ADVICE ON READING THE BIBLE

Reading the Bible is fun!  Anyone who doesn’t get that has never really read it, or read it correctly.  Bible abuse and neglect is a sad state of affairs which afflicts far too many people.

I write all in my Bible
I write all in my Bible

Here are six concepts that will help increase your pleasure and joy in reading the Bible.

1.  It’s a story, so treat it like one.  Yes, it is a sacred story filled with truth, but it is still a story.  Each Bible author is inviting you into the world of the story.  The writer of Genesis wants you to marvel at God’s power and creativity, the writer of Judges wants you to weep at the heartache of Israel’s idiocracy while the writer of Mark wants to terrify you with the power of God in Jesus Christ.

2.  Identify with one of the characters in the story.  I am working through Philippians right now in a very rigorous way, and as I read it I always think about how I would understand these words if I were a leader in the church at Philippi hearing these things from Paul for the first time.  If I am reading David and Goliath, I work at trying to identify with David–his fear, his courage, his relationship with his brothers and so forth.  Then I try to think of myself as Goliath–his privileges, his burden, arrogance and then demise.  This helps me identify both aspects in my life because in some situations I’m David, but in other situations I’m the Goliath.

3.  The Bible is actually a library, and each book, and indeed sections within some books, are different genres.  Some of the different genres are narrative, law, gospel, apocalypse, prophecy, and history.  One does not read 1 Samuel the same way one reads Ezekiel.  You may need a helper book or do some research to help identify these different genres.

4.  Pick a translation that speaks to you!  If you’ve never read the Bible before, I suggest using the New Living Translation (NLT).  The NLT uses clear English without trying to be too slangy.  For study I like the ESV and NRSV.  In fact, the older I get the more I like the NRSV.  The NIV is good, but I find it to be a tad bit dated.  Click here for a complete Greenbean breakdown of Bible translations.  The most important thing is making certain you find one you can understand.

5.  Read the Bible in two ways.  In one way you should read the Bible simply as an act of devotion.  Then, at other times, we read the Bible for study and knowledge.  The way we read the Bible in these two settings is entirely different.  Psalm 23 devotionally read speaks to me about peace and comfort.  Psalm 23 read critically in study teaches me about the shepherds rod and staff (2 different tools) and then leads me to think of God as my pastor and how the pastoral role starts with protection and guidance which then leads to security and safety.  Both ways of reading the Bible are important, and I need to practice both.

6.  Sometimes you should read the Bible alone, and sometimes you should read it with others.  By others I mean study groups and in worship services, but I also mean your family.  Families should read the Bible together because it draws us into the bonds of togetherness.

Bonus: A note on memorizing Bible verses

I would argue that one does not need to memorize a lot.  Familiarity with the Bible–themes and general content of books and sections–is more important than trying to memorize a great deal.  However, everyone could memorize, say, 5-10 verses or sections that speak to your life or that are meaningful.  If you’ve never memorized any of these and think it is impossible, relax.  You know the words to your favorite song, so you can learn a few verses.  The ones I suggest are Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 12:1-2, Micah 6:8, Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 13:14, John 14:6, and probably Hebrews 4:12 for good measure.  If you take one verse and review every day for a couple of minutes, you will learn it within a month.

Double Bonus:  Don’t ruin the Bible’s intent

Okay, one more bit of pastoral counsel on this one.  The Bible was written by adults, to adults, about things that for the most part are very adult such as sin, sex, murder and war. (side note–most Christian publishes would not publish the content of the Bible today because it would offend their target demographic)  Many many many well meaning Christ-followers have the ‘sweet little Jesus’ instinct, though, that wants to turn everything into something suitable for children and clean it all up.  Resist that urge.  David was an adulterous womanizer, Paul was a murderer who never got over his guilt, and Jesus seemed to always be spoiling for a fight with the religious establishment.  Resist the urge to sanitize the Bible.

IS IT GENDER, GENERATION, OR THAT WE’RE JUST DIFFERENT PEOPLE? YOU DECIDE

Quick story.

Last night Mrs. Greenbean and I were having dinner with the sprout and she told us about a new friend in the neighborhood.  She said the girl’s name was Delilah.

I smiled and said, “Keep her away from any boys named Samson.”

Sprout smiled and began to sing the lyrics, “Hey there Delilah what’s it like in New York City,” referencing the creepy stalker song by the Plain White T’s.

My wife, the delightful Mrs. Greenbean, asked if maybe she was the one who ran the annoying radio program.

What I find interesting is that at the drop of a name, all three of us thought of completely different connections.  My wife and daughter’s were both musical, but not quite the same.  Mine was literary and spiritual, but, curiously, it has a musical connection as well because of the famous French opera Samson and Delilah.

Hey There Delilah, Hedy Lamarr decked out as the vixen from the Opera Samson and Delilah
Hey There Delilah–Hedy Lamarr decked out as the vixen from the opera Samson and Delilah

Are the different ways we connect information based upon gender, generation, or just that we’re different people?  I’d like to know some thoughts on this.

But for the record, my response was certainly the most godly one, right?

