The Snow Forgives Us: A True Story

snow cover over landSeveral inches of snow already blanketed the ground and it was still falling heavily when I left –  early – for the Wednesday evening fellowship. The forecast called for 8 inches by midnight, and I believed it. But this was Michigan. Flatland. Virtually bereft of hills and S-turns, but plenty of salt trucks. (Did you know that under the sprawling city of Detroit, whose suburban streets I was presently negotiating, you will find an enormous salt mine?)

No one who grew up in Detroit, as I did, fretted about driving in this weather. You drove cautiously. You paid attention. And, most likely, you would get there, and back again, on the flat terrain.

I expected the usual crowd at Jeannie’s spacious house. She lived there with her very cute, precocious  4-year old daughter, Heather. Sixty people could worship and fellowship comfortably in the large basement. I parked my rusty old Chevy 4-door at the curb and crunched through the deep snow twinkling up at me from the ground.

I don’t remember why, but sometime during the worship or preaching, I left the basement and went back upstairs. Nobody was there. But as I walked across the dimly lit living room, I saw Heather standing alone, rapt, beside the sliding glass doors that looked out into the large backyard. I quietly slid up alongside.

What a sight! Twelve hours earlier while driving to work, I had seen the world as it is.
Roads soiled by the traffic of cars that dripped oil. Fast food debris discarded along curbs. Sidewalks cracked through neglect. Lawns long yellowed in dormancy awaiting their green spring.

But, now, what a sight! A thick blanket of snow covered the ugly. All of man’s detritus – indeed, all earth itself – not a blade of dead grass could be seen – lay covered under sparkling snow.

I must have fallen rapt, too, standing alongside Heather looking in amazement. Flakes fell gently  and quickly past the bright outdoor spotlights that lit up the yard, glittering and twinkling like I imagine the wings of angels sparkling with colors when I see them.

All was silent. This was another world. Adorned. Pristine. Speechless.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I whispered.

“The snow forgives us,” she said.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” Whenever I publish a new post, you will then receive a very short email notice. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell some friends! Thank you.

What Do You Put in Your Pocket?

LilliesThe Walmart lot where I had just parked my car didn’t look prone to thieves and the neighborhood didn’t look particularly bad. But I was being cautious. I don’t want this to get stolen, I said to myself. Don’t be silly, said another thought. Leave it in the car. My better angel won that round. I wouldn’t chance losing that old cassette tape. So I slipped it into the top pocket of my shirt, locked the car, and walked into the big box store in peace.

The tape was irreplaceable, as far as I knew. And not available on the Web. Losing it would mean losing the message. I just couldn’t bear the thought of that. It had been speaking to me at a deep level, and I knew it wasn’t finished with me yet.

My car was still there when I exited Walmart. In one fluid motion, I unlocked the driver’s door, slipped behind the wheel, started the engine, lifted the tape from my pocket, slid it into the car’s cassette player, and drove away listening to the rest of the preacher’s message.

What I had actually done hit me a few days later, when some words of Jesus from long ago came echoing into my head: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” I didn’t think of this at that time, but I held that cassette tape next to my heart. I suddenly realized how much I treasured that preacher’s sermon. I had placed it next to my heart.

That was a good thing to do. But since then I have had memories flit through my mind of bad things that I made into treasures of heart. Things that wore out, or decayed, or got stolen. Things temporal that tricked me. Things of wood and straw. Things over which I got depressed, or bitter, or angry, or divisive, or confused, or desperate, or sinned when they were gone.

I don’t carry that cassette tape around in my shirt pocket, but I did take the preacher’s message to heart. I’m not sure I will ever drive in and out of a Walmart lot the same again.

And I remembered something else Jesus said, that good things come out of hearts holding good treasures. That’s what I want more of. That’s what we all want more of. Things of joy, of grace, of hope, of peace, of love, of godliness. Things lastingly eternal, applied and normalized in our changed and changing hearts. Not for self-interest. But for the kind of selfless giving that blesses others, as that preacher’s message blessed me. Let that beat go on. So, what are you holding in your pocket?

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by LuAnn Kessi via Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” Whenever I publish a new post, you will then receive a very short email notice. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell some friends! Thank you.

 

The Last Person to Hear about 9/11

Twin Towers smoking2.30 p.m. GMT.  Three hours out of London, the passengers aboard Delta Flight 59 were digesting their lunches, quietly absorbed in their laptops or reading novels. Others fell drowsily captive to that vespertine atmosphere created on planes when the movies are running. Other than departing Gatwick 30 minutes late, at Noon (7 a.m. EDT), so far the only bother was that all of the video screens had suddenly gone dark.

