Learning to Engage the Bible
Life in the Spirit: Sermon #02 - Learning to Engage the Bible
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Oct 23, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We are in the midst of our new sermon series this morning, called Life in the Spirit. This is a back to basics sermon series that calls us to discipleship, the on-going process of learning to trust and obey Jesus. Here’s the basic idea: Jesus doesn’t invite us to trust and obey him just so that we can avoid a fiery end, instead, he invites us to trust and obey him so that we can start to live our best life now. This is a life that brings the reality of heaven into our present reality and frees us from fear because we follow a resurrected Messiah who conquered and destroyed death and calls us to follow him into life. The disciple’s life is learning to live in this reality free from fear, willing to love our neighbors as ourselves, learning to give generously because we know that all that we have comes from God, a life that is kind and compassionate and makes space for those who are at the margins offering them welcome and inclusion. This is the disciples path, a path of transformation that starts with our learning to lose ourselves that we might find ourselves.
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? (Matthew 16:24–27)
At the end of last week’s sermon, I introduced our discipleship transformation chart. It’s the picture of the disciple who is always in motion, committed to learning, being, doing, and relating. Because our life is always in motion our discipleship is as well because we are always learning from Jesus just want it means to be a live. This morning, I want to consider the role that the word of God or the Bible can have on our discipleship.
After coming to faith as a teenager, I couldn’t put the Bible down. I made the same mistake every new believer does, which is try to read the Bible cover to cover, not realizing that once you hit Numbers, you might want to quit. I carried my Bible with me everywhere (and I still do). I was always in the Bible. I memorized large portions of it. I started the first Bible study in my high school because of it. I even quoted it to get out of a fight.
STORY: As I remember it my friend Tim and I were arguing and the disagreement was getting heated. It dawned on me that this argument was going to end in a fight, and I was sure that I was going to get beat up, out my fear, I started quoting Psalm 27:1-2 out loud:
1The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? 2When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. (Psalm 27:1-2)
I was never a good fighter, but this may have been my most skilled “fighting” move, disarming my opponent by quoting scripture at them. It’s clear to me now that I was using scripture as a sorta of shield to protect me. I have no real sense of whether God was involved with this at all. I’m sure Tim was knocked off balance by my move because I remember him starting to argue with me over the interpretation of the scripture, just who was the “wicked” and how could I be sure that I wasn’t his enemy. Whether this was an appropriate use of scripture or not, I can tell you that I didn’t get beat that day!
The Bible as a Grand Transformative Story
As we make our way forward trying to make sense of our lives, the world we inhabit, and the decisions that we make about how we should be and live within the world, we do this embedded within some story. Whether it’s the story of enlightenment, modernity, existentialism, postmodernity, or American exceptionalism, we find our lives, purpose and meaning anchored within some story. In fact, among some theologians, philosophers and biblical scholars, there is growing recognition that “a story is the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.” It’s the recognition that in order to answer, “Who am I? or What am I to do?” I must first ask, “What story do I find myself a part of?”
I believe the Bible tells the story of a good and just God who is concerned with his creation and is in love with his creation. The Bible tells of a God who has teamed with his creation in bringing about justice, reconciliation and the restoration of all things. The Bible tells of a God who has a solution to the problem of evil. The Bible tells of a God who cares very much about our present reality and our present selves, and it tells of a God “who has made us and the world for a purpose.”
It tells of a God who has devised a plan to rescue us and the world. The climax of the story is when God himself becomes a human and enters time, space and history. The story does not end with all the Christians gathered together ready to leave for heaven. No, it ends with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, resulting in God’s new creation, new heavens and new earth, “in which everything that has been true, lovely, and of good report will be vindicated, enhanced, and set free from all pain and sorrow.”
This the six-act story of a love-struck God in active and real pursuit of his creation, bringing about his redemptive work in our midst, transforming us, restoring us, renewing us and all that he has made.
“We know that it is one thing to confess the Bible to be the Word of God, but often quite another thing to know how to read the Bible in a way that lets it influence the whole of our lives. There can easily be a gap between what we say we believe and how we live.
