“I needed to step back and let God speak to me as a child” Immerse Email Testimony

Last week we received an email from Kevin Kellogg, Groups Pastor at Grace Fellowship near Columbus, OH. In January they launched the New Testament Challenge using Immerse: Messiah.

Kevin forwarded an email he had received from Todd, a member at Grace Fellowship who has been deeply blessed by his experience with Immerse. His story, and others we’ve heard, are what the Bible Reading Movement is all about.

Rather than setting up an interview with Todd as we’ve previously done with Immerse stories, we’re sharing his story word-for-word as he originally wrote it. Enjoy!


Kevin,

The past six weeks has been an unexpected journey for me.

I would consider myself an above average bible student. I grew up in a church that instilled the importance of committing bible verses to memory. Starting in Pre-Sunday School we would be sent home with new memory verses every week. The teacher took the time each Sunday to listen to those who memorized their verse and placed a star next to the names of those who completed it successfully. At the end of the year we would graduate to the next class “with honors” if we had perfect attendance AND successfully completed our memory work for the year.

As we got older the competition got harder and the “prizes” grew in value. We went from memorizing verses to memorizing chapters and even books. In order to be at the top of the list you had to do way more than just memorize verses and attend church on Sundays. By the time we were in junior high school we would have to do community service, teach bible classes and even preach a sermon to the church. The prize was no longer stickers and recognition but we would be rewarded with new bibles, full scholarships to summer camp, pizza parties and Cedar Point or Kings Island tickets.

My bible education continued after high school too. I attended bible college for four years, taught in-depth bible classes, did a lot of preaching, homeschooled four children, etc. Needless to say, after more than 50 years of life, I have “studied” the bible from cover to cover many times.

I emphasize “studied” because I grew up in a church in which we were instructed to always read the bible with a critical mind. The translation being used was of utmost importance. Some translations were careful translations of the oldest sources of manuscripts available. Whereas, other “translations” were either “transliterations” (paraphrases) or “translations” of translations. For that reason, you really had to really understand the source of your scripture. Once we were certain we were reading from a respectable translation we almost always approached scripture from the perspective of “This is what it says; This is what it means; This is what other denominations wrongly interpret this passage as saying.” For this reason, it is difficult for me, to this day, to read a passage of scripture without critiquing it based on standards that have been drilled into me from a very early age.

The reason for the lengthy background to my Immerse experience is because it is necessary to understand the enormity of the blessing I am receiving through this study. My apprehension from the very beginning of the NT Challenge was that I knew we would be reading from a translation that I have not vetted and we were only given 8 weeks to read through the entire New Testament. (It took me three years to teach a Sunday School class on the book of Hebrews alone). Eight weeks would never be enough time to cross reference everything I was reading with other translations as well go through the whole process of analyzing the 4 W’s and H, then comparing the meaning of the current passage with all the other areas of the bible that mention the same topic.

This is an area, I can now see, that God has been working with me in regards to my life-long critical indoctrination and that I needed to step back and let God speak to me as a child. Before we began reading Immerse, I resolved that I would NOT be critical of what I was reading, I would NOT “STUDY” what I was reading. Rather, I would read the assigned lessons exactly as we were being assigned – a few pages each day, five days a week. I would attempt to suppress any preconditioned understanding that would emerge to the forefront of my thinking and would try to take the words I was reading at face value, as I was reading it. I was so committed to this approach that I challenged my entire group with the same thing – knowing there were a few that had a similar background as me.

The result for me has been amazing! When I first started reading Immerse, everyday I broke my commitment to not cross-reference with another version because I was constantly reading something that I have never seen before. Every time I looked up a phrase or meaning that I KNEW did not exist in my translation, I was proven wrong. By the end of the first week I was convinced and renewed my commitment to stick to “reading only”.

Daily I go through disbelief at how simple the meaning of the scriptures are rolling off the pages and directly speaking to me. It goes beyond that though. It is definitely refreshing to read the bible from this perspective. I would never be able to tell you how many times I have read through the bible – the equivalent of cover to cover. What I will tell you is that I am near the completion of reading through the New Testament for the first time in my entire life. It is like I studied the abridged version of the bible my entire life and for the first time ever I have been offered the opportunity to read the complete work.

