There is more to reading the Bible than simply reading the Bible.  

The Bible extends to us an invitation to live…

And it doesn’t seem to matter whether we’re uneducated fishermen like Simon Peter…or divorced five times and living with one who isn’t our spouse like the woman at the well…or if we’re caught in the act of adultery and facing public humiliation and execution at the hands of a few arrogant, self-righteous members and leaders from our local worship center like the woman in Jesus’ day…or if we’re among the most educated seminarians and religious elite who have so idolized the scriptures, like Saul, that we’ve tried to discredit, eliminate, harass, or destroy all those who don’t believe or practice religion our way.

No matter how diverse our backgrounds, THE WORD leads us to hope—whether we mistakenly believe we’re beyond hope and can never measure-up—or if we mistakenly believe we’re better than others and deserve a relationship with God.

The Bible is a book full of surprises!  And the better we understand it, the more graciously we find ourselves, surprised!

For example, we learn from the words and behavior of Jesus that adultery is no more reprehensible than religious piety and spiritual arrogance.  And to prove it, when Jesus was given the choice between coming to the aid of a woman caught in the act of adultery or siding with her holier-than-thou-accusers, He chose to stand beside the accused. 

He came to her aid and saved her from public execution by extending an invitation to her accusers, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."  And quietly, from the oldest to the youngest--symbolic of their wisdom--her accusers walked away.

The truth is, at both ends of the spectrum—and all points between—we’re all in need of redemption.

THE WORD reminds us we have a standing invitation to encounter “The Living Word”.  We can become new creatures with a new view of ourselves and the world around us as we experience a positive, meaningful relationship with "Our Father".  Then, as we grow in our relationship with Him, we discover significant differences in our own lives and can begin to influence significant differences in the lives of others--and the world around us.

So, the purpose of studying THE WORD is to, first, affirm our identity and to grow and mature in our relationship with our Loving Creator, Gracious Redeemer, and Intimate Friend.  And, second, we learn to genuinely respect and love others just as God, Our Father, has loved us--and demonstrated it explicitly--through the life, teachings, and behavior of Jesus. 

Hopefully, we learn there is no room for arrogance because all of life is a gift.  There is nothing we can do to deserve it.  Nothing we can do to earn it.  And none of us has any power except that which we've been granted, right down to the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.  All of life is gift.

In THE WORD, there are many commandments and guidelines for living, but when Jesus was asked by the young lawyer, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He responded by giving two commandments—not just one:  “1) Love God with all you are and have; and 2) love your neighbor as yourself.”  He, then, added that these two commandments fulfill all the law and prophets. 

And whether we like it or not, those commandments are fully consistent with the description He gave of our final exam.  "As you've done it to the least of these, my brothers, you've done it unto Me." 

Another way of saying that is:  "One of the best ways to tell what we really believe about our God is to honestly examine how we behave toward our fellowman."

Our goal for living, then, is not some cleverly devised systematic theology that twists, turns, and spins to make every jot and tittle fall into its rightful place. 

No, it's simple.  'Always has been.  'Always will be.  "Love God. Love others.”

Need proof?  Let's look at a "seasoned player".  One who had many successes and failures.  One who had publicly denied Jesus, and yet three days later, the Risen Christ announced His resurrection, issuing a special invitation to his embarassed, humiliated, and guilt-ridden friend:  "Go tell my disciples and Peter..."  

And less than two months later, when Peter spoke, more that 5,000 were added to the community of faith.  Still later, Peter was publicly reprimanded by Paul after supporting a legalistic division between Jewish and Gentile believers. 

Yet, through all of his successes, errors, and reckless ways, there was, for Simon Peter, one constant truth.  It was that God unceasingly pursued him with grace, goodness and mercy--and continually loved him--no matter what. 

Surely, in the back of Peter's mind, he had a an enduring memory of Jesus' words, "If you've seen Me, you've seen My Father."  "As the Father has sent me, now I'm sending you."  And, "As I have loved you, now love one another..." 

What an awesome responsiblity--not just for Peter, but for all of us.

So, at the end of his life--in the last few days before his execution--Peter wrote one final letter.  In it, he focused our attention upon that which is supremely important.  And in his final two sentences, Peter gave us the most urgent and primal advice of his lifetime: 

"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be glory both now and for ever.  Amen." -- II Peter 3:18

Now, more than ever, it's personal.  It's intimate.  It's relational.

Prepare to be transformed.  Read it.  Love it.  Live it.  Own it.