A few years ago I made my way through the entire contents of the Spiritual Formation Bible (SFB), a recent project of the Renovare group. I was intrigued by the quality of the editors -- Foster, Brueggemann, Peterson, Willard -- all literary heroes of mine, all persons who had shaped my thoughts about God and Scripture. Renovare promotes what they call the “with God life”, a way of seeing faith as more than thought and action, but thought and action in company with God. It is that piece about keeping company that makes all the difference. So I plunged into what was a very long and seemingly unending reading project (2,290 pages from Genesis to Revelation, including notes). Could you ever take on a project like that? You already have actually: its called your life, the long and winding tale of you. The key to Scripture-reading is to make it part of your everyday commitment, the way to keep company with God as you make the long trek of life.
So I plodded along in the SFB, discovering new pieces of the story, remembering pieces I had forgot, finding again the transforming power of this long tale. And the excellent notes deepened the experience. One morning I encountered these words in the introductory comments on Second Thessalonians:
We should not be surprised by the atmosphere of argument and dispute in the early church... Christians argue because they care and also because the Christian fellowship has always faced the problem of false or confused teaching. It was the theologian Karl Barth who noted, "There are no New Testament letters that are written apart from the problems of the church" [Earl Palmer, Spiritual Formation Bible, p. 2155]
Allow me to rephrase and extend that last thought: we have no Scripture apart from the context of human problems, no word of God apart from the problems we know and commonly experience.
I think I already knew that truth, but I don’t think it had ever been so clear to me as that moment. As I prepared myself to read Paul’s second letter to the believers at Thessalonica, I realized with new clarity that my life with God would always be found in the context of human problems. Some of those problems were my own, and some were the problems of people around me. And there were, of course, the common problems we all shared in: problems of church and culture.
But there was no escaping it. My way forward -- our way forward -- would not be made by going around the problems, but through them, in the company of God.
I distinctly remember how Palmer’s comment were deeply encouraging. I had been facing some deep life challenges at the time, but with Palmer’s words I seemed to find new energy. Of course, I said, this is the nature of the terrain I run. There are problems -- but I run in the company of God. I caught my stride once again. I was keeping company with God, and he was keeping company with me.
I learned a long time ago that what was most personal was most universal. If I have a few life challenges, so do you. And it is certain we have issues together that we are going to have to wrestle with, argue over perhaps, and certainly help each other with. There are problems. What comforts me is the way the Scriptures are fully immersed in the life we actually experience. Somehow, because of this vital connection between our Bibles and our problems, we realize the possibility and power of the “with God life”.
This fall, we are inviting you to read the Scriptures. We have made The Solo Bible available as a resources for you and you can pick that up at the connection desk on Sundays. My only recommendation is that you have the mind of a marathoner, and not a sprinter. Sprinters get off the line quicker, but marathoners cover more ground. In the “with God life”, we are called to faithful endurance: slow plodding perhaps, but consistent every-day-ness. The key is to keep company and not walk alone.
This Sunday we begin a new series on the crisis in Corinth. The Corinthian letters reveal a community full of problems. But, strangely enough, we might find ourselves encouraged as we listen in to what is happening there.
- What are some of the major personal problems people face today? What are some of the major problems for the contemporary church?
- What are your problems? How have you found the Scriptures able to address your problems?
- When Scripture speaks of problems that seem distant from contemporary life, or from your personal experience, how do you make the bridge?
- What contemporary problems and challenges would you like the Scriptures to address? How might they already do that?
I am happy to hear your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org