Scripture. (Almost) Daily. For a Year.

I’m one of those people who never make New Year’s resolutions. Except when we do.

Last year, at the invitation of one of our pastors, Joy Fasick, I and about 120 other people at Slate Hill Mennonite Church resolved to read Scripture every day during 2013. Joy called it Challenge 2013, and she told us that reading from the biblical text each day would indeed be a challenge. She said we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over missing a day here and there, and she assured us that there would be many days when we definitely didn’t feel like reading the Bible. She cautioned us not to think that reading our Bibles would somehow miraculously transform us into better people or remove all our selfishness or insecurities or meanness. But she did tell us that slowly, over the course of our daily devotion, God would shape our lives, remake our affections, and renew our spirits.

Joy suggested lots of ideas that would help to give our daily reading some form and structure, including MennoMedia resources like Rejoice!, daily Bible reading plans, and electronic devotionals. She encouraged us to find our own devotional resources as well. The only parameters were that our devotionals be designed to occur daily and that they include the actual biblical text itself, not a contemporary writer’s reflections on the biblical text.

Like most other years when I’ve made New Year’s resolutions, I failed. Quite miserably. I haven’t tallied up the days I actually read Scripture—I like to think I have left behind the obsessive-compulsive faith of my adolescence—but I know that many days I didn’t get around to opening up my Bible. Like Joy suggested, however, I haven’t beaten myself up about it. Plus, failure is a relative term; I know that I read more Scripture than I would have had I not made that resolution. And Challenge 2013 affected not only my private devotional life but our family’s devotional life as well. Granted, it usually meant whipping open the Bible right before dinnertime prayer and reading whatever Psalm my eyes fell upon, wondering how many verses I could get through before some boy began to whine about how hungry he was. But again, we likely read more Scripture in 2013 than we did in 2012.

I can’t say that this year’s Scripture-reading discipline has noticeably changed me. This past year I still yelled at my kids, and still got captivated by my own ego, and still been plain-down petty more frequently than I like to admit. Then again, maybe I would have been even more angry, egoistic, and petty had I not done it. I wasn’t looking at this year’s discipline as some bargain or exchange of goods anyway, and I’m wary enough of how Scripture has been misused and privatized and extracted from that I hesitate to position it as some snazzy weight-loss program for one’s emotional life. Yet I do know that, at times, those sacred words from ancient writers slipped into my dim, distracted little brain and moved it a little closer to the Light of the World. One might be taken down a necessary notch in the morning when reading, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).  And evenings can’t be quite as full of despair when one ends them with the lovely words of the Psalmist, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

So while I’m sure that I’ll again fail—whatever that means—I am going to go with the same New Year’s resolution for 2014. I will try to read Scripture daily again in 2014, and for at least part of the year I’m going to use a MennoMedia resource to do it. Take Our Moments and Our Days, volume 1 and volume 2, are Anabaptist prayer books that can be used individually or in groups. I’ve seen these books around for years, and I’ve decided that 2014 is the year I’m actually going to use them. Volume 1 is designed for Ordinary Time, and volume 2 goes from Advent through Pentecost.

Here is what some readers have to say about these books:

“It helps me to pray even when I have times when I don’t want to pray.”
—Eric, Australia

“I’ve been loving the prayer book. I have used it in our peace prayers group, in small group, in a group retreat, and mostly in my daily prayers as an individual. Every time I have opened the book, I have loved it.”
—Tina, Pennsylvania, USA

“I appreciate the repetition and find that some of the repeated phrases are really sticking with me and coming to me at other times of the day. The structure of the intercessions reminds me to broaden my prayers from just the nearest or most urgent.”
—Brenda, Indiana, USA

Another great MennoMedia resource for reading Scripture, this one designed for congregational use, is Dig In: Thirteen Scriptures to Help Us Know the Way. The thirteen Scriptures have special meaning to Mennonites and help readers engage with both the text and with each other.

One of the gifts of Anabaptism is that we believe that Scripture is best interpreted within the community of faith. I continue to believe that, and heartily. Yet as a result, in the past I have sometimes ceded personal spirituality to evangelical Christianity. This discipline of reading Scripture, no matter how poorly I do it, reminds me that Christ came to groups but also to individuals, one by one by one. It reminds me, almost daily, that I am more than just a body, and that life is more than the pursuit of whatever desire tries to rule that particular day.

So anyone want to join me in 2014? I promise I won’t make you check in with a count of how many days you faithfully read Scripture. I won’t be reporting back, either. Accountability is good, but I’d encourage you to find it in your local congregation, not here online.

In any event, the important thing here is not perfection but practice. The important thing is regularly placing ourselves in the company of ancient writers of faith, who tell the story of a God who hovers around the edge of our consciousness and occasionally, when we allow it, breaks the whole way through.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of trade books at Herald Press.

“Bind them as a sign on your hand …” MennoMedia Board chair goes literal

In early September, I preached a sermon in my congregation on Deuteronomy 6:4-9. That scripture was chosen to kick-off a series on core Anabaptist scriptures.