“The movies should be back on in a few minutes,” an air hostess replied over the intercom to the hushed buzz of passengers. “A computer needs re-booting. It happens. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Yawn. Passengers stretched, ordered drinks, queued for toilets. Someone across the aisle from me lifted his porthole shade and broke the spell of counterfeit evening. I was overwhelmed. The bright blue evanescence, which I once heard a pilot call “severe clear,” stretched out into forever. It hurt your eyes to gaze at the boundless brightness. I turned away. Twenty more minutes passed. Still no movies. People fidgeted. The Boeing 777 droned on. Five hours to go before touchdown in Atlanta.

3.15 p.m. GMT. Suddenly everyone’s attention locked on to the Texas drawl coming from the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. May I have your attention. Your serious attention.” The dreaded words. Worst nightmares sprung from the fuselage, the overhead compartment, the unconscious — wherever you had stowed them before boarding. A kind of holy moment spread through cabin. No one spoke. No one dared. We’re going down.

It seemed much longer than the millisecond it took before Captain William’s steady but troubled Texas drawl continued: “There’s been a major incident in the United States and all air space throughout the nation has been closed. All planes in the air in the United States are being directed to land at the nearest airports, and all international flights into the U.S. are being diverted. We are okay. I repeat. We are okay. But we cannot land in the U.S. We will be landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia in about two hours. We can’t give you any more information at this time. Please be patient and bear with us. We will have more details for you when we get on the ground in Halifax. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Like synchronized swimmers on cue, passengers turned to face their seat-neighbors. Whispers arose. What do you think it is? Who knows? Maybe that announcement was just a ploy and we’re going down? Must have been a huge earthquake? What would they close all the airports for that? A nuclear bomb, then? Maybe the air traffic control system has failed? Does the captain even know what’s going on?

9/11: 42 commercial passenger jets parked on Halifax International runwayNothing made any sense to me. Why had the FAA closed all the airports? I had to know. Knowing would help me beat back worst-case-scenario self-talk. I quickly calculated to Eastern Time and realized that my wife would be in class with her first-graders. But how could I even be sure of that? Was she safe? What had happened? And where? Who had been effected? Was I even going to get home?

Someone must know. Ahh. Coming down the aisle toward me was a hostess whom I had spoken with earlier and had made a connection. I was traveling alone and there were no passengers near me. I decided to take advantage of that privacy. Our eyes met but I deliberately remained seated, hoping she would stop when I sought inconspicuously to flag her down. She stopped and crouched to listen. “I know you can’t tell me what happened, even if you know,” I whispered, “and I’m not asking you to. But can you at least tell me, does the crew know what’s happened?” She nodded discreetly, stood, and then continued on her errand. Well, it was something. A kindness. The first of many to come during the next four days.

5.45 p.m. GMT/12.45 p.m. EDT. Delta Flight 59 became the penultimate of 42 planeloads of international air travelers permitted safe harbor at Halifax International before the tarmac ran out of wing space. As we circled before landing, I was surprised to see the asphalt service road filled with on-lookers in cars, vans, and pickups; like bystanders congregating to stare at a blazing house fire, they had queued to watch the emergency landings. Well, more than that. It wasn’t just the striking sight of landing these huge commercial jets that had brought them out of their homes and businesses that sunny day. They knew what had happened. Who did not? We still did not.

1 p.m. EDT. Taxiing to our place at the end of the long queue of planes, far from the terminal, we eased past the staring congregation of on-lookers until Captain Williams brought the 777 to a gentle halt. We heard the mic cue. Williams immediately thanked us for our patient cooperation and then provided what details he had of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. “Hopefully,” he concluded, “they’ll re-open U.S. airspace to get these international flights to their destinations. So maybe we’ll get out of here in a few hours.”

We now asked a thousand questions of the crew, but they only knew what Captain Williams knew. Cell phone service had been turned off as we flew to Halifax, and there were no televisions. The details available to us upon landing were still very sketchy and rumors still ran wild in the media about “more possible attacks.” There was a rumor about “a plane crashing in Pennsylvania.”

