Are you participating in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians – Gospel of Grace daily reading plan? I am.
My participation in this study is making a difference in the way I understand the scriptures. I am learning something each day. However, this study has been more formational than informational. The daily pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding is shaping my thinking from deep within.
It might seem strange, but over the years of my ministry, I studied the scriptures more for preaching sermons and leading Bible Studies than for spiritual growth and personal maturity. I have often fallen into the category described by William Sloan Coffin, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support than for illumination.”
Why Do We Study the Scriptures?
I remember early in my Christian life, working hard to study the scripture and learning the do’s and don’ts based upon the bible. As I started my ministry, I remember biblically based programs on dating, child rearing, moral behavior, etc. I also remember the day I felt empty inside because I had spent more time trying to understand the written word than becoming related to the Word to which it was directing me.
Please hear me, I needed to study the scriptures. I needed to learn what the scriptures taught about life and to incorporate what I was learning into my daily living. But, at that time in my life, the scriptures were a lamppost I was using for support.
I confess that I have used scripture to justify my position. Of course, my position was the correct biblical position on social issues. I have quoted scripture to discuss (argue) biblical correctness. Yes, I used scripture to prove my faith.
I am not proud of the fact that I have even elevated the Bible to a position higher than the love of Jesus to which the scriptures were pointing me. For me, Coffin might be right, too many times I have used the Bible more for support than for formation.
Over the past 3 weeks, I have had the light shining on my inner life as I have reflected upon and responded to questions like: “When did God’s grace become real to you?” and “How are you still growing in grace and becoming more like Jesus?”
Reconnecting to Grace
I reconnected to God’s grace as I reflected again this week upon my dad. He was my hero as I was growing up. I wanted to be like him. Like many children, I wanted him to be proud of me. Although I do not remember a time when he put pressure on me to perform, I worked at pleasing him. He was an athlete. My Dad played basketball and football in high school. Because I wanted to be like him, I played basketball and football. He was a contractor who built houses, churches, hotels, and libraries. As a teenager, I took friends around the community to show them the buildings my dad built. I was proud of him. So I wanted him to be proud of me.
At age 24, my mother called me and asked me to come to her house. She had something to discuss with me. When I arrived, she explained that the man who I called Dad, and who I had worked all my life to prove to him that he could be proud of me, had adopted me when I was 9 months old. The reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. He had chosen me to be his son and had given me his name. Dad loved me from the beginning. He didn’t care whether I played football, basketball, or became a contractor. He had already loved me and accepted me. All I could do was accept his love for me.
Jesus Loves You
As I am reading and reflecting upon the scriptures from Galatians, I am learning, again, that it really is not who I am or how much I think I know or how attentive I have been that is center of Christian faith. It is not whether I am an insider or an outsider, male or female, or clergy or laity. God already accepts you and me. God gives us a name and loves us from the very beginning. Paul is pointing us to the reality of Christ’s love in his letter to the Galatians.
At least over the past 3 weeks, I am discovering anew that the Bible is not a rule book as much as it is a love book. It is interesting that the Bible is our most treasured book, yet it seems to get in our way as Jesus followers.
Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Bible Makes Sense, writes,
“Perhaps we have expected the wrong things of it (Bible); we have asked of it what it cannot do. We have expected the Bible to keep promises that it has never made to us. The Bible cannot be a good luck piece to bring God’s blessing. Nor can it be an answer book to solve our problems or to give us right belief…the Bible offers us a way of understanding the world in a fresh perspective, a perspective that leads to life, joy, and wholeness. It offers us a model, a pattern, through which we may think about, perceive, and live life differently.”
I am grateful that the light of the scriptures has been shining in my life, in my reading, reflecting, and responding in and through my study of Galatians. The daily reminders of God’s grace, give me many reasons to be grateful, especially in every day relationships and situations. I give God thanks for friends and colleagues I have discovered on this journey with me. Most of all, I grateful that the Bible has become more of a light to my path than support for anxieties.
At least in regard to the study of the scriptures, I am glad I decided to let the light of God’s grace shine into my life this week.