A parallel Sunday School class is using MennoMedia’s Bible study guide, Dig In: 13 Scriptures to Help Us Know the Way. The Deuteronomy scripture includes commands from God to keep God’s words constantly before us, even tied onto our bodies and written on our houses. In the spirit of those instructions, I tied a ribbon around my wrist during the sermon. I told the congregation I was going to wear this verse, and add the remaining scriptures as I preached on them this fall. And I have done so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInitially, I liked the tangible connection between me and God’s word. I liked seeing the ribbons as I went about my daily routines, recalling the scripture and meditating upon it. Such a visible prompt calls me back to my Christian faith, to my baptismal vows, and to my intentions to follow Jesus. This is especially helpful when I’ve strayed off the path, and I’m thinking or acting in unchristian ways.

As the ribbons multiplied, however, I got a little bothered by them. They get in the way! They slow me down. They don’t always match my clothes. They’re a bit fussy. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 slipped off my wrist into the washing machine, emerging wrinkled and dripping but intact at the end of the cycle. Romans 12:9-21 disappeared completely and had to be replaced.) To simplify, I capped the bracelets at four, with multiple texts on each one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what’s the point of “digging in” to core Anabaptist scriptures? First off, it provides a base from which to explain biblical interpretation from an Anabaptist perspective. Each family of Christianity has a unique understanding of Jesus, a particular shade of meaning about his gifts to the world. Focusing on these scriptures helps to ground ourselves in an Anabaptist understanding of Jesus.

Secondly, God’s word does get in the way, or it should! There is wisdom in the Deuteronomy counsel to have an intimate and embodied relationship with God’s word. God’s word, for all its complexities and puzzles, does help us to find our way, in a confusing, over-stimulated and unholy world. Like traffic lights or GPS voice commands, God’s word warns us of dangers and orients our spiritual direction. The Bible offers true signposts, guiding us we walk in the way of Jesus.

MennoMedia’s mission is to provide resources for living Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective. Dig In is one small but significant way we are acting on that mission.

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Melissa Miller, MennoMedia Board chair

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How do you stay connected to God’s word as you go about your daily routine? Any practices, such as Melissa’s, that you’ve tried in order to “write them on your doorpost”? P1030367Jewelry? Special T-shirts? Other? We’d love to hear your experiences or see your photos. Send to melodied@mennomedia.org

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MennoMedia has just announced Dig In in Spanish, as ¡A Escarbar!. See more here.Or to purchase, go here.

Dig In includes video interviews with persons across the U.S. and Canada telling about their experiences/thoughts around the various scriptures. See more about Dig In and find a link to one video, here.

When Bible texts are like mountaintops

By Melissa Miller

Any spectacular mountains in your travels this summer? Many of us feel awe and wonder when we survey such “lofty mountain grandeur.”

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How about a closer look at the “mountains” in scripture? Do they inspire us in a similar way? Let me explain.

Bible professors have been known to assign students the task of identifying key passages. It’s a different task than identifying one’s favorite scriptures. It’s a way to sort and sift through the whole Bible to determine the passages that speak to the heart of the biblical witness to God and God’s relationship with people and with the earth.

“Think of these texts as like mountaintops,” the professor will explain. “They rise to the top in our vision and in our understanding of scripture. We look at other sections of the Bible within the peaks of these mountains.”

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As a child of the mountains, I resonate with the teaching metaphor. It’s a visual way to help us understand that some scriptures dominate our interpretation, in the same way that mountains dominate the environment. The mountaintop reminds us that we don’t hold all the words of scripture with exactly the same weight. Even if we agree with the apostle Paul that all scripture is “God-breathed and useful one way or another” (2 Timothy 3:16 The Message).

What scriptures are our mountaintop scriptures? Is it the story of the exodus? Do we include Isaiah’s eloquent description of the suffering servant? Is the Golden Rule shining on the mountain? How about Paul’s joyful word to the Philippians of Jesus’ self-giving love? Is there a chance that Mennonites could agree about the key scriptures, even while recognizing favorites for some individuals or subgroups?

MennoMedia paired with two denominations, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, to create a list of key scriptures. First we had to agree on the terms; the leaders wanted to include passages from different parts of the Bible and to give due attention to the treasured scriptures that have guided Anabaptists for centuries. At the end, thirteen core scriptures were selected.

A resource was then created, including a video with scholars and lovers of the Bible reflecting on the meaning and message of the passage. Called Dig In: 13 Scriptures to Help us Know the Way, it draws us back to our Reformation roots of digging into life-giving biblical passages while helping us navigate the turbulent waters of today. Reading through these scriptures, as I’ve done several times, I am deeply moved by the power of scripture to comfort, guide and challenge us.

As a pastor, I am excited about bringing this resource to my congregation in Manitoba. I am planning to use it in an integrated worship-Sunday School series this fall. Even the awesomely flat landscape of the prairies can be the setting for mountaintop experiences in scripture.

Do you have ideas or creative ways of Bible study as a congregation? Here’s what some are doing. We’d love to hear what you’ve done or are planning.

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Melissa Miller, MennoMedia Board President

(Photos courtesy of Tanya Sparks, first, and Melodie Davis second.)