“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1st Corinthians 13:11-12
I recently pulled the Bible I received from my parents while in middle school off the shelf. It is a New International Study version with footnotes, cross referencing of scripture, and a concordance. It was the bible I wanted when I was in 7th or 8th grade. It even has my name embossed on the front cover. It is a special bible to me that represents my growth from my 3rd grade children’s bible (which I also still have) to my middle school years where I wanted something more in depth.
I have fond memories of lugging this Bible, it is large, to youth group, retreats, camp, and even off to college. In college I picked up my first copy of the New Revised Standard Version and it was smaller without the notes and could easily fit in packs to travel, so it became the bible of choice until I went to seminary and bought another one. I have many bibles on my shelf here in the office. I have more at home. I’ve worn some out and others have barely been opened.
But the other day, someone asked a great question: why do you read and/or interpret scripture the way you do? This question and others like it [who taught you to read scripture, how did I learn to interpret, what causes me to look at some verses one way and others another, and what makes me certain that the way I’m looking at scripture is the way I’ll be looking at it in the next year, or five?] have bounced around my head.
These are good questions to ask your pastor. That’s why I picked up my middle school bible. At first glance, I thumbed through the book to see if I had written anything in the margins. I had. I had underlined passages and added a date. I found that there were parts I had bracketed and noted these were the verses for a specific retreat or youth group event. Then there were verses I had underlined without a date, making me wonder what I was going through or how I was praying or reading at the time, that verse was important. It was like a signpost from another period of discipleship in my life. I was very grateful I picked it up.
Then I thought, I need to do an experiment. I need to find a passage that meant a lot to me previously by the fact it was underlined and see if I could tell why it meant something to me then and how it would resonate with me today. I found a passage, read it, and could not for the life of me think how I would have interpreted it when I was younger.
That’s not to say the verse had no meaning to me then or now, but I could not put on my lenses from being a high schooler anymore. Let’s say I underlined that verse I was looking at when I was 15 years old. There have been 37 other years in between. I graduated high school, college, grad school, post grad school, dated, was married, divorced, accepted two calls to serve churches, met and lost friends, found love again, remarried, and find myself almost four decades removed from what initially caused me to underline the verse I was looking at. So, what causes me to look at scripture now?
All of the things I just outlined plus training and other life events have shaped me to the age, time, and context I’m in now. Yes, when anyone asks me, how do I interpret scripture? The answer is both complicated and easy. Here’s the complicated version: I grew up going to church, we read scripture, I memorized verses, I had teachers and pastors who shaped and guided the beginning of my faith journey, I accepted Christ at summer camp, came to realize Jesus was always with me, I turned toward God again and again and that process of reforming and reorienting my life would happen time after time. I had youth pastors and leaders who loved me, I had parents who gave me a bible, I had homework assignments to read the Bible and I found that I enjoyed learning, I went to college and struggled, I had Intervarsity leaders and fellow classmates who cared for me, I attended church, I listened to the sermons being delivered and checked them against the Bible I held in my hands, I worked at camp and taught lessons, I needed to outline a lesson and figure out how and what I wanted to teach, I discerned a call to seminary where they stripped all of my learning down and asked me to learn again, I interned at churches that asked me to preach, I took preaching classes, I passed ordination exams, I served in Carson City, my life happened, I felt God open new doors as I went on mission trips, attended post grad school, and finally was called here to Everett. Since then, I’ve constantly been challenged in good ways by our congregation, our staff, and my own faith walk to read, look, listen, pray, and speak, leaning on grace, and trying my best to follow where the Spirit is leading me. Now I’m here where I am today. Here’s the easy answer: I find life when I follow God and read God’s word. My life has been changed, refined, challenged, and made better when I travel the road Christ leads me on.
As Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, when I was younger, I reasoned, and learned as a younger person. But when I grew up, I began to mature and though I see through a dim mirror, there are enough glimpses of God to keep me coming back again to seek his face. And on this journey I and we go, we are all different than we were when we were younger. We’ve changed in the last 10 years as well. I believe we’ve all changed in the 8+ years I’ve served here. In the next 5, 10, and 50 years we’ll be farther along following God than we are now. This is the good news about following Jesus; scripture is not static, it’s dynamic. We can read the same passage as a teen and then again as an adult and something new will grab our hearts. We may hear something different. We would have a different question because our lives are in a new place. Maybe one area that did not give us comfort before, comforts us now. Maybe an area of confusion is no longer something we fret over. Yes, we learn. We study. We ask questions. And this means we never stay in the same place.
Right now, I’m re-reading my middle school Bible from cover to cover with three highlighters. I’m interested in the words love, land, and justice. Maybe as I read, other words or stories will need to be highlighted, but right now, that’s where I am. Where are you? If you don’t know or have not thought about it, then I invite you to challenge yourself with three options. First, if you don’t know where to start, then pick up a These Days from the Welcome Booth. It’s a great daily devotional for three months and a new set arrives. Second, bring your own Bible to worship on Sunday mornings and follow along when I read the verses for the sermon. Then as I preach, highlight or write in the margins thoughts you have. FYI, the reason the scripture is not printed in the bulletin anymore is for you to use the pew Bibles or bring your own. Lastly, if you just want to pick up and have some summer reading, then I say start with Matthew, Mark, Luke or John and a Psalm a day, then move on to Exodus, one of Paul’s letters, and keep going on the psalms. If or when you want more, then talk with me. Join a Sunday school class and ask questions. Take what you hear in worship and dig out your concordance and look up and read every verse that has a word you thought you needed more explanation.
I know that many people line up books to read during the summer. Add the Bible to your list. I do not recommend cover to cover as we all get stuck in the genealogies. I believe you will surprise yourself when you add scripture, worship, and some educational opportunities to your goals this summer. You may find interpreting scripture gives you life, opens your eyes to new passion, and illuminates where Jesus is leading you.