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This page was last
updated on:
March 15, 2017


  

Bible Study Baseball
by Pastor Kerry Nelson
 

Bible Study Baseball is an approach to Bible study that is similar to Lectio Divina, but it uses a baseball metaphor.  It was developed by Pastor Kerry Nelson of Houston, Texas.  Pastor Nelson presented his Bible Study Baseball approach as part of a five-day series of his devotional writings in February, 2007.  You may find this approach helpful to you in your own Bible study, so it is presented here in it's entirety.  If you choose to study the approach as part of your daily devotions, it is separated into five days as originally presented by Pastor Nelson.
      Day 1
      Day 2
      Day 3
      Day 4
      Day 5

Good morning. Welcome to Monday, February 12th.  (Day 1)

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Luke 9:28-36

Last week I talked a bit about “listening” to the Bible and I received a bunch of emails asking that I say more. So this week I’m going to share something that I developed years ago, have used before in the devotions, and return to every time I read the Bible. It is called “Bible Study Baseball” and uses the metaphor of baseball (you saw that coming) in listening to the text.

Bible Study Baseball is a friendly game – the point is playing rather than winning. The “pitcher” is the Holy Spirit. The “ball” is the words of the Bible that come to us as we read. All this week it will be the gospel reading appointed for next Sunday, Luke 9:28-36. We’ll be the one stepping to the plate with the goal of rounding the bases and coming home.

We’re the ones stepping to the plate, all by ourselves, but we’re not alone. We are surrounded by the other players in the dugout and all of the fans in the stands. We come to the Bible as one in the communion of saints – the stands are full of people who are cheering us on, wishing us well, encouraging us. There is excitement in the air!

Sometimes it seems that the Spirit throws us curveballs that are hard to hit. Other times the ball passes so quickly that we don’t even see it. But the goal here – even for the Spirit – is that we make it around the bases. It is a “friendly” game.

I say it is a “friendly” game in that I truly believe that God has gifted us with the Bible to help us in our journey of faith…but sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Sometimes the Bible seems old, archaic and almost indecipherable. Many people have tried and tried to give the Bible a chance in their lives but they give up in frustration. Others write it off as an ancient text that has nothing to say to us today. And still others bring a lifetime of skepticism about all things religious so they hardly even try.

First point, you can’t hit a ball when you’re tense, scared, skeptical or afraid to fail. So, we take a little time before stepping to the plate to relax, to breathe, to visualize hitting the ball solidly. That is the role of prayer, asking God as we open the Bible or open a devotional email, to help us, to come to us, to silence the roar of life in our ears and speak to us that we might hear.

The goal in baseball is to round the bases and make it back to where we start. The goal in Bible Study Baseball is to truly hear what a text is saying to us in that moment. So we start with that as our question and we prayerfully ask….

Dear Lord, we come to you this week to listen to you speak to us through the story of Jesus on the mountain of his transfiguration. We pray that you might open our eyes, ears and hearts to hear you. Give us what we need and the grace to respond as you nudge us. Be with us in our study this week. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Good morning. Welcome to Tuesday, February 13th.  (Day 2)

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Luke 9:28-36

Imagine you’re in a Bible study with a small group, all looking at this text from Luke, when one person asks how Moses and Elijah could show up on that mountain. “Maybe” they say, “God uses some kind of transporter like on Star Trek where God can beam people back and forth from heaven, like the angel who came and talked to Mary?” And everybody else shifts uncomfortably and doesn’t quite know how to respond. Been there? Me too.

I call that a “foul ball” in Bible Study Baseball. A foul ball is any question or comment that takes the attention off the field of play (the text you are reading) before you get to first base. A foul ball is a good try that still doesn’t count.

First base in Bible Study Baseball is CONTENT – WHAT does the text say? To get to first base means to slow way way way down in your reading and pay attention to WHAT the text actually says. Pay attention to the words used, the characters who appear, the plot of the story. How does the text start? Who is speaking? What do they say? How do the other characters react?

In some respects, spending time at first base is like an exercise in active listening for a couple in marriage counseling. One person shares while the other person listens. Then the listener repeats back what they heard, often using the exact words, until the original speaker is satisfied that the message they were seeking to send has gotten through. Such an exercise feels a bit silly at first but it quickly reveals how fast we are to jump to conclusions, to put unintended thoughts in the other person’s mind, and how difficult it is to truly hear what another person is saying.

