USING THE MIRROR

I gave up shaving a long time ago—why waste so much time on an activity that doesn’t do all that much for me in the long run? Having a beard has many benefits but it does mean that I don’t actually spend much time in front of mirrors, a fact that get emphasized now and then when my wife suggests that it is time to get my beard trimmed. It isn’t that I never use the mirror—its just that I don’t actually pay much attention when I am brushing my teeth in front of the mirror and so don’t really notice that both my beard and what hair I have left are getting somewhat shaggy.

I find it interesting, though, that looking in the mirror is one of the minor themes in the New Testament associated with spiritual growth and development. In James 1.23-24, the writer makes this comment: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (NIV) Reading the Bible, according to James, is supposed to be a lot like looking in a mirror—we need to see ourselves and deal with ourselves.

One of the most serious problems facing the church is the lack of believers actually reading the Bible because it leads to an even more serious problem of believers not actually following the Bible or even worse, doing exactly the opposite of what God teaches us through the Bible and thinking it is God’s will. In my persistent efforts to get believers to read the Bible, I have a reason beyond reading the words—I want people to read the Bible so that they can discover themselves in its pages.

We are all in the Bible. In fact, we are all there in two or perhaps three versions. The first version is the familiar one, the version of ourselves as we are. Granted, the Bible doesn’t actually mention left-handed, colour blind introverts as a class (although left-handed people are mentioned). But on a deeper level, we are all in the Bible. We are shown our essential selfishness, our inability to consistently do what we know we should so, our distance from God. We all show up as we are.

But we also show us as we could be. We are given glimpses of the original plan, the one where we are together with God, discovering the wonder of who we were meant to be and how great being with God really and what we were meant for before we messed it all up. And then, we are also show the third version, the us that floats between what we are and what we can be, the version that all believers spend their lives struggling with and against.

The point of reading the Bible is so that we can see ourselves as we are, commit to becoming what we were meant to be and most importantly, discovering the divine power and help we need as we struggle in the intermediate stage where we will live all of our faith life. We don’t read to discover who was the fourth king of Israel, although that is interesting. We read so that we can see who we are and discover how we can become what we were meant to be.

Sometimes, I think that all the reluctance to read the Bible; all the debates over which version of the Bible to read; all the fierce disagreements over interpretations; all the wrangling and bickering over that bits and pieces of the Bible are popular simply to help us avoid seeing ourselves in its pages—because when we see ourselves as we really are, we are challenged to become what we were meant to be and can be. It is easier to fight each other over which translation of the Bible God wants us to use than it is to fight our selfishness to become the version of us that God meant us to be. Really reading the Bible challenges us with both our failures and our potential.

But it also gives us hope. The God who gave us the Bible and our salvation also gives us all the help and hope we need as we move from what we are to what we can be—just look in the mirror and follow the directions we find there.

May the peace of God be with you.

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SAYING IT AGAIN

Sometimes, I wonder if I am making any progress. I recently preached yet another sermon on a topic that I have been preaching on regularly since pretty much the beginning of my professional ministry. It is a topic that is important to me because it is tied so intimately to the faith I hold and seek to help others discover and develop. Sometimes, I approach the topic directly but this time, it came as part of a series of sermons on the letter of James.

As I planned the sermon series, I realized that once again, I would be dealing with the issue of Christians reading the Bible—or rather, Christians not reading the Bible. I gave the sermon the usual thought and meditation and prayer but discovered myself wondering about the bigger picture.

I understand the issue: I have read the dismal statistics concerning Bible reading among Christians; I have talked with individual believers about their difficulty reading the Bible; I have scolded and cajoled theology students about their lack of Bible reading. I understand the problem. When Christians don’t read the Bible and get all their Christian training from others, their faith will inevitably be stunted and inefficient at the very least and misguided and wrong at the worst.

But as I was preparing, preaching and reviewing this sermon, I was wondering why believers don’t actually read the Bible. I was not just thinking about the stated reasons: its hard to find time; I can’t understand it; its such a big book and so on. I am trying to figure out the deep down, essential reason that motivates people to ignore such an important resource in their faith development.

For me, reading the Bible was a natural step in my faith. I became a believer, the Bible was a book for believers therefore, I should read the Bible. There was never any question about that. Certainly, there were some times when I didn’t read it much but those times were actually few and far between, especially after I discovered that the Bible came in many flavours. All through my life, reading the Bible has been a regular part of my daily routine.

