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.

Why We All Need A Program To Follow

Cover of "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5...

Cover via Amazon

Four Hour Work Week

Core Performance

I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Total Money Makeover

These are just a few of the programs that I have enlisted in over the years to be intentional about change or improvement. This winter and spring, I have followed Peter Walsh into what our family has called “The Big Clean” as we attempt to organize our house and schedules. I function better when I have a program to follow. Some people need to hire someone but I can usually just get a book and give it a shot.

That is why I have set up 23 Things. I realized that there may be other people like me who need something to follow, need something to track daily, need to see a plan that has a beginning, middle, and end. I know, this makes me a very linear person but even the most non-linear people I have met (artist, musicians, etc.) do better when they have a plan to follow, even if that plan is just devoting a weekend to a project instead of constant starts and stops.

Even if  you are not following 23 Things, find a plan that will bring you closer to God. Bible reading plans are in abundance and daily devotionals make reflecting on God and scripture doable and easy. You could create an RSS feed so that your favorite spiritual blogs and sermons are sent to your email. Read one daily and find a point of action. The possibilities are endless. It just takes a few moments on the front end to make a plan and then six weeks later you have learned and done more than you thought you could and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you have become more like Christ.

“OK, I Get It Lord”

On Jan. 5, I posted on this blog the following, “I want to discover the scriptures in a fresh way. God is found in his book and the best place for me to discover him and learn from him is within his word. I know this and I need to put my fear and guilt aside and embrace the wonderful treasure that is God’s word.”

This was my declaration that 2012 was going to be a year of discovery and emphasis on God’s word. January 5th was last Thursday and by Friday, I already had confirmation from God that I was on the right track. It was on Friday that I learned that our church would be going through the Read the Bible For Life curriculum. Then on Sunday, in the first few lines of his sermon, our Pastor stated that 2012 at our church would be the year of the Word as we collectively place an emphasis on reading Bible.

Was the church staff reading my mind? Did they know that this was going to be an area of emphasis for me as well?

Do you have these experiences where God keeps feeding you a similar message in various forms over a short amount of time? Maybe, the conversation you had with a coworker is the exact topic of your next Bible Study lesson. Or the point of a recent movie is discussed by the pastor the next time you visit church. Are the scripture passages you are reading, that you thought were seldom discussed, suddenly on every Facebook status and email message?

God knows we are not very perceptive and are easily distracted and clouded by countless things in our head. So, when he wants us to be aware of something he doesn’t just present it to us in one sitting but often multiple times and in multiple ways. At least this has been my experience.

So I get it Lord. You want me to focus on your Word this year. You have confirmed this in a timely way. Now I must respond by doing my part to read, study, and pray. If this is the journey that God wants me on, then I need to be accepting of whatever God has in store for me. Pray that I will stay committed to this emphasis.

This week, pay attention to the scripture, the songs, and the messages from God’s word that have come your way. Don’t be weird about it but try to see if there is a pattern or an emphasis that appears to be surfacing. Put up your spiritual antennas and see what you might pick up.

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.

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.

My Spiritual Enrichment Workout

Because I am a son of a coach and been around sports my whole life and now am at the stage of life where working out is something that is a necessity for a healthy life, I tend to make natural parallels between a fitness workout and a spiritual workout. My Spiritual Enrichment (my name for “quiet time”) involves four main components. This week, I will explain each aspect of the workout:

1. Warm-Up

2. Core Workout

3. Strength

4. Cardio

First let me explain the Warm-Up

Warm-Up.  A reading from the Divine Hours. This is a manual to what is known as fixed-hour prayer. Basically, if we all lived in a monastery, we would have various times during the day when we would stop what we were doing and join together in prayer and worship. The Divine Hours provides scriptures, Psalms, songs, and prayers covering just a few pages. This is a good warm up for me because it reminds me of where the focus of spiritual enrichment should be – God and not myself. Also, for hundreds of years, the Psalms were the prayer, praise, and worship book  of the church and each one of the fixed-hour sessions offer heavy doses of the Psalms. Look here for an example of a morning session. Two words of instruction, first, when you see an asterisks that means you need to pause and second, I always get more out of it when I read through it out loud as if I were trying to memorize some of the readings.

Tomorrow we will look at the Core Workout section.

“Quiet Time” Has Got To Go

The canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke &...

Image via Wikipedia

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.