J. Ellsworth Kalas shares a story in What I Learned When I Was Ten of Gene Palmer, a revival preacher, who came to dinner on his last Sunday in town. In the course of dinner, Kalas’ mom shared with Palmer of Kalas’ call to ministry. Kalas was 10 years old. Palmer took this announcement seriously and asked to speak to young Kalas alone. Palmer asked, “Have you read the bible through yet?” Kalas replied, “Uh-huh, I read the bible.” Palmer pushes, “No. I asked if you’ve read it through?” “All the way?,” asked Kalas. Palmer pushes even more, “All the way! How can you hope to be a preacher if you haven’t read the bible through?”
In two weeks, 10 days to be specific, I will complete a journey that started on January 1, 2011: Reading through the bible…in community. The community was within a closed Facebook group.
Our senior pastor sets a scripture to give clarity and a focus for our particular body of Christ for the upcoming season. On Christmas Eve 2010, He called us to ‘Let the Spirit of God grow in you” for 2011. Seemed easy enough: be a part of a bible study.
But I had some challenges:
- I lived 50 minutes away from the church
- I was on staff, so I could be seen as an ‘authority’, though FAR from it
- Most of the congregation commuted to downtown Atlanta for work and had little time to carve out one more thing like a typical bible study
- I had just started at this church the previous April, so I had no real credibility in being a part of a discipleship program…these folks didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat
So I opened a closed facebook group to begin January 1st. The parameters were…
- We’d promote it in the church and on facebook
- Starting in Matthew, we’d follow a reading plan, reading several chapters in the New Testament, in order, each day
- We’d post our train of thought in a comment each day, though we’d take weekends and holidays off
- The first one to post started with a comment (November 10: Zephaniah 9: ‘comment’) and others would add their comments to the comment stream
We started with five commenters/members. We found after we read the New Testament that we wanted to continue, but with adjusted parameters:
- Read one chapter each day beginning in Psalms and through Proverbs, taking the weekends and holidays off
- Periodically promote it in the bulletin and on facebook allowing others to join if one of the originating members knew them.
- We’d keep on reading and keep on commenting and if a fellow sojourner wanted to join in who was known by a member of the group, we’d add them in
After finishing the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, we completed the first year. But found we wanted to continue this new habit, this new spiritual discipline. So come January 2012, we started the Old Testament, one chapter each day, taking the weekend and holidays off. The first to comment started the stream for that day.
Today, we have thirty members, but typically have only three to five comment, or ‘like’, or view. We have members from all over the country and include both men and women. Members have come in and out in comment activity. Each one perhaps not able to carve hours out of their daily schedule to gather together and study the bible in a typical way. Rather, we have dedicated to start out each morning with reading one chapter each day and commenting what is on our hearts and minds, a simple prayer, keeping it clean of disunifying rants, and just sharing in our pajamas or work suits and over a cup of coffee or tea or Diet Coke.
The accountability has been fantastic. The habit has been transforming. There are now a few folks who know ALL the colors of my rainbow through the lens of scripture…and I remember a whole lot more of what I’ve read. For goodness sakes, just when I thought obeying God was the easiest thing in the world, I read in Isaiah 20 that God asked Isaiah to go around stripped and barefoot for 3 years….naked and barefoot for 3 years! And Isaiah did it! I don’t know how I missed that before.
We’ve decided to continue on through the New Testament again in two weeks. One chapter at a time so to be molded and challenged by the holy word of God as we did the Old Testament, Psalms and Proverbs rather than the chunks of scripture we started out with. For just about everyone, they accomplished something rare, especially for Christians….American Christians: They read the whole bible through.
“The most frequent excuse for not growing in our spiritual lives is lack of time. Most of us live at the mercy of our schedule, instead of planning ahead and arranging our schedule around our apprenticeship to Jesus.” Rev James Bryan Smith, from The Good And Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