Friday, January 09, 2009

Studying Scripture versus Encountering Scripture

When I used to teach I remember a fellow teacher saying to the students, "This is how you understand a poem: you read one line and look at all the words to see if you understand it. Then when you understand that line, you read the next line." As a poet and writer, I thought that was not exactly the right way to teach students how to read poetry. Not at first, anyway.

In the Book of Acts, Luke writes, "When the chief scribes and the Pharisees saw that the apostles were unlearned men, they perceived that they had been with Jesus!"

Let's ponder that. There is a great deal of difference between studying Scripture and meeting the holy spirit with Scripture.

In Jesus time, the Chief Scribes, the Pharisees, the Saducees, the lawyers, all had studied Scripture...and yet they missed God.

Nicodemus was part of the Sanhedrin, a learned man, and yet he "was a teacher of the law" and he didn't understand what the heck Jesus was talking about. There are folks who can tell you all about the poetry, the history, of the Psalms. Yet they seem to not know how to hear God talking to them every day.

Most of you know me. I love knowledge. I've written quite a bit on how not to read the Bible and how to use common sense. I'm a poet, I love poetry. The Publishers Weekly review stated that my novel had the "poetic ambience of an old world folktale." I've studied ancient history, and many reviewers have stated that Wind Follower, my novel, is a wonderfully anthropological novel.

Compliments like those are great, don't get me wrong. But I would rather be able to get up each morning and hear God say, "Get up and telephone such and such a person and tell them such and such a psalm because he needs it" rather than hear someone tell me how well I know the Bible. As St Paul says in the Love chapter in Corinthians, "If I have all wisdom, it profits me nothing."

Honestly now -- how different are we American Christians from other religious groups in America? Even those of us who "know" the Bible don't live it. How is our behavior different? How powerful are our prayers? How closely do we hear God? How loving and sacrificial and giving are we? What is the difference between a kind-hearted devout Jew and a kind-hearted devout Christian and a kind-hearted devout Muslim? Honestly, nothing! And really, as Christians, that shouldn't be, should it? Because we Christians are called to raise the dead (literally), heal the incurably sick (such as those with AIDS), and cast out devils (such as devils of addiction, deviancy, etc.) But we are as enslaved to the weak and beggarly elements as non-Christians. And if we judge by behavior alone, we are as worldly, selfish, sinful, as the worldly folks out there.

We can hear God speaking to us in the Scriptures without totally understanding all wisdom. That doesn't mean we should avoid learning the historic and poetic reasons for a psalm or a book. One of my favorite Christian expositors is Bullinger, especially his Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. But I don't know what it is with me: someone once accused me of hiding my light. I think I just don't like sounding super-smart or super-cultured. God has called me to be an everyman and to speak to every man. Especially to those not in the Church. So I do my best to be human and transparent and to show what God's word has done for me. Not to prove how smart I am or how well-read. Because it's normal folks who read the Bible.

Everywhere i turn i see folks converting to judaism or becoming wiccans or buddhists or muslims. Many of these are Christian folks who were very very very christian and in the church...and yet, to them Christianity was "proved" by docrtine or, tradition because their folks were christians or scripture reading....but not by power. So in the long run, they could leave Christianity because it was to the human eye just another religion that said it had the truth. St Paul said he minister not in mere words or doctrine or with great word of wisdom but with power. The gospel is not mere doctrine but the power of God. But for most christians in the western world it is nothing but words and missionaries teach nothing but theology and even those who say they believe in the holy spirit are pretty near powerless. Certainly, we're not as powerful as Christ wanted us to be. So in the long run what we see is no distinction between Christ's people and other people. In the world, the people who live under the blood and have eaten of the passover should not be oppressed by the plagues, should not be unholy, should not be distant from God. The Spirit of God should emanate from us.

It just bothers me so much. What to do? The particular converted Jews i've talked to a) changed their faith because the y began studying the religion of judaism and got caught up in it...and slowly moved from christianity to judaizers to rejecting christ to orthodox judaism. or b) they said other religions had done evil but Judaism had never done any evil to the world. Just gave me a bad feeling. Because they did not see any degree of holiness (not that seeing holiness is that dependable but Jesus did say people would see our holiness and our good works.) It just annoys me when I see folks who were once christians doing this sort of thing.

Lily Allen with her stupid song, "I kissed a girl." She came from a Christian family. Now she's dissing Christianity. Jessica Simpson is supposedly a Christian but does she really seem to understand it in the very depths of her heart? Reba, supposedly a Christian, believes she has been reincarnated. This kind of thing shows that folks who grow up in churches are not being truly convinced deep in their spirit. Even though, they praised Jesus and were "professing" Christians they have a kind of sentimental unthought-out Christianity that shows they don't understand Christian philosopy, for all their learning...and they have never really seen the power of Christ in their life, to see the reality of Christ. They have never heard Christ in their hearts in a real way. They have never really seen or felt Christ in their spirit.

I had a friend who was a deep christian then she became a black jew -- that weird cult that thinks African-Americans are the real Jews and who are very anti-semitic. What amazed me was how deeply into christ she was. If you had asked me who would stop being a Christian, she would be one of the last people I would mention. More and more i think that church-going bible-believing christians need to really understand their faith...or else they will leave the faith. I am fully persuaded that in the coming years most "christiany" folks in Christian colleges and Christian churches will leave the faith. Paul prophesied of the great apostasy in the last days. Because I've seen so much of this kind of thing. And no amount of those silly revivals churches have which really do nothing...are gonna help because as a people we really need to grow more in the spirit and to show the depth and beauty and deep thought of christianity. And our "teachers" are teaching that godliness is great gain and the prosperity gospel without somehow really touching the gospel.

Anyway, I feel God telling me to write this...it's something pressing on His heart. Just as the abortion issue presses on his heart. Just as the drug issue and the plight of the widows and orphans press on his heart. As the days go on, I feel we will see this falling away...and we will see that all our learning (for the educated) and all our jumping up and down in church (when we are supposedly touched by the spirit but really allowing a religious spirit to use our pride) will be useless.

We are playing church...we are talking the talk...but we aren't walking the walk as Jesus intended his church to walk. And there's a reason for it. We compromise and we don't spend time in the word. (Yeah, I'm guilty of this too. When was the last time I raised someone from the dead? But I am determined to have raised several before I meet my maker. And I mean a literal raising of the dead. Isn't that what God promised his people?) Well, it's not God's fault that we don't see miracles. It's ours. True, God uses dirty vessels because those are the only vessels he has but at the same time he had purified us with Christ's blood. But he isn't going to entrust us with miracles if we aren't serious about allowing his word to change us.

In Wind Follower, I did my best to try to show how truly folkloric Christianity was and how many religions, and ancient folklore pointed to a blood sacrifice. Am gonna try to see if I can somehow make my new WIP The Constant Tower a story which shows the inevitability of works as a means of getting to heaven. I don't know what God wants me to do with it but all I can do is write and trust him to put the great christian message--which is the great christian offense to those who like "works" or the externals of holiness. It's all I can do. Had to get that off my chest. -C
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