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I have almost finished reading through the Bible for the 3rd time since seriously giving my life to Christ.  Every single time through, I have changed…I have grown…I have learned new things about the character of God. I’ve been a Christian for the majority of my life and nothing now rings truer to me than the fact that the Words of God are my life.

Most Christians that I meet have never read the Bible through…and if they have it was a drudgery “check the box” type thing.  The first time I read through the Bible, it was because I was being taught error.  I had relied ridiculously too long on my authority figures (my parents, my pastor, my teachers at the Christian school I attended) to throw out bits and pieces of the Word at me with commentary that fit their agenda for the passage.  I know that sounds harsh, but looking back, that was my foundation in the Word.  People teaching me things so that I would do or act or think like they wanted me to.  And guys, let me tell you, the Bible is a GREAT book for behavior control.  It has the scare factor down pat.  It also has the prosperity factor plain as day.  AND you can even find things like genocide, polygamy, and slavery and make it sound like God totally approves.  Truth be told, the Bible can be used by the devil in a variety of manipulating ways.  Didn’t he start in the garden?  “Did God really SAY…?  You know He’s just holding out on you, right?”

The thing is, you will never really know the character of God unless you take the Bible as a whole…unless you see the big picture…unless you sit at His feet and listen for a while.  This is what I did, the first time I read the Bible through from cover to cover.  Well, actually what I did the first time was read and be astounded that nobody had ever told me that…or that I had been told this verse meant something totally out of context…or that I had misunderstood so much about the God that I had fairly rashly given my life to because I didn’t want to go to hell.  I read about people being beaten and mocked and scorned and KILLED for their faith and I thought “how in the world did someone get ‘God wants you to be a millionaire'” from THAT.  I literally felt pretty much fooled as I read through the first time.

And I had a lot of questions too…it’s not like the Bible always explains everything instantly. Why did God not kill Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit?  He had said “eat it and die”…it took me a while of study under some good teachers to realize that they died spiritually that day, while He had mercy on them physically.  Where did Cain’s wife come from?  …most theologians agree that they multiplied quickly and Cain likely married his sister (ewww, incest…I know…people have tried to say God condones that too and He doesn’t…though we don’t have time for the discussion about His Ways of getting things done).   In Leviticus, I wanted to throw in the towel…just give it up…and the chapters on all the genealogies…forget it.  I still skip those unless I am studying under someone who knows what they are talking about.  I chuckled with a friend the other day about the fact that not only are the names brutal, but multiple people used the same unpronounceable name for their kids…so sometimes it is almost impossible to know if it is the “same so and so” without some solid background information.

I was hard on myself the first time around because I still believed that I was justified by works. It was how much I did for God and how perfectly I did it that pleased Him. I read in huge chunks to score more brownie points :).  I got to David and I was SO confused.  THIS was a man after your own heart, God?  Do you know how many times he screwed up?  I mean he had a hero KILLED because he had gotten the man’s wife pregnant.  You sure you don’t want to talk about this a little bit?  Cause I have been working my BEHIND off to get it perfect and I don’t feel any closer to you than King Saul.

You see, I was perfectly happy using the Bible to control my world.  Even though I was miserable doing it, at least I was “safe”.  We like the rules.  We mostly like them when we are good at keeping them…because we can feel good about ourselves when we look around and see others breaking them.  We can feel like God must be beaming with pride that we are getting it right.  David didn’t get it right.  His life turned into a glorious mess.  So why did God single him out as a man after His own heart?  Read the Psalms.  There is where you realize that God treasures intimacy.  He treasures humility.  He treasures people who run to Him when they mess up when everything within them is telling them to hide. He treasures a heart that desires to do the right thing because of an overwhelming love for the Father, not because one wants to look like a perfect child.  He treasures a heart that loves others first and doesn’t waste all the time on introspection.  And His love covers a multitude of sins for the person who loves Him back.

I trudged on through the prophets.  Honestly, the first time I read, all I felt was condemnation and a lot of “God, is it really necessary to tell people that you are going to make them eat their children?” I was thrown off by God’s wrath, not understanding the narrative here…not seeing the mercy in plea after plea and warning after warning of the consequences that come with rebellion.  He waited and waited and waited.  He sent prophet after prophet.  He had warned them when they rebelled and wanted a “king” like all the other nations that it would be nothing but trouble.  Did they listen?  No.  So He went along with their plans watching His chosen people, His prize, His holy generation destroy themselves.  He stepped in and worked even though they had chosen their own path.  And finally, yep…He brought justice.  But His justice was mercy.  If He had walked away and left them to their own devices, they would have been destroyed completely.  His judgment came in a way that left a remnant so that you and me…so that we could hear of His Great Name and His deeds.  He left a remnant because He just couldn’t give up His children.  His portion is the people.  He loves us so.

When I finally got to the Gospels, Jesus brought me to my “working for God’s favor” knees.  He said thing like “You think you are good enough by keeping the law?  If you even LUST in your heart, you have broken it.  You think that you can control your life by obeying the commandments?  Go sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and we’ll talk.”  Everything that I believed about how good I was absolutely failed the test of Christ the King.  The Man blew me away and I was only left with condemnation.  To be honest, the first time through the Word, the accuser of the brethren (Satan), whispered, “See. It’s hopeless.  You will never be good enough.”  The first time through I didn’t fully understand what Christ did on the cross…the fact that He BECAME the once and for all sacrifice for sin…that He saw that humans in their weakness would NEVER be able to become perfect through the law…they needed a Savior.  He saved me on that cross.  He saved you on that cross. He said “Don’t give up. Look at me hanging here for you.  You are precious to Me…why else would I be here?  Don’t give up.  Come to Me. Give it all to Me.”

