This ‘18-‘19 series is my way of celebrating some of my deepest values leading up to my 50th birthday this spring. The fall series featured four “concessions” on life’s downers; this winter & spring features “confessions” that drive who I am.
The Bible “happened” to me. That ancient text changed my life in fundamentally transformative ways beginning most effectually during my freshman year in college. Yes, I was raised with belief in God and a love for Jesus, but other than my CCD and Confirmation classes in my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I scarcely ever read the Bible, whether during Sunday Mass, with my family, or on my own. I heard it every week, and our culture was generally more biblically literate 35 years ago, but there is a difference between merely hearing and actively reading, at least when it comes to increasing the likelihood of applying what is both heard and read.
Let me get specifically personal. When my mom died at 4:30 p.m. on 9/22/85, I not only witnessed her prayer-filled, faith-based entrance into eternity at the moment of her last breath, but I felt the love of God during my last two years of high school when I adjusted to life without Mom (and I was a Mommy’s boy, since she doted on me and understood me, so it was quite the adjustment). However, I had a faith that wasn’t squarely based in my mind as well as in my heart, so I was hungry for God’s Word once I moved to Frontier Hall at the U of MN in Fall 1987.
My main mentor in my life has been my older brother by nine years, Tom. As I began at the U, he urged me to try a Christian campus group. I blew him off at first, but the trials of being away from home, despising my restaurant job in Dinkytown, involved in zero extracurriculars, and learning that I happened to live across the hall from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Dorms Chapter Student President Loren Eyres all converged to make me finally follow Tom’s advice! After I went on a Spring 1988 retreat called “Bible and Life,” Tom and his wife, Beth, gave me a precious gift for my 19th birthday: a Study Bible with my name inscribed on the cover and a brotherly blessing to encourage me. I read it voraciously beginning that summer.
(Aside: What did Tom & Beth give me a year later for my 20th birthday? Juggling for the Complete Klutz with three beginner’s beanbags. Mentorship can be indescribably life-changing.)
Let me summarize the rest of my personal experience with the Bible by simply saying that once I made reading, study and memorization a habit and lifestyle, my faith went from feelings-based (or merely tradition-informed) to fact-based (history, doctrines, a guidebook for all of life). Fittingly, by God’s providence, I met Wendy DeGroot that same pivotal year in Fall 1988, and we grew as friends even as I grew in my knowledge of God’s Word. Our very relationship has been one of the first and best ways that God helped me to apply His word to my life (I believe He rewarded me for seeking Him first–see Matthew 6:33 and Hebrews 11:6), and it became the subsequent center of our courtship, engagement, and now nearly 26-year marriage (and by inference, our leadership of JUGHEADS). While my personal discipline of daily Bible reading didn’t take solid hold until my late 30’s (my disciplines were much more fickle as a younger man), I’m now in my 12th systematic reading of all 66 books, and it’s very rare that I ever miss a day regardless of season, location, mood, trial, or triumph.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews put it well when he described the Bible this way: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than an two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, ESV). The Apostle Paul stated just before his execution, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV). And harkening back to my October 2018 column “Life is Short,” I’ll finish a great quote from the Prophet Isaiah as he contrasts a person’s earthly life span with the Bible: “The grass (each person) withers, the flower (a person’s vitality) fades, but the word of our God (the Bible and the promises therein) will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8, ESV).
There are many biblical apologists out there such as the late C.S. Lewis and well-known contemporary Christian intellectual Josh McDowell who champion God’s Word. McDowell’s books More Than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict offer logically sound arguments about the historicity of Christianity and reliability of the Bible, including that it was written over the course of 1,500 years by some 40 authors spanning three continents and two main languages (Hebrew and Greek) with continuity in its message. Any translation errors are syntactical; any so-called contradictions are refutable; people’s changed lives are undeniable.
I won’t repeat more raw stats such the brief sampling above, but in a chapter title from More Than a Carpenter, McDowell simply stated, “He Changed My Life.” The “He” in this context is Jesus the Christ, the Name simultaneously most revered and most vilified in world history, the Name most often uttered in prayer by some and taken in vain (to say the least) by others. That Name will be honored in my column next month.
Meanwhile, this naturally heart-led, partially-orphaned, non-scientific-type, middle aged man testifies to the fact that I live every day by the truths that I hold dear in the Bible. I’ve overcome trusting my sinful heart by trusting the inerrant truth of God’s Word. I’m betting my life and my eternal destiny on its veracity, and my constant goal is that my life reflects its truth claims. Such claims could be summed up in what my 3-year-old nephew Ben Arneberg, the oldest child of Tom & Beth, sang to Wendy & me during our wedding reception on 5/29/93:
“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.”