The Bible in Shadowland

I made it to the sunset dinner on time, thanks to the host’s clear directions. But when I exited the beautiful house in the woods the setting had turned to shadowland. Driving was now more difficult.

I couldn’t see landmarks, and it was turtle pace around the curves. Headlights illuminated only an occasional moth. Where were those city lights that would be my compass home? Anxiety grew as each turn revealed another dark country road. Was I traveling in circles? This was back in the days of limited cell phone service and no GPS. Also, I hadn’t brought a map. Finally, the last turn revealed the halo of distant Cincinnati.

The word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

In hindsight, I was never too far off the mark, but at the time, it made little difference. Lost is lost if you can’t get out of the shadowland to find your way home again.

The Greatest Book in All the Land

This experience of lostness occasionally comes to mind when I neglect the greatest book in all the land. According to Guinness World Records,IMG_3780 this bestseller has sold more than five billion copies. We used to call it the “Holy Bible,” then “Bible,” and now bible. As my culture discards the Bible’s importance, can I afford to neglect God’s word without experiencing loss? Do I sometimes forget there is a spiritual warfare out there, and the trail is littered with enemies? “Scripture” is called a sword for a very good reason.

Jesus uses another metaphor for the words of God. He states: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NIV). Did you catch that? EVERY word.

Bill Petersen with a little of C.S. Boyll
Bill Petersen with a little of C.S. Boyll

We never become Bible experts. We are always the students. The Holy Bible is too alive and active for us to capture it in total. Instead, it captivates and captures us. My 86-year-old-friend Bill Petersen knows this. He still leads a Bible study of 12 men, who meet each Saturday and learn new truths. Occasionally, Bill will share a Bible thought I have never heard anywhere else. This wise octogenarian is still learning.

Persevere for Treasure

Scripture is also referred to as a great treasure. So why do people say, “I tried reading the Bible, and I just can’t get into it.” Perhaps their excuse is like hitting a golf ball a few times and then declaring the game is impossible to achieve. Successful learning requires practice and motivation.IMG_3782

Some good news is that we are not alone in our attempts to understand the Bible. The Holy Spirit, a.k.a. Counselor, does his part to teach us. Our little prayers of faith make a difference. The Psalmist’s prayer is, “Open my eyes that I might behold wonderful things from your law.” If individual study is too much of a hurdle, finding a mentor or joining a group study is worth the effort. We humbly learn together. But a plea: don’t give up if one group fails. Find another. Perseverance brings results.

Stay Close to the Mirror, Then Act

Recently, someone close to me said our current times are like Sodom and Gomorrah. Then he said, “Just like in those days, there are a lot of good people and there are a lot of bad people. That doesn’t change.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I think you need to reread the story.” My friend illustrates another reason we neglect the Bible: we think we know it well, because of exposure to childhood Bible stories. The Bible has a warning for this kind of thinking: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:23-25, ESV).

Often times, our forgetfulness is not desperation. We deceive ourselves into believing we manage quite well without God’s words, thank you very much. But then when desperation comes, we find ourselves scratching the scriptures in an irrational way that roils our ability to be honest with self and God. We have forgotten our sword and are ill-equipped.

Shadowland without the Bible?

While thinking about the Bible’s place or lack of it in my life and culture, I came across theologian Frederick Buechner’s paraphrase of Amos 8:1-12, initially published in his Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words. His paraphrase makes me wonder, “What would life be like without any words from God?” Here is Buechner, who just celebrated his 90th birthday.

“When the prophet Amos walked down the main drag, it was like a shoot-out in the Old West. Everybody ran for cover. His special target was The Beautiful People, and shooting from the hip, he never missed his mark. He pictures them sleek and tanned at Palm Beach, Acapulco, St. Tropez. They glisten with Bain de Soleil. The stereo is piped out over the marble terrace. Another tray of Bloody Marys is on the way.

“A vacationing bishop plunges into the heated pool.
With one eye

Frederick Buechner
Frederick Buechner

cocked on them, he has his other cocked on the Unbeautiful People-the varicose veins of the old waiter, the pasty face of the starch-fed child, the Indian winos passed out on the railroad siding, the ragged woman fumbling for food stamps at the check-out counter.
When justice is finally done, Amos says, there will be Hell to pay. The Happy Hour will be postponed indefinitely because the sun will never make it over the yard-arm. The Pucci blouses, the tangerine colored slacks, the flowered Lillys, will all fade like grass. Nothing but a few chicken bones will mark the place where once the cold buffet was spread out under the royal palms.

But according to Amos, it won’t be the shortage of food and fun that will hurt. It will be the shortage ‘of hearing the words of the Lord’ (Amos 8:11). Towards the end, God will make himself so scarce that the world won’t even know what it’s starving to death for.”

