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Jan 12, 2020

Love the Word: Read With Your Heart

Passage: Psalms 119:97-104

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: Listen, Love, Live, and Learn by the Light of Scripture

Category: Listen, Love, Live, and Learn by the Light of Scripture

Keywords: bible, scripture, love the word, imaginative reading, gospel contemplation

Summary:

Part 2 of our series on reading the Bible is: 'Love the Light of Scripture: To Love The Word Read With Your Heart.' We listen to a stanza from Psalm 119 and focus our attention on the invitation on verse 97 – O how I LOVE your law, O Lord. Today something is happening: people declare they love for Jesus but don’t love the Bible. They have a deep respect for Jesus, but don’t agree with the Bible. Years ago I was at a youth retreat and that was during the time when Keith Green songs were popular. We sang around the campfire one of his songs: Oh Lord, you're beautiful, Your grace abounds to me . . . I want to take your word and shine it all around. And after we sang that one of the young men stopped us and asked, what’s that phrase? ‘I want to take your word and shine it all around.’ And he laughed, “I couldn’t quite remember it and sang instead: I want to take your word and change it all around.” He was a prophet for our day. Some think the Bible needs changing before we can love it again. But how can you love Jesus and not love what he says? It is one thing to read the Bible, even to study it, even to know it, and quite another thing altogether to love the Word of God. We’ll invite and encourage practices that awaken our love for the Word of God.

Detail:

So how is your listening to Scripture?

Last week we begin our month long series

on reading the Bible for transformation

and not merely information.

We recognize that the Bible is the Living Word of God so it is active, performative, not just informative.

It is life-changing, so let us listen well.

We introduced the discipline of lectio divina,

sacred reading.

And invited each other to try it

at least once this week.

Did you try it?

Reading out loud, multiple times,

focusing on a word or phrase,

living with that word throughout the day.

I hope you did.

I know,

adding a discipline is difficult.

The first few attempts will feel awkward.

Keep at it.

It will help you learn to listen to God speaking to you.

Imagine that?

The true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit,

holy, eternal, transcendent,

speaking to you.

You can listen to God!

No wonder it will take discipline

to be able to listen so.

 

If we admit we have a ways to go

in learning to listen to God’s Word,

can we also admit that we often fail

to love the Word of God?

Some of us confess

there are times and seasons in our lives

when we have no desire to read the Bible.

Sorrow or busyness or struggle or fatigue overtake us and one of the first things that we let slip

is our reading of Scripture and prayer.

And we don’t think we miss it.

 

Today something more is happening:

people declare a love for Jesus

but a resistance to his Word.

They say things like:

“I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Bible.

I have a deep respect for Jesus,

but I don’t agree with the Bible.”

Years ago I was at a youth retreat

and that was during the time when Keith Green songs

were popular.

We sang around the campfire one of his songs:

Oh Lord, you're beautiful,

Your grace abounds to me

I want to take your word and shine it all around

 

And after we sang that one of the young men stopped us and asked,

what’s that phrase?

I want to take your word and shine it all around

And he laughed,

I couldn’t quite remember it and sang instead:

I want to take your word and change it all around.

 

He was a prophet for our day.

Some think the Bible needs changing

before we can love it again.

But how can you love Jesus

and not love what he says?

How can you receive his salvation

without loving the Savior’s word of righteousness

and forgiveness to you?

 

To really be transformed by grace,

to live fully and abundantly in this life-giving word,

we must love the Bible,

so that we can take it to heart.

Love it like we love hearing from a friend,

like we receive with joy a card of blessing or congratulation,

like the voice of our spouse,

like the welcome and belonging

and assurance from family,

like the correcting insight of an admired teacher.

 

Psalm 119:97 sings:

Oh, how I love your law!

Not one, not two,

but eleven verses in Psalm 119

confess to loving God’s Word, God’s law,

the Lord’s promises, the commands of the Lord.

