When it comes to a story as theologically thick and rich with history, metaphor, and meaning, as the Bible, the thought of trying to understand or communicate that story can be overwhelming. However, Stevens believes the essence of the Story of God can be understood, applied, and shared in just four small words.
Of. Between. With. In.
Using a simple, fresh, and memorable approach to the good news of God’s story, Four Small Words not only gives us a better framework for the Bible, but for our everyday lives. Seeing God’s big story through these small words allows it to sink deeper into our own lives and to be shared with others in a way that is more memorable and less intimidating.
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Four Small Words
A Simple Way to Understand the Bible
By Jarrett Stevens
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 Jarrett Stevens
All rights reserved.
God's Big (Small) Idea
One Big Idea. Four Small Words.
Let's be honest: The Bible is not an easy book to read. It's one complete work broken into two distinct parts, containing 66 different books written by 40 unique writers over the period of 1,600 years! It was written in several different styles: biographical accounts, historical accounts, poetry, wisdom writings, prophecy, personal letters, and letters to churches. It was originally written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. And it has been translated into more languages than any other book in human history.
This is a book that has been printed roughly six billion times (and that is before it became an app!). It is a book that wars have been waged over, and a book used to bring peace. A book read at the inauguration of presidents and the coronation of kings, and a book read at the execution of death-row inmates. It is a book that has been the source text for much of humanity for the last 3,500 years. It is a book so complex that people have dedicated their life's work to studying it, and yet so simple that even a child can understand it.
As if all of its unique features weren't enough to contribute to its complexity, the content itself can at times be ... well ... quite complex. Outside of the eyewitness accounts of those involved in the events of the Bible and the oral history that echoed after them, the Bible is one of the primary ways that God conveys His message to the world. Some verses are so deeply layered with transformational truth that some 2,000 years later they are still a mystery yet (if ever) to be fully understood. There are books and chapters and verses and even single words that are to this day held up like a precious gem, each turn revealing a fresh ref lection on God and us. This is no ordinary book.
My Name in Gold
Do you remember the first time you came into contact with a Bible? I do. I remember my very first Bible. I got it when I was seven. It was a gift from my Sunday school teacher — Mrs. Dopart. She got a Bible for each of the kids in our Sunday school class. What made Mrs. Dopart a cut above the average Sunday school teacher was that she had my name engraved in gold letters on the front of the Bible. Gold letters! Do you realize how big of a deal that is to a little guy? It made me feel so special. And I always knew that if times got tough, I could burn the Bible and melt down those gold letters to cover the cost of my next Star Wars action figure.
My gold-laden Bible was more like a "mini-Bible." It was just the New Testament and was small enough to fit into the back pocket of my Toughskins Jeans. It was a sweet gift considering that I was just learning how to read, and it was of course written in King James English. Needless to say, I doth not read it much. But it did have pictures. Those illustrations were my visual cue to the Bible. I would look at every detail and try to fill in the blanks as best a seven-year-old could, figuring out what the "story" of the Bible was. I needed those pictures. I needed those cues. I needed help, because even though mine was merely a "mini-Bible," it was still a very big book. With huge concepts and confusing context, that would prove to be a lifelong pursuit to seek to understand and apply. I still have that Bible to this day.
Years later, for my eighth-grade graduation, I received an NIV Study Bible. While this one didn't come with any gold engravings, it did come with a Bible cover of fine Corinthian leather. The tan on brown cover came with a large sword stitched into the front and some sort of marsupial pouch on the back to hold notes or pencils or younglings; I was never quite sure what to do with that. This Bible had both Testaments this time. Not only that, but this Bible had notes and commentary and color maps, and the all-important chart of weights and measurements in the back! I would fill that Bible with personal notes, highlights, and sermon notes. I used that Bible all the way through college. It was my workhorse Bible and a sort of chronicle of my spiritual growth. I still have that Bible to this day.
While I was very fortunate to be given the gift of these two Bibles, the gift that I realize now that I most needed was the gift of understanding. I learned how to read the Bible at a young age. I learned how to memorize its verses. I learned how to find things on its maps, I learned how to convert shekels to dollars ... but I didn't have an understanding of how it all fit together. I didn't understand the bigger picture. I didn't understand how the stories related to one another, and if I'm being honest, I didn't understand how they applied to my life. I gained knowledge, but lacked understanding.
