Wednesday, January 26, 2011
In the story of the testing of Abraham's faith this morning I came across two highlighted verses in the same section. Remember, I'm asking God to show me new things, but to do it through these 2,000+ year old words, translated into Olde English 400 years ago that were underlined by my grandfather somewhere in the last 70 years.
In Genesis 22:5 Arlow… I guess that I'm going to have to address the name thing. I never called him Arlow. To me he was always Grandpa. But if you are reading this, he probably wasn't grandpa to you. He could have been your father, your friend, your neighbor – or more than likely a stranger. I can't put all those into one title, so I'm going to reference him simply as "Arlow". It's a good name. I mean nothing but honor here. It may sound odd to you – it surely sounds odd to me as my fingers find those keys. But it's what we'll work with.
In Genesis 22:5 Arlow underlined the phrase "…and come again to you." A rare margin note says simply "Faith to return – ". I had never noticed that little phrase "and come again to you". Abraham's faith was seen prior to the raising of the knife. Later in Genesis 22:8 there is another underlined phrase, "…God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering." A margin note says even simpler, "FAITH".
As a textual archeologist I note that these two margin notes were made at different times in Arlow's life. Pay attention here. This is one of those CSI:Andover moments in which I play detective and try to come up with a plausible theory.
In the ACUB the first pages are all handwritten cursive notes. On pages further into the book there are lots of instances of block letters – all CAPITALS. I surmise that the BLOCK texts throughout were written after the cursive notes. What does this mean? Frankly, I don't know. (Family, can you comment here? Did Arlow write cursive earlier in life and sometime change to BLOCK text? It seems so to me.)
I see evidence here of something that happens a lot in my own life. God speaks to me from the same text, but in slightly different ways and sometimes through slightly different words or thoughts. In one reading, verse 5 stood out and at another time verse 8 stood out. That's why we have to go back through this text time and time and time again. We need to saturate ourselves with these living words. The words stay the same, but life changes.
My experience runs parallel to Arlow's. I have read portions of Scripture over and over again. Yet, when I read them just one more time – there was something new there that I had missed so many times before. Maybe life has given me a new perspective. Maybe a personal situation has changed. Perhaps I'm simply more caffeinated. That's why I'm re-reading the Bible again this year.
The first time I remember reading through the Bible, oddly enough, is connected to Storden Baptist Church. That was Arlow and Evie's church for their adult lives. I can't picture them outside of the context of the church nor can I picture the church outside of the context of them. One New Year's Eve, the pastor asked for a show of hands from all the people who had read through the Bible in the past year. I was stunned to see the hands all around me. I made a promise to myself that the next year my hand would be raised! That year I worked through the Living Bible and was proud to raise my hand the next year!
I don't have any idea how many times I've read through the Bible. For a while, I made it a point to do it every year. Then there were years when I had to read large sections for school. There were years when I didn't really follow any plan at all. The years when I had a plan to read it all, I have memories of mindlessly speed-reading so that I could put a check into a box and move on with my day. I have memories of guilt for not getting it done. I have memories of defeat when somewhere in November I looked at the list of books remaining. Ever the procrastinator I somehow lived life thinking that if I just complete it – no matter how late, then God would somehow bless me.
It never occurred to me that God wasn't holding his own checklist of my life. I grew up thinking that if I just did the right things, then God would bless me and things would go well. I figured that Bible reading was one of those check-list things.
My perspective has changed over the years. And it likely will change more as I journey with God. This year I have a plan to read through the Bible. Last year I didn't read through it. Last year I took smaller bites. Rather than a whole year, I looked at seasons. There was a season in which I worked through Isaiah, then later in the year I read Paul's letters. I finished the year reading the Gospels. As I would come to the end of the season, I would begin to ask the Lord to show me the next section. As I sought him and lived expectantly – he spoke. It isn't really mystical or strange. I have just learned (and am learning ) that if I invite God to reveal himself to me…and if I live with my eyes wide open, I will find him. I take the words of Jeremiah 29:13 quite literally. If I seek God with all my heart, he promises that he will be found by me. Sometimes we make this too hard.
