Tasting the Bible

Jul 02, 2009 |Elisabeth Adams

You may find it delicious.

Nazareth Village is a little plot of farmland that somehow escaped development for more than 2,000 years. There's Roman era pottery. The remnants of a stone watchtower meant for guarding the crops. And cut into the rock of the hillside, an ancient winepress.

In what was then a tiny town of perhaps 400 people, it's quite possible that Jesus knew this farm.

Above us on the hillside is a terraced vineyard; below us, a wheat field and threshing floor. The rustic stone homes are newly rebuilt to 1st century specifications: small, high windows on the outside walls for privacy, and an inner courtyard where women cook, weave, wash, and grind wheat with a basalt millstone. Stairs lead down to cave-like storage rooms, while others lead to an upper room with a palm branch lean-to, and beyond to the flat, mossy roof.

Normally, costumed volunteers work this farm as it was worked in Bible times. Now it is late in the day, and but for one young shepherd with his lamb, we have the place to ourselves. I have leisure to feed handfuls of grass to five little donkeys. And examine everything from the dim, pillared interior of the synagogue and the rough-woven linen clothing on the line to the stone-weighted olive press, and the simple carpentry tools in the open-air workshop.

On the way back from Nazareth to Jerusalem, our van loops cautiously down the mountainside, one switchback at a time. As we cross the wide Jezreel Valley, I look eastwards across a flat stretch of fields — rich loam or emerald green — to deep blue hills, then misty blue hills, and finally the pale near-sunset sky.

After a long and perfect few minutes, I glance toward the road ahead and see an undulating string of ruby-colored lights. Without thinking, I exclaim, "How beautiful!"

It's a traffic jam.

With little warning, our van has become a time machine, picking us up in the 1st century, and dropping us off in the very heart of modern civilization: on the outskirts of Netanya, en route to a furniture store.

Under a roof that could swallow the whole of Nazareth Village, we find a hot-dog stand, a restaurant, a grocery store, and half a hundred sample living rooms, where couples sit cozily on couches and discuss the curtains, while fathers and mothers stroll by with sleepy babies and toddlers pushing miniature shopping carts.

Dazed, I wander through a bewildering array of stuff — paper lampshades and sushi sets, batteries and beanbags, rolling pins and computer desks. I watch dresser drawers being opened and closed by mechanical hands, and chairs being sat in by mechanical weights for the hundred thousandth time, just to show their strength.

The contrast between my world and the world of the Bible couldn't be more intense.

No wonder it often seems baffling. Cryptic. Foreign. Or even irrelevant and outdated. Fortunately, we're not left to wonder about the validity of this Word. Jesus has already proposed a very simple test: If anyone is willing to do, he will know. In other words, try it!

Testing, Testing

In a much more beautiful way than the mechanical testing I saw in that furniture store, thousands of people are trying and proving each page of the Bible. Whenever I'm teetering on the edge, unsure if I really want to try it, I have only to look around to see that "every word of God proves true" in someone else's life.

Gretchen figures that "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me"Philippians 4:13 means she can fill in the blank after "I can —" with whatever she's required to do. Even when she's facing a messy kitchen and the prospect of making dinner after a busy morning homeschooling her four little boys.

When the book of Proverbs comments that "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid,"Proverbs 12:1 Kristi understands. As a long-time music teacher, she has seen first-hand the success of students who willingly hear and apply her directions. And she remembers how the biblical perspective on receiving correction transformed her own heart, enabling her to develop into a professional harpist, pianist and singer.

Based on Jeremiah 29:11, Chad knows that "God has a specific plan for each of us and it is possible to find it, pursue it, and love it." For Chad, that meant a call to become a public high school teacher — with a corresponding enthusiasm for teens that carries him through bouts of student cheating and makes mapping out lesson plans downright fun. Now five years into his teaching adventure, he says, "It's amazing to me how I can do something for God, absolutely love it, and be fulfilling His plan for me at the same time."

In James 1:5, Peter sees just two easily-fulfilled conditions: need, and simple faith. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God ... in faith without any doubting." At 26, Peter finally applied this promise to his long-standing prayers for a wife. While he was still on his knees, Debbie came to mind: They had been good friends for years, but now he began to see her with completely new eyes. That night, he took the first exploratory step of writing a letter to her mentor. Over the next few months, he fell deeply in love. And a year later — to the day — they were married.

While God's promise for wisdom is simple, Peter recognizes that it's not always easy.

