When I set my goals in January, my very first goal was to finish reading the Bible. I said, "I'm going to finish the Bible this year. I've been working on my reading plan for 2 years and I have a little under a year left. The trick is to consistently read a little bit every day."
That's exactly what I did. Almost every day I would either read or listen to a couple chapters. Although I did get excited this last month and start reading more because I knew I was getting close. Hence the reason I finished this goal a few months early.
It's funny, I find I have a couple conflicting thoughts on finishing the Bible. On one hand I want to tell everyone about how awesome I am because I read the whole Bible. It is genuinely an accomplishment.
On the other hand, I'm reminded a quote, "What's important is not how many times you go through the Bible, but how many times the Bible goes through you."
Wow. That kind of puts things into perspective.
So, it is good that I read the entire Bible, but it has to go further than checking off a to-do list. For starters, it doesn't mean I don't have to read the Bible anymore because "I've already read that." Actually, I'm already thinking next year's goal involving scripture memorization so that God's word will really be imprinted upon my soul.
So what's in this book? (from a non-pastor point of view)
For starters, I believe the Bible is the Word of God. It's a book about God's relationship with humans. It's a relationship that started off perfect, but then human's broke that relationship by disobeying God. But crazily enough, God loves us so much that he put a plan into motion to restore that broken relationship.
To be clear: the Bible is not a history book or a science book. It's a relationship book and about the character of God. Yes, it does chronicle historical events, but the point of chronicling them is for the purpose of explaining the character of God and his relationship to humans.
Personally, I love the stories that are in it. There's a part near the beginning where the Israelites become enslaved in Egypt and God frees them. The whole event is amazing. God calls a man named Moses to lead His people. That interaction where God calls Moses is classic. Moses doesn't think he's qualified at all to lead, but God keeps handling every single objection until Moses runs out of excuses and decides to lead. I love it!
God then creates the law for the Israelites. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the Bible to read. Not because it's a list of laws (though, that was tough to power through), but because it succeeded in it's intended purpose of showing humans that we're broken. You see, God created the law to show us that we're not perfect. To follow all the rules would make us perfect, and restore that relationship with God. But nobody could follow them perfectly. They kept failing over and over and over again. This part of the Old Testament shows humans failing to be perfect on their own. That restoration can't happen on our own. It becomes clear that we, as humans, can never be "good enough" to be good enough for God.
But then there's the twist. God knew we could never be perfect on our own. Yet, He still loves us and wants to restore that broken relationship. God, being pretty wise, realizes that He is the only one perfect and powerful enough to restore that relationship. So God sends himself, his Son, Jesus to earth. I won't spoil the birth story, but it's pretty awesome.
Jesus grows up and is perfect because he's God, while at the same time being fully human. I absolutely love reading about Jesus. Jesus strikes this perfect balance between being caring and calling people out. Jesus reveals even more about God's character and relationship with humans. For example, Jesus explains that it's not what you consume that makes you "unclean", but what comes out of you (your thoughts and actions). He explains that your heart and motivation are much more important than checking off something on your todo list.
Jesus even gives the greatest commandment of all time: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself." Incredibly simple and yet impossibly hard.
But here's the deal. Jesus coming down to earth was great for learning more about God, but that still wasn't enough. Our relationship to God was still broken. To right our wrong, punishment must be served. God went into painstaking detail earlier in the Bible to explain that anytime someone does something wrong, a sacrifice must be made. One option is to sacrifice yourself, but for obvious reasons that's not optimal. The other option is to have something else be scarified for you. The idea is to have something perfect that doesn't deserve punishment be punished for you. It has to be perfect, otherwise it's punishment will just be for itself. The Israelites often used a new born lamb or pigeon for this.
So, God wants to restore His relationship with humans because He loves us. In order to do that, a perfect sacrifice must be made on human's behalf. Jesus is perfect because he's fully God and fully human. Can you see where this is going? Through a not-so-random turn of events, the Israelites kill Jesus for claiming to be the son of God. Perfect sacrifice made. Relationship restored.
Then, something amazing happens. Jesus overcomes his death and comes back to life. God wins.
With Jesus' death and resurrection, He explains that he died for us. That all we have to do is ask for forgiveness from God about our wrong doings and accept that Jesus's death covers us too.
It's is pretty amazing and encouraging story. I highly recommend everyone read it. At the very least, check out the four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament. It'll change your life.