But then again, I read all instruction manuals and guide books—and keep them where I can find them and refer to them. I never know when I might forget where that infrequently used release button is on some tool or another. Not reading a manual or guide book strikes me as a really poor approach to discovering how best to use and care for a new item. And in the same way, reading the Bible seems like a no-brainer for anyone new to the faith—or anyone who has been in the faith for a while for that matter.

And yet, I keep discovering that the majority of people I minister to haven’t actually read the Bible through—and some probably haven’t actually been exposed to any more of the Bible than what they hear weekly in worship. This confession comes out as I carry out pastoral visits, lead Bible study and talk with people casually. The confession of not actually reading the Bible is generally made with some sense of guilt and often followed by the person’s declaration that they should read the Bible (more)—but the next time we meet, I get the same confession and declaration.

And so, I keep at it. I keep reading and studying the Bible myself. I keep teaching and preaching the Bible. And I keep encouraging people to read the Bible themselves. I preach on it, I help people find appropriate Bibles to read or listen to, I answer questions and give explanations, I even encourage skimming or skipping the slow parts. And sometimes, someone will actually start reading the Bible because of what I have been saying and modelling. And even more exciting is when the person who started reading discovers the actual presence of God through the Holy Spirit as they read.

I wish I could prepare the one sermon that would convince everyone to read the Bible or develop the can’t resist reason that would get every believer reading the Bible regularly. But given the reality that there isn’t one sermon or reason that is going to get everyone reading the Bible, I will keep plugging away, trying to help people discover that most of their questions and struggles in the faith are a whole lot easier to deal with if you read the guide book.

May the peace of God be with you.

DAVID THE BLOGGER

The worship service at one of the churches I serve has a unique addition to the order. Right after I read the Scriptures, the congregation has an opportunity to ask questions or make comments. This came about as a result of a suggestion by one of the members and has become a highlight of the worship for both pastor and congregation. While there are occasional Sundays where nobody has a question or comment, there are generally some interesting comments and questions—and several times a year, the ensuing discussion become so interesting and valuable that we never actually get to the sermon, which means I am prepared for another Sunday.

Recently, the Scriptures came from Isaiah and Mark. Both passages prompted some comments and we batted them around for awhile. And then, one of the congregants had a question about the responsive reading that we had used earlier in the worship. It was a legitimate question because the reading was Scripture, a reading from Psalm 27.

The question concerned the author of the Psalm. The question and discussion focused on David rather than the Psalm itself. We re-established the fact that David wrote many of the Psalms but not all of them and then the discussion began to look at the character of the writing. The questioner wanted to know a couple of things:

• Can we figure out what David was doing at the time he wrote each Psalm?
• Why are the Psalms so different from other parts of the Bible, like the Gospels for example?

The first question was relatively easy to deal with. Some Psalms identify the circumstances of the writing either in an explanatory note at the beginning or be the content. The second question was more interesting, at least for me. David’s writings are different from the Gospels or the Epistles or the History books partly because David was a poet whose response to the realities and events of his life drove him to record his thoughts and feelings. He wasn’t writing history, biography, theology, explanations, or apologetics. David was writing his feelings.

The best explanation of the difference I could offer was to suggest that if David had been alive today, he would have been a blogger. I don’t read a lot of blogs but many of the ones I do seem to be focused in the writer’s response to their life and the realities they see and experience. Certainly there are the factual blogs, the history blogs, the informative blogs—but there are also a uncounted number of blogs that deal with the writer’s feelings and responses. Even this blog has a strong element of that, although I will never be accused of being a poet.

David used his poetry to help himself deal with his life—and given that his life had a significant number of highs and lows, he had a lot to deal with. In his day, his audience would have been limited to people in the royal court and the temple. But somehow, through the grace of God, some of his poetry was recorded and made available not just to the people of his day but also to people of all time. David probably holds the record for the all time highest number of views—and likes, for that matter.

While it is interesting to speculate how well David would have done as a 21st century blogger, there is no need to actually speculate on his ability to connect with people. His words, written over 2500 years ago in a small, somewhat backwater country in a language that most of us don’t speak manage to cut across time, language and culture and touch something within us that shouts that he got it—he understands. We read his blog, we are touched by the words and ideas and emotions, we react—and most of the time, we are helped. The poetry from the past enables us to deal better with our life in this very different present. And, given the track record, if the world lasts another 2500 years, or 25,000 or 250,000 more years, people are still going to read the Psalms and be touched and changed and helped.

