What I Love About The Bible

KJV Bible

KJV Bible (Photo credit: knowhimonline)

If you have been following this blog for long, then you know that 2012 has been “The Year of the Word.” I have tried to study, read, listen, study, and read the Bible with the intent of becoming a more devoted user of scripture. Here are a few things I have grown to love about the Bible:

All of the dirty, harsh, brutally honest, and uncomfortable parts – Chris Webb in his excellent book on the Bible, The Fire of The Word, says, “… the Bible resists us at every turn. It will not cooperate, it will not conform to our schemas, it will not be tamed.” I have often said that if the Bible was to be written today, it wouldn’t be sold in Christian book stores.

The Bible is not a greeting card or a piece of propaganda, it is largely a story with many of the great elements of a good story – conflict, betrayal, love interests, and redemption. This is the type of story that leaves you scratching your head and wrestling with questions.

Better this than a propaganda piece where the point is discovered two lines into the story.

It is not about me – One of my hangups with the Bible is my frustration when I don’t get it and I am not inspired by it. I have undo expectations that every time I open the Bible I will be changed and moved to action. Did you notice how many times I used the word I in those first two sentences?

I have been treating the Bible like I treat my favorite restaurant. Every encounter has to be as rewarding as that one time when it was glorious and fantastic. When it isn’t a tremendous experience, I get disappointed.

Reading the Bible is not about me. It is about God. He is the main character, he is the hero, he is the element that fills up every page. The Bible doesn’t owe me anything and I need to quit being so entitled in my reading.

The variety of scripture – I have often been frustrated by the cookie cutter nature of education within churches. Pastors, Bible study teachers, and bloggers seem unaware that there exists a wide range of personalities and learning styles.

Sometimes it seems, the only solution to every discipleship dilemma is to read a book or open up a Bible commentary. In other words, issues of faith and growth can only be solved by linear, analytical, academic approaches.

God has had a say in the kinds of people we are and he did not make us all to enjoy reading and studying. Not all of us work best “in our heads” so to speak.

Some of us need to move, some of us need an emotional connection, some of us need the community of others, some of us need to sing. The beauty of the Bible is that songs, poems, rules, teachings, history, stories, culture, and mystery are all prevalent. God designed it this way because he knew his creation is filled with diversity and variety.

We all need the entire volume of scripture to be the full, robust people of God we are designed to be.

23 Things – Week 5: Study

Week 5: Study

10. Watch Paula Gooder talk about “what the Bible is?”

11. Not everyone is bent towards reading and study. Still, you can immerse yourself in scripture through Psalms set to music by Sons of Korah (Click on Listen)

12. Who are your teachers and what are they teaching you? Make a list of your chief influencers, past and present. What aspects of God do you need to study more deeply? Develop a plan to pursue this study of God.

This is week five of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first nine things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Best of Christian Life Hacker – Quiet Time Has Got To Go

Since the past month and a half has been pretty intense here on Christian Life Hacker, I thought it might be good to revisit some of the posts that epitomize the Christian Life Hacker faith style. This is one of the first post from back in December:

Quiet Time Has Got To Go

I have a confession to make. I don’t have a quiet time. That’s right, the standard for evangelical spiritual growth is not in my vocabulary. Not because I dislike the idea of having a time of the day set aside for being quiet but because the term “quiet time” has turned into something powerless and reeks of church speak (terms that have very little meaning outside the church).

I am sorry, but my time spent talking to, listening to, and learning about God and his kingdom needs a term that packs a little more punch than “quiet time”. This term sounds like something I would do to my daughters to punish them or settle them down before bed.

Also, for anyone who has grown up in the church, the term has been used so frequently and with such “preachiness” that it instantly conjures up feelings of guilt in individuals who have failed to live up to all the requirements of a ‘quiet time’ (at least 15 minutes, first thing in the morning, chapter a day, etc.). I don’t know if I can come up with a better term, but the one that I have started using is “Spiritual Enrichment”.

