For the Love of the Bible

By Joe LaGuardia

Some time ago, I wrote a column on the Christian sub-culture (or underworld?) of premium Bibles.  In it, I uncovered a whole new community made up of folks who love, review, purchase, swap, and talk Bibles.  These are not just any Bibles, mind you–rather, they run the gambit from hand-bound, high-priced Bibles to reviews of Bibles you can get at the Dollar store.

I became ensconced with these videos because I, too, have always loved Bibles.  When Cokesbury had a storefront in Atlanta, I would spend hours perusing all of the Bibles, Bible helps, and Bible gadgets (highlighters, rulers, maps, you name it).  I did not know that others liked Bibles like I do.  You know all of those introductions and translator’s notes that are found in the beginning of Bibles?  I read those for fun.

There is, however, a big difference between reviewing and loving Bibles to actually reading the Bible.  Smelling the leather of a newly, cracked-open Bible may be therapeutic, but only by reading the Bible–spending time with the Bible, studying God’s Word, listening to the Holy Spirit, and responding to the Spirit–makes any difference.  The rest is just for fun.

My friends and I are not alone in this.  A recent survey published by the Barna research group shows that the Bible still plays a central role in American households.  Nearly half the people in our nation engage the Bible at least four times a year, and a third do so on a weekly basis.  Over half of Americans say that the Bible informs their values, and nearly half say that the Bible has transformed their lives or have led to positive outcomes in the spiritual growth.

The Bible is also a way to witness to others: Over 60% of people claim they are interested in what the Bible has to say about current events, God, and about their lives or the lives of those around them.  Christians should capitalize on this trend and bring up the Bible in conversation with non-believers–people want to talk about the Bible, wrestle with its content, and inquire about the good, the bad, and the ugly that one might find in its pages.

Christians who study the Bible and communicate its contents can be pivotal in helping people overcome their preconceived notions about Scripture and experience the Bible as the Good News God intended it to be.  Christians also have an opportunity to correct the misinformed along the way.

There are times when I ask whether the love of Scripture can go too far.  In a recent Youtube video, one of those Bible reviewers expressed their love for their Bible, even going so far as to say that they love their Bible as much as they love Jesus.  As Bible-believers, we should never lose sight of what the Bible says about the Word–Jesus is the Word made flesh, and it is Jesus who has authority over us.  The Bible, according to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, is the record of God’s revelation to us.  And, as Arun Gandhi once noted, we who are People of the Book should never place the Book above people.

Our love of Scripture should not be an end to itself, and our study of Scripture should not be for the sake of studying alone, but to draw our hearts towards Jesus, our mind towards the things of the Spirit, and our actions towards helping our neighbors.  There is such a thing as “Biblolotry,” and I have seen people who have abused others by taking the Bible out of context or failing to follow the Holy Spirit beyond the pages of scripture.

Barna’s research is a good reminder that we need to engage the Bible: It is good for us, it helps us grow in Christ, and provides the Holy Spirit with an opportunity to shape our values.  It can also be a tool to help others experience Christ.  We can love our Bibles–we should use them often and know them, inside and out–but our love should never exceed that love we have of the Lord and of the people He has placed in our lives.  So read it, then minister; pray, then walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.

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5 Lessons from the Sermon on the Mount

By Matt Sapp

We’re working through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) together at Central Baptist Church, Newnan, Georgia, this summer.  Jesus’ sermon is the most important body of ethical teaching in the history of the world. It redefines how we relate to one another and clarifies how we relate to God. As we grapple with what scripture means in our world today, there’s no better place to start.

Here are five things the Sermon on the Mount encourages us to “BE” this summer.

Be Blessed
Jesus defines what it means to be blessed. God’s blessings aren’t always conferred on those we might expect—or in ways we might expect them to be.

Money, power, and status are nowhere to be found when Jesus talks about blessings. Instead, Jesus teaches that there is blessing in mercy and in mourning, in peacemaking and in poverty, in seeking righteousness and in the pure in heart.

Be blessed this summer by finding ways to align yourself with the things and people God blesses.

Be Interesting
Don’t be boring this summer! God calls us to live vibrant, engaging, interesting lives. You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Act like it.

Your life is meant to be full of flavor and warmth, light and love.

Salt enhances and preserves everything it touches. You should seek to do the same. Light is the source of life and the instigator of activity. Jesus says you are, too.

Be Holy
We often think of holiness as a path toward self-improvement, but improving our individual behavior is only a small part of holiness. Jesus teaches that holiness is really about how our conduct impacts our neighbors.

When talking about holiness, Jesus shifts the emphasis from personal righteousness (the righteousness of the Pharisees) to that which is characterized by the protection of one’s fellow man.

For many of us, a new understanding of holiness requires a significant shift in thinking. Maybe this summer is a time to “be holy” by starting to make the mental transition away from a holiness defined only by personal righteousness toward a holiness that demonstrates concern for those around us.