At last count, I have somewhere around thirty Bibles on various bookshelves around my home and office. Yet, it doesn't matter how many Bibles I own, or how big or small they are, whether they're for adults or for our kids; this book is still the most unique, honest, challenging, comforting, and yes, sometimes most confusing book I've ever read. It somehow continues to give answers to my biggest questions while stirring up questions to some of my most confidently assumed answers. The more I get to know it, the more it opens itself up to me. Stories I've heard a hundred times before still sound fresh and new. There are parts of the Bible that continue to challenge me. There are parts that still frustrate me. There are parts that still confuse me. And yet ... all these years later I am still engaging this book, and it is still engaging me.
And that's exactly what this book is about. This book is meant to help you understand, engage, and love that book. This book is not about more knowledge, but rather about finding a greater and richer understanding of the Bible. An understanding that draws you into a transformational relationship with the God who gave it to you.
Access > Interest
Not surprisingly, more and more people in Western culture are reading the Bible less and less these days. Fifty years ago the Bible was the book on just about everyone's shelf, even if it was collecting dust. Today it too often can't be found on the shelf at all. Never before in Western culture have we had greater access to the Bible and seemingly less interest in it. There is really nothing left that would keep someone from finding, having or reading a Bible ... except for their personal resistance or presumed sense of irrelevance.
While there are people in parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and North Korea who would give their lives for a Bible, Western culture doesn't really seem to be as moved or motivated. In fact, in 2014 the Barna Group (in partnership with the American Bible Society) found that while 88 percent of Americans own a Bible (a high percentage), only 33 percent actually claim to read their Bible once a week or more (a low percentage).
However, we are experiencing a different story at Soul City Church in Chicago. My wife and I are the pastors there, and when we started the church in the fall of 2010, we noticed that every time we asked people to open their Bibles to a certain book and chapter, the majority of those gathered didn't have Bibles with them. Even with those who did, there was hesitancy in knowing where to turn. So we decided to stock every seat with a Bible, with the open invitation that if you didn't own a Bible, the Bible that you were now holding was yours! Go ahead ... take it. Steal a Bible from church. People laugh every time we say it like that, but since we began our "Steal a Bible" program, hundreds and hundreds of Bibles have been "stolen" from our church. It is a divine delight every time we have to place another order for more Bibles.
One of our "Stolen Bible" stories comes from my friend Joe. Not too long ago, I was sitting across the table from Joe at an Irish pub in the middle of the afternoon. His wife of nine months had recently been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. They were obviously in a state of shock. His wife, in his words, was a person of faith, but he was not fully on board with it all yet. He was quick to tell me, however, that she had something that they both needed — a connection to God. She had a faith that he believed could carry them through this difficult season. He wanted it and was asking me where to begin.
I asked him if he had ever read the Bible.
"Not really!" he replied. "I tried recently. I started in the beginning part, but got real confused and real bored real quick."
I asked if he would like to read it in a different way, a way that might actually make more sense. Without hesitation he told me he would. I told him about this idea of Four Small Words and how every part of the Bible is a part of a bigger story — even the confusing and boring parts. I directed him to the gospel of Mark because it's the shortest gospel and moves the fastest. I told him that I would check in and see how it was going over the next couple weeks and that we could connect after he got back from a month-long treatment cycle for his wife. We prayed a short prayer — the kind you pray at Irish pubs in the middle of the day — and he was on his way, taking the first couple steps into a book that I pray he pursues for the rest of his life.
Joe and I got back together a few months later, and it was evident that he was on a growth tear. He was doing whatever he had to do to grow in his newly forming relationship with God — including reading the Bible. We reconnected over lunch and got into all that he was learning, wondering, and wrestling with spiritually. Eventually in our conversation we got to the Holy Spirit and what happens and what is possible when God lives in us. In a sense of genuine wonder and bewilderment, Joe quickly looked around the room and leaned slightly in and asked, "Do other people know about this? This seems like some Secret Society Stuff!" We laughed at the thought of that ... and then I taught him the secret handshake and swore him to secrecy.
What I think Joe was really asking in that moment wasn't "Do other people know about this?" but rather, "How come more people don't live like this?" How come people don't live more in a way that reflects that they understand and actually believe the teachings of the Bible?
You see, I believe that there is a genuine hunger and desire for a truth that is greater than us. I believe that's why you picked up this book. What if instead of feeling intimidated by the Bible, you could be inspired by it? What if your understanding actually led to a deeper and more sincere belief and faith? I think it is more possible than you know.
From 774,000 to 4
When it comes to the Bible, it's easy to feel like a Freshman Scrub player stepping into a varsity league of people who know the Bible more than you do. These are people who own multiple copies of the Bible; have elaborate systems of pens, highlighters, and notes in their Bibles; and even have parts of it memorized. This feeds our intimidation and reluctance more than we may even realize.
