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How Reading the Bible Changed My Life

When I was eight years old, I was gifted a Bible by Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Dayton, Ohio.  The church gave a Bible to each eight-year-old, but that did not diminish the value of the gold embossed leatherette cover one bit.  I felt special just holding it, but then, the splendor of opening the cover to reveal those precious pages with their own particular crinkly sound; I wanted to keep reading just for the pleasure of turning the page!  My Sunday School teacher said to bring the Bible every week to church so I could follow along in class, but I couldn't wait from week to week, so I would reread the passages and find excuses to turn those pages whenever I could.

The following summer we took a road trip to California, helping family move and visiting my grandparents.  You better believe I packed my Bible for the trip!  When I showed my grandmother, she took a bookmark from her own Bible and gave it to me for mine.  The wide, burgundy satin ribbon was also embossed with gold lettering.  On the top half it read, "Prayer Changes Things", then there was a picture of praying hands below which was a quote from Hebrews: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.  The combination of these two ideas, change and stability, was confusing to me, but I was so pleased with the beautiful gift and felt entrusted with a mystery that my grandmother thought I was capable of understanding.  That small bit of encouragement compelled me to keep reading, and to do so with the goal of unlocking the mystery.

Now, I had also grown up reading Nancy Drew and watching Charlie's Angels, so I was keen to keep digging in order to discover what God had in store for me.  To this day, Hebrews is one of my favorite books because that is where much of my journey began, starting with the verse on my treasured bookmark, Hebrews 13:8.  But the truth is that as I dug in, I also found there to be a lot of competing ideas like change and stability, human and divine, grace and obedience, now and not yet.  There are mysteries of every kind in the pages of scripture, all of them invitations to come closer into the presence of God so that he can show you more.

Thankfully, not everything is a mystery though.  As I approached the challenges of growing up, I looked to my Bible for guidance.  The topics you can now plug into a google search were found in the brief dictionary-concordance at the back of my old Bible.  I began to understand what I read and apply it to my life.  I found passages like Isaiah 41:10 that helped me to navigate fear.
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.
The ancient words of scripture began to shape my views and beliefs.  I did not really wrestle with scripture, questioning its validity, until later in life.  

At some point, the pure joy of crinkly pages wore off and the wonder of simple discoveries faded.  For me, real change started happening when I began to doubt what I read and believed.  When life did not go the way I thought it would, when I could not see God's favor, when I did not feel blessed, I wondered if the Bible was true.  The system did not seem to be working, life was not actually fair, and I got angry.  Spoiler alert, a lot of people in the Bible got angry too!  Now God and I could connect on a much deeper level because I learned that he got angry for some of the same reasons.  For better or worse, anger is my go-to emotion, but I have also learned that my anger can reveal what I love--what I am passionate about.  God and I have some things in common there too.  

Another thing revealed in my anger and the pages of scripture was my sin, specifically just how full of sin and how incapable of controlling it I am.  I know, this does not sound like a good reason to read the Bible, but it really is.  It may even be the best reason, and it certainly is the most life-changing reason because in understanding the reality of who I am, the wonder of who God really is began to finally come into focus.  His love, his healing-salvation, his faithfulness and grace and mercy and majesty can only be appreciated to the degree that I appreciate my own humility and weakness and need.  The beauty of this dance between my lowliness and his awesomeness is the most wonderful expression of the competing ideas found throughout scripture.

It is then that a passage like Psalm 40 becomes the sweetest of love songs and the wonder of those pages returned:
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.

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