Taste and See: When Famine Takes Hold of the Land of Plenty


I started reading from my Bible again — the Big Blue — I call it. I received it as a gift from my sister-in-law in the year 2000. Let me be clear: I haven't stopped reading the Bible. I had gotten into a habit of only reading on my computer. So here’s a bit of a confession: I needed to get my face out from in front of a screen so I've picked up my big leather Bible again. In the margins and in underlines, the Big Blue records the history of my life interacting with God’s Word—-at least, the last 19 years with Him. It is the book that has formed my life and continues to do so.

Before 8:00 this morning, I had a marinara sauce simmering on the stove. It’ll cook for most of the day. I could have opened a jar of store-bought sauce and taken a shortcut to the lasagna I’ll make later, but I have come to understand the value of slowing, of living without haste. Cooking homemade marinara is a good metaphor for how God’s Word has transformed me over the years. Early in the day, I set its words to simmer on the burner, meditating on them and testing them. Oh, taste and see, the Lord is good.

When I see my notes recorded in the Big Blue, I’m reminded of what I have learned and what I’ve forgotten. Even when I don’t remember the specifics of insights from the past, I’m not alarmed. I see how the revelations have influenced the way I see, hear, and respond to the Spirit of God.



I am amazed how new insights bubble to the surface each time I read from the ancient Book. Even in familiar passages new questions emerge for the asking, new revelations provide clarity and understanding, and new moments of awe and wonder bring me again to the place where I know I am living in a Big Story, bigger than the little life I’m living out on the farm in Albion.

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 NASB)

We live in a world of cynicism and hopelessness. I know something about both conditions having embraced both sinful attitudes in the past. God sent His Word and healed me. He has forgiven me and is helping me overcome my tendency to live self-involved and pessimistic. (Please notice the present tense.) When I fall back into old ways, He picks me up and we start over. Two steps forward, one step back.

Over the years living in relationship with Jesus, my intention has been to build a foundation of trust founded in Truth rather than circumstances. My life motto is, “I am saved and being saved; I’m healed and being healed; I’ve been given grace and I will give grace.” This easy to remember mantra underscores the reality that I am in process. Transformation is impossible apart from the Scriptures. God’s Word is a source of strength and hope. By His living Word, the Holy Spirit instructs me and helps me. His Word fills like nothing else — not even homemade lasagna.

Why is cynicism and hopelessness common even among those who call Jesus their Savior? I believe it is a condition described in the book of Amos:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord GOD, "When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11 NASB)

Though we live in a land of plenty, we are famished. All around us people are hungry. Many are grasping to fill their emptiness with what will not satisfy, the outcome of lives governed by secularism, consumerism, and idolatry. Moralism is even losing ground — what little hope it offered.

The “isms” ruling our age hardly even cause us pause anymore. We aren’t surprised when we hear of another suicide, a parent abandoning his or her family, another child entering the foster system, or someone who has given up on church, or worse, renounced their faith.

We live on a steady diet of podcasts and pop culture. We binge on TV, one episode after another. We satisfy our spiritual needs with a fast food diet of a few strategic follows on Instagram and don’t realize how malnourished we are.

So there you have it, my lament, what is bothering me and grieving me. The irony is I could almost get cynical thinking about it. Instead, I’m considering the solution? The spiritual life isn’t only for those so inclined or called to ministry. What about the rest of us?




As the new year—2020—is upon us (Can you believe it!!!?), I want to challenge you to think about how you might approach growing in your knowledge of God’s Word in the next decade of your life. I thought I’d share some of my journey in the last decade to give you some ideas. To be honest, with the move I’ve been out of sync. I need new rhythms in my new place. These things I’m sharing are helping me to look back as I look forward into what God has for me in the year and years ahead.

Camp Out

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to passages to live in for weeks, or months, or maybe even a year or more. By reading and re-reading, trying to memorize long passages of Scripture or chapters, it will amaze you how your understanding will grow over time. You may not remember the passage verbatim forever, but you will not forget the texture and the meaning of the words. Keep a running list in the back of your Bible of the chapters where you camp. In ten years, you’ll look back and be able to look at the references and recall what you learned from them. You’ll see how God used His Word to transform your heart and mind.

I spent a year or more in Hebrews 12. From there, I began to spend more and more time in the rest of the book. That led me to Leviticus, which I now understand to be the flip-side of the book of Hebrews.

Several years ago, I tried to memorize Romans 1. When I got to the last verses in the chapter, I would weep. I began to understand that God was showing me what happens to his heart when those He created and love turn aside from him. My heart broke with his.

I could suggest many chapters in the Bible to set up camp: Colossians 3, Philippines 2, John 1, 1 John 3, 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 5-7, Romans 8. The list could go on and on. Hanging out in the Old Testament is meaningful too as you enter the stories of Joseph, Moses, or the prophet Elijah to learn more about God and the way He works through those He has called for his purposes.

Rewrite the Psalms

Rewriting and paraphrasing is a great way to make the Psalms into personal prayers. Some of them are long, but many are manageable. You’ll get hung up sometimes because you're not King David and you’ll be thinking what does his life have to do with yours? Keep at it and the Holy Spirit will teach you. Read a few commentaries on the passage you're working on and look up words that stand out to you. You’ll be amazed how relevant the passages are to your life. (Spurgeon’s insights into the Psalms are stellar if you want to dig in deeper).

Try Psalm 1, Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 63, Psalm 139, Psalm 91, Psalm 27, Psalm 8 are a few I could suggest to start.



Find Several Teachers who Speak with Different Perspectives about God’s Word: Hang Out with Them

I have always studied the Bible, but for many, many years, I studied to teach others. That wasn’t a bad thing, but much of what I learned remained in my head. When God asked me to step back from teaching, I didn’t understand it at first. Now I know He wanted me to learn, to get out of my head so he could work on my heart. Three Christian men all of whom are now in heaven have been influential in my progress. 

Dallas Willard taught me much from his intellectual approach to what Jesus was teaching when He preached about the Kingdom of God and particularly his message in the Sermon on the Mount. Dallas’ book, The Divine Conspiracy, is weighty, but it helped me connect so many dots in my faith. I got the audio book so I can listen when I’m in the car. I’ve listened more than once. His book published posthumously, Life without Lack, is much more approachable. It is his teaching on the 23rd Psalm. The chapter on Job is the best teaching on Job I’ve ever heard.

God gifted Eugene Peterson to understand the metaphors that God has given us in the world around us. Eugene’s perspective brings beauty and understanding to his word. He speaks to the part of me that needs to see God working in the ordinary. He's shown me I need to stay grounded in my faith in the present to avoid gnosticism. Running with the Horses was my first introduction to Eugene’s writing other than The Message. I found that book because of my interest in the prophet, Jeremiah. It is a favorite. Recently, I reread Eugene’s insightful book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. There are highlights on every page. I will read it again no doubt.

Ray Stedman is the teacher who slides into my inbox every day. He was a pastor who loved the local church and taught them well. He was also a preacher and mentor to preachers—-Chuck Swindoll and Luis Palau among them. His sermons are in daily devotional form. Ray has been with the Lord many years now, but His love for God’s Word speaks into my life almost daily. He is the only person who has made the book of Leviticus have relevance in my life. 

Change your Want To

The reality is you and I won’t grow in our faith or take in God’s Word if we don’t want to. I asked God to help me with my “want to.” If we are to escape getting swept up in the “isms” in the surrounding culture, we must ask God to help us want to know Him more. It should bring us pause to consider that someday we will meet him face to face. When I meet Jesus, I want to hear him say, “Hey, I know you.” When we show up to learn from God’s word, we get to know the One who wrote it. It’s an amazing privilege that we should never neglect.

I hope these ideas sparked your own ideas. You absolutely cannot do all of these starting on January 1, but you can start somewhere. All these have worked for me at different times over years, but not all of them at the same time. There are many other ways to feast on God’s Word, but the first step is cultivating a heart that seeks after Him. God will help you change your "want to." More than anything, He wants to spend time with you.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NASB)

How are you filling on God's Word? What creative ways are you cultivating a life with God through his Living Word?




Comments

  1. Love this post friend. I always enjoy and glean from others sharing their journey and disciplines. Thank you.

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