That's what I've been convicted to do.
I've been hanging out with Jesus for the last 22 years, and for the last 22 years I've been in ministry.
I say "hanging out with Jesus" not to be irreverent or anything but because there's been times when (actually for almost all that time) I wasn't really about living and patterning my life after Jesus.
I used to be a "Christian" (religiously that was my identifier.)
And I went through times of being a "believer." I thought that was a really admirable thing. I was in and around a bunch churches that were all about faith.
"BELIEVE!!!" They would scream.
And I was "believing" Jesus.
I believed, but I wasn't doing anything with what I believed.
And I was okay with that. I sat on my big, fat, white booty and didn't DO jack!!
Then, there was the time I was a pretender.
I've moved in and out of this phase over the last couple decades.
This was those times when I really got a kick out of my titles.
I liked being called "Reverend."
I liked being called "Pastor."
I liked being called "Brotha Ollie."
(Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Jesus probably threw up a lot during those times as well.)
These were the times when I was just a pretentious, self-serving butt hole!
I don't like "labels." Labels limit us. Labels say, "this is who I am." Labels draw a line in the sand and say, "I'm with you, but only up to this point." (Does that make sense?)
But I labeled myself in these ways.
Labeled as a "Christian" I was just all about my religion.
Labeled as a "believer" I was just about my beliefs and opinions.
Labeled as a "pretender" (this is a.k.a.ed as being labeled as a "minister.") I was just about, well...being a butt hole.
I don't want those labels anymore...I don't want anything to limit me in my love for my Daddy or my loved for people.
But if I use a label now, that label is primarily "follower/lover." (I think these two words, when speaking of Jesus, are synonymous. Jesus was a lover and if we follow him and do what he did...we'll be loving. So, follower is lover in the way I see it.)
So my new label is Christ follower/lover. (And I'm pretty sure we're staying here for a while...)
With all these labels, I've approached a collection of books, writings, prophecies, rants and letters (commonly called the Bible) in different ways.
As a "Christian" I saw it as one big book and I wanted to read it so I could learn about my religion. I took the parts of this book I believed, the parts that I thought facilitated my religion and read those parts. I thought all of the bible was about being a Christian.
As a "believer" I saw this book as something I was supposed to believe. Again, I took the parts I believed, the parts that made my "faith" stronger and read these parts. I thought it was all just about making me a believer.
As a "pretender" I saw this book as something I was supposed to tell, preach or SHOVE down the throats of others. I didn't use these words to apply to MY LIFE, I used these words to apply to YOUR LIFE! I used the parts I agreed with to help me be, you guessed it, a butt hole.
With all my different labels, I used traditional, bible school taught methods of "bible study."
I studied topically. I would pick a topic and try to find everything the bible said about that topic.
Not bad...but often confusing.
I studied exhaustively by book. I would pick a book, letter, etc. and study through that section of scripture.
Not bad...but again, often confusing.
Either type of bible study would always take me to this lost place of forgetting the context of what I was reading and studying.
I would read some letter Paul wrote to people a few decades after Jesus died and apply it to today, without even considering Jesus in the equation.
Or I'd read some part of the ancient legal books and apply it to a current situation forgetting Jesus.
So this is where I am today. Right now.
This is where I am and if you're not feeling where I am...well, that's not for me to decide in your life. (Surprise! I'm not your Holy Spirit!)
I've been in a process of starting over for the last few years and its brought me to this place in studying the bible:
Start with Jesus. Not with his "words" as much as his LIFE.
I've learned from spending time in other countries and seeing translations of languages...what a WORD means to one culture isn't always the same as what the same word means to another culture. (For instance, the movie "Wild Hogs" when translated to Ukrainian, then back to English, became "Crazy Boars.")
And what words meant to society in one generation are very different from the meaning in another generation (i.e. being "gay" in the 1890s and being "gay" in the 1990s are slightly different).
So before I get too deep in the words Jesus spoke, I want to look at how he lived. How he acted. Who he hung out with, who made him angry, who made him comfortable.
I want to learn about how Jesus lived his life first, before I let Ollie's brain, in America in 2009, interpret his words.
Then through the lens of how Jesus lived his life...what words did he say?
I want to study Jesus words, taking into account how he lived. How he loved. Who he ate dinner with and who he chased out of a building.
Then, after studying Jesus' life and actions, after studying HIS words, I want to study the rest.
See, in my understanding, this compilation of books we call the bible is all about HIM. Why not learn him first?
The legal books at the start of the Old Testament show how much we'd have to do meet his standards. They remind us how inadequate we are without him. But when read through the lens of knowing how Jesus lived and the words he spoke, these books show me how much he loves. These books remind me not to show others judgment, but grace and mercy, because I'm as messed up as them.
The prophecy books are all about Jesus coming...reminding me my Daddy loves me so much, that Jesus was going to come to earth to fix my brokeness.
All the letters in the New Testament are about Jesus and living the life of love he lived.
I used to think "keeping things in context" was about just knowing the logistics of what I was reading. Who was being spoken to.
Where they were geographically.
How screwed up they were emotionally and spiritually.
But I'm beginning to think that is only a portion of understanding the context.
Maybe understanding the context is more about remembering who its all about...how he lived and what he said.
I think if I don't start over, there won't be any change in my life and how I live.
I think if I don't start over I'll know words but won't know life.
I think if I don't start over, reading the bible will just enable me to be a religious Christian.
I think if I don't start over, reading the bible will just enable me to be a lazy believer.
I think if I don't start over, reading the bible will just enable me to be a pretentious butt hole.
And I don't want to be a butt hole.
The absence of hate does not equal love...