It’s the main teaching of that longest psalm

in the Bible:

love.

Love God’s Word.

Love the transforming power of his Word.

We truly live by the love of God

as we love the transforming word of the Lord.

 

We confess many times that

that’s the last thing we want to do.

Love God’s Law?

Delight in the Lord’s commands?

Love the Father’s decrees directing my paths?

 

We wrongly conclude that to obey is to be restricted,

even obedience to the one true God.

But that’s wrong.

God is love.

The Lord loves you.

The Father has your best interest in mind and heart:

communion with him now and for eternity.

The devastation of sin’s reach into our well-being

robs us of peace and joy . . . and true love.

We’re left with fear, shame, regret, emptiness,

anger, envy, and bitterness.

We turn defensive, selfish and self-absorbed.

And wind up serving those idols of heath and wealth and happiness,

addicted to

idols that cannot really speak to our heart’s desire,

that have no power except to wreck and ruin,

that don’t free but enslave us again.

 

Psalm 119 invites us to see that

loving God’s Word brings

God’s loving wisdom, insight, understanding.

Loving the word of the Lord

keeps us,

the image is of being on the right path.

The sentiment is of direction,

purpose, safety,

and of getting there –

getting where we are really meant to go.

Of not going it alone,

of God-with-us,

Jesus surrounding us

but Jesus also being the path to life.

That’s why it is a sweet word.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,

    sweeter than honey to my mouth!

 

Nobody wants to go it alone.

Friendship, companionship, partnership, fellowship

all make the day better,

make life fuller, enjoyable, sweet.

 

Kids, what’s your favorite sweet?

Maybe mom or dad don’t let you

have too much sugar.

Twizzlers, pixie sticks, cotton candy, Kool-Aid,

Fruit Loops . . .

you might want them because they’re so sweet.

BTW – if you think you’re all grown up

and over Christmas had

Starbucks' Signature Caramel Hot Chocolate?

23 teaspoons of sugar in that!

So there’s a reason we limit our sweet intake.

But there’s a benefit.

We develop a taste for richer, better sweets.

Kids, did you know there are such things

as sweet peppers?

You’ll only taste that by

helping your taste buds

with better sweets:

A fresh orange in winter.

The first strawberry of the season.

A homemade cookie.

Honey.

 

Which is a picture of the sweetness of God’s Word.

We’ve gotten used to those

religious and spiritual treats

that really aren’t good for us.

We can’t imagine anything would taste better.

Taking up the discipline of loving God’s Word

purifies our desires.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,

    sweeter than honey to my mouth!

 

For instance,

we think it’s sweeter to receive.

But the sweetness of God’s Word

helps us see it’s better to give.

We desire safety and security,

Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow.

We love to get the glory,

the Word convinces us we live

to give glory to God.

For in those words are life, and liberty,

salvation and our soul’s true desire.

How can we get there?

How can we help one another experience

what it means to love God’s Word

and find our true heart’s desire

in and thru that living Word?

 

I’m going to give you another Bible reading exercise.

Remember last week

we said we usually approach the Bible

with all the bad reading habits we’ve learned

especially lately:

We read for content, information,

focus on facts.

We look for headlines,

seek to master what we’re reading

by searching for a takeaway point,

and if we don’t get anything out of it right away

we move on to something else.

 

My invitation to you today

to recover our love for the Bible

is called imaginative reading.

The journey from the mind to the heart

requires imagination.

Jesus spoke in parables.

John wrote in signs and symbols

about the apocalypse.

The prophets got us to wonder.

The psalms sung of the beauty of creation.

 

I read this week these helpful words:

We tend to think that if

we simply believe the right things

then we'll behave the right way.

But Jesus knew better.

He knew that touching the imagination

means penetrating beyond the intellect

and pricking the conscience.

If reason changes our minds,

the imagination changes our hearts.

It helps us feel the truth, not just know it.

