"I was suddenly SWAMPED by God's love surrounding me - WOW! God loves us not because of who we are -, but because of who He is - what an awesome and amazing God!" we are learning about!"
I'd excuse you for thinking that I was describing a recent experience while kneeling at the Mercy Seat (altar or place of prayer) at the conclusion of a Sunday meeting, or that I was in the middle of an intense Praise 'n Worship session at a Holiness Convention. But, if that is where your mind strayed as you read those opening sentences, you'd be wrong! This amazing, real, deeply personal experience of God's presence and passion was not experienced in the context of warm fellowship, deeply meaningful worship, in a spiritual atmosphere surrounded by reverential believers....
No, this is not a quote from last week's testimony-time at my local corps (although it is highly probable that someone there has had an equally memorable encounter with the living God!) but a quotation from one of the many respondents to our recent request for personal stories about the year-long New Testament Bible Challenge, which has just reached the halfway mark. Yes, we're celebrating six months of the challenge and that overwhelming meeting with our loving Heavenly Father, occurred as one of the thousands of participants of this wonderful challenge sat alone, with her Bible opened at the day's chapter (John 21), and mulled over a five-word statement - "the disciple whom Jesus loved". Moving from initial negative thoughts, she arrived at what she calls her "personal Eureka-moment", and, appropriately on the USA's Independence Day (because it happened to be the reading for 4 July), she suddenly had her own 'firework-show' of illumination as the Holy Spirit opened up her Spirit to the wonderful truth she shared with us in her e-mail.
Commissioner Marianne Adams shares her thoughts on the 2013-2014 New Testament Bible Challenge
That experience is replicated in many of the responses we have received - individuals, couples, groups, communities... participating enthusiastically in this Bible Challenge, and being "surprised", indeed, "astonished" - to quote two of the participants - at what they are discovering and experiencing:
• Some who have read these passages many times are excited about the new things they are being taught through the discipline. Two septuagenarians who have both spent a lifetime reading the Bible continue to find a freshness as they continue to submit to the discipline of taking in God's Word in context, as opposed to piece-meal (i.e. a passage here, and tomorrow, a chapter there); • Two spoke of sharing the readings with seriously ill spouses, and finding deep comfort, strength and meaning, in the exercise of sharing the word together; • Some find that their busy lives require the discipline of a structured approach to the Word, because then they know what amount of time they require for the challenge; • Accepting to follow this challenge has been an introduction to the discipline of daily reading of the Scriptures for some; • One has written explaining that following the challenge has resulted in a renewal of a faith which lay dormant for many years... another has returned to the Army after having left in childhood; • Most speak about the help they receive in absorbing the passage through reflecting on, or discussing with friends, the insightful questions and comments, which accompany the readings. It has enabled several to "go deeper" than they had been doing in their approach to the Bible before; • An out-and-out evangelist began the challenge wondering how she could use it to be a witness to others. She decided to post each day's Bible reference - with a tempting excerpt from the passage - on her Facebook page... with encouraging results! Several have contacted her to pose questions, and a number of Christians are affirming her in this ministry!
The Bible Challenge is being followed by all sorts, in all kinds of situations and circumstances. -T the daily Bible passages are being read on the train, during the lunch-break at work, at the breakfast table and in bed. We've heard from people outside of the UK and the Republic of Ireland who are following the Bible Challenge. People are finding the time, place and setting, which suits them best. Many who read on their own, speak of being inspired by the thought of knowing that they sharing the exercise and experience with so many others.
The Bible is the living Word of God. It reveals the truth about God's love for us, personified in the act of incarnation - God becoming flesh - through Jesus, our Saviour. The Bible Challenge enables you to discover this truth for yourself, and regardless as to whether you've never realised it before, or you have known it for years, this discipline will enable the Spirit of God to speak to you as you open your spirit, your mind and your heart to the truths of the Bible.
Thousands are experiencing this as they enthusiastically and joyfully, open up each day's passage, and hear God's Word speaking into their lives. We are six months into the challenge - is it too late to start now? "Do I have to wait another six months before I can start?", you may be asking. Opening your life to what God's Word has to say can never be done "too late" - but it can never be done soon enough either! You can start today, and discover for yourself, what others are discovering daily.
I have to warn you about something, though: I have no guarantee that what happened to our friend on the 4 July - the firework-display of illumination in her Eureka-moment - will not happen to you, too. And, you can't even be sure that you can avoid such a moment on an ordinary day like tomorrow!
To find out how to get to started with the Bible Challenge, get in touch with the corps officer nearest to you, visit The Salvation Army's official Bible Challenge page biblechallenge.salvationarmy.org.uk or check out this week's Salvationist magazine.