 

picture from http://www.bluevelvetvintage.com

HE HAD ME AT HELLO

It is one of those movie lines that seems to express so much.  The ingenue Renee Zellweger is so impressed by the dashing hero Tom Cruise that she completely ignores all of his wordy speech and informs him he doesn’t really need to say anything else.  She is already smitten.

HE HAD ME AT 1963
HE HAD ME AT 1963

“You had me at hello” is one of the two great quotes from that movie, Jerry Maguire.  The other one is “Show me the money.”  The latter was more popular early on, but it has not endured.  However, “You had me at hello,” has, in a way of speaking, stood the test of time.  Here’s looking at you kid.  But as time goes by, we’ve all realized, I hope, just how bad a movie Jerry Maguire really was.

By the way, it is hard to believe that Jerry Maguire came out in 1996.  Man I’m getting old, but I still haven’t forgiven Zellweger for Bridget Jones, and I never will.

Now to the point.  Yesterday, the preacher had me at the preaching equivalent of “hello.”

Let me set the context.  It was our second visit to this church in our ongoing journey to find a church home after our relocation.  The pastor preached essentially a doctrinal sermon about the Scriptures and their importance.  His homiletical hello was to open with a quote from the Baptist Faith and Message–1963!  That’s right, 1963 baby!

The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message is the older statement of faith used by Southern Baptists to outline our essentials.  It matters to people like me that he quoted from the 1963 because in the year of our Lord 2000 a newer, and in my view, less meaningful, less accurate, and less tolerant version was adopted.  It was nowhere near as dignified as the 1963 version which was put together by the last great Southern Baptist statesman, Herschel Hobbs.

The best line in it is the description of the Bible as a perfect treasure.  I love that.  The citation below is the 1963 article on the Scriptures and it comes from sbcnet.  It is part of a comparison of the original 1925 version, the blessed 1963, and the troublesome 2000 versions.

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.

Ex. 24:4; Deut. 4:1-2; 17:19; Josh. 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isa. 34:16; 40:8; Jer. 15:16; 36; Matt. 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Rom. 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Heb. 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

It brings a tear to my eye.

**special note**

Allow me to take a moment to pat myself on the back.  This is my 300th WordPress blog.  Back in the dark ages I blogged on Myspace, but those are lost to archaeology now.  I’ve been at this on WordPress since the fall of 2010, so I am averaging about 2 posts a week.  I intend to keep it up, even as most of my thoughts move toward my short stories and (he crosses his fingers) my upcoming novel release.  Thanks to all of you for reading and participating in the comments.  It really does add a great deal to my life.  Peace be upon us all.

I FINISHED THE OLD TESTAMENT TODAY AND I HAVE SOME IDEAS

This year I am reading the Bible from Genesis to maps.  I don’t do this every year because I tend to vary my devotional schedule.  Today I finished the Old Testament with such wonderfully encouraging words from Malachi as this:

I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.  (Malachi 2:3, NRSV)

What a word picture, huh?  Of course, it is truth and the people have it coming.  The Lord is tired of their faithless religion and unrighteous ways so he is punishing them, and that is the problem I’m having with reading the Old Testament through this year.  I’m tired of them too and I’m tired of reading about their punishments because that is pretty much the entire story from Isaiah to Malachi:  Rebellion, sin, punishment, rinse and repeat.

I get why this is important, because as a follower of Christ I follow the same paradigm, except the focus of punishment is what Jesus took on the cross, so I need the biblical reminder of God’s punishment upon sin and the calls for me to repent.  I am not saying this material is not important.

What I’m saying is that reading it straight through beats the soul to pieces.  Therefore, I have some ideas.  Maybe we need an ordering of the Old Testament for readers--not to replace the canon but to help lift us up (I bolded that so no one would think I’m suggesting changing the Bible.  I am not.  I love the Bible, but am only addressing the needs of a reader).   The New Testament is already built that way.  You see, every Gospel has its depressing parts, but then comes resurrection and then comes the next gospel which is the birth narrative or Pentecost or Romans 8 or 1 Corinthians 13 or Philippians.  Revelation is a downer for most of the book, but then it ends on the highest happy note ever.

The Hebrew Bible could use a little help in this area–from a readers perspective, but not all the Hebrew Bible.  Torah is great because it sprinkles in things like talking donkeys and then the historical books give us David and Goliath between serious and somber narratives and law.  What we need is a redistribution.  So how about this:

1.  Let’s move Proverbs after Lamentations.  Some lighthearted reflections on the fool in his folly would help alleviate the pain of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

2.  We should move Esther after Daniel.  It fits anyway because of the timeline but more than that a story about the sad Jews winning would really help after reading Ezekiel and Daniel.

3.  Ruth could come right after Jonah, because their message is similar–outsiders are important too (Remember Ruth turns out to be a Moabite so King David has foreign lineage).

4.  Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes could come after Zephaniah.  You’re welcome.

5.  Let’s finish the Old Testament with Ezra and Nehemiah.  Instead of spreading dung on our faces, let’s rebuild the Temple and erect the wall as we wait for Jesus in Matthew.

Okay, I know some of you will not like this.   Just remember I am not suggesting that we change the canon of Scripture.  No no no.  I am suggesting a reader’s schedule for the Old Testament that allows for emotional breaks in the pounding trauma that endlessly unfolds from Isaiah to Malachi.