Today is Bible Sunday, an optional celebration in the Church of England and celebrated by other denominations also, when we focus on how important the Bible is. It’s a time to remember it’s not just a dusty old book, even if our own personal copies are not taken from the shelf as often as they should be! It’s a life-changing, life-giving gift from God to his people.
What I am about to say draws on Bible Society resources provided for today, particularly on those from Northern Ireland this year.
Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae was needed as they were faced with false teaching. Paul wanted to encourage them and guide them in living their new life as Christians. They needed to know that the old way of life, like old clothes, was to be cast aside as they put on new clothes. As a result, they would not only look different from the outside, but actually be different all the way through.
This change is not something automatic. It is something we have to be actively engaged with. It’s rather like the intention to get fit. We may really mean to get fit; we may buy ourselves some fancy clothing for the task, maybe read books or websites about the right regime to achieve our ends, take out gym membership, but if we never get off the sofa, nothing will change. We might look good sprawled on the sofa in lycra but without action nothing will alter. We will only transform ourselves if we are clothed, equipped and active.
In the beginning of this passage from Paul’s letter, we have a catalogue which informs us of the clothing needed for the Christian life. These are the qualities we associate with Jesus. Each individual who heard Paul’s letter read to them in Colossae, and each of us now, is part of a Christian group or groups even. As a group, we should be working towards the same goals. That’s why Anglicans of SL has a vision statement on our blog. It defines the uniform we should all be wearing as a group of Christians. What we hope is that, when people look at our uniform they see us as Christ-like people and then look beyond us to the one who designed the clothing, Jesus himself.
One of the stories told on the Bible Society website concerns a woman in China called Wu Qing. Wu Qing is a sales manager from Shanghai. Three years ago, she was burning incense in temples, trying to save her marriage but nothing worked. Her marriage failed, and she felt weighed down by the burden of fending for herself and her daughter. On the verge of break down, Wu got in touch with an old school friend called Zhu. Many years before, Zhu had given her a Bible, but Wu had set it aside. Now Wu reached out to her friend, asking her to bring her to church.
It only took one visit to the church before Wu’s life began to change. “My first time to church felt like a long-awaited homecoming. I believe God had been preparing my heart to receive Him. I’ve finally found what I had been looking for all these years—unconditional love, complete forgiveness and acceptance that only God can give.” Wu was so touched by God that she decided, on her second visit, to pray to receive Jesus into her life. A year later, she was baptised. “Hearing God’s Word really refreshed my soul. I felt as if I was ‘intoxicated’. Just a small cup of water would satisfy my parched soul deeply,” recalled Wu.
The first book of the Bible that Wu read was the Gospel of John. “I was very touched by the love of God and cried uncontrollably,” shared Wu. Wu has now read the entire Bible twice and is on her third time. “Now I am at the book of Exodus. I am humbled as I can identify with the sinful nature of the Israelites and at the same time grateful for the fatherly love God has towards His people. It’s a love that’s beyond earthly parental love.” The knowledge of who God is has changed Wu’s perspective towards life. She has learned to continuously surrender and commit her burdens to her Heavenly Father.
The change in Wu’s life has become very noticeable to her friends and colleagues. One of her clients asked, “Wu, are you really Chinese? Why are you so different from your co-workers?” “I think most sales managers would seem profit-oriented and shrewd. I am more straightforward and open in dealing with my clients. Yet because of my straightforwardness, I’ve gained the trust of my clients and boss, and I am able to do well in my job too,” explained Wu. Besides her clients, Wu’s mother-in-law also noticed the change in Wu. She received Christ a year ago and was recently baptised. Comparing her days before and after she came to know God, Wu says, “The period before I came to know the Lord was really terrible and dark. Now that I am in the bright light of God, I never want to go back to the darkness again.”
The Bible equips us for God’s purpose. There on its pages we find the message of Christ. We need to think what we are doing with these words. Are they just sitting there, or are they actually actively living among us? Paul instructed the Colossians: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. God’s word needs to be a resident in our lives, not a guest that stays for a night and moves on.
The Bible Society in Togo is reaching out to people who cannot read or are visually impaired. The Bible Society is providing Proclaimers (wind-up audio Bibles) to help these people access the Bible in a way they can use. Groups of people are gathering in churches, prisons and schools to listen to the Bible. A woman called Dorcas has been able to take the Bible into her life through this ministry.
“My name is Dorcas and I am a deacon in the Assemblies of God Church of Kolokopé. When I go home after listening to the Sunday sermon, I find myself not remembering much of anything because many things are not conveyed correctly by the person interpreting from French into Ewé (my language). I also tend to forget more because of that. When I listen to the Gospel in Ewé, using the Proclaimer, however, I remember so much more easily and I obey as a result, because it is as if God is speaking to me directly. Since I have received a Bible in Ewé from Bible Society of Togo, I feel like the entire gospel resides in my heart now. After each listening session, I try to read some more and discover even more things through the reading of Scripture in my mother tongue, Ewé. I can only praise God and ask him to abundantly bless the lives and projects of those who gave us the gift of this Proclaimer and Bible in Ewé.”
Paul ends this section of his letter with a call to action. I suppose in this he is rather like the slogan of clothing brand Nike, which urges us to ‘just do it’. A slogan is designed to put an attitude in the wearer’s mind. For Nike, they are hoping people in their clothing will see their tick (check mark) symbol and take on a ‘just do it’ mentality – determined, active and brave. If someone just wears the clothes and does nothing, they are just choosing the brand for looks, not the effect it should have. Paul wants his readers to do more than wear the Christian brand of clothing. He wants individuals and churches to be active, living out what Christianity stands for.
Bible Societies are helping to distribute Bibles in Cuba through the ‘One Million Bibles’ project. With 40% of believers in Cuba without a Bible of their own, God’s Word is in great demand. Bible Societies are currently permitted to import Scriptures into Cuba, so now is the time to be active and help.
Rev Elmer is 69 years old. He is a Baptist Pastor and teaches at the ‘Christian Centre for Training and Services’ in Cuba. “At least once a week there is a knock on our door, and someone asks to buy a Bible. Most often we have nothing to offer them, sometimes we have a New Testament that we can give away. People are very surprised when they hear that we, a Christian seminary, do not have Bibles.”
He was a teenager during the revolution in Cuba and remembers what it was like for Christians then: “There has been a total change in attitude, from a total rejection of God’s Word to a great hunger for the Word.” At the moment Bible Societies can distribute Bibles within Cuba. Rev Elmer would love more Bibles and Christian Literature for the Christian Centre. He longs to be able to give Scripture to people through the various ministries he is involved with. “Books are so expensive. Also, it is so expensive to get a pair of glasses that many seniors cannot afford to go to the optician. Therefore, many older people need a Bible with large print.”
Rev Elmer’s church is working to bring the Word of God into prisons: “First, the guards were reluctant to let us into prison, where we handed out Gideon New Testaments. But as they saw the prisoners who read the Bible get a whole new life and behave much better, they were more than willing to let us in. A prisoner came and asked us to get an additional Testament. “It is my jailer, but he is too shy to ask himself”. The guard had seen what the Bible had done with the prisoners, and he wanted to have a Bible for himself as well.”
Having the right clothing for the Christian life is a good start but we need to do more. We need to allow God’s word to transform us by living in us. As we are transformed, we need to get active. Within our churches we are to encourage one another to really engage with God’s word. Outside our churches, we are to bring the person of Christ to others by who we are, outside and inside.
Let’s wear the brand with pride!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor