Why the OT?

For some reason, when I was preaching regularly, I felt compelled to do a series on Leviticus. Why? It was due, in part, to include all of scripture in my teaching. But I’m sure there was also a part of me that wanted to rise to the challenge of making even Leviticus come alive.

But the reality is: nobody gets excited about Leviticus. That’s understandable. Just compare, say, Leviticus 15 to Luke 15. Go ahead, do it…. I mean, really: Luke 15 includes 3 stories that practically tell themselves. Leviticus 15 is about, well, bodily discharges.

So, it’s no surprise that a recent survey found that, of the top 100 verses cited in systematic theology books, only 9 were from the Old Testament. I’m no math genius, but that’s more than 9 out of 10 citations from the NT, vs. the OT. One of the top verses cited by theologians is John 1.14. Likewise, every verse in 1 Corinthians is referenced by at least one theologian. By my count, that’s 438 verses — each one deemed worthy of at least one mention by at least one writer in the attempt to describe what the Bible and God are all about.

I couldn’t agree more. John 1.14 is a key verse to understand God; 1 Corinthians might just be my favorite New Testament book. But is there something we miss when only 9% of our study, our focus, and our teaching comes from the OT?

Well, yes.

We miss the whole story. We miss the bigger picture of what God is doing. We miss out on how we got here. In short, we miss out on a part of our story.

The scholar N.T. Wright describes it something like this: imagine going to a 3-act play. If you arrive late, you’ll get a sense of the story: who the good guys are, who the bad guys are. You’ll pick up on the plot and theme. But what you won’t know are the details; the background; how we got here. Why, for example, Luke and Leia seem to have a connection that goes beyond the business at hand — and why Darth Vader is more than just a bad guy in a black mask. In other words, if you jump into the middle of the stream that is Star Wars, you’ll quickly be rooting for Luke & Leia, but you won’t know where they came from. You’ll only know the key ideas, the key players, the major plotline — but you won’t know the whole story.

Something similar happens when we open our Bibles and start in the New Testament. We jump into the middle of a multi-act play. If we turn to one of the gospels, then we’re in Act 2. If we start with Acts or one of Paul’s letters, we’re in Act 3. We even get glimpses of Act 5 throughout the Bible (e.g., Revelation, 1 Thessalonians 4; in fact, even parts of the OT point us to Act 5 — like Isaiah 65.17-25).

Now, there is nothing wrong with jumping in, midstream. In fact, that’s what I encourage new Bible readers to do: learn Jesus first, and then see how he leads to the Church. But don’t overlook the importance of going back and learning what led up to them. For all the acts of the story are needed to understand the whole story.

This is especially true because, as you may have noticed, I didn’t mention Act 4 of the drama. If Act 1 is the story of Israel, Act 2 is Jesus, Act 3 is the early church, and Act 5 is the return of Jesus and the completion of all things, what’s Act 4?

Us. You, me, the church that picks up the story where the Bible leaves off, and continues until the true Author of the Story, Jesus, returns.

We are Act 4. And to live our part faithfully, and well, we’ve got to know the acts that precede us — which includes, of course, the OT.

So, don’t be afraid of the OT. Even the hard parts. Read the script. Learn the back story. And play your part well.

Next time: more on how to read the OT.

Blogging through the Bible

This Sunday, we begin a series at Fern Creek I’m calling “His Story,” which will be an opportunity for us to jump into the story of the Bible. As we do, I will be blogging along as we work our way through the Bible. But before I do, let me mention some ways that you can be a part of this series:

