In Layman's Terms: There is no graduation from studying God's word

Todd Seifert


Our family is firmly in that sentimental time in life when we’re encountering a lot of “lasts.” Our son, Joshua, started his senior year Aug. 16 at Lincoln Northeast High School (LNE).

One last first-day-of-school picture. One last back-to-school night. One last band camp. This spring may be our last baseball season.  

I can’t really remember a time before at least one of our kids was in school. Our daughter, Emily, is a college junior. Starting with her kindergarten year and continuing on through Josh’s school years, we’ve had 16 years of parent-teacher conferences, school concerts, soccer games, basketball games, band competitions, baseball games and, yes, lots and lots of homework. 

I recognize that this series of “lasts” is just part of life. But I’m somewhat envious of the parents who walked the halls of LNE for the first time with their freshmen kids at back-to-school night. The neighborhood school is one of the hallmarks of our society. It’s not only where our kids find many of their friends. It’s also where parents connect with other parents. It’s where minds stay sharp because of the academic exercises that take place in the classroom.

I argue that, next to the church, the school provides the most profound sense of community. Think about it a second. The church and the school are the two primary places where we teach our children. One teaches about how to live to be upright, ethical human beings who love one another. The other teaches how to think and to put skills to use in our society.

Together, they provide a pathway to success in life, with many definitions of “success” covered along the way. The Great Plains Conference is concerned enough about how the church can work with schools to help children that we have created education partnerships. Learn how your church can get involved.

Our Wesleyan theology blends these two important aspects of life: Reason puts our brains to work, while Scripture touches our souls. Tradition and Experience provide us with ways to blend these all together to make us well-rounded, caring human beings.

Proverbs is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It’s basically a list of wise sayings, with many of the lessons contained there attributed to King Solomon. Proverbs 10:17 provides some insight into the importance of learning.

Basically, this verse urges us to keep our minds open to new information, to be open to learning, when it says, “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but one rejects a rebuke goes astray.” I don’t think those words are talking just about behavioral instruction, but rather being open to all facets of learning.

Algebra. Geometry. Calculus. Biology. Chemistry. Physics.

Anybody having nightmare flashbacks yet?

Eventually, most of us get through the high school years and graduate, providing a sort of proof that we’ve gained at least the minimum knowledge needed to be a contributing member of society. I was pretty good at math. I enjoyed my English classes. I loved science, even though I was never really any good at it.

In my college years at the University of Kansas, I discovered deeper aspects of history, political science and classes that examined the religions of the world. To this day, those three subjects fascinate me, especially when a book, article or documentary tells me the “why” or “how” behind a topic.

One other class caught my attention in college: “Understanding the Bible.” The name of that course was a little misleading. It was less about studying the scriptures as God’s word and more about understanding the Bible as it was written in the context of recorded history, ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Israel, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome and other societies. It’s one of the few classes for which I still have the book and study materials.

That class and its instructor, Dr. Paul Mirecki inspired me to read the Bible cover to cover, something I’ve accomplished five times.

Mirecki, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is still at KU. What I remember most about him is the stories he told about studying the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’ve read articles and watched television shows dedicated to these ancient texts. He’s actually seen them, in person.

And I remember him telling our class several times during the semester that to gain a better understanding of a subject, you have to continually pursue it. One time through a subject may make you familiar with it, but the knowledge will be only cursory.

I think that sounds a lot like the admonition to keep on learning from Proverbs 10:17.

I’ve shared before that my absolute favorite thing to do in the local church is teach Disciple Bible Study, especially Disciple I. For students, it provides an overview of the scriptures we claim to follow but all too often don’t ever really study. For me, the course enforces the discipline to read every day and to review, reassess and reaffirm the lessons I’ve learned over the years related to my faith.

Hebrews 4:12 provides a good reminder: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

To discern, we have to learn. To learn, we have to study.

You may not need to take an algebra class or a physics course. Perhaps you no longer have to stay sharp in mathematics or science. Maybe tests on what you’ve learned in those classes is something from the long, long past.

But are you doing anything to sharpen your scripture skills? Do you take part in a Bible study or some other small group? Are you trying to discern each day how you can better serve God?

There may not be a test about scripture in your future, but there are lessons to be learned about God’s word from the time we can understand words up to the moment when we speak our last phrases.

To our kids going back to school, best wishes on a new academic year. Heed the instruction that is on the path to life. Make Proverbs 10:17 your motto for the year.

To us adults out there, keep on learning about the scriptures. Learn to discern. Consider the words of Romans 4:12 as you commit to studying God’s word in your own “academic year.”
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 402-464-5994, ext. 113, or via email at Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.