Tuesday, September 17, 2013

3 Ways How NOT To Read The Bible

The Bible is incredibly valuable. I can't imagine anyone arguing that point. It would be lunacy. The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written over hundreds of years, by many different men who had God-given ability (literally) to accurately record for posterity what I call the sacred writings. The Bible contains history, law, poetry, prophecy, and revelation from God - revelation of who He is and who we are, and what He's done and continues to do. In addition, it gives us the principles of how we should live, and how to be in a right relationship with God through Christ. 

For those deciding to pick up the Bible for the first time, it can be intimidating. "Where do I start?" "Will I be able to understand it?" "How does it apply to me?"

Perhaps the best way to know how to read the Bible is to first know how NOT to read it. 

1. Do NOT Read The Bible With Skepticism
If you are going to read the Bible, read it with the right attitude - humility. Read it with the intention of trying to learn and understand it. If you don't have a teachable spirit - forget it. If you read the scriptures with skepticism, how will you ever get anything out of it? On the other hand, when you read the Bible with the right attitude, you will gain more faith and understanding every time. So read it with curiosity, with awe and wonder, and as one seeking truth.

2. Do NOT Speed-Read The Bible
Once, I took a speed reading course. It was fantastic in developing the practice of scanning text while maintaining good comprehension. Speed reading works well for things like newspapers or general documents. However, the practice of speed reading should never be used on legal papers, technical documents, and especially.......the Bible!

The Bible should be read SLOWLY! - carefully and thoughtfully. Don't rush it. It's ok to read just a little at a time. Reading a few verses a day is better than reading no verses a day, and better than skimming over the verses. Don't try to quickly glance over it just to fulfill a daily Bible reading schedule. In other words, take your time! When it comes to the Bible, it's comprehension first, not speed. And even if you need to re-read some verses a few times, don't feel alone. That's usually what I need to do.

3. Do NOT Read The Bible Haphazardly
Do not open the Bible with your eyes closed, randomly pick a page, place your finger somewhere on the page, open your eyes and then read the verse, thinking that's where God wants you to read. Instead, read purposefully. Make sure you understand how the Bible is divided up. Basically, there is the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is mostly about the nation that God developed and sustained (Israel) through which a Messiah would come. The New Testament is about the Messiah (Jesus) who came through that nation, His life, His mission, and His teachings.

Here's a good way to mark up your Bible's table of contents.......

It's probably not a good idea to just start on page one of the Bible and read it like a novel. First of all, it's not in pure chronological order, and secondly, you can quickly get bogged down with Old Testament law early on, especially when you get into Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So instead of reading haphazardly and randomly, use a reading plan.

If you were to pick up the Bible for the first time, my advice would be to start with the New Testament, with a Gospel, such as the book of Mark. That will give you a rounded view of the life of Jesus. Then read the book of Acts (the history book of the early church). Then go back and read the gospel of John (John's a bit different than the other 3 gospels).

After John, read the book of Matthew, the book of Luke, and then Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. After that, read the rest of the Epistles in order, starting with Romans. (Epistles are simply letters written to Christians). Then read the book of Revelation (just remember this one is full of symbolism). If your Bible has a synopsis at the beginning of each book, I definitely recommend that you read that too. It will help you have a clearer understanding of the context of each book.

At that point, you've read the entire New Testament.  Now it's time for the Old Testament. Jump back and read the book of Genesis. Read Exodus next, then all 12 Old Testament history books (see the chart above).

After that, at your own pace and discretion, alternate between the rest of the Old Testament books and re-reading parts of the New Testament (wherever you want), until you've covered the entire Bible.

Once you've accomplished reading the entire Bible, never stop re-reading it, especially focusing on the New Testament. No matter how many times you read a particular verse or chapter, it seems you always gather something new out of it. Besides, the more you read, the more you gain faith, wisdom, and understanding.

