Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Best Book I Read All Year

I saved my best book for 2004 for an entry all it’s own. I read the entire Bible in 2004. Yep. The Entire Bible. Wow! I have never done that before. I have attempted it many times, but was usually way behind by the end of January. Discipline was an area of my life I used to be sorely lacking in. Actually, I still am - but I’m better than I used to be.

Reading through the Bible this year was such an amazing experience. I wanted to blog a little about my thoughts and impressions by using the end-of-year wrap up I handed out the Sunday School class I teach that was reading along with me. I am sure I’ll never be able to articulate how meaningful this was to my life, but I’ll make a valiant effort here now.

What was your favorite book?

My favorite book was probably a tie between Judges and Romans. Judges is such an exciting book with so many cool stories - Gideon, Deborah, Ehud, Samson, etc. It’s action packed and full of God at work. Romans is a book that defies categorization in my mind. It is convicting, motivating, challenging, and even comforting. I love the way the Apostle Paul writes and how he holds so strongly to the truth.

What was the hardest book to read?

The hardest book was probably either Leviticus or Ezekiel. Both dealt with alot of tedious details and both seemed to repeat themselves many, many times. I wondered if I’d ever finish them. Of course, in the midst of both books were wonderful passages and verses so I’m glad I didn’t skip them.

What book was the most encouraging to you?

That would be the book of Job. I felt it comforting to realize that when Job went through such horrific circumstances, he asked the same questions I ask myself. Questions like, “Where is God? Doesn’t He see what I’m going through? Doesn’t he care? What did I do to deserve this?” In addition, it ws encouraging to read about someone who had it much worse than I’ve had it. At least I can say, “well I don’t have it as rough as Job, yet.”

What book did you find the hardest to understand?

That would be Revelation. Not that it wasn’t interesting to read, but there’s so much in there that makes little sense to me. Of course, I think it is better than we don’t understand all of it. I did enjoy reading it, but I can’t say that I have a handle on what it has to say at all.

What book would you like to go back and read, studying in greater detail?

All of them. Except for maybe Ezekiel and Leviticus. I am planning to read a portion of the Bible in depth and really study it this coming year. I’ll write about that more on New Year’s Day.

What was a favorite story?

I enjoyed the story of Esther quite a bit as well as Deborah. Esther had quite an impact on her people and she did it with such grace and style. Deborah is my Bible hero as she is someone God used mightily because she was willing to follow where he lead.

Whose life did you find the most fascinating?

That would be David. He was such a man of real emotion and passion. He lived large and made a great nation so much more than it was before. Yet he also made mistakes and lived a life that had many consequences of his poor choices at times. But for all that, God was pleased with him. David shows me that God want us however we are and he can even use our mistakes and poor choices to further His agenda.

Whose story did you learn more about than ever before?

That would be Jeremiah. I had never read the book of Jeremiah before or Lamentations. He had such a sorrow over the Isreal and it was very evident in everything he wrote.

Who will you remember most as a man or woman not to emulate?

I think of the many who lived lives of wickedness in the Bible, I would have to say that I would not want to become like Samson who never seemed to understand his role in God’s plan. He was too busy living for himself. I would hate to come to then end of my life and realize that everything I lived for was meaningless and empty. Even though he did manage to redeem himself in the end, he lived an empty, wasted life.

What did the following characters teach you about life?

* Noah - Public opinion isn’t really all that important when following God.
* Abraham - I can’t bring about God’s plan in my own way or timing.
* Moses - God wants willingness and can make up the difference for lack of ability.
* Joshua - You do not have to have courage to be successful.
* Solomon - Even in the height of success we can sow seeds that will negatively impact the future.
* Esther - God places us just where He needs us.
* Daniel - We never have to compromise our integrity.
* Peter - Past failures need not predict the future or our effectiveness at a God-given role.

How has this helped you develop and enhance a quiet time with God?

I had been able to finally establish a consistent time with God about a year and a half before I started this, so I was already in the habit of reading my Bible regularly. This did show me that I can fit it in even if things don’t go as planned. My year was quite crazy this year and I learned that I can read in the car before work, in the dentists office or while eating a quick lunch.

