In this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday experiment, we show how to unlock the truth about Jesus, and the truth about the Bible, using “The Oprah Question” and “Reading Filters” as tools. Our pursuit of the Bible’s truths can be transformational for teenagers when we help them slow way down, or really speed up, when they read.
Embedded in the lunatic truth that is the book of Revelation, Jesus (the “Amen”) delivers a blunt diagnosis for those who would follow Him: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Revelation 3:14-16). Jesus, apparently, is picky about his beverages. And we also know he…
- Can’t stand the middle ground—He prefers the extreme ends of the continuum;
- Is drawn to all-in pursuits, and people who declare their commitments, one way or another; and
- Finds great truth in great contrasts.
And this eccentricity in Jesus—celebrating and pursuing the ends of the spectrum, not the middle—turns out to be a key to unlocking the truths piled up in the treasure chest that is the Bible. You can set teenagers up for transformation when you show them how to slow way down, or really speed up, when they read the Bible. Here’s what I mean…
So often we treat the hard or confusing or mysterious things in the Bible just like mud puddles—when we stumble into them, we just jump over them. Maybe it doesn’t feel like we jump over them, but we do. We tell ourselves something like: “Well, that’s Jesus/the Bible for you—he’s/it’s just a mystery.” So we don’t step into the mud puddles and wallow around until we know him better; we hop over them.
Once, I was leading a group of Bible college students through a deeper exploration of Jesus and his unpredictable behavior. We stopped at one of my favorite “mud puddles” in the New Testament—it’s the story of the Canaanite woman who pleads with Jesus to cast a demonic presence out of her suffering daughter, but is rejected by him, and is called a “dog” in the process (Matthew 15:21-28). I asked the students to explore with a partner all the possible reasons why Jesus responded this way. Then I checked in with the pairs to dialogue about their answers. Two students were clearly upset by the whole assignment. In their back-and-forth with me, they insisted that the Jesus they were encountering in this Bible passage couldn’t be the real Jesus. The dialogue, which had grown more and more frustrating for these young women, finally ended with one of them saying, “Maybe ‘dog’ was actually a compliment in that culture.’”
That’s jumping over a mud puddle, not wallowing in it.
The key to understanding Jesus and the Bible is slowing way down and paying ridiculous attention to what we’re reading. Last week we did a fun experiment on Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus Podcast where we applied filters to the Bible.
It’s in the hard stories that we discover the heart of God most clearly. So we show kids how to stay in these stories long enough to consider Jesus more deeply. G.K. Chesterton said: “If you meet the Jesus of the Gospels, you must redefine what love is, or you won’t be able to stand him.” We ask questions like these, to help students slow down and marinate a little:
- What are all the possible reasons why Jesus said or did this?
- We know what he said, but why did he say it?
- How would you describe the heart of Jesus, based only on this passage?
- What’s one thing you know for sure about Jesus, based only on this passage? (I call this “Asking the Oprah Question,” because it’s based on a fantastic interview question that Oprah Winfrey has asked for years.)
As we ask these questions, we’re teaching kids to dig for the truth in the Bible. We don’t accept shallow explanations, and we don’t move past the confusing or difficult things too quickly. We help them slow way down and wallow…
At the other end of the spectrum, we can use what I call “reading filters” to unlock deeper meaning in any text. Simply, it means that you choose a filter that helps you narrow your focus as you read, then you scan (rather than wallow) a large section of Scripture looking for examples that pop out to you because of the filter you’re using. These two pursuit skills—slowing way down and really speeding up—can actually be used in conjunction with each other.
Let’s say your teenagers have slowed down and wallowed in Matthew 15, and have discovered that Jesus hates rules and traditions that have nothing to do with the heart. So you create a filter based on that (“Jesus hates rote traditions and rules”), and you ask kids to scan through Matthew 5, 6, and 7 looking for examples of this truth about Jesus. You get them in pairs or trios to do this, so everyone is engaged and digging in. After 10 minutes, you ask the teams to report back on what they’ve discovered, and you engage their answers with your own insights.
To do this, you’ll need to coach them to read in the same way they might read a short story assignment they forgot to read the night before, and now it’s 10 minutes before class and they have to quickly scan the story to get its gist. The idea is to look for patterns and emphases that tie to Jesus, or themes in the Bible that recur. All of this works to unlock the heart of God, which is the key to setting an environment that tends to grow all-in disciples.