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!
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!