Can you imagine starting a church in one of the most post-Christian cities in the U.S.? That's exactly what Megan and Stephen did when they moved to Madison, Wisconsin, with a mission to create a community that fights loneliness and isolation while connecting people with God and each other. Despite being told that a fast-growing or large church would never work here, they believed Jesus goes to the dark places and wanted to be his hands and feet in the city.
One common belief we encounter is that if people simply read the Bible, they'll become believers. However, an atheist lawyer from the Freedom from Religion Foundation disagrees, arguing that the road to atheism is littered with Bibles that have been read cover to cover. So, we dive into the importance of not just reading the good book, but understanding how to approach it. We share a simple three-step model for Bible reading: read, reflect, and respond, as well as the significance of picking the right translation and not relying solely on paraphrases.
As we wrap up, we explore the crucial role of engaging with the Bible in our spiritual journey. We discuss how the Bible is not only static, but dynamic – God continues to speak and work through it. We also address the idea that some people feel they don't need to read the Bible anymore, and examine the warning of Psalm 1 that those who meditate on the law of the Lord will prosper in all they do. Join us and be challenged to maintain an open attitude towards your faith and respond to what you read in the Bible.
My name is Steven Feith. Welcome to our online audience watching. At a later time, when Megan and I were thinking about moving to Madison back in 2012, 2013, we were praying God where do you want us to start a church? I know many of you have heard this story, so I'll just do the quick version. We were praying and we really felt like we were called to the Midwest. We've really felt like we were called to an urban setting. We also felt like we wanted to be in a city in which there were a lot of people who weren't sure about faith. To us. That was a big selling point For a lot of people. That was the reason why we shouldn't come here. I remember when we tell people we're praying about where to go and we really feel like we should go to Madison, wisconsin, to start Madison Church, People would say don't go to Madison. It is so liberal. That's what they would say. They meant it It's liberal. Don't go there. They would say it's so godless. Oftentimes the two are tied together liberal and godless. Don't raise your hand about your political views right now. I love you all. They would say. The freedom from religion foundation is there. You're going to get sued. We have not been sued yet. Knock on some wood here. They say you'll never be able to, stephen. If you go anywhere, stephen, you could start a really fast growing and big church. I was like stars, i could be like mini famous. But they say you go to Madison, that won't be your story. They said it's hard ground. You'll never have a fast growing or big church. And to be honest and many of you who know me and you've been to Madison Church more than this week, you know that fast growing, big, those were never kind of values of ours. We wanted to start a church that would help people connect with God and connect with each other. We wanted to create community. We wanted to fight loneliness and isolation. We wanted to help people who had real questions find some real answers. We just wanted to be real with people. And so for all of those reasons, we were like, hey, madison's even great. So what they meant to deter us, don't go there. It was more of a reason for us. We got excited. We're like we want to go there because we believe, and we still do believe. We believe Jesus goes to the shadow lands. We believe Jesus goes to the dark places. The light doesn't run from darkness. And so we were like well, we're going to be the hands and feet of Christ, we're going to try to start a church in the city. Now, many of you don't know this Maybe you do know this but Madison is one of the most post Christian cities in the United States. One of the most post Christian cities in the United States, according to Barna. They do this report every two or three years. They asked the population questions like do you pray or not? Or how often do you pray? Don't pray. How often do you think about life after life, eternal life, what is heaven, what is hell? Those type of questions. And when people are answering those questions, they show little to no curiosity. They don't pray, they don't read the Bible, don't do any of that. And so, about two thirds, if you're curious, what is the percentage in Madison? About two thirds. And so if you're in the line at the grocery store later today and there's three of you in line, you're probably the one who isn't post Christian. And again, those were all positive reasons for why we wanted to come here and be a bright light. I've heard people say too about Madison when we were planning this church, that they needed a really good Bible church And you guys know I teach the Bible. That's what we do here. Madison Church. We teach the Bible, including footnotes and table of contents. We do all of that stuff Okay. But they would always say, if we could just get people to read the Bible, they wouldn't be one of the most post Christian cities in the US. If we could just get people to read the Bible, that was it. That was the magic solution. But I want you to consider what one of the lawyers for