Bible Study Resources

To truly understand God’s Word requires more than simply reading a convenient copy of it as though it were a history or biography.  Ideally, to delve deep and truly understand, we would read the texts in their original languages.  For most of us, that is impossible.  Even if such copies were readily available to us all, we simply don’t have the necessary language skills.

Fortunately, people who do have those skills and access to original copies, have done the work for us.  That is why there are so many Bible versions available today.  Respected scholars, regularly, go back to the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic sources and retranslate them in an attempt to clarify God’s Word. Today, there are so many different versions, it can be a chore just to make a choice between them.  

Since I am not good at making such a choice, I own many Bibles. They range from the lyrical King James version that I grew up with, to a Living Bible which is a paraphrased version meant to be easier to read.  Some of them I bought, some were gifts, and some I inherited from my mother.  However, the ones I use the most were purchased over the course of the past ten years.  

They are study Bibles.  In addition to the footnotes that you find in almost any version, they have extensive background on the text:

  • Explanations by experts as to when they believe the books were written and by whom.  
  • Context as to the historical periods, the cultural and political forces of the time.  
  • Explanations as to why a certain turn of phrase was chosen over the older form.  
  • References to other books of the Bible that have similar wording and scenes.  
  • Background information that helps us to understand why the author included this story and what it means to us today.

I actually own five such Bibles:

  • The first one, The New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, is a softback copy that I purchased for use with a Sunday School class I was enrolled in at the time.  It’s lightweight and convenient for carrying around. 
  • The second one, Today’s Parallel Bible, I bought as a response to all those confusing choices.  I wanted a simple way to compare the wording of several versions at once.  It contains four versions, including the King James (KJV) that is still my favorite.  
  • The third one lives on my nightstand. It is The Harper Collins Study Bible, a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I bought it because I had settled on it as the one I was going to use for my personal studies.
  • The fourth one, The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible with Apocrypha, also a softback and an NRSV, was a required text for a college course I took.  
  • The fifth one,  The Archaeological Study Bible is an NIV and was a Christmas gift from my daughter, Jeanne.  I had it on my Amazon wish list, intending to buy it myself, and she beat me to it.  I am finding it invaluable.  It goes even beyond the normal study Bible.  It not only expands on things with cross references to other biblical sources and explanations that scholars have researched or interpreted about the text, but also includes secular writings to back up the historicity of the Bible and information about how other ancient religions related to ours.  

As I continue with my Lenten commitment to follow the Lectionary readings every day, the Archaeological Bible is the one I am using.  It helps me to dig deeper into the contexts of what was written and relate it to our modern day lives.  As I post here over the next few weeks, I will try to explain my thoughts and feelings about what I’m finding.  Please, join me on my road to Easter.  I hope you find it, at the least, an interesting trip.

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Searching for Prayer

Over the years, I’ve said the Lord’s Prayer thousands of times.  I’ve taken part in study groups that discussed it.  The consensus being: we frequently tend to simply recite it without thinking about the meaning of the words.  The second factor being: it was never meant to be an actual prayer, but an example of how to pray.  I was looking for a book that would take this idea and expand upon it. 

This month, I’ve been using “Lord Teach Me to Pray in 28 Days” by Kay Arthur for a kind of devotional study.  I bought this book a couple of years ago and this is my third attempt to finish it.  Each time before, I’d get bogged down or distracted, start letting it slide and, eventually leave it on my nightstand to be buried under other books.  This time, I made a commitment, as part of my Lenten observance, to finish it.  I am nearly there.  The book has 28 chapters, obviously, plus four sets of group discussion questions at the back.  Perhaps I would have gotten more out of it in a group setting.

This time, I scanned quickly through the earlier chapters and my notes on each.  As I looked back over them, I found the Lord’s Prayer breakdown I have studied before in Days 3 through 5. It didn’t vary much from previous classes, but it didn’t really expand on them either.  Days 6 through 8 seemed to be general information about the names of God and why we should worship Him. Interesting, but not what I was looking for. Day 9 is where I started to part ways with Arthur.  It was here that she first said, basically, that non-Christians have no right to pray (page 53). The furthest I ever made it before was Day 9. I think this idea may have been the reason I quit reading last time.  I decided that I should give her a fair hearing.  Even though the book wasn’t what I hoped for, I am strong enough in my belief to listen to other points of view.

After my quick review on Tuesday, I started with Day 10 on Ash Wednesday.  I am now on Day 18 and, while I still intend to finish it, I am not in agreement with much of what I’m reading.  Arthur makes some interesting points and I have found some value in what she is saying, but, during this last section, I find myself frequently disagreeing with her premises. I don’t mean to say the book isn’t valuable or that what she says is, necessarily, wrong.  I am simply saying that I don’t agree with some parts of it and, overall, I am not finding it helpful to my current purposes.

