What’s In Your Bible: Make It Messy

Bible Highlighting

What’s In Your Bible?
Go Ahead, Make A Mess in Your Bible

By Beth Demme

Do you remember when you were in school and you first started using highlighters? At first, it was hard to know what to highlight, right? Eventually, you learned to be judicious and careful with your highlighter. You learned to highlight the snippets that would be meaningful to you when you returned later to review the material.

This is true of my Bible highlighting as well. There was a season when I wanted to highlight everything, but eventually (with practice!) I learned how to highlight snippets that were especially meaningful or felt theologically important.

Some people develop a system and always stick to it. One teacher says to circle the verbs in red, underline names in green, circle the numbers in orange, and mark references to angels in blue. That is such a neat idea! However, it’s not one I’ve been able to implement successfully. For one thing, this kind of system makes me hesitant to pick up my Bible if I don’t have all my colors with me. Also, I get bogged down speculating what I will do if a named angel is taking a numbered action. The system isn’t broken, it just doesn’t work for me.

I’m more random in how and when I highlight or make a note. Remember, I think highlighting in my Bible is okay because I use my Bible as a tool. It’s okay to dig in, make notes, and ask questions. In fact, I think it’s important for Christians to do this.

Digging into the Bible has changed how I understand myself, my world, and my God. Sometimes digging in is messy.

When I put out an invitation and asked you to send me pictures of your Bible, I found out that I’m not alone. Lots of us like getting messy in our Bibles.

Bible Highlighting

Melissa e-mailed me a photo of her Bible, noting that she is part of the Yellow Crayon Club. It’s easy to see why:


Her notes are about how the church should be a beacon of hope and how trials build perseverance. She’s highlighted passages about accepting one another and relying on the God of hope.

When she flips through her Bible, these passages will stand out to her.

The Holy Spirit might even use these yellow crayon moments to speak to her, again and again, on the issue of church, hope, trial, and perseverance.

A pastor friend of mine, Dennis Lewis, could also be in the yellow crayon club.

Dennis (2) Dennis (1)

He’s highlighted John 15:12-13:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Also, verse 16:

And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

As someone who has worshiped with Dennis, worked for Dennis, and been friends with Dennis, I can tell you he embodies these verses. He is one of those pastors who really conveys the love of God when he preaches. Many pastors talk about the love of God, but Dennis conveys it. When he tells me “God loves you, Beth,” I really believe it.

Dennis’s highlights show me part of the reason he is able to convey this message so effectively.

He knows it isn’t his message, it’s the message he’s been appointed to deliver. He is a conduit for God’s love.

Finally, this Bible belongs to a friend I made on Twitter, Yinka Akinwale.

Yinka lives in Africa. We don’t live on the same continent, but we share a love of boiled peanuts, the Relevant Podcast, and, apparently, messy Bibles.

yinka_1  yinka_3  yinka_2

Look at some of the verses he has highlighted:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, NKJV)

Honor the Lord with your possessions. (Proverbs 3:9)

She [Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. And happy are all who retain her. (Proverbs 3:18)

When Yinka flips through these pages, he’ll be reminded the Holy Spirit is with him, possessions have a purpose, and wisdom is life-giving.

It’s okay that highlighting in our Bibles sometimes makes the pages look messy. When we dig in, things can get messy.

Digging in also leads to buried treasure. When we find that treasure, we can highlight it so it will be easier to find the next time we come to the page.

Next week we’ll look at taking notes in our Bibles. I’ll share some more photos from my Bible. If you have a photo to share, send it to me at beth@demme.com.

More Like This From Beth:

What’s In Your Bible: Making the Bible Personal

What’s In Your Bible: Making the Bible Personal

By Beth Demme


Actors hired by Capital One ask, “What’s In Your Wallet?” We’re rephrasing the question to ask, “What’s In Your Bible?” (Click here to read, What’s In Your Bible? Maybe Your Family History.)

Are there changes in your Bible? Have you modified it? Would you like to? Don’t faint. I’m not suggesting you delete (or add) any books. I’m suggesting that if you take the time to personalize your Bible, Bible study can be more manageable and meaningful.

Although the Scriptural canon is now long-established, you can layer your copy of the Bible with personal meaning.

