. I was like, there has to be a God, because that for me was easy. I just look around the world, and that's always come easy to me. I see an infinitely complex universe, and I say, 'There is an intelligent designer.' I don't know what you want to call it, but there's something out there that's intelligent that's beyond me. I couldn't have designed this amazing, beautiful world that we live in with the complexities. But I was being transformed, transformed in some crazy ways.

And so what I want to do, is as I thought about what we would talk about as we open up and unpack this small passage that has this huge life force, was just five things that just kind of kept me from just saying, 'Forget the Bible,' and walk away. By the way, I went through undergrad with people who were desiring to become pastors, and I think, I sat down with my friend Mark, who was also...went to school with me, and we talked about our class, and we talked about how 50% or more are already not in ministry. And there's a large reason for that. Some went to really difficult churches and had really heartbreaking experiences, some had crises where they stopped believing and lost their faith altogether like this. So there have been some who have had this moment and responded to say, 'Forget God, forget the Bible,' and walked away, and the truth is I've met some of you out there who have had that experience.

And what I want to say is there were these few things that kind of kept me tethered to the Bible that I want to share with you today that I think are helpful for us. So these are going to be our take-home tweets of the day. Five points that might help you as you journey through the Bible, or maybe you're not there yet. Maybe someday in the future you're going to have this crisis of conscience like where you're going to be like, 'I don't know if I believe in the Bible anymore,' and these might be helpful things. Or you know someone who's going through something like this and you can maybe share these with them. But here they are:

Tweet #1

We actually have 25,000, roughly 25,000, manuscripts that help us construct the New Testament, okay? This is the most of any ancient document in history. So it's really important that we understand when we're talking about the Bible, when we're talking about this collection of books, we actually have quite a bit of evidence. The next closest ancient document has 900, and that's Homer's Iliad. And so you look at this, and you look at anything ancient, any text that's ancient, if we cannot conclude that the Bible is historically reliable, then we must conclude that all ancient text is really not very reliable. So that for me was huge. This was a huge thing for me because I wanted to come at it from just a critical lens and say, 'Alright, is the Bible well-preserved? Is it historically reliable? What's going on here?'
Another great thing to note is you have a Jewish historian by the name of Josephus who references Jesus, who references the movement of Jesus, in his writings, and this is happening at the same time that Jesus is there, so he sees Him, he acknowledges this is happening, so you have outside sources. This for me was another big, helpful tether, if you will, to keep me on board.
Tweet #2

So, while it totally wrecked my world that there were a few errors, or potential errors, in the Bible, because I was taught there were no errors, no possibility for errors, it was sealed tight, and some of you have been taught that same thing. And we could talk deeper about this, because some of you are going to be like, 'Justin, this is earth-shattering, we need to talk.' And we can get coffee this week. Let's chat, okay? But because if it was me, I would've been the same...it would've been the same thing for me.

So 98% of the New Testament text is not in question. Let me say that again: 98% of the New Testament text is not in question. Even the most liberal scholars would say 95% of the text is not in question. So anywhere from 2% to 5%,  so in even the 2% to 5% of the text that might be considered questionable leaves us with more question marks than answers. Here's the way to think about it: You might be looking at a text, okay, and you might say we're not sure where this came from, we're not sure how this got in this book, we're not sure if it's with this particular author, it doesn't seem to be pieced together the right way, this manuscript doesn't have it there, but this one does. What do we do with it? And you might say it's 80% reliable. You might say it's 60% reliable. You might say it's 90% reliable. But if you don't say it's 100% reliable, it's not reliable, and it falls into the questionable. Does that make sense? So when I say we have 2% to 5% that's questionable, what I'm really saying is this huge questionable category? There's a lot of potential in this category that what's questionable isn't necessarily an error, but something that happened over time that we don't have the manuscripts to show the connection. Okay? And that might be a little complex for some of you, but the point is to say it's generally reliable. Generally reliable.

Tweet #3

Like I said earlier, for me, believing in God wasn't an option to come undone. That was, for me, just easy. I don't know why. Maybe it was a product of my upbringing, a product of the way I see the world, I don't know, but I knew God was there. I didn't have any threat of becoming an atheist through this process, but I certainly had a threat of like not knowing who God was. Well, the Bible gives us clarity on who God is. We're here, and someone made us, and what is this being that made us? Well, the Bible has the answer to this question. And the Bible even goes further in the New Testament and says the character of God is found perfectly in Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 tells us "The radiance of His glory, the exact representation of His being is found in Jesus." And so now I'm like, man, this Jesus that I'm in love with, that has made me like want to serve people, made me want to like be a pastor, like the Bible tells me that this is what God looks like. I can get down with that, right? Like, I...I can...yes! I can worship that God and so for me, that kept me tethered, to be able to say the Bible helps me know God. Even more, the Bible helps us know ourselves.