the freedom of religion once wrote in a book said the road to atheism not believing God at all, any God is littered with Bibles that have been read from cover to cover. The road to atheism is covered in Bibles. So what many think is the solution to the problem? if we could just get this into the hands of everybody, if we could just get them to open it, if we could just get them to read one verse and just get them turned on to the Bible, that would solve the problem. But an atheist, someone who is a lawyer at the freedom from religion foundation, actually says no, that's not the solution to the problem. That is the problem. We have read the Bible And that's what makes today's topic We're talking about how to read the Bible So important. We can read the Bible, you can read the Bible. We put the Bibles out for everyone. You can take those Bibles They're free. You can download a Bible app. It's one of the most downloaded apps for Apple is the U version Bible app. You can access the Bible. Almost anyone in the US can easily access a Bible. But what's difficult is that the Bible is hard to read. The Bible is so hard to read. There are so many things going on, nuances that you're aware of and a whole lot of nuances that we're not aware of Why. Because we're not first century Jews living in Jerusalem. We didn't walk with Jesus. We lived 2,000 years after that. Our Bibles have been translated from original Greek to now English. There are verse numbers now. They didn't have verse numbers back then. So it gets complicated And the more complicated we read it, we get these hard questions. These hard questions. If we don't get answers, they lead us to the place where we can be like atheists or agnostics or people who are deconstructing their faith and say I've got all of these questions and there are no good answers, and oftentimes I think that it comes to just not knowing how to read the Bible. Again, i think the Bible can be confusing. I'm somebody who has studied this a lot. You get to a place like in Exodus 23, i believe it's verse 19, when God is telling the Jewish people about three annual festivals that they're supposed to have and how they're supposed to do these festivals. And then we get to a part where God is talking about the tithe. As you harvest your crops, bring the very best, the first harvest, to the house of the Lord, your God. We're like yes, generosity, good, giving back, good, tithing, good, hard, but good. And then it's a smooth transition to this next point, which is you must not cook a young goat in its mother's milk. And you're like wait a second, what Did I read that right? And you look, and I did read that right. Yeah, it's right there on the screen. And you just kind of wonder what's going on in that society where we're talking about giving back. And then all of a sudden, he's like oh, and, by the way, this is urgent, stop cooking the young goats in their mother's milk. And you might wonder like, what's the application for me? today, living in Madison, wisconsin, i imagine a lot of you aren't cooking young goats? Some of you might. You might have a restaurant, okay, you might cook goats, but I don't know how many of you. The recipe calls for cooking it in their mother's milk, and if that is your recipe, you should stop right now. Just don't do that anymore. Again, i've never thought about it And I've definitely not associated eating goats with tithing, but that's what we get in Exodus 23. And so it's okay to say that doesn't make sense. I don't get that. What does it mean? Well, we don't just toss these passages aside. We don't say well, that just doesn't. I guess I don't understand it, so it doesn't apply to me. And then when somebody else asks you about it, you're like well, i don't know, because I didn't understand it, so it doesn't apply to me, so I can't give you an answer, because for some people that's not good enough, and it doesn't have to be good enough. There are ways to read passages like this and to understand meaning and to get ideas and applications out of it. The Bible is hard to understand. The Bible is hard to read, but that's why we're going to talk about it today. We're halfway through the series searching for answers I mentioned earlier. This is not like a series that we usually do at Madison Church, because it does feel more like classroom setting. It's a lot more facts and kind of talking about historical reliability, a lot of big words. It's kind of dry. So we're doing the series, but they're important series because you have questions and there are answers to those questions. We don't need to ignore those questions, especially when we consider being a church that's connecting people with God and each other. One of the things I think that we do well in this church is that we create spaces for people to ask questions and not feel judged or look down upon. We don't do that here. So if you have questions, that's okay. This is a safe place to ask those questions. Another thing that we do really well as a non-denominational church is that we have people with all sorts of different backgrounds Baptist backgrounds, pentecostal backgrounds, a lot of Catholic backgrounds in the room. What we're able to do is create a space where we can all get together and there's not like a bunch of infighting, there's not a bunch of politics. Well, how do we do that? Well, i think it's because we read the Bible well together and we've created a culture in which we can ask questions and feel safe about it. A study by Barna talking