And if that weren’t enough as I dragged my still condemned works driven self into the writings of the disciples, I realized that His plan didn’t just include salvation.  It included leaving His own Spirit with us when He left the earth.  That SAME Spirit that was in Christ Jesus now dwells in us when we surrender to Him.  The SAME Spirit that raised Him from the dead.  He left that Spirit with us and in us so that we can live out our mission successfully.  I had been taught up until this point that the Holy Spirit was good for a lot of dancing and shouting and running around the church and making people fall out on the ground…oh, and speaking in tongues.  I didn’t know that He was an actual being…an actual down payment of what was to come…an actual powerful and convicting and guiding and protecting force inside of me so I can live out the mission that Christ has given me.  It took me a while and a few studies through these great books to re-frame my beliefs about the Holy Spirit.  Now I see SO many Christians living without His power, direction, guidance, and conviction.  SO many Christians who don’t understand and realize what is available to them through the Holy Spirit.  SO many Christians who think saying “Holy Spirit” makes them a crazy, fanatical charismatic.  Oh does the devil love error.  Error in doctrine, error in theology, fights between denominations…they all play into his distraction and destruction plans quite nicely.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make with this post…which was never about reading through the Bible…the Holy Spirit totally ran this one through twists and turns that I had not planned.  He is always GOOD like that. There are people who stake their whole faith on one portion of the Bible…one platform…one doctrine.  They cling to it like the whole expanse of heaven will fall apart if that ONE thing does not turn out like they believe it is.  These people deal in extremes.  There are the “grace people”.  There are the “you’re going to hell people”.  There are the “predestination people”.  There are the “rapture people”.  There are the “once saved always saved” people.  There are the “10 commandments” people. There are the “choose life” people. There are the “perfect family” people.  There are the “free will” people.  There are the “I’ll fly away” people.  There are the “prosperity” people.  There are the “missions” people.  I really could go on and on, but I think you have met some of the people that I am talking about.  Any time that we take our focus off of the whole character of God and His redemptive plan and start to focus on one aspect of it, we are flirting dangerously with a false god.  It would kinda like people going out and telling others how much of an encourager Candace is.  How she is always encouraging about everything. If you need encouragement definitely go to her.  Suppose one day, a child whose greatest desire is to play in the street comes to me for encouragement.  She (I say “she” because I have a daughter that might totally ask that someday) will be in for a huge surprise.  It is not in my character to encourage people to do things that I know will ultimately harm them.  Yet sometimes, we get stuck on one aspect of God…one portion of His Word.  We cling to the thing that makes the most sense to us…the logical…or what fits with our personality best…or what gives us the greatest “go ahead” with whatever we are wanting to do…or what guilts and controls the people around us the best…or sometimes just whatever place God has US at the time for learning.  Believe me, I’ve been through the Bible 3 times, you can excuse a whole lot of things.  Satan knows it too.  He used the Bible to tempt Jesus.  GUYS.  He used the BIBLE against the Author.  If you don’t think the Bible is a weapon in the enemies arsenal, you are deceived.

Sometimes I AM an encourager…and I encourage you today…if you have not read the Bible through like a normal book, you should do it.  No matter how long it takes and how much you struggle through it.  If you go and do this because you want to know God more…to know His character…to be informed about the faith you have given your life to…I guarantee you will be changed…you will grow…you will find error that you have believed as fact.  EVERY TIME I have traveled through this GREAT book, I have been changed…my perspectives have adjusted to His Light…my desires have become to make His AMAZINGNESS more famous.  Look things up as you go.  Use Google to find commentaries on passages you don’t understand (use Google carefully as you will find the gamut of “commentators”  stick with those who have a spirit of humility…who don’t always claim to know everything about the Word (some of it will be a mystery until heaven)…who are not ugly or critical).

And of course, it is not necessary to only study by reading the Bible through.  There are many great studies out there, great pastors, great teachers, great lovers of Jesus that we should be learning from.  One of my favorite things about my church is the depth of the Word and the availability to study it.  Of course, go to any study that you can go to.  Listen to sermons.  Be in church.  Reading through the Bible will give you some kind of knowledge and point of reference for all these things.  It will allow you to spot error more quickly.  It will give you a sense of the character of God and when someone is abusing the Word for their own agenda.  Start with a children’s Bible or a children’s translation and read it along with a good, easy to read translation like the NIV or the ESV.  I use the Holman Christian Standard Bible and ADORE it.

Don’t take my word for the power of God’s Word to change your life.  Start reading.  He is readily available to any who will make the effort and take the time.  He WANTS to be known by you.  But He’s a God who will make you work for it…because that’s relationship…that’s intimacy.

I am nearing Revelation right now on my 3rd time through.  Truth is, I still don’t get Revelation.  I’ve never done a study on it.  It’s like the “Nightmare on Elm St” of the Bible.  Yet even in this scary book, I see God’s kindness, His compassion, His warning of justice on the horizon.  And I take great comfort that if I stay close to Him, I do not have to fear the future, however hard it gets.  I know the God who will never leave me or forsake me. I know His character more surely than I ever have before.  And I try to rest in the fact that He has overcome the world.

After all, the Bible tells me so.