As you read the scriptures, always ask questions like "What can I learn about God from this passage?" or "What does God want me to do from this passage?" or "What can I learn about myself from this passage?" Also, when you are reading scripture, know who is writing it, who it's written to, and know the context (what's before the passage and what's after the passage). And remember, it's ok to read slowly and just a little at a time. Don't read in a big hurry. Read with good comprehension.

One thing is for sure....reading the Bible will change your life - for the better. After all, it's not an ordinary book - it's comprised of sacred writings, and delivers supernatural, Holy Spirit inspired insight and direction in our life, which ultimately leads to a way of salvation and eternal life through Christ! So read it with the right attitude, read it carefully, read it daily, and read it with purpose. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Astronomy, Astrology, and the Bible

I remember when I first began coming across facts about astronomy in the Bible. It was and still is amazing - how the Bible confirms science. Or should I say, science confirms the Bible. When you look at passages that describe the heavens, the stars, the moon, the sun and the earth itself, written long before telescopes were invented, it awakens you to the fact that God is Designer/Creator, and His revelations about the universe are found in scripture.

Many people who lived in the days of Columbus believed the earth was flat. Obviously, they never read the Bible! The prophet Isaiah, who lived approximately 700 years before Christ, describes a round earth. "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth..." (Isaiah 40:22)

The book of Job is considered by most scholars to be the oldest book in the Bible, and yet it implies gravitational forces!  "He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing." (Job 26:7)

Even evaporation is described in the Book of Job!  “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams." (Job 36:27) Wow!  "He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight." (Job 26:8)

Here's a good question for you when you look up into the heavens on a starry night. "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?" (Job 40:26)  Who created all these? Of course, the answer is God. "It is I who made the earth  and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts." (Isaiah 45: 12)

There are some things we simply can't comprehend. Like, where does the universe end? And if it ends, what's on the other side? And maybe there's a reason why we are not able to understand it all. Maybe such mysteries are God's way of demonstrating that His knowledge is far greater than ours. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9)

And we can try with all our might to theorize and speculate how the earth was formed, but to the scientists who leave God out of the picture when it comes to answering the question of how the earth was made, God may very well be saying to them......... “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! (Job 38:4-5a) Ha. I love it when God is being sarcastic!

I think the prophet Jeremiah sums it up pretty well. "He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding." (Jeremiah 51:15)

While astronomy is the science of the universe, astrology, on the other hand, is the practice of tracking the position of celestial bodies with the belief that they influence earthly occurrences and human affairs. Astrology is interesting because it's tied to astronomy, but there is a problem with it. God doesn't like it! And He doesn't like us to use it, especially if we use it as our life's guide.

Are you one of those who can't wait to get the morning paper, or the internet, to see what you daily horoscope says? Maybe you plan your day, or your week, around it. If so, you might want to rethink this practice. God is a jealous God in the sense that He wants your complete trust and faith in Him, and in Him alone. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." (Exodus 20:4-5a...one of the Ten Commandments)

God has made it clear that we should be loyal to Him exclusively, and turn to nothing or no one else. "And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:10b-12a)

Do the planets and their alignment influence us? Maybe. Does a full moon affect man's behavior. It sure seems like it! You see the question is not about whether all these things are real or not. The question is this: "In whom or in what are you placing your trust?" That is exactly what God is asking you!

We can look at the heavens with awe and wonder because the universe is fascinating and incredible. But as far as the stars and planets are concerned, we are warned. "And when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them." (Deuteronomy 4:19a) Over the centuries, mankind has fell to this temptation of looking to the stars and planets as the controlling force in one's life. This distracts tremendously from God Himself. "They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen." (Romans 1:25)

The prophet Isaiah didn't think much highly of astrologers either. "All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you." (Isaiah 47:13)

The bottom line is this.....God wants your trust and faith in Him only. Forget relying on fortune tellers, astrologers, and psychics, or anything else for life's answers. Just rely on Him. That's where our faith should be placed.

And as far as astronomy is concerned, if you are looking to the stars to reveal something to you, let it reveal this.......His glory! "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1)