about reading the Bible and creating the safe space. A study by Barna also found that 87% of people in churches want help understanding the Bible better. Almost nine out of 10 of you would say I come to church or I listen to the pastor, i listen to the speaker, i download podcasts because I want to understand the Bible better. I don't know about the other 13%, what they're doing here, it might just be for the music, but 13% say no, that's not important to me. I want you to think about 87% and how substantial that is. 87% of you can't agree on the best football team in America right now. Right? I mean like if you're a Packers fan, like yes, but Judd's going to throw the equation off because he likes the Vikings and I know there's probably a few more Viking fans out there. So 87% of us can't agree on our favorite sports teams. We certainly cannot agree on who to vote for in the next election 2024, right around the corner. Most of you can't agree on where we're going to have lunch today, although we are having a community lunch right after our time together, and we'd love to have. 87% of you stay for that, but 87% said I would like to understand the Bible better. Before I teach you how to read the Bible or one way to read the Bible, i want to mention that last year we did a study called How Not to Read the Bible How Not to Read It. It was a book with the same title, based on a book with the same title by professor and pastor Dan Kimball, and during this series last year, we answered questions or sought out to answer questions like why does the Bible read and feel so anti-science and anti-women? Does God endorse slavery? Does God endorse violence? Are tattoos and piercings sinful? I hope not. We did all of those kind of topics and even more in this series, and I know a lot of you weren't here for that, but it was some of the most popular content we've ever put out on YouTube and podcast is evident by the amount of downloads that those things receive, and so I would highly encourage you this week. If this topic how to read the Bible resonates with you, i would encourage you to go back in the podcast or on YouTube and check out that series, because we have hours of content on how to do it wrong. But, like I said, that was last year. That was how not to read the Bible. Today we're covering how to read the Bible, and before I give you some practical steps, i want to begin with the challenge. Like I began last week with the challenge, we usually end with the challenge. We're beginning it and you guys can probably guess then what the challenge is. It's the same challenge as last week. Let's try to keep an open mind. To the best of our abilities. Let's try to keep an open mind. If you're watching or listening online, you're in the room and you're someone who has lost faith in God because of the Bible. I think you might have done so unnecessarily. Okay, i think you might have done so unnecessarily. It's not. I'm not promising yet. You have, but I think you might have. There are some places in the world where the Bible is illegal literature. You can't buy a Bible. We can't put them out the way that we do here, and people are still finding and following Jesus in those countries even without a Bible. And, as we discussed last week and where did the Bible come from was the topic last week We said that the Bible wasn't even canonized until the fourth century. Christianity grew from 120 people to 3.5 million people over that time, so before the Christian church even had the canonized Bible as we have it today, the faith grew. It is possible to believe in God, to follow Jesus. Be led by the Holy Spirit before you have all the answers to this thing figured out, before you're 100% committed and buy into this thing. So that's the first thing Keep an open mind if you might have lost faith in God. But if you're someone who thinks also the other challenge keeping your mind open if you're someone who thinks that all of our problems would be solved if we could just get people to read the Bible, i want you to consider that misreading it will then do the opposite. If you think that reading the Bible will solve the world's problems, then consider that misreading it will just cause more problems. I don't want to acknowledge that those who identify are atheists. They're agnostics, people who are deconstructing their Christian faith. They don't arrive at their beliefs carelessly or thoughtlessly. They all got there the same way that you've gotten here today thinking, wrestling, reasoning and using logic, and so I don't want us to just think if they just read it, everything would be solved. You know what chances are. They have read it, and so we have to do one better than that To understand how to read the Bible. Now let's talk really practically. We have used, since we got started, a very simple model, has three steps. It's read, reflect and respond. And so if you're taking notes, you're like, hey, how do I read the Bible? This is it. We're going to read, reflect, respond And I know the first one's really crazy, right, how do I read the Bible? Read, that's. It seems like common sense, but we do need to start there. And if you already are reading the Bible, you have a head start on our model. So congratulations, you're already like a third of the way in. There are other things to consider even after reading the Bible, like choosing a translation. There are lots of English translation versions of the Bible. They're translated by scholars with different goals, and mine. I have a