How to Read the Bible

bible-896220_960_720

  1. Read it everyday. I don’t want you to find a reading plan, I just want you to read it everyday. This could mean you read the same chapter five days in a row. This could mean that you meditate, memorize, and mark up one verse for a week. The point is to interact and to be exposed to scripture everyday. We often treat Bible reading like an exercise program, and there is some value to that, but for most of us, we would rather not exercise but do it because it is good for us or we are trying to reach some goal. I may not want to run but I should want to hear from God in scripture. So, we should expose ourselves to it as much as we can and make it a part of us rather than a compartmentalized aspect of our day.
  2. Accept the mystery. If you are struggling to understand scripture then join the club. Don’t let your pastor or your super religious friends on Facebook present an approach to scripture that always ends in certainty. Mystery is built into scripture by God. Why? So when things are revealed to us, that revelation is so sweet and so profound it brings out praise and glory to God. Also, for some reason, God wants us to wrestle with our faith. That means we have to wrestle with the words we find on the page at times. If everything was crystal clear to us then we would have moved on from reading and embracing scripture long ago and have no need for it.
  3. Read it aloud and with others. I have a tendency to romanticize monastic life but one aspect that I know I would enjoy would be the practice of reading scripture during meals. In some monasteries, during a meal, the monks will eat in silence except for one monk reading from scripture. Because of Evangelical’s obsession with our “quiet time,” we think that scripture reading is an individual, solitary activity. For most of church history, the only way you were able to hear scripture is when someone else read it to you. I think there could be great benefit to this.
  4. Act it out. I am serious. Think about those times you have been in a Bible Study, maybe as a youth, and a group had to act out whatever scripture was being covered that day. You remember that story don’t you. The scripture became embodied for you. I have acted out the Psalms in the past and the practice is very powerful. This doesn’t have to be a group thing, it just needs to put you in a different posture concerning scripture so that the words and messages are enlivened for you. Try it with the Psalms and you will know what I am talking about.
Advertisements

My Favorite Exercise

If you would have asked me in 2000 what my favorite spiritual discipline would be 16 years later, I would venture the following guesses: solitude and silence or journaling or simplicity or service. These seemed to fit better with my natural personality and interests.

It turns out that my favorite soul-training exercise is scripture memorization and recitation. This surprised me too.

bible-896220_960_720

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have the entire New Testament memorized or even large chunks memorized but I do have several verses as well as important sections down to memory. But just the act of memorization hasn’t been the only reward, the recitation of these verses has been the transforming element.

If you put me in a tight, awkward, nerve-wracking social spot, you can probably hear me muttering Psalm 23 or the Jesus Prayer. If you see me in better moments of worship, I have probably just recited Galations 2:20 in my head. If I am on a run and need a pick me up, I will start speaking the Lord’s Prayer or Philipians 3:10-11.

I have fended off powerful temptation by speaking the Beatitudes until the temptation fades away. Colossians 3 is a powerful reminder of where my mind, heart, and actions should be focused. I have most of this in my memory.

It is not just scripture I have memorized but powerful statements spoken by the church for the last 2,000 years. Stripped of its denominational baggage, the Apostles Creed tells the story, the gospel, of Jesus, and it has impacted me tremendously.

The best part of the memorization is how these verses and sacred words always seem to bubble up right when I need them to as reminders and markers to who God is and who I am under him.

If you have never given scripture memorization a shot, try one of the following verses. I like to read the verse five times, then write the verse five times, and then take 2-3 words and then see if I can recite them five times. Then the next day, I build off of what I memorized the day before. Give it a shot.

Matthew 9:12-13

Galations 2:20

1 Samuel 16:7

Psalm 46:10

4 Reasons Why You Need To Grow Up: Reason #4 It Is Biblical

bible-896220_960_720

I am not a Bible scholar so I won’t do a deep dive into a passage here (I teach Bible study classes at my church where I attempt that). I would tell you that if you want to see what a Grown Up Christian looks like, then your best to look to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), John 15, and Colossians 3.

