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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Book on Old Testament is almost here!

A proof copy, pens, labels, random junk, and Nerf guns: Everything you need for a life well lived.

By Joe LaGuardia

Books are labors of love.  It doesn’t matter if a book is a novel, memoir, fiction or non-fiction, or–in this case–a collection of essays, books take years to put together, edit, tweak, rewrite, love, and hate.  It was well over four years ago I began this one, my forthcoming book containing essays on the Bible and the Old (First) Testament.  I am happy to announce that, in less than a month, I will be releasing, A Whispering Call: Essays on Sacred Scripture and the First Testament.

Here is the caption on the back:

A Whispering Call, Joseph V. LaGuardia’s second anthology of essays on Sacred Scripture, is sure to encourage, challenge, and inspire readers along the journey of faith.

A Whispering Call explores the treasure of God’s unfolding drama of redemption from the earliest pages of Genesis to the Advent of Jesus the Christ.

It places readers in the shoes of biblical heroes and villains.  It brings biblical principles to life.  It affirms God’s mission in the world and calls us to participate in that mission as a holy people.

LaGuardia crafts each essay with careful attention to biblical research and cultural insights both ancient and contemporary.  Read them for personal or group discipleship, incorporate them in the classroom, or mine them for devotional use.  By way of scripture and study, you might hear God’s whisper in your life too!

There you have it.  I hope that the book will be released in the first week of August, just in time for the school year and a revival we are planning at First Baptist Church.  It will be available to order in paperback or Kindle, and details will follow.  Keep me in your prayers, the editing process is about as fun as going to the dentist.  No offense to my dentist.

Blessings, Rev. Dr. Joe LaGuardia

The God of Terrors, and other nightmares

By Joe LaGuardia

The Bible says that God is love, but it also says that God is terrifying.  In a recent study on covenants of the Bible, my congregation and I read Genesis 15 as a refresher on the promises God gave to Abram.  The covenant ceremony which God initiated states:

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him” (Gen. 15:12).

We think that the promises of God are beautiful, that the land and offspring set aside for Abram was bountiful and blessed.  We forget that the promise was just as much a nightmare as it was an inheritance whereby God assured Abram that the Lord would be a “shield” of protection (v. 1).  Protection against what?

At the time, Abram was well on in years.  He doubted God’s promise of offspring because his wife Sarai remained barren.

“I remain childless…you have given me no offspring,” Abram told God.  And the biblical text is sympathetic. Genesis 16 begins, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children.”  Besides, God said that Abram’s offspring was destined for slavery, not for one season, but for several generations–400 years.  What kind of promise is that?

We spend many hours if not days avoiding those things that terrify us.  We spend large amounts of money alluding death and vulnerability.  We encourage one another, as if to exchange favors so that we sustain the illusion that we are not fragile, that life itself is not terrifying.

Perhaps, in all of this bluster, we fail to recognize that it is God who resides in the terror as much as in the celebrations of life.  We do not sleep because we are afraid of the nightmares.  We are afraid that God might answer our prayers and show up.

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard quoted mystic Jacob Boehme: “The whole Deity has in its innermost or beginning Birth, in the Pith or Kernel, a very tart, terrible sharpness, in which the astringent Quality is very horrible, tart, hard, dark and cold Attraction or Drawing together, like Winter, when there is a fierce, bitter cold Frost, when Water is frozen into Ice, and besides is very intolerable.”

That is the writing of someone who has experienced the presence of God, an intimacy with God and an urgency of one who recognized his own fragility in the face of God.  It is the writing of someone who also knew the hardships of cold winters–a season very much a part of God’s creation as spring or summer.  It is the “know this for certain” of God (Gen. 15:13), a conviction that not every calling or anointing or divine intervention is set to the music of Chris Tomlin or Cheers.

Boehme’s reflection is not words crated to talk about divine experience, but crafted to describe the experience itself, in its most honest poetic horror.

If God is not terrifying, then why avoid God as much as we do?  Why not pray more or kneel more or intercede more?  Why not listen more or dig deeply into God’s Word beyond the mere parts we enjoy reading, the ones that make us feel good or reinforce our preconceived notions of who we think God ought to be?

Perhaps it is because God is a God of nightmares as much as visions and dreams, that God is in the darkness as much as God is the “Light of the world.”

God is the “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” that passes in night, threatening to scorch those who get too close or wander carelessly into Presence with too much hubris.  It threatens to consume anyone who yearns to domesticate that Fire and wield it to do her bidding.

It is easier to look at what we long for — our longings are safer than God.  We find the Hagar in our household who can bear the offspring promised to us.  We pass each other off as invaluable pawns to the powers and Pharaohs that exploit us.  We laugh when God returns to us yet again, even when we pass on God’s promises to us.  We are too old to birth something new, to raise a child.  We are too frightened to tell the truth that the one we claim as sister to Pharaoh is in fact our wife destined for something greater than settling on the shores of the Nile.

We want to be left alone, but God does not leave us alone.  God does not seem to have it or want it that way.  So God visits again, and deep darkness settles upon the earth.