Let it Flow
Tim: So Mark, you had the experience of having no Biblical background whatsoever and picking up this book and starting. Given the experience that you’ve had, which was, what, only eight or nine years ago?
Mark: About nine years ago.
T: Based on what you’ve learned, what advice would you give to different people? Not everybody’s a lawyer.
M: It’s definitely different than the way I started. The way I started was with the King James version first, and I tried to read it and understand it from cover to cover, and it was horrible. For me, it was hard to understand and so I felt like it was an impediment to me deepening my faith. Over the years, I’ve tried a bunch of different ways, I’ve listened to the Bible. I think it’s important, if you’re an audio person and that’s how you learn, if you’re an audio learner, then listen to the Bible. Don’t struggle through reading it just because you feel like you have to pick up a physical Bible. You don’t. The word is the word whether you listen to it or read it. So, choose your method, first of all. Do you like audio? Do you like to read? Do you like both? I actually like both. And then this is, to me, the single most important piece of advice I give to new Bible readers– just read it and don’t worry about whether you understand anything at all. I tell people it’s like going to get in a river and then that river just flows over you. Don’t worry about “I’m not understanding it and it’s difficult. What does this mean?” Now, if something jumps out and you really want to know, you might wanna stop there. Maybe that’s the Lord saying, “Hey, this is something you need to know right now. I want you to really focus on this.” But mostly, just let it flow over you. I had a friend that came to the Lord recently, one of my lifelong closest friends, Mike, and he’s not a big reader. So I told him, “If you’re gonna read the Bible, don’t worry about understanding it, you won’t understand. Just let the word flow over you like water flows through a river.” I’ve given that advice to a lot of people, it takes the pressure off. It’s not supposed to be pressure to read the Bible, you’re reading the Word, this is supposed to be pleasurable. Especially when you get into the Old Testament, there are particular parts that are really difficult like reading the genealogy in Genesis, it’s just names and lineages. It’s super hard, in my opinion, to stay focused on that. Leviticus is also very difficult, all the rules and prescriptions for how to live in the old Jewish law, and so I just read it. So, instead of skipping it– and I wanted to skip Leviticus, I could tell you that for sure–I just said, “No, I’m just going to read it. It doesn’t matter what I retain or if I retain any of it.” And my attitude is that God’s in it. What I’m supposed to retain will be retained, what I’m supposed to focus on will be focused on, and everything else is just going to flow over me like biblical water. So that’s how I recommend getting started.
Joey: Would you recommend, Mark, just based on your experience, to start with the gospels? I feel like a lot of pastors–maybe I would think this, if I heard this question– you have to start with the gospels, you have to start with Jesus, it’s the core and the whole thing. Do you think that sounds right? Or would you say that you have to read some of the Old Testament background and set up so that when you get to Jesus, you know what’s going on?
Start at the Beginning
M: For me, I tell people the Old Testament first. The reason that I do that is that, I feel like, if you go straight to John, it’s sort of the shortcut. It’s like the fast pass is at Disneyland. You go to the best ride and then you’re done. Truthfully, I think if you read that, if you read about salvation, there’s a temptation to do that. Like, “Oh, I get it. Jesus died for my sins. I acknowledge that, I acknowledge I’m a sinner, and I give my life to Jesus. But all this other stuff, why do I need all this other stuff? I get the story now.” Especially if you go back to Genesis, that’s where it all begins. I think all the “How did God create this?” and “Why are we here?” all come out of that. Salvation, of course, is the most important pivotal moment in history. But if you don’t know the history, I think you don’t get salvation. Not get as in you don’t receive, but get as in you don’t really understand the context for salvation.
T: Now, thinking about my own journey and the things that have made the biggest impact on me. A couple of things come to mind and one is the method of understanding the Bible, which is to start with observing. It’s what we as humans tend to do, we think of what we want the Bible to say and then go look for something that confirms it. And that’s not reading the Bible. That’s using the Bible to confirm what I already want to do. And the Bible is largely telling us what we ought to do for our own good, that’s mainly what the point of it is. And so, first, observe. That’s extremely difficult to do, it’s like listening. Most of us struggle with listening. We’re mostly thinking about what we’re going to say next and looking for an opportunity to get our words in instead of actually trying to just understand what that person is actually saying to me. Not only what are they saying, but what are they seeing. So, when you start observing or listening to the Bible, you’re actually asking “What is God seeing?” When you start seeing what God is seeing, it’s hard because he’s seeing you as a flawed person. We don’t like to see ourselves as flawed, limited people and judgmental or whatever else. But it’s real, it’s true. And the question is, “Are you going to embrace reality or not?”
