People of the Screen?

How many screens do you have in your life? If your lifeís anything like mine, screens are all around you in computers, televisions, cell phones, mp3 players, personal digital assistants, airports and microwave ovens. A taxi I rode in recently even had a satellite map screen showing exactly where we were travelling along the streets. In my house we have over ten different screens. I composed this article on one of them.

As a culture, weíre becoming "people of the screen." A hundred years ago a screen was something that kept bugs out of your house or something you used to sift flour or sand and gravel. Today we do many things on electronic screens which go everywhere, including outer space. Much of what we read is now on screens. Books are laid out on screens before printing. What does this mean for you as young people of God who come from a long line of believers whom some have called "People of the Book"? "The Book," of course, is the Bible through which God speaks to us.

Long before the invention of screens, God spoke in "many ways" (Hebrews 1:1-2). In the beginning He spoke directly with people like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham and Moses. He also spoke through visions and dreams. At Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments, Godís people were so afraid of His voice they asked Him not to speak to them directly "lest we die" (Exodus 20:18, 19; Deuteronomy 18:16). So God said He would speak to them through prophets, many of whom wrote down His words for us to read today. Most importantly, God spoke to us through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Gradually, Godís Book took shape. Exodus 24:4 says that "Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD." Later, Joshua wrote "there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses" (Joshua 8:32). Jeremiah 36 is an exciting account of the writing of a prophetic book. When God told His people to love Him with all their heart, soul and strength, He said they should teach these things to their children "when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:4-7), basically, throughout your whole day, at home, on the way to school or work, when you get back home. Today, electronic screens make it easier for us to have the Bible with us everywhere.

When Joshua succeeded Moses, God said, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it" (Joshua 1:8). Later, after exile in Babylon, Godís Book brought His people back to Him. Ezra and others "read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading" (Nehemiah 8:8). As Jesus began His ministry, He stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read prophecies from the book of Isaiah that He fulfilled (Luke 4:16-30). Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter and others added to Godís Book which He uses to speak to us, encourage us and get us ready to serve (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Muslims, also known by this title, called Christians and Jews "People of the Book." The Book defines who they are. In the ancient world of Jesus and Israel, many religions focused more on ecstatic experiences, sacrifices, signs, rituals, foods, drinks, tricks and illusions. The God who created the universe and came to earth in Jesus who died for our sins to bring us back to our Father in heaven chose to speak to us mainly through His Book. God works through His Book, along with His Spirit and His people, to reach us and lead us and transform us.

Today, weíre in an information revolution. As we use more and more technology, how can people of the screen be people of the Book too? Thankfully, though information technology brings risks, it also brings opportunities. Just like when Johann Gutenberg invented moveable type for the printing press which eventually made copies of the Bible accessible to masses of people, the screens in our lives can give us greater access to Godís Book.

Here are some examples. Small screens can help you carry Godís Book with you. If you have a mp3 music player or an ipod you can get Bible software to download onto your player. Not only can you read the words of God on a mini-screen, you can listen to the whole Bible on your headphones. This could be great to do when you are travelling or waiting with time to spare. You can share inspiring verses with friends electronically and memorize your favourites.

Good Bible software or websites allow you to read the Bible in many different translations. If you have specific interests or words of verses you want to look up, Bible software lets you search for several words together (unlike concordances which only allow you to look up one word at a time). There are websites that give you access to helpful resources like maps and historical background for understanding the Book better. Some sites can help you find good used Bibles and primary reference books at excellent prices. If you really get serious about using your screens as one tool among many to delve deeper into the Word, you may want to purchase an excellent program like "Accordance" that helps you access the original Bible languages and many primary study guides that you can take with you on a laptop computer or personal digital assistant. Many good reference books and lexicons are now available electronically.

Like computer and screen operations manuals, this article comes with a warning. The down side of the Internet is you can also find a lot of opinions and ideas that are not true and are not consistent with Godís Word. Though they did not have the Internet, first-century Christians had plenty of misleading teachers too. We should be like to the Bereans who "received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). As Paul said to the Thessalonians, we should "test everything, hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The number of screens and the proliferation of entertainment media, good and bad, will surely increase as we move further into the twenty-first century. They can affect us in positive and negative ways. Itíll always be important to test everything. In whatever way you can, on screens or small paperbacks, take the Book with you. It gives you the words of life. Wherever you go, find ways to use your screens to help you grow as people of The Book.

Paul Birston

February 2006©

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