Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.

 

Across the table from that guy.

beautiful christmas table setting
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Today I thought about heaven again. Most of the time when I dream of heaven I dream of a perfectly temperate place full of perfect flora and fauna perfumed with lilac and the occasional whiff of apple pie. I’ve never imagined inheriting a mansion. A cozy cottage happily situated in a wood is more my speed.

But today as I dreamed of the peace place promised to me, I imagined a banquet table loaded with delights like the world has never seen.  Those seated at the table surprised me, and I questioned my thought as one often questions how much grace God can offer sinners who don’t sin exactly like you do. I laughed at my own imagination.  Seated around the feast were the warring politicians of today all smiling and peaceful passing potatoes and the like. Right, Lord. Like those two would be at the same place enjoying each other’s company, here, in heaven. Right. Surely they are stopping that guy at the gate.

As I looked around the table I noted how each guest was a scoundrel while on earth; not one pure heart was represented among the lot.

Then I realized that I was sitting right there with them sharing turkey with the villains.

As I focused in on another face, it was someone who had deeply wounded me in the past. I’ve struggled to forgive this person. Forgiveness is work for some of us. Grudges are easy. But there he was, my adversary, enjoying the ambrosial banquet.

My adversary in heaven was stripped of his failures. His mistakes were no longer visible to my eyes. He was there, as was I, in perfect form whittled down to whom the Savior intended us to be, all love, all joy. And I loved him. And I knew God loved him. And I was humbled.

Back here on earth we have our separate corners. We have our own parties, our own people, our colors, our flags, our precious opinions and hills we die upon. But in the great beyond, there are no corners. There is one shared table, one shared Savior. Will we sit down with those who we’ve hated? Will we share dinner rolls with our murderers? I believe that is more our choice today than theirs.

In heaven, a perfectly normal scene could be an abortionist seated with the man who blew up the clinic.

In heaven, a Nazi sits comfortably with a Jew.

In heaven, your party is nothing. Your Savior is everything.

In heaven, the abusers and the abused share in the same divine helping of grace and a heaping dollop of mercy.

In heaven, forgiveness melts what tore us apart. Oh, how I wish we could share in that banquet now, where all is peace and joy and love. And I suppose if we cannot come to terms to eating with the villains and the saints, then we have another choice altogether.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14

Head verses Heart

All day I’ve been mulling over the contrast between the head and the heart in disputable matters of the church and life in general. It seems the popular and more comfortable choice today is to say that love surpasses all and that the heart should be our sole motivation citing 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. So love must be the solution, but not necessarily the emotional fuzzy squishy comfortable love.

Love stops a toddler from running into a busy street. Love grabs a child’s hand before they touch an iron. Love grounds a teenager from the Xbox. Love in its nature sets boundaries. One could say love employs justice. This tells me that love also uses the head in decision-making.

But a head without a heart would never take a moment to consider the plight of a stranger. A head without the heart would probably rely on past experience or simply the functionality in decision-making. A head may lack hope if the heart is not engaged.

Perhaps, this is why Jesus calls us to love God with everything we’ve got: our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind. Not making one more important than the other, but expecting each to work together to love completely.

Stories worth reading

I visited a tiny, one room library that was more than one hundred years old today. And while one hundred years isn’t really old compared to libraries in other parts of the world, it struck me while I breathed in musty air and admired the artistry that often embellishes antique books, how many ideas and stories are housed in that tiny place now silenced waiting for the yellowed pages to be carefully turned again. I recognized a few authors, but most I didn’t. I opened several, read a few lines, and tried to connect my limited memory of American History with the copyright dates.

A century is more than enough time for a country to radically change. Within a century families see great, great grandchildren born and with them ideas, theories, doctrines all aptly developed and soon considered old fashioned after what seems just a few moments.

My grandparents were born more than a hundred years ago, and I wish I could sit and understand them more now as I witness how quickly our life pages yellow with age.

Truly, the ideas, dreams, and stories found within mankind don’t really change at all. Sure technology advances and architecture ebbs and flows like fashion, but love is the same, justice is still required, family is still paramount to the health of a community, and the value of a person to those who love them is still immeasurable.

Our lives are merely a vapor, and it is our duty to live them well. Not for our own selfish pleasures, but lived so that when all that remains of us is a yellowed memory on a shelf, the pages of our life still speak in truths understood to the readers hundreds of years later. Did we love? Did we speak for justice? Did we live a story worth reading?

Will you follow

boy_woods1Who will you follow
asks your heart
as you look around
and question who is good.

Who will you follow
asks your mind
as you read news page after news page
of tragedy and storm.

Who will you follow
asks your children
as they look to you
for answers and direction and guidance.

Who will you follow
asks your neighbor
as they watch your behavior
and read post after political post.

Who will you follow
asks your church
as they witness to the world
of a man who speaks of truth.

Who will you follow
asks your Savior
as he witnesses His sacrifice
mean little to the world.

Follow truth, cries your heart.
Follow trust, cries your mind.
Follow courage, cries your children.
Follow love, cries your neighbor.
Follow faith, cries your church.
Follow me, cries your Savior.