We can know full well what we ought to do.

But touching the imagination

can inspire us with a vision of God's reality

that will compel us to act.

 

Eventually, when our imaginations are trained

by the Bible and Christian worship,

devotion, and prayer,

we begin to perceive with our senses

what we know to be true by faith.

In this way, a biblical imagination

can ultimately alter our experience.

To offer only one example of this,

the early American pastor Jonathan Edwards

believed God had built into nature

clues about the deep themes of Scripture,

including salvation, sanctification,

the futility of the law,

and the beauty of grace.

He saw in the butterfly

an image of the burial and resurrection of Jesus.

He saw in the spider's web

an illustration of the craftiness and stealth of Satan. He saw in the sunrise

the eclipse of the law of works

by the more perfect law of grace.

His uniquely Christian imagination

helped him to see beyond the material world

to the significance that lay beneath and behind it.

 

So let me invite you to two imaginative

Bible reading practices.

Now again,

these don’t replace Bible study.

They don’t make sermons unnecessary.

What you experience reading the Bible this way

should always be checked

by our creeds and confessions.

These complement the truth of Scripture;

they do not change the word around to our liking. They invite us to love God’s Word

because we read with our hearts.

 

The two practices are:

scriptural imagining or contemplation

and, scriptural identification.

The first, scriptural imagining or contemplation,

is recently used in things like Veggie Tales

or Adventures in Odyssey,

and before that my favorite, the Donut Man.

I suppose you can still find those somewhere online.

But scriptural imaging is an old practice

going back at least to Saint Ignatius.

 

Scriptural Imagining or Gospel Contemplation

as he called it

invites us to insert ourselves into a Bible story.

This allows us to taste, see, smell, hear and feel

what is going on in each scene.

We imagine ourselves

as an onlooker or character in the story.

As we engage our imagination

we are able to spend time in Jesus's presence.

This allows us to begin to love God’s word.

 

  1. Choose a Bible story. Could be an OT story, could be a gospel story,                                             could be from the book of Acts.
  2. Rest in the assurance that God is present in your desire to encounter God through your reading.
  3. Read the passage twice, becoming familiar with the story and its details.
  4. Sit quietly and close your eyes. Picture the scene.     What is the place like?                                                 Who is there?                                                               Who’s doing what?                                                      What are the sights, sounds, smells?                          Are you observing the scene as an outsider,             are you one of the characters?                                  How do you feel?                                                        What do you think?                                                    What happened before or after?                                 How did my life as a character change?

How about my faith in Jesus?

  1. Let the scene come to life for you like a classic painting or a recent film depiction. What did people say or do,                                 imagining each saying or doing it to or with you.    The aim is to engage with the scene                          and to receive this story as your story.                     This is part of my story.                                              These are my people.                                                   This has happened in my history.  
  2. Prayerfully ask the Spirit to change you as a result.

 

Imagine, walking on the water.

Going to the tomb and finding it empty.

Being led to Babylon in exile

separated from family and home.

 

In James KA Smith’s recent book 

he references Leslie Jamison

who was helped to overcome addiction

through the life stories people told at AA meetings.

But Leslie had to learn how to receive those stories.

They sounded all the same, pretty much.

She noticed that the addiction stories

traded back and forth made you think,

I’ve heard this before,

because addiction is always a story

that has already been told.

 

But as she learned to love these people

she learned what these stories really did.

They weren’t about new information

or understanding,

they were about solidarity.

The point wasn’t to draw attention to the story teller,

the hope was to give a gift to the listeners,

to create a world

in which the listeners could see themselves,

and maybe see a way forward, a way out.

We listen to be able to say, That’s me, too.

When we find ourselves in someone’s story

this recognition hits our hearts

and we feel known,

we find a place where we belong

we find a hope for how we too may be delivered.

 

We put ourselves in a story

and imagine what it would be to be them,

and we whisper, That’s me.

