Thursday, August 24, 2017

Three Steps To Improve Your Bible Reading Time




As I wrote in an earlier post, the Bible is both the best-selling book in the world and one of the least-read. This is particularly tragic because the Bible is the one book that has the ability to literally change our lives (see Psalm 119:11, Romans 10:17). I think the main reason many either don’t read it or read it very little is that they have no real plan for getting the most out of their Bible reading time.

There are several key factors when it comes to reading the Bible. One of the most important is using a translation that you are comfortable with. Most will never read the Bible in the original Greek or Hebrew (although that is a worthy endeavor if you are so inclined), so an English translation that is readable for you is critical.

Another consideration is understanding the difference between Bible reading and Bible study. Both are key aspects of the Christian life, but they are not the same thing. Bible reading is exactly that: spending time reading it, much like you would any other book you read purely for enjoyment. Bible study involves the use of lexicons, dictionaries, histories, maps, commentaries, and other tools to more closely examine a particular passage, person, or theme. The problem with not recognizing this difference is that you can spend a great deal of time reading about the Bible without ever actually reading it. As the late, great Johnny Cash once joked, “the Bible sure does shed a lot of light on all those commentaries.”

Therefore, when it comes to actual Bible reading, I believe there are three things you can do that will make your time profitable, and they actually go beyond just reading: reading the Word, hearing the Word, and writing the Word.

1. Read the Word (Luke 4:16). This is the most obvious aspect of Bible reading. It involves simply going somewhere quiet and reading. Some can do this in a crowded Starbucks without being distracted, while others need the silence of an empty house. Either way, commit to a specific period of time and stick to it; fifteen minutes is a good start for most.

Don’t simply flip around reading random verses; you wouldn’t do that with any other book and hope to understand it, and the Bible is no different. Try to always read at least a chapter (in a long book like Genesis) or the whole book (for shorter ones like James or Jonah). This will keep things in context and make understanding easier. Also, if your pastor uses a particular version when preaching and you are comfortable reading it, it can be helpful to use that same translation. This will make the transition from reading during the week to hearing on Sunday easier.

2. Hear the Word (Romans 10:17). It is well-documented that we retain information best if we receive it a number of different formats. Since nearly every Bible version is available on CD, mp3, or streaming online today, hearing the Word is easier now than at any time in our history. Whether you listen at work, home or in the car, hearing the Bible read by someone else is an excellent way to reinforce your reading. Be sure you are using the same translation for listening that you are for reading.

3. Write the Word (Deuteronomy 6:9). This is an exercise that can have many benefits, from reinforcing what you have read and heard to being an act of worship in itself. Simply get a good quality notebook or stationery and copy down the text you are reading longhand. Copying the text will force you to focus on the entire passage rather than simply skimming it and will help it become more firmly planted in your mind and heart. An added benefit is that once you have gone through the entire New Testament or even the entire Bible, you will have a copy of God’s Word in your own handwriting that will be special to you and can be handed down to your children as well.

I believe that this combination of reading, hearing, and writing is not only beneficial but also Biblical (be sure to look up the verses cited for each of the three activities above). Practicing this in conjunction with your normal prayer and study time can greatly enhance your enjoyment and understanding of God’s word. Now stop reading this and go read your Bible. To quote Saint Jerome, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."



Friday, August 18, 2017

The Best-Selling Book We're Not Reading



I thought my first post-welcome post should be a few thoughts on the Bible. Then I realized that I would be insane to think I could even scratch the surface. Fortunately, I am a little insane. But where to start?

I could comment on the recent trend of action-hero Biblical movies that bear no resemblance to the original story: Russell Crowe as a rugged Noah? Christian Bale as a sword-wielding Moses? What's next, Robert Downey Jr. as Jesus in The Savior Strikes Back? The less said about this development, the better.

Or maybe we could wade into the ongoing debate (at least within Evangelical circles) about which translation of the Bible is the "right" one. The danger in that is the risk of the King James Version Only faction coming after me with torches and pitchforks. Contrary to what they might tell you, it is not the version Jesus read, and the last edition of Webster's dictionary that contained all of the words in the KJV came out around 1850. It is an amazing, beautiful version that was written so that the common man could understand it...in 1611. My advice on Bible versions: get the one you will actually read.