chart that I can show you up on the screen. I Shows different types of translations, and so some of you might have an NASB, a new King James version. These are like word-for-word Translation. So they're looking at the Greek and the Hebrew and the Aramaic and they're saying how can we get that word in Hebrew in English? what's the closest English equivalent to that? you go down the spectrum a little bit the thought-for-thought Translations, the NLT, which is what we have here. Those are our house Bibles. They're thought-for-thought and you may say, well, how do I choose a translation? Well, i like to use both. So this is an NASB, this is a word-for-word. We have the NLT here. My other Bible is an NLT. I'll thought-for-thought, and I like to compare the two, because if you've studied languages or, better yet, if you speak another language, you know that the best way to communicate a message isn't always Translating it from one language to the other. Word-for-word, because how we structure sentences is different, how we have grammar rules, they're different, and so with the thought-for-thought, they're considering those things as well. Which is why we use the NLT here is because we're going for thought-for-thought. But I like them both and so I think that you just need to pick which one you want. If you're kind of beginning on faith, have a lot of questions, i definitely recommend thought-for-thought. That's going to give you the ideas of the Bible a lot better. If you're looking for something that's word-for-word You've already read through the Bible. Thought-for-thought, go for word-for-word, get one of those translations. Again, i use the NASB. If you look at the all the way down at the end You'll see paraphrases. Paraphrases like the message. They're great, they're good. My opinion, for whatever it's worth to you today, is that paraphrases should not be your primary source though. So if you're talking about having just one Bible, i personally wouldn't say that your only Bible should be the message. I love the message. We use the message almost every other week here And I usually throw it up there to kind of highlight something. I like the way Eugene Peterson writes, but I just don't think that that should be your only Bible. A lot of people ask Well, stephen, then what is the best translation? like far to go out to Amazon right now, amazoncom and buy one. What is the best translation? Whichever one you're gonna read I know isn't that fun whichever one you're gonna read, any of those are great, great Scholarship. There's a lot of accountability with Bibles. Whatever one you're gonna read, and a lot of times you can read little chapter previews and just see which one is easy to read For you and do that. That is the best one. Also, you pay after you pick a translation. I think you should start to consider a Bible reading plan I mentioned last week. I would not recommend starting in Genesis and working your way through the Old Testament. A lot of people have tried and failed. Okay, and it has nothing to do with their faith, it's just that's hard content to read. When we talk about misreading the Bible and not understanding cultural issues, you know, backing up, i joked that I said we're not Jews in the first century living in Jerusalem. Okay, well, we're also not Hebrews walking through the wilderness, you know, five, six, eight thousand years ago either. So it gets more complicated the further back you go, and so I would find a reading plan that's maybe a little bit more guided than that. I really, really like Nikki Gumbels the Bible in one year, which is on your Bible app If you have the you version Bible up on your phone. The Bible in one year by Nikki Gumbel fantastic. You get a little bit of the Old Testament and New Testament every day, so you get a little Genesis, then a little mark, a little song, little proverb breaks it up, so that way you're not diving into something too heavy for too long of a time. Another thing you could do if you don't use the Bible app and I understand that too you could do a proverb a day, so you just go to your Bible. Okay, it's May 7th, i'm gonna read Proverbs 7. today and tomorrow I'm gonna read proverb bait. What if you miss a day? Well, whatever, just keep going, just keep going. Prop You know, proverb 10, proverb 10 you could read a chapter of John a day too. If you're looking for one book of the Bible to just read through, i would go with John. Another personal recommendation So after we read which includes actually starting picking a translation, picking some sort of a plan, having a strategy in place We begin to Reflect. We need to remember that as we approach the Bible, we're not just reading words on a page, it's not just fortune cookie wisdom. We're entering into a relational encounter With God, who has spoken through people to people in the text of the Bible. And so, as we read, we want to invite the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts as we read. As you read, read passages slowly. If you read something and you didn't understand it, read it again. If you read something and something sticks out to you, read it again. Dwell on it. Don't rush through it. Take your time. It's okay to write in your Bibles too. I do feel the need to let you know that there's a lot of studies and research that shows it. If you write in something and you Highlight, like you're more likely to retain it and remember it, you can write in these things that God's not gonna zap you, you're not gonna turn into a pillar