Sunday, September 14, 2014

The power of observation

There is a difference between seeing, looking, and observing.

You see the flower when you approach it on the trail. You stop to look at it because it caught your attention. But if you don't observe the flower's details and surroundings, you'll probably forget about it or only remember a shadow of it tomorrow.

Do you consider yourself to be an observant person? If so, consider the following:

  • How many steps do you take between your bedroom and the bathroom?
  • How much did you pay for your last tank of gas?
  • What did your spouse/roommate/friend wear yesterday?
  • Are your parents right-handed or left-handed?
  • What color eyes did your last waiter have?

I realized during this morning's sermon how much I miss when I passively see something and don't take the time or energy to observe it. Chuck is doing a mini-series called Pursuing the Treasures of the Scriptures, and today was all about observation. He defined observation as "to inspect or take note; to watch carefully with attention to detail." He challenged us to look at verses in context ("Never isolate a verse - isolated verses lead to error.") and gave us some tips on how to actively read the Bible. 

One of the tips that hit home with me was to read the Bible as if it were a love letter. For example, when you receive a love letter, everything in it is significant. How was it addressed (dear, my love, my darling, etc.)? Is it the same as the last letter or different? Is the letter long? Short? Is it focused on feelings or events? 

When you receive a love letter, it is good to read it aloud so you can hear the voice of the author. Words take on new meaning when you read them aloud. 

With a love letter, you read and re-read...and re-read it. Your heart is full and with each reading, your affection grows.

What if we read the Bible that way? What if we carefully observed it - each piece? How is this part different from that part? What are the common themes? 

What if we read it aloud to ourselves or each other? When you read something aloud, especially to someone else, you can't skip over words or phrases because the passage won't make sense! Reading aloud can help convey feeling or emotion when read with inflection. 

What if we read and re-read passages? What if we took the time to cross reference? Check out a map of where the events take place? What if we researched the culture to get a better understanding of the historical and cultural context?

How much more would these passages mean to us and how much easier would it be to commit them to memory?

Oh, that we would observe the Bible as we read it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A faithful life

As a little girl, I grew up in the church and heard all the "famous" Bible stories:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Noah's Ark
  • Jacob's deception of his father Isaac
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace
  • Daniel and the Lion's Den
  • David and Bathsheba
  • The woman at the well
  • Jesus feeds the 5,000
  • Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection

If you're like me, though, you probably didn't learn the context of each story. As I got older and became more interested in the history of the Bible, I realized that these stories all seemed like isolated events instead of integral pieces of the bigger story of salvation.

Yesterday in church, Steve Farrar (filling in for Chuck), taught on Daniel. As he went through a brief overview of Daniel's life, I realized something completely obvious that somehow still took me by surprise: the Daniel of the fiery furnace (friend of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), is the same Daniel as the Daniel who was thrown in the lion's den. Duh, right? I mean, I've used the name "Daniel" whenever I've recounted both stories, but for some reason, it really hit me yesterday that this was the same man.

What also struck me was the fact that he was in his early thirties when his friends faced the fiery furnace (after they went through their extensive training at the king's palace) and in his eighties when thrown into the lion's den. As I reflected on this, I realized I've had a preconceived (and wrong) notion that if we experience trials when we're younger, we'll "earn our wings" and likely not face big challenges outside of declining health - that we'll reach some sort of threshold of difficult experiences and not have to worry about significant trials later in life. 

Clearly, that is wrong thinking.

Daniel was faced with the choice of accepting a life of luxury at an early age - an age when he could have felt on top of the world. We learn here that Daniel and his friends were offered not only the chance to excel in their learning, but also to taste of the excess of the king's table. Despite the temptation, these wise young men were determined not to fall into defilement. God blessed their obedience with "unusual aptitude," and they excelled in their learning.

Daniel proceeded to succeed, offering interpretations of the king's dreams and receiving due recognition. However, despite his faithfulness, Daniel and his friends were still persecuted - his friends with the fiery furnace, and Daniel later with the lion's den. We are never beyond being persecuted for our faith, even by people who have recognized the Lord's hand in our lives.

However, I am so encouraged by this faithful man. He continued to follow the Lord throughout his life, not doubting in God's sovereignty or swaying in the face of torture or death. May I learn to be faithful no matter what. May I trust in God's sovereignty whether I'm 28 or 88. 

What events in the Bible have you never really put together? Take some time to review the context of these accounts, as it will undoubtedly teach you something new and profound.