That is pretty good for a 2500+ year old poet who was just trying to make sense of his life using his propensity towards poetry. Most of the rest of us: bloggers, preachers, writers, even poets can only dream of writing something so significant.

May the peace of God be with you.

FREE TIME?

I have mentioned before that one of the places where I preach basically closes down during the winter. The combination of aging buildings, aging congregations, heating costs, winter driving conditions and winter anxiety mean that we close down except for one service a month. This has been our pattern since I have been there and I have learned a few things about the free time this arrangement gives me.

At the beginning, I had large plans for this time. It was unscheduled and uncommitted and so I could finally have time to do all the stuff that got shoved on the back shelf of the to do list: coffee with friends, some research into interesting topics, some woodworking, some cross country skiing, a bit of relaxing and doing nothing. In my mind, I pictures pleasant days of comfortably enjoying the potential of free time.

I soon discovered that free time for me really doesn’t exist. It kept getting eaten up. First, there were increasing requests from a congregation where I was supposed to be preaching only during the time—but as pastoral needs like funerals and hospitalizations piles up, they asked me to provide some pastoral care. It was only for this one thing but soon one more and one more and a junk of free time disappeared.

That was okay because there was still some free time. But then there was this request to see someone that I had helped a few years ago and who needed a booster shot of pastoral care. There was a meeting with denominational people that I had forgotten I volunteered for. And the mentoring process for the theology student was still ongoing. That first year, the small woodworking project that was going to be the beneficiary of all that free time did actually get done—well into the return to work time when I actually found the time to get it done.

After discovering the reality that free time seems to invite activity, I approached this year’s shut-down with a different mindset. I didn’t plan a woodworking project. I didn’t plan on writing that best-selling book that has been on my mind for a while. I didn’t plan on coffee with friends. I did have a few ideas of things that needed to be done but none of them were things that absolutely had to be done—and none of them were all that important. Sorting and organizing my file cabinet drawer of computer and media cables wasn’t a high priority and wouldn’t make much difference if it got done or not.

Interestingly enough, by not actually planning for my free time, I discovered a bit more free time. There were lots of unexpected things that kept popping up, a lot of them having to do with medical appointments connected with the surgery that is coming in the near future. But there were also the unexpected unexpected stuff like funerals and pastoral visits beyond my regular pastoral duties.

Because I didn’t have a long list of things that I wanted to get done, I am half way through this shut down with less frustration and anxiety. I am not actually trying to find spots in the less than free time to enjoy the free time. There are no projects that need to be done and no coffee times that must be arranged before the start up. And, interestingly enough, I have made better use of the actual free time.

I have read several books that have been sitting in my ebook accounts. I have coffied with friends. I even got the cables organized—now, when I or someone else needs a triple RCA connector, I know how many I have and where to find them. The fact that people rarely use triple RCA connectors these days is something I will ignore for now.

More importantly, I am finding and using time to relax and rest and look after myself. Because I don’t have a long list of things to accomplish during this break, I can relax a lot more because when I am sitting reading, I can actually read rather than think about what I should be doing to make the best use of my free time. I can actually enjoy the free time and will probably head back to work more rested, except of course for the surgery which promises more free time of s different and probably more frustrating kind.

May the peace of God be with you.

A NEW BIBLE

One of my devotional activities consists of reading the Bible through every year or so. I try to read a different translation each time, which keeps me always on the lookout for translations that I haven’t seen. While we live in an era where it sometimes seems there is a new English translation coming out every other day, that isn’t quite the case. As I neared the end of the last translation I was reading through, I began looking around for the next one and was having some difficulty.

Or I was until I checked the Bible programs I have on my various devices. There, I discovered several translations that I hadn’t run into before. They aren’t new translations—they were free with the Bible program, which means they are older and probably didn’t make all that big an impression even when they were new. But they are different translations and I haven’t read them before so now I have several more years of devotional reading. I won’t stop looking for new translations but I don’t have to wonder where my next one will come from.