What are some of the major things God taught you this year during your time with Him?

The first thing He taught me was that I need more of Him in my daily life. To see how the Isrealite people intereacted with God on such a moment by moment basis as times made me realize how long I can go through my day without giving Him a thought.

I also discovered that there is so much more of God than I ever knew. He truly defies explanation. There is no way to contain Him into words or ideas.

What are some of the major circumstances you have faced this year? How was God’s Word a help or encouragement to you?

This year was a crazy one with several unforseen things happening. First of all I had three major illnesses this year. Pneumonia in the winter, a huge virus that attacked my entire respiratory system in October that left me with two ruptured eardrums and no hearing or voice for about a month, and now this holiday season I’m recovering from pneumonia yet again. My asthma is to blame for this last one and my recent discovery that my medicine had expired last month may be to blame.

The next big thing was the birth of my nephew. He was born on January 23 eight weeks premature. It was somewhat traumatic and I will never forget those experiences. He spent several weeks in the Neonatal intensive care in the University of Maryland. Overall he did well, and was home one week before his due date. For those seven weeks, we had freqent visits to the hospital that required a great deal of driving time and it seemed like much longer than seven weeks.

I lost my grandfather to cancer in May. He had suffered from kidney cancer a few years prior and wasn’t given long to live. He lived a good life, but his bi-polar disorder took away much of his personality as he began cancer treatments. He ended his life in a great deal of mental torment and I was glad to know he was finally at peace. While it was sad to see him go, knowing his mind was in torment no longer, and that he was experiencing the joys of heaven was a comfort to me.

This was also the first full year of our women’s ministry at church that I am the leader of. It took quite a bit more work to do it justice but I am overall please with all that God has done through it. I am eager to see what He plans to do through us in 2005.

Lastly, this year has been a difficult one for me at work. The job I loved turned into a nightmare this year, as I battled unrealistic expecations of perfection and an increased workload with nothing in the way of motivation or reward. It’s amazing to see how companies in the business world think that they own you if they are paying you a salary. And while I still enjoy what I do, I think so many of the poor decisions that were made this year will never truly allow me to trust anyone in leadership there again. So for now, I’m working fifty hours most every week and praying God would lead me to a better position in a company that allows me to have a life outside the office without guilt trips and constant harrassment. Until then, I’ll continue to lean on the Lord to get me through.

So through all of these things God has taught me that I cannot do everything myself. He’s taught me it’s okay to ask for help that to accept the offered help from others. He’s proved over and over and over again that He walks beside me when I am sad, miserable or angry and He understands how easily emotions can change my outlook. His Word has been my comfort through each of these circumstances by reminding me that God is in control. As I see him moving around entire nations and using individuals to make big changes in their world I realize that God will do what I cannot. And I’ve been challenged to leave in His hands the things I’ve often grasped for myself.

Would you be interested in doing this again in a few years? What would you do differently?

Yes, I would love to do this again. If I do though, I plan on reading the Message so that it’s fresh and the Old Testament will be a litttle easier. I also think I would design a plan that only called for reading on the weekdays as I got behind on the weekends quite a bit and then I’d have a few extra days to catch up here and there.

Well, those are my thoughts about this past year. I am actually not quite finished yet as I have a bit more of Revelation to read tomorrow. Then I will be done a day ahead of schedule. I am looking forward to digging deeper into the Bible next year and concentrating on study so that I can move to the next level of understanding. I have two new Bibles to help me out and some great software to assist my study. I’ll get to all that on New Year’s Day when I list my resolutions and my plans for the new year.

I’m still hoping to get to music before the new year and talk about some of my favorites, but I’m still working on it. I’ll explain when I do why this part has been difficult for me.

Tomorrow I am wrapping presents in preparation for Christmas with my brother. He and my sister-in-law and nephew arrived home from Michigan this morning. We’ll have our Christmas on New Year’s Day so I have tomorrow to get their things together.

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