Today God reminded me from Genesis 22:5 and Genesis 22:8 that I can go with confidence because God's words are true. Abraham had heard God say that he would be the father of nations. He remembered the promises of God and compared God's truth with his own reality. I've been there. When perceived reality and God's truth seem to be contradictory, I am learning to go with the truth rather than my own perspective on life. God doesn't disappoint. In Abraham's case, he went with a sacrifice – his only son. But his confidence was in God's promises; so much so that he was able to say to the servants, "we'll both see you soon" and to his son, "God will provide."
I'm looking at a moment like that right now. On the one hand is a church that needs a lift – a breath of fresh air – something extraordinary and God-shaped. Pastoral ministry is daunting. On the other hand I remember the words of Christ that he will build his church. Reality = diagrams and charts with trend lines going the wrong way. God's Word = Christ will prevail and he will build his church.
For today, I'm borrowing the faith of Abraham and Arlow. God will provide.
Arlow Carey, as my grandfather, was a fixture in my life for many years. When he passed away a couple years ago, the family entrusted me with his Bible, a treasured possession by both of us. This isn't an ordinary Bible.
The specs: It is a Thompson New Chain-Reference Bible (third improved edition) that was purchased from Leroy Gager in 1936. On the back of the title page are these words, "I bought this Bible in 1936. It has the "third" new cover now in 1980's". What does that say about a man? I suppose first it says a lot about his love for the Word of God and its author. This Bible was carried for nearly 70 years – all through his adult life. It spent time in his recliner, in his lap during sermons, on the breakfast table with weak coffee and burnt toast, on a lectern as he taught adults and hundreds of other places. I'm sure that it went to Gideon meetings. It probably accompanied him to Africa. My own memories place this Bible in his hands as he read the Christmas story every year.
Frankly, the Bible shows the wear and tear. Though treasured and recovered, it's a mess. I would have changed it out years ago. Stained by oily hands, it bears the marks of torn pages oft repaired by tape. Some entire sections (the Epistles) show lots of discoloration and marks over marks, and at times, underlining further enhanced by highlighting. It takes me back to a day when people didn't just toss aside something because it was worn, but actually cared for it, recovered it, protected it, and milked it for all it was worth. Arlow owned and drove more than 100 cars in his lifetime (and he could tell you the price paid and received, miles driven, repairs, etc. on every single one of them.) But he only owned this Bible.
I think that says something about more than just Arlow. It speaks to me of the permanence of God's Word. All of those cars are now forgotten. Sure, there are pictures (if you have one send it!), and somewhere there is a list. But there is still only one Bible. You and I will acquire mountains of stuff over our lifetimes, but some things remain forever.
This is the 400th year of the King James Bible. This is the Bible of my youth. I grew up memorizing these words. I rattled off words like perisheth and clave. Just this morning I smiled when I came across the word "clave" in the story of Abraham and Isaac. When was the last time you claved wood? See, made you smile.
I haven't read the KJV in many years, but felt a call to revisit it. Yes, it's old. No longer speaketh I the same. But it is part of my heritage and part of my history. I honor the men and women who died to put it into print 400 years ago. I have lots of Bibles. I have Bibles like Arlow had cars. I'm looking now fondly at my college Bible – a brown NASB, purchased as a freshman at Moody Bible Institute (who also published it) at a warehouse across the street. It had a defective cover with a small spot of glue that discolored it. I read it cover to cover and underlined and highlighted it. I took it everywhere. But somewhere I changed it out for another version, another printing, and another format. Always something new with me.
So in returning to this Bible I am doing something on several levels. I am asking God to speak to me fresh, but in 400 year old words. I am also connecting to something deeper – to generations and to history. The God of the past remains the God of the present.
I am also very, very curious to learn about my grandfather.
He did a lot of underlining (pencils and pens) and there was a phase of his life when he highlighted. I can't tell the dates or occasions. On rare occasions he put a single word or phrase in the margin. Mostly he underlined. I don't know whether a pastor said it or whether he simply heard it from the Lord on a winter's morning and wanted to remember it. I know my grandpa's life and I can read what he's underlined, but I am at a loss to make a solid connection between them. I am going to read this text and pay close attention to what he's underlined. In the days to come I hope to learn again from my grandfather. Too long have I paid attention to what is new, what is fresh, what is shiny and what is still under warranty. I am anxious to learn from a generation past and have these words speak to me of truth that does not change.