The one I chose to read comes from the early 1800s so I didn’t expect contemporary language. I began reading and found myself relaxing and enjoying the process. The reading was producing a sense of comfort and contentment and even peace that I hadn’t actually expected. To be honest, sometimes, my devotional reading is done out of duty—I have committed to this and I am going to do it, no matter what.

But that hasn’t been the case so far with this new translation. I am enjoying the process and the words and phrases seem to wash over me, giving me a powerful sense of something positive. Now, I am not a person to simply accept things—I need to know why and how come and all that sort of stuff.

I realized shortly after I began reading that this particular translation uses pretty archaic language even considering it’s 1800s origin. In fact, it seemed to be pretty close to the language used in the King James Version. I actually did some checking and discovered that isn’t a coincidence. The translator set himself the task of slightly revising the KJV to bring it up to date a bit—he didn’t want to make major changes or re-translate the whole thing. All he was interested in doing was updating a few words and phrases here and there.

And with that bit of knowledge, I began to understand the feelings I was having when I was reading the translation. I grew up with the KJV. It was part of my early faith life: Sunday School, worship, youth group, Bible study. My first devotional reading was of the KJV. The first time I ever read the Bible through was in the KJV. The words and phrases, ancient as they are have been imprinted in my mind and emotions and are a basic part of both my thought process and faith process. In fact, when I think of a Bible verse, I generally think of it in its KJV version and then have to look it up in whatever modern translation I am using. Reading this translation is taking me back to my faith roots, reminding me of times and feelings that go way back.

I have read, worked with and appreciated different translations almost from the beginning of my faith journey. I began seriously using newer translations when I began university and have spend a great deal of time reading and studying Scripture in most major English translations and a couple of Kiswahili ones. I am reluctant to recommend the KJV to anyone younger that I am, especially if I know they don’t have a strong background in the faith or Bible reading. I rejoice in the wealth of new translations available and the potential to match translations with every language sub-group on English. I will not be going back to using the KJV as my basic translation.

But I am going to enjoy this translation I am reading—and may even put the KJV in my devotional reading list again at some point. The old, archaic and hard to understand language that drives me to seek and use newer translations is also touching my faith and feelings in positive ways and I am going to enjoy the process and let the Holy Spirit work through the words and phrases that I may not understand but which still speak powerfully to me.

May the peace of God be with you.

I’M NOT THAT BUSY

I was sitting in the doctor’s office to get the results of some tests. I had also decided to ask him about the fatigue that had been plaguing me recently. It might have been related to the tests that I was getting the results from but it could have been from something else. It was getting so bad that I felt tired all the time and needed to sit for only a couple of minutes before I was falling asleep. Given that one of my relaxing pastimes is sitting reading, the fatigue was seriously cutting into my reading. I enjoy a nap as much or more than the next guy but when I fall asleep three or four times when trying to read for an hour or so, that is getting a bit much.

So, the test results were sort of wishy-washy, suggesting that maybe I did or maybe I didn’t have a problem associated with the tests. But the results did suggest that the extreme fatigue likely came from other sources, which my doctor decided to check out through a set of other tests. But he also asked me about how busy I was.

That was an easy answer, of course. I am a part time pastor and I work 40% time at two different places. That means I work an 80% job, which isn’t all that bad and should be easily accomplished by a 66 year old reasonably healthy male. My doctor, who is also a friend and who therefore knows me as more than just a medical file reframed his question—he wasn’t asking how much I worked, he wanted to know how busy I actually was.

Well, I am 80% at official work. I also mentor a theology student. I do a bit of counselling. I spend some time writing. I occasionally do some “consulting” with other congregations and pastors—the quotation marks are because I think real consultants get paid and I don’t take money for the meetings I have. The more I listed stuff, the more the doctor nodded.

Just as he was beginning to suggest that I was actually quite busy, I realized that I might only work for pay 80% time but I actually am doing a lot—and the unpaid time and effort adds up—I am probably well over 100% if I were really honest and accurate. I think I had allowed myself to fall into the mindset that unpaid stuff was not really work and therefore shouldn’t actually count when it came to counting work/leisure hours.

I have long had this vision of myself as a sort of laid back, slightly lazy guy who gets things done but who manages to take it easy a good deal of the time. Well, that vision evaporated quickly under the harsh lights of my reality. I am actually quite busy, busier than I let myself realize. Most of what I do, I like and I do it because I think it is valuable and important.

