Category Archives: Jesus Storybook

JSB #4 A Bow on the Rack

“No, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people.  It was pointing up, into the heart of heaven.” (Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 47)

Noah’s ark is a necessary story for any children’s storybook or curriculum, but typically we miss the point.  We are working hard here to remember that the Bible is a book about God first.  The people (and in this case the animals) matter but are not the focus.

[Genesis 6-9 is a powerful read.  Some parts are confusing and beyond our scope.  Sons of God and daughters of men?  Nobody understands this.  Was it a pair of each animal (6:19) or seven (or seven pairs) of the clean ones (7:2)?  There are many other ancient flood stories in existence (most notably the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh) which may “vouch” for the historicity of the flood.  But most importantly, when we contrast the Genesis account against other ancient texts, we learn something about YHWH, Israel’s God.  The church’s God.]

The account of Noah in many ways is a continuation of the fall story begun in Genesis 3.  After Eve and Adam partake of the tree and are excused from the garden sin begins to take root in the heart of man.  In the next chapter Adam and Eve’s sons take it to another level as a jealous Cain takes “a walk in the woods” with his little brother and kills him.  Still in chapter four we see a second murder as Lamech confesses the evil deed to his wives (yes, plural…we are not in Kansas anymore) (Genesis 4:23).  By the time we get to Noah it seems he is the only one on earth listening to God.  God loves man, but after all man has done God repents of making humans. (Gen. 6:6)

This sounds pretty bad, but realize that in the other flood stories the gods have no concern for humanity at all.  Humans are nothing more than servants to the gods.  The God of Genesis seeks relationship with humans, and He finds it with Noah, a man whose faith stuck out as a lit candle in a dark room.  So, God hatches a plan and brings Noah in on it.  God will send water to wash the earth clean.  Noah will build a large boat based on the plans and dimensions that God is giving him.  On this boat Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives will be saved.

Oh yeah, the fun part, God cares about the animals, too.  He will bring to Noah a pair (or seven) of every “kind” of animal on the earth.  Why? It seems our fate as humans, is linked to the other creatures on the earth.  God gave Adam and Eve dominion, read authority and responsibility, over all the animals…and mankind’s actions got the whole world flooded…we’ve been bad at this from the beginning.  But the good news is that the animals get a second chance, as well.

There is so much we could talk about…the week spent on the ark after the door was closed and before the first rain drop fell…the forty days and forty nights of rain that turned into a year by the time it was dry enough to leave the boat.  But what interests me the most, the part that gives me pause for hope and reflection comes at the end (well almost the end) of the Noah story.

The idea of God flooding the earth and destroying 99.9999% of all leaving creatures can easily lead one to perceive God as heartless, ruthless and not so loving.  But the point of God’s story as it pertains to Noah is this: DESPITE IT ALL GOD LOVES US ANYWAY! Should we think that God expected humanity to be reformed after the flood?  Really?  As I alluded to before the end of chapter 9…a vineyard, a hangover and whatever Canaan did in that tent…quickly shows us that any amount of grace and mercy shown by God to man is unmerited.  Yet, God’s love and grand visions for humanity’s flourishing continues.

At the end of chapter 8 God commits to never take out His frustration upon the earth on account of man’s evil hearts.  In chapter 9:1, he echoes the command from the garden, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  Then comes the rainbow as a symbol reminding us that God will never destroy the world again with water.

The rainbow is such a rich symbol here.  Think about this for a minute.  Many ancient (and some modern) people had a view of God as one who stood in the heavens with his eye on humanity just looking for people to mess up so he could strike him or her down.  They could picture God the mighty warrior standing in the heavens, bow in hand, arrow pulled back and eyes scanning the earth for the next non-compliant human to be targeted and struck down.  But review God’s words in Genesis 9:11-17.  (I like to read it in the NASB because it translates the word literally as “bow” rather than the move to “rainbow” that is sometimes made.)  God is hanging his bow on the rack.  He is retiring from this perceived occupation of hunting guilty humans.  The bow in the clouds testifies to a God of love, a God of relationship, a God who desires to be a part of our lives.

Take heart and find peace today, knowing that the bow has been put away.  Let’s strive to be friends with the God of love, so that we can shine like candles in a world full of hate.

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JSB #3 “And then…”

(Reflections on Genesis 1-3 and “The Terrible Lie” in the Jesus Storybook Bible)

It all started so well.  God spoke and separated light from darkness, skies from seas and water from land.  He continued to fill the sky with heavenly bodies, the skies and seas with birds and fish, and the land with all sorts of creeping, crawling and walking animals.  Then from the dust of the earth he made the one who would bear his image, human beings.  In male and female forms he created them dependent upon one another to continue God’s creative process through sexual reproduction, thus modeling the relational interdependence of the Trinity.

Human beings were commanded to multiply and fill the earth, and they were charged to be God’s ambassadors from the very beginning as God granted them dominion in his stead over the animals of the skies, seas and land.  Each day during the creative process God looked at what he had done and declared, “It is good.”  And on the last day of His labors, having created and vested His own image-bearing icon, God looked it over and said, “It is very good.”

As we discussed this in our Sunday School class last week I raised this question.  “If the Bible stopped right there, what would your response be?”  Quickly, the reply came (paraphrasing here), “Then what happened, cause it ain’t so good at my house sometimes.”