Tweet #4

The Bible helps us know ourselves. We can see ourselves all throughout the Bible in the characters. If not yourself, we certainly see humanity represented, right? We see humanity's need and tendencies, we see humanity's flaws, we see humanity's triumphs. We see politics, we see science, we see all kinds of things throughout the Bible that we can see humanity flourishing and humanity at war with each other. Things we still wrestle with today in the 21st century, we see humanity wrestling with throughout the text. So interesting that it teaches us something about ourselves.

Let's just take one story to show what it teaches about ourselves. Take the story of Jonah. We all know the story of Jonah maybe. What's the most overwhelming piece of the Jonah story that we all know? What is it? {congregation response} The whale! Right? The whale! We all know the whale from the Jonah story. And that is a detail, an important detail, but here's something interesting about the Jonah story that it informs us for today.

Consider you're Jonah, okay? Consider you are Jonah, you're living in this time, and you are asked by God to go to Nineveh. Let me tell you what that's like. That's like being asked to go serve the message of God to ISIS. Nineveh was like brutal. Nineveh flayed people alive {flayed: staked to a peg and having your skin torn off}. That's what they did. So Jonah, what does he naturally do? What would any of us do? We'd be like, 'Oh, God, no, I'm okay. I'm gonna go this way.' Like, right? I mean...and so we're sitting here and we're like, 'Jonah, man, you're a joke. What are you doing?' No! No, he's not! He's what any of us might do in the same exact situation. And so what happens? God gets his attention through a series of events that includes the whale, which we end up highlighting. 'Whoa! Look at that! He was swallowed by a whale, how cool!' And then we forget the rest of the story.

Well, the rest of the story goes he gets thrown up on the shore of Nineveh where he was supposed to go the whole time because God's like, 'I'm gonna get your attention. You're gonna do what I say.' And He finally gets him there, and then what does he do? He's like, 'Okay, I'll go ahead. I'll tell 'em. I'll buy into this suicide mission to go in here and tell Nineveh about You. It's not gonna work out, God. I know things better than You.' And he goes and he tells them, 'Repent or else God is going to punish you.' And then all of a sudden they're like, 'Really? Oh, no!' And they actually start repenting! And they don't just start repenting, it gets back to the king, the king repents, and the king sets a decree that everyone must repent. The whole nation is in repentance. And what's Jonah doing? Jonah's like, 'You gotta be kidding me. This is not how this was supposed to work. These people? These people get God's grace? Are you kidding me?'

So he goes, and he sits on a hill over the city, overlooking the city, waiting for God's judgment to come down because he wants fire to come down. He's like, sooner or later God's going to send fire. And he sits there, and he sits there, and he sits there. And the story ends with him...him...kind of resenting God. Like, 'How could You offer Your grace to these people?'

So what does this story have to teach us? This story teaches us: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Hope the best for even the worst people. Hope for salvation even for those who are so far from God. The same things that Jesus tells us...already on display in Jonah. We are in the Bible. Your and my tendencies, but yet we also see the downfalls of these characters and the downfalls within our own character of when we decide to say, 'No, God, You got it wrong.'

And we can learn from the story of Jonah and say look, wow, I don't know if I'm ever going to be called to anything that radical, but what I do know is that God clearly wants me to pray for those who persecute me, to love my enemies, to seek the best even for the worst people. Wow. That's transformative. The Bible knows humanity. It knows us really well actually.

Finally, the thing that tethered me. The Bible helps us know how to live.

Tweet #5

The Bible helps us know how to live. Let's just take one passage for example: The Fruits of the Spirit. The Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. So we think about these character traits. If you were looking for a friend and they had all these character traits and you weren't a believer in Jesus, would you probably say that's a good friend? You probably would say that's a pretty good friend. These are some pretty serious character traits. You could spend your whole life trying to live in this area and it be incredibly difficult, but these certainly are at the very least great character traits that we would all desire to have within our lives. The Bible teaches us how to live a life with purpose and meaning and integrity. And so we see that even in this one passage but in multiple others.

I remember hearing a story of a guy who was at work and he was on his lunch break, and as he was on his lunch break...he was a pretty quiet guy, and a group of employees started talking. They started talking about love, they were talking about relationships, and it eventually got to love, and he usually kind of sat off to the side, and eventually they started asking, 'What's love?' Like, define love. What is love? And so they started sharing. One person says, you know, 'Love is someone who comes into your life and takes care of you.' And then someone else comes in and says, 'Love is someone that trusts you and you trust them, and that is a loving relationship.' And they kept going around and sharing all their different views on love, and eventually they included the quieter employee and asked him. They said, you know, 'What do you think love is?' And he responded, he said, 'I think love is patient, I think love is kind, it doesn't envy, it doesn't boast, it's not proud, it doesn't dishonor others, it's not self-seeking, it's not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, it always hopes, it always perseveres. That's what I think love is.' And like everyone's jaw drops because this guy's been so quiet and now he shares this. And like someone speaks up and goes like, 'Is that a poem or something?' And then someone else says, "No, no, no, no, it's from a movie. What movie's it from?' Like and they're like trying to figure out like what's it from, they're like, 'This is awesome.' And the truth is it's from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7. It's God telling us what love is. The Bible helps us know how to live.

