Tag Archives: Bible study

For When You Have Bible Baggage

quiet timeIn junior high, I sparked on fire for God, and then I read my Teen Life Application Study Bible like it was fresh, wild air, and I’d been suffocating all my life.

I could sit for hours in my bedroom, breathing in those words – reading and underlining and circling. I was starring the margins, circling entire sections, because I didn’t want to forget that Psalm or those words in Ephesians or that metaphor.

I kept my favorite Bible verses on note cards, taped my bedroom walls alongside photos from youth group trips and phrases clipped from Brio magazine, Focus on the Family’s teen alternative, because I wasn’t allowed Seventeen, nor, to be honest, did I want it.

I wanted Scripture cut pure like diamonds from their context. I wanted to hold them in my hands.

When it stormed, the rainwater on Maple Drive would gather at the bottom of the sloped street and against our house, and some nights it would seep into my room. I remember waking frantic and frustrated to the sound of water dripping down the white paneling of my walls.

I’d scramble to save my careful collage of treasures, but inevitably the water had already left my photos streaked and wrinkled. It left the thin paper of those magazine clippings disintegrated and ripped, and the ink on my Bible verse cards ran together like some dark watercolor.

After the rain, everything matted together, a sopping mess. And when it all dried out, it was almost impossible to separate words from photos, glossy magazine textures from photographed faces.

The water was like glue, and when I tried to separate truth from memories, everything tore apart.

*

My cynic voice is quieting, slowly, slowly. I hear more intricate melodies in most things these days: the complexity and hope of a faith that is a journey.

Except for in one place:

The Bible.

If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that I’ve only read it in bits and pieces over these past couple of years. A chapter here. A verse there. I open this book because I know that it is Truth and Beauty. Because I know that it is water and I am thirsty. But I read the words, and they sound like the old days.

The words that I know best as bumper stickers and Band-aids, they are found here first in the tissuey paper of my NIV. That phrase God won’t give you more than you can handle is misquoted from 1 Corinthians. That idea of being not ashamed of your faith that fueled much of my Christian t-shirt wearing, tract-handling, publicly-praying youth is right there in Romans, clear as day.

The rhetoric of Paul’s epistles and the cadence of the passionate voices of my evangelical youth sound the same to my ear, and now when I read them, I have a hard time separating memory from meaning.

Those were the years we stacked carefully-chosen Bible verses into brick walls to deflect arguments. We learned the answers before we ever felt the weight of the Questions. We wrote off the hard passages with simple platitudes and knowing looks.

And then the storm comes and the water gets in and nothing is left untouched.

It’s all a little matted together for me now, and when Jesus says in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” the message is all mixed up with the Teen Mania missions guide I got in the mail my freshman year of high school. I am picturing loud, anonymous testimonies on foreign streets. I am feeling the shame of my disconnection to the countries I went to, of not being “on fire” to change the world for God.

I read it, and I’m fourteen all over again.

*

This week, the women’s Bible study at my little church started up again.

I go because I love the women at my church and because they have childcare. I go because they serve lemonade out of mason jars, and it feels like a kind of careful, thoughtful love.

We’re going through the book of John, all of us pulled together around a clump of tables in the church foyer. When we read, I find that certain phrases make me anxious. Testify, for example. That Lamb of God metaphor, with all of its bloody, Old Testament implications.

John the Baptist in general with his camel-skin clothes stumbling out of the wilderness like some emblem of the passionate, sold-out life – he is hooking my Bible baggage, and I feel it tight across my chest.

Outside the rain is falling. In front of me is this book, heavy with story and song, full of complexity and mystery and Love. I believe it is strong enough and wide enough to absorb all the baggage accumulated on this long walk of faith. I believe that the God of the Bible is big enough for my Big Questions and my small frustrations and my tainted memories.

And I believe that it matters, this book, and part of the work of disentangling from cynicism is being willing to sit through the discomfort. To feel it, to recognize it.

To stay.

The Bible is open in front of me, and the women around me are open-faced and curious and kind. Someone is reading the passage aloud: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” she reads, and it almost takes my breath away — that phrase grace upon grace.

The rain is falling and the words are too, and slowly, quietly, all things are being made new.

You Don’t Have to Be Good

You don’t have to be good.

You don’t have to read through your Bible in a year. You don’t have to keep a journal or attend the all-church prayer meeting or help in the nursery two Sundays a month.