My experience is that many people try to immediately go from home plate to third base (CONNECT, we’ll get there on Thursday). They quickly read a text and jump right to the question, “What does this mean?” long before they spend the necessary listening time to what it actually says. Slow down. You have to go to first base first, which is why they call it first base! WHAT does it say?

In real life baseball, a runner gets to take a slight head start at each of the bases, they get to “take a lead.” When the runner takes their lead, they are very attentive. If they commit to going to the next base too early, they run the risk of getting picked off so, even though they are leaning toward the next base, they are ready to quickly return to the base they were on.

In Bible Study Baseball, there are “leading off” questions to be asked at each base. Once you have reached first and have slowly noticed everything that is actually in the text you are studying, you can ask certain questions. What further information do you need? Were there words used that you didn’t understand? Do you need to know more about a character? In our text from Luke, perhaps a reader doesn’t know who Moses or Elijah are. They need to find out. How? Consult the first base coach…use a Bible dictionary or the notes in a study Bible. Use Google. Write your pastor an email asking a Bible question…that will really amaze him or her.

But don’t move on to second base until you are sure that you have noticed – not evaluated, just noticed – exactly WHAT the text says.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, in our impatience we often jump to conclusions when we’re talking with people. We do the same thing when we’re listening to you speak to us through the Bible. So we pray that you help us slow down in our reading, slow down to notice what is actually being said before we worry about discerning what it means for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Good morning. Welcome to Wednesday, February 14th.   (Day 3)

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Luke 9:28-36

There are three things we need to know about second base – CONTEXT – in Bible Study Baseball. 1) Our perspective changes when we’re on second base. We see a wider picture and we need to be attentive both to where we’ve been and where we’re going. 2) It is the farthest base from home plate, that is, when we’re at second base we look around the text, at the wider context in which the text is found. And 3) Second base puts us in scoring position, when we run well at second we’re on the way home.

Second base – CONTEXT – is the place where our experience and our accumulated learning about the Bible really helps. Here is where we really rely on our coaches. First base and third base (we’ll be there tomorrow) require no previous understanding at all. You don’t have to be anything like an expert to slow your reading down to notice all of the details when you’re on first base. And tomorrow, you won’t need to be an expert to “go inside” as you listen to a text – but here on second base it really helps to have previous experience.

Second base – CONTEXT – asks you to look at the wider context in which you find the text. Like a pebble dropped in a pond, you look at the concentric circles around the immediate text, its place within the surrounding material, within that particular book of the Bible, within that type of biblical literature, within the historical setting.

When we listen to Luke 9:28-36, we start off realizing that it is in the New Testament, that is from one of the four New Testament gospels (collections of stories about Jesus), and that is comes roughly a third of the way through the book. Knowing that the reading is from a gospel sets us up with certain expectations – Jesus will be a character, we might see a story that is told slightly differently in one or more of the other gospels, etc. These observations are among the outer circles.

When we look at the story itself, we might look behind and see that Jesus had just taught the disciples that true following meant losing their lives, just before that he predicts his death, and just before that he calls the twelve and sends them on a journey to proclaim the Kingdom of God. In the 8th chapter, the disciples watch Jesus teach and perform miracles.

Immediately after our text, Jesus casts a demon out of a man’s son, then he predicts his death again, then he settles an argument among the disciples about who is the greatest among them by lifting up a child in their midst.

Here on second base we see that the image of the Transfiguration falls right in the middle of Jesus helping the disciples see the various ways that servant leadership play out in his (and therefore the disciples’) lives.

Then we “lead off” from second base (CONTEXT) by asking ourselves, “What are the possibilities of purpose for the writing of this text? What is the writer trying to accomplish?” For instance, is this story one told to encourage the disciples as they begin to understand the challenges of following Jesus?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we thank you for the people who have dedicated their lives to preserving and studying and teaching your Word down through the centuries. As we listen to you speak to us, among the widest circles around your Word are the fans in the stands, the communion of saints, who cheer us on as we open ourselves to you. For all of this, we thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Good morning. Welcome to Thursday, February 15th.   (Day 4)

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Luke 9:28-36

Third base in Bible Study Baseball is CONNECT. Closer again to home plate, we take a quick glance back across the field. On first base (CONTENT) we spent some time slowly noticing all of the words and the characters and the plot of the verses we are listening to. We got to second (CONTEXT) and we expanded our horizons, looking at the wider circles of material around the text. Now we are at third and it is time to look deeply within ourselves.

