Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Beautiful, Precious Word of God

The last few weeks of this school year, my 8th grade students and I read God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew.  Honestly, I was not sure how the kiddos were going to feel about this book.  Would it mean the same to them as it did to me?  Would they be intrigued by Brother Andrew's journey and God-given mission?  Brother Andrew's mission was to minister and serve the "church" behind the Iron Curtain beginning in the 1950s.  On one of his early trips to Prague he attended a local church and it was there that he discovered something that would forever change his life.

Brother Andrew watched as people walked into church...a couple carrying hymnals, a few with Bibles, and an occasional person with a loose leaf notebook.  The following is an excerpt from this book.
"The service began.  I took a seat in the back and immediately had a surprise.  Almost everyone seemed farsighted!  The owners of the hymn books held them out at arm's length, high in the air.  Those with loose leaf notebooks did the same.  And then I realized: the people with books were sharing them with those who had none.  In the notebooks were copied, note by note and word by word, the favorite hymns of the congregation.

It was the same with the Bibles.  When the preacher announced the text, every Bible owner in the congregation found the reference and held his book high so that friends nearby could follow the reading,  As I watched those men and women struggling literally to get close to the Word, my hand closed over the Dutch Bible in my coat jacket.  How much for granted I had always taken my right to own this Book.  I thought that I would never reach for it again without remembering the old granny in front of me now, standing almost on tiptoe, squinting as she strained to see the words in the Bible her son held aloft."  (pages 94-95)

Because of this experience and knowledge that the "church" wanted and needed the Word of God so desperately, Brother Andrew began smuggling Bibles into the communist countries. 

When I read this passage, I was overwhelmed because I was reminded of a time when I could not get enough of the Word of God.  I spent hours pouring over scripture...I craved it...I was drawn to the pages, to the ink, to the message for my life.  I wrote notes along the side.  I underlined verses that spoke truth and encouragement to my soul.  The pages of my Bible are worn and beautiful and precious to me.  I can only imagine standing in service and squinting just to read along with the pastor.  I can only imagine the deep desire to have the precious words in my call the book my own.  These men and women would sit and transcribe the Bible onto loose leaf paper just so they could have it for themselves...can you imagine?

As my class and I sat outside talking about the book, I wasn't sure where our discussion would take us.  But once again these young men and women enlightened me and God impressed it in my heart that perhaps, these 13 and 14 year olds really get it.  They know where their generation is headed and they recognize that their parents' generation is accepting their path, but they are quietly saying that it may not be the best path and no one is stopping it.

I asked them the following questions and here are their responses:
  • Does your church encourage you to bring your Bible to church?
    • No. 
  • Does your pastor read from the Word of God (in text form)?
    • Some said yes.  Others said that their pastor reads from the screen or perhaps from an iPad.  Many said that it is not uncommon to go through a worship service without ever opening the Bible
  • Do your bring your Bible to church?
    • Many said they don't think about it, and once they get there they don't worry about it because it is on their smart phone.
  • Do you think there is a difference between reading the Bible in text form and reading it on your smart phone or tablet?
    • There was not ONE student who said that it was the same.  They all said that they felt like reading and studying the Word in text form seemed more personal and engaging. 
    • I had another student point out that when he does read scripture from his phone, he gets distracted because he has access to facebook, email or the internet.  He said that the end result is that he doesn't have a full worship and teaching experience.
      • Side note from me: I saw a man text or checking his email in church Sunday.  This distraction is not just for the 8th grader, but for anyone who uses their phone as their Bible.
      • What God moments, God blessings, and God truths are we missing because we are multi-tasking?  (This comes from the queen of multi-tasking!)
  • Do you think that your children's generation will own a Bible in text form?
    • Most said that if their children did, they didn't think they would actually use them.
  • What do you think about the advances in technology and the impact it is having on the "church"?
    • Varying answers:  One student said she wishes they still had basic Bible lessons and Bible drills to help them learn verses and the books of the Bible.  She said that she thinks that the church is trying too hard to entertain them instead of teaching and inspiring them.  Another student said that he thinks that this is the path their generation is on, but wishes that his parents would help them stop it.  He wants his parents to encourage the Bible in text discourage the use of the smart phone on Sunday morning.  He said that because his parents don't (and in many cases have also stopped using the Bible in text form), then he just goes with the flow.  Another student said that because the Bible is always with them (on the large screen at church or on their smart phone), she is missing the opportunity to think about the importance of God's Word by the very act of bringing it to church.
I could not believe how honest and real these millennials were in their responses.  They were impressed by the churches behind the Iron Curtain because they understood the importance and power in the Word of God.  They were envious of the lengths these Christians would go to just to have access to the Bible, and we take it for granted.  Sunday morning, the Word of God is not our first priority, but rather an after thought.

Statistically, the millennial generation is more technologically savvy than the generations before them.  They are also walking away from the "church" at a high rate for a variety of reasons, but the end result is that they no longer see the importance for organized religion.  Churches are trying to find ways to engage these millennials in their faith and are reworking their worship services, promotions, and events in order to try and reign in a few of the millennials as they walk away.  Churches across our nation are becoming more technologically engaging through videos, the web, social media, and by their teaching styles.  I haven't been in a church in over a decade where they didn't have the scripture on the large screen... so why bring your Bible?  What message is the church sending to the millennials?  We want them to know and understand that organized church has a purpose and place for their lives.  We want them to recognize the importance, yet we are not modeling the importance of the very Book we base our beliefs upon.  Is the church sending mixed messages?

I do not have the answer on how to keep the millennials engaged in their faith, but based on a conversation with 28 young men and women, I do not think the answer is to put our Bibles on the shelf.  I do not believe that this is what they want or need...they are following the lead of the generation raising them...the parents, pastors, and church staff who are trying to reach them but in the wrong way.

I came home and made a decision.  I will start with me and my household.  I will bring my Bible to church and when the pastor starts to read, I will open the Word of God and read along.  I will ask my children if they have their Bibles when we leave for church Sunday morning.  I will not pack away the beautiful, precious Word of God.  At home, I will encourage my children to place their hands on the text...I will pray they will fall in love with the Holy Scriptures and that they will be a generation that stands up to those who have gone before them and shout "We want to open the Word of God and we will put away our tablets and smart phones!"  I will not take my Bible for granted.  I will remain in His Word, His beautiful, precious Word.

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  Hebrews 4:12

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  Psalm 119:105

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  John 1:1-2