The summer before my senior year of high school, I go to camp.
A group of teens from my church pile into a 15-passenger van, and we ride for four hours to a rustic campground in the highlands.
When you live in the valley, any trip to the mountains is an adventure. The landscape is so different from back home. The evergreens blanket the earth with pine needles and shower the campers with much-needed respites of shade. And the streams flow through natural crevices of rock rather than irrigation ditches.
Every scenic turn bears the fingerprint of God’s handiwork.
The week progresses without any major glitches until one of the morning sessions. After the message, the speaker asks us to spend the next 20 minutes alone — reading our Bible!
Twenty minutes reading my Bible? I’ve never cracked the thing open. So I meander a bit until I happen upon a path that leads straight uphill. I begin the trek upwards and think about Moses ascending Mt. Sinai to meet with God. I remember this story from Sunday school, although I couldn’t tell you where in the Bible this story is found.
Despite growing up in the church, the extent of my Bible knowledge is pretty basic. I know there’s an Old part and a New part. But I’m not sure what the difference is.
I hike for more than 20 minutes, and I’m certain my friends downhill are already finished reading. Only I haven’t even begun. And now I’m curious where this trail will lead.
When I reach the top, I discover a grassy meadow encircled by tall pines. A log stretches across the grass and looks like an altar hewn from nature’s surroundings.
My Bible embarrasses me. It’s an NIV, but it has a cartoonish picture of Jesus on the front with little kids sitting on His lap. It looks like a kiddie Bible, and I’ve been hiding it from my friends all week.
I fumble with the pages, unsure of where to begin. So I decide to start with the New part. Turning to the Table of Contents, I find the page number for Matthew.
Unfortunately, chapter one begins with a genealogy, which is beyond boring. So I skip it and move on to chapter two, which happens to be the story of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Stuff I already know.
But then I read about Herod, who is so afraid of what the three wise men tell him that he has all the boys under the age of two murdered. Somehow, whenever we have a Christmas pageant in December, we manage to leave this part out, because I’ve never heard of anything so horrific.
Naturally, the story disturbs me. Thus, in less than five minutes, I find the Bible to be boring and depressing. I need to dump Matthew.
So I turn a chunk of pages and end up in something called “Gal-uh-tee-ins.”
Well, I don’t know what a “Gal-uh-tee-in” is (Galatian), so I keep flipping. But then it’s more of the same: Ephesians . . . Philippians . . . Colossians.
Again, nothing in English — until I come to Timothy.
But I know I guy named Timothy, and I don’t like him very much, so I’m not interested in anything the first or second Timothy have to say.
I keep turning pages until I get to James.
Finally! Something normal I recognize!
I begin anew. Then quickly come across these words:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you suffer . . .
~ James 1:2
Well, I quit reading right there. I mean, who does that?
This little 20-minute-Bible-reading experiment isn’t going well. I now think the Bible is boring, depressing, and confusing. Still, I have a problem because I have a good 13 minutes to go, and I’m running out of Bible. And I know at least enough to know that I don’t want to get all the way to Revelation.
So I give James a second chance, except I skip chapter one. Then my eyes fall to the second chapter.
You believe that there is one God. Good!
Even the demons believe in that—and shudder.
~ James 2:19
I may not know much about the Bible, but I know about angels and demons. And the thought has never occurred to me that even the demons believe in God! Then I think about Herod. He must have believed what the wise men said about a coming Messiah as King or else he wouldn’t have had any reason to kill all those boys.
The demons believed. Herod, to some extent, believed. I believed.
I stop right there and ask God to show me what it means to live for Him in such a way that it’s more than just believing about Him.
And I continue reading the rest of James.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
~ James 4:14
These words might sound depressing to another reader, perhaps even harsh. But to me, they breathe hope into a deadened soul.
If our lives are but a mist, then our suffering is also limited.
Then I notice a different font on the page, explaining that James is the younger brother of Jesus. Instantly, I feel a kinship with James, for he’s the sibling of suffering. James understands. Our suffering on this earth is bound by time, and God is beyond time. Eternity rests beyond our finite understanding.
Peace envelopes me. Mercy fills me. Hope renews me.
Jesus is here. With me.
In the beginning, was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God.
~ John 1:1
Through His Word, alone on a mountaintop, God calls me into a relationship with Him.
Jesus is no longer a name I sing about or a name I pray to before dinner.
He’s real. He’s here.
And I’m mesmerized by His Word and the way He can speak life through its pages.
His Word is alive! Breathing life into my very soul.
I have to read more. And with each page, I am transformed. Now I need to return to the beginning. I must start with Genesis and work my way back to James, without skipping anything.
I must know who this God is — a God who reaches down from heaven and whispers hope into the heart of a lost and lonely girl.
Who in heaven could be so merciful?
Only God of heaven Himself.
Have the pages of the Bible ever come alive to you?