Find Frederick Buechner’s work at: http://www.frederickbuechner.com

Psalm 1:1-3--white letters on black background next to a healthy green tree: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Seeing Rabbits and Jesus

There have been strange goings on about rabbits and Jesus in my community this past month.

Before addressing Colorado rabbits, let’s discuss the King of kings’ inflammatory names. For about three years, “Jesus is Lord” messages have been minimally scattered on bus stop benches, throughout Colorado Springs. The benches provide seats for all kinds of passengers–the weary, handicapped, elderly, student, employee, and the “needs-a-bath” type.

As I whiz by a bus stop, I have mused over the connection between the “Jesus is Lord” message and the bus riders.  I finally concluded: The Bible tells us children sat on Jesus’ lap, and he loved the little guys. Maybe some of his older children leaning against his name is not such a bad idea?

An anonymous bureaucrat in the city’s Mountain Metro Mobility disagreed. Last month, this person told Pastor Lawson Perdue of Charis Christian Center that he could no longer do “Jesus is Lord” advertising. There had been one complaint.

In one news report Pastor Perdue explained, “I asked the city person, ‘Why are you not allowing me to advertise the name of Jesus?’

She said, ‘Because if you use the name of Jesus in ads, then we must allow hate messaging.’

I said, ‘Ma’am, the name of Jesus is in no way representing hate messaging.'”

While thinking about this controversy last week, I drove by some pro marijuana protesters at city hall. It looked like a mellow group of veterans and friends.

A calm group of eight protesters hold signs. One man in khaki shorts and hat and brown t-shirt holds up a cardboard sign: "Vets against marijuana+prohibition."
From my passenger window in downtown Colorado Springs

I approve of them—not so much their message, but their right to demonstrate and have a voice. Freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion have come to all Americans with great sacrifice.

Fortunately, our mayor and city council understand these rights. The Jesus signs on bus benches are back. It probably didn’t hurt Charis Christian Center and Pastor Perdue to get some free publicity. And now the preacher is even more fired up on the center’s website. He makes clear he is not ashamed of the name above all names.

The brouhaha has died down for now, yet once again I am saddened that this kind of controversy occurred at all. One friend observed such problems happen because many in the younger generation don’t know any better. They get squirmy on religious rights and think such topics should be confined to the privacy of one’s home—maybe just like in Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and so many other wonderful places. I’ve often wondered how deep this kind of discriminatory thinking goes in our tax supported universities.

And Now About Those Rabbits:

A leaping white deer on a black background has white letters P.E.T.A. with "People Eating Tasty Animals."
Freedom of speech on a bumper sticker

Thinking about college education brings me to the rabbits at the Air Force Academy. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently called on the Academy to stop killing, skinning and eating rabbits as part of its survival training. It seems about 300 rabbits purchased yearly from a local farmer are used to teach third-year academy cadets how to survive in the wild. The cadets skin, clean, and cook the bunnies in the wild, while learning to avoid salmonella.

PETA is concerned about excessive bludgeoning of the domesticated animals. I see their point, but the cadets have to learn survival training.Small bunny sits in the shadow of two boulders. A sunshine lit plant of 14 leaves is in front of the bunny. Besides, any smart cadet will know it is easier to dress a killed animal with one lethal blow rather than many. Still, it doesn’t hurt to reexamine training. Air Force spokeswoman Captain Brooke Brzozowske said in Air Force Times, “We are currently reviewing the issues raised in PETA’s letter and will provide additional information upon conclusion of the review.”

So, you see, I have been thinking of the Jesus bus benches and rabbits and how it impacts neighbors and me as we share community. It can be tricky to discern biases and speak out in a respectful, love-your-neighbor, manner. Fortunately, we live in a country that still upholds freedoms of speech and religion–and the killing of rabbits for survival training.

Jesus and Public Consequences

Ken Myers, founder and director of Mars Hill Audio, consistently has wise thoughts on how believers should interact when engaging culture. Here is one of his recent quotes, using the Apostle Paul’s famous speech to Athens’ elite in Acts 17.

head shot photo of Ken Myers
Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio

“Paul’s example at Mars Hill suggests that Christian public witness involves calling our neighbors to a new framework of understanding everything. The universal call to repentance that the Gospel necessitates is not just a plea for individual piety. It is an announcement that Christ’s coming—and what it reveals about Creation and history and human nature—has public consequences.

“When Christians insist that this is true, they are not thereby withdrawing from cultural engagement. Refusing the rules of engagement drawn up by modernity is in fact the most generous, truthful, and loving service we can offer our neighbors. After all, the cultural chaos that grieves us harms them even more.”

The recent God Is Not Dead movies shine a light on the number of recent court cases Christians have been involved in. They center on the rights for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The long list of court cases that rolls across the screen as part of the first movie’s credits is uncomfortable, sobering, and even chilling. Indeed, these are strange times we live in.

You can find more of Ken Myers’ work at: http://marshillaudio.org