But during that visit to the doctor, I realized that I am going to have to make some changes to deal with the realities I live with now. The doctor is making sure that there is no serious underlying medical issue—I gave up enough blood to the technicians to ensure everything is tested and checked.

But even without the results of those tests, it is clear that I need to make some adjustments in my life style. I need to make some different choices that take into account the reality that I am 66 not 26 and the energy I need to do all that I want to do isn’t as easy to come by as it was 40 years ago. I am making some adjustments to my sleep patterns. I am looking carefully at all the things I am doing, seeking to cut down the work load a bit—realizing that unpaid isn’t the same as not working helps out here. I want to get to the point where I can actually read for an hour or so without falling asleep. I want to be able to nap but I want the nap time to be my choice, not something that I have no control over.

I think the new sleep pattern is working and I am pretty sure there isn’t much going on beyond the fact that I need to relearn my limits.

May the peace of God be with you.

DON’T MESS WITH THE BIBLE

When I was about seven or eight, my mother began a short-lived practise of reading the Bible with all of us kids at bedtime. We would sit together and read the KJV—those of us who could read would get a turn and the rest would squirm and listen. The custom didn’t last long—there were too many of us kids and not enough time in the day and a million other things that got in the way. But I have actually been reading the Bible pretty much continually since that point. Sometimes, my reading has been hit or miss; sometimes it has been forced; occasionally, it has been in aid of learning a new language—but there have been very few stretches of my life when I haven’t been reading the Bible.

I also have a deep desire to understand what I am reading so I do a lot of study, discovering the meaning, contextualizing, looking at the original languages (sort of), reading commentaries. My appreciation for the Bible and its wisdom is an essential part of my spiritual development. I read it, I study it, I teach it and most of all, I try to understand and practise it.

And so I find myself getting angry and upset with people who trivialize the Bible and its value. I don’t get really upset with people who want to deny the Bible or turn it into a collection of fairy tales—I tend to be more concerned with the underlying reasons for their ideas, the emotional, cultural and experiential things that lead them to deny the truth and value of the Bible.

No, what really ticks me off are the people who claim faith and who seek to use the Bible as a club or weapon to defend their particular view points. My latest frustration was a politician who attempted to use an out of context Bible verse to defend his very controversial political stand. The fact that I think his stand is wrong and unbiblical itself doesn’t bother me as much as his casual and opportunistic treatment of the Bible.

We who are part of the Christian faith have a tendency to approach the Bible from a very wrong perspective. We are often guilty of looking to the Bible for some sort of divine backing and support for what we want to do or believe or advocate. We begin with who and what we are and want and then comb the pages of the Bible to find God’s words of support for our position. Armed with this divine backing, we can club our opponents into submission because God is one our side. Unfortunately, the other side probably had another verse that they have discovered that they use as a shield against our club.

Along the way, we seriously mistreat and disrespect the Bible. We take passages out of context; we interpret the truth out of them; we bend and break applications; we massage and tweak words; we ignore the inconvenient places that disagree with us; we even lie about what it says. It seems that as long as we can find some words somewhere that can somehow be forced to say what we want it to say to support what we want, we are fine.

I am pretty sure that isn’t what God had in mind when he gave us the Bible. The Bible’s beginning position is that we are separated from God because we are imperfect and sinful. The words and ideas and themes and teachings of the Bible are there to help us overcome this sinfulness and its consequent separation from God. The Bible exists as a mirror to show us our failure to be what God planned us to be and at the same time, to provide us with a way to get to where we are what God planned is to be. (Hint—we get there by trusting God, not ourselves).

Reading the Bible as anything but God’s revelation to us to help us become what God knows we can be and actually wants us to be is to risk distorting and even destroying the value and purpose of the Bible. God didn’t give us the Bible to defend our narrow, bigoted, partisan, selfish and sinful ideas—he gave it to get us out of that rut and into his love and grace.

May the peace of God be with you.

WHAT DO I DO?

I often find myself in a bit of a quandary when it comes to recommending ways to begin reading the Bible. I have a plan and process that has been working very well for me for many years. It allows me to read through the Bible in about a year and ensures that I am going to get my reading done. But since my particular plan involves reading the Bible while I am using the exercise bike, some people think it is too difficult.

And to be honest, I can understand their problem—my particular plan for reading the Bible involves two things that most North Americans talk a lot about doing but rarely do: exercise and Bible reading. This particular plan works well for me but I don’t actually recommend it for others. Just like a lot other plans don’t work for me, I know mine doesn’t work well for others.