The Three Pieces & C7 SJ
T: So that to me is the first thing–observe. Then, interpret. Then, the third piece, after observe and interpret, is correlate. To see if it all fits. Does everything fit? Does that first make sense in this passage and does this passage make sense in this book? And if it doesn’t, that probably means I didn’t observe well enough. So that whole approach–observe, interpret, correlate, then apply–that made an enormous impact on me. But the reason why I adopted those tools so much is because of listening to expositional preachers. People going through the Bible and reading it verse by verse and explaining it verse by verse, that was revelational to me. I could not have done the study without watching someone else do it first. It’s sort of like seeing a Major League player on TV and thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s what I want to figure out how to look like. And then you start putting in the practice thinking ‘maybe I can swing the bat like that, or maybe I can feel the ground or like that.’” And so, seeing that as an example and then saying, “Well, if I follow this passage and have some basic tools, I can do that myself too.” But that was an enormous influence on me. And the third tool I would say was a biblical historical framework. One of them was, the one I use the most, C7 SJ. The C is for creation. 7 is four people and three societies. The four people are Abraham, 2000 BC, Moses, 1500 BC, David, 1000 BC, and I don’t remember what the fourth one was. I don’t use that too much anymore. Then three societies, you had the period of self-governance, which was under the judges with 450 years of self-governance, and then the period of kings, we had kings from 1000 BC to 722 BC for the North and 586 BC for the South, and then exile. So you have these three things, and then Jesus. That’s the J in C7 SJ. Okay, well, that framework—2000 Abraham, 1500 Moses, 1000 King, 586 exile of Judah, 70 years to return, Alexander the Great, Romans, all that stuff, and then Christ–having everything on that timeline made a huge impact on me to be able to put things in a sequence and have a hook to hang everything off of. So those are the three things that I think I would encourage anybody to grab, those tools. And, actually, what we’re doing with Yellow Balloons is expositional. We have The Bible Says commentary, that is exposition. It talks you through the Bible. We only have, I think, two chapters of Leviticus up.
M: It’s slow, it’s hard.
T: We’ll get there. But we have a lot of Deuteronomy up now. I hope by the end of next month, we’ll be all the way through Deuteronomy 30. And as we do Deuteronomy, we’re talking people through that God is actually creating a treaty with Israel, and the treaty is articles, just like the US Constitution, the ten articles, like the Ten Commandments, and he’s explaining the Ten Commandments. And the point of it is, this is what will bless you to live a self-governing, love your neighbor lifestyle, which is mostly practical, right? If everybody is telling the truth and benefiting one another, society is going to be great. The alternative is to go after the foreign gods, which were all excuses to exploit your neighbor. If you have a strong exploit the weak society, it’s going to be a terrible place. He sets it out really starkly, you have to choose between these two things. And if you choose the good way, “I’m going to pour extra divine blessings on you because I want everybody to understand its evangelism, I want everybody to understand you’re a priestly holy nation. I want them to understand that this life is better, and then you’ll be a means by which people can come to me. And if you don’t do it this way, then you’re a bad example and I’m going to take you out of the land. And then he adds an extra covenant towards the end of Deuteronomy, that says, “But I will bring you back” when that happens. So having that kind of structure to explain and talk people through the scripture is what The Bible Says is doing.
Brand New to Scripture
M: Where would somebody who’s brand new go to get that structure? Because that’s something you came to after years of study.
T: We don’t really have any–well, maybe what we should do in this podcast is say we’ll give you three one-minute segments of here’s how to do the three key things. I would just do it right now in this podcast. I would just say, you can actually do those three things with observe and interpret. So first, listen, then ask what it means. That’s really a big deal.
M: I would say that matches what I said first, just observe. Just observe and let it flow.
T: Like a river.
M: You’re not trying to figure out what it means because you don’t know what it means.
Allow the Bible to Read You
J: We were with some people a couple of weeks ago, and I was reading one of their books after this meeting, and there’s this interesting language in that book where it says, “Instead of going in to read the Bible, allow the Bible to read you.” It’s kind of what they’re getting at, the same concept of what you’re talking about, the observable thing. Don’t go in by holding it on trial or trying to find the answers you already think are there. Just let it wash over you and let it be a mirror into your own life. And I would say this, and this is maybe just for me…I don’t know if there’s any right or wrong answer on where to start. I think the method is the most important thing.
M: The approach.
J: Yeah, the approach. I would recommend to somebody who is similar to me to start with Proverbs. Starting somewhere where you can let it kind of wash over you and you can let it sort of present to you the two realities that the entire Bible is presenting–wisdom and foolishness. Ecclesiastes talks about the same sort of thing, are you going to choose this direction or that direction? So those two books, maybe even Psalms. I don’t have to figure out the history and where things line up so much because I have less energy for that, but start in this place where it’s setting the stage of what reality looks like and how the world works, how the Kingdom of God is meant to work, and then go back and read the history. All that to say, there’s no real right or wrong way to do it.
