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Bibles & Bible Study Tools I’ve Found Helpful Lately

At the end of December, I posted about my crazy Bible reading plan. I made it through, by the skin of my teeth, and though a few times I got a day or two behind, I was finishing Revelation the evening of January 31.

This experience challenged me in ways I never expected.

Can I tell you something? The enemy of our souls does NOT want God’s people falling in love with God’s word, abiding in it, hiding it in our hearts, or obeying it.

I am unapologetically a  fundamental, Evangelical Christian. I grew up in church, where I learned that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I learned all about how it was compiled in college, and experienced a small crisis of faith at the time, eventually coming out on the other side holding all the more firmly to the things I’d been taught.

Now I’m married to a pastor, and we started a church together.

Yet even I, a Bible-believing midwestern pastor’s wife, when I push myself to understand God’s word better, hear whispers of, “what if it isn’t true?

So when I tell you it is okay to entertain doubts, I’m not saying that as someone who stands in a position of authority, looking down on you as weak. I’m saying it as someone who is walking this journey with you, longing to draw near to God, and understand him as fully as my feeble human mind is able.

Now if I let them, the doubts and questions the enemy plants in my mind can drive a wedge between me and my faith. They could fester and grow until they’re so insurmountable that I decide it’s better to call the whole thing bunk and walk away from it. But I don’t think that means I need to avoid them, or push them down deep within myself and try to pretend they don’t exist. Because if we let them, our doubts can also serve to strengthen our faith to draw us closer to the Lord and make us more sure of the hope we have in him.

God’s word is big enough to handle the questions we bring to it. So when you have doubts, don’t stop reading. Read it again. Pray about it. Read some more. Check out a commentary and talk to someone whose opinion you value. And ask more questions if you need to.

I’ve read through the Bible several times before, so I was stunned at the number of questions this read-through raised, and the things I learned. This shouldn’t have come to a shock to me, but I DON’T KNOW EVERY THING. Go figure.

The questions I’m asking are still rolling around in my brain, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to post about some of those things soon. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you a few things I learned from my reading in January, along with a few resources for Bible reading I can recommend.

1 Chronicles
This can be a hard book to get through, especially if you’re new to reading the Bible. I remember really struggling through it when I had to read it in elementary school for what was basically the church version of girl scouts. It opens with nine long chapters of genealogy before it starts telling any stories. But 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and that it’s all useful, so I really wanted to understand this part of the Bible.
I don’t have any conclusive answers, but after reading straight through that entire section of names and places, it seems the writer was trying to paint a picture of how God built the kingdom of Israel. He called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He raised up a nation. From all the tribes, he chose Judah to wear the crown and Levi the priestly ephod. From the families of Levi, he chose Moses as his messenger and Aaron as his high priest. From the families of Judah, he chose the house of David to rule. It takes a lot of names to make this point, but it’s there if you look for it. The rest of 1 and 2 Chronicles continue to tell the story of God’s holy nation slowly descending into idol worship and eventually exile. It was written to the exiles who’d returned as a warning not to follow the same path.

Psalms
Psalms is divided into 5 books. I’d noticed this before but never understood why. They aren’t even divisions, in number of psalms, so they made no sense to me. But I learned that before each new book, the last psalm of the previous book ends with some version of the refrain, “Praise be… Amen.” And when taken together, the collective themes of each book tell the story of Israel – from kingdom to exile, to the rebuilding of the temple.

Mark
This gospel, most likely the earliest, was probably recorded by John Mark, assistant to both Paul and Barnabas in their missionary journeys. But some scholars think that the stories contained in this gospel came from Peter, since Mark would have been with him in the time leading up to his execution as a martyr, and would have wanted to record his memories of Jesus before Peter died. Who knows for sure if this is true, but reading the stories of Mark and imagining I was seeing Jesus through Peter’s eyes made me see this short gospel, one I often disregard in favor of Matthew or Luke, in a new way.

James
Although this is grouped with the epistles, it is really a collection of teachings or sayings rather than a letter. The chapter divisions in this book (as in many others) are completely arbitrary, and it’s better to approach James’s teaching as a bunch of separate ideas, like you would if you were reading Proverbs, rather than as one collective thought.

The Books of the Bible
I cannot espouse the virtues of this Bible enough. All of the insights about Bible books I shared above came from the introductory pages this Bible has before each book and each major division of Scripture. And if you’re looking for a way to study the Bible without the distraction of footnotes, or chapter and verse numbers, this is most definitely the Bible for you.

You Version Bible App
If you have a smartphone, you need this app. I’m not a huge fan of using it exclusively in place of a paper copy of the Bible, but that’s more of personal preference than a theological issue. When I’m at home, I like to read out of books I can hold in my hand and turn the pages. But when I’m in line at the grocery store, or waiting for an appointment, or talking to a friend who has questions, and I don’t have my Bible? This is a great option. And if you’re a pastor, the app has some great features for incorporating technology into your services.

Read and Learn Bible
Next to the Jesus Storybook Bible (which is its own kind of awesome), this is our favorite kids Bible. The stories are brief (good if your kids are wild and have a brief attention span at bedtime like mine always seem to) and true to Scripture. The language is kid-friendly, but it doesn’t add anything to the stories that isn’t in the Bible. It covers a huge number of stories, and the illustrations are great. Caleb will often ask to watch Prince of Egypt and want to use this Bible to follow along with the story. I have a hard time telling him no, even when I think he’s watched too much tv, because, seriously, how precious is that?

So that’s what I’ve been reading, biblically speaking. Do you have anything to add? What Bible study resource is your favorite?

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