Monday, March 4, 2013
A BIG Secret Revealed
A couple of years ago, my family was on vacation and we were shopping at some touristy outlet. There was a store that sold all kinds of 'magic act' stuff. Trick cards and vanishing handkerchiefs. It wasn't a cheesy store - this was the real deal! Some of the things were selling for hundreds of dollars and there were a couple of guys behind the counter showing off their merchandise. It was very impressive.
So my youngest son, Joshua, uses some birthday money and buys a deck of cards. Part of every purchase included a private instruction from the 'Master' magician. So they took Joshua to the end of the table and put up this little partition so you couldn't see their hands, and in a few minutes Joshua went from ordinary kid to Magician Extraordinaire!
He still has that deck of cards and still brings them out and does his tricks. Frankly, it is impressive! And when I ask how he does it, he says, "You know, Dad, a magician never reveals his secrets!"
I think that a lot of people feel that preachers and pastors go to seminary, where they teach us little tricks about understanding the Bible, and before they let us graduate we are sworn to secrecy! "Don't every let them know our secrets" is the perceived mantra.
Why do I think this? Well, frequently, I'll teach on some passage from the Bible and people will say to me: "How in the WORLD did you get ALL THAT from that ONE piece of Scripture?" They usually follow the question with some statement about how they love the teaching and appreciate how I've made it easy to understand.
Wrapped up behind the words is the sentiment that I have some special gift for understanding the Bible and they do not.
But it's not true! And the BIG secret was really revealed in the teaching that Sammy Frame gave us at PCC yesterday. (watch it here)
Are you ready? Here's the secret: When most of us 'read the Bible', we read for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 minutes. Even in 10 minutes, you'd be amazed at how much territory you can cover. We feel a sense of accomplishment, and say things like, "I read 5 chapters today!"and "I finished reading the book of Luke!"
I'm with you, and part of my routine is to read the Bible for 20 minutes every day.
But 'reading' the Bible in large portions like this (which is important) is NOT the same as meditating on it. When I read a large swath of it, I get the big picture, which is needed.
But when I take the time to reflect on some small part - 1 verse or a part of a verse or a few words - I start to let it become a part of me. I chew on it, read between the lines, focus on what's not said, in addition to what is said. I ask questions - LOTS of questions. As Sammy put it, I'm letting it marinate in me.
That's how I can take a single verse and get so much from it. And this same reflective conversation with the God of the Bible is available to YOU, too!
Want an example? OK, try this:
What does it mean that "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." (Ps 23:4) Why did David not just say, 'When I'm about to die, I won't be afraid?' Was he simply being poetic? What's the real picture being painted? Is this a resolve - something David is talking himself into or trying to convince himself of...or is it a statement of David's actual experience?
The shadow of death... Shadows in the dark are frightening. They are elusive and mysterious. And valley's are, by definition, surrounded by mountains, meaning that there are shadows all around, even when it's not nighttime. There are ALWAYS shadows around somewhere when you are in a valley.
And then there's the valley. I've been in life's valley's before. We all have. They're no fun. They're spiritually dark and emotionally wrenching. In the valley, we can feel alone, desperate, depressed. Our spirit is dark, like the shadows that lurk around us. We wonder, 'how long will I be here?'and 'Will I ever get out?' I might think about a specific valley I've been in and reflect on the journey - into, during and out of that valley.
And the reason David says he won't be afraid is because God is with him. What does it mean for God to be with me? How can I know? What can He do? How can God help? If I was in the valley, would it matter if I wasn't alone?
There are many more questions and thoughts I could add to this one single verse if I spent time reflecting on it. These are just the ones that quickly come to mind.
This is the secret of how we grow to understand the Bible and, more importantly, the God who is revealed through the Bible. But you can't get here if you don't spend time reflecting.
For those who are still reading this post, let me give you a current example. This morning, I was reading in Judges and this grabbed my attention:
"The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”
But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer." (Judges 10:11-16, NIV)
I thought about this text a lot today. When have I turned my back on God? God reached his limit with the Israelites and their fickle following. What is His limit? Have I gotten close to it? How can I avoid pushing God's buttons like this? And what does it mean that God can be so frustrated with people - His people - that he will withdraw his protection from them?!
But mostly, I think about the reality that God could bear their 'misery no longer'. No matter how far I've gone or how mad or frustrated God gets with me, his love and compassion for me ultimately wins the day. When I turn back to Him, get 'rid of my foreign gods and serve the Lord', God meets me on my journey home.
And I begin to reflect on the times this has actually happened in my life.
There is a lot that could be said...I could write a sermon about this...but you get the point. And the point is that you can do this too! And you should!
So...build some time for reflection! Meditate on the words of the Bible. Take a verse or two and let it become a part of you. Ask good questions and let God speak to you. Meditate on who Jesus is and what He means. Let God change you during your reflection.
And you will be better because of your time well invested!
The secret is out with you. Would that it would no longer be a secret for anyone seeking God!