Receive and Listen
T: I think the important things that have come out of this discussion is just start and try to receive and listen. Because the basic approach you should have is that God knows what’s best for me and he’s telling me. And that may mean I have to change, but if I’m changing from self-destruction to blessing, why would I not want to do that? And if you go at it from that perspective, you have a tremendous leg up. There’s a great passage in Revelation 3 where Jesus says, “If you will listen to my voice and invite me in to have an intimate meal with you, that is what will give you an infinite amount of gold, all you want. If you want treasure, that’s where you get it. Listen to me.” Listening happens in an intimate context, but we have to be thinking about God as someone who is sharing something very valuable and important to us. He’s infinite, so it might not be easy to understand, but he can get on our level. So, it’s accessible.
M: I would add that it’s important not to stress out on it. I think a lot of people do this, I did. “I don’t understand. It’s stressful because I don’t understand. It seems like all these other people understand, I’m not part of that club, I don’t get it yet.” And I think what I’ve come to know is, I’ll never get it.
T: Nobody understands.
M: Right, it’s infinite. We look at the universe through a pinhole. God sees all of it through all time all at once, so all we can do is do our best. And that’s good. That’s actually really good.
T: Well, we’re both (Tim & Mark) involved in politics and have gotten to see things at a very, so-called “high level.” And one of the things I think we can tell the listeners here authoritatively is there are no adults in the world and there never have been. You don’t see the Bible say, “the children and the adults.” It’s just children. Actually, it does talk about sons, those who have been adopted as being helped, these are the people that have been responsible. But it’s not in the worldly sense, that’s in a faith sense, and nobody really understands. And the so-called “great man,” that’s all delusion. You can even go back to history. Julius Caesar was mainly a great PR guy. That’s what he was great at. So there are some people that are amazing, but there are probably more amazing people that you don’t know about for sure than the people that you do.
M: Yeah. For sure.
J: Yeah, I think being patient and one of the things that was huge for me–I don’t know if this would be a good place to start necessarily–-but one of the things that was huge for me is memorizing scripture because it caused me to slow down and not feel this pressure that I had to go all the way through this thing and understand it all at once. It was like, “Alright, let me just really digest a little bit at a time, and maybe if you started doing that with just a passage or two, it would help you to train yourself to observe and to slow down and then you could get into things a little bit more fully. As a writer, they tell you to just write. You have writer’s block, just try. Just sit down and if it’s terrible and you don’t do anything to feel successful, that’s progress. Because the next time you sit down, that’ll be out of your system. So I think it’s the same sort of thing, just start. Don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out by the end of one session. It is a journey and it is a mystery and it always will be. But the joy is engagement. so engage.
T: That’s great. I’d forgotten about memorizing. That’s a huge part of my journey and I take it for granted. I just forgot that it was such a big pillar at some point in time.
M: You know, what’s so funny about that is that people are so different. When you say memorize, I just feel stressed.
M: Yeah, I don’t have any scripture memorized. I’m not good at memorizing. It stresses me out to have to memorize.
T: Interesting. I sort of memorize. I memorized more or less what it says.
M: So you’re paraphrasing?
T: Pretty much paraphrasing.
M: I can handle that. It’s the stress of remembering every word that just makes it very unpleasant for me.
T: A lot of times you see Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament and they’re not exact.
T: It’s very Biblical.
M: Now I feel relieved, thank you.
J: Yeah, for me, I would have said the same thing. I don’t like memorizing. I’m not particularly good at it, but I was at a point in my life where–we were talking about before–I was just kind of rethinking things and I just did it. And the thing that was beautiful for me about it is that I’ve memorized whole books of the Bible, the whole Book of James. So when someone talks about it, it’s like a friend that I know.
M: Yeah, that’s great. It’s in you.
J: And to me, I’m such a big picture guy that reading everything and these chunks was hard because I’m just hurrying to try to finish. There’s so much in there and I want to consume it all and then figure out what the big picture is. And the irony is that I was missing all of the trees and so I didn’t know what the forest looked like. So to give myself permission to just slow down and marinate on this a little bit was really huge for me. But yeah, not for everybody, not something prescriptive for everyone, but was a really valuable tool for me to engage with scripture in a more meaningful way.
T: Just start. Any starting place is fine. Just observe, just listen. There are the other tools that can be really helpful to you when you’re ready.
M: Yeah, I would say the key single word is just enjoy. This is God’s gift to us. This is His Word. Just enjoy it.
T: It’s his word that’s wholly given for our benefit.