Reading scripture is challenging. It’s an ancient compilation of documents, written by multiple people and communities over centuries of history, reflecting multiple cultures. The Bible is a whole different world from our own. Those barriers can be daunting. Sometime so daunting we leave it to “religious professionals”.
That said, God speaks simply and clearly through scripture despite all these challenges. So simply and clearly that a little child can read it’s stories and know God and be changed. It’s true, the more time we invest and the better we understand the nuances of scripture the more “at home” we feel in the strange world of the Bible.
Here are some tips for simply starting and trust that God can speak simply and clearly to you.
Just start. Like anything, showing up and beginning are critical. Start with a simple prayer: “God if you are real, and if you speak through this word, help me hear you.”
Don’t start alone. Ask someone to give you suggestions about where to start. Ask that same someone if they will read with you. Talk with each other about what you’re reading.
Focus on what you do understand, not what you don’t. You’ll have lots of questions and be confused by many things as you read scripture. But as you read some things will be crystal clear. Focus on what you do understand.
Here are some simple questions to guide you as you start reading:
What did you like or find interesting about what you read?
What troubled you or what questions do you have about what you read?
What do you sense God is asking you to do or to be as a result of reading this text? Obey what you know. Mark Twain famously said, “I ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.”
Who should I share this with? For example, you might tell a friend or a loved one: “I was reading this story about loving one another and I thought you might enjoy it too.”
The miracle of Christmas includes a “yes” and a “no”. Just as the empty tomb is the sign of the resurrection, the womb is the sign of the mystery of the Son of God fully human – incarnate. The “no” according to Barth’s reflection on the mystery is contained in the phrase “born of the virgin Mary.” Mary’s virgin birth indicates, as Barth says, that “human nature possesses no capacity for becoming the human nature of Jesus Christ”. The ordinary stuff of human life in its brokenness cannot manufacture the extraordinary stuff of divine life in its fullness.
The miracle of
Christmas has a resounding “yes” contained in the phrase “conceived by the Holy
Spirit.” The loving freedom of God determines to be present with man but also
determines that man be present with God. This is totally God’s doing. The event
of God with us in the Christ child is impossibility overwhelmed by eternal possibility.
No amount of social engineering, self-improvement, improved knowledge or
ingenuity; no amount of earthly power wielded could make such a mystery
At a time and in a culture where we have the luxury of pursuing self-fulfillment, self-improvement and self-actualization, it seems strange that we are helpless to manufacture the mystery. It’s God’s initiative and loving determination alone. Jesus is conceived by the
Holy Spirit and no
other. We are conceived into new life in Christ by the Holy Spirit and no
The presence of
the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is really the presence of God being
born in us. In a sense every believer is an immaculate conception. This life of
faith in Jesus and our love and obedience are only possible because of God’s
imitative and not our own. It’s beautiful. Jesus takes on flesh to be near us
but also takes on flesh that we might be near him. The Holy Spirit is not just
present in our joys and sorrows but because he desires that we also be with him
the Spirit draws us beyond our present joys and sorrows.
The more followers
of Jesus ponder this mystery and the sign that points to the mystery the more
overwhelmed we become by the impossibility of it all. God with us! Us with God!
We do not deserve or earn such a tender kindness. It is a gift that plunges us
into a mystery. It’s life changing to start to dwell deeply on God’s tenderness
toward us. When we see ourselves as objects of this love life is different.
It’s a new life.
happens when by the power of the Holy Spirit we see others as objects of divine
love. At first we imagine this love for those like us and our close family and
friends. But the more we ponder the mystery, the more its radical nature moves
us to imagine this love for those different from us. Not only that we begin to
imagine the Holy Spirit conceiving something new and life giving in the lives
of our worst enemies and the people we consider most repulsive.
It makes sense. While we were
enemies of God, he drew close to us and drew us to himself. As Barth described
the union we enjoy, “Though the Spirit it become really possible for the
creature, for man, to be there and to be free for God.” – free to love the
loveless as God does.