The pros and cons of reading an analog Bible

img_9267.jpgBy analog, I mean a Bible printed on paper rather than the (digital) bible app on my phone or computer. I’m thankful for each. I also thankful for having the Bible at my fingertips in any of its forms. Remember, just five hundred or so years ago, virtually no one read the Bible. Until the Reformation and the invention of the printing press, few actually had one.

On my phone, I usually read from my Accordance app. On the computer, I also have Accordance, and I’ll often go to Biblegateway.com.

Anyway, here are the pros of an analog bible:

  • You can underline, circle, highlight, make notes, and draw pictures on the page for future reference. I can’t do nearly as much marking on my phone.
  • It’s easier to catch the context with a couple of pages right there in front of you. Scrolling through the text on my phone is more difficult.
  • Spill coffee? No problem with the printed version. Panic time with a phone. With an analog bible, it’s a badge of honor. Yep, I was up reading my bible this morning while I was drinking my coffee.
  • It’s easier to focus. My analog bible never interrupts my reading with texts, weather alerts, or phone calls. Yes, I could turn all those off, but I rarely do.
  • It slows you down a little. It’s good to slow down and think about what I’m reading. I can read much faster on my phone. I set the font larger, so there are fewer words on the page, and I can really zip along as I scroll through a passage or book.
  • I can actually look up passages more quickly with a printed bible.
  • No one has a problem with someone paging through a bible in church. Everyone is suspicious if you claim you are using your phone’s bible app in church!
  • Battery life is never an issue with an analog bible!

The cons of using the analog bible are also the strengths of the digital form:

  • It’s slower. I can read on my phone much faster. When I want to, I can really cruise through scripture.
  • With a printed bible, I don’t have the resources at my fingertips that are on my phone or computer. In the digital world, I can immediately see a word in the original language, read a passage in another translation, find a word or phrase in other verses, read a commentary, find out where a place is, or find out who a person is. I can find all that info in some books I have, but it takes a lot longer. A study Bible is helpful, but I can’t fit it into my pocket.
  • I like a larger print bible now, and they aren’t as easy to find as the ones with minuscule font on extremely thin paper. The footnotes and cross references are even smaller. On my phone, I can really ramp up the text size so I almost don’t need my glasses.
  • After a while, all the pages are marked up, stained, folded, torn here and there, and falling out. Some pens and highlighters bleed through the pages. It takes a while, but it eventually happens to all my bibles. I never have to duct tape the binding of a digital bible.

So, for me, it’s a tossup. It depends what I am doing. I always use an analog bible for preaching, teaching and visits. I always use a digital form for preparing sermons and bible classes. I use both for my daily devotional reading.

That’s one of the things that has changed in ministry. When I started, everything was in a book. Now just about everything is online. In act, I can even have Alexa or Siri read the bible to me! Pretty cool.

 

My Good Friday Bible

Today, I dusted off what I call my “Good Friday” bible and took it into the sanctuary in preparation for tonight’s Tenebrae (darkness) worship service. I call it my “Good Friday” bible because that is the one day a year when I use this massive volume. It measures about 12″x9″x3″ and weighs about 8 pounds, easily the largest book on my shelves. It has more than enough power for the end of the worship service when in complete darkness I slam it on the altar, reminding us of the closing up of Jesus’ tomb.

I received this bible from my mom and dad on my wedding day, nearly thirty-four years ago. They, too had a large bible like this at home that had been given to them. I don’t remember ever reading from it much. We had plenty of other bibles that we used for our personal and family devotions. The large bible contained a little bit of family tree names and dates, plus a couple of inspirational bookmarks.

I have slammed this bible on the altar thirty-two times, the number of years I have been a pastor and led worship on Good Friday. You can tell from the cracked binding that this book was only designed to be slammed about twenty-five times.

As I opened it up, I saw the dedication page written by my mom, with the reference to Psalm 18:30-36 and her blessing and prayer, “May your children give you as much joy as you have me.”

This psalm reference contains one of her favorite scriptural images, “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places” (Psalm 18:33 KJV). One of my mom’s favorite books was Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds’ Feet on High Places, “a timeless allegory dramatizing the yearning of God’s children to be led to new heights of love, joy, and victory” (Amazon.com). She purchased and gave away dozens of those books. She knew well the difficult life in the trenches as a mom, wife and nurse. But she also knew joy. She knew the thrill of skipping sure-footedly across the mountains of God’s promises to see the past, present and future from a whole new perspective. I am thankful that she passed that thrill along to me.