I take very seriously the idea that the Word of God is actually the WORDS of God – that is, God talks to us through the Spirit as we listen to the text. Hebrews 4:12 says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” When we get to third base, we take some time to go inside and we allow ourselves to sense that piercing that is going on.

Martin Luther, speaking about such listening, provided further clarity in recognizing that the Law of God kills (pierces our conscience, convicts us of sin, reveals our brokenness) while the Gospel of God, the good news of our forgiveness and redemption in Jesus gives life (comforts, encourages, revitalizes and inspires.)

So it is that when we get to third base (CONNECT) we ask ourselves questions like:

How do you react - thoughts and feelings - as you are confronted by the text?
Are you comforted, alarmed, terrified, encouraged?
What lies behind that reaction in your own life?
What life experiences have you had that remind you of this story?
What do you need to do with that information? Praise, give thanks, confess....?

And then, leading off toward home plate, we ask, “What is the writer trying to convey to me, to us, about our life in this passage?”

It is hard to play baseball when you are nervous and tight and afraid. To play well requires relaxing our body so we’re ready to move quickly, focusing our mind so we’re not distracted, remaining aware of all that is around us so we’re not surprised, and having FUN because, after all, it is just a game!

Bible Study Baseball also involves trust and relaxation. On first base, we need to focus ourselves because we are so naturally inclined to race right by what the text actually says. On second base, our wider view gave us more perspective on what we were reading. And now on third we are free to trust God and to trust ourselves, to trust our instincts, to trust what we feel in the pit of our stomachs. We are free to trust that God meets us where we are and tells us what we need to hear.

Tomorrow I’ll share my “third base” thoughts as we make our way to home plate, back to prayer and the question, “How shall I live?”

Let us pray: Holy Spirit, come to us as we come into God’s presence through God’s Word. Speak to our heads, our hearts and our bodies. Grace us with your presence, that we might trust your movement through our lives. Kill us, our pretensions and our fears, and give us new life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Good morning. Welcome to Friday, February 16th.   (Day 5)

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Luke 9:28-36

Many years ago the thought occurred to me that Christianity is a team sport. The first thing Jesus did was gather a few friends. The Church is God’s idea. The power is in the group. The Christian faith is a “we” movement, not an “I” movement. The faith is personal but not individual. This basic understanding guides us in Bible Study Baseball – in listening to God speak to us through the Bible.

We wouldn’t even have a Bible to read if not for the countless saints along the way who wrote and preserved the text for us. Every time we sit down to read, we do so in the context of the lives we lead. And those lives always involve interaction with others, with family, friends, neighbors and the world. The faith is relational.

As we stepped up to the plate at the very beginning, we prayed. Just as a baseball player takes a few practice swings to loosen up and get ready, we prayed that God would open our hearts and minds, that the Spirit would guide us in our reading, that we might receive gifts of wisdom and discernment.

Now, having worked our way to the text (first base, CONTENT), around the text (second base, CONTEXT) and through the text (third base, CONNECT), we come to home plate. These are some great home plate questions:

What difference does this story want to make in my faith?
What difference does this text want to make in my life?
How does this text seek to change me as a person – my attitude, dreams and behaviors?
What decisions are this text leading me to make?

These are all personal questions as the text speaks to us personally in the context of our lives but they are also relational questions as we live our lives with others. I firmly believe that our knee jerk response to the question we normally pose to the Bible is to talk about its meaning for other people. Yet I think we miss the point when we go there first. Baseball is a team game but no one else can run the bases for you if you are the one that wants to arrive at home plate. So we ask all of these questions first from a very personal point of view.

That is one of the reasons why I disagree with the idea that there is “one meaning” to a Bible text. There can never be “one meaning” for texts that continue to speak to all the saints of God and seekers of faith. In some ways, meaning in the abstract is irrelevant, is meaningless. The only meaning which has any real world meaning is the means by which a text shapes our lives and informs our behaviors.

I have listened to this text all week. I’ve done so as a person and as a pastor who will be preaching this text on Sunday morning. But before I can sense what it is saying to my congregation, I need to hear what it is saying to me. And to me – it convicts me in my unwillingness to pray. It encourages me with a reminder that Jesus wasn’t a last minute choice for God but a continuation culmination of the faith traditions and memