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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Titus: A Model of Joy-filled and Passionate Missions

Old vintage retro golden compass on ancient map

By Joe LaGuardia

You remember Titus, don’t you?  He’s the one who has an epistle in the New Testament bearing his name?

I didn’t remember him either.  We rarely read about minor characters in the Bible such as Titus.  When was the last time your pastor preached a sermon on him?

Titus, as minor as he seems, was actually a critical figure in the early Christian missionary movement under St. Paul’s leadership.  He founded, led, and organized churches.  His ability to bring people together and build coalitions for the cause of Christ is well documented.

In other words, there is much to learn from Titus, and we Christians would do well to follow his example in living the type of evangelism his life espoused.

According to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Titus was an early convert to the Christian faith.  He was Greek and, therefore, avoided conformity to the Jewish Law while becoming a believer in Christ (Gal. 2:2).  He was Paul’s partner in spreading the Gospel in Macedonia, Corinth, Crete, and Dalmatia.

Further investigation affirms that Titus’s evangelism methods had qualities worthy of mimicry.

Titus, for instance, represented a type of evangelism that was filled with consolation and encouragement.  In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that his tumultuous relationship with the Corinthian churches found some healing in the wake of Titus’ efforts (2 Cor. 7:1-7).

Titus consoled the community of Corinth and, in turn, consoled Paul.  He was an agent of reconciliation between two parties that didn’t see eye to eye.

Evangelism that makes a difference is always one that brings consolation to those who are at odds with God.  Too often, evangelists use hostile or harsh words to coerce audiences into a place of conviction.  Consolation, on the other hand, allows people to experience the love of Christ in a way that compels them to follow Christ with sincerity, hope, and sustainable discipleship.

Titus was also a person of joy and enthusiasm (2 Cor. 7:13, 8:16).  Keen readers of the Bible get the sense that Titus’ life was so transformed by the love of Christ that his passion for the gospel became contagious.

Titus confronts those of us who live life in a state of melancholy and despair.  Christ’s salvation should fill us with an unyielding joy that cannot help but affect our life and the lives of others.

Titus promoted a type of evangelism that emphasized personal responsibility and generosity.

According to the Corinthian correspondences, a part of Paul’s conflict with Corinthian Christians was their lack of supporting an offering for the poor in Jerusalem.  Paul sent Titus to persuade the Corinthians to give out of their abundant wealth and love for God (2 Cor. 8).  After all, if God gave them the gift of salvation, how much more should they give to those in need of material resources.

Titus did not let these disciples skate through their faith without taking responsibility in participating on behalf of social justice.  He knew that following Jesus was a task resulting in joy and redemption, but he also knew that it was a task requiring sacrifice, charity, work, missions, and some hard life changes.

In a personal correspondence, Paul encouraged Titus to remember God’s grace and train others “to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:11-12).  This discipleship was no watered-down gospel free from the obligations of the cross-shaped life.

Although Titus is a minor character in the bigger plot of God’s salvation, he has much to teach us even today.  Like him, our evangelism and discipleship can take the shape of the joy, enthusiasm, responsibility and generosity that made Titus such a trusted figure in the Bible and the early church.

 

4 Ways to use Social Media for the Gospel

By Joe LaGuardia

Over the past two years, many church visitors found us by our website.  Our online presence is a major draw for our guests, second only to personal invitations.

If that is the case, then it stands to reason that churches, especially those concerned about fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission, need to think intentionally and “missionally” about the use of social media.

The use of social media is not for the church leadership or administration alone.  Every person in the church must think critically about how social media may harness the power of evangelism and testimony in a world that has entered the digital age.

Meredith Gould, author of The Social Media Gospel, states that a church-wide approach to social media has to do with a church’s philosophy of ministry.  If a church is teaching that each person is a minister called to share the gospel, then the use of social media must come under the lordship of Christ.  No word published should be without some spiritual scrutiny.

There are several models for social media usage that might guide churches–and Christians–on the appropriate use of online communication.

Santa Clara University professor and journalist Elizabeth Dresther, for instance, argues that Christians can keep in mind the acronym, LACE, when online.*

The L stands for listening.  She argues that Christians can use social media by listening to others and assessing the emotions and needs behind the opinions and posts that people often publish.

Ask yourself: What are the concerns that people express in social media?   Do fears, prejudices, or anxiety seem to be a common theme?  How might God’s Word address these fears and empower friends to “love thy neighbor” rather than disparage the unknown?

The A in LACE is attend.  We Christians are asked to be the presence of Christ for others; this can happen in person or online.  Our comments and contributions on social media platforms can attend to people who need encouragement.

C is for connect.  Our digital world gives the illusion that we are relating to each other intimately and in real-time.  Yet, people feel more isolated than ever.

A recent article in the New York Times by Adam Grant revealed that people are less likely to make friends at work because people spend time on online or on phones during breaks instead of talking to co-workers.

We must keep our connections authentic and vibrant.  We cannot settle on being a voyeur in the lives of others, keeping people at arm’s length.  Connecting to people is the intentional act of moving past the “like” button.

The E stands for engage.  Engaging others online for Christ encourages that we share words of edification on our profiles and in emails.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)

Are we promoting the cause of Christ and challenging people to think in new ways with our communications?  Are we building an alternative community with quality content and thoughtful reflection fitting the Christian faith?

Too often, our engagement is limited to promoting political or theological views that reinforce our embedded beliefs.  Status quo can be dangerous in this setting: if Christian engagement does not inspire transformation and conformity to the image of Jesus, then why share it in the first place?

We all know that social media is a powerful tool in keeping up with friends and family.  It even has the power to shape our day if it exposes us to a heartbreaking story of a loved one in need or bombards us with offensive opinions that linger in our minds well after the computer is turned off.

Likewise, it can be an effective tool for Christ, for it has shown that it can influence people to mobilize and get excited about a cause, religious or otherwise.

Although the Bible did not originate in a digital world, its principles are just as applicable.  We are still commissioned, whether in person, at church, or while surfing the world-wide web, to share the Good News of Jesus’ love, make disciples, and, ultimately, baptize all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

“Digital Media–It’s All About Relationships,” in Bearings for the Life of Faith (Autumn 2014): 4-8.