There are only two things I know of on this earth that are ever lived in or filled by the Spirit of God: our souls, and His Word. Countless Christians and non-christians alike who could read (and some who couldn't) have reached for a Bible in order to find... Him. Whatever else they thought they were looking for, they were looking for Him! Often, they find Him.
Then, Christians, having found Jesus Christ in the pages of the Bible, having been lost, deeply in love with Him, having found salvation in those pages... many of them keep on reading and seem to find so much... what? More of Him? Or more of... other things? (Or sometimes both?)
For anyone reading the Bible, the experience can either be Him, or not-Him. This is obvious. In connecting our souls to His Word, the real key is still, simply, the actual presence and moving of His Holy Spirit!
But as far as the Bible itself, as a book...
Most books have a main, central purpose: to express, to share, to inform, to educate, to persuade, to inspire, to record... and many parts of the Bible can certainly be placed into all of those categories. Of course, however, it is meant to be so much more. If the Bible is God's book, then it must have been put together for God's purpose. And I believe God truly has only one purpose on earth:
To reveal and to glorify Jesus Christ, more and more!
Whether or not readers "get it", the whole Bible is centered on Jesus. In the new testament, every page is about Him in glorious, wonderful ways. In the Old Testament, it is all really all about Him but in secret, foretelling, predicting, and hidden ways. When the Lord spoke to his prophets about mercy, he was speaking about Jesus, because Jesus Christ himself is mercy. Everything in the Bible, somehow, whether we "get it" or not... it's all really all about Him.
I love the Bible... but I have one major problem with most of the Bibles I find.
Formatting. (It's a publishing issue... now, trust me, this gets good again!)
Too often, for most people, it's not really that readable. At least for me, the formatting actually distracts me from finding my Lord, in the pages: tiny text, distracting footnotes, tiny margins (lack of white space affects the mood of all readers), and a two collumn format that makes me feel like I'm looking at an encyclopedia or school textbook! (Did you ever write a letter to someone, or read a story that was written in a two column, textbook format?).
Also, the 22 letters in the New Testament are grouped by their authors and arranged by their size (big to small). No reader can easily tell when each letter was written, or from where... and the overall context certainly helps to explain why each letter was written... and these are all formatting issues. People go there to find Him, but often, feel distracted and confused... and not always for lack of seeking His spirit... the formatting has an affect on the mindset of the reader; it's too academic-looking, and it's too dense!
But here's the worst formatting problem: chapter and verse numbers.
Scholars who study classic books (like Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Aristotle, Plato and Homer) like to put numbers on each line, so they can reference those numbers when making their arguments and proving their points. I say, the Bible isn't meant for making arguments and proving points. So let's be done with verse numbers! Verse numbers literally, constantly invite people to take sentences out of context. Think about it. Is that helping, or hindering the purpose, I ask you?
The verses were probably meant (by the bishop who wrote them) to help the scribes copy the scriptures, so they could compare - line by line - and make sure there were no mistakes in the new copies that had to be hand made (in Latin!) From there, it just stuck. The negative effects of "verses" were mostly accidental!
Think about this: whenever a person, in real life, tries to prove a point by quoting someone else, the listener's natural instinct is to wonder, "I wonder what the context was, and if it meant what this person is saying it meant." But when a person tries to prove a point by quoting the Bible, many American listeners are soothed (or at least stiffled) if the person simply says what verse it came from. Again, I ask you: does this help, or hinder, the Purpose?
Do you think you've been influenced by "verses"? (What do you have to compare it to?) I know a way that might help you discover the difference. I suggest you try an experiment, to find out if you prefer reading "pure" scripture. But it may take some time... Here's my suggestion: just three simple tasks:
1) Take Paul's letter to the church in Rome and copy it - by hand or by keyboard, whichever is more comfortable for you. (Romans is very long; I suggest you start with Colossians or Philippians first. These are the shortest books that also have lots of Christ in them, in ways that He's easy to find!) While you are copying it, leave out the chapter and verse numbers! (Also, leave out the headings and footnotes; copy only the scripture... you know what it's like having headings and footnotes; I'm suggesting you try it at least once without them.)
2) Then, when your new copy of Paul's letter about Jesus is done, and as soon as you can find the time, go sit in a quiet place, away from distractions, and read it... or, even better, try this: Before you read it, sit quietly for a short time, with one prayer: God, show me Jesus. You don't have to repeat the prayer in your head over and over, just reach out to Him and for Him, and - if you can - feel Him reaching out in His love for you. Relax, clear your mind, and focus on Him. He does love you, you know. Jesus died to prove it!
3) Whenever you start reading, begin at the start, and keep right on going until you get to the end, no matter what happens. Start to finish. If you get distracted, or lose focus on what you are reading, that's fine, but try this: pause a moment and say out loud, "God, show me Jesus." Then pick up right where you were, even if you just realized you weren't paying attention to the last half a page. The idea here is to get from the start to the end, looking for Jesus... it may not be very successful the first several times... but then again, even if it's not a roaring success, it might be Amazing!
If you try these "three simple tasks"... when you're done... would you please send me an e-mail, to let me (and others who find this page) know how the experience went, for you? Did it help? Did you get through it the first time? (If you're "A Definitely Distracted" person, like I am, you might need a few tries at the reading part!) But the big question: did you find more of Him?
By the way, a few years ago I retyped my Bible (well, my NT) and took out the verses, and formatted it just like a story, and put all the letters in their proper place in the story. It took me a year, but it gave me a real solid sense of the overall context... and helped me get past the distracting approach (which I felt) of needing to chop it all up into tiny bits, and analyze each sentence to death. Knowing the whole context helped me get begin to get past the influence of "verses" and the "study" mindset. (**OK, I admit there are times when I study the Bible, and then I use verses... but it isn't my main goal, nor should it be! There ought to be study bibles and yet, also, PURE bibles, too. I'm not against "bible study" per se... but I think the currently typical emphasis on "study" is just way, way out of proportion.**)
Let me repeat myself: In connecting our souls to His Word, the real key is still, simply, the actual presence and moving of His Holy Spirit. My friend, please. Whatever you do when you look at the Bible, I have one hope and prayer for you: that you find Him.
Find him, more and more.
I finally had a minute to sit down and read your Blog entirely. I enjoyed it tho' some of the Blog entries (is this a correct term?) seemed a little lengthy to me.
I would love to read one about what your day is like with your students, or with your wife and children..........
Ma and Da are in Florida- have been since last Friday...and return home tomorrow (Tuesday, June 7)... which is Dottie's 91st birthday!
I love you, Bill.
Hi, Mom! Thanks for reading!
Yeah, this one was a bit long, I know! But it does have to do with my daily activities this week - I'm doing what I suggested! Transcribing and formatting take time!
Sarah says to tell you there's a lot more family and kid news on her blog, which links from here, below my profile. Here's a personal detail: the end of her airplane post made me burst into tears... almost did again, just now, actually.
I love you, and thanks for reading.
Oh, I'm also really glad you liked the Thessalonica story. I like it a lot, too. One of these days I may start a second blog about my ongoing Thess-project... we'll see how the summer goes.
See you soon!
Hi Bill. Loved this entry. One of the better explanations of lectio divina I've read.
BTW, you can post the first few sentences of a longer entry, and then have a "read more" prompt...
By the way, you're listed as of today...get ready for the floodgates to open! ; )
Mike, that sounds like high praise (wish I knew Latin). Glad you liked it! I'll try the "read more idea"... Thanks.
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