By grace, God heard and answered her prayer many times over. My children and now my grandchildren continue to fill my life with so much joy! Thirty-four years later, I understand what mom was talking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is it so hard to understand?

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Throughout the Bible, whenever God speak to people, they understand him. Adam: “Where are you?” Noah: “Build a boat.” Abram: “Leave…go…a great nation.” All the prophets. God spoke in their language. They may not have liked it, but they got it.

But now, we have to translate God’s word into the language of the people, so they can understand. Why is that? At Pentecost, everyone from all over the world heard and understood the word spoken by the disciples. After that, it gets more complicated.

It took a long time, and a lot of sweat and tears to learn Greek and Hebrew, so I could read, hear and understand God in the original languages.  But even with a wide variety of English translations, I still struggle to figure out what God is talking about. Why is it so hard now?

Some possibilities: God spoke to fewer people back then. Like one at a time. God spoke to one nation. Israel. God spoke through one person: Jesus. Now, since Pentecost, the word has been unleashed in the world and for the world and for me.

It’s worth the effort.

“I didn’t know that.”

At asuhyeon-choi-184102 recent regional pastor’s conference, the guest speaker, Mark Wood, made me aware of a segment of the population who identify as Christian, but know little if anything about the faith.

Mark shared a story of an airplane conversation with someone who identified as a Christian, but was surprised and even shocked by what Jesus had to say on a number of issues. Someone had witnessed to them, they said a prayer that asked Jesus to be their Savior, but that was it. They weren’t baptized, didn’t go to church, and were functionally biblically illiterate.

I’ll bet they aren’t alone. I’ll bet there are plenty of people attending church who know little of what God says in His Word. In fact, I’ll bet a good percentage of the church fits this profile.

I’m glad they’re saved. But there is so much more! Not only do we have something to look forward to in the next life, but we’ve been transformed to live new lives now. Lives of mercy, forgiveness, and truth.

Wouldn’t that be different than some of the usual suspicion, fear and lies that fill our news and conversation?

How’s your biblical literacy? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Sola scriptura

Transcription of Sunday, September 17, 2017 sermon. 

Sept 17 cover pic

October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 theses against indulgences in Wittenberg, at All Saints Church. That day is thought of as the beginning of the Reformation. As we get ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in just a few weeks, we’re going to look at some of the phrases that grew out of that moment, which started a movement. All of those phrases include the word alone, or the Latin word sola. Like scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory. Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. We’re going to start with scripture alone, or sola scriptura.

As we’re talking about the Reformation, I know you’re going to have a lot of questions. It’s impossible to go as deep as we need in this short time we have on a Sunday morning. There’s a lot of history involved, a lot of politics involved, it happened a long time ago so the world was much different than today. It involved theology as well as economics. It can be a challenge to understand. But there’s good news. We’re going to start a new class on October 1, on Sunday mornings. An adult bible class where we’re going to unpack, unwrap these things so you ask questions. So sign up for my class. I already signed up. I was the first one on the list. I have to get ready anyway because I’m the teacher. But you’re all invited to come to my class about a Man Named Martin.

A good place to begin is why Luther posted these things to be debated in the first place. the answer is: he was very concerned about poor pastoral care going on in the parishes and churches in Germany. By poor pastoral care I mean that parish pastors or priests were not only encouraging but were profiting from the sale of indulgences. This is a simplified definition of indulgences. Basically an indulgence was a certificate of forgiveness you could receive for a donation to your church. It evolved into something you could receive for yourself or a loved one or even for a loved one who had already died, to make it possible for God’s grace to be applied to them. Basically, what was happening was that the pastors were selling forgiveness for contributions. This was approved and encouraged by the church. From Luther’s point of view, he just couldn’t make that line up with what he found in the bible.

In hindsight, as we look back we understand exactly what issues Luther had. In Hebrews chapter 10 the writers quotes the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and talks about the covenant God makes with his people, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  God’s promises to his people that he won’t consider their sins, they’re off the table, they aren’t an issue any more.

John 19, Jesus is hanging from the cross, suffering and dying, and its dark, everyone has abandoned him. Jesus says, “It is finished.” Sin has been paid for. The work of salvation is complete. It’s done.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians about a righteousness that didn’t come from the law but came through faith in Christ, a righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:19).

So all of these things in scripture make those indulgences unnecessary. But to say anything about that is to go up against the authority and hierarchy of the church which had tremendous power over people’s lives. The church had political, economic, and social power. To go up against that would take a lot of courage.

