Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tired but happy

I'm sitting in O'Hare airport in Chicago, waiting for my connecting flight to New Orleans. I'm tired, but happy.

Last night at the jail we had a blast. Five inmates joined Carla and I for Bible study. Most of them have never read the Bible before, so I began with an explanation of how the Bible is organized. I explained my own frustration the first time I tried to read the Bible: I figured you read it like any other book, so I started at Genesis and worked my way back. I got to somewhere in Leviticus and gave up. I certainly didn't see Jesus anywhere in there!

The method I came up with for explaining the organization of the Bible is this: I compare it to a library and explain that just as a library has diffent genres of books, so does the Bible. I also explain that the books contained within the Bible were originally written on large scrolls. The scrolls were organized, not so much by chronology, but by genre. I show the two divisions of the Christian Bible and explain "Old Testament" essentially means (the Old Contract). I describe briefly
God's covenant with Abraham to bless all people through his seed. I then quickly go through the OT books; pointing out the five Books of Moses, the history books, the poetry/wisdom books and the prophets. While in the prophets I explain that their purpose was not to predict the future (as is commonly believed by people new to the Bible) but to confront Israel--Abraham's seed--for not hold up their end of the Covenant. Their job was to reflect God by being just, compassionate, merciful, fair, etc.

I also explain that the Old Testament is like a big arrow that points forward towards Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant.

I then explain the Gospels: These show us who Jesus was, what He did and what He taught.

Then I explain the rest of the New Testament as being the aftermath of Jesus; where His earliest followers are trying to work out what it all means after His appearance, death and resurrection. The New Testament, I tell them, is like a big arrow pointing back to Jesus.

When I do this I let my Bible lie flat on the table but hold the Gospels vertically, like this:

-------> || <-------

I explain that the Gospels really are the "core" of the Bible and that this is where, as new readers, they should spend their time. The rest can come later.

They got really excited about this last night. One guy exclaimed, "No one ever explained this to me before! Now it makes sense!"

We spent the rest of the evening studying the story in John's Gospel of the miracle of the loaves & fishes. The inmates really liked the idea of Jesus using the hopelessly inadequate lunch of a kid (just about the weakest and lowest person in their culture) as the basis for a miracle considered so important that it is included in all four Gospels. We talked about how God takes what we come to Him with, as pathetic as that may be, and makes something amazing and beautiful out of it. Great discussion continued and we were all disappointed when we realized it was 9:30pm -- time to wrap it up.

As is often the case, I got home completely wired from the excitement and couldn't get to sleep until midnight. Then it was up at 3am to leave for the airport.

So yeah, I'm tired but happy.


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