  1. Read along with us as we read through the Bible. We will be tackling His Story in at least three “acts.” We will share in Act 1, “God Makes a Family,” during October & November. Find the reading plan here.
  2. Memorize a key Bible passage each week. Memory verses are also listed on the reading plan.
  3. Invite someone to join you. Find a friend, or a fellow seeker, who is willing to read through the Bible passages at the same time as you. Encourage and challenge each other through text, email, calls, facebook messages, or face-to-face gatherings. Ask each other questions like: What did you learn? What do you think it means to us today? What are you going to do with what you’ve learned? 
  4. Involve your kids. Each week’s reading plan includes four key chapters new readers can use, giving them access to some of the key ideas from that week’s reading. Or, if you have preschool children, you might consider telling them key stories from what you have read, presented in simple form as a bedtime story. (This is a great way to help you remember and reflect on the key points of the story.) Or, you can use a kids Bible like this one — though, like most preschool Bibles, it only includes the main stories of Scripture.
  5. Download the Youversion Bible app. Youversion is a wonderful app for your smartphone that puts the Bible at your fingertips. It has numerous languages, and a bunch of English versions of the Bible — many of which you can read, or listen to. And, we will post stuff directly to our church’s Youversion page that applies to each week’s message. Did I mention that it’s free? If you are joining us through this series, and you use a smartphone or tablet, click here to get Youversion.

But the key idea is for us to get to know the Bible — ALL of it, so that we can find ourselves in The Greatest Story Ever Told. And this Sunday at Fern Creek, we will begin by looking at the overall picture — what I am calling “The Wholy Bible.”

There are a number of ways to summarize Scripture. Jesus gave this summary. Also, Jesus is the summary. But another way to get our arms around the story of the Bible is found in the following video. It’s simple enough to summarize the Bible in a way even young folks can understand, but deep enough to cover the spectrum of Scripture from front to back. (Though, I will say, there is one more circle I will add. Join me Sunday to find out what that is.)

What’s your story?

Earlier today, I sat down with a couple to talk about their upcoming wedding. Well, two of us were in my office; the other was almost 2000 miles away in Montana. But thanks to the wonders of skype, the three of us were able to be in the same room. When I meet for the first time with a couple who are planning their wedding, the first thing I like to do is hear their story.

With this couple, their story goes something like this: she grew up in church; he grew up in another religious tradition. He likes the outdoors; she does, too. Met at a national park. Got to know each other long distance through the wonders of modern long distance communication (unlike the olden days when I was dating, in the 1990s, and had to write letters). Kept in contact. He made a decision for Christ. They visited some more. Decided to get married. She found a job 2000 miles from where she grew up. Wedding planned and coming soon. Both of them grew up with a different story, but after a chance encounter in beautiful (and remote) Montana, their stories now will intersect — til death do they part.

Every one has a story. And every one has a different story. That is one of the things that makes being human so fascinating. Every one you meet has a story — 0ne worth hearing. For that matter, YOU have a story — one worth telling, and understanding. whats your story

One of the (many) reasons I love the Church is because it is full of people, who bring all of their stories together. Church is the place where our stories are celebrated, shared, and transformed by the grace of Jesus. We are all wonderfully and delightfully different — and it is in the midst of this difference that God is present, drawing us to Him and to each other. Diversity isn’t just a good idea — it’s God’s idea (see here, and here, and here).

Sunday at Fern Creek Christian, we got to celebrate the stories of 21 people (and several of their children), as they made decisions for Christ and his Church. It was truly a day to celebrate, for each person who came, said: Today, I bring me (and my story) to this family, this place. This Jesus. And we threw our opens wide to them.

There was Angela, and her step-daughter Kaitlyn, who came together — but each was saying, I need to trust Jesus.

There was Linda, who has been coming to church for a while with her sister. They both came forward Sunday, Linda’s sister there every step of the way for encouragement — and both celebrated Linda’s special day.

There was Grace, whose journey has taken her from Africa, to Fern Creek, to making a decision for baptism.

And there is Shawn, who came up after the service was over, to say: I’m ready. I want to be baptized. And so, this Sunday, he will step out of his wheelchair, and into the waters of death, burial, and resurrection.

And that’s just a few of the stories. Each one is unique. Each one is valuable. And each one is now a part of the work God is doing at Fern Creek.

I believe that God loves a good story; and God loves writing a great story, in the life of every person who invites Him to do just that.

So, what’s your story? And what is God doing with the one and only life you’ve got?