Dr. John B. MacDonald
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"How to assemble a jigsaw puzzle” is another title I could have used.

One of the Christmas traditions of our family is a communal jigsaw puzzle.

The pieces are laid out on a table dedicated for that purpose. When a person has the interest and time that family member sits somewhere around the table and tries to find where a couple of pieces fit, then he or she moves on to something else. 

How the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle

In some ways this is a picture of how some of us read the Bible – that is, if and when we read it.

We often refer to this reading as a “devotion.” Now I believe strongly we should read the Bible, and learn about Christ, with devotion – but I don’t think that is what is usually meant by a "devotional."

Here’s what probably happens for many of us.

We open the Bible at a designated verse or small section. The portion we read is often unrelated to what we read yesterday or will read tomorrow. How is the verse or section selected?

Sometimes it is a booklet we are following with a verse for the day; sometimes it may be motivated by a problem we are experiencing and a verse has been suggested; sometimes it may be the result of a systematic reading over weeks of a particular book of the Bible. All of these approaches can be good.

I’m suggesting they’re not enough. As pointed out in the last blog, most of us don’t know the whole ‘Story’. So how do we know where an individual verse fits and what it means?

Reading a verse or small section of the Bible (in isolation) is like picking up one piece of a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle scattered on the table.

You look at the puzzle piece with a bit of green and brown, and what appears to be part of a person’s thumb. What is it? Where does it fit? How does it contribute to the completed picture? 

Five steps for solving a puzzle

Our family follows a system for solving jigsaw puzzles. Here are the five steps we follow:

First, we turn all the pieces color-side up. As we go through the 1,000 pieces we separate those that are part of the edge of the puzzle. Locating the four corner pieces is a high priority.

Second, we build the border of the puzzle. This gives us not only the boundaries of the puzzle but also the reference points for filling in the rest of the puzzle.

Third, is the lengthy (sometimes tedious) process of filling in the full picture. We identify particular colors (e.g., the forest green of a line of distant trees), general objects (e.g., a wooden tower off to one side), and specific features (e.g., a person’s face in the foreground). Little sections of the puzzle begin to take shape.

Fourth, as the smaller sections expand they begin to connect with other sections.

The final step in the process is taking the pieces that are left and placing them in the few remaining slots. 

The big picture

There is one thing we keep referring to; one thing that gives us guidance and hope. Do you know what it is?

The complete picture on the lid of the box.

In some ways, getting the complete picture of the Bible is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. One piece here or there is not going to be of much help. Seeing the big picture makes all the difference.

Only reading the New Testament is like working with only one-third of the puzzle pieces on the table.

What you need to do is find the edges of the ‘Story’ first.[1] These edges will form the boundary of the ‘Story’ and provide the needed reference points for understanding it.   

How can we learn God’s ‘Story’ and our place in it? 

The first two steps for learning the ‘Story’

Here’s what I propose:

1.         Get a Bible in the language of your heart. One person suggested that you discover the “language of your heart” by identifying the language in which you dream.

If that language is English and you live in the 21st Century it is best to read a Bible in modern English. Although there are numerous excellent modern translations, two recommendations are the New International Version (NIV 1984) and the New Living Translation (NLT 2004). In fact, there is only one version that is so poorly and dishonestly translated that you should avoid it: the New World Translation of the Watchtower Society.[2]

Although you may speak English, it may not be the language of your heart. If you were born in another country and raised with a different language, that language may be the best language for you in which to begin learning God’s ‘Story’. It may be Chinese, Farsi, Arabic, Spanish, or whatever. Translations are available in your language. You can contact me for details, or a local Bible society (e.g., the United Bible Society), or download a Bible for free at WordProject.

2.         Begin to read in Genesis as I recommended earlier. If you started last week and have been reading a chapter a day you will now be in chapter 8. If you read more or fewer chapters – at least some – that’s great! You’ve started listening to God’s ‘Story’. 

Why Genesis?

Here’s what Eugene Peterson says at the beginning of The Message:

Genesis gets us off on the right foot. Genesis pulls us into a sense of reality that is God-shaped and God-filled. It gives us a vocabulary for speaking accurately and comprehensively about our lives, where we come from and where we are going, what we think and what we do, the people we live with and how to get along with them, the troubles we find ourselves in and the blessings that keep arriving.

Using our analogy, listening to Genesis gives us a good start in discovering the edges of the jigsaw puzzle. 

In the next post, we’ll learn a practical process for completing the edge of the puzzle. If you haven't already, download your copy of "Introducing the Historical Backbone of the Bible." Until then, keep reading Genesis – it’s the beginning of the “backbone.” 

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[1] As I’ve stated before, when I use the term ‘story’ in this context I do not mean fiction. If I asked you what your ‘story’ is, you would select various real experiences, events, and people and arrange them in a historical recounting of your life – that would be your ‘story’. So it is with God's 'Story' of the Bible: real people, events, places, and things selected and arranged as a narrative of God’s dealings with Humanity and Creation.

[2] Members of the Watchtower Society refer to themselves as “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” They do not believe in foundational truths revealed by God in the Bible such as Jesus being God in flesh; they do not believe in the all-sufficiency of the death of Jesus Christ for forgiveness; they do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Their version of the Bible has been intentionally distorted to accommodate and support their organization's ideas and beliefs. John 1:1 and Colossians 1:15-18 are two examples of a multitude of such alterations.

Photo Credit: richieinnc via Compfight cc

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