Thursday, January 21, 2016

Unspoiled Plots

I recently read Matthew 15, and (somehow) saw it through new eyes.  I remembered that the disciples still did not “get” Jesus.  They saw him as a spiritual authority, so it surprised them for Jesus to criticize the Pharisees.  After Jesus pointed out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, the disciples were almost shocked.  “Uh, Jesus, did you know that you just offended those religious leaders?”  They were trying to help him avoid trouble, not knowing that Jesus would never lose an argument, never back away from controversy, and never be defeated by death.

After the disciples’ admonition, Jesus takes the confrontation to a new level.  He calls the crowd to himself and explains how heart-matters are more important than appearances.  Suddenly this story had greater depth for me.  Somehow I could read the story as though it had not been spoiled.

So, how can you read the Bible like an unspoiled story?  Here are some suggestions.

Pray.  The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, so I can ask him to help me understand his word.

Take time.  Having a chunk of time without interruption and without distraction makes a huge difference for me.  Too often I provide my own distractions, unfortunately.

Read slowly.  I really struggle with reading the Bible too quickly.  I know the stories, so I can get by with skimming them.  When I stop rushing on to whatever is next, I can “listen” better to the story.

Try to forget what you already know.  That’s not easy to do.  It’s really the whole point of pretending that the story is not spoiled.  I keep reminding myself that I need a fresh perspective.

Read a different translation.  Unfamiliar wording often gets my attention.

Imagine the setting.  What time of day is it?  Where is this—on a mountain, on a lake, in a house?  What has just happened previously?  How would that affect the people in the story?  Is the weather mentioned?  What would that look like, feel like, as best you can imagine?

Consider who is in the story.  Is Jesus talking to the crowd, the Pharisees, the disciples?  Who is watching this happen?

Look at the details and descriptions.  Are emotions mentioned?  How are people described?  What details seem unimportant, and why were they included?

Imagine you are one of the “extra” characters.  What were David’s brothers thinking before he killed Goliath?  What were the other disciples thinking when Jesus rebuked Peter?  How did the Christians in Philippi feel when they heard the letter from Paul?

Ask questions.  Who is Jesus talking to?  How would they feel about Jesus?  What are they thinking?  Why would someone respond like that?  Why did God let that happen?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Spoiler Alert

Nobody likes spoilers.  Forgive me for remembering the old days, but there was a time when you could only see something on TV or at the movie theater.  If you missed it on TV, then you deserved to have it spoiled for you.  If you had not seen the movie yet, you needed to get to the theater fast.  Of course with no social media, the opportunities for spoilage were more rare.

A plot is spoiled when we know what is going to happen.  Much of the Star Wars episodes 1-3 was spoiled before the movies were ever made.  We knew that Anakin would turn to the dark side.  We knew that he would father a couple of children.  Key elements of the plot held no suspense.

When the plot is spoiled, we know how the story ends.  We see the disasters coming, we expect the hero to arrive, we know who will still be standing.  So, for entertainment, all we have left is curiosity about the details.  We miss the suspense.  We find no surprise with the unexpected.  Our jaws never drop.  Many stories become old and trite. 

In American culture, the Bible has been spoiled.  We know how it ends.  We know all the twists and turns, the disasters and the deliverances.  We know that Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt.  We know that David kills Goliath.  We know that the big fish swallows Jonah and saves his life.  We know that Jesus turns the water to wine.  We know that the woman at the well comes to faith  We know that Peter walks on water.  We know that Judas betrays his master, who is executed for fictitious crimes.  We know that the tomb is empty. 

But those who hear these stories for the first time are astounded.  God parts the waters!  Jonah can't run away from God!  Jesus offends the religious people!  Jesus forgives those who murder him!  Love conquers hate!

We can tell these stories to children and watch their eyes light up.  But by the time we are adults, our eyes glaze over.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Tell me something I don't know.  What's your point?

If we can read the stories as though we have never heard them, we see just what a radical Jesus is.  We marvel at the power and love of God.  We get a glimpse of the story of God.

Maybe that's what childlike faith is all about:  reveling in astonishment at the work of God.

Friday, January 8, 2016



For some reason, God keeps bring to mind the word, danger.  For months, the word has recurred in my thoughts, as though God were trying to get through to me.

I know that God had called me to more than a life of safety and comfort.  But, for the most part, that’s the life I live.  But he calls me into battle. 

Just this week I stumbled across this hard-hitting quote from missionary martyr Jim Elliot. 

“We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth Century does not reckon with. But we are ‘harmless,’ and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are ‘sideliners’ -- coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!”  --Jim Elliot

And so we dive into Danger at Crossroads. 

There are different kinds of danger.  Some danger we can avoid.  Wisdom leads us to make good decisions and escape this danger.  In Proverbs we read, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (27:12).  Sometimes God calls us to avoid danger.

Other danger we can’t avoid.  We have to face it.  It sneaks up on us and surprises us.  We deal with these kinds of dangers in daily life—from road rage to pink slips.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Sometimes we must face danger.

Then there is the danger we need to pursue.  “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” Paul told the Ephesians, “but against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  Danger is around the corner for any faithful follower of Jesus.  “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Jesus himself went directly into danger, following the Father step by step.  Sometimes God calls us to seek danger.

Here we go.

Avoiding Danger:  Wisdom for Avoiding Trouble

January 10  Trouble with the Government  (Exodus 2)

January 17  Trouble with Sin  (Genesis 19)

January 24  Trouble with Deception  (Colossians 2)

January 31  Trouble with Traps  (Acts 23)

In February, Facing Danger:  Wisdom for Handling Trouble

In March, Seeking Danger:  Wisdom for Making Trouble