To me, the term Spiritual Enrichment accomplishes two things. First, it helps explain the goal of the activity – to grow, to be enriched, improved. Second, it reminds us that what we are doing during this time is a spiritual activity and not just a time when we try to be alone with our Bible open. We are spiritual beings, that is part of the life that God breathed into us in the Garden of Eden and later at Pentecost. Evangelicals get nervous when talk turns too spiritual but denying our non-physical side is denying what makes humans unique and what made God so proud in creating us.

So, on this blog at least we will not use the term “quiet time” but will replace the idea with the term Spiritual Enrichment. I am not sold on this term so if anyone else has an idea on what we can call it please let me know.

How To Implement A Scripture Top 10

Quadruple combination opened to the Book of Is...

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If your scripture reading has become stale and you wish you could get more from it, then you might want to try what I call the Scripture Top 10 Method. Earlier this week, I detailed how it has worked for me and which passages made my list. Today, I want to offer a guide to implementing your own Top 10.

1. Change Your Thinking – If we have been in the church for very long we have been exposed to Bible Highlight Shows. This is where a pastor will take a topic and then dump every verse he can come up with on that topic on the lap of the congregation. A virtual highlight reel on the topic. This is a problem because it makes us view individual scriptures in complete isolation and without context, language, or history. Some have called the Bible “God’s love letter to his people”. Who would write a love letter just filled with one liners and isolated phrases? No, your letter is going to have recurring themes and consistent emphasis. In order to implement a Scripture Top 10, you have to start recognizing the major themes and connections within scripture.

2. Start with what you know – Even if the only verse you know is “Jesus wept,” you can still begin to ask questions that will lead you to other verses. In this example, you could ask, “Why did Jesus weep?” And then determine that it is because of his humanity. Then this could lead you to the Christmas story and the humility and earthiness in which Jesus came into the world. In this story, the Wise Men bring gifts fit for a king. Then you could find the verses that talk about the Kingdom of God and start to understand what kind of King Jesus is.

3. Ask a friend or find a Bible with good study notes – You will need help making connections with other passages, especially with ones in the Old Testament. Find someone who is more knowledgeable of the Bible than you and talk to them about your desire to discover more of scripture based on your favorite passages. You may also need a Bible that will give you some background on certain passages and references you to other passages that address the same concept. Don’t make too much of the study notes, use them for reference and discovery purposes. Save in depth study for another time. The Bibles that I have used include Life Application Bible, Spiritual Formation Bible, and ESV Study Bible.

4. Ask Why? – If you have a favorite verse or passage, ask why that scripture means so much to you. Pray for God to show you to parts of the Bible that remind you of your favorite scripture.

5. Relax – God did not inspire scripture for us to understand all of its complexities and mysteries. Our entire life will be filled with more discoveries of God through scripture. He designed it this way. The whole point behind this method is to start the frustrated Christian toward a path of lifetime discovery in a way that is fun and adventurous. Don’t take it too serious. Remember that this is your process and God has unique and personal things that he wants to show you that he does not have for anyone else. Enjoy the ride.

My Scripture Top 6-10

Yesterday, we looked at five scriptures passages that have not only been enriching to me but also key transition points to other passages. Today, I list the rest of my top 10.

6. 1 Samuel 16 – By the time I had become taken by the Sermon on the Mount and many of the other passages in my top 5 it was becoming clear to me that God is obsessed with the makeup of the heart. When he changes a person it is through a formation of the heart from the inside out. So when I re-discovered the story of Samuel anointing the future king, David, and here God tell Samuel that “man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

7. Galatians 5:19-25 – Another well-known passage, this one discusses the Fruits of the Spirit. The best words of scripture are ones that inspire and convict. This one convicts me every time. I often ask myself, what am I doing to foster the development of the Fruits of the Spirit?

8. Psalm 1 – ‘Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.’

Before God broke me down and changed me, I would have read verse 2 with dread. How do you delight in law? And who would want to meditate on the law day and night? But I understood the law to be not a just set of rules but a God ordained way of nourishing my soul. Could I delight in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Ten Commandments? In 1 Corinthians 13? Yes. And I had already meditated on these “laws” and found meaning and strength for my life.

