Reading the Bible
I’ve confessed to you before that I didn’t start reading the Bible until just over a year ago; actually it was just after my 55th birthday. What I didn’t tell you was why it took me so long. I was afraid. I’ll say it again; I was afraid. Not of the Bible, but my interpretation of it. I’ll explain.
If you’re a new visitor, I’ll tell you that I’m a Roman Catholic (not that my being a Catholic really matters in regards to God; see the post on Faith, dated October 31, 2008). I was baptized in a Catholic Church, attended Catholic schools, went to Mass (church) every day before school, and had religion class in grade school and high school. I’m still a practicing member of the Catholic Church. You get it; I’m steeped in the Catholic Faith.
Funny thing about the Catholic Church; when I was young, reading the Bible was never a focal point in life. (I’m not trying to insult fellow Catholics; it’s just the way it was.) I mean, we didn’t have ‘Bible school’ for kids, and adults didn’t have ‘Bible study’ groups (not that I was aware of). I guess what I’m trying to say is that reading the Bible was never stressed as being a necessary ingredient in leading a Christian life, which is not what one would expect from the “one, true, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. So my ‘official’ reason for not reading the Bible all those years was that no one told me I needed to.
Now back to the real reason for my reluctance: FEAR.
When I was in, I don’t know, maybe the fourth or fifth grade, our assignment one night was to read a few selected chapters from the Bible and write a report on what we’d read. Well, I did exactly that, and when it was time for religion class I confidently pulled out my paper on what I’d learned in the Bible.
I got it all wrong! Before I continue, I need to explain something to you: back then, most of the teachers at Catholic schools were Benedictine Nuns (in full garb; robes, full head-pieces, Rosary beads hanging from a waist sash). My teachers in fourth and fifth grade were from Germany, I believe, and very strict. If you made a mistake, neither of them had a problem pointing it out to you. God bless them, looking back on it now, I realize that they were serving God and their students in the best way they knew how…..
So anyway, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had it all wrong; I had completely misunderstood the message and meaning of the selected readings. And the ‘wall’ went up in my mind. And I never read the Bible. Oh, I heard selected readings from the Bible in church every Sunday; in fact I was a lector for a few years, but I never paid attention to what I read. I always listened closely to the sermons, because quite often they centered on the reading of the day. That’s as close as I ever got to the Holy Bible.
It was my good friend Ann that pointed me in the direction of the Bible. Not long after my epiphany (article posted November 24, 2008), I kept bumping into mental ‘ceilings’. That is to say, I had questions regarding my abilities, worthiness, and ‘purpose’ in life. I was in uncharted waters, so to speak, not only in my walk as a businessman, but more importantly, in my walk of faith. In the middle of all of the changes going on in my life, God put it on my heart to go out and share the result of these changes with others.
At a time when I should have been brimming with confidence, I was plagued by doubts that this so-called ‘message’ for others really was from God. I mean, why me? Why would He, why should He pick me to be one of His messengers? I certainly had never done anything that would qualify for that ‘position’.
I conveyed these doubts to Ann, and she told me to read Jeremiah 1:4-9 (Jeremiah Chapter 1, Verses 4-9).
The word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, Sovereign LORD” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the LORD said to me “Do not say ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them for I AM with you, and will rescue you” declares the LORD.” Then the LORD reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me “I have put My words in your mouth.”
I’ll tell you; this did give me some comfort. (For the record, I’ve never considered myself to be a prophet; I’m just a guy with a message to share.) Still, the doubts lingered, and time after time Ann would direct me to a certain chapter and verse that would, well, that would give me rest (some peace of mind). And each time I would get a little closer to reading the Bible. Closer, but not there yet. Have you heard the term “going, kicking and screaming’? Well, I won’t say I was that reluctant, but I was certainly dragging my feet.
Finally, on September 28, 2007, the day after my birthday, I purchased my first Bible, the NIV version; and I began to read.
What really did it…
I awoke one morning with a dream still fresh on my mind. In this dream, I had seen John, a very close friend with whom I hadn’t spoken in years. I was so surprised to see John that I actually asked (in my dream), “John, what are you doing in my dream?” John’s reply was “38”. Again I asked the same question, and again John replied “38”. Nothing more; nothing less.
I got out of bed thinking John 38. John 38. John 38. Couldn’t get it off my mind….what did it mean? And then the light bulb turned on! Are you ready for this?
Sam Maniscalco, the 55 year old Catholic who had never read, studied, turned to, or thought of the Bible headed straight for it! I almost told you that I didn’t know what made me go for the Bible that morning, and I didn’t know at the time, but I know the reason now. I always say that sometimes God gives you subtle hints about things, and sometimes He drops a brick on your head to get your attention. This was God dropping a brick on my head; and He used a dream to do it!
Sorry, I got sidetracked.
I made my way to the kitchen, grabbed my Bible, and settled into my ‘prayer chair’ (more about my chair later). Like a child on Christmas morning opening a surprise gift, I nervously leafed through the Bible looking for John 38; I knew that I was going to find something meaningful. And there it was…..NOT.
For those of you not familiar with the Bible, there’s not a John 38. I was so disappointed. Just seconds earlier I had been overwhelmed with Joy that the Bible had become enough a part of me that I had automatically turned to its pages for enlightenment. No John 38. Couldn’t believe it; I had been so sure…..
But wait. How about John chapter 3, verse 8? Again, with trembling fingers, I delicately turned the pages of my Bible to see if God had indeed sent me a message. This is what I found:
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the spirit.”
Why was this message so meaningful to me?
For days, weeks, months, I had been questioning God’s plans for me, how He would use me as His soldier, as one of His messengers, and where He would take me. His message for me, through John 3:8? Don’t worry about where you’re going. I’ll take you where I want you to go. Be still.
I’ve been reading ever since.
More on this topic next Monday.
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