It would be nearly 24 hours after the attack before our imaginations would be seared by television images of flying machines, twisted I-beams, and charred bodies crashing, falling, and billowing in the explosive chemistry of terror, dust, and loss.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Note from Charles: Every week of September 11 since 2001, I remember where I was on that fateful day. I still find it eerie – given the immediate, ubiquitous, and lengthy worldwide media coverage of the attack – to have been one of the last persons on the planet to hear the news. More importantly, I think about how opposite of the terrorist attackers was the spirit of thousands of stranded passengers and our Canadian hosts as we built community in and around Halifax those days. I called that spirit “the kindness of strangers,” and it was duplicated for many thousands of stranded others across the U.S. and Canada. If you would like to read the full essay of my account, first published for the one-year anniversary of 9/11, here it is.

Top image: smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, taken from the international space station (image by NASA/Bryan Allen/Corbis). Bottom: the 42 huge international passenger jets parked wingtip to wingtip on a runway of Halifax International (image by CBS News).

A personal note from Charles Strohmer: If you want more of the perspectives that wagingwisdom.com seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Simply click here wagingwisdom.com, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it, tell some friends! Thank you.

The Rest of the Square Inch

square inch with heartMany years ago when starting out as a public Christian, I had visions of changing the world. It didn’t seem like a ridiculous hope, if only because my first book had sold well in the U.S. and the U.K. and had been translated into six languages. So I was riding high, on the road to changing the world for God.

But soon I realized I couldn’t change the world. So I took a more humble stance: I’ll just change my nation instead. But then I realized that I couldn’t change America, so, wise guy that I am, I lowered my sights further: I can change my state. But then I realized I couldn’t change Michigan. So I wised up a little more: if I can’t change my state, I’ll change my city, Detroit. After all, we’ve got a ton of problems here.

Failing to get any traction down that road, I was getting desperate. After all, I had lowered my sights considerably. Maybe God was trying to tell me something. But what that was, I didn’t know.

Then it hit me: I’ve got it! If I can’t change the city, I can change my church. On reflection, of course, that was dumb idea. It’s not my church, it’s God’s. So I said: well, at least I can change my family. Right. That didn’t work either. So I said: I can change my wife. (When you’re done laughing, read on.) After getting over that painful move, I wondered how much smaller I could shrink my vision of change. If I couldn’t change the world or the nation or the state or the city or my church or my family or my friends or my wife, what else was there? What other area was there?

I did entertain some notions of changing myself. But that, too, was ridiculous. Although there were ways in which I had changed some things about myself, and othere things I could and should still do, I knew enough about myself as a sinner and what the Bible teaches about any notion of self-redemption to know that it’s a futile project.

What, then, could I do? Apparently, I couldn’t change anything! Yet that was the disillusionment God had been driving for in my heart. I remember praying: God, I can’t change the world or the nation or even my family, friends, or wife. Or even myself. I don’t have a vision of change any more. It’s hopeless. What’s going on?

You can change your square inch. That’s the answer that immediately popped into my spirit, and with it came understanding. I saw all the varied and diverse relationships that I had, near and far, with people I knew and did not know, and I saw that if I was willing God would give me grace and wisdom to change things for the better in those “square inches,” those realms of relationships. I no longer had to fuss and moan about changing the world, or Michigan, or my city, or my church, or my family, or myself. But if I myself cooperated with God’s grace and wisdom in whatever situtation I happened to be in, at any given moment and wherever in the world it was, I would be changing something for the good in my “square inch.”

This insight about what could actually be changed changed my understanding of both pubic and private Christian life and ministry. I already knew that it was about relationships. But now I had much more clarity about what that meant.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s some thoughts. We each have our own square inches, and their size varies all the time. They may be large or small, nearby or far away, with persons we know or don’t know. It depends on what we are doing and where we are at any particular time. And those realms of relationships and what is taking place in them are not static but dynamic, changing in any number of ways. Further, God is with us in those realms with grace and wisdom, and this means that changes can be made for the good.

Your square inch at any given time may be sitting on the couch with a child, or standing in a long, slow-moving queue of irritable shoppers, or working with an ornery boss. It may be may be talking on the phone with an old friend across the country, or sitting at a table with seven others at a wedding reception dinner, or in a moment of decision about what to post on Facebook or to comment on there. In other words, the sizes and situations of your square inches will always be different, depending on what’s going. But God will be there in them with you with grace and wisdom on offer for changing something for the better, and for making the already-good ever gooder.