When you purchase a used book from Amazon, sellers have to describe the amount of “use” the book has endured. A “Like New” book has “absolutely no signs of wear.” It’s in such pristine condition Amazon considers it “suitable for presenting as a gift.” At the other end of the spectrum is a “Used-Acceptable” book. A book in this condition usually costs less because it “is fairly worn” and can suffer from “aesthetic issues such as scratches, dents, and worn corners [or] identifying markings.”

Family Bibles buck the system on this one. The more writing they have in them, the better. The more dog-eared the pages are, the better. The more identifying markings they contain, the better.

What’s In Your Bible? Maybe Your Family History

What’s In Your Bible?
Maybe Your Family History

By Beth Demme

In an ad campaign by Capital One, stars from Jennifer Garner and Alec Baldwin to Samuel L. Jackson have asked, “What’s in your wallet?”

I guess they would be pretty disappointed by my wallet. My husband and I decided a long time ago to avoid credit cards as if they were the plague. (I do have 1 – I’m not an animal!—but it’s not from Capital One.) I also rarely carry cash these days, so my wallet has been reduced to this little pocket on the back of my cell phone.

Cell Phone Pocket Wallet

Apologies to Jenny, Al, and Samuel L., my wallet is basically empty.

I don’t want to know what’s in your wallet, but I am curious:
What’s in your Bible?

For the last two weeks, you’ve sent me awesome pictures of marked up Bibles. This confirmed for me, again, that you are my people; we are “of a mind.” You have generously opened your Bibles and invited me inside your private world.

This week I want to share three special stories with you. These photographs and the stories sent with them have reminded me that as much as we treasure the words of the Bible, we can also treasure the Bible itself.

The Bible gives us a pathway for building our relationship with God, but a Bible can also build a pathway for a family to build upon through multiple generations.

These stories all belong to other people. I try to treat them with the care and respect they deserve.

First, I want to tell you about Joy’s family Bible.

Why Faith Is Not An Olympic Event

By Beth Demme

Beijing, China - Aug 18, 2008 Olympics: Kaie Kand breaks away from field of runners to win 800 meter womens' race

Beijing, China – Aug 18, 2008 Olympics: Kaie Kand Wins 800 Meters

I love to watch the Olympic Games. I’m amazed by the dedication and skill of the Olympic athletes. In the Olympics, everything from figure skating to javelin throwing looks easy. None of those things are easy, but they look easy because the athletes are incredibly skilled and highly trained. They are, literally, the best at what they do.

I’ve written before about Olympic parenting. There was a time I thought I could train—read, research, plan, and pray—my way to the gold medal platform in parenting. This was a beautifully idyllic phase that occurred before I was a mother.

I now offer this word of caution to people without children: You may be the Michael Phelps of Hypothetical Parenting, but so what? I dominate at Wii bowling and I’m not joining the Pro Bowlers Tour.

Parenting isn’t an Olympic sport and no one is giving out medals to the people who do it best. In fact, I’m sure we would struggle to find agreement on what “doing it best” even means.

Faith, like parenting, is not an Olympic sport.

Faith is not about training and performing. Faith is not about being scored, judged, or evaluated.[Twitter Link]

You Can Be Busy and Idle At the Same Time

By Beth Demme

You can be busy and idle at the same time. (@BethDemme)

I used to think of busy and idle as opposites, but now I’m not sure. Lately, I’ve felt like a car idling at a red light. The engine is running, but the car isn’t moving. The mechanical and electrical components of the car are active, even busy, but the car goes nowhere.

Sometimes being busy leaves me at a standstill.

We usually connect being busy with being productive:

  • The early bird catches the worm.
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • The office is a hive of activity.

We have a mentality that says: I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and hit the ground running in this race against time where I have my work cut out for me.

What if these expressions are wrong? What if productivity doesn’t come from being busy?

What if the most productive action we can take is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”?

A few months ago, transportation engineers in London began trying to change the way people move through Tube stations with escalators. The rule has always been stand on the right side and leave the left side for those who are willing to walk up the escalator. The right side was idle, the left side was busy. Conventional wisdom said everyone would get out of the Tube station faster if at least some people walked faster, if some people were busier.

Engineers no longer believe that’s true. They’ve done a Changing of the Guard “About Face” and now they want everyone to stand on both sides of the escalator. They want everyone to be idle during their escalator ride.

According to the London transport engineers, having more people idle will make Tube stations more productive. They have mathematics and everything on their side. You can read about it here.

This lesson feels important to me right now. I need to learn that being in motion doesn’t necessarily create progress.

