Friday, October 26, 2012

Basic Bible Reading Tips

Thursday afternoon marked the twentieth time I read through the Good Word.  I share this, not to draw attention to myself, but to praise the Lord for the great gift of the Bible through which He has changed my life and planted and is now growing the vocation of the priesthood.  I also use this as an example of what reading the Bible ten to fifteen minutes a day can add up to over a period of years.  (Well, I must add that I had the chance to study the Bible more seriously in a personal and academic way during my six years of seminary, another great blessing in my life and vocation).

I should add that the Lord planted His Word in my heart at a young age.  At the age of seven or eight, I would from time to time pick up my Precious Moments Bible and read.  In third grade I won a Student Bible at a non-denominational Bible camp after memorizing twenty-five Proverbs in a week.  This Bible included a three year track through the Scriptures.  This was quite a task to undertake as an elementary student (I started this project as a ten year old), and after putting this down for several years completed this track (with the seven Deuterocanonical books--the Bible I had won was a Protestant version) in the fall of my junior year of high school.

Another key moment of God feeding the fire in my heart for the Scriptures came in junior high.  During this time I spent a lot of time with my friend, Drew Stifter.  While I neglected my faith as a junior high student, I saw Drew frequently take time to read his Bible when I went to his house.  He left ESPN and video games (neither of which I had at my house) to read.  (I should also mention that Drew won the same Bible that I did in third grade!)

My conversion in the Scriptures came at a Together Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat as a high school student.  During this retreat, one of my best friends (at the time I had just met him), Brandon Moravitz (now Fr. Brandon) was giving a talk about the Scriptures.  As he did he called upon another young man, Ben Frost (another one of my best friends to this day) and asked to use his Bible.  Brandon exhorted us all, "This is what a Bible should look like!"  I saw before me a clearly used book that had stickers on the cover and was filled with highlights, notes, bookmarks and dog ears.  I looked down at my own Bible (the Good News Bible I received at my first TEC weekend) in disappointment.  My Bible had been opened only a couple of times and if I was to sell it on Amazon I would had to label it "like new".  I thought to myself, "My Bible will never look like this again."  I have read my Bible daily since then.

That was over eleven years ago, and I have now been through the Scriptures twenty times since, received an MAT degree in Theology with an emphasis in Scripture, and now have the privilege to work and pray with God's word on a weekly and daily basis in my preaching.  Praise God for Drew, Brandon, Ben and all the men and women who have inspired me in their teaching and writing on the best book of all time.

Here are some of the basics I have learned about Sacred Scripture during this time:

*The Bible is the greatest story ever told for at least two reasons.  First, it is a book that can never be finished (like a novel) as it is deep enough for an elephant to swim in (yet shallow enough for a child to wade in!).  Second, we enter into the story in our own Christian lives.
*I would summarize the Bible in eight words: God loves us.  We sin.  God is faithful.
*If I had to pick one verse to summarize the entire Bible it would be John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
*God's Word is healing, transformative and nourishing in our spiritual, emotional and psychological being.
*We can hear God's voice--the same voice Moses heard on Mount Sinai, the prophets heard in their ministry and the evangelists as well--any moment we choose.  We only have to pick up the Bible and read and pray.  While God could speak to us with a booming voice from the sky (like He did to Saul) he makes Himself utterly simple to us.  All we have to do is open the good Book.
*We should never leave home without the Bible, especially in our technologically advanced world in which the Bible can be downloaded onto a cell phone, tablet or computer.
*As St. Augustine said, the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New.  We ought to read both and this is why we hear from both at Mass.
*We ought to soak in God's Word both in our personal and public prayer lives.  The preeminent place to meditate on the Scriptures is at Mass.
*When it comes to the Old Testament, we cannot lose the forest for the sake of the trees.  Many readers in the twenty-first century Western world are shocked at the violence, confused by all the meticulous laws and may be scandalized by God's choice of the Israelites over all the other nations and people in the world.  We must remember that the Old Testament, on its own, is not complete, and is only fulfilled by Jesus Christ and the New Testament.
*The Scriptures, while necessary in our faith, is not sufficient.  God's Word is actually complete with both Scripture and sacred Tradition.
*The Bible was written by the Holy Spirit Who used men as His sacred authors.  It was written by believers for believers for the sake of belief.  It is not and never was meant to be what we modern readers consider scientific or historical.  This is why we believe the Bible is without error while at the literary level may include things we know not to be the case (for example, the mustard is not the smallest of all seeds, the cosmos was probably not created in seven twenty-four hour days, etc.)
*The official interpretation of the Scriptures belongs to the Church Christ founded.  Jesus did not write the Bible as a man but He gave us a Church who gave us the Scriptures.  Similar to the previous point, the Bible was put together by Christians for Christians for belief in Christ.
*Scriptures + Eucharistic Adoration = Awesome
*The Holy Land is rightly called "the fifth Gospel".  I have had the great privilege to have traveled their and experienced the Word broken open in a whole new way.  If you ever have the chance to go, please do.  You will never read the Gospels, New and Old Testaments the same way again.
*As one of my heros (Fr. Matthew Fedewa, who actually started the TEC retreat program at which I experienced great conversion in my life and who then served as my spiritual director at seminary and also vested me as a priest at my ordination) said, "It isn't about how many times we go through the Scriptures.  It is about how many times the Scriptures go through us."  In addition to reading the Bible, we do well to take time to chew on and meditate with them.  Lectio divina (divine reading) is a great way to do this as we take a small section, verse or parable and read through it slowly and repeatedly and use the words of the sacred text to pray.
*Make a plan to read your Bible every day.

I pray that you will continue to approach the Word of God daily in your personal prayer life and at Mass.  This gift is truly "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (cf. Hebrews 4:12) and will change your life and faith.  Never let your Bible look like mine did as a high school student and wear it out!

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