December 22, 2005

"Magic Eye" Thessalonians

When school's out, I write late at night. My wife is THE BEST to let me sleep in, and my kids play in the living room and make their own cereal! But it's usually the only way I can get accomplished what little I do. So it's after midnight in Texas, and I've been working on Thessalonica... literally, hours of effort for inches of progress. I don't know how to explain my work on Thessalonica, but I want to try. Besides, otherwise, I might not be posting here for a while! :)

Basically, I don't think 1&2 Thessalonians are ALL about the end-times. (Though I get the distinct impression that a lot of preachers and bible-notes-writers disagree.) No. Those letters are about the Lord's love affair with a group of new believers.

I really believe that understanding how or when Jesus might come back had very little to do with anything for 94% of all the saints in Thessalonica. I really think Paul only mentioned those things because some of the Thessalonians themselves were being distracted by a couple or a few philosophical brothers who wanted to quit their jobs and preach as if Jesus could come back at any time. Meanwhile, these guys were mooching off the church! (Because they didn't have jobs.) So, Paul writes a few things to try and address the issue (in order to end it) so the church can get back to loving God and taking care of each other.

So that's what I believe...

But ever since around 400 AD, when the Bible got all those little numbers printed on top of the sentences, I think it got harder and harder for us christians to realize that a LETTER is A (that is, "a", "ah", "one", "uno", "solo", "one whole and single piece of writing") Letter. I think, after that, it got easier and easier for us christians to think of Paul's letters mainly in terms of the most talked-about bits (the most popular 'verses') within each of them. But "verses" were NOT part of the original Letters!

So the Story gets lost in religious ideas. (The whole forest hides behind one or two ugly trees...)

I wonder why no one talks about the need for integrity (meaning, wholeness) in reading Paul's letters. I heard lots of people talk about "the context of a verse"... but who ever talks about the importance of reading a letter from start to finish? Isn't that what the original readers (actually, most of them were only hearers) of those letters did? I can tell you, if the Apostle Paul wrote my church a letter today, we'd take it to the next meeting and read that whole thing from start to finish before we ever started talking about any of the bits he put within it. Wouldn't anyone? It's the only natural, logical, common sense, normal, worthwhile thing anyone could do!

But mostly... for us christians these days... we were trained to see verses.

And we gotta get over that, big time!


So I dare whoever reads this to try an experiment:

1) Take 1 Thessalonians, and then 2 Thessalonians

2) Hand-copy or type each one as a WHOLE letter, without verse or chapter numbers

3) Read it once a day from start to finish. (This might take you 10 minutes, out loud).

4) Repeat step three until you can GET to the finish without getting distracted by religious ideas, and without your mind wandering in between.

5) Try to focus on where the Lord himself is mentioned in the letter, and try to focus also on the actual, real people, places and events that are mentioned during the letter

6) If you're able to relax and just read what it says, from start to finish... like those 'Magic Eye' Pictures, a Story should begin to "Pop-Out" at you. Warning: people with lots of religious training may continue to see only ideas and 'you-gottas' instead of the Lord Himself, His people and real events... at least, for the first dozen or so tries! RELAX! Stop looking at the trees and you might see the forest, for once! Try sitting silently before the Lord for ten minutes, first. Still your brain. Or maybe just pray for a miracle! :)

That's it. Just read your new copy of each letter with these suggestions every day until... well... until it works! I am confident you will find whatever you're looking for. I hope you can learn to look just for the Lord and his church. And if you've been relgiously trained... be patient, and relax. You might eventually enjoy this!

And good luck!


If anyone actually does this experiment... would you please write a comment here afterwards (or during, even) and share what it was like for you? Did anything change? How many times did you have to go through it, before anything changed? Okay... so, for you, what changed? (I'm truly looking to discover, here. I'm HUNGRY to know what others can get out of this... and then share it with me!!!)

By the way, there are four ways to focus on words - eyes, ears, mouth, hand (copying or pointing). I teach my H.S. students (as a study and focusing trick) to read out-loud while pointing at the words. It feels silly, but it quadruples the brain-connections between yourself and the words. (You're using all four 'ways' to focus!) Try it. You'll be surprised how much it helps.

At least, I hope it will help! Hey, it helped me! I did this five years ago, and I was so affected by the Love story that was hiding there in plain sight that I set out to build the whole scenery around that story, so I can tell it one day.

The reason I'm reconstructing Thessalonica is simply to fill in the whole SETTING, so that I can one day tell the STORY of the CHURCH who lived in that CITY. Their story is NOT all about any religious ideas. Their story IS about a love affair between that group of believers and Jesus Christ himself.


So I dare you to try the experiment, above. And I double-dare you NOT to check this link before you've done the experiment yourself! Or, what the heck! Go ahead and cheat! Check the tiny link... but I promise, it'll only help you if you also do your own homework, later! Okay.....? Okaaaay......? Okay? Okay, then. Class dismissed! :)

PS: Merry Christmas!


Anonymous said...

You offer sound advice, Bill; to read First and Second Thessalonians as Paul wrote them, handwritten messages to believers living in Thessalonica.

Many people either forget or are not aware that when reading the writings of Paul, Peter, Jude and every other author of New Testament Scripture, we are reading someone else's mail. The original recipients of these letters had a perspective defined by experience. The authors anticipated this perspective when they wrote the things they did. It is this perspective that we should consider if we are to see the writings as the authors intended the readers to see them.

The background of First Thessalonians includes events recorded by Luke in Acts 17:1-14. Paul speaks of the Thessalonians' endurance of much suffering when they accepted the message of salvation. By reading Acts 17:5 and 17:13, we learn the ones who initiated the suffering are the Jews who did not believe.

First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians are letters, written correspondences from Paul to saints living in Thessalonica. No doubt, Paul meant for the Thessalonians to read them through (or hear them read), from start to finish.

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks for the comments, Rich & Stacey. I appreciate the amen's.

All I can do is share from my own experience. As a new believer, I began reading in 'chunks' but I soon learned to follow the crowd and read 'verses'. Then Gene Edwards turned me on to the overall context of the WHOLE N.T. (see Seedsowers Books, in the sidebar).

Still, reading a whole epistle from start to finish is a challenge for me - I gotta be honest! To really do it, I gotta use most or all of the tips I suggested above. Whenever I take the time, though... it's so much better.

The story comes out, and it's a lot like what Stacey shared - Christ's love within the context of that group of people, and all the practical details of their very real life together.

So that's me! But I'm still patiently eager to hear from others here, who care to take my 'dare'! :)

Whenever they can carve out the quiet 20 minutes or so! :)

I'm dying to hear how it goes....

Bill Heroman said...

....or maybe there's a dozen people typing/writing out their epistles right now? Planning to try it every morning until the story 'pops out' like a MagicEye Picture? So maybe I'll hear from someone about this by February?

I hope so.

Bill Heroman said...


If this is old news to anyone... please tell me where you heard it before... I never have heard anyone say anything close to the overall content of what I shared in this post... but I would be the first to shout for joy if someone knows of another source for anything even sort of similar.

But... if someone says it's "old news", then I'd like them to also check out my "tiny link" at the end of the post, and tell me if THAT was also what they felt and saw, from their reading... and again, if so, then I'll be the first to sit at their feet in amazement, to listen and to learn from them...

I hope... we shall soon see! (?)

Bill Heroman said...

"Its simply a beautiful Love story that is so God. I am amazed how much he loves the "church" in thessalonica..Its so beautiful .. "

Amen, Stacey. Thanks for saying so... and Praise the Lord!!!

bruced said...

Good stuff, Bill! I like the "magic eye" analogy. It's one that I've used many times to help people understand that there is much more to the bible than what's on the surface. Reminds me of a thing I spoke of recently...

Great peace!

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