September 13, 2023
In one of my study Bibles, the introduction to the book of Ecclesiastes begins with these words:
The molded bunny lies in the basket, surrounded by green paper "grass." With Easter morning eyes wide with anticipation, the little boy carefully lifts the chocolate figure and bites into one of the long ears. But the sweet taste fades quickly, and the child looks again at the candy in his hand and declares, "It's hollow!" Empty, futile, hollow, nothing ... the words of disappointment and disillusionment. Unfortunately, this is the life experience of many of us at some point. We grasp at the sweet things that life seems to offer - possessions, experiences, power, pleasure - only to find little to nothing of lasting substance inside. Almost 3000 years ago Solomon spoke of this human dilemma, and yet the insights of his thoughts find an often profound application and relevance even in our own time.
One of the most well known sets of verses in Solomon's Ecclesiastes is the first eight verses of the third chapter. Pete Seeger, for example, used them in his 1959 song, Turn! Turn! Turn! that reached number one on the secular charts, when it was released in 1965 by the singing group, The Byrds. Those verses read,
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven;
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
There is a season for every activity under heaven, which implies that there will be a changing of season from time to time. A juncture in time, where it is appropriate to change or shift from one activity to another - from one pursuit to another. This past Sunday we had a celebration of sorts that we called "Kick-Off Sunday." It served as a marker for one of these junctures, where we purposely shift from one season to another. Some are returning from a holiday period. For them Pastor Russ's challenge at the end of last week's sermon may be particularly appropriate. If you missed it, he said,
As we go into the various things that we face, some of which are really scary and dark, we need to realize that the crux of our faith is that there is always Light. Always. And sometimes our only job is to turn on the switch!
For others, the change of seasons may bring a time to rekindle and re-stoke the fires of faith within us that keep the Light within us shining. If this is where you find yourself, how do you recharge, rekindle, or re-stoke your faith fire?
For many the answer to this question includes the study of the Scriptures and it is the reason that our Adult Bible Study kicked-off its fall study of Romans this Sunday, the Bible 101 group has scheduled its organizational / kick-off meeting for next week, and the Youth Sunday School is scheduled to resume in October. Still others are resolving to "kick-off" new studies on their own. There are almost as many ways to study the Bible as there are people. And there is no "one way fits all," and even for a given person, the best way may depend on their situation and whatever season of life they find themselves in. I am reminded of Alice in Wonderland.
As she travels through Wonderland she comes to a fork in the road. Up in the tree is the Cheshire Cat. Alice then asks the Cat, which road or path she should take? The Cat responds with the question: "Where are you trying to go?" Alice answers, "I do not know." "Well, in that case," says the Cat, "I guess any path will do."
This anecdote reinforces the idea that what you are trying to accomplish should inform the process by which you try to address it. A theology question requires attention to theological issues and instructional Scriptures. Specific application questions often require topical study approaches. And issues of character can be dealt with by character studies. When I started this DeacoNote, I had it in my mind that I might end up quoting from a book I had read when I was a fairly new Christian. The book was, How To Study Your Bible - The Lasting Rewards Of The Inductive Method, by Kay Arthur. The book focuses on understanding context, meaning, and detailed word study and cross-referencing. At its most basic, the book offers a practical process for growing your faith in the Word.
1. Begin with prayer - without the Holy Spirit, the Bible will just be ink on paper. With the Holy Spirit, it will change your life - and that should always be the end goal.
2. Observation - what does the passage say? Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?
3. Interpretation - what does the passage mean?
4. Application - how does the meaning of this passage apply to my own life and how I live it?
This last part, I often think of in my mind as the "So What?" question. Now that I have a new understanding, what difference should it make in how I lead my life? As Kay Arthur puts it,
Ultimately, then, the goal of personal Bible study is a transformed life and a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
Proper application begins with belief which then results in being and doing. Once you know what a passage means, you are not only responsible for putting it into practice in your own life, but accountable if you don't. Over the years I have been involved in and even led a few detailed Bible studies. They have their place and their season, if you will. At this season of my life, however, I sometimes find that the details of the hermeneutics can obscure the simpler big picture.
Instead, I like to remember that at its heart, the Bible is a compilation of stories of real men and women who encountered God ... and lived to tell about it. The Bible then uses language to try to help us understand what that divine encounter was like. And, if it had been us that had experienced it, what would we have learned, and how would we have resolved to lead our lives differently from that point on. I no longer wish to treat the Bible like I might a text book that tells me about God. Instead, I want to think of it, and read it like a love letter from a God seeking to have a relationship with me. And I want it to grow into a relationship that is hard to put into mere words. And yet, I want to experience it and treasure it. This is not the "hollow" experience alluded to above, but rather one whose fire burns bright and hot.
I John 1: 5, 7 God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. . . If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
I John 4: 13, 16-17 And we know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. . . And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way love is made complete among us
Somehow, John's closing words to his second epistle seem to suit my mood and complete the thoughts above.
II John 1: 12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
Amen. Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester Colchester, Vermont 05446