The verses that speak to me the most about maturity are the ones that pinpoint the dying of the old self and the putting on of the new self. Galatians 2:20 starts off, “I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live…”Matthew 16:25 talks about gaining life by losing it for Christ’s sake. Ephesians 4:22-24 says to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In these verses, there is no question what your life is supposed to look like. There is no temptation to just sprinkle a little moralism, some self help mantra, and some vague religiosity over your life. The call is severe and drastic and the end result is noticeable, powerful, and profound.

Your commitment to Christ means your commitment to a radical change in your life. The old self is slowly being put to death and the new self is being grown, fed, and watered through Christ’s work in you and your training in spiritual growth and maturity.

This is no mere add on to your life. No “nice thing” to do. This is your life now if you have Christ.

What are you doing with your new life?

Two Purposes

bible-896220_960_720

Diet and exercise has only two purposes. 1) Improve heart and overall health. 2) Lose weight.

In the same way, reading the Bible has only two purposes. 1) Teach you about how God is with his people. 2) Guide you to a better way of living.

If you are reading scripture to win arguments, defend a political opinion, appear smarter than other people, or personal pride, then you are reading for the wrong purposes.

Next time you read the Bible, try asking yourself – What does this passage tell me about how God is with his people? What am I learning that would be a better approach to the way that I am living?

Let’s try it with the following passage:

https://goo.gl/cTS0tE

photo credit: mnplatypus

One Method of Praying The Scriptures

Long time readers will remember the theme of this year has been the Word of God. I have sought insight and guidance in the reading of scripture and worked to gain a greater appreciation and love for the Bible. Several books have helped me in this process, George Guthrie’s Reading the Bible For Life and Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet to name a few. But the book that I would recommend for a more spiritual approach to the Bible is Chris Webb’s book The Fire of the Word. 

In the book, Webb introduced me to the Exercises of St. Ignatius and provided guidance on conducting my own exercises with scripture. The beauty of the Ignatius approach is it immerses you in the story of scripture. After spending 15-20 minutes meditating on a passage, you then begin to pray and seek out a response from Jesus.

At the end of the exercise, you begin to talk with Christ and most importantly – listen. I don’t always hear a response but I feel closer to Christ and feel like our relationship has a more honest element to it. Also, because of this exercise, I spend the rest of the day thinking about the passage and reflecting on the parts of the story that meant the most to me.

I would highly recommend Webb’s book and encourage you to give the Ignatius meditative approach to scripture a try. Here are the steps to follow as you read a designated passage:

Step One – Imagine the scene as clearly as you can. Use your imagination to take in smells, sounds, and sights.

Step Two – Place yourself in the shoes of one of the characters

Step Three – Continue to run the events of the story to run through your mind. Pay close attention to what people say and do.

Step Four – Ask yourself what emotions does this passage create in you? How do you want to respond to the questions asked or statements made.

Step Five – Use your emotions and questions from the previous step to spark a conversation with Christ. Listen for his response.

If all of this seems strange to you then maybe it is time for you to try something new. The Bible is too important for us to not do everything we can to engage it and the method above has worked very well for me.

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.

Re-Hacked: Pick It Up And Read

I have found myself at times, reading the study notes in a Bible first and then reading the scripture they reference. What happened to just reading the Bible?

I have several Bibles around the house and the one I have been reading lately has no study notes or reflections. The only feature that it provides is wide margins for me, not someone else, to write notes and make observations. I wonder about the simplicity of doing what the voice told Augustine and just “pick it up and read.” To read for no other agenda but to hear God’s story and read His words.

I marvel at the students I see at thecollege where I work who just have a Bible open and are reading. They don’t seem to have an agenda or a plan they are just reading God’s word. I use scripture too often as a tool for my latest mission or blog project rather than using scripture as an entry way into the presence and knowledge of God.

Join me in simply picking it up and reading.

Re-Hacked: 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.

Re-Hacked: The Scripture Top Ten Method

In light of my recent emphasis during the “Year of The Word“, I thought I would repost something I posted a little over a year ago. This was my previously successful attempt at approaching scripture.

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.