On the Bible

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, John Ryser recounts how even though he regularly read the Bible in his high school years, it “remained a mystery to me, the only version available being the King James. I had trouble applying it to my life.”

John isn’t alone. In 2012, we surveyed more than 200 high school youth at a Christian camp. Nearly 95 percent reported that they read the Bible, but only half could think of a time God had spoken to them through Scripture. Just over one third of the students surveyed said they couldn’t see how the Bible was relevant to their lives. Most said they struggled to find a regular time to read the Bible or that they didn’t know where to start.

John said a Sunday school teacher made a difference for him. “Gene was a shop worker who had no formal Bible training or higher education, but he had a radical reliance on God’s Holy Spirit and the self-discipline to read, study, absorb, and apply God’s Word.... He made the Bible come alive.”

John clarifies that it wasn’t Gene’s lack of training that made him effective. It was Gene’s love for God, his love for Scripture, and his love for people that made a difference. “He taught me that my belief would naturally be reflected in my behavior.” And as a result, “My life changed.”

John wonders if you’ve “ever thought about teaching others God’s Word through Sunday school, a small group, or Bible study.” Having training helps, but what really matters, according to John, is humility and a willingness to do what Gene did: he “lived exactly the way he taught.”

Each quarter, Barclay Press produces a Friends Bible study called Illuminate, and starting this month, we’ve increased the amount of Scripture included in each week’s study while replacing some of the commentary with discussion questions. 

One of yesterday’s passages – Matthew 4:12-17 – is paired with questions to engage your imagination: “Why might Jesus have chosen to make his home in Capernaum, a place where he had never lived, instead of Nazareth, where he grew up? Or Jerusalem, the center of Judaism?” There are questions to help you relate to the text: “What does Jesus’ use of this prophecy from Isaiah suggest to us about how he views his purpose?” There are questions for application: “Jesus refers to himself several times as ‘the Light.’ How does light overcome darkness? How do you experience Jesus as Light?”

Our goal has been to create a resource that might make it possible for one person or two friends or a small group or even a formal class to read and engage Scripture together. Just as Gene’s “love for God and God’s Word planted seeds” in John’s life, I’m convinced that when we engage Scripture together, we nurture those same seeds in one another. We grow together. We experience God’s presence together. We let God shape us through Scripture. Together.

Maybe you’re part of a group that would benefit from this resource. Maybe you’re already using Illuminate and have ideas for additional ways in which we might make it even more useful to you. Maybe you just needed a reminder – like I sometimes do – that the Bible continues to be relevant, useful, and important. John offers a closing prayer: “God, help me to absorb and to apply your word, so that I may teach it to others.”

I pray that this might be true for all of us.

Eric Muhr

On ignorance

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Kay Wilson reflects on the idea found in 1 Peter that “ignorance of truth and intentional foolishness will inevitably bring destruction.” Peter says, “Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (1:14b), and Kay likens this ignorance to darkness, arguing that we must walk in the light because “it is impossible to learn to walk in the true knowledge of God’s glorious grace if we choose to be ignorant.”

Who would choose ignorance? And why?

Annie Dillard has an idea. In a chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie describes a moment when she is sitting on a curb, patting a puppy, and watching the sun descend behind a mountain. “Shadows lope along the mountain’s rumpled flanks.... It tricks out the unleafed forest and rumpled rock in gilt, in shape-shifting patches of glow.... a series of dazzling splashes, shrinking, leaking, exploding.... The air cools; the puppy’s skin is hot. I am more alive than all the world.”

Annie compares this particular experience – an opening in time – to Christ’s incarnation. As the light moves across the sky, Annie thinks, “This is it, this is it; praise the lord; praise the land.... you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” Then she begins to think about her experience, and it is gone. “Self-consciousness ... does hinder the experience of the present.”

Ignorance, then (or what Annie calls innocence), can open us to experiences of beauty and of grace. It can also be a defense, one in which we close our eyes to suffering, to injustice, to sin – the ugliness of the world in which we find ourselves.

That is why Kay suggests, “We must be self-controlled and place our hope on the glorious grace that comes through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Adequate preparation requires obedience and a conscious effort.” We must know God. We also must act.

I’m considering this morning what it means for me to act, and I know that one of the tasks to which God has called me doesn’t seem that active. I gather together words for this newsletter. I edit manuscripts and respond to emails. I consider our balance sheet and make decisions each week about which bills we can and can’t afford to pay. I have to keep my eyes open for opportunities to help. I also have to trust that these little efforts – continued day in and day out – might be like the sowing of seeds. Some fall on the path and are devoured by birds. Some fall on rocky ground. Some fall among thorns. I don’t know (might never know) if this work makes a difference. But I trust that at least one small seed might fall on good soil.

If you’d like to support the seed-sowing work of Barclay Press, please consider clicking on the Share Stories Change Lives link.

Finally, Peter writes, “With minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:13). And Kay offers this prayer: “Father, make me hungry for the truth. Lead me into a disciplined life of holy living and stir up your Holy Spirit within me.”

Eric Muhr

Baby birds

In this week’s Fruit of the Vine, Barbara Mann writes about the lessons she learned while caring for baby birds. She wrote yesterday about the nest her husband brought home “with four speckled, light blue eggs. He was weed-whacking in the gully below our farm and found this surprise. He thought it had fallen out of a tree and been abandoned.” Later, the eggs would hatch, and Barbara briefly shares that “some even traveled to Seattle with us, staying warm from my body heat together in half of a plastic Easter egg with cotton.”

This morning, reflecting on Ecclesiastes 3:1-10, Barbara shares that caring for others – whether baby birds or people – “can often be risky.” An elementary school teacher, Barbara writes of the loss of a rabbit that had lived in her classroom for four years. “She was a lot of work to keep and transport, but she enriched our lives.” Barbara also writes of the loss of her sister 12 years ago, a loss that never goes away. Barbara says it has increased her sensitivity to loss, it has increased her awareness of how she carries grief. “When I freely grieve, feeling deeply the loss that I have experienced, it opens up the possibility to feel joy more keenly in the future. If I wall myself off from my emotions, I decrease my capacity to feel both pain and joy.”

Tomorrow Barbara writes more of suffering. On Wednesday she recounts her efforts to feed the baby birds and how it prompted her to think about the kind of nourishment she needs to flourish. On Thursday she writes of how it can feel crazy to work at something you know will surely fail. And yet you go on.

Maybe you’d like to hear the rest of Barbara’s story or any of the stories we share each day in Fruit of the Vine. You can find a print subscription to Fruit of the Vine in our bookstore. We also have an inexpensive digital version that comes right to your email inbox each morning. 

While you’re at the bookstore, take time to look through our discount books. At the end of July, we go through our shelves and mark down all the titles we’d like to move out of inventory. Nearly 15 percent of those books have found new homes this month, which means that as of today, we still have nearly 200 titles marked down by 40 percent or more.

Finally, Barbara offers a simple prayer: “Help me as I risk loving others.”

In Ecclesiastes 3:10, the writer claims, “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” I think we help one another to carry that burden by risking love.

Eric Muhr