I recently got sunburns across my legs and torso after lying on a raft in the water for several hours, even though I had worn sunscreen (that apparently washed off). In the days that followed, I felt the sharp sensation of the sunburn under my clothes as I went about my tasks at work and home. I realized that unless I told somebody, no one would know the burning I was feeling.
This made me think of the Emmaus disciples, who said one to another after they saw Jesus: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). They did not hide the burning sensation they felt in Jesus’ presence. They told people about it. “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together,” the Bible says (Luke 24:33).
When has your heart burned within you, spiritually speaking? While reading the Bible? During prayer? When singing in church? Did you tell anyone about your experience? If not, it’s time that you do. We burn with the power of the Holy Spirit within us to tell others about our encounters with Jesus. The only way for others to sense that Holy Spirit’s fire in you is to speak of it. Say what Jesus has opened your eyes to. Explain what being a disciple of Christ is all about. Exclaim what joy you feel because your Savior is alive in the world. Let your burning heart for the Lord be revealed as often as you can with as many as you can!
During the past year with more people staying home, the time people spent watching shows and movies on streaming services rose sharply. According to one news report I saw, one activity that increased the most was binge-watching. For those of you who don’t know, binge-watching means viewing a series of movies or episodes of a show one after the other at a single sitting or over several days in a row. There is a certain delight that people receive in finishing a set of movies or all the seasons of a show in a relatively short amount of time.
The whole idea of binge-watching got me to thinking about how we might apply the same principle to our reading of the Bible. Could we engage in Bible-binging, if you will, as part of our daily and weekly routines? There are many programs that offer a way to read the Bible every day for a year or two or three to complete the reading of the entire Old and New Testaments by the end. This can be a very rewarding and satisfying practice. But I am thinking more of just our general approach to Bible reading. Is it something that we set aside chunks of time for and that we are excited to take a deep dive into?
It should be, of course, but we can find a million and one reasons not to read our Bibles these days. But now is the time we need the Bible the most. The stories inside of God’s people through the ages are true life experiences of love, betrayal, reunion, suffering, triumph, learning, growing, and ultimately salvation in our Savior Jesus who provides us with a happy ending to our lives. Sounds a lot like the aspects of some shows we binge watch, doesn’t it? But the stories of the Bible can help us and guide us in our everyday lives more than any TV show can.
So why not try some Bible-binging this week and pick a book or a section of Scripture to read in blocks of time over a period of days? Let the Holy Spirit move you and inspire you to read the Bible with fresh eyes and with a new-found curiosity and joy in the words that our God is sharing with us and just waiting for us to read for the first time or again. Let the Bible-binging begin!
One of the things that my mom would have us do at the end of a school year was to make a scrapbook of pictures of events and achievements from the past year. It was fun to review what my brother, sister and I had done and talk about the memories we would treasure from whatever grade we had just completed. At the end of each summer, we would do the same thing and include pictures of places we traveled to and friends and family we spent time with during the months away from school. It was fun to remember the good times we had and keep a memento of what happened with our scrapbooks. Sometimes we would crack them open at different times of the year as a pick-me-up or to show others what we experienced at various points in our lives.
I now have those scrapbooks in my attic and look at them occasionally, but not as much as I thought I would. The art of scrapbooking has faded in this era of electronic pictures as well, so future generations may not have as meticulous a record of what occurred in a person’s life in any particular year, which I find a shame.
But we do have another book that tells us everything we need to know about our background and about the events that we should remember always. That book, of course, is the Bible, the Church’s scrapbook, if you will, that reminds us of what God’s people experienced and endured through hundreds and thousands of years of history. It tells us about the good times of creation, the bad times of sin, the journeys through the wilderness, the triumphs in battle and the defeats suffered. It highlights the life of our greatest family member, Jesus, who went to the cross from our salvation on Good Friday and rose for us on Easter Sunday to bring us everlasting life.