The complete work is SPEAKING to me. It is CHANGING MY LIFE. My take away from this past six weeks is that God is calling me into the ministry. What that looks like, I don’t know. It may be that He wants me to be more evangelistic in my secular life. It may be He wants me more involved in the local church. It may be He is calling me to mission work. It may be full-time ministry. All I can tell you is right now, He is doing the speaking and I am doing the listening and I’ve told Him – “Whatever you want Lord – Here I am.” Now I’m just waiting on Him in His timing.

Thank you for presenting me with the NT Challenge. It continues to bless me!

Todd

Immerse: The Reading Bible is Finished

This week our team is celebrating the completion of Immerse: The Reading Bible, a project we’ve been working on with our partners at Tyndale House Publishers for the past eighteen months. Immerse: Prophets arrived from the printer in late February and rounded out the six-volume set, which represents our best work yet in the “reader’s edition” Bible category.

Click here to buy the full set at 25% off

Immerse: The Reading Bible contains several new innovations compared to our previous work with reader’s Bibles:

  • We used scientific research on the length of the reading line, number of characters, margin size, and font size to find the optimal balance for the most comfortable reading experience.
  • A fresh book order in the prophets, the order of Paul’s letters, and the order of the four gospel groups in the New Testament
  • Custom watercolor cover artwork commissioned specifically for Immerse
  • Brand new sections in the back of each volume explaining how each type of biblical literature works, and how the smaller stories of the Bible work together to create the grand narrative

The first two volumes, Messiah and Beginnings, have already found significant traction within churches across North America as part of the Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience church campaign.

“Immerse is spreading organically from church to church as early adopters tell stories about positive experiences reading Immerse: Messiah,” said Doug Knox, Sr. Vice President and Group Publisher at Tyndale.

Using the six-volume set, churches are invited to read through the entire Bible together over the course of three years, given they read through one volume each spring and fall. Many pastors don’t want to wait that long. “Immerse recommends a cycle of two modules a year, but we had people asking, ‘What’s next?’” pastor Chris Morrison told us, “So we started Beginnings right away. I can’t believe it, but we just finished reading Leviticus. And we’ve had great discussions!”

The Spanish edition of Immerse, Inmersión: La Biblia de lectura, is close behind the English version. Four of the six volumes have been printed, with the last two scheduled for completion later this year. All of the church campaign materials have been translated as well.

“IFBR and Tyndale are delighted to witness the seeds of a global Bible reading movement taking root,” says Knox, “We expect to see a thousand more churches enroll over the next twelve months.”

While the Bible itself is finished in English, much work remains to complete the accompanying church campaigns for all six volumes. We are raising money to produce the preview videos that go along with each week’s reading and help the reader become familiar with the historical and literary context of what they’re about to read. Messiah and Beginnings videos are finished, but we still need to create videos for the final four campaigns — 32 videos total.

Check out the video for Messiah Week 6, introducing the Jewish perspective of Matthew’s gospel:

These videos are an integral part of the Immerse experience. If you’d like to support our work to finish them for all six volumes, we’d really appreciate if you head over to our Donate page and make a gift. Thanks so much!

Colorado Springs Pastor Sees Immerse as a New Way of Doing Church

Josh Ellis is Executive Pastor at Springs Community Church in Colorado Springs and helped lead their congregation through Immerse: Messiah this past fall. It was déjà vu for Josh, who helped launch a similar initiative at Woodmen Valley Chapel in 2014. In my interview with Josh, we talked about both experiences, and why he thinks Immerse isn’t simply a church program, but represents a “new Reformation” for how the church should operate in the future.

What were the big takeaways at Woodmen Valley and Springs Community Church?

In both settings, we underestimated people’s appetite for reading the Bible in this fresh way. At Springs Community Church this fall we sold-out of our inventory three weeks in a row.

At Woodmen Valley we had a group of about 1,000 people who we identified as regular attenders but with no interest in any other church activities. We’d tried everything to get them into the mainstream. Nothing worked. But when we invited the whole congregation to an 8-week, book club experience for the New Testament, over 800 of the 1,000 non-participants joined a group. We were shocked! It completely reoriented the way we thought about them. They weren’t lazy—they were more likely bored and under-challenged.

