Reading the Bible: A Revelation

1983 changes my life. It was that year that a professor/pastor showed me how to read the Bible for myself. I entered a classroom, sat down and within minutes a slight man in a dark suit, white shirt, black tie, and dark-rimmed glasses walked through the door and to the front of the room. He looked over the 40 students who would one day be 40 pastors, prayed and began teaching. He always wore the same suit and tie. He always began class with prayer. And he always began teaching promptly on time. How he could teach! 

I grew up in a church and a home that liked the Bible. I read it often. I was in Bible studies. I memorized the Bible, large chunks of it; Philippians one summer while working in a sawmill in my hometown area. But I did not know how to read the Bible. I did not know how it fit together. I did not know how to see the clues embedded in it that the authors used to develop ideas and take you into deeper experiences than merely reading the words on the pages. The Bible was essentially reduced to some truths you had to believe to be a Christian, some principles for living that kept you out of moral trouble and some verses used to lead people to salvation. Sad to say, I had not learned how to love the Bible.

That all started to change for me in 1983. Within three to four weeks I became aware that a seismic shift was taking place in me. I continued to read the Bible, and slowly, semester by semester and year by year, reading the Bible became a conversation. As I listened and engaged in the conversation, I became aware of how words, and sentences, and paragraphs, and stories, and moments fit together to tell a bigger and more vital story than I originally imagined was present within the covers of this ancient document. 

I now see that the shift was Copernican in nature. Before Coperrnicus, the world was Ptolemaic in its understanding of the universe. Ptolemy has told us everything turns around the earth, that we were the center of the universe. And then Copernicus told a different story, opened eyes and everything changed.  It turned out that the earth revolves around the sun, which is itself the center of the universe.

That is what happened to me when I entered David Traina’s classroom in 1983. I was Ptolemaic when it came to the Bible. It turned around me. I made it to be what I wanted, or needed, it to be. What began that fall in my understanding, imagination and soul was a Copernican revolution. I began to see, and continue to see with increasing clarity, that the Bible is at the center and I am turning around God’s will, intention and mission. 

Now my happiest ministry moments are teaching to others what started happening in me in 1983. I teach scripture and how to read it to pastors and ministry leaders in a graduate program. Every Sunday, at 9am, I teach scripture and how to read it, to men and women in The Upper Room community who are hungry for scripture to mean more. In both settings I am seeing the same Copernican shift happen. When I see transformation slowly, but certainly, taking place, I think back to 1983 and the start of my own slow, but certain, transformation.

What I did not know before 1983, but now know in increasing measure, is that when the Bible comes alive, it is a magical, life-altering experience.