Which brings us to the area of Bible discussion I have settled on for this post. If you ask people to name the best-selling book of all time, some will say The DaVinci Code or one of the Harry Potter books, but most will correctly name the Bible as the all-time best seller. The folks at Guinness World Records estimate 5 billion copies have been printed. Yet in spite of these mind-boggling numbers, it is also the least-read book in America today.

Don't get me wrong; most people in America own a Bible, and a large number own more than one. But to borrow the line from a less biblical question, 90% of people don't read the Bible, and the other 10% lie about it. Even many regular churchgoers in the Bible Belt only dust their copy off long enough to carry into Sunday services; they then toss it into the back seat of their SUV until the next week.

We weren't always biblically illiterate; only a generation ago most Americans were at least familiar with the majority of the Bible stories, if not the theology contained in them. That's not true anymore, and if you think I'm exaggerating, consider the following responses to some simple Bible knowledge questions:

In the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, "Am I my brother's son?"

Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients.

Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.

Samson slew the Philistines with the Axe of the Apostles.

Lot's wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire at night.

Noah's wife was Joan of Ark.

It was a miracle when Jesus rose from the dead and managed to get the tombstone off the entrance.

Keep in mind that these responses came from children ranging from elementary to high school, in Christian schools. How much worse would the average "man on the street" do, since many can't find the Pacific Ocean on a map of the U.S.? But that's another rant for another day.

Before you argue that Biblical literacy is irrelevant, consider this: many of our laws are based on the Bible, and much of the great art and literature of the Western world was inspired by the Bible. Not knowing anything at all about the Bible makes it impossible to really understand references in works from (to name just a few) Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Martin Luther King, even Springsteen (yes Springsteen) since all of these owe the Bible a debt for their content. And that's just looking at it from a practical standpoint.

There is also, clearly and most importantly, the spiritual aspect of Bible reading. I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and is nothing less than God's revelation of himself to us. I like the way The Message version translates 2 Timothy 3:16:

"Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way."

While God has never spoken to me audibly, He has spoken to me through the words of the Bible more times than I can count. And for those who say it's full of errors...show me some.

Here's a challenge: try reading the Bible for 15 minutes a day for 30 days. Start with Mark's gospel, then read Acts (not Axe). These will cover the story of Jesus and the early church, and don't have long lists of names no one can pronounce. Try either the New International Version or the New Living Translation as both are extremely readable. At the very least your literary, historical, and cultural literacy will improve considerably; the Bible has wars and romance and treachery and heartbreak and redemption, just like a good novel. Unlike a novel, though, it has so much more than that.

So be warned: once you start reading the Bible, it can be hard to stop. And if you're not careful, it just might change your life.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Welcome


Welcome to Light in the Darkness. If a Google search of Springsteen's Light of Day or Darkness on the Edge of Town landed you here, feel free to hang around for a while before continuing your musical journey. The subtitle pretty much sums up who the blog is for: seekers, skeptics, and believers...in other words, everyone.

It won't take long for the observant reader to figure out what this blog is about (not so subtle hint: Jesus. I debated with myself for a long while before starting it, because Lord knows (pun intended) that there are a ton of similar sites out there. But then again, maybe not so similar. Consider who finally convinced me to do it; not a pastor or mentor, but a magician. An atheist magician no less:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward...how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” - Penn Jillette of the duo Penn & Teller

Like I said, maybe not so similar to other blogs on the subject, since I've mentioned two Springsteen songs and quoted an atheist while only mentioning Jesus once. And that's important if we're going to engage in any kind of real conversation, the kind of conversation we need now more than ever. I'm not some Ivory Tower theological academic and definitely not a fire-and-brimstone prophet, though both of those have their place in this conversation. I am just like you: I have good days and bad days, love my kids while occasionally wanting to strangle them, and still hope that some day I will be a roadie for the E Street Band. To paraphrase Penn above, I do believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that everlasting life is possible by following, really following, Jesus. And since I don't hate you (quite the opposite), I need to tell you about it...no matter how socially awkward things might get.

When you think about it, the real question is why we don't all talk about it more, regardless of what we believe. I have urged total strangers I see in bookstores to read Zafon's novel The Shadow of the Wind for nearly a decade, and will extol the virtues of Bruce Springsteen to anyone who stops long enough to listen. Again to quote Penn, "this is more important than that."

So I hope you'll stop by again, read and ponder, comment and debate, encourage and question, and just generally get involved. It will be quite a journey.