Even as a child I learned that the bible was an important book. My dad used to gather us six family members every evening. We would hear the bible read , or read the bible together, and pray. Boring, I thought. But day by day I was absorbing the idea that my parents, grownups whom I loved and respected, believed the bible was important.
When I got older I began reading on my own, because the Sunday School teacher told me to; or maybe I found some interesting story that I wanted to read. And, of course, the pastor was opening his bible every Sunday
morning, and every Sunday night and Every Wednesday night. He told us what it was going to say. Then he read it to us. Then he told us what it said. Bible. Bible. Bible.
If I wanted to go on the awesome camping trip with the other elementary age kids in my class, we had to memorize the names of the 66 books of the bible in order to be part of the outing.
I wanted to camp with other kids. So I learned; Genesis through Malachi and Mathew through Revelation. I don’t remember much about the camping trip.
But I still have the list of 66 books memorized.
Every summer my folks took us to Vacation Bible School. There we memorized verses and learned the meanings and applications of bible stories.
In my younger years, “scripture songs” were in vogue; bible verses set to music. Those tunes still help me to recall particular verses and ideas. You could say, I was steeped in scripture.
As a young adult I went away to college, a Christian college. The general education requirements included a several bible courses; Old Testament Literature and Interpretation, Introduction to the New Testament and Bible Study Methods. I was getting interested in this important, difficult and
fascinating book so I took a few additional classes as electives.
During my mid-twenties I began memorizing the book of Colossians while I stood in line at the grocery store. I thought I’d rather memorize passages than look at magazine covers near the cash register. It was a good choice.
To be clear, I had no interest in being a pastor of a church. I had simply grown to value the guidance I got from the bible. So I invested my time and energy into it. It was not just the words on the page. The reading, reflecting, memorizing, discussing – all of it- fed my soul and helped me get to know Jesus.
Twenty five years later a church, my church, Homestead Mennonite Church, asked me to be their pastor. For the first time I had to seriously think about what I was supposed to do with the bible as it related to other folks’ lives. Was I supposed to read it to them? Read it for them? Was it my job to digest and interpret bible passages and tell other folks what I thought they meant? Did I have to be interesting? Inspiring? Helpful? Would that be enough?
I’ve been learning to be a pastor for 10 years now. So my church has a 10 year old pastor. And this 10 year old has decided that my goal is not to read the bible to other people, or for other people, certainly not instead of other
people. My bible goal is to teach and encourage others to read the bible themselves; on their own or, better, in groups. I have learned that it’s much better for people to think about scripture in groups. Together we come to better understanding; deeper, more true, and more helpful, understanding than if we do it on our own or keep it to ourselves.
I’ve picked up a few other basics principles and ideas that help us all to handle this very powerful resource well. First, use it for its intended purpose. You don’t want use a hammer as a screwdriver. You don’t want to use a spouse as a rent-a-cop. And you don’t want to use the bible as a how-to manual. That’s not why shepherds, kings, prophets, immigrants, doctors and evangelists wrote the history, poetry, prophecy and letters. That’s not why it was compiled and bound under one cover that we call the Holy Bible.
Secondly, know now that the bible was written for us. But, it was not written to us. The writers had different audiences in mind and none of them were 21st century Americans. So, I have to do some work. We must understand the passages to mean to what it meant to the writer and to his or her intended audience. Otherwise, I’m likely misunderstanding the message. I teach my congregation to ask three questions, always three, always in this order. Don’t skip any steps. 1. What’s it say? 2. What’s it mean? Lastly, 3. What’s it mean to me? That goes a long way toward helping us use, and not abuse the bible.
In the past several years a pair of guys started an non-profit company to help all of us understand why the bible exists, how to understand it, and what to do with it. And they give away all that information for FREE. What an awesome gift to the rest of us. In short, they reveal that “The Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.” That’s what the bible is for. That’s why we read it. That’s why we teach it.
Their material is very accessible; 100% free videos, podcasts, and resources that explore the Bible’s unified story. The animated videos are about 5 minutes each and there are many dozens of them. And they are excellent. The podcasts are deeper and longer, revealing the years of study, discussion and reflection that goes into each video.
This pastor’s corner has a point, to point you to these excellent resources so that you to can learn and love to read and understand the bible yourself. Just go to https://thebibleproject.com/ and begin a most excellent journey. And if you want to do it together with others, feel free to join folks a Homestead Mennonite Church or a church near your home where people discuss scripture together.