Eventually, Martin Luther finds himself standing before the emperor at the Diet of Worms in 1521, saying that his conscience was bound by scripture. What was in God’s Word had to be taken seriously and that every authority in the church was subject to what the scripture said. This would be the only rule faith and practice. Not traditions. Everything had to be measured against the scriptures. That’s where the phrase comes from. Scripture alone. Sola scriprura.

This is no shock for us, especially for those of you who grew up Lutheran or have been around the Lutheran church for a while. We’re familiar with the words of the epistle today where we read that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, complete, equipped for every good work. Everything you need to know about God and to be God’s people can be found in the scriptures.

 

You can find out who God is and what he is like and how this world came to be. You can find out who Jesus is and where he was born and how he lived and how he is uniquely the son of a human mother and a divine father. You can find out what Christ did, what he suffered, why he did it. You find out how much God loves you and the future he’s prepared for you and what it means to believe. You faith can be complete just with the bible.

The important thing to remember is that at the time of Luther they didn’t have bibles. They weren’t walking around with bibles. The printing press had just been invented. Some churches didn’t even have a copy of the bible. All of their spiritual information came from their priests, who told them what they wanted them to know. No one could ask any questions, because no one knew any different. That’s why this is so revolutionary to actually have the scriptures and be able to measure everything against them.

From that idea we can ask ourselves the question: what’s your source of spiritual information? Where do you get the teachings that inform your faith?

The answer is amazing. You get spiritual information from me, your pastor, from other pastors you’ve know. From devotional books, bible study guides you use small groups. Maybe you’ve read commentaries, or used study bible, or listened to other preachers on the radio. You’ve watched them on TV. When you have a question you Google it. There are any number of religious information out there. All of this contributes to your faith.

Some have gotten spiritual truths from dreams or visions, or friends, or your family taught you things growing up. Some have consulted the occult, spiritualists or fortune tellers. All of this shapes our faith.

If that’s true, what does the idea of sola scriptura or scripture alone mean to us?

The best way to think about this is to picture all of the sources of information, all of those books, stacked one on top of another, with the bible on top. Everything must come under the authority of the scriptures. Everything is measured against what God’s word says. Scripture alone becomes the rule for our faith and practice. When I’m studying and preparing to preach or teach, I consult commentaries and what others have written. I had other teachers. I’ve had lot of sources of information, too. But they are all filtered through the word of God. Which we know is true. God doesn’t lie. He is faithful. His word informs our faith; it is the final authority.

As you measure everything against the scriptures, keep this in mind. First of all, the bible’s main message is to reveal to you God’s plan of salvation. To reveal to you who Jesus is, why he came, and what he did for you. it’s not just a book about how to live better, have a better life or prosper financially. The purpose is what John said, that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing in him, you will have eternal life.

As we read that sometimes we read Law, and sometimes we read Gospel. Sometimes God’s Word shows us very clearly we’re not on the right track. Then it shows us God’s grace and forgiveness to get us back on the right track. That’s the Law and the Gospel.

And as we read these words, remember that we don’t take them out of context. We don’t use them for an agenda. If there is something in scripture you don’t understand, you hold it up against something in the bible that does make sense. We let scripture interpret scripture. We don’t force our own meaning on it. It’s not for private interpretation. The Holy Spirit moved people who wrote the scriptures for us, so that we would know it was coming from God.

What would you do if the bible was all you had? You have no internet, no commentaries, you’re phone’s not working so you can’t call the pastor, you have no bible study guides, nothing else but the bible. What would you do? You would still have everything you need. Here’s what I would do. I certainly wouldn’t go to the parts of the bible I don’t understand. And there are parts of the bible I don’t understand. I would always go back to the places where I hear God speaking words of peace and calm and reassurance and strength. I would always go back to the passage where Jesus says to the storm, “Be still.” I would always go back to the place where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me,” because I know I’m one of his kids. I would always go back to the place where Jesus teaches me how to pray, so if I don’t know what to say, at least I would have something to say. Where do you go, if this is all you have?

Trust him. He will always have something to say to you. God has revealed everything we need to be his people in the scriptures. Sola scriptura. Scripture alone.

What if all you had was a bible?

a-worshiper-holds-a-small-bible-640x480Today in church I asked the question, “What would you do if you only had a bible?”

We get so much spiritual input from Google, TV and radio, devotional books, bible study books, study bibles, well-meaning friends and family, and our own experiences. All those things are helpful, blessings and important to our understanding of God’s word. But what if we didn’t have any of those things. What if all we had were a bible? Continue reading

Can I read the Bible on my phone?

