by Rev. Gene Rives
Every Wednesday at noon, people gather at Baker First United Methodist Church for a 15-minute worship service followed by a free community lunch. We started the worship service and lunch a few weeks after hurricane Katrina so that people could gather together and share their stories. Our intent was to do it for 6-8 weeks, but it just never stopped. As the event grew, we started adding different ministry opportunities for people to be involved in. One of those ministries is a Bible study class that starts at 1 p.m. following the lunch.
Currently, we are studying the Gospel of Matthew. There are no requirements to come to the class, no homework assigned, no outside readings necessary, attendance is not taken or mandatory and most of all, we encourage and value everyone’s opinion. Therefore, Bible commentaries (because they are someone’s written opinion) are not read aloud.
Everyone attending the study is considered to be a Bible scholar because their perspective of the Scripture matters. We know that Scripture is God’s word and that it meets us where we are. Therefore, what we have been conditioned by and experienced in life makes our perspective uniquely valuable.
For example, it is one thing to read about the poor in scripture and quite another to have Brenda at the Bible study give her opinion while currently living on the street. Let me just say that the first day she joined the group, and before she spoke, everyone gave nice benign voices to their relatively tame comments about the homeless. Brenda then said, “No one should really ever have to live this way. It is a misery beyond your comprehension. If you have never been homeless you have no understanding of what it is like. Do you think that being homeless is a choice? Do you think anybody wants to be homeless?”
It was in that moment that compassion started to pour over the conversation. It was then that moment people saw Jesus come alive in Brenda, and they now had a deeper understanding of the gospel. You see, most of the time we want to preach the gospel to others. We want to tell people about the good news. But the truth is, if we are willing to experience the word of God with the poor instead of talking about it to the poor, we will see a whole new world open up.
What about demons? Demons are in the Bible. People sometimes make fun of the language, and others don’t understand what the stories mean. How is the Bible relevant for us today? It has been through the Bible study that I have come to understand the power of addiction as being demonic – destroying lives and wrecking families. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and food are just a few examples of addictions that can control and destroy one’s life.
Bob is, by his admission, a binge alcoholic. He could go for periods of time without drinking, but once he started, he couldn’t quit. He was in and out of the Bible study for a couple of years. He described his life as, “Out of control. It was like every morning I would get up and there would be this presence calling and urging me to have a drink. For a long time I had no problem beating the demon back. But slowly over time I got more and more weary and the demon seemed to be harder and harder to beat. It was like I was in a boxing match and that’s how I started every day. Finally one day the demon knocked me down. I got a DUI. I went to AA and made it six months keeping the demon back, but it finally wore me out. I couldn’t fight the demon anymore. I gave up and took the 10 count and asked God to remove this demon and show me what to do.”
Bob has been a regular attendee for several years. His journey through AA and the Bible has helped it all finally click for him.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them,” Matthew 18:20.
I believe that when Bible study is done in small groups that are diverse and open, it becomes dynamic. Bible study is not about memorizing scripture or quoting propositions about Jesus. Bible study is not about us trying to change our life, it is about believing that God can change our life.
About Gene: Gene is a native of Baton Rouge and an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. He received a calling to ministry in 1995, after 20 years owning and operating his own businesses. Gene is currently serving Baker United Methodist and Bethel United Methodist churches. Gene can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.