of salt or anything. Highlight words, sentences, highlight phrases, something that sticks out to you And the reason you do that. Highlight it because God is likely speaking to you through that particular passage on that given day. If we want to hear from God every day and I know a lot of you want to hear from God every day we can start by opening the Bible, starting to read and then, as we pause, hold on a second. I feel something about this. Perhaps God is speaking to me through this. We want to trust the Holy Spirit to lead our thoughts. So, again, we enter in with a prayerful heart And then afterwards, you might even want to jot down a few notes. If you have a journal, notebook, paper, something on your phone, jot out a few thoughts of how you feel like God is speaking to you. Now a word of caution for everybody who's watching and listening online. Before you start sending me hate mail This is not the time I'm not telling you as you read through Daniel that you stop, you pause, you reflect and you say I think he's talking about the September 11th attacks. That's definitely what Daniel's doing here. When we're reading and reflecting on Revelation, we don't sit there and say, aha, i finally decoded it, i know the day and the year that Jesus is coming back. When we're talking about reflecting, as I am right here, i'm talking about opening yourself up to what God is speaking to you through the text that's on the page, right then. And there I'm not asking you to do the work of scholarship. Why? Because you don't know how to speak Greek, because, culturally, you don't know what's going on. Okay, and neither do I, because I don't have a PhD in this stuff. Right, and so we can study it, we can look into it. But I would just want to throw out that word of caution that, as we're reading the Bible, we don't say, aha, i figured it out, i'm the secret cipher and I'm going to write this book. Please don't do that. That's not at all what I'm saying. So we read, we reflect, we're engaging And then, most importantly, the step that we often leave out you read the Bible, you reflect on it, you take notes. The most important step is to respond, is to do something. And again, this is the step that a lot of us pass up or forget, but it's very important. It's the part of this reading the Bible that we put what we've heard from God into practice. We respond to him. When you're reading and you're reflecting, ask yourself how will I commit to obey this passage this week? Perhaps there's something in here that I'm supposed to obey. There's something in here I'm supposed to do? Perhaps there's something in there you're supposed to stop doing? To whom will I share what I've learned this passage with? The small group is a great place for that. As you're reading the Bible, you say, hey, i had this thought and you share it with other people. And in this last step, of course, we're going to continue to say, as we read the Bible, it's a relational conversation with God. We want to ask God like how do you, god, want me to live out this passage in my everyday life? So we're going to read, we're going to reflect and we're going to respond. We're going to be doers of the word. Now there are two common problems that I've seen over and over again regarding beliefs about the Bible. Okay, the first problem is that a lot of us equate spiritual maturity with how much of the Bible we know. You know a lot of the Bible. You've read it from cover to cover multiple times And that's great. That's great, if anything. You've heard me speak the last two weeks on this. We did a six-week series last year how not to read the Bible. What I'm saying not saying is read the Bible less. Okay, i'm happy you're reading the Bible, but that doesn't equate to spiritual maturity. Okay, just because you've read it cover to cover doesn't necessarily make you more mature than somebody who hasn't yet. Good news for all of us today, when you die and go to heaven, there's no theology test. Okay, really good news for all of us. We have to put what we learn into practice. Jesus says come, follow me, and the word is to be an apprentice of him. Learn from him, do what he does, think like he thinks, talk like he talks. Be doers of the word. That's why each Sunday at Madison Church, we teach the Bible and we always tie it to challenges and applications. I'm not here to just be a commentary and just to present you with a bunch of information for that theology test that doesn't exist at the end of your life, but we want to tie it back to Jesus and how to better help you follow Jesus and to live that out. This space, madison Church, is not intended to be a seminary experience for anybody, but this space is to be a space for a community of believers who have found Jesus, are finding Jesus, are following Jesus and are trying to help the people sitting next to them do the same. I can present you with material every week. Next week Jason will. A few weeks ago Sarah did. But we can't grow spiritually for you. We can't grow spiritually for you, just like your trainer at the gym can't get in shape for you, although they can tell you how to get in shape. Your spiritual maturity and your spiritual growth is based on you and what you're going to do with the knowledge that we throw out every single week. According to everything written by the likes of Paul and Luke, the biblical text, our God breathed to a for-purpose, prepare and equip us to do good works. In his second letter to Pastor Timothy, paul writes All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what's right. This is important. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. The first reason that reading our old and New Testaments are so important is that they're inspired In the original language in which Paul is writing here. This word that we translate to God breath. Paul actually invents a new word That's not really seen anywhere else in Greek literature God breathed, he used it and he takes from a Hebrew word, which is the same word that God uses, or Moses writing Genesis uses when he talks about creating man, when God breathed life into humanity, into Adam. Paul uses that same word when talking about the scriptures. So, just as you and I today are living, breathing, god keeps us and sustains us. Paul equates it the same with this book, with this written text. He says that the scriptures are God breath, and that makes the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, everything that's in it, so Unique is because it's not just static but it's dynamic. It's God continuing to speak and work through it for everybody. Think back to week one of the series. We asked what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? We talked about purpose and identity, calling and assignment, and we said that Paul writes you know, you were created on purpose to do good works. That's what God did. Well, paul writes here that the Bible was created to prepare and equip you for those good works. So we go back to week one. What am I supposed to do with my life as we do that? and we seek it out, paul saying what? you also have some help here, because this book right here, these books, these 66, this is how God has spoken through people to people, to help guide you in that quest of what am I supposed to do with the rest of My life now? second problem I see with people and People who come to the Bible is that they conclude enough about the Bible that they don't need to read it anymore. So that's the other side. They don't need to read anymore. I've already read it, cover to cover, multiple times. These aren't new passages to you. You've read 2nd Timothy 3, 16. You've done my advice. You've already had it underlined and highlighted and that's great. Again, i'm not saying, do those things less, but the problem is is that if you get to the point where, like I, just don't need to read it anymore, you start to space out when we read it, when you're reading it on your own, you speed read it again. We need to take a breath and remember that we're engaging God in a relational conversation through the living word. To think that we don't need the Bible anymore is actually contradictory to the biblical texts. We read in Psalm 1 oh, the joys of those who now do not follow the advice of the wicked or stand around with sinners or join in with Mockers, but they delight in the law of the Lord, the scriptures, the law of the Lord, scriptures, meditating on a day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit in each season, their leaves never wither and they prosper and all they do. Islamist says those who meditate on the law of the Lord, the Bible, the old and New Testaments, the scriptures, their lives Flourished. reading the Bible matters not just because it's God breathe and not just because it's Preparing and equipping. But God tells us that as we reflect, we read and we respond that we are like trees planted in the most ideal place for trees to grow. Not the words of Stephen, the words of the psalmist says that those who meditate on the law of the Lord will Prosper in all they do. So if you're here today and you're saying I need more blessings in my life, i need more favor in my life, i need more Prosperity in my life. It doesn't mean you're gonna get rich if you read this every day, but perhaps the reason you're not experiencing more of God's blessings is because this basic promise in Psalm 1 you're not living it out. So we pick up this book and we read it and then we become like trees planted along The River Bank. If you are someone, you've read the Bible a lot and you're wondering what's next? How do I get more knowledge? Pick a book up about it. There are commentaries that are made for just normal people like you and me Commentaries made for, like I said, just normal people. You can get a study Bible. There are books on prayer, like how to read the Bible by Pete Greg great book. We did a series on that book, but you can actually just go and buy the book and read it yourself again. I can't grow spiritually for you, but you can. I want to present you with the tools and the resources That you can seek these things out, and, of course, i'm here. So if you have any questions about what I've talked about today, ask them. Once your soul experiences what God can do in your life. Through the Old and New Testaments, through the books of this Bible, you will begin to develop a hunger for it. You will long to encounter God through these pages And you'll find what your heart and mind, what your body and soul, needs to survive. Right here. God speaks to you and God speaks to me through a lot of ways, but the most common way that I've seen is through this text, and it's a big part of why we every week, you know, we sing a song, we do communion, we pray with each other, but it's why, every week, we also teach on the Bible. And so, as we've read some verses today and you've been reflecting on them, we move to the part of our gathering which we do every single week, which is to ask how are you going to respond to those things?