At Springs Community Church, we had a group of veteran Bible readers who were initially not excited about reading a new-fangled Bible without chapters and verses. But within a couple of weeks, reports filtered back to our staff—life-long Bible readers “surprised” and “wowed” by their reading. 95% of the congregation participated in Immerse, including many who had no history with the Bible. At the end the reluctant veterans confessed, “We were wrong.”

How has this front row seat to two pretty remarkable experiences impacted you?

In my heart of hearts, I’ve come to believe the church is poised for a new Reformation. I think of the emergence of jazz music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Musical styles hadn’t changed much for hundreds of years. Then jazz came along with more freedom, the band working together to create harmonies, without a single conductor. Immerse in its unadulterated form allows the story to flow more freely from the text. When the church comes together to read, there’s a partnership between the pulpit and the pew. Theology isn’t just academic work. Immerse is really giving the Bible back to the people.

What are the challenges once a church finishes an eight-week Immerse experience?

At Springs Community we have work to do to keep people from falling back into their old Bible reading habits. I suspect that’s true of other churches as well. So between our Immerse campaigns, I’ve piloted a Sunday morning group that follows the Immerse DNA. We read larger sections, ask open-ended questions, and always seek to understand context.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

In my mind I can imagine what might happen if this way of reading catches on. Think of what might happen in a city if churches came together to read this way. I don’t think a new Reformation is hyperbole.

Small Group Loves “Fresh” Experience with Immerse

Barb and Glenn Martin have spent much of their lives in the education field — Barb as a faculty member at Bethel University, Glenn as a teacher, coach, and high-school principal. They both love the Word of God, faithfully participating in Bible studies and programs at their church in Roseville, MN.

When they heard about Immerse, Barb said, “It immediately captured our hearts and attention. so we thought, ‘let’s pilot it at church. If we can get a green light from our pastoral staff, we thought getting into the Word of God and doing it in the way that the Immerse program has been written would be a great way to get into the Bible with some folks from church and see where it goes.'”

Barb and Glenn’s group recently finished reading through the New Testament together using Immerse: Messiah, so I caught up with them to see how it went.

Tell me about your experience with the Bible prior to Immerse.

Glenn: I’ve tried to be very diligent in the Word in many ways. For the last five years I’ve been doing the One Year Bible in various ways, most recently chronologically using the Bible app on my phone. I’ve really enjoyed that and have done it faithfully for many years. I have emails that come with topical ways to get in the Word. I’ve been in Men’s groups that have been in the Word doing leadership and discipleship studies. I love the Word of God…but I’ve been excited about Immerse. I’m thinking this really has possibilities for believers and seekers alike.

Barb: In my own study I’ve been slowly working my way from beginning to end in a Bible study program. Women’s studies at church, book studies, that type of thing. When we went to Israel in 2014 we read The Harmony of the Gospels in preparation. That was fun and different from anything I’d done before.

How would you describe your personal experience with Immerse?

Barb: I liked it a lot. The approach and way it was structured was fresh. We started out with Luke and Acts and then Paul’s Letters, and the sequencing of that was very interesting. I really liked the notes at the beginning that gave you an introduction to what you were going to be experiencing – I thought that was very helpful. I did like the format without the chapter and verse breaks and just reading it like a book! It was fresh. It was interesting.

I also liked the fact that we had a range of people who joined our group – some people with great Bible knowledge, some with very little. We read with the four questions in mind and what we’d like to share with the group. It was approachable and it wasn’t threatening. We had the freedom to go off on different tangents, and it was wonderful to see what people picked up on as they were answering those questions themselves. It made you say, “I never took it like that” or, “That’s an interesting thought.” It was really neat to see the Body of Christ at work in the Holy Spirit revealing things to all of us in different places.

Glenn: I echo a lot of that. Additionally, for me personally, I really appreciated the way it caused you to see the flow of Scripture. The flow of Luke to Acts to the letters of Paul – that type of thing. The idea of the Gentile track and the Hebrew track of the New Testament was something I knew about but I hadn’t really read it that way. It helped me see it in a new way—dots that got connected in ways I’d never really fully understood because for the most part I’d read the Bible chronologically every day, but it’s piecemeal, it’s smaller chunks. To have this more global, holistic, 10-thousand-foot view was refreshing and revealed things I hadn’t seen before.