All of these things are true, at least in my estimation. The Bible is this life force. It is alive and active, but active to the point that we allow it to be in our lives. And this is why it's so important to read it because the more we read it, the more active it is.

Now I want to acknowledge something really quickly. The Bible's intimidating because as I talk to people usually it's like, 'I want to read the Bible but I don't know where to start.' Right? That's kind of the thing. Or 'I want to read the Bible but every time I open it, it's so confusing.' So a few just quick practical things.

Get a translation you understand because if you're reading in a translation that was written in 1600, we don't talk like that anymore and you don't have to either. So don't...you don't have to like read it like that. So, a few translations...the translation we usually use here on Sunday is New International Version. That's one of the most popular translations. You can also get a version that's like really easy to understand like The Message, which is a paraphrase but still very good, very accurate. So I would check that out. There's other translations, too, we can talk about.

For me, what lit me on fire to make me want to study the Bible was the book of James. It's my favorite book in the Bible; still is to this day. My high school youth pastor pulled me aside and said, 'Hey, I want to do a Bible study with you, and I'd love to do the book of James. Let's do it.' And so I did that, and for me, that moment was like the moment of like, 'Wow. I love the Bible. I want to learn more about the Bible.' If you're looking for a book to start with that's really practical and really easy to understand, the book of James is that book. Start there; that's a great place to start. Another great place to start is the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Any of these books are going to be stories of Jesus, great opportunities to learn more about who Jesus is, and not just who Jesus is... who God is because again like I said earlier, God is revealed fully in Jesus. So these are great opportunities, great places to start.

And I would also encourage you, don't read alone. Read with somebody. Maybe it's a friend, maybe it's a co-worker, maybe it's a spouse, maybe it's a family member, whoever. Read with somebody and then process it together. You know, we actually did a growth group on James, and we would read the text together and then we would talk about it together, we would ask questions, we would process it together. It's so beautiful to process in community because your experience is different than the other person's experience and you come at it differently and you're able to see that this word of God is active and alive. It's alive in that person's life, and it's active in different ways, and it's beautiful because you start to say, 'Wow, this passage doesn't just have one meaning, it has multiple meanings. Things can be pulled out of it that I'm not even aware of, and then you start to study the history and you see, 'Wow, the context of what was happening at this time is so interesting.' If you want some Bible study tools, come talk to me. I can get you some of that. I can get you access to that stuff.

Hey, look, we read because we want to be alive and active for the Kingdom of God in this world, and the scriptures are still that. They're not some old "back then" type of thing that's, you know, old and that's not really helpful, that's ancient, that's not helpful for today. You know what? The world has changed way too much since then to now for that to have any impact. It does have impact because when you share what love is like that story, people are like, 'Whoa. That's really good. That's a really good definition of love.' I dare you to find a better definition of love than what we find in 1 Corinthians. It's a beautiful definition of love. It's powerful, it's active, it's alive today.

May we come to know that the Bible is life giving and it is there for us to be activated within us, may we find that the Bible is reliable and that it is transforming, and may we come to expect the scriptures to be alive and active within us. Let's pray.

Good and gracious God, You have inspired the words of the Bible; we're so thankful for that. We have words on a page. Help us to take these words on a page and make them lives lived out for You.

Love: We need more of it.

Joy: Help us not to be cynical; help us to be joyful in life.

Peace: There's so much conflict in our world. We know only You can bring peace, so show us how to be peacemakers.

Patience: Slow us down so we're not in such of a hurry that we can actually be patient.

Kindness: Allow our words to actually show kindness for the individual that we're talking to.

Goodness: Let us live lives with integrity that we can really say we're a good individual.

Faithfulness: Help us be faithful to the commitments we make.

Gentleness: Let us not be so harsh with others but to be gentle.

Self control: Let us have control, Lord. Bring us to a place where we can have healthy control over ourselves.

These can take a lifetime to figure out, God, and this is just one small portion of the Bible. The Bible has so much to teach us, so we pray Your spirit would use the words of the scriptures to reveal to us the areas we need to be transformed. As we open up our Bibles this week, I pray You would meet us in that space. As we talk with others about the scriptures we're reading, I pray we would find encouragement. Lord, I pray that we would fall in love with the scriptures, that we would receive life from Your word. Remain alive and active in our life. In the name of Jesus, amen.