One I saw suggested a few years ago, for example, involved the use of coloured highlighters. A person would read and then use the highlighter to categorize different parts of the reading. It might work well for some people but given my colour blindness, I didn’t even bother giving it consideration.

But I am a pastor and even more, a pastor who encourages people to read the Bible—and so I need to have something to recommend to people. Since I don’t have workable plan that will enable everyone to immediately fall in love with reading the Bible, I offer suggestions that they can use to develop their own plan. My suggestions include:

• Picking the right translation. We live in a age where English speakers have a wealth of translations to pick from. Every type, style and level of English has a translation these days. Everyone has the opportunity to pick a translation that uses their words in their way. That is important because as much as I love the traditional King James Version, it is a foreign language to most people. A comfortable translation choice allows God to speak the language of the reader, a very important consideration. By the way, audio Bibles are also an option.

• Pick the right time and place. Strange as it may seem, not everyone finds an early morning session on an exercise bike the ideal Bible reading time. Each of us has the best time of the day to concentrate and the spot that works best for us. If reading bits during the commercials of a TV show works and allows someone to read the Bible, no problem. I really don’t care when or how people read, I just want them to read.

• Begin with the Gospels. I often suggest the Gospel of Luke mostly because the reader can then move on to Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. Beginning with the story of Jesus and the story of the church helps us understand the basics of the faith and provides a gentle and interesting introduction to the Bible. The thickets of Leviticus and Numbers are somewhat easier when the reader is grounded in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament.

• Set goals. As has often been said, it we aim at nothing, we are sure to hit it. Setting goals for our Bible reading gives us some incentive to keep working. I would suggest modest goals to start with—rather than committing to reading the whole Bible in a week, commit to reading Luke in two weeks or something like that. When that goal is accomplished, move on to another, more demanding goal until the whole Bible is finished. Then, start over again.

• Make use of resources. There are lots of valuable Bible reading resources. There are reading plans that give readings that allow the whole Bible to be covered in 1, 2 or 3 years. Some publishers actually print Bibles based on these plans. There are Bible handbooks that give brief summaries and commentary on the books of the Bible—these help us know what we are reading and give some help with understanding. A Bible reading group could also be a good resource.

For me, the ultimate goal is to encourage everyone to read God’s words to humanity. A lot of our spiritual struggling and confusion and difficulty becomes less of a problem when we know what God has carefully written down for us. And, it you find it easiest to do that while on an exercise bike, that is even better.

May the peace of God be with you.

ITS TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND

Because I am continually beating the drum about reading the Bible, I occasionally have people tell me that they are going to start reading the Bible. I get excited and based on past experience, give them some advice that I hope will help them. Generally, I tell people not to start with Genesis 1.1 and plan on reading through to Revelation 22.21. That method is pretty much doomed to fail. The reader often gets lost in the swamps of Leviticus or founders in the depths of Numbers. If they somehow heroically make it out of the first five books, they tend to lose interest in the repetitious history books.

There are other ways to approach reading—but that is a post for another day. Today, I am going to deal with another issue that often comes up when people make a commitment to growing their faith by reading the Bible. The initial stages go well—but then, things slow down because of a serious problem. The would be reader often comes back to me with a serious complaint—they are reading but they really can’t understand what they are reading. The Bible is just too hard to understand. It may be okay for people like me, who have been to university and have specialized in Bible stuff, but they are lost. It is too hard to understand.

That stops a lot of people. And they have a valid complaint. The Bible is hard to understand, or at least some part of it are hard to understand. We need to remember that the Bible was written and compiled by people from a very different time and culture—or rather times and cultures—from ours. There are references and allusions and details that make absolutely no sense to us when we read them because they come from the realities of people living at least 2000 years ago in places from away, speaking languages that most of us will never encounter, dealing with things that we only read about in the Bible. Of course parts of the Bible are going to be hard to understand.

As part of my spiritual journey, I have come to realize that not only are there parts of the Bible that I struggle to understand but also I don’t actually need to understand. If I don’t understand the ins and outs of the Levitical law code, my personal spiritual growth doesn’t suffer. If I can’t break the poetic message of some of the Psalms, it isn’t going to keep me from coming closer to God. If the symbolism of Daniel and Revelation confuses and irritates me, I am still going to have a spot in heaven.

