Imperative #2 – Think Biblically
“Think Biblically” is a phrase that transforms “read the Bible” into an action strategy for making decisions and valuing experiences, people, and priorities in alignment with God’s desire. The Word of God is most powerful when you actually know what it says. That’s why, in his 2014 Diocesan Address, Bishop Ed Little joyously explained the impact the Bible Challenge is having on lives, and he invited us all to find out for ourselves. Here are excerpts of those remarks.
This is the second year of our diocesan Bible Challenge. In 2013, and again in 2014, I have challenged people to join me in reading the Bible from cover to cover – Genesis to Revelation – in a single year. It’s a significant undertaking, reading three chapters of the Old Testament and one of the New, about 20 to 30 minutes daily. But the impact is profound.
A few months ago, at the end of a Sunday visitation, as I was loading my vestments into the trunk of my car, an older man rushed up to me waving a sheet of paper. “Bishop Ed, Bishop Ed, I have something to share with you!” He went on to tell me that he’d taken on the Bible Challenge, had read the Bible faithfully every day, and kept on coming across scriptural passages that point to the value of old age – a time in life when we can apply the wisdom we’ve acquired over the years and mentor the next generation. As proof, he showed me the passages he’d written down on the sheet of paper.
As he read through the Bible, he reported, he kept on discovering elderly biblical characters had a key role in God’s plan – characters as diverse as the elderly Abraham, traveling in faith from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land, to the elderly Simeon and Anna, who recognized the Messiah in the Temple. From start to finish, this parishioner reminded me, we are useful to the Lord. That insight came from his praying and reading the Bible.
…We face a myriad of challenges and opportunities, both as individual Christians and as a Christian community. The church today struggles with questions of human sexuality, mission strategy, declining numbers, declining finances, and a cultural setting that is becoming increasingly secular. In the face of all of that, it is essential that we think biblically; that we allow the scriptures to form our hearts and enable us to ask the right questions; that we not simply learn single Bible verses, but the sweep of the story of redemption, from the creation of the world and the first human beings; to the call of Abraham and his descendants, the people of Israel; to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Word Made Flesh; to the ultimate consummation of history in the New Jerusalem and renewed creation.
“Thinking biblically” does not mean that there’s a Bible quotation for every occasion, as though all we need to do is thumb through a concordance, and eventually we’ll find a simple and direct. Oh, there are indeed some issues that can be resolved quickly, and with the right passage. Should I rob the PNC bank? “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15) covers that nicely. But other questions require a more subtle and lifelong pattern of internalizing the biblical story, learning of the character of God, and allowing God’s heart to shape our heart.
While it probably goes without saying, I will say it nonetheless: that in 2015, I renew the Bible Challenge, and encourage you to join me once again – or for the first time – in reading the Bible cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, in a calendar year.
- Bishop Ed Little
For more information and to register for the Bible Challenge, click here.
Advent is a wonderful time for reflecting on the state of our own discipleship. As we reverently look upon the Holy Babe in the manger, we might wonder, “Am I following you, Jesus, in a way that pleases you?”
In his 2014 Diocesan Address, Bishop Ed Little wondered, “What kind of checklist does Jesus have for disciples?” To answer, Bishop Little dove into the Bible. Here are some excerpts to stir your head and heart to intentional reflection about God’s plan and desire for your life.
First, Jesus expects us to answer his call to come and follow. If I had time, I would take you on a tour of the Gospels, and we’d see – over and over – Jesus inviting people to drop everything and follow where he leads. One example:
And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:16-18).
…The question we were all asked in confirmation – “Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?” - and the answer – “I do; and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord” – is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple. It means saying Yes to Jesus.
Second, Jesus expects us to worship God week by week, in a community of fellow disciples.
…the New Testament, from start to finish, simply assumes that Christians come together weekly for the Eucharist. If you were to ask St. Paul whether you, as a disciple, had to “come to church,” he would not understand the question. For St. Paul, and for all of the New Testament writers, Christian community and Christian worship are a given, absolutely taken for granted. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Third, Jesus expects us to be stewards of the resources that he’s placed in our care.
You may remember a semi-dramatic moment at last year’s diocesan convention. During my address, I pointed out that our expectations regarding our mission and ministry should be modest. Northern Indiana, I said, is a small diocese, resource-strapped but relationship-rich, and we need to scale down our plans and make them, if not pint-sized, at least Northern Indiana-sized. Toward the end of convention, our preacher – the Rev. Canon Lura Kaval, development officer in the Diocese of Honduras – made a brief presentation in which she said something like this:
“Bishop, I hate to disagree with you publicly, but I’ve got to do so. The Diocese of Northern Indiana isn’t resource-strapped. You have at your fingertips all of the resources you need for your mission and ministry. The issue isn’t resources. It’s generosity. Are people willing to make the resources that God has already placed in their hands available to him?”
Canon Lura was absolutely right, of course. She’d identified the real issue. Are you and I willing to allow our “Yes” to Jesus to include his Lordship over our resources?
Fourth, Jesus expects us to be people of prayer and biblical reflection. No two Christians, of course, have identical prayer lives. We’re all wired differently. Some Christians pray formally, some prefer to be “free form”; some Christians read large chunks of the Bible (many of you have been doing that through the Bible Challenge), some would rather savor and meditate on and perhaps even memorize short passages.
Whatever the details, however, the New Testament assumes that Christians will immerse themselves in prayer and scripture and Eucharist and community:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
Fifth, Jesus expects us to hear and obey his call; in other words, to engage in ministry. Over and over, the New Testament reminds us that every Christian – in our terminology, clergy and lay people alike – are called to serve Jesus in an active way, in the church and in the world.
…Here’s a key passage:
And [Christ’s] gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).
…When Christians talk about “lay ministry,” we frequently take it to refer to jobs that need to get done in the church… ushers, vestry members, lectors, money-counters, Sunday School teachers, altar guild members, [etc.] … But we shouldn’t think of Christian ministry exclusively in “churchy” terms… the New Testament, and the Prayer Book, has a broader and deeper and more demanding vision:
The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church (BCP, p. 855).
In other words, Jesus is calling you consciously to represent him not only in the church, but above all in the world.
Thank you, Bishop Little, for challenging us to examine and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ and our discipleship. For a complete transcript of the Bishop’s Address, click here.