How was your group’s experience?

Glenn: As Barb said, there was varied experience and differing depths of faith. So some of the questions that were raised were really eye-opening for me. One guy asked some questions that seemed obvious at first, but when you stop to really think about it, it’s a very foundational question. It really helped me see the potential of this kind of study with nonbelievers and seekers because it’s really non-threatening. Here’s a book, four questions, what do you think? You don’t have to be a Bible expert, experienced theologian, don’t need a degree, don’t need a concordance to really be blessed by it.

Barb: When we presented this to the group – the reading schedule and everything, there was an element of excitement that in eight weeks we could read the New Testament. It was a fun challenge, and for everyone to say, “Wow, the weeks flew by” and at the end it was really a nice celebration! We did the New Testament in eight weeks! I thought that was a really fun part of it – that we did it together.

What does your future with Immerse look like?

Glenn: A couple of us from the group are heading south for a few months, but the rest of them are continuing with Beginnings and we’re being encouraged to Skype in to the discussions. The group definitely wanted to continue and they actually had their first meeting last night.

Saddleback Small Group Loves Immerse

Chris Chapman has been practicing law in Southern California for well over a decade. Recently he created Chapman Sports and Entertainment—a full service sports and marketing agency where Chris is a certified agent with both the NFL and NBA. When I talked to him this week, he was on his way to the Pacific Northwest to scout out two college football players for the NFL.

Chris grew up in pastor’s home in Texas and attends Saddleback Church but had never read the New Testament. So when his small group leader at Saddleback Church recommended the group read through Immerse: Messiah, Chris jumped at the chance.

Tell me about your experience with the Bible before Immerse.
Reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, has always been on my bucket list, but when I tried to read I found it cumbersome and overwhelming. I think part of the problem was that I was reading from an older Bible that I got from church when I was a kid. I even downloaded a Bible app thinking that would help, but I found that overwhelming as well.

So how was your experience reading Immerse: Messiah?
Honestly I was a little intimidated at first. I’m not a big reader—I kind of got burned out reading so much in law school. But I was surprised at how easily Immerse read. I liked the layout, and the more contemporary language of the NLT* really helped—although at first I kept going back to my original Bible to make sure Immerse was getting it right. [Author’s note: This is what lawyers do—right?]

As a busy lawyer who’s in court a lot, were you able to keep up with the reading?
Honestly, once I got started reading, it was hard for me to stop. I’d take it to the office with me, and I actually ended up getting ahead of the 8-week reading schedule. I was surprised at how easy it was. I figured I was reading two to three hours a week. The book introductions are brilliant and helped me understand the cultural background and helped put everything in context for the reader.

How important was it that you read Immerse: Messiah with your group?
The group experience was critical. Even though I was enjoying the reading, I’m not sure I’d have kept reading without the group motivation. I really wanted to engage in the conversations when we got together, so the group really kept me on task. The book club approach was also helpful. I’m not looking for more work! So I’d just read and show up.

What were your group conversations like?
The discussions were great! People caught things that I’d missed and vice versa. A number of times we recalled that Pastor Rick had preached on this before, but now we were seeing it as part of the whole. We actually had one of Saddleback’s pastors in our group, and occasionally we’d pick his brain about something we didn’t understand, but because we’d all read about fifty pages that week, everyone had a lot to contribute.

Where do you go from here with the Bible?
I ordered copies of Immerse and sent them to members of my family. And I’m excited that Immerse: Messiah has come out in Spanish! We have relatives in Mexico and want to send them copies as well. Also, as my sports agency grows, I hope to share Immerse with the athletes I’m working with. I don’t want to cram anything down their throats, but I hope to give them a copy when the time is right.

As a group, we’re talking about starting Beginnings. I definitely want to read the Old Testament.

*This is a typical response for people who read the NLT for the first time. Another person said to me: “With the NLT, I spend more time understanding it and less time trying to understand it.”