I was looking for something that gave me guidance on constructing prayers, on breaking down that Lord’s Prayer “outline” and using it to make my own prayers more meaningful.  Arthur’s purpose seems to be more about getting measurable answers to prayer.  Knowing that God answers prayers is great.  Being able to point to a given situation and say, “Here’s God’s answer!” would be amazing.  But, that’s not what I’m looking for and, as I said, I find myself disagreeing with her opinions at times.  

I know she is a well respected religious teacher and award winning author but, I was raised with the idea that we are not to have blind faith in our leaders.  Each of us is responsible for reading the Bible and drawing our own conclusions.  At the end, we are the ones who must answer to God and He will not excuse us for our sins because we listened to someone else’s interpretation of His Word. So, by my understanding, I have, not only a right, but a duty to disagree.  

First of all, I don’t believe that God doesn’t listen to sinners, that “prayer is a privilege reserved for those that are truly children of God.”  I believe that we are all children of God.  Some of us have a better relationship with Him than others, but He still listens even to those who have turned their backs on Him.  Such is what Jesus meant when He told the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 3-32).  He wanted so much for us to understand this precept that he gave us all three examples on one occasion. 

Secondly, I believe that God hears all prayers.  I can even say I believe that He answers all prayers.  It’s just that we don’t pay enough attention and that we don’t want to accept that sometimes He says, “NO.”  Arthur quotes several verses that, basically, say “Ask and ye shall receive,” but she seems to gloss over the “Thy will by done” aspect.  She appears to think that, if we don’t get the answer we want, it’s because we aren’t real Christians. I can’t begin to address how wrong that seems to me.

I am not finished with the book.  I still have ten more days to go.  Perhaps she will address my conflicts later on but, what I’ve read so far doesn’t seem to agree with my ideas of what the scripture teaches us.  Nevertheless, as I have said, I have found value in some of what I’ve read.  The fact that I disagree with some of her conclusions means she has made me define more clearly my own beliefs and that also has value.

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Beginning My Lenten Journey

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I’ve begun my Journey to draw closer to God.  I am no expert, but I humbly offer my feelings and interpretations of the current study.  The Lectionary readings for today are: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, 2nd Corinthians 5:20-6:10, and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.  

Isaiah speaks to looking for the spirit of religious practice instead of simply following the “traditional” forms.  For me, this hit a political note.  It’s how I feel whenever someone says, “Make America Great Again,” while striking at the foundations of the things that have made us great, like freedom of the press, free speech, support for the poor, and equal rights.   

In my opinion, America is still great.  Those “good old days” weren’t really all that good.  We just hid all the problems behind closed minds.  The results of this election may be a blessing in disguise.  Perhaps we were becoming too complacent.  We thought all those bad old prejudices had been overcome.  Now we see they were just being hidden behind “political correctness.”  Apparently, a large percentage of our citizenry still held to those hateful ways of thought and feeling, they were just afraid to speak out because it was unpopular.  The festering boils of their bigotry, anger, and hatred needed to be lanced and drained.  Hopefully, this will lead to a healthier America.   

The Psalm passage is about the need for God’s forgiveness, the necessity of cleansing ourselves of sinful ways so that we can be forgiven.  This also touched home since we, as a nation, obviously need to cleanse ourselves of prejudice and selfishness.  

2nd Corinthians tells us that we, as Christians, are to be Ambassadors for God.  That it is our job to set examples wherever we go as to the way Jesus taught us we should live.  America has always set an example of equality and opportunity for the world.  We were a symbol of hope.  Lately, we seem to be the opposite.  We need to once again exemplify the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Matthew tells us not to perform acts of charity or worship in the hope of public acclamation.  Christ said, if we go about seeking praise from mankind for how religious we are, then we’ve gotten our reward in this life and have none in the life to come.  He urges us to pray in private and to keep our charitable contributions to ourselves so that we “lay up treasures in heaven.”  We are to be humble and serve the Lord, not bragging about what we do for others.

I’m sure there are deeper philosophical meanings buried in the text.  I know that I am not adequately prepared to understand the full meanings.  I still feel the sting of Literature classes that dug symbolism and allegory out of what seemed to me to be simple stories.  This is one of the reasons I am embarking on this journey.  I need to make an effort to more fully understand the scripture.   I still intend to go back to school and finish my religious studies degree but, that will have to wait until all my grandchildren are all old enough for school.  In the meantime, I will struggle along on my own.  I have many resource books.  I’ve been collecting them for the past four years.  It’s time to stop collecting and start studying.

 

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Lent Is Upon Us

The Easter season has slipped up on me this year, in spite of the fact that it’s later than usual.  It’s hard to believe that Lent starts on Wednesday.  The year is flying by.   My time is usually freer now, but I’ve gotten so used to not having time to write that I’m still letting things slide.  I have, however, been reading again lately.  I usually have two books going at once.  One in the living room for when I’m sitting there with the kids as they play and one beside my bed for winding down at night.  I also have something open in my Kindle app on my phone for when I’m stuck somewhere away from home with nothing much to do.