There is no continuum of holiness here. You can’t be “more” of a Christian, or “less” of a Christian.

There are no faith giants or super-heroes. There are no perfect Christians, and no one has it entirely all together. In the end, we’re just a hundred thousand beating hearts, torn and broken and made perfect by his Love.

You take grace like a garment, and it’s not like putting on a Girl Scouts vest. There are no patches to earn. Nothing to add.

You take it, and it is a clean white t-shirt. It requires no embellishment, no accessories, no scarves. You don’t have to dress it up or upcycle it or tie-dye it in the backyard. It is enough, all by itself, to cover your shame, your fear, your cold.

You don’t have to like Christian music or read Christian fiction or answer all the questions in your fill-in-the-blank Bible study.

You don’t have to eat organically or buy fair trade or go on mission trips to the other end of the world. You don’t have to sponsor a child in Ecuador.

You don’t have to listen to sermons on your ipod or read the “right” blogs or support the “right” political candidates. You don’t need a Jesus fish sticker on your car.

If you pray, do it because your heart is drawn to the heart of God. But there is no script here. No magic words. You don’t have to get up in the early morning and kneel on the floor. This is not a formula, and you cannot pray yourself into God’s good graces.

Listen, you are already there.

you don't have to be good

This is the only place in your whole world where there are no expectations; this is the one person you cannot disappoint. There is no test. God is not waiting for you to do some certain thing or to say some particular combination of words to give you Good Things.

Get up and pray if you can, because there is something here for you in this quiet. But if you can’t — if you are bone-tired, if you push the snooze button again this morning — you are not less beloved. There is no great, cosmic head-shaking going on in the sky.

God is as near as your sheets pulled up around you.

He is covering you with the quiet of his love.

You step into the Light, and then you are there, and you can’t darken it with your failure. You can’t diminish it with your disobedience or diffuse it with your doubt.

If you never read another Bible verse in your whole life, you will be loved just as endlessly, just as wildly, just as inexhaustibly.

If you never find your way back to church, if you never join another Bible study, if you never sing another worship chorus…you are still enough. Because he is Enough. Because nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even our own broken hearts.

There might be a time when you feel led forward out of your own cynicism or your own fear, and Lord, I hope you go.

But maybe you don’t. Maybe you take the long way around. Maybe you get on a boat headed in the other direction. Even still, you can’t outrun His love and grace. It is bigger than the sky, closer than your ragged breath.

And what I’m trying to say is that this is not some cosmic equation – good behavior + prayer = God’s love or God’s blessing or God’s presence.

In the end, the Gospel story is a shattering of all the formulas. It is a God who walks through the dirt, whose Love is big enough to cover the broken, empty places of the whole wide world. Whose Goodness is strong enough to cover our failures.

It is a God who died to make us enough and who defeated death to give us Life, and you don’t have to be good. You just have to step into it.

The day breaks, and it is grace, and you can’t earn it at all.

You are already here.

Stand in the middle of it and look up.

Making Manifest Giveaway Winner!

random generator - making manifestI’m so excited about how many of you responded to the Making Manifest book reflection this week. I wish I could give a copy away to every single one of you.

I counted 93 commenters when I excluded Dave and I. (Literally. I wrote all of your names down on my grocery list notepad to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. I’m sure there’s a plugin for that but I don’t have the technical savvy to figure it out.)

And the Random Generator of Awesomeness has spoken. The winner is Number 85 – Abi! Congratulations! Expect an email from me soon!

If you didn’t win, I’d still urge you to go pick up a copy of this beautiful workbook from Seedbed.

If you’re doing it with a group, there are bulk discounts that you can take advantage of over there as well. It’s such a great alternative for those of us who have done the fill-in-the-blank stuff too many times and just need something different.

I’d like to leave you with this beautiful thought from the book.

” […] To come close to saying what can’t be said or being what we can’t fully be, we have to choose to set aside time to meet this becoming, to respond to God’s incarnate invitation of full awareness. We need solitude in a world that wants to visit, quiet from a world that wants idle chit-chat, and steadfastness in a world where everything’s changing and transient. We need time to gather the little pieces of ourselves that scatter. We need time to write down our little lives.

The good news: your life is already poemia — a living breathing work of words. So with a little time and practice each day your bit of energy will become worship you make, not worship made for you. […] You can best worship God by accepting your words and giving them life, by owning them, and then giving them back; or, as Romans 12:1 says, to present them as part of your reasonable sacrifice — offering your words as part of offering yourself.”