In Matthew 13, the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. Jesus replied: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah, saying people “will indeed look, but never perceive.” Jesus says the people’s “ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.” (Matthew 13:14-16)

My (current) favorite devotional, Pray-As-You-Go, illuminates the passage this way: “Jesus talks about how we have so many images and experiences in our life and yet we don’t always understand the importance of them. … Jesus says we are blessed right now, at this present moment, for what we see and hear.”

Blessed for what we see and hear? Right now? If my desire to be productive always compels me to focus on the next moment, idea, opportunity, or task, I’m probably too busy to notice God’s presence with me in this moment. Being busy can rob us of awareness.

I wonder how many moments with God I’ve already missed?

We tend to think Bible study is a place to meet God—and it can be. But I’ve also read the Bible without pausing to experience God. (This tends to happen more when I’m trying to stick to a reading plan or other self-imposed deadline requiring me to complete specific readings each day.)

Don’t throw tomatoes (or stones) at me, but reading the Bible doesn’t necessarily move us forward spiritually.

I can be busy and idle at the same time, even in Bible study.

In Bible 100, I encourage people to end every Bible study with this question: “So What?” I learned this in EfM. Asking this question made me realize how much time I had invested in Bible study classes because I wanted to do “the right thing.” I wanted to check it off my Christian to-do list when, really, Bible study is about transformation. If Bible study isn’t making you into a more loving, caring, and forgiving person, you might be doing it wrong.[Twitter Link]

Is Bible study transforming you? @BethDemme

I get it. If we are productive we can be sure we haven’t wasted this one earthly life. This life is too precious a gift to let it go to waste. But if I’m so busy I miss God’s presence with me in this life, then I have wasted it, no matter how productive I’ve been. I’ve been a car at a red light; mechanical and electrical components busily humming along, all the while sitting still.

What do you think? Are you ever busy and idle at the same time? Do you think it is possible to be busy and idle at the same time, even in Bible study? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.

More Like This From Beth:

Prayer Is More Than a Hashtag

By Beth Demme


In the wake of recent tragedies, I’ve seen a lot of #Prayfor____. I’ve seen the hashtags criticized, too.

I get it. It’s not enough to pray for something if prayer is a way of avoiding responsibility or giving only lip service. It’s not enough to pray if you expect God to change a mindset or fix a problem without getting you personally involved. I agree, in those cases, #Prayfor____ rings hollow.

But I also see that we #Prayfor____ because we are crying out to the God who is Love. (1 John 4:8) [Twitter Link] We acknowledge how much we need God to help us through this maddening, confusing, scary time.

Sometimes I pray because I don’t know what else to do, but I believe God does. [Twitter Link] It might sound crazy or naïve to you, but I believe God interacts in this world, and that makes #Prayfor____ meaningful, even powerful.

Each time I pray, important things happen within me.

First, I get to experience what I affectionately describe as my sixth sense – a sense of peace that can come only from the wholeness and goodness of God. Second, and I say this a lot, I am reminded that I am not God.

Although I don’t actually think I am God, there are times my actions suggest otherwise. Sometimes I act like I’m in charge, of everyone and everything. Sometimes I talk as if I am responsible for the choices and decisions other people make. Worse, I sometimes get stuck in my own self-sufficiency; I think and speak as if I don’t need God.

The only one who doesn’t need God is God, and I’m not clear on how that works theologically.

Even a quick prayer before a meal reinforces my non-god-ness. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge that while I bought the groceries and cooked the food myself, God still had a lot to do with the creation of the meal (weather, nature, etc.) and with me having a place to prepare and eat it.

Can a Computer Pray for You?

By Beth Demme


Sometimes I make prayer seem complicated. I think about my frame of my mind, my vocabulary, my setting, my intention, etc. The truth is, prayer is so simple a child can do it.

When I was growing up, we took turns saying the prayer before dinner. Well, as I remember it, we did it that way for many years and then I hit a bit of a bossy phase and, um, well, I guess I kind of took over.

I’m the youngest of four, spoiled by my parents and my super-awesome older siblings. At first they probably thought it was cute that I wanted to say grace every night. Years later, after my family had patiently listened to me offer nearly every dinner prayer, I suggested (wisely, I thought) that we could take turns. They all laughed and said, “like we used to, before you took over?”

Oops. Did I do that?
(via GIPHY)

Praying is so easy a child can do it, but is it the kind of thing a machine can do?