9. Galatians 2:20 – All that I had learned and processed through the previously mentioned verses kind of culminates with this verse. From a salvation stand point, I understood the new life found in Christ but this verse showed me the ultimate step in discipleship. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

10. Philippians 3:10 – All of the New Testament falls into these few words. The life of Jesus, his crucifixion, the mystery of the resurrection, discipleship; it is all there and just bursting off the page. This verse will take a lifetime to comprehend and live out but through the process of my Top 10, I can think of no other worthy cause for my life.

So there it is, the 10 passages of scripture that have had the most impact on me and renewed, not only my interest in scripture reading and study, but also my life. Next time, I will demonstrate how you can develop your own Top 10 and what benefit you will gain from it.

My Scripture Top 5

Yesterday, I discussed the Scripture Top Ten Method of approaching scripture. It starts with a favorite passage or verse and then through discovery or study leads to other similar or noteworthy passages. Here is five of my top ten and why they are significant. Nos. 6-10 will come tomorrow.

1. Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) – I used to read self-help books and books on how to achieve success until I found the teachings available in the Sermon on the Mount. I discovered that if I became the kind of person presented in the Sermon then I would have no need for leadership gimmicks and success platitudes. Jesus became someone who could teach me how to live my life.

2. Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-21) – Much of the Sermon is referencing the Ten Commandments and the commands of the Old Testament. I felt that I needed to have a better understanding of the Ten Commandments. I realized that I had never really read them in context before and that they are not written in nice little one line commands. I was so taken by them, I decided I needed to memorize them. Memorization had never been a priority until scripture started to come alive to me.

3. Psalm 23 – I understood the command to have no other god before God but I didn’t fully understand what it meant to have the Lord be my “shepherd,” my protector, my nourisher, and “restorer of my soul.” I memorized this one as well and it has been a great comfort to me.

4. 1 Corinthians 13 – Another famous passage that doesn’t need to be dismissed just because it is well known. It is well known because it deserves to be dwelt over and meditated on. Also, if I was still thinking that the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments were simply rules and not a way of life then I would look at 1 Cor. 13 in the same way. Looking at this great passage on love and thinking that I have to go out today and be more patient, kind, and less boastful is to miss the point of inward transformation into Christlikeness.

5. Colossians 3: 1-17 – I think this one may eventually move ahead of 1 Corinthians 13. Once, I read this passage daily over a week’s time and it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had with scripture. I encourage you to try the same exercise.

The Scripture Top Ten Method

For most of my life, reading scripture has been intimidating. I avoided reading scripture because I was afraid that I wouldn’t understand what I was reading or that I wouldn’t find my time meaningful or enriching. This all changed when I discovered the Sermon on the Mount. In the passages found in Matt. 5-7, I discovered the greatest teaching ever found and it became something that I wanted to read over and over again.

You know how an interest in a band or a writer leads you to seek out more items that are similar to what you originally discovered. I love the classic 60’s folk rock band the Byrds and through my love of the Byrds I discovered Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, International Submarine Band, Buffalo Springfield, Dillard and Clark, and the Desert Rose Band. I love the baseball writings of Bill James and that led me to discover Rob Neyer, Baseball Prospectus, and Michael Lewis. In the same way, my love of the Sermon on the Mount led me to discover other passages of the Bible that either inspired the Sermon (the Ten Commandments) or were a reflection of it.

In this process of letting the Sermon lead me to other life changing scripture I discovered an interesting scripture reading method. Instead of obsessing over reading chapter after chapter, I let my favorite scriptures lead me to the next passage. So I went from the Sermon on the Mount to the Ten Commandments to Psalm 23 to 1 Corinthians 13 to Colossians 3 to Galatians 2:20 to Psalm 1 to 1 Samuel 16 to Romans 12 to the Parables of the Kingdom.

A critic might say that I am just scratching the surface of the richness of scripture and that is obviously true but each one of the above passages taught me something about God and helped me draw closer to him in a way that I had never done previously. Scripture was coming alive to me, I was seeing changes in my life, and I was excited about diving into God’s word in a way that was new to me. These passages were entry points into God’s word for me just as the Byrds were an entry point in to other great music.