I’ve got more than a dozen books I’ve downloaded from Amazon or Overdrive this past year that I haven’t read.  As part of my effort to get myself more organized and back to writing, I’ve started working on them.  Some of them are fiction or self-improvement things, others are religious research materials, or cookbooks.  One I’ve just finished is “Confessions of a Prayer Slacker”  by Diane Moody.

The title of this book hit home for me.  I frequently feel guilty because I don’t spend enough time with God.  He gets pushed aside with my busy schedule.  It’s not that I don’t think about Him or try to follow His rules and live by His precepts.  It’s just that I tend to do it all while multitasking.  I know I need to focus and listen sometimes, but it’s usually second, or third, or fourth….and somehow it doesn’t really happen.  To emphasize how bad it has gotten, I downloaded this book on March 16, 2016.  Yes, nearly a year ago.  

So, I finally got around to reading it at a time when I was thinking I’d do a devotional series as part of my Lenten commitment.  I tried something similar last Easter with “Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst.  Some time ago (I really don’t remember how long) I bought “Lord Teach Me to Pray in 28 days” by Kay Arthur.  Yes, this has been a long term struggle.  

The Terkeurst book was a daily devotional covering 60 days.  I did manage to finish it in a timely manner, although, there were times when I had to combine several days together to catch up.  The Arthur book has been on my nightstand for, at least, three years.  I have started it over twice.  I still haven’t finished it.  So finishing Moody’s book in less than a week seems like a big step forward.  Now am working on putting it into practice. 

I own a medium sized Dayrunner that I used for notes and keeping track of meetings when my brother, Jim, and I were actively working our web design business.  It’s a really nice binder in brown leather with a zipper.  I loved using it, but it’s been laying on my desk for a while now.  I have ordered new calendar pages and dividers and I intend to use it for my Lenten devotionals.  I spent nearly $60 on the daily calendar pages, monthly dividers, notes pages, and pockets for storing odds and ends.  I am hoping the expense will give me the added incentive to stay the course.  

I’ve printed out the Lectionary  for March on note pages so I can keep it in the binder.  One thing that Moody recommends is to read a portion of the Bible each day with a goal of finishing the whole thing.  I thought I had read it all, but recent Bible study groups have brought passages to my attention that I don’t remember reading or even hearing before, so I’ve been thinking I need to go there again.

Although this is starting as a Lenten commitment, I hope to develop it into a year long, then a lifetime habit.  As part of that, I plan to do a weekly summary here of what I have discovered along the way, about the Bible, God, and myself.   My plan is to post here on Wednesdays.  Join me, if you are so inclined.  Let’s see if we can build a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father. 

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Working It

I have backed off my plans once again.  Considering my stiffness, aches, and lack of stamina or strength, I have decided I need a couple of weeks of my Pain Free therapy before starting anything more strenuous.  All the experts say to start slow on any new exercise routine.  I have taken a realistic look at my capabilities and considering the fact that, without a strain, I can only do 5 minutes on the bike it doesn’t seem likely I’d be able to handle the Pilates much less the Crunchless Abs or Metabolic Aftershock workouts.  So, two weeks of concentrating on the Pain Free routines while adding in the stationary bike and some Yoga as time and energy permit.  

I feel as though I’ve been procrastinating for the past week, but making a realistic plan is the foundation of success.  The Forward Head Posture Fix doesn’t require much in the way of strength and stamina so I’ll see if I can work that in before bed every night.  Lying on my back on the floor has fully demonstrated the necessity of that.  Hopefully, it will be enough to get me ready for the Pennyrile Spring Photography weekend on the 15th.

I have planned a series of “workouts” based on realigning and strengthening the hips, back, and shoulders.  Since the “core” is accepted as being the most important area for strength,  I’ve included the back positions in both routines.  Like regular athletes, I’ll alternate lower and upper body.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday for lower body and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday for upper.  I intended to start yesterday, but circumstances didn’t align.  I’ve set a new alarm for 6:30 am so that I’ll have time to go through the routine before the kids are up.  So far, that hasn’t happened.  

After yesterday’s short calorie count, I woke up hungry this morning so I ate breakfast, then went to lunch with the photography club.  Knowing it will be a heavy calorie day, I found time after lunch today to do a generalized quick run through with concentration on the back and shoulders.  I plan to work the bike this evening as well.  Hopefully, it will help to offset the pizza Davie wants to fix for supper.  Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll be setting that alarm again.

An inch at a time.  Keep starting over as needed.  My mantra used to be “You haven’t failed until you stop trying.”  I’m reinstating that.  Our fall trip will involve hiking around such places as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.  At the moment, I do well to make it through our monthly grocery shopping trips.  I am determined to regain my ability to walk all day as needed.

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Categories: Diet, Exercise, Health, Random Thoughts | Leave a comment