 

“Pastor, is it OK if I use my phone/tablet to access the Bible during church/the sermon/bible class?”

That is a question that excites me! You see, in our Lutheran tradition, few worshipers bring a Bible to church. I'm guessing less than 10%. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because we print the readings in our worship folder. Maybe you just never got used to doing it. But if you are asking if it's OK to have God's Word in front of you during the sermon or class, I'm all for it.

Now of course, you are going to have to ward off some serious temptations. Like texting your friend to let her know you really like her dress. Or checking Facebook to learn what some of those who aren't in worship are doing with their Sunday morning. Or reading the Sunday paper.

But there are also some amazing possibilities at your fingertips. Check another translation to see how words and phrases are expressed. Check the definition of a word you don't understand. Bring up a map of a place you've never heard of. Text a question to the pastor. (I'll answer as soon as I can.) Message your friend and tell them, “You should have come to church this morning. We talked about ______.” Or Shazaam one of the worship songs or hymns to download later. Take some notes.

Seven years ago, we wouldn't have even asked this question. Six years ago the first iPhone was released. God has kept up with the technology quite well. Many of my confirmation students are using their phones to access bible in class. On Thursday mornings, about half of the men in bible class use a tablet.

Whatever gets you into the word. (Just make sure your phone is on silent.)

 

Study bible

A good basic resource to help you understand God’s Word is a study bible. The one I’m currently using is the Lutheran Study Bible from Concordia Publishing House. There are other worthy study bibles out there to consider, especially if you want a translation other than the English Standard Version.

A study bible has a few pages at the beginning of each book explaining who wrote that book, when, and what the historical context is. It will sum up some of the main themes of the book, and give you a heads up for what to look for as you are reading. It often provides a basic outline of the book, too.

When you open to a book of the bible and begin reading, a study bible will contain notes for each verse, usually at the bottom of each page. These notes will give information about names, places, words and cultural references in each verse. You’ll be directed to other verses that address similar events or ideas. You may also find a summary of a passage, an application, devotional thought or a prayer.

If you didn’t know, for example, that the prophet Haggai was around in the post-exilic temple reconstruction period of Israel’s history, much of the book will be puzzling. But once you have that info, the book makes a lot more sense. Or, if you don’t know who a Pharisee is, or where Capernaum is, or what crucifixion is, just glance down at the bottom of the page, and you’ll find that information.

Now while the biblical text is inspired, or “God-breathed,” remember that the study Bible notes are not. They are written by human authors, so you will want to pay attention to the publisher or editors of a study bible. For example, you may not find much about infant baptism in some study bibles from reformed publishers, but you definitely will in the Lutheran Study Bible.

From time to time I have to remind people “he who lives by the study bible, dies by the study bible.” IOW, don’t quote study notes as gospel. While they may be scholarly, they may also contain some opinion.

You’ll also find a plethora of maps, charts, reading plans, articles and indexes in a study bible. It can be overwhelming sometimes. But don’t be intimidated. Just use what you need, and see what a blessing this resource can be.

What did they do before there were Bibles?

At the beginning of any new year, you’ll see lots of read through the Bible in a year or two plans promoted. Be sure to check out this blog that talks about what to do when you’ve already fallen behind in your resolve to read the Bible.

Here’s my question: how did Christians read their bibles and do their personal devotions before there were bibles you could own and read? Printed bibles have only been around for about 500 years. Before that, there were hand-copied bibles in churches and universities, but virtually no one had one at home. Before that, there was just the Old Testament, and they kept and read those scrolls in the synagogues. Get this: Jesus didn’t even own a Bible!

I’m guessing that the answer is, for the most part, they didn’t. If you were a monk in the middle ages, I guess you could go to the prayer hours (matins, vespers, etc.) and hear the Word read there. Otherwise, the Word was read at mass each week. In the earliest days of the church, you got your teaching live from an apostle who recounted the things they had heard from Jesus and seen Him do. That must have been very cool. And before that, you got your daily dose of the Word from the Word Himself, Jesus. And before that you would have gotten the Word from the prophets, who spoke for God, but hardly anyone listened to them anyway.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, but I believe it’s important to remember that the current emphasis on bible reading and study, which really drives a lot of our programs, is a fairly recent one in the history of the church. And since we do have bibles coming out our ears (and electronic devices), we should take advantage of them. There doesn’t seem to be much excuse to not know what’s in the Bible or what God says about something. But I read somewhere that biblical illiteracy is disturbingly high among self-proclaimed Christians. You know what that means: job security for me.