I am an unrepentant Bible marker.
I had an argument one time in college with a righteous pre-sem guy (aren't they all) who actually took exception to my Bible marking. He thought it unbecoming and he didn't think it was respectful. I disagreed, naturally, and then quoted to him the section of the Lutheran liturgy as found in the "old, red hymnal" aka The Lutheran Hymnal that we should "read, mark, and inwardly digest" the scriptures. That mullified him, but didn't exactly shut him up. As a good righteous pre-sem once he found a topic he became a bit of theological terrier and wouldn't let go.
When I read the scripture I have a pen in hand and highlighter nearby. There are whole pages in my Bible that are highlighted and underlined (sometimes the underlines are three different colors... three different times I've visited that verse or verses). I often cross reference verses to other verses that I've come across and think that one goes well with the other. So, the margins of my Concordia Self-Study Bible are often full of thoughts and observations, there are also old class notes from the Old Testament and New Testament classes I took while I was attending Concordia University (when it was still located in Austin, just north of University of Texas... home...). In short, it is a well, worked-over Bible. I have others that I use from time to time, but my first Self-Study is the old standby, the go to Bible, as it were. Sadly, I don't read it as often as I should. It gets tucked in a corner on my desk, or on the floor by my bed and I see it and think "gee, I should read that..." but more often than not, I get sidetracked by something (or someone) else and the thought goes away, much to my detriment. But, every now and again, I do follow through with the thought and open it up and start to read. Sometimes I just read where it opens, other times, I flip through until I find a page that I've marked (usually heavily) and start reading the notes to self and then go the actual scripture and try and reconnect with that person that read that particular scripture before. In short, I guess, those markings and underlinings are landmarks and spiritual tracks for me to follow, recognize, and to add to.
I also have the regally named Lutheran Study Bible. Its nice, but there's no room in the margins for personal notation. Besides I find the ESV (English Standard Version) to be a tad clunky and it doesn't flow quite as nicely as the NIV (New International Version). I use the Lutheran Study Bible more as a backup and reference book for my Self-Study. All this, though, is, I guess, back story.
This week has been trying for me. It has really thrown me for a loop. I needed some comfort today. It was one of those weeks that makes Jeremiah 29:11-14 relevant:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (NIV).I first found this verse shortly after my own seminary experience (yes, I, too, was a righteous pre-sem guy, though I never actually declared myself such in my college studies, I kind of fell into it). My seminary experience was, to put it delicately, difficult. I didn't do very well and left after my second quarter. I'll leave it at that. At the time, I was reading the Old Testament backwards, meaning I started with the smaller "minor prophet" (Malachai, Zechariah, Nahum) books and worked my way towards the bigger, meatier stuff at the beginning. (I did this because I'd tried to go from Genesis 1 forward many times, but would get bogged down in the heavy law books of Leviticus and such, I figured that if I got the "little guys" taken care of first I'd get traction and read the whole of the Old Testament-- kind of like Dave Ramsey's "debt snowball" only in a Biblical sense... sort of...) I was at a loss. I had just left seminary, I didn't have a clue what I was to do, or God wanted me to do, I was, as they say, a drift spiritually, but I was in the Word. And being in the Word at a time like that is the best time to be in the Word because your (my) Spirit is looking for some serious nourishment.
I can still remember the awe that I felt from those verses. I think I read that collection of verses for three or four days straight, over and over again. I wrote the following in the margin on April 4, 1999, I know that it was the day because I actually dated the comment.
He has a plan for me, too! i do not know what it is, but He is in charge. I have to give Him control. He will let me in & know what I am supposed to when the proper time comes.
I must have felt that dating it was important, to give myself an exact moment that I could go back to. And eleven years later, it has done what it was supposed to do. Given me a grounding to start from. At some point, I don't know when, I didn't date it I wrote simply "This is a painful lesson to learn sometimes" and connected it to original scribble with a simple black arrow.
There is more to this. There are eight other verses that I cross referenced to Jeremiah 29:11-14. They add to it, embellish it and give it more force and, to large degree, more comfort. They cross referenced verses help me to focus in, get my head right, and face forward.
The cross references come from my own reading of scripture. I am also a "fan" of the phrase "let scripture interpret scripture" and a firm believer in 2 Timothy 3:14-17:
continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)
Jeremiah 29:11-14 is a comfort verse to me. I often come back to it and read it and meditate on it. It does my soul good to have this soft, spiritual pat on the back from time to time. I have the thing memorized, but reading it, that's the key. That's the thing that really cements it. But the other verses I find, they tend to be the things that give the verse its legs and allow it to move around a bit and give it some "oomph."