The bottom line for me is that I don’t think I need to understand the whole Bible. God has given the Bible as his message to all people of all time and that means that the revelation that was so vitally important for the wandering ex-slaves who would form the nation of Israel probably isn’t all that vital for me. I confess to finding Leviticus interesting but if it disappeared from the Bible, my faith wouldn’t really suffer. Some of the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand are perfectly clear to my Kenyan friends. Some parts that neither of us understand will like be very clear to the Martian colonists sitting in their domed shelters 200 years from now.

I don’t need to understand the whole Bible. The whole thing isn’t written for me. What I need to deal with are the parts that were written for me—and to find those, I need to read the whole thing. There isn’t a specific part with my name on it—my parents didn’t give me a Biblical name so I can’t claim one of the books as mine and mine alone. But I have discovered that as I read through the Bible, I keep running into stuff that I do understand because it speaks directly. If I hadn’t systematically read the Bible, I would never have run into Psalm 13, which has and still does provide me with tremendous help during my depressions.

I read a comment one time but can’t remember who it come from. Essentially, the writer said he wasn’t worried about the parts of the Bible he couldn’t understand. He was worried about the parts that he could understand. That works for me.

May the peace of God be with you.

GROWING IN FAITH

One of the consistent themes of my ministry is that people should read the Bible—not occasionally but regularly. And the reading shouldn’t be restricted to “best of”, “favourites” or stuff that we understand—it should be a systematic approach that covers the whole of the Bible within a reasonable time frame. It is relatively easy to read through the while Bible in about a year, although some plans allow for two years.

Because I have a fascination with history, I look at the whole Bible reading thing through a slightly different lens. Because I live in a time and place where there is almost universal literacy, it is difficult for me to imagine a time and place where this wasn’t so. But the truth is that for most of recorded human history, the ability to read and write has been the preserve of an elite group of specialists. Ordinary people generally didn’t have access to nor much need of reading and writing.

Most people were dependent on others to tell them stuff and they then had to either memorize what they had been told or continually return to the teller for refreshers. The person who could remember well generally became a powerful and important part of the culture—an organic library. When Judaism and later Christianity were graced by God with written collections of divine instruction, the majority of believers only had access to those materials through others.

At times, even those who could read didn’t have access to the Scriptures because written materials were scarce and expensive. At some points in history, most churches and leaders probably didn’t own a Bible—and if they did, it was often chained up with carefully controlled access. The open Bibles on the table at the front of many sanctuaries are likely a holdover from the days when that Bible would be the community Bible, the only Bible and maybe even the only book in the community.

So, with that on mind, my historian side prods my Bible reading encouraging side with some questions. No doubt the prodding is encouraged by the side of me that loves to ask difficult questions. Anyway, the question that I look at now and then is something like this, “Why bother to encourage people to read the Bible when the church has managed to survive so long with so few people being able to read the Bible?”

The historian asks and the encourager admits that it is a very good question. And because I am who I am, I can’t put myself off with one of the traditional Christian answers like “because” or “I said so”. I can point out the fact that during those times of restricted access to the Scriptures, the church suffered and struggled with heresies and got off track and wandered in theological wildernesses. However, I also have to remind myself that with almost unlimited access to the Bible, the church today suffers and struggles with heresies and gets off track and wanders in theological wildernesses.

Probably the best reason I can give for reading the Bible is because we can. I don’t like second and third hand sources. I am openly skeptical when someone makes a claim about something they heard from a friend who knows someone whose cousin was there. I am not going to take the latest wonder supplement because “they” say it works miracles. I want more than that. I want to go to the source and find out for myself.

And with my faith, I am no different. I don’t want someone else’s predigested and edited understanding of what God says. I want to read it for myself and spend time with it and work at understanding it. I appreciate the thoughts of others, I enjoy spending time in other understandings of what I am reading—but in the end, I want to spend time in the source myself.

My faith is important to me—too important to let it depend only on what someone else tells me about what they understand about what God is saying to me. I want to head—or read—it for myself. I read my car manual, I study my computer instructions, I read and sort of follow directions—and for the same reason, I read my Bible regularly and systematically. I will pay attention to what someone else tells me, but I still want to get back to the source and because of God’s grace, I can do that.

May the peace of God be with you.