It is easy, so very easy, TOO easy, to read our assumptions into the Truths in the Bible. I know, because I have been guilty of doing it. The sign you see is one in front of a local church. I know some of the people, and they love Jesus. But something about this sign doesn’t seem right to me. Now before you accuse me of “judging” them, or being a fundamental literalist, know that I am reading a really great book called “12 Steps For The Recovering Pharisee (like me).” Here is what The Spirit is teaching me: “Don’t Read Your Assumptions Into My Texts!”
The Shepherds did NOT follow the Star. They followed the verbal directions of the Choir Director of Heaven’s Choir. Here is the story found in Luke 2:8-16 (NLT)
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
Was that Star present? Absolutely! The “Wise Men” saw it and followed it. Were they the only ones who could see that Star? No, anyone who looked up at night could have seen that Star, but only those “Wise Men” knew what to do with it. The Shepherds, on the other hand, received verbal directions on where to find the newborn Messiah: In the stable at Bethlehem. Being Shepherds, they would have known where that Stable was at; and if there were multiple stables in and around Bethlehem, they would have known their locations, too. That’s what Shepherds do!
But this sign reveals something that, well, I want to talk about. Again, I’m not criticizing or judging; just an observation. Because the Wise Men followed the Star (that is in the Bible; Matthew 2:1-12) does not mean that the Shepherds (or anyone else, for that matter) followed the Star. This person simply took their knowledge about that Star and applied it to the Shepherds. There was a star and there were Shepherds! Voila and Ta-Da! The Shepherds MUST HAVE followed that Star.
It’s not just with the Incarnation Story that people take one part of the Bible and add it to another part. The danger of “assuming” things about a passage creates damage; to people and to churches. Our natural tendency (the one influenced by the Father of all lies) is to find ways to prove our point. The Enemy is skillful and unfortunately, very successful, at helping us take the “text” out of its “context” simply to prove our point.
God has been taking me on an incredible journey of simplicity that is profoundly impacting both my faith and my life. The Spirit has given me a, call it “Formula” or “Bible Reading Plan” that looks like this:
- First, I begin listening to some Worship music. I use my earbuds so as not to disturb anyone, and to not be distracted in my personal worship time. I also pour my cup of coffee and sit in front of the fireplace. It helps me to stay focused on worshiping God. Being ADHD, it’s easy for me to be distracted. Finding this place helps me remind myself: “Hey! Dummy! This moment is about God being honored for who HE IS, not what I need or need to be doing!”
- I read the Sacred Scriptures without any agenda or bias. I ask the Holy Spirit to speak into my mind and heart. I listen to the words I’m reading, pushing aside anything anyone has ever told me about the passage or what I think I know about the passage. I approach it as if it is the very first time I’ve read it. (By the way, I’m in my 3 consecutive reading of Ephesians, each time I start over, I treat it like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. I found it takes me 6 to 7 days to read this letter.)
- I focus on the context of the passage. When did God say or inspire those words? What was happening in that culture, in that moment? Sometimes there are other questions, but the last one I ask is important: What does this say about God’s passion and desire to restore this fallen creation? In other words, “How is God moving to make me (and others) into what HE originally intended BEFORE Adam and Eve sinned?”
- I ask this question: “What is God saying to me?” I write my answers down in a journal.
- Then I ask the second question: “What does this say about me?” This can get a little dicey and requires a lot more focus from me. Sometimes it convicts me. Other times it affirms me. And there have been a few moments when I discover God’s view of me is different than my view of me–sometimes even better than I see myself.
- And now, I am moving into the third question. This question is the one that will determine if I will allow this Word to transform into who God says I am. “What am I going to do about it?”
I am finding this approach helps to clear my head of any assumptions I may be bringing into the Story of God’s work of Restoration. You see, when we ASSUME anything, it makes something out of “U and ME”. Figure it out. And if you ASSUME alone, it just makes you “it”. What I’m saying is, “Folks! Stop assuming YOU are the final authority on the Bible. Stop assuming YOU are right. Don’t read the Bible to prove your point. Read the Bible to show where you are missing that mark of being all you are created to become, not so that you can point out where you think people are wrong. Stop taking passages out of context! Please!” I remember something from my homiletics class. Dr. Thompson said it many times: “A text taken out of its context is only a pretext, and never the Truth.”
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! Amen and Amen!
Oh, here’s a post script, and it comes from the stories around the birth of Jesus: God speaks to different people in different ways–but if we follow His directions, be it by a star or by the Choir Director of Heaven’s Angel Choir, we get to the same place. But you have to follow HIS directions.