But there are other considerations. Typically, a Christian’s square inches include  relationships and situations like those I’ve mentioned. But besides those, the square inches of some Christian man and women are a much larger pulpit for the grace and wisdom of Jesus to make a change. Some are pastors. Some are in classrooms teaching. Some run businesses. Some direct NGOs. Some sit on library boards. Some, like yours truly, write books, or get interviewed on the radio, or work in the field of diplomacy and negotiations.

My point is that in any given situation or context, one’s square inch, or realm of relationship, might entail reaching a congregation, a classroom, a city, or even a national audience.

Faced with the frequency and extent of suffering and injustice in the world, we can get overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness. It seems futile to attempt to do anything about it – even though as responsible citizens and individuals we would like to change the world. The square inch rule, however, offers us rest from trying to change the world. We can’t change it. Christ has already changed it.

We can have a hand in changing one life at a time. We all know what our square inches are. No one needs to tell us that. And we know, or at least we have a pretty good idea of, what square inches may be on the horizon, at least in the near future. So instead of feeling disillusioned by a vision that is too big for us to handle, here’s an idea. Let’s focus on bringing God’s grace and wisdom into our existing realms of relationships so that we can partner with what Jesus is already doing in those relationships to change them for the better. And let’s start with our own square inch with Jesus.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top images by istvanberta (permission via Creative Commons).

Floating Like Jellyfish with the Tide

Chagall WindowsOn my way to something else this morning, I unearthed a gem from Miroslav Volf that lay buried in a long-forgotten meditation on capitalism that I had published many years ago. While reading that gem today, I immediately remembered what Walter Brueggemann recently wrote about capitalism. Together, their ideas merged in my mind with the previous post, which is not about capitalism. It’s funny, is it not, the alchemy of independent and seeming disparate ideas meeting as if guided by, well, shall we say, an invisible hand to give birth to the Aha! moment of a new and important connection.

The birth this morning was the thought that capitalism is one of the love affairs we have that sidetracks us from a more consistent practice of the kind of Christian identity and subsequent relevance in society that Jürgen Moltmann’s words in the previous post remind us of. See if you too get the connection.

For some time now I have been troubled by the seeming disappearance of any robust alternative to the pervasive culture of late capitalism, whether in the church or in the society at large. We are drowning in floods of consumer goods and are drenched in showers of media images. We live a smorgasbord culture in which everything is interesting and nothing really matters. We have lost a vision of the good life, and our hopes for the future are emptied of moral content.

Instead of purposefully walking to determinate places, we are aimlessly floating with random currents. Of course, we do get exercised by issues and engage in bitter feuds over them. But that makes us even less capable of resisting the pull of the larger culture, a resistance that would take shape in formulating and embodying a coherent alternative way of life….

If we can neither state what the gospel is nor have a clear notion of what constitutes the good life, we will more or less simply float along, like jellyfish with the tide. True, a belief in our ability to shape the wider culture is woven into the fabric of our identity. So we complain and act. But in the absence of determinate beliefs and practices, our criticism and activism will be little more than one more way of floating. (The Christian Century, April 5, 2000)

The liberal U.S. state has morphed into a predatory economy of unfettered freedom for the powerful. (Walter Brueggemann’s shot across the brow, warning about the deep and unreserved affimations of the liberal state that come from some theologians. From The Christian Century, March 5, 2014.)

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Photo: Chagall Windows, by Benjamin (Google Images)

Identity and Relevance

Gruenwald's Isenheim AltarpieceThinking lately about God’s solidarity in Christ with the suffering, the poor, and the marginalized, I ran across these words from Jürgen Moltmann, which I had made margin notes alongside, until today long-forgotten, in my copy of his book The Crucified God. While considering his words again today I realized why I so infrequently walk this path.

The Christian life of theologians, churches and human beings is faced more than ever today with a double crisis: the crisis of relevance and the crisis of identity. These two crises are complementary. The more theology and the church attempt to become relevant to the problems of the present day, the more deeply they are drawn into the crisis of their own identity. The more they attempt to assert their identity in traditional dogmas, rights and moral notions, the more irrelevant and unbelievable they become…

[In] these specific experiences of a double crisis, reflection on the cross leads to the clarification of what can be called Christian identity and what can be called Christian relevance, in critical solidarity with our contemporaries…

As far as I am concerned, the Christian church and Christian theology become relevant to the problems of the modern world only when they reveal the “hard core” on their identity in the crucified Christ and through it are called into question, together with the society they live in.

Faith, the church and theology must demonstrate what they really believe and hope about the man from Nazareth who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and what practical consequence they wish to draw from this. But what kind of theology of the cross does him justice, and is necessary today?