Once, while repairing a window, I was having difficulty removing the old glass. I asked God for wisdom, and immediately thought of using a glass cutter. The result was a hand through a broken window, and a cut finger. "This is the first time this prayer didn't work," I thought.

Then I realized, "I've learned an important lesson on how not to remove broken window glass." I remember a deeper lesson every time I look at the scar on my finger: God sometimes gives wisdom in a painful way. It is His right to do that, and I think it sometimes represents a more resounding answer to our prayer than if it wasn't painful.

By this fall, only one of Blake's eight children will be left at home. Thirty-three years ago, he was just beginning to discover what the Bible had to do with his finances.

When Carol and I were married, we both had good jobs. We were breaking even, only occasionally dipping into our small savings. Then came that fateful July day when Carol and I were both convicted that she should stay home doing the domestic job.

Convinced this was from the Holy Spirit, we took a step of faith (that means action) and without a plan (unusual for us), Carol turned in her two weeks notice.

We were already committed to tithing 10 percent of our gross income. Now we made a new vow. Not only would Carol not work (at gainful employment — that domestic stuff is hard work, particularly with children) but we would give an offering above the tithe.

During the months they spent learning to cut their expenses in half, late wedding gifts kept arriving in the precise amounts needed to keep them afloat. That Christmas, they estimated they'd need $300 for gifts. They prayed, and the next day, a check arrived from Carol's retirement plan with her past employer. For $300.

Over the years, a pattern developed. It was difficult to decide what to do with their offering money, but if they postponed the decision, first offerings, and then tithes were absorbed back into the family budget. Then expenses — illnesses, freak accidents, car troubles, impulse buying — began to increase. But whenever they recommitted to their vow of tithes and offerings, their expenses were few, and God's provision abundant. "How solid is the Bible?" Blake asks. "My experience with income and tithing demonstrates the truth of Malachi 3:8-12:

"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse ... and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you ... [and] rebuke the devourer."

Kendra was part of a mentoring program for at-risk youth when she began experiencing conflict with a co-worker. She says, "We were good friends who loved Jesus and wanted to help others grow in Him. But we approached this object in oh-so different ways. The rubs were often painful and confusing for both of us."

Help came from an unexpected source. "I was working my way through the Bible once again. It was one of those late-Exodus days, full of law and tabernacle, so I doubt I had high hopes for comfort and encouragement. But as I entered Exodus 26, God started talking."

In the wooden framework of the tabernacle, a place designed to "hold God's presence and reflect His character," Kendra saw a picture of her working relationship: "A corner wouldn't fulfill its purpose if it were simply two boards side by side, going the same direction. God wants to use the differences in our personalities." Like the precious metal overlaying those ordinary boards, "He will bring us through the fire, bring us forth as gold." And just as there was a plan for the tabernacle, there was a plan for her.

Kendra writes:

I was so touched that God of the universe would come down and talk to me precisely where I was through an obscure passage in Exodus.

How many times had I wondered why God kept stuff like that in the Bible? Perhaps He knew that I was the only person in the world who would be touched by those words! I doubt that, of course. But that experience brought a new respect to me for the other "obscure" passages I'd disdained. Who knew but that the Spirit was speaking through those words to someone else that very day?

You Are Invited

When she opens the Bible, Sarah sees herself in its pages. With her artistic eye and culinary training, creating exquisite food — for even the simplest meal — is her joy. She has a great deal of empathy for the king in Jesus' parable, the one who wanted somebody to enjoy the feast he had created.

The Bible is such a feast. Exotic and varied, yes, but created by God for my joy! I wish I had words for how much I love this book — both as a writer and as a child of God. I can't help reveling in the intricate interconnection of themes running back and forth between Old and New Testaments. Or discovering that all sorts of mysteries can be solved by following the cross-references.

Since it was planned by a master Author who adds no superfluous details, and subtracts no necessary facts, the sum (not just part) of His word is truth.

The Bible deals with real customs, real geography, real people who actually lived and died — and most importantly, a real God whose thoughts are much higher than mine. No wonder it often seems strange to me.

But when it challenges my habits and wars with my world view; when it isn't politically correct; when I am offended by its hard sayings, or it hits the sorest part of my heart — that's when I need to remember what the Bible is: no empty word for me, but my very life! Not only am I invited to be a character in its ongoing story, but this living, active Word does not even offer me the option of remaining passive as I read it. In its pages, God says to me, "Come, follow. Prove Me! Taste, and see."Matthew 19:21; Malachi 3:10; Psalm 34:8

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart. (Jeremiah 15:16)

Copyright 2009 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.

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