Isiah 58:11 is just such a verse. It really gets to the heart of the thing.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. (NIV)
This verse makes me relax. Its the same feeling I get after reading Psalm 23, the first four verses:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (NIV)
I know that I am not alone. That I have someone watching out for me. Someone who cares so much for me that He gave His only son to die that I might live. That's some pretty heady stuff. I mean Joey Lawrence "Whoa!" kind of stuff. I know and more importantly I believe it, but sometimes, through a nudge, I need to be reminded that I know and believe it. Sometimes the world just takes me for a ride and I don't know where I'm going or headed and need these spiritual rest areas to catch a breath. That's what these verse do for me. Let me catch my breath, get my bearings and move forward.
The next two verses that I've attached Jeremiah come from the Gospels. The first is from Matthew 6 when Jesus says to us:
“...do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.(NIV)
More often than not, that is my worry. Right there. I'm worried about how I am going to take care of myself, how I am going to pay my bills. How I am going to take care of those who I love. This is just one of those hey-man-chill-I-got-this verses that takes a few loads off my shoulders and back. In short, that verse from Luke is kind a "let go and let God" verse. To a degree, I guess all of the verses I'm highlighting here are that type; and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is, in fact, a very good thing as far as I am concerned. We all have our own worries. From this blog you can kind of tell where my worries tend sit and come from: the unknown and life change. Two biggies, I guess.
The second verse I have written in the margin is Luke 12:22-34. It is almost a direct requote of Matthew 6. In it Jesus tells us:
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
There are two phrases the stand out to me in this. The first is "O you of little faith!" As I read this I can almost hear Jesus becoming exasperated with me. Its not so much a back slap with this verse as it is more of a back-of-the-head smack. Its like Jesus is saying "if you're worrying, that means you faith is lacking." Which, I guess, when one thinks of antonyms the opposite of "faith" might be "worry."
The phrase the sticks out is "do not be afraid little flock." Wow! "Don't be afraid! That big bad wolf of a world won't be harming you this day, Karl. I am the Good Shepherd. I've got my rock and my staff... you are protected." See how I think? How before long that little gnawing worry turns into something overwhelming? I really do need this spiritual retread from time to time. I need to read these words repeatedly to keep me calmed and focused.
The next verse that must of meant something to me is from Ecclesiastes 7:14-18. It is almost funny.
When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, a man cannot discover
anything about his future.
15 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
a righteous man perishing in his righteousness,
and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.
16 Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid all extremes. (NIV)
My relationship with Ecclesiastes is one of caution. I made the mistake of reading Ecclesiastes for the first time right after I graduated from college. Nothing quite like having God tell you that wisdom is meaningless. Great! Thanks. But Ecclesiastes has a lot to it. And that verse quoted above is certainly one of the meatiest parts to it, at least for me. Ecclesiastes is an amazing book that rewards me with insight every time I read it and for that I am beyond thankful. I wrote next to this verse in blue pen the following: "Don't dwell on where you are-- look to where you are going." I tend to dwell and analyze and overthink my situations as I encounter them. That is not a bad thing, per se, but it can get in the way and make it difficult to make decisions. I try and look at all possibilities and angles. Invariably I miss an angle or neglect a possibility. I should probably write this one down on a note card and carry it with me everywhere I go.
The next two come from Isiah. That big honking book in the middle of it all. Its one of those meaty books that makes you slow down read carefully and look deep. You don't want to miss anything on this ride here, but often you do. So you go back and reread and reread (with pen in hand and highlighter nearby). I found this one quite by accident. I stumbled upon it when I was looking for the chapter that comes after it. Isiah 40:28-31 says:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (NIV)
This is another one of those comforting verses. It doesn't smack me around. It builds me up. It kind of says to me "look, you're human, you're gonna have human problems, human foibles, and human worries; but, the weak are made strong, and your doubts will be eased." It is a breath of fresh air, an ice cold glass of sweet tea on a hot day. It is refreshing. And gives strength when strength is needed and peace of mind when peace of mind is prescribed. The second half of this verse is even more amazing read it one more time:
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.(NIV)
Pow! Gets you, doesn't it? Kind of puts the air back in the tire. You cast your worries aside and put your faith in God and you're going to do amazing things. You will be able to carry on. That just rocks. Kind of grabs you just makes you feel like you can take on the world. Nothing can stop you and get in your way except yourself.
Why is it that God is constantly giving Israel comfort? What do they have to be afraid of? Let's see, they have Cannannites, Hitittites, Philistines, gunning for them and causing them all kinds of fits because they don't want the Israelites where they are, so they have external pressure. Then inside the nation of Israel you start dealing with crazy kings and golden calf. Those poor Israelites were being pulled eighty different directions! Its no wonder they were constantly in getting a talking to from God, which I'm sure to some degree DIDN'T help the situation one iota. Imagine God having a sitdown with you because you did something He didn't like. Yeah, I'm all about having a good case of the worries.