Be Generous
This summer, stop asking, “What’s fair?”, and start asking, “What’s the most generous thing I could responsibly do in this situation?”  Fairness is about keeping score. Generosity lets you tear up the scorecard.

When fairness ceases to be your standard, you’ll never have to feel the urge to “get even” again. You just get the blessing of being generous to those around you. So go the extra mile. Turn the other cheek. Give more than what is asked of you.

If you could just do one thing this summer, this is the one I would suggest. Jesus thinks it’s pretty important. Try it and see what happens.

Be Humble
Prayer forms us into humble people. When Jesus teaches us how to pray, he’s teaching us to be God-directed rather than self-directed. Even the posture of prayer—head bowed, eyes closed, hands folded—is an act of humility.

In prayer we learn to rely on God’s providence, we come to accept and extend forgiveness, and we recognize that we cannot overcome our temptations alone.

So pray this summer. And pray as Jesus teaches. It will help you be humble.

These are our first five lessons from the Sermon on the Mount: Be Blessed. Be Interesting. Be Holy. Be Generous. Be Humble.  Take a look at all five. Find one that’s a strength of yours and celebrate it, and then choose one that you can work on.  It’ll make for a great summer.

The Spiritual Discipline of Unplugging from Social Media

By Joe LaGuardia

My wife and I have “unplugged” from Facebook just short of two months ago.  It was part spiritual discipline, part ethical choice.  It brought with it some ground rules–like checking Facebook a few times a month for professional reasons, building a professional profile to administrate the church Facebook page, and continuing to communicate with friends and family on Messenger and several private group pages.

It also brought some difficulties, like missing out on a few things, such as a friend’s near-death experience with electricity that hospitalized him for a time.  We caught the post on FB and prayed; we just happened to “tune in” that day.

The first few weeks of being unplugged was torturous. I would wake up and instinctively(!) grab my cell phone only to remember: “Oh, yeah, no more Facebook like this.”  When I put the phone down, I tried to remember what I did before I had a cell phone and social media.  I’ve been praying a lot more as a result!

Another re-occurring hardship was not being able to post ideas, articles, and accomplishments that I wanted others to enjoy.  At times, I thought, “This would make a great FB post!”, only to remember that my goal in unplugging was to escape the need for affirmation all of the time.  Why do we feel the need to publish everything?

I also learned recently that getting published, receiving “Likes”, and reading comments do indeed release chemicals that make us feel great, so the “high” appended to this type of attention is very real.  Even negative comments or discussions release chemicals that we start desiring on a daily basis.  It helps us feel relevant and perhaps even remembered–we do not want to be forgotten or set aside, meaningless, useless, or vacuous.  This creates an addiction that sociologists and scientists have begun to catalogue.  It won’t be long before the CDC coins social media usage a public health risk.

Wanting recognition is nothing new, but it was not always so accessible.  Before the internet, recognition came by way of picky publishers, agents, and local newsletters.  You earned your place in the sun.  Now everyone is published, but not everyone knows the downfall of recognition–it is a problem as old as sin, the one we once called pride.

Some years ago, I read Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary.  Nouwen, a famous author and priest, entered the Genesee monastery for a sabbatical.  There, he struggled with the daily routine of silence, work, and disconnection from the outside world.  He missed publishing articles, and he wrestled quite openly about his desire to be read and to interact with fans and students (he taught for many years).  The book was published in 1976, well before the internet!  In this memoir, he wrote:

The monastic life is indeed very unsensational.  I keep catching myself with the desire to do something special, to make a contribution, to add something new, and have to remind myself constantly that the less I am noticed, the less special attention I require, the less I am different, the more I am living the monastic life.  Maybe–when you have become fully aware that you have nothing to say that has not already been said–maybe then a monk might be interested in listening to you.  The mystery of God’s love is that in this sameness we discover our uniqueness” (Nouwen, p. 66-67).

I resonate with Nouwen’s struggles, and every time I want to give up on this spiritual discipline, I go through my mental map: Why do I feel the need to publish my thoughts?  What is the benefit?  What are the costs?  How much time away from my family and ministry will this take?  And so it goes.

Several weeks ago, I went through my FB feed to check in.  As I mentioned above, I do this about every two weeks to help manage notifications and the like.  We are not Amish, you know.  In about 15 minutes of checking, I realized that I only saw one thing that was pertinent–I think it was an article that came out of the Southern Baptist Convention general assembly (see, the fact that I can’t even remember is telling!).  That’s one thing.  In 15 minutes.  The rest was business as usual, not necessarily without value, just not beneficial in the larger scheme of things.  It was a reminder that our social media was made for man, not man for social media.  It helps to put things in perspective and not be enslaved to the gods of technology, threatening to minimize the size of our world to a 3″ x 5″ screen that is, now, as powerful as nicotine and as pervasive as sugary cereal.