To return to the theology of the cross means avoiding one-sided presentations of it in tradition, and comprehending the crucified Christ in the light and context of his resurrection, and therefore of freedom and hope.

To take up the theology of the cross today is to go beyond the limits of the doctrine of salvation to inquire into the revolution needed in the concept of God. Who is God in the cross of Christ who is abandoned by God?

To take up the theology of the cross further at the present day means to go beyond a concern for personal salvation, and to inquire about the liberation of man and his new relationship to the demonic crisis in his society. Who is the true man in sight of the Son of Man who was rejected and rose again in the freedom of God?…

[To] realize the cross at the present day is [to move] beyond a criticism of the church into a criticism of society. What does it mean to recall the God who was crucified in a society whose official creed is optimism, and which is knee-deep in blood?…

Jesus dies crying out to God, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ All Christian theology and all Christian life is basically an answer to the question Jesus asked as he died… The issue is not that of an abstract theology of the cross and suffering, but of a theology of the crucified Christ.

(Jürgen Moltmann, beginning his book to disillusioned visionaries, The Crucified God, his emphases.)

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Painting: Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece

Think About It

thinking sculptureNot long ago I was nervously seated near the front of a church listening to myself being introduced as the guest preacher for that Sunday morning. Even though I’ve been there, done that many times in many churches, and arrive over-prepared for my talks, I’m never at ease in that introductory moment.

But that Sunday my nerves intensified when the host added that I was an “intellectual.” Nooooo. What do I do with that? I groaned. Sure, he’d said it amiably and as a compliment, which I appreciated, but intellectual? How do I undo that? I don’t see myself as one, and this wasn’t a university classroom. Mind you, the millennials in that space were probably jazzed to hear it. But what about the others? I’ve been around. I could almost hear the congregation, friendly as they were, suddenly wondering if there wasn’t a better way they could be spending their time that morning.

In hopes of trying to get the audience back, I opened with an impromptu joke. “I’m glad to be here this morning as an intellectual with all of you intellectuals. After all, who among us doesn’t use our brains?” Okay. Okay. I knew it was a naff as it was coming out. I’m not your man for spontaneous jokes. But I had to say something!

Flash forward to today. Perusing a stack of files in my office, I ran across a transcript of a short radio talk given some years ago in Detroit by my dear friend, the British pastor and writer John Peck. I read it and immediately wished it had been on my lips that Sunday morning. With a slight wave of the editorial hand and John’s permission, I’m able to share it with you here. I hope it inspires you as much as it does me.

“Jesus in Mark 12 told one man that he was not far from the kingdom of God because he spoke, as the original Greek word indicates, ‘thoughtfully.’

“Thinking is hard going. Some people give it a bad name by using it as a substitute for action, which is a pity because we can’t do without it. Odd thing is, we take it for granted in areas like business or science, but when it comes to faith we often switch off the mind, and when we do, substitutes for thinking take over, such as emotion.

“A favorite substitute is rhetoric. We are inspired by a powerful preacher who has the art of getting us excited about the gospel. He makes us feel it’s true. And in the midst of a world that is constantly pouring cold water on our faith, we need that. But that’s not teaching. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way we think. In fact, the rhetoric may even use the world’s techniques of persuasion – some preaching sounds like an extended TV commercial, in spite of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:4.

puzzled“Christian teaching is about understanding the meaning of the gospel. And don’t confuse inspiration with teaching. Inspiration is God motivating us, and it is aroused by emotive words and vivid images. Teaching is God’s way of working us through the problems that arise in applying the gospel consistently in everyday life. It is about changing our thinking to something more like the mind of Christ.

“Paul says to the Philippians, ‘Let love be with discrimination.’ By this he does not mean bigoted sterotyping or naive innocence. He wants love to exercise wisdom in deciding what is the best thing to do, rather in the way C. S. Lewis said, ‘It is not a question of “be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever, [but] be good … and be as clever as you can.”’ Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says that mature Christians don’t get blown about by every wind of doctrine.

“Thinking, therefore, is not just about going to college. It’s about growing up. Some people are called to heavy theoretical intellectualizing; most of us aren’t. But either way, we are all called to use judgment, discernment. If we don’t, our laziness will keep us immature.

