I view my Bible the same way that a person on a capsized ship adrift in the ocean swimming for their life views a life preserver. Without my Bible, I’d be doomed, drowned, done, and doomed.
I have numerous Bibles, but one of them in particular is my prized possession. At the age of eighteen in 1989, a pastor’s daughter that I was smitten with gave me my Bible as a gift. She even had my name embossed on the front. (Eventually I bought her a ring, so the moral of the story for the single guys is that if a nice Christian girl buys you a Bible you should go buy her a ring!) Anyways, I took that Bible to college with me at the state university. I started reading it out of curiosity, and became a Christian simply through Bible reading—something I had not much done before. I then found a great church that helped me further learn the Bible.
At a Bible study class, I brought my Bible and a big book on systematic theology I had just bought. I asked my pastor if the systematic theology book was a good one. He pointed at my Bible and asked if I’d read all of it yet. I told him that I had not. He actually took the theology text out of my hand. It was like a stickup without a gun. My wise pastor then told me that I needed to read the entire Bible before I read anything else.
I went home and started reading my Bible. I read the whole Bible in a short time—weeks or maybe months. I went back to my pastor to report that I had finished my assignment. He then told me that instead of reading the theology text, I needed to read a short book in my Bible and study it until I had committed much of it to memory and could explain it from my heart and continue this process until I died. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
I’ve also been doing four other things that I was instructed to do early in my Christian walk. I had barely started going to church when I impulsively signed up for a men’s retreat, a first for me. On a crisp weekend, a group of us drove toward the Washington/Idaho border, stopping at a camp set amidst a rugged landscape of big mountains and rocks.
I was a city kid, and it was absolutely not the kind of place or crowd where I usually hung out. There was nothing for miles and miles, and the bearded brothers got together to study and 7 sing. They belted out old hymns like they meant them. Toward the end of a meeting, the pastor announced, “I want each of you to schedule some time with God just to talk to Him.”
“A meeting with God?” I thought. “Okay. I don’t know what that means.” I just decided to go for a walk.
Through the camp flowed a big river that split the trees and created a beautiful sound as the water rushed over rocks, raging with whitecaps. I walked upstream alongside the river, enjoying the quiet and sun and raw beauty. I hiked out and back for maybe an hour, talking to God conversationally. “God—it’s like—well—I’m supposed to schedule a meeting with You.” I talked out loud. I didn’t know if that was a good idea. I didn’t know how to do this. “So, it’s me—Mark— and You know—I—um—what do You want me to do now that I’m a Christian?” After a pause I added something like, “I’ll do whatever You want.”
I was all by myself.
And God spoke to me audibly.
He said, “Marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, plant churches.”
God had just told me to do four things, but honestly, I had no idea what any of it meant. I had just met Jesus. Grace and I weren’t engaged. I didn’t really know what pastors did since I grew up Catholic and the only pastor I knew was our priest who was a poor virgin that lived at the church and walked around in a bathrobe (or at least that’s what I thought as a kid). I was hoping maybe there was another kind of pastor.
Imagine where you were at nineteen, just trying to figure out what comes next. I wasn’t sure what God had in store, but it sounded like I was headed for an adventure. I just wanted to obey God whatever that meant.
So in 1992 I married Grace in college, and today we have five kids who all love and serve Jesus. I started preaching out of my Bible and have been preaching ever since.
Through the years, I’ve really just stuck with those early instructions from God and the advice of my first pastor. As a general rule, I preach through books of the Bible verse-by-verse for about an hour each sermon and have gotten pretty good at yelling.