How I Learned to Study the Bible (Jan-Feb 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Ann Evankovich
January-February 2002

When I was twelve and was stumped on a math homework problem, the very last resort was to ask Dad for help. Not because he was impatient or because he couldn’t figure it out. Dad could always solve the math problems. The trouble was, he could solve it four different ways – and none of them were the way we solved it in class. He would explain every step and sometimes the history of the mathematician that proved this particular maneuver was possible. After about ten minutes, my eyes would glaze over and I would hurry my head nodding and affirmative grunts to convince him that I understood. Anything to get the paper back and figure it out for myself.
No one in the world looks forward to the annual cycle of school science fairs more than my father. I always enjoyed the biology experiments, like seeing if beans grew faster if watered with water, milk, or orange juice. But my father is a rocket scientist – literally. He wanted to detect the movement of the earth with pendulums. He wanted to calculate the pattern of random numbers with rolling dice (from his personal collection of hundreds of right and left-handed dice.)
One of the moments in my life for which I feel the most guilt is when I threw the universe in the trash. It was after the seventh grade science fair. Dad and I had stayed up late and created a hyperbolic parabaloid (don’t ask) that demonstrated the expanding rate of the universe. This model was big. It was sturdily constructed. It was heavy. The walk home was over a mile. It was hot outside. I saw no future use for this thing now that the projects had been graded. So I tossed it in the school dumpster. That night at dinner when I casually mentioned it, Dad was crestfallen, like a little boy whose shiny new toy gets run over in the street. I thought about going back to the dumpster. I’m grateful that he didn’t. Even though all his children are grown now, he still “competes” in science fairs. He helps his grandchildren. He helps children at church. He volunteers to judge at local schools.
My father taught me the most about God and studying the Bible at the crack of dawn and in the middle of the night. We would agree on a time, 5:30 am, 2:00 am. I would awake to him sitting quietly on the edge of my bed, gently tracing my face with his fingers. “It’s time,” he’d whisper so as not to waken my sister or mother or brothers. We’d tiptoe out of the house. Sometimes we’d get in the car and drive off to a remote area. If we were camping, we’d go on a long hike.
He had all the tools we needed: pens, books, paper for notes, binoculars. We’d creep along the edge of a forest in silence. Every now and then he’d cock his head and whisper, “woodthrush” or “chickadee.” “Do you hear it?” He’d try to imitate the call for me. And then we’d stalk the bird with the binoculars. I’d see a flash of bright yellow or deep red. And then there it was – a spectacular tananger, an exquisite oriole, or a curious woodpecker.
One cold middle of the night I stood in a field with him to look for Halley’s comet. In truth, the comet didn’t look like much. It looked like a star that somebody smudged. But I saw it. I won’t have that chance again for many years. I could have easily missed it. My dad found it for me. It was the kind of moment that wise men cross continents for.
How did I learn to study the Bible? I learned at the kitchen table that there is more than one approach to solve problems. I learned that the teacher doesn’t know the only way. And I learned that if I tried hard enough, I could figure it out for myself.
I learned that when you can figure something out, you share it. And once you’ve put hours into a project, don’t toss it carelessly into the trash. But once you’ve tossed something into the trash, don’t go digging it out again.
I often find that I am study the Bible to win arguments. But if I’m quiet and still, I might see a flash of spectacular beauty.
I learned that sometimes finding the unexpected beauty in scripture happens at unusual times, in the cold and the dark, but most often with a friend at your side, pointing heavenward. If you don’t see it now, it might be fourteen years before you see it.
On my 21st birthday, my parents gave me a terrific study Bible that I am diligently wearing out. Along with the inscriptions, my Dad included three verses that have shaped my approach to the Scriptures: 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and Ephesians 5:10. Read together they combine to make a great charge to anyone seeking God’s truth. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” “and find out what pleases the Lord.”
I sometimes get in trouble with the “Test everything” part. Sometimes we don’t want to hear questions that challenge our traditional beliefs and interpretations. But I know that God is bigger than our questions. He is bigger than our traditions. He wants us to search His word. He wants us to find out what pleases him.
The other day I was driving with my father. Without warning he swerved to the side of the road by a small wood and reached over to roll down my window. “Sometimes,” he said, “you can hear the woodthrush from the car if you stop and listen. Do you hear it?”

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About...

This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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