Lost, we are found

by a story someone else told.

This is why little kids want same bedtime story again.

Why teens listen to same song over and over.

Why boomers won’t leave the 60s and 70s behind.

 

In scriptural imagination

we hear those same Bible stories

we have heard over and over.

But haven’t fully heard them until we say,

these are my stories.

I place myself in the story

and then wind up saying, that’s me.

And when I finish the story

I find hope in God who loves me

and say, Then that could be me,

redeemed,

saved, given new life.

Out of my addiction to sin and self.

Instead of writing my own story,

I let Jesus be the author and find my life in his story.

And I receive the gift of communion,

belonging, being found in Christ Jesus.

 

It is an exercise in love.

We find ourselves in the stories Jesus wrote:

he is the author and perfecter of our faith.

 

The second practice is scriptural identification.

This is first a prayerful act

asking the Holy Spirit to direct you

to a certain Bible character

in order to identify spiritually with that person.

Now, it is NOT to say,

I am Jacob.

Or I am Judas.

Or I am the woman at the well.

But to see in this person

your own spiritual need, or sin, or our hope.

 

We find a quiet place

where we will not be disturbed for some time.

We pray for the Holy Spirit

to bring to mind a character from the Bible.

We may have to wait.

The Lord may not reveal a character to you

right away.

Your heart and mind might be too busy to hear.

Or you may resist the character

the Spirit points you to.

 

For let me warn you,

there are not a lot of appealing characters

in Scripture.

There are not very many attractive persons

when you get into their lives, their sin,

their need for forgiveness.

 

Think right now,

what character are you drawn to?

If you had to share one favorite Bible story

who are the people in it?

Abraham and Sarah?

Jeremiah?

One of the disciples?

A Pharisee?

Or even a person in one of the parables?

There is a reason that story sticks with you.

The Spirit has put it there.

 

So we pray, and wait,

and when a character is given,

read the story.

But read it asking,

why did Jesus bring this character to me now?

What invitation to grow closer to him

is being given to me?

Read until you can say,

I see where I am like this.

I begin to see how Jesus wants me to confess

this about me to him.

What does the Spirit illumine about me

in relationship to Jesus thru that character?

 

Each of these Bible reading practices

aid us in learning to love the Word.

I will delight in finding myself in the story.

I will grow in my desire to read scripture

because I experience that the Bible is my story.

That Christ is my life.

 

So will you engage in reading scripture

in one of these ways this week?

Scriptural imagination or contemplation,

or scriptural identification?

As with Lectio divina,

the first few times may feel awkward.

You may stumble.

It is a new practice.

But give it another try.

 

To truly be formed and shaped by God’s word,

we must love that word.

So especially if you’re a teenager or young adult,

practice this discipline.

Because at this time in your life

there are many worldviews,

enticements, and temptations

battling to have your love, desire and devotion.

But you are made for God’s love.

And you are made to love the Lord.

 

This is the great thing about these Bible disciplines:

anyone can do them.

You don’t have to be a Bible expert.

You don’t have to be a doctrinal scholar.

So open your heart thru imagination

to these stories,

because they form and shape your story,

your love,

your heart’s desire,

who you are meant to be.

 

To know you are enfolded into God’s story

is the greatest liberation.

That’s in the end why the psalmist sings:

O how I love your law O Lord.

Listen to James KA Smith:

When we read Scripture this way -

When you’ve realized that

you don’t even know yourself,

that you’re an enigma to yourself,

and when you keep looking inward

only to find an unplumbable depth

of mystery and secrets

and parts of yourself that are loathsome,

‘then scripture isn’t received

as a list of commands:

instead, it breaks into your life

as a light from outside

that shows you the infinite God

who loves you at the bottom of the abyss.’

The light shines in like sunshine illuminating

a dark basement corner,

and you slowly begin to know

not only that you are NOT meant to live down there,

in the basement.

He is the open door,

the way out.