This photo means a lot to me. It marks a moment of completion: I’ve officially finished my research on the Gospel according to Mark (at least for now). Although I’m not done teaching it, the research phase is complete. The teaching will continue until the last question is asked and the Scripture is examined thoroughly to cull out the answer.
The photo also marks something else for me: a recognition of God’s faithfulness in my life in an area that I had all but given up on.
When I started teaching Mark two years ago, our adult class was experiencing an unexpected transition: Our beloved teacher had suddenly resigned, and since I had been subbing for him, I was asked to take the class for a while until the elders decided what to do with it. At that point, they were not sure if the class should continue or if it would be better to disperse the class members into other existing classes.
There was also some question about whether or not a woman should be teaching the Bible in a co-ed class in the first place, as this is something unprecedented at our church. On faith, and with much internal excitement, I accepted the opportunity to be the permanent sub until they decided what to do.
At that time, our church was embarking on an all-church study of the Bible using the book His Story. This was a follow-up study to The Story, and focused solely on the Gospel message. Since our LifeEd (Sunday School) class did not participate in “The Story,” it seemed like we should at least try to track with the rest of the church by studying one of the Gospels. I decided to take us through Mark, since it was *ahem* the shortest. *cough*cough*
So, in August 2014, we began a verse-by-verse study of the Gospel according to Mark. It’s really the first time I’ve done anything like this myself “from scratch,” but it’s not the first time I’ve ever had this type of experience. I grew up under my father’s preaching, and he’s one of the best expository preachers out there. You might not have heard of him, but if you heard him preach, you would agree. (You can visit his website at DougFarmer.org for some free resources and to hear a few select sermons.)
Under my father’s preaching, I learned the value of slowly “plodding” through a Scripture passage in order to cull out the intended meaning and practical application. We have teased him relentlessly about preaching through the Gospel of Matthew for seven years. (Yes, this really happened. No, we will not stop teasing him about it. Yes, that’s why I chose Mark, not Matthew. #markistheshortestgospel) Love you, Dad!
As the church zipped through His Story finishing by Christmas, we were barely getting started. I knew we’d never keep up with them, but I never dreamed it would take us two years to get through it either! (As the old Heinz 57 commercial used to say, “It’s slooooooow good!”)
After Christmas, I (finally) received word that the elders had made their decision, and I was asked to stay on as the official teacher of our “Journey through the Bible” class. When this happened, I recognized God’s faithfulness to my calling despite the church’s history of having only men teach the class.
Reflections on teaching through Mark
For the first time in years, I was back in the saddle. Translating the text from the original Greek, digging into lexicons (BTW, I absolutely LOVE Biola’s online Greek Lexical Parser), researching the latest archaeological discoveries, and reading commentaries from a variety of different viewpoints to get to the core of what the author most likely meant in the text—I refer to all that research as my “due diligence.”
It was important for me to come to class prepared each week. Some weeks, I needed more caffeine than others! But showing up ready was critical. The Bible is very clear about teacher preparation:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)
So, I would do my best to show up prepared, but not scripted. Instead of having everything planned out and forcing us to stick to a pre-determined schedule, I relied on the Holy Spirit to guide our discussion taking us as far as we needed to go that week. I did my part (research/preparation), and God did His (enlightenment/inspiration).
Over the past two years, we didn’t merely study the Gospel according to Mark, we got to know the author: We got to know his personality, his writing style, his ethos. We learned that his Gospel was based on the eye-witness account and preaching ministry of Peter, and we could see his influence on the message from beginning to end.
We studied geography, culture, politics, history, and religion. Oh, and fish. Don’t forget the fish!
Most of all, we learned a lot about God’s deep and abiding love for humanity and His perfectly-executed plan to reconcile this fallen world back to Himself.
It was an experience I will cherish for years to come, because somewhere along the way, God revealed Himself to me in such a new, fresh way that my life will never be the same. (To be continued…)
So, as we end our study in Mark, I will look back on these years with very fond memories of what I learned about God—His faithfulness, His attention to detail, the inspiration of His Word—but I’ll also remember what I learned about myself in the process. I love studying the Scriptures. It’s my passion. And I can’t rush through a passage. I have to take time to “smell the roses”! (Or should I say, “Parse the participles”?!)
Bible study is more than reading ink on paper (or dots on a screen): It’s about getting into the author’s head—working hard to understand what the author intended when he wrote it and then applying it to life. Here. Now. #stillrelevant
Our next study will be on the Acts of the Apostles. Feel free to follow along with us each week at Journey through the Bible, or subscribe to the podcast (which is simply a live recording of our class). We’ll be starting Acts in November 2016.