If God has deliberately given us the Bible in the shape of a story, then only as we attend to it as story, and actively appropriate it as our story will we feel the full impact of its authority and ability to shape and impact our lives.
There is a lot at stake in how we understand the Bible could be speaking to us. Especially, if we view it as a single unfolding story, the Bible can be tremendously exciting. Because such a story invites us—compels us even—to get involved.
It’s like what Jesus says in John 8:31-32:
31 “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32, NKJV)
The scripture came alive for me again when I reengaged the scripture not as basic, instructions before leaving earth, but as the grand story through which I could understand myself, my life, my vocation, and my purpose.
The Bible stopped being about what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do and became this manifesto for who I was, in whose image I made, and this understanding started to transform the way I saw myself which ultimately started to affected the way I lived. It was a moment like what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5 after healing someone on the Sabbath, which was prohibited.
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39–40)
It wasn’t so much that I had refused to surrender and come to Jesus as much as it was I didn’t really understand the point. My authoritative interpreters originally told me that the point of the story was for me to get into heaven, but they never told me that Jesus wanted to do something better, something more radical, which was to get heaven into me. Jesus was inviting me to live within in his kingdom with him as King brining the reality of God’s rule and reign into my everyday.
Entering the Story
This only happened as I engaged the scripture. For me it started with the For Everyone Bible series. A commentary series by Tom Wright that walks through a single gospel at a time. This Bible series was helpful to my re-engagement of the whole story because I was slowly reading a few verses of a gospel at a time. It was helpful because I had to wrestle through my familiarity with the Word by re-reading the scripture in context, as a part of larger whole. It was helpful because I was doing this reading/studying with others. I was gathering with two or three others weekly on this journey. It was helpful because I had to wrestle with the parts that were challenging and difficult because I couldn’t just skip over them to get to the “good parts.” Finally it was challenging because I had to wrestle with what was the passage saying and whether I would be willing to obey what I felt the Lord was saying and asking me to do.
The Bible gives us almost no instruction for how to incorporate the habits of engaging scripture in our daily lives. So, as we look back to the first century for help, we discover that the habits were already woven into the daily lives of the early church.
So I would like to invite us to enter the Biblical story through announcement of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God as announced by Jesus:
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14–15)
Entering the story this way allows us to see God as the great King over all of us. It gives us a picture of a king who desires to have a people living under his good rule and reign as his image bearers filling the earth with his justice, love, care, and compassion.
This sets us up nicely to engage the Bible story as a six-act play:
Here I’m grateful to NT Wright and his six-act structure of the drama of scripture. Act 1, where you learn essential information about God, humanity, and the world God created. It describes a stable situation, a very good creation. The human actors begin their work in the garden, and history begins. In Act 2 there is a conflict in the garden as we are introduced to a mysterious enemy to God’s good work of creation. Here the fundamental problem in our world has its origin. In Act 3, the conflict (between the human rebellion and God’s good purposes for the creation) intensifies and complications arise. Act 4 the story continues with the history of God’s gracious dealings with his rebellious creation and how the story moves towards the climax with God coming in the person of Jesus Christ to defeat the powers unleashed in the rebellion:sin, death, and evil, through his act of self-sacrificial love dying on the cross and being resurrected to new life, a harkening back to Act 1. In Act 5 we see the implications of Christ’s great act of redemption worked out in the lives of his community, the church. We find ourselves in Act 6 as we continue to story of the church following a resurrected Messiah until we await the return of the King in his good creation.
I have two practical tips, if you are newer to the faith, I would recommend that you get started with by getting to know the overarching narrative of the basic Biblical story. Two books that are helpful here are The Book of God and The Storybook Bible. (There should be audio version of these books as well.)
Second, I would recommend that you try reading the scripture daily by reading an entire gospel. Rick Rykowski is going to be leading a course on praying through the gospels by taking people through an entire gospel so that we hear everything Jesus said and did, not just our favorite passages. Then he will be using prayer practices to engage each passage to give God a chance to incorporate the meaning of that passage into our heart and our daily lives. We are also working on a course on the gospel of Mark as well.