Obviously, the pristine picture painted in the first two chapters of Genesis does not match up with what we know as “reality” today.  But, it should still speak to us in meaningful ways.  These chapters reveal something of the heart of God, his careful, purposeful and creative efforts applied to making this world and us to be his representatives in it.  God made it good and made us to experience good.  The author of Genesis wanted us to know this.

Yet, our experience is not exactly Edenesque.  To be honest it can be a bit hellish at times.  I’ve had hard times, you’ve had hard times, and that is no surprise to God.  Genesis 3 was written to explain why our experience of life on this planet is best described as fallen, or broken.  It sounds a bit trite to say it this way, but essentially God speaks through the Genesis author to say, “I made a beautiful garden for you to live in, and I showed you the path to live in harmony with me, but you chose your own way which has horrible consequences.  You brought this pain and agony upon yourselves, upon each other and, yes, upon me.”

There were two significant trees named in the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was the second tree that the serpent directed Eve towards.  His smooth tongue weaved a web of half truths aimed at the greatest temptation allowed by freewill…independence.  “If you…you will be like God!”  No one in our culture wants to be told what to do.  Apparently our culture is quite similar to ancient ones in this regard.  The desire to control one’s own destiny, to choose one’s own path, to make one’s own decisions has been a powerful one, and a damning one since the beginning.

According to the Jesus Storybook Bible, in any other story this would have been the end.  But in the book that God writes this is just the set up for what we know as the gospel.  God knows man’s heart.  God knows man’s sin.  Yet, God still loves humans and from the last verses of Genesis 3 through the end of Revelation we see that love worked out in the most amazing ways.  It only took three chapters to communicate in the text our need for God.  The remainder of the Bible, and yes the remainder of our lives are dedicated to convincing our hearts of this truth.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)  This truth was revealed first in the garden in the shade of the Tree of Knowledge, but perhaps as you read this you can feel the juice dripping from your chin as you have made some choice recently to trust your knowledge and experience over and above God’s outlined path.  The journey back to Eden begins, and continues, with each decision to follow God rather than to proclaim your independence from him.  Which will you and I choose today, to walk humbly with God or to walk boldly as a god?  The choice belongs to you and me,… but the world belongs to our Father.

What is this book about?

The Jesus Storybook Bible is the only children’s book I know of that starts by addressing this question, “What is the Bible?”  This is such an important question that we often take for granted.  How we approach the Bible has a profound impact on what we receive from the Bible.  There is much to consider related to this that is beyond the scope of this blog, but I do want to discuss a few significant big picture ideas related to the issue.

First, the focus in lesson one of the Jesus Storybook Bible is who the Bible is about.  Sometimes we get caught up on the human characters involved in the story as we try to relate to them.  Yes, we all have our favorite characters in scripture to whom we relate.  Often it’s the ones who struggle with the same vices or the one who did overcome the obstacle we are trying to overcome.  We can learn a great deal from these characters, but it is important to realize that the Bible is not about Noah, Abraham or Joseph.  The Bible is about God.  It is His story.  He is THE HERO.  

When I started my studies at Lipscomb University, I realized how deficient I was on this front.  I really had not thought much about God.  The take-homes from all the sermons and Bible classes I had participated in were focused on me, not him.  My religion was more a set of morals than a relationship with the living God.  I found it difficult to say anything “theological”, that is, to say something about God.  One of my professors Phillip Camp made a comment related to the scriptures that I will never forget and I try to reflect in my teaching and preaching.  “Some scriptures inspire us to go and do, but many others call us to come and see.”  Because in my fellowship we tend to focus on the former.  It has become a personal mission of mine to bring attention to the latter.

Another important matter to deal with as we discuss how to approach scripture is the variety of genres found in the Bible.  All scripture is equally inspired, but because different genres are written to express ideas through different means we must approach each text “on its own terms.”  If you would like to research this more for yourself, I would highly recommend How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordan Fee and Douglas Stewart.  They explore each genre in detail.  This is a very valuable study that is worthy of your time if you want to become a more proficient student of the Bible.

The last thought I would like to share with regard to our approach to the Bible is our own personal lens.  We would all like to believe that we come to the scriptures from an objective perspective.  I am part of a fellowship that once (and in some cases still does) believed that if we all approached the scriptures honestly we would come to the same conclusions.  Then after about a generation this movement split because honest people understood the scriptures differently.

We all approach the Bible with a personal bias.  We also approach scripture with societal biases of our nation, socio-economic status, and denominational/congregational upbringing.  Moreover, we must recognize that though the Bible is timeless, it was written from within a context different than our own.  (Actually, multiple contexts when you consider that it was written over a period of more than a millennia.)  I found Scott McKnight’s book The Blue Parakeet very insightful on this front.

Also, it is worth noting that a major shift in “how people think” is happening in the world today.  Sociologists refer to this as the transition from “modern” to “post-modern”.  The modern way of thinking is about 500 years old and is giving way in our generation to  the quite un-creatively named “post-modern.”  This is a whole other matter that needs to be explored, but is beyond our scope.  I will just say this, due to the environment in which your child is growing up, he or she will have post-modern thought patterns.  This is not something to be feared, but embraced.  I believe post-moderns will actually identify more with the pre-modern context in which the Bible was written.  As one born in the 1970’s  I realize that my way of thinking is a blend.  However, my brother born in the late 1980’s is almost entirely a post-modern thinker.  These truths speak to the lens with which we approach scripture, but as a minister I know it must inform the way I teach younger generations.  More on that another day.

Just remember, the Bible is first and foremost about God.  I look forward to learning more about the Divine One as we read together in the weeks ahead.