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Back in January I took a class at school that will forever change the way I think about and read my Bible. I don’t think the class was necessarily intended to have this effect, but it did.
(On me, anyways).
The class was about the concept of culture and it challenged us as pastors and ministers and Christians and followers of Jesus to be aware of the cultures in which we share the Gospel because in order to effectively share the Message of Jesus with the people of our world, we need to understand a few things about the culture that we’re entering, things like …
Where those people are in their lives.
How they got there.
Where they came from.
And the different things in their lives that are positively/negatively affecting them.
Like, you wouldn’t sign up to be a missionary in Africa and then move your entire family there without first learning as much as you could about Africa, the African people, etc.
People spend YEARS preparing for something like that – they go to school to learn the culture, to learn the language, and to become as familiar with what to expect as possible.
Culture is king, it’s of necessary importance.
And so, likewise, we need to understand the culture in which we minister.
For me that culture is Northern New Jersey AND the virtual world. I volunteer at my church as part of the preaching team, but my main place of “ministry” is two-fold …
(1) The Apple Store – I work at an Apple Retail Store in Woodcliff Lake, NJ where I get to interact with over 50 co-workers a day and well over 500 people a week.
That’s lots of people, right?
And so in that relationally-intense kind of setting, it’s important that I understand the culture and the area that my store is situated in so that I can better interact with the people God brings my way.
For instance, the store is located in Bergen County, NJ, which is one of the wealthiest places in the country and so the way I approach people here would be much different than how I would approach them in, say, some remote place in North Dakota.
(2) The Virtual World – A large portion of my ministry takes place here, at MorningEncouragement.com, as well as various social media platforms where I connect with, talk with, encourage, challenge, exchange ideas with, and learn from various different kinds of people from (literally) all over the planet.
Interestingly, experts say that each social media platform attracts a different kind of user who is looking for a different kind of experience at a different kind of pace for different kinds of reasons.
And so it’s important to know and be aware of all of those differences because the person I come across on Twitter will be looking for something very different than someone on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat.
For others, their place of ministry is Connecticut.
Are you picking this up? Long story short, we need to ask ourselves things like, do the people I minister to come from an affluent community or a poor one? What kind of jobs do they have? Retail? Corporate? Are they older or younger? Male or female? Did they have to work for what they have or was it inherited? Singles? Families? Educated? Church going? Catholic? Protestant? Own a home, rent a home?
In class we talked about what our professor called “the pillars” of our society (things like government, education, and social media) and deep dived into those topics in an effort to discover more about that piece of our culture and the impact that it has on the people of our world, all with the end goal of more clearly presenting the Message of Jesus to the people who spend their time in the shadow of that pillar.
What does it look like to bring the Gospel into the GOVERNMENT?
And how does that differ from how the Gospel would be presented via SOCIAL MEDIA?
Or in our EDUCATION system?
It’s always the same Gospel, but it’s dressed up quite differently depending on where it’s being presented and the kinds of people who are on the receiving end.
To help us process all of this, each student was put into a small group where we tackled each of the 7 pillars by presenting a 2 1/2 hour presentation, the results of which were fascinating.
In addition to all of this our professor also challenged us to be better students of the cultures we come across in our Bibles because many of us, he said, read our Bible’s at a first grade level. In other words, we open the book and read it like we would any other book.
We take the words at face value.
We forget that it’s one book consisting of over 50 other books.
We forget that some of the books are poems.
While others are historical records.
We forget that some are records of prophetic dreams and visions.
We forget that it was written by maybe as many as 100 different people because some books are actually a collection of smaller documents written by a variety of different people while one (or more) then edited them all together into the final form we have today.
And we forget that even that final document went through revisions and revisions and more revisions.
We forget that the books or letters or poems were written during specific times in history.
We forget that they were written during times of intense persecution.
We forget that they were written during the reigns of various Kings and Queens and powerful Empires.
We forget that some of them are allegories or illustrations while others are historical records.
We forget that the people who initially read all of these things were stuck in situations that are similar, but so much different than ours.
We forget that the writers and readers, alike, had problems.
We forget all of these things (and more) so that we, instead, take the words on the pages at face value and fail to think any deeper about them than we would the latest Harry Potter book.
The Word of God, you could say, is like a diamond – you look at it and turn it every which way so that you can discover and be captured by its beauty. Every time you turn it, you see something different. Every time the Light hits it in a new way, you see a different aspect, something you didn’t see before.
There is always an “A-HA” moment to be had.
And so our professor challenged us and said that once we hit the doctoral level of education, the game changed. In other words, we’re no longer just students, but experts. And as doctors of the church, we ought to be experts of the Bible. And if we’re going to be experts of the Bible, we need to stop reading it like an elementary school student would read Harry Potter and start reading it like the experts we’re supposed to be.
That challenge was laid down on the last day of class and (to be honest) it completely wrecked me, but made everything in my life make so much more sense.
Like the title of this post says, (confession) I had become so horrendously bored with my Bible.
The class was in January and just 5 days before class started I began a Bible reading plan where I was reading through my Bible in 90 days. Jordan was due to arrive in April and so I figured it would be awesome for me to read my entire Bible over the course of January, February, and March. What better way to prepare to be a dad than to read my Heavenly Father’s words to me?
And so I gathered some Morning Encouragers together, started up a Facebook Group, and dove into the reading. It was great for like a day, but as I got into the later parts of Genesis I started to realize something that kind of scared me.
Here I am.
A doctoral student.
With a Master’s Degree in Bible stuff.
And a Bachelor’s Degree, too.
The host of a blog / podcast that seems to be making quite a difference for people.
A (soon to be) father.
A (supposed to be) expert in this stuff.