Which leads me to Isiah 41:10,13:
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand....
13 For I am the LORD, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
O little Israel,
for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. (NIV)
This one is for strength. We've had the comfort. We've had the "look-I'll-take-of-this-you-just-hang-back," now we get the strength. Its time to build on the rubble of the worries we've had.
I worked at a summer camp in Texas for four summers during my college years. Camp Lone Star was an amazing place. It helped me immeasurably and to this day, every day, something I learned there helps me. There was a challenge course at this camp and there was on element that I absolutely loved to take my kids to. We called it the "Berlin Wall." It was a long horizontal wall that had pegs, pieces of wood attached to it. The goal was to get everyone across that wall from one side to another. There were tires that we placed at intervals along the wall that campers could use to rest, or get their bearings. It wasn't an easy element and it took a lot of strength. Recently, I have started to think of this element as a physical representation of the relationship I have with God when I get in too deep with worries, frets, and frustrations. As the kids navigated this wall, I'd walk behind them. I was there for safety, to make sure if a kid fell they wouldn't get hurt, but I started to do something else. I'd push against their back with my hand. And at first I could feel the kid tense up a bit, not sure what I was doing, but as they climbed across that wall they'd start to lean back on the hand and take pressure from their arms and transfer it to mine. Then they'd be able to hop from tire to tire and before long be at the far end.
As we debriefed the kids I'd often ask them what they felt as they were clambering on that wall. They'd say stuff like "man, that was tough, I felt frustration" that kind of stuff, but eventually after they talked about what they felt inside they'd say something about "and I felt your hand on my back, Peanut." And they'd say "it helped me, man, it really did." I'd smile and I'd say something like "that was my hand, yes, but I want you to think that in your daily life when you have a struggle that hand you feel on your back won't be mine, but God's. He's the one that will help you." I must of said that a hundred times to a thousand kids, but every time I said it, I was saying it to myself. I needed to hear that just as badly as they did.
Then we get to Job. Good old Job. If there is one guy in all of scripture who should get a pass when it comes to the worry-card it's gotta be our good friend Job. The guy earned the right to be a worrywart or at the very least bitter, but it doesn't turn out that way. After everything happens to him, he's still the guy that exclaims "I know that my redeemer lives!" I scribbled in the margin this verse from Job. Chapter 8, verses 5-7:
But if you will look to God
and plead with the Almighty,
6 if you are pure and upright,
even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
and restore you to your rightful place.
7 Your beginnings will seem humble,
so prosperous will your future be. (NIV)
Job is an interesting book because it is a play, in essence. In the 20th century it was in fact turned into a play for the stage. The above verse was said by Bildad, a friend of Job's who had come to comfort him in his time of loss and struggle. He meant well, but he fell short. But one can still find comfort in the words he spoke if taken a tad out of context. If you do pray to God, maybe even plead, you will be picked up, helped, strengthened. And that is important to keep in mind. A little nugget, if you will. Something to hang your hat on. Something to chew on and be thankful for.
Suddenly, though, I have three other verses that I attached to Job. You see how this can kind of get out of hand? You start hopscotching through the Word. Its a beautiful thing. The first one goes back to Jeremiah. But the second takes me back to Psalms. Psalm 40:5 which says
Many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare. (NIV)
and Isiah 55:12, which for my money has one of the best declarative sentences in all of scripture:
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands. (NIV) (emphasis added).
I love this for the simple reason that after we get over the worries and fear and even in the midst of them we are commanded to go and worship Him. What an amazing thing! How wonderful! This speaks to the last few verses of Jer. 29:11-14:
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Getting out of the worry. Bringing it around to the peace. That's what its about here, at least to me. The captivity God speaks of here is the slavery the Hebrew nation was held in Egypt. For us, this could mean our daily struggles with sin and temptation and the World around us. God is giving us a hand, helping us up, keeping us steady. And this, maybe just maybe is God's way of saying "you BEST recognize!" Or better put, "worship me, you are loved."
And then finally, I cross referenced 1 Corinthians 10:13. Paul writes: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (NIV) The most important part of this verse to me, in the context of this long overly written blog post is the final portion of the verse: "he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it." That is the key. The lynch pin. The keystone. That way out is prayer. Prayer from the heart. Fully engaged prayer. His hand will be upon you, us, me. He will hold you up against that wall, allowing you a rest. He will lift you up. He will bless you. He will lead you. Remember he has plans to prosper you. He knows what's coming. There will be tests, it may feel like you're going into the valley, but remember the key phrase to that is "walk through."
I am in the midst of worrying about things I have no control over. I'm walking 'through' a valley. The mountaintop is coming, I'll get there. I'm just gonna need help. And that help is nearby waiting, ready, and willing. All I gotta do is ask. And that is the most important thing.
I'm blessed and for that I am thankful.