Do you have an entry point into scripture? Have you been discouraged by people who tell you to just start reading, or Bible reading programs that are more about volume than formation? If so, then try out the Scripture Top Ten Method and see what God wants to uncover for you in his word.

Tomorrow, I will list my top ten scriptures and provide insight into what I learned and how I discovered them.

When To Have Your Spiritual Enrichment Workout

Now that we have established what should be included in your Spiritual Enrichment Workout we now have to discuss when we should do it.  Most preachers will tell you that you should pray and read scripture very first thing in the morning. They have turned this into some kind of modern day legalism – “by not taking the time early in the morning things will not go right for you the rest of the day.” Don’t we all feel guilty enough by our limited prayer life and intolerance to Bible reading? Do we really need another aspect to make us feel guilty and why should a 24 hour period be reduced to such a short time window?

Some practice evening prayers just before bed as a precursor to the next day’s activities and a good night’s sleep. Others spend time during the day to ward off apathy and depression and some do it early in the morning when there is no one up and their home is quiet. The point is to find the time to do it. What I have described as a Spiritual Enrichment Workout takes me anywhere between 12-17 minutes. Just small enough time to practice while you wait to pick up your kids from an activity, or during a scheduled break at work, or even in the bathtub. The point is to practice Spiritual Enrichment not to fulfill some rigid prescription as to what counts and what doesn’t.

So quit beating yourself up about missing your morning quiet time and find a time that works better for you.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Recap

So we have the four elements to our workout:

1. Warm-up – Fixed-Hour Prayer (3 minutes)

2. Core – Scripture reading (4-5 minutes)

3. Strength – Prayer (3-5 minutes)

4. Cardio – Devotional reading (1-2 minutes)

I have placed the estimated time it takes to go through each element in parenthesis. On most days this takes me around 15 minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less and we certainly don’t want to be rigid about this as we need to be responsive to the Holy Spirit. If you have never tried an organized devotional time or have tried it in the past and are returning to it let me give you a few words of caution.

Reject the temptation to do more. This is what dooms most exercise programs, we try to do too much and are not realistic with our time, ability to be consistent, and attention span. Thus, once the newness wears off we cannot sustain our lengthy and involved program. Personally, when starting out, I would choose two of the elements above and do those for a week and then evaluate how it went.

Don’t worry if some days are dry. God seems to operate in a slow manner when it comes to our growth and pursuit of Christlikeness. Sure, we will have days where the words of scripture seem to warm our heart and fill us with inspiration and power but there will be others where are prayers are mechanical or we have to read things over and over because we can’t pay attention. Know that even on the dry days the Holy Spirit is working on you and guiding you along. No time spent concentrating on God is wasted.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Cardio

Some of the benefits of a real cardio workout are increased energy,  lowered stress levels, and better sleep. In other words, positive side effects that carry on throughout the day. My spiritual version of cardio is also designed to benefit you throughout the day and not just during your Workout.

I take a daily devotional book and read that day’s entry. Right now I am reading through A Year With God but I have also used classics such as Streams in the Desert and My Utmost For His Highest. Many famous authors or people of the faith have meditation books taken from their writings. These include C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Mother Theresa. My wife really enjoyed Voices of the Faithful. Find any Christian book or email service that provides daily meditations or devotionals and close your workout by reading that day’s entry and taking a few minutes to consider its thoughts and challenges.

Just as I let the Holy Spirit guide me to a prayer focus during the Strength section, the cardio/devotional book reading is designed to give me a thought or a challenge for the day. I take the theme and emphasis from the reading and intentionally think about it throughout the day. Perhaps it is short enough that I can return to it during the day and read it again. I particularly like ones that include an activity or exercise related to the reading. Through the exercise, I am not simply going through a mental activity but I am making the theme or emphasis tangible and providing some evidence as to my current spiritual state on the matter.

The bottom line is creating some intentional carry over from my Spiritual Enrichment Workout to the rest of the day. We have all had those experiences where we closed up our Bible or said Amen and that was the end of our time with God not just for that moment but for the rest of the day. Our mission is to make our spiritual workout a time where we are reminded of who God is, hear from him in his Word and through his Spirit, and to take what we have heard and discovered as a challenge for the rest of our day.