… And I’m finding that I’m extremely bored with this old book. Like, I couldn’t remember the last time I opened it up and learned something that really fascinated me. Not just like “oh wow that’s cool”, but “holy smokes – this changes everything.”
Some things are interesting.
Other stuff is perspective changing.
I couldn’t remember the last time I was blown away by something I read or learned or saw in the Bible. And so as I was reading the stories for the hundredth time back in January, I felt this little nudge in my heart saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah, Abraham brought Isaac up to the mountain and God stopped him just before he put the knife through him” and, “yeah, Noah built the ark and it rained and rained and rained and then he sent out the raven and the dove and then a little while later he got drunk in his tent and his kids saw him naked” … the more stories I read, the more I didn’t want to read them anymore because I knew what was coming next.
Just being honest (and really vulnerable) with you.
And then I flipped to the New Testament and found myself just as bored with the words of Jesus.
The Great Commission.
The interactions with the Pharisees.
He said the Kingdom of God would be like a woman who lost a coin, He told the disciples to go and make more disciples of the world, He told His friends that He would never leave them or forsake them.
I began to feel like I had studied this book for so long …
4 years of Bible College.
4 Years of Seminary.
1 1/2 years into a doctoral program.
3 years of pastoring a church and writing sermons and Bibles studies.
Having read well over 1,000 books.
… I felt like I had studied the words of the book for so long that I was now bored with it.
And so that made me nervous and made me feel incredibly guilty and bad about myself. How can I be a pastor, blogger, writer, doctoral student, expert of the Bible when I feel like it’s the most boring thing in the world?
Then I took this class.
And after processing through what I had learned and the challenge our professor laid down on the last day, I began to understand something that I’ve known for a long, long time, but never really grasped.
You see, it’s one thing to know the Bible and to know where things are and to know the words on the pages and to know the ideas that are presented and to know how the stories begin and end and all of that. Like, it’s one thing to know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and his sons, Abraham and Isaac, David and Goliath, etc, etc, etc.
It’s one thing to know that stuff, but it’s quite another thing to understand the culture in which those books and stories were written in.
It's one thing to know the stories of the Bible, it's another thing to know and understand the culture of the Bible. #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
What was happening in the greater world at that time?
Why is this a story that has endured for thousands of years so that it’s still recorded in the Bible I’m holding in my hand?
Who was King at the time?
And what kind of King was he?
Was the author of the book (or authors) impacted by his rule? And if so, how?
Did the author write this story as a historical record? Or was he trying to make a deeper point?
Who was the book or letter or poem originally written TO? And what was that person or those people experiencing?
Who wrote the book or letter? And why? Do we know what his intention was? Or what was going on in HIS life, in HIS part of the world at the time he put the pen on the paper?
And it was written in Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic … does the language it was written in communicate the words differently than our English words do? And if so, how? What can we learn from that?
Jesus was Jewish Rabbi, not a Protestant Pastor of a mega church. What does that mean? And why is it important?
I left class with all of these NEW insights and NEW ideas and NEW thoughts swirling around in my head. Yes, I’ve always known that the culture of the Bible is important and that in order to really understand the heart of the Scriptures, we need to be students of the cultures of the Bible.
I’ve always known that.
But, I guess that knowledge and that passion got covered up over the years by trying to pass exams and write term papers and preach applicable sermons, write encouraging blog posts, and trying to understand systemic theology and things like justification by faith and sanctification and predestination and free will and heaven and hell and salvation and this, that, and the other thing.
The Bible, you could say, became this long systematic document of the Christian Religion as opposed to the living, breathing collection of poems and documents and books and letters that it is.
Don’t get me wrong – systematic theology is important. It’s important to understand the tenants of the Christian faith, to be able to speak to them, and be able to see where the Bible teaches the things that we believe.
BUT, systematic theology is not the beginning of study, nor is it the end. Rather, it’s just an ever-so small piece of what we find in our Bible’s and if we allow systematic-type stuff to be the beginning and end of our faith, we’re in for a boring ride.
Same with self-help type stuff. Yes, there’s lots of stuff in the Bible that can speak to us and help us make it through our days, verses like …
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”
“Be strong and courageous.”
… It’s helpful, it’s good, and it makes life feel a lot less scary.
But, again, it can’t stop there. Systematic stuff and self-help stuff is just a small piece of what’s in your Bible and in order to dig deeper beneath all of that stuff and learn more about the book that guides our lives, we’re going to have to stop reading it like first graders and start reading it with a different mindset and approach.
All of that to say, I’m on a much different adventure with my Bible than I was 5 months ago. Rather than just open it up and read a passage at a surface level, I’ve gotten some books off of my shelves and have purchased a few more that will help me dig deeper into the text and answer the questions that I mentioned above. And the cool thing is that you don’t really need degrees in this stuff like I have in order to do what I’m setting out to do.
Yeah, YOU can also become a student of the culture of the Bible.
I mean, it helps that I have those degrees. I wouldn’t trade them for the world because they have given me lots of insights and lots of tools to study the Bible and mine through the text. I consider myself VERY blessed. But, you can pick up some books and some tools from places like Amazon.com and Alibris.com that will help you dig deeper, too.
If you’re interested in some of those books, here are a few of my favorites. Pick one of them up and keep it with you as you read through your Bible and watch as your world opens up and the diamond turns.
… There’s more. So much more. But pick one of these up and use it to accompany through your Bible and I guarantee that new worlds will be opened.
Long story short – the Bible was getting horrendously boring to me, but then I did something about it.
Will you DARE to turn the diamond?
Is your Bible boring? Not for long - read this! #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
Here’s some fresh wallpaper with the big idea from today’s entry that you can use for the background of your smartphone – save it, use it, pass it along!