“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105, KJV
One of the first things I encountered when I left the Lutheran church of my youth and began attending a Pentecostal one was the very fact that people brought their own Bible to worship. I had my own, of course, and with the exception of a vain attempt to read through it from cover to cover when I was 10 or 11, I rarely, if ever, cracked it open. And for sure it never left my bedroom. Now instead of hearing the pastor read his thoughts from a prepared manuscript, the minister opened his Bible and began preaching from it. And usually his weekly message began with, “Turn in your Bible to...” As humorous as that may sound to someone who has always lived in an evangelical/Pentecostal neighborhood, I experienced culture shock on a profound level.
|It's good to write in this Book|
But there was yet another wrinkle to this shift because as I began to attend this fellowship's Wednesday night gatherings as well I found myself being exhorted to not just read my Bible but write in it as well. And not just now and again but copiously and furiously. In fact, I recall one guy encouraging us to get several different color markers so that we could highlight various passages concerning things like God answering prayer, salvation, assurance, faith and the like. For a guy raised in a traditional mainline Church the idea of taking any kind of writing implement to the leaves with the gilded edge in my Bible was pretty close to sacrilege. I tried – I really did - but every time I marked a passage I experienced a tinge of guilt as if I was doing something verboten, as if some ecclesiastical librarian would suddenly appear at my right elbow and scowl at me for my impertinence. Meanwhile, every Sunday and Wednesday I'd rub shoulders with people whose Bibles were thoroughly marked and underlined in all colors of the rainbow.
All these years later, when I have been in Pentecost way longer than I ever was a Lutheran, I still do not write in my Bible. I just never got the hang of it and while I've never harangued anyone who does, I have continued my non-defacing ways. But something happened to me yesterday that gave me pause to rethink that habit.
I was at the Justice Center for my weekly visit with a few of the inmates when I sat down with “Mike.” He's just a kid, really, who may be facing prison time if the judge decides to charge him that way. It's the kind of possibility that often gets some of these guys thinking about the course their life is taking. A few weeks ago he told me he didn't have a Bible and so I went about seeing that he get one. The person in charge of inmate services got him a Contemporary English Version Bible (soft cover) but the other day when he was in the library he came across a Bible with all kinds of helps and little boxes of background material that he found even better. So he checked it out and has been reading it ever since. It is a Chuck Swindoll Insights for Living Study Bible (NIV) and whoever owned it before it was donated to the Justice Center library, clearly used it frequently. Not only does Chuck provide his own insights, text boxes and (even) underlining of key Scriptures, but this previous owner wrote many of his own little notes and had this Bible marked from cover to cover. In fact, as I was attempting to counsel Mike every Scripture I turned to had been already underlined or highlighted, as if it was just waiting for him to find that Bible in the library and like Augustine in Milan “take up and read.” And then I had a thought: what if a previous inmate had done some of this underlining or that it had passed through several hands before it had come to Mike? That would be like a breadcrumb trail left by beggars for other beggars to follow leading them, ultimately, where the real Meal may be found.
I'm not saying I'm going to turn over a new leaf starting tomorrow. But lucky for Mike some guy actually did because his notes and highlights are like a search light leading him through the labyrinth of fear and anxiety he finds himself in.