I know that makes me weird. I got scared when I heard about a mission team that got delayed at the border of a country because the authorities heard that the group was Christian. That's not the scary part. One of the guards got a Bible from one of the team members and said accusingly, "You don't write in your Bible! And yet you say you're evangelical!" Ha! The guy assured him that he was evangelical; it was just a new Bible. So the guard then asks, "Okay -- explain Romans to me."
What?! Well, the guy walks him down the "Roman Road" (a classic Christian explanation of God's message using passages from Romans), and the guard learns about Jesus and is very happy.
If that were me, I would be in prison because I don't write in my Bible, and I don't know the Roman Road. Yet I still don't write in my Bible.
As a new believer, I went off to Bible college and found this phenomenon of people who marked up their Scriptures. I began to think maybe I should, too, but then my friend Marcey told me about losing her favorite Bible with all her notes in it. She was devastated. Like she'd lost a part of her. She had! That convinced me maybe I had the right idea. I didn't want to be too attached to a particular printing.
In school I also learned about how Muslims treat their Qur'ans. They treat it like it's holy, never getting it dirty, never writing in it, and always placing it on a shelf above the door, the highest place in the house. I loved that. Yes, I did know Bible pages themselves are not holy, and the Bible I used in school couldn't pass the clean test. It was dropped, ripped, and baptized in everything from mud puddles to Dr. Pepper. But I did like the idea of keeping it unmarked as an outward sign of respect.
So I remain affirmed in my preference for a noteless printed Bible, or a digital one, particularly since all that reading in school gave my eyes a need for large print. But in case a list of my favorite passages is ever needed, here's my short list:
favorite verse: Romans 12:2
I first saw this on a motivational calendar before I even came to faith. I liked it so much I clipped it and taped it to a filing cabinet next to my desk. I don't know what version it was but I memorized it:
Do not be conformed to the ways of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so you know what the will of God is, His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Maybe I rethink things to a fault, but this is where I want to live.
favorite book: Ephesians
When I was reading through the Bible the first time (I always thought the Bible was a book you should read before you died and I was right), I was reading through both the Old and New Testaments at the same time. And I think I really started believing somewhere in Ephesians. It was so practical, telling me all the ways a person could sin, and how to not do that anymore. Yet it was also grand, with talk about being seated in the heavenlies with Christ (not in the future but right now), and that warrior imagery of the armor of God. It was so accessible and still remains a well to me.
Recently in church I did have a printed Bible with me, that old one from school. The passage was the one in Ephesians 4 about God making some people apostles, some pastors, some teachers, etc. I knew without looking that my Bible would open automatically to that page, and that the passage would be in the top right hand corner. So there's something to be said for print. Those worn out Ephesians pages are like old friends.
favorite chapter: Isaiah 58
In grad school, a friend who had gone home for the summer asked by email, "What does it mean to delight yourself in the Lord? Because the Bible says when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart."
Well, the desire of her heart right then was a guy who'd broken up with her, but I played along. I entered "delight Lord" into whatever Bible search site there was in the early days of the internet and got a list of NASB verses. I told her the clearest seemed to be this Isaiah 58:14 but I knew she wouldn't like that answer. The whole chapter was about helping the poor and oppressed, the orphan and the widow, and THEN (said verse 14) you will delight yourself in the Lord.
No word back for over a week. I thought I'd made everything worse. Then I got an actual letter in the mail from her. Back then, email was not the medium for serious words, so she had to commit these to paper. She told me a story.
After I'd sent that list, she was walking around her city, depressed, and saw a church open. There was a statue of Jesus in the back and she literally threw herself at his feet and cried. When she looked up, she saw that engraved in a circle around the bottom of the statue were the same words from Isaiah 58. She was stunned. All of a sudden the guy didn't matter, but delighting herself in the Lord did.
Back and forth, we emailed about how we could live this out. Do we live our last year downtown among the poor? No, we were already poor and life was hard enough in the dorm. But every time we went to the city, we would be prepared to meet the poor. We didn't have money, but we would always take food for them. And we began working weekly in a soup kitchen.
This completely changed how I read the Bible. It was like all the other passages about helping the poor and oppressed had been hidden but now they were everywhere. And my friend and I were never the same. We challenged our home group to read only this passage for two weeks, as if they were in a persecuted church and this was the only part of the Bible they had. How would it change their view of God? What would it say about who He wants us to be?
It was a profound experiment that led to a very quiet room two weeks later. Try it sometime.
So those are my greatest hits. I hope you see them in my life and won't ever need to read this. But maybe you could explain Romans to me.