May you find solitude, quiet and so much beauty this weekend.

Making Manifest [Book Reflection & Giveaway]

pencil and paperDuring my Very Hard Year, I meet the church ladies every Thursday morning at a coffee shop.

It was dark when I drove there and dark when I left, and in between, there was a fill-in-the-blank Bible study on the book of John.

There was homework that we were supposed to be doing. There were small spaces for answering leading questions, all of it meant to guide the reader toward a deeper understanding of the Bible.

Like most studies, it was pragmatic. It was meant to help you learn, and in that learning, to grow stronger in your faith.

But it was my very hardest year. I was in the deep winter of Depression and didn’t know it yet. But what I did know was the answers to questions 1-10 in Chapter 1. After years of Sunday School and AWANA Clubs, after high school Bible study and youth group retreats and four years at Bible College, those questions were so insultingly simple that I resented them.

The questions I was battling through in my own heart during those months had to do with loneliness and sadness and feeling like God was nowhere. Like he had up and left my life.

I tried to write the complex questions in the margins and in the spaces, but there was no room for them. It was a fill-in-the-blank Bible study, and it wasn’t about the questions. It was about finding the exact right answers.

*

Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that fill-in-the-blank Bible studies are bad. I am not saying that you are simple or stupid if you love them, if they speak to you, if you are being changed by one right now.

We are all in different places of learning and growing, and sometimes that word – the one you write in the small, blank space – is the word you needed to find. The one that will change everything.

What I’m saying is that during that time in my life, it was just not doing it for me, and maybe you’re there.

Maybe you’re desperately trying to interact with God or with your faith community, but it all feels dried out and stale – a very old crust instead of Bread of Life.

*

Making_Manifest_CoverI met Dave Harrity at the Festival of Faith and Writing last April. We’d connected online a bit, but at the conference, he handed me a postcard about his forthcoming book.

I wanted it to be available immediately, right then, because it is the book I needed so desperately that very hard winter.

It’s the one I need now.

In his introduction, he describes Making Manifest as a “28-day devotional book grounded in the acts of writing, creativity, imagination, solitude, and community building, all designed to help you ‘re-vision’ the way you understand and interact with the kingdom of God.”

It’s a totally different kind of “devotional” – a workbook filled with meditations and writing prompts. It asks that you make space for quiet. It asks that you write freely and that you pay attention to your life. That you value the words you write in the quiet space of this book, not because they are perfect, but because they are holy.

I’m not all the way through it yet. It’s meant to be a 28-day devotional, but I’m ambling. I’m taking my time with each prompt, feeling my soul get a little wider in the reading and writing.

Making Manifest doesn’t ask you to read large swaths of Scripture. Instead, it incorporates small bits and goes deep into the complex, life-giving truth about who God is. It would have been perfect for my cynical, winter-bare 24-year-old heart. The one that could not take one more fill-in-the-blank study of John. The one that could barely open the Bible without feeling inexplicably angry.

In the back of the book, there are discussion questions, workshops and exercises that allow you to use this book in a group context, and I’d like to start a group at some point. I’d like to try it in community.

I think it’s the kind of book that you can work through again and again and find it entirely different and uniquely beautiful every time.

*

I’m excited about this book because in the end, it was a series of writing prompts that helped me find my way back to God – not in a devotional book, but in grad school. It was hundreds of free-writes that were eventually refined into essays that turned into chapters that turned into the book I’ll publish with Convergent this fall.

But in the beginning, it was just prompts.

Just a notebook and a pen. Just me and the God I couldn’t seem to get to in the traditional, evangelical ways.

And somewhere in all of that messy cursive, something happened: I found him again. Somewhere in all of those imperfect, holy pages, He met me, and I was Found.

*

I’m so excited to have one copy of this beautiful workbook to give away, but really, I think it’s worth every penny. (It’s available from Seedbed here.)

You know the drill – leave a comment (Any comment! No brilliant insights necessary!), and you’ll be entered into the Random Generator of Awesomeness. I’ll announce the winner this Friday (the 10th).

In the meantime, stop by antler, Dave’s organization that’s committed to helping people engage in creativity as a devotional practice for spiritual formation. These are some seriously cool people bringing something that we desperately need to the faith conversation. Check it out!

^
Back To Top