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Context is king

“Here, then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.” – R.C. Sproul

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be a frontlets between your eyes. – Deuteronomy 11:18

Have you ever heard the phrase “not all those who wander are lost.” I would say I see that phrase about once a month; sometimes on a t-shirt, or on a nice wooden plaque hanging in someone’s living room, or decalled across the back of a Jeep. And you can tell by where you find it or by the art that is used to accent the quote that most of the time the meaning they are trying to get across is that it is okay to wonder about in enjoyment of the journey or surroundings and that the destination is the most important part and should not be worried over.

Now those sentiments on their own can be enjoyed. But what drives me crazy is that this quote was not originally written with any of these meanings in mind. This line is found in J.R.R. Tokien’s The Fellowship of the Ring; part 1 of his Lord of the Rings trilogy of books. And it is written by Gandalf in a letter to Frodo and the meaning he is trying to convey when he writes “Not all those who wander are lost” is that not everyone Frodo encounters who seems like they are in trouble or in need of help are actually so lost. Some are merely using this as a ruse to play upon your sympathy or to get close to you so that they may ultimately do you ill will.

So we read this line in a different context, a context other than the story in which it falls, with the backdrop of beautiful imagery and wide open spaces and we form a completely new meaning behind its words. Fellow brother and sister in Christ I warn you that we can do the same with the Word of God. What I would encourage you, and more importantly what the Bible would encourage you, to do is to read more than snippets here and verses there. Do not entrust your understanding of the very words of God to the interpretation of devotions and verse on bumper stickers surrounded by flowers.

Instead we are called to read the word of God deeply and thoroughly. Do not pull a verse or two out of Phillipians; read all of Phillipians. Don’t just take one parable out of the book of John, but read the entire discourse and conversation Jesus is having in the book of John. Or better yet spend the entire night reading all 21 chapters. Now sometimes we can pull a verse out here and completely capture the context of what is being said; I made the point that John 3:16 does this just last week in this very new paper. But if God himself would give us His word in a certain way we would be foolish to not read His words in that way.

To read the word of God this way is inconvenient to our modern life. In a world of instant and busy, slowing down and making time and reading entire books of the Bible in one sitting can seem like a chore. Yet it only seems like a chore when we don’t really love it. One of the biggest reasons you and I may read the Word of God lightly, quickly, and without depth is the simple reality that we love ourselves more than we love God. We don’t want to be inconvenienced, we don’t want to be bothered, we don’t want to have to try. Instead, we would rather live life as it is and sprinkle God in the cracks of our life as is.

But when you really love something you and I have no problem spending the time, and the energy, and moving everything else around to enjoy and be about that thing. If you hunt you will spend time buying the things you need to hunt well. You will spend the energy researching new trapping techniques and the changes to hunting laws. You will carve your schedule so that you can be in the woods the first day of season. And if hunting is not your thing just substitute in your favorite sports team and you will be just as guilty.

Not all those who wander are lost and all those who quote the Bible love Jesus.

Pastor Andrew Bowman serves at Rocky Ford Christian Church.

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