Awhile back, I was driving home from a late night of doing something or other and while flipping through stations on my car radio, I stumbled across a Christian program. The host of the show was apparently a very intelligent Bible expert whom ordinary "non-expert" people like you and me can call up and ask difficult, deep, or confusing questions about the Bible. I was amazed at this guy's knowledge. He was like a Bible black belt.
What interested me was not his quick and effortless answers to every caller's difficult questions, but rather the pre-defeated tone of the people who called in. Without exception there was a sense of frustration and desperation in their voices. These were big questions. Questions that had inevitably stumped them. Questions that came from conversations with family, friends, or coworkers that obviously didn't end well (or else they wouldn't be calling in at 10:47 p.m.). In their voices I heard the familiar emotion that I feel whenever I'm around a Bible black belt. It's a feeling that maybe you have felt when it seems as if a pastor is preaching past your pay grade, or when you simply sit down to read the Bible by yourself. It's the feeling that when it comes to the Bible, you just don't know enough.
Since its original printing in 1456, there have been hundreds of thousands of books written about the Bible. Countless volumes of books explore in depth the meaning of almost every single word in the text. No other single source text in our human history has had as many words written about it as the Bible. So if you have ever felt that you don't know "enough" about the Bible, the truth is ... you don't. You can't. But what if that's not really the point?
What if God's idea behind the Bible isn't the endless pursuit of knowing enough, but rather understanding more? There's a big difference between knowing and understanding. Knowing is a left-brain thing — the objective acquisition of countless data points that are stored away for later reference. Understanding, however, is something completely different. It is the stuff of the right-brain. Understanding is seeing the bigger picture, being able to connect the dots, to see the forest through the mass of endless trees, to see the story through the mass of endless words. It can take a lifetime of studying words until you feel as if you know something, but you can understand something in far fewer words ... like, say, four.
I believe that the story of God can be best understood in the context of four main movements or parts. These are the four small words that give us the big idea of the Bible: Of, Between, With, and In.
1. OF — Creation — The Story of Our True Identity (Genesis 1 – 2)
2. BETWEEN — The Old Testament — The Story of Separation (Genesis 3 — Malachi 4)
3. WITH — The Gospels — The Story of a Present God (Matthew 1 — Acts
4. IN — The Rest of the New Testament — The Story of a People Inhabited by God (Acts 2 — Revelation 22)
Not only do these words tell the linear, chronological story of the Bible, but at a much deeper level they resonate with each of our own stories. As you will see through the course of this book, these four small words tell your story and my story as well.
1. OF — Each of us is created with an identity that comes from God and is so much bigger than who we are right now.
2. BETWEEN — Each of us has experienced separation from God when sin comes between us in one season or another.
3. WITH — Each of us has had moments when we felt "close" to God, when we knew He was with us, or when we desired that feeling
4. IN — Each of us has been created to live with the power and presence of God in us in our everyday lives.
Four small words that not only reveal the bigger picture of the story of the Bible, but also give you a picture of what your story is and can be with God.
Again, this book isn't about knowing more; rather, it's about understanding better. This book is about connecting the dots and seeing the overarching story through all the words. It is not an attempt to add more, but to make more sense of what you may already know. It's for those of us who may have heard the stories before, but have missed the bigger story. And that is not just the story of God, but your story too, for in that bigger story we find our own small but significant stories. Only when we begin to understand the bigger story can we hope to understand our own story.
So throughout this book we will weave back and forth between the story of God and the story of us. The front section of each chapter is focused on how that specific small word plays out within the context of that section of the Bible. Through the use of specific biblical passages, stories, and examples you will be able to connect the dots of the larger theme through its specific small word. The back section of each chapter is all about personal application. In other words, how does each small word have big implications on your everyday, ordinary life? How can you begin to connect the dots between the four major movements found in the story of the Bible and the ever-unfolding story of your life?
So before we continue, I ask you to do two things:
(1) Ask God to illuminate your mind and open your heart. Ask Him to meet with you as you engage His story and yours in a fresh and transformational way. And ask Him to help connect the dots between His book and your life.
You can pray that prayer right now! Go ahead ... I'll wait.
Excerpted from Four Small Words by Jarrett Stevens. Copyright © 2015 Jarrett Stevens. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Bible Versions 13
Part 1 Introduction 15
Part 2 OF 24
Of Community … for Community 29
Life in a Garden 36
The End OF the Beginning 49
Part 3 Between 55
The Story before the Story 61
Between the Lines 69
Part 4 With 88
A Not-So-Silent Night 92
What Life with God Looks Like 98
A God Who Is WITH Us Until the End 112
Part 5 In 129
How IN Entered In 132
The Gift of the Holy Spirit 138
The Outsider 142
All In 145
Part 6 IN the END 155