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Vince Lombardi (seen above) was a fanatic about teaching and relying on the basics of football.
There’s a story about his reaction to his Green Bay Packers losing to a team they should have beaten handily. At practice the next day – after a loss where the team looked “more like whipped puppies” than a pro team – Lombardi said, “This morning, we go back to basics.” Then, holding up an object for his team, Lombardi said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
So, here are some similar basics – for understanding the Bible. And how reading it can help you become “all that you can be,” like the old Army commercial said.
For starters there’s John 6:37, where Jesus made a promise to each of us, for all time: “anyone who comes to me, I will never turn away.” That’s a promise we can take to the bank, metaphorically speaking. We are “saved,” not by being followers of a particular denomination. (No matter how much some people may say to the contrary.) Instead we are “saved” by starting that “walk toward Jesus,” by starting down that road to knowing Him better.
And one way to start that walk is by reading the Bible on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, too many people try to read the Bible like a novel, starting at the very beginning and moving on to the end. But then they tend to bog down in Leviticus, if they get that far.
Jesus may have known that problem would come up, so He did us a favor. He boiled down the message of the Bible into two simple sentences; a kind of “Cliff-Note” summary:
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
That’s Matthew 22:37, where Jesus boiled the whole Bible down to two simple “shoulds.” You should try all your life to love, experience and get to know “God” with all you have. And to the extent possible, you should try to live peaceably with your “neighbors.”
In plain words, your mission – “should you choose to accept it” – is to become one with the “unified whole” that is our world today.
So, whenever you read something in the Bible that doesn’t make sense, or might mean two different things, or seems contrary to “common sense,” you have this Summary to fall back on. (It also works if you hear something from a slick televangelist that just doesn’t sound right.)
For example, some Christians become “snake handlers,” based on focusing exclusively on Mark 16:17-18, and/or taking that one Scripture-passage out of context: “In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (See the Wikipedia article.)
Other Christians work to develop large families – as a way of showing their faith – again based on focusing exclusively on Psalm 127:3-5, and/or taking that one Scripture-passage out of context: “Children are a gift from God; they are his reward. Children born to a young man are like sharp arrows to defend him. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” (See the Wikipedia article on “Quiverfull.”)
On the other hand, you could approach the Bible as presenting a plain, common-sense view of some people in the past who have achieved that “union with a Higher Power,” that is the goal of most religions and/or other spiritual or ethical disciplines.
So what’s the pay-off?
Simply put, the discipline of regular Bible-reading could lead to a capacity to transcend the painful and negative aspects of life, and the ability to live with “serenity and inner peace.” On the other hand, the discipline could also lead to a your developing a “zest, a fervor and gusto in life plus a much higher ability to function.”
To some people, that flies in the face of the popular view of “Christians,” some of whom seem to revel more in telling others how they should live their lives. But didn’t Jesus say, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”? (John 10:10, RSV, emphasis added. Or as translated in The Living Bible, Paraphrased: “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.”)
So ideally, Bible-reading on a daily basis should not lead to a person who is an intolerant, self-righteous prig, who goes around telling others how to live. (As the Apostle Peter said, “Don’t let me hear of your … being a busybody and prying into other people’s affairs.” See 1st Peter 4:15, The Living Bible translation.)
Instead, Bible-Reading should lead to one who is well-adjusted, open-minded, tolerant of the inherent weaknesses (including his own) of all people. A person able to live life “to the full.”
So how do you do that?
The best answer may come from that great philosopher, Charlie Chan, who once said, “Mind like parachute; work best when open.”
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The image to the left of the paragraph – beginning “In plain words, your mission” is courtesy of Mission: Impossible – Wikipedia.
The Charlie Chan image is courtesy of amazon.com/Charlie-Collection-Honolulu-Treasure.
The “pay-off” references were gleaned from How to Meditate, by Lawrence LeShan, Bantam, 1975.