By Norris Burkes
Posted Jul 9, 2017
I spent last week driving my grandson to Vacation Bible School, or VBS as it’s often called. If you’re unfamiliar with VBS, you should know it’s like a summer school run by church volunteers for five consecutive weekday mornings.
I grew up a preacher’s kid and attended VBS every year where I learned much of what I needed to know about faith. I can’t recall the names of my teachers, but I’d like to describe how and what they taught me through a composite character I’ll call Ms. Susan.
We didn’t have video screens then, so Ms. Susan mesmerized us with something called a flannel board. She attached cutouts of felt figures to the board to tell the stories of long-haired, bearded heroes like Samson, Moses and Noah. She left us spellbound as she told the story about the boy who used his own lunch to help Jesus feed a crowd of 5,000. Then she’d challenge us to find ways to help Jesus, too.
Ms. Susan often quizzed us to measure our attention. When we answered correctly, she placed gold stars beside our names on a chart. If we could recite our daily Bible verse, she’d give us an extra star. Once we collected five stars, we got a candy prize.
Sometimes she’d initiate a Bible drill, calling random Scripture references like Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Timothy 1:6. The first child to find the verse won. If you think it’s easy, see how long it takes you to find Hesitations 1:2.
Ha! No such verse. If you fell for that trick, you wouldn’t get a star.
Her stories were so well told that when I arrived at Baylor University in 1975 for Dr. James Breckenridge’s New Testament class, I assumed I wouldn’t need to study. The D- on my first test told me otherwise.
Breckenridge upended my world by teaching that the Bible told an important story, but not always with literal facts. Sometimes Biblical writers used poetry and hyperbole. He challenged us to read the Bible for its stories of redemption, forgiveness, not for its scientific timelines.
As I listened to his teaching, I wondered if it meant that Ms. Susan’s Bible stories were untrue. My ship of faith began listing, but just before it capsized, my professor threw me a life preserver.
“Search the Genesis story for a deeper debate than simply when the world began,” said Breckenridge. When I searched, I found that Adam and Eve, just as Ms. Susan had suggested, speaks to our mankind’s common temptations.
Both of my teachers, Breckenridge and Ms. Susan, helped me realize the Bible is the story of God’s personal intervention in our lives. We can regard its message, respect its words and revere its truths, but we needn’t worship it.
At the end of the day, I have to credit Ms. Susan as being the first teacher to challenge me not to simply memorize Bible trivia, but to live out its truths in everyday life — difficult truths, like loving one’s neighbor as one’s self and forgiving each other our trespasses.
Finally, it is the claim that the Bible makes about itself that I hope my grandson heard at his VBS. The claim expressed in the prayer spoken by the Psalmist who said:
By carefully reading the map of your Word
I’m single-minded in pursuit of you;
don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.
I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart
so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.
Message Translation Psalm 119:11
Read Norris’ past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.