During the past week, the sun has remained hidden. We had a huge snowfall Friday through Saturday, well even into Sunday. Add to that the low temperatures hovering around 32 for a week, and my brain seems frozen.
For a long time, I have known that when winter moves in and the sun disappears, I can easily fall into a mental slump, and I have to admit I am there right now.
And I have worked not to be stuck inside: I shoveled snow. I took the dogs out with me while I shoveled. In fact, I realized they needed a path to walk around the yard—so I shoveled.
Now here is the thing: that physical work keeps my body moving, but the brain is still struggling. Last week I explained that I dove in to a year-long Bible reading plan. And I can now say I am caught up and on schedule.
As of today, I have read through 42 chapters of Genesis and 14 chapters of Romans. It is a discipline, and for these dreary winter days, I find myself escaping from the foggy days when I pick up my pencil, open the journal, and tackle the reading.
I can understand why John Wesley insisted that Christians read the scripture. There is so much to understand, and having read as much as I previously have, reading it in a disciplined approach is still challenging.
My notes really are not a journal, more they are Cliff-note style. In case that is not familiar to you, Cliff notes are a staple for college students, even high school students, who are reading literature and want a summary or additional notes to supplement the reading.
In a way, I find myself modeling the style of notes John Wesley wrote and are often referenced in the Wesley Study Bible I am using. Maybe I write down too much, but when I write something down I have better memory of what I have read—something I learned about myself in my first college experience.
Reading like this lets me read it somewhat like a book, first. If I don’t get something, I re-read it. If something strikes me as unusual or significant, I write it down along with the summary of what I read.
I am not a fast reader, but I discover that reading three to four chapters in the Bible and making the study notes/journal entries takes me about an hour. I was afraid it would take much longer, so the reading works into my day rather smoothly.
Since last Thursday, I have continued working through the genealogical narrative of the Old Testament faithful. I have read about Abraham and Sarah. I have tried to understand the traditions and the drive that lead Sarah to have Abraham have her handmaiden Hagar so he would have an heir. Therefore Ishmael was a born.
And then there is the surprising change of heart when Sarah does indeed become pregnant with Isaac. She drives away Hagar and Ishmael. She wanted to make sure her son was the heir of Abraham.
The narrative continues and so do the strange customs of marriage and birth that complicate my understanding of the Old Testament. How in the world could a father offer his own son as a blood sacrifice? But his faith and his ability to hear the Lord talk to him, ends with Isaac safe and suddenly there is a substitute ram for the sacrifice.
These books include so many stories. So many examples of how God talks to the people. Over and over, faithful followers manage some terrible life experiences because they maintain a close relationship with God.
What am I learning? Remain faithful. And that means spending time knowing the examples of these ancestors and how their faith was rewarded. The stories teach us the expectations God has for us to live in community with one another.
In fact, this particular reading plan couples a New Testament reading with the Old Testament reading. I was puzzled, as I began, why Genesis would be paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.
The reading plan does not provide any specifics other than the list of daily readings.
And then you read the New Testament reading and you discover the connection. Paul tells the Romans how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of the secular world. Now that is a real life manual we need yet today—2,000 years after Paul wrote the letter.
We need to hear Paul’s advice right now! There is so much information and images that flies at us through the internet, the television, the print media, not to mention all the casual conversations that go on all around us.
The fourteen chapters of Romans contain practical and sensible advice. I probably should be outlining each one separately, but what speaks to me may be the most important lesson for this reading, and then turn around and read it again in a few days, weeks, months or years and something else seems more important.
For instance, today in Romans 14, the subtitle was “Do Not Judge Another.” How easy it is to judge someone. Maybe the judgment comes along political poles, or maybe by the first appearance of a way someone dresses, or maybe it is an action that goes against our personal standards.
In reading Romans 14, I found myself focusing on verse 9: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
Then I read on, and came to versus 13-14: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”
Maybe I am not being concrete in what I am sharing or maybe it is not as coherent as an essay should be. For those possibilities, I apologize. I need sunshine to clear the fog in my brain a bit more.
But, if by sharing some of these thoughts I can trigger someone into reading scripture, then thank goodness. If someone reads scripture and discovers God talking to them, they will discover the joy of living within God’s family.
Dear Heavenly Father,
May these words lead others to discover the grace that you provide. May your words help others to manage life challenges today just as the faithful in ancient times managed. Thank you for those before me who heard your call to write, to preserve, to translate, to publish all these words of the Old Testament and the New Testament so we can hear you talk to us today. –Amen