james ray johnson

My wife left her Bible at a church we had visited.  I sent my friend, the pastor, an email letting him know we would get it the next Sunday.  He replied, I’ll watch for the Bible, and make sure no one reads it till she gets it back.” 

That earned a belly laugh.  BUT he wasn’t far off the mark.  Sometimes we pastors truly discourage a person from reading the Bible. 

Sometimes it’s extreme.  I was raised in a church that frowned upon personal Bible reading.  I guess they didn’t think we could get the truth right.  So, I never even saw a personal Bible until I was a student at Ohio State University. 

The Gideons distributed free copies of Good News for Modern Man to any student who would have one.  It even had pictures, which helped this biblically illiterate guy

In most cases the discouragement is subtle.  As a now retired pastor I plead guilty.   I bet there were times when I unintentionally communicated something like, “You people can’t understand the Bible as well as I do, because I have a cemetery (I mean Seminary) degree.” 

When I preached, I presented the highly synthesized fruit of my study.  I left very few specific bread crumbs that might help my flock track and probe the truth for themselves.

And then there were times, when someone would get excited about some truth he discovered.  “Pastor, look what I found in my Bible.”  I wonder how often I gave that person a positive, but underwhelming response.  “That’s nice,” while I was thinking, “Oh big deal I saw that 20 years ago.” 

My response to him should have been over the top, frothing at the mouth, full of excitement.  He was reading his Bible. -That’s pretty great!  And the Spirit of God was giving Him insight. –   Incredible.  And He was excited about what he was finding.  – He should be!  Shame on me.    

My greatest regret was that I stood by and watched various small group ministries trade in participation-based first-hand Bible study, to passively sit in front of a flat screen and watch a megachurch pastor teach. 

By the way, do you know what the difference is between a pastor and a congregant?  The pastor is paid to be good.  The rest of us are good for nothing! 

Because of pastors like me, you have a right to be bored with your Bible.  But, its so sad, because the Word of God is an incredibly exciting book.  And the greatest joy is in discovery.  There is nothing, nothing like the experience of poring over a verse, when suddenly the Lord breaks through the heavens to personally tutor you on its meaning. 

The disciples on the road to Emmaus put it this way, “They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?”- Luke 24:32 NET Bible ®

May I attempt restore what I may have taken away? 

Pick up your Bible this evening.  Start with the Gospel of Mark. Read only one paragraph – just one – but really read it.    As you read it, answer these three questions:  (I’ll use Mark 1:35-39 as an example.)

1) What do I see?   (Write down anything, big or small, that you observe. Look hard!)

Example: (based on Mark 1:35-39) It was early morning, Jesus got out of bed in the dark.  He left to go to a place of solitude. He was there to pray, and he was missed. Simon and the others looked for him. He wasn’t where they expected him to be.  They wanted him to go back to town to do more healing.  He politely refused in order to pursue his mission to preach.   Then ask…

2) What does it mean?

Example: Pursuing the mission that God gave Jesus was very important.  When His mission was threatened by pressure, He reset His priorities by spending time in prayer.  Then ask…

3) What should I do with it? 

Example:  I need to follow Jesus’ example and spend regular time in prayer.  I need to figure out God mission for me and pursue it. 

If you were to read the Scripture in this way you would get more benefit than having sat through a dozen of my sermons.  (I am serious).  You will be cutting out the middle man and going right to the source – the fountain of truth.  

OK so there won’t be as many jokes – but the experience of having a two-way conversation with God is better – way better.


Bonus:  If you want to probe deeper, check out www.Biblehub.com to access an enormous and free online library.