In conjunction with Certus Knowledge, I’ve just released a new “skill” for Amazon Echo called The Prayer Book. An Amazon Echo is an electronic device that uses a voice interface. There is no keyboard or touch screen, it is completely voice activated.

Finding Dory and Me, Sometimes I Forget God Is Waiting


By Beth Demme

SPOILER ALERT: This blog post gives away the plot in the movie Finding Dory. I don’t think it will ruin the movie for you, but please consider this fair warning.

I don’t think Finding Dory was intended to teach me something about God, but as sometimes happens, it did anyway. I realize this admission reveals how unsophisticated I truly am, but if we’ve known each other for more than a minute this won’t be new information.

Finding Dory reminded me that sometimes I go off on my own and get lost, but God never gives up on me.

Little Dory suffers from “short-term remembry loss.” Her parents are model parents—kind and patient, even as they watch their child struggle with a simple task. They never get frustrated with Dory’s inability to remember, but they do worry she will get lost. They teach her several coping strategies, including how to find her way home by following a trail of shells.

One day little Dory accidentally swims away from her parents and, eventually, forgets them. As time passes, she forgets that she has forgotten. A year after helping Nemo’s father, Marlin, find Nemo and return him to the reef, Dory begins to remember her family. Pieces of memory propel her on a journey across the ocean to find her family, and herself.

After an hour or so of adventures, Dory finds her parents—both her Dad AND her Mom (thanks Disney for not killing off the mom this time!). Dory discovers they have been waiting for her, counting on her to return to them. Dory was gone for years, but her parents never gave up hope that she would remember and return to them. As they waited, they created longer and longer trails of shells pointing back to their house.

In the most poignant moment of the movie, the camera pans out and shows miles of shell trails all leading back to Dory’s parents. The trails radiate out from their house like the points on a star or the rays of the sun. Every trail points back to the center, back to home, back to the place where someone who loves Dory is waiting for her.

My life is a network of trails, all pointing back to the God who loves me.[Twitter Link]

Use the New Testament to Learn the Old Testament

By Beth Demme

Woman Studying Two Bibles

“A.D. You know … after death,” the white-haired man said in a thick British accent, a camera hanging around his neck.

“No,” I offered kindly, woefully inept at remaining silent. “A.D. is an abbreviation for anno domini, the year of our Lord. That’s the birth of Jesus.”

He wasn’t convinced. “No, I’m sure that A.D. means after death. We count time from the death of Jesus, not his birth. It’s about the resurrection, you know.”

“Well, if that were right that would mean the life of Jesus all happened B.C., before Christ, and that’s … um … awkward,” I reasoned. I knew I should stop, but once I entered the conversation, there was no graceful way out of it. He and I went back and forth a few more times, neither of us making any progress.

All of this happened as we were walking through the Christian catacombs in Rome. The priest who was leading our tour through the now empty underground tombs casually referenced A.D. The priest did a much better job of ignoring the man’s question about the measurement of time than I did (obviously).

After we resurfaced above ground, the man was so sure of himself he suggested I Google it. So I did. And I wouldn’t let him walk away until the results came up.

When even Google said he was wrong, he said, “Well, I grew up in the UK, see. I’m sure there we learned it as After Death. That’s how I was brought up.” When I remained silent. He smiled broadly, patted me on the back, and said, “so, in the end, we’re both right!”

Christian Hatred Exposed

By Beth Demme


I’ve heard a rising refrain lately about “ALL Muslims” this or that. I’m tempted to respond with two words the next time I hear it: Westboro Baptist.

Any time someone says ALL Muslims are the same, Christians should understand that’s like saying we are ALL like the members of Westboro Baptist Church.

Westboro Baptist is a “church” but it has also been called “the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.” Its website is GodHatesFags.com. (I don’t want to link to it. It’s too despicable. I’m sorry the words “God Hates” appear together on my website, even if it is just for reference purposes. And I would never use the F word to describe a human being.)

I can’t fathom how any modern organization can simultaneously be a Christian church and an active hate group. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.… The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 John 4:20-21)

Westboro Baptist members picket at the funerals of soldiers killed in the line of duty and other places they think they might get on TV. Westboro was most recently in the news for announcing plans to protest at the funerals for the victims in the Pulse massacre in Orlando.

The scariest, most upsetting, most jaw-dropping fact about Westboro Baptist is this: they actually believe they are spreading God’s truth.