“We need to think at least as hard about our faith as we do about business or our hobbies. Some say this ruins spontaneity: thinking makes you inhibited, calculating, unemotional. Unfortunately, it often does. There are special reasons for this, to do with the influences at work in our Western culture. But it doesn’t have to. Paul was an intensely passionate person. But he was also a profound thinker. He spoke in tongues more than anyone in the Corinthian church; yet he treasured one word spoken “with understanding” more than all that.

“How could he let himself go like that? Because he had thought through the issues beforehand, so he could trust his instincts. Understanding brings safety. And he taught this to everyone: don’t just listen to me, he told the Corinthians, judge for yourselves. Don’t just swallow even the greatest preacher’s message whole. Listen to the arguments, keep asking questions. Think.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer and John Peck

Images by Davide Restivo and Daniel, respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)

Going Steady

on road to EmmausSome years ago a man told me that he had never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Normally that wouldn’t have struck me as odd, but this guy had been a church-going Christian for twenty years. Puzzled, I asked for an explanation. I don’t recall his exact words, but what came through was well, like, you know, I’ve read enough of the Bible to know what’s in it.

It was around this time when another Christian asked me if I would pray for her to have enough discipline to stick with a “through-the-Bible-in-a-year” reading schedule she had begun. “I’ve never done this before,” she said, “and I’ve been a Christian twenty years.” There it was again. I commended her for her decision to go steady with the Bible for a year; but doing that for the first time in twenty years? I just didn’t get it. And I couldn’t help but wonder where this gal and guy were at, after twenty years, in their “walk with the Lord,” as we used to call it.

Maybe it’s just me, but their comments seemed odd because during the first few years after becoming Christian I found myself devouring the Bible from cover to cover many times. I use “devouring” deliberately, because in my before-Christ history I had the exact opposite experience. A nonChristian spiritual teacher whom I had been following told me that I “owed it to myself” to read the whole Bible because it had a lot of wisdom. I took his advice and read it. I think it took me several months. But the Book was as dry as shoe leather. Yet as a new Christian, I feasted on the Bible continually, as naturally as if I were enjoying my favorite prime rib dinner.

I can’t prove this, but I suspect that if you haven’t embarked on a relationship with the Author of the Book, you’ll be chewing on some very tough shoe leather. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t have an appetite for that, for the problems arising from that diet will of course be fatal. But problems also exist for those who have been given a personal relationship with the Author but who also have a now-and-then, here-and-there diet with His Book.

stack of BiblesGoing steady with Scripture means more than doing intermittent inductive, topical, or word studies; more than learning doctrine; more than playing Bible roulette to land on a verse to direct your path. It means more than discovering nine-foot giants with hands studded with six fingers, or finding “pagans” serving the Lord, or having hopes of becoming God’s end-times prophet.

It means more than treating the Bible like one might read the newspaper on the train to work or play around in the evening on the Web. It means more than engaging in a critical scholarship that reduces the story of Esther to a farce, the life of David to a fictional character, and the resurrection of Jesus to a myth. Even more than using the text to lead people to Christ.

Going steady with Scripture engages us in more than what meets the eye. It means spending regular time with the Author of the Book in His Book. It means a recurring opening of the Book with an unrushed, prayerful, and reflective attitude in hopes of dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. And you never know what will occur when the Presence meets you in that secret place of the Life behind the text, there in an encounter with the living, true, and merciful God. Or how you will be afterward: at peace or afraid, healed or hurt, elated or in tears, confirmed or challenged, with answers or with puzzles, with insight or with questions, with forgiveness or with guilt, in hope or despair, in joy or sorrow. We don’t know what we need. But the Author of the Book does.

Going steady with Scripture means settling in over the course of one’s life with God’s Book open humbly in our laps. There, God’s Spirit graces us to participate in a deepening personal relationship with the Author, in the ongoing rebuilding of our lives, in increasing of love for others, and in absorbing a godly wisdom for our ministry or our work in the world. Who doubts the ongoing, Christlike fruit that this steady process of transformation will produce?

I’m not nearly as steady as I want to be, as I know I should be. I fluff off. I make excuses. I think  I know it all. And I fear some rude awakenings in that day when God opens the books of our individual lives before Him, mine too, and points out how much more like Jesus our “walk with the Lord” could have been if we had gone steady with His Book. And I wonder if God might be easier on those who had no Bible than on those of us with a stack of translations we rarely open.

I’m done preaching here, except to report these words from the New Testament of two persons who knew where shoe leather belonged, under foot, as they walked with the Author of the Book: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scripture to us?” Any takers?

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Art from wikimedia commons and photo by J. Mark Bertrand.