The Bible should never be a book we store away in a dusty attic never to crack open again. It should be a book that is always at our fingertips and open for us to explore frequently. The Bible should always remind us of who we are as children of God and what we should treasure most: that our names are written in the Book of Life forever through Christ. Happy reading!
One of my vices is to drink Pepsi or Coke every morning. I know it may not be the best choice. But it is what I need to get an energy booth to get me going in the day. Other people drink coffee or tea or sports drinks to perk them up to give them a lift to start their tasks.
The truth is that the Lord gives us an energy boost like no drink on earth can. Consider these enlivening words of Scripture:
The joy of the Lord your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Jushua 1:9
They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
What gives us an energy boost according to these verses? Joy of the Lord, the Scriptures, having hope, knowing that God is with you and being renewed as we wait for him. Every time you indulge in your morning energy boost, consider these ways of being energized in your faith. They have the power to bring you everlasting liveliness in God.
I recently began doing crossword puzzles. I had not done them earlier because I felt they were too difficult for me. But I have found that doing them on a regular basis (once a week) has helped me to get better at them and made them easier to do. Now I look forward to my “crossword time” and enjoy the experience more, especially when I “get” a hard word that opens the door to getting a lot more words in the puzzle.
My experience of getting into crosswords puzzles can be similar to how we get into the Word of God. At first we may avoid it and think it is too difficult for us. But then when we read the Bible regularly. it becomes easier to do. It feels good when it becomes part of our routine. When we do “get” a word or passage, story or parable from Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are excited and enlightened and our minds are opened to other messages in God’s Word.
As with crossword puzzles, all the words of Scripture are connected to each other, and we are connected to God more and more as we come to see the interrelationship of his communications to us.
In late summer, there was a large sunflower field in the St. Louis metropolitan area that was a fair distance from my house. People kept posting beautiful pictures of themselves in the midst of these beautiful blossoms. I wanted to get there to see the sunflowers for myself but I kept putting it off or was too busy to make the drive.
Then the last weekend in August I decided to make the trek, only to find I was too late. The sunflowers had lost their color and were all drooping forlornly. I took a picture of myself with the sad-looking sunflowers anyway.
As I drove away from the the field that once was so full of life, it made me think about the fact that we as Christians oftentimes need to act right away when an opportunity to share our faith presents itself or the chance for a beautiful result may slip away. Don’t get so caught up in yourself and your activities that you miss the opening to blossom with God’s love and shine the light of the Son of God onto someone else.
The experience also made me remember the words of Isaiah who said, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord lasts forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The fading sunflowers actually become a comforting symbol that shows that the Word of the Lord will never fade away. We do not have to worry that God’s messages will wither away. The Word will be a bright and lasting burst of sunshine in our lives every day here on earth and in heaven to come. Let opening the Bible be like opening a forever-flourishing flower in an otherwise dwindling creation. Let the words bloom within you.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” —John 7:37
These words from Jesus are a good reminder to us of what it is we are thirsting for. Are we thirsting for him? Or are we thirsting for wealth? Or for a human relationship? Or for happiness? Or for a good job? Or for popularity or fame?
I think of how we hear again and again from doctors and other health experts that we should drink 8 glasses of water a day. But do we? I for one find myself drinking more soda than bottled water, more sports drinks than tap water. We know what is best for us, but we don’t always drink what we should.
Coming to Christ and drinking means being in prayer more often than we are on the Internet. It means reading his Word in the Bible more often than watching TV. It means being filled with his Spirit more often than stuffing our faces with food.
So come to Christ and drink. Be thirsty for time with him. Crave his presence with you. Be soothed by his messages of hope and blessing, peace and love. Let his words wash over you and be poured into you over and over again each and every day.
While I have extolled the virtues of digital Bibles on this very blog, there is a mounting backlash against the exclusive use of digital Bibles. In “People of the eBook” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Karen Swallow Prior says, “As our reading becomes more immersed in a digital rather than a print culture, the more we return to some of the qualities of the pre-literate world. We are reading more, but the way we read replicates the effects of the discrete images of stained glass windows more than the sustained, logical, and coherent linearity of a whole book” (50).
Before people had access to the written word of the Bible, parishioners learned about what the Bible said in bits and pieces, most often through the images found in stained glass windows in the church. The same thing seems to be happening when accessing the Bible digitally. We are only getting bits and pieces and we are drawn to imagery on the screen.
Many pastors in response are encouraging deeper engagement with physical Bibles to help to see the whole salvation story and make stronger connections with various parts of the biblical text. This has brought about a growing popularity in printed Bibles that include space in the margins for journaling and notetaking to make these connections within the text. Also, people have come to realize that they like to hold the weight of God’s words in their hands. So while digital Bibles can have their benefits, consider getting reconnected or more connected with your physical Bible to stay connected to the whole story of Jesus and his love.
In an article called “Sin and Forgiveness,” in the March 2019 issue of Living Lutheran, author Erin Strybis talked about a time when her young son’s tantrum led her to have a tantrum of her own. To her surprise, her son came up to her afterward and said, “It’s OK, Mommy,” and hugged her (42). Our kids “get” forgiveness more than we perhaps realize.
Strybis suggests three principles to practice in the home to reinforce the power of forgiveness:
Lean on story: The Bible is filled with stories of people who sinned and were forgiven. Think of the prodigal son, Simon Peter, the thief on the cross. Bible stories of forgiveness can be the bedtime stories we tell our children.
Lean into hugs: Remember the father of the prodigal son who ran to embrace repentant son. We need to be quick to reach out and wrap our arms around our children when they come to us confessing their sin. We need to show them that we love and forgive them wholeheartedly.
Lean on prayer: Prayer is an important piece in the practice of forgiveness. We need to pray to God when we are angry at our child and need to reorient ourselves to God’s merciful ways and we need to pray with our kid when we express forgiveness to remind us all the forgiveness comes first from God through Christ and the cross.
Let forgiveness flow freely in our families by the grace of God.
The use of digital Bibles as exploded over the last several years. So much so that I know that in many churches the pastor will say in a sermon, “Let’s open our Bibles or your favorite Bible app or website to look more closely at our reading for today.” It seems more common these days for people to read Scripture to me on their phones when we are talking about a particular topic or a favorite verse they want to share.
Biblegateway.com is my go-to digital Bible most of the time. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has 219 Bible translations in 72 languages available to users. I like to use it to get right to a verse I was trying to think of. Like, say, I am looking for that verse about “endurance” and “character ” Type in those two words into biblegateway.com and boom! There it is. Romans 5:4: “Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Now I can go from there quickly and easily in the flow of writing a devotion or blog or letter to a friend to make my point.
Hard to believe that at one time we spent lots of time flipping Bible pages, looking through concordances and saying to ourselves, “I know it is here somewhere in Romans, but where exactly?”
Digital Bibles do take the guesswork out of finding verses. But the work of the Holy Spirit still needs to happen within our hearts for these words now more quickly found to speak to us deeply and spiritually. Digital Bibles should never be a way for for us to “click it and forget it” and go on to the next verse or the next app or the next website. We still need to be people who “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). What the Bible (digital or leatherbound or otherwise) has to say to us must continue to sink into us and make a difference in how we live, speak and act.
That’s why I do like the “in context” feature available on biblegateway.com. It takes the verse you have found and shows you the verses that surround it, the story this verse is from, the topic that this verse was a part of. It’s easy to “cherry-pick” Bible verses when you are working with a digital Bible and not get the full message being expressed, unfortunately. So taking the extra step to put verses in context is invaluable to our understanding of the Word of God for our lives.
Making the most of the digital Bible you use can help you grow in faith and develop a closer relationship with Christ. In the end that is all that matters, no matter how those precious words of salvation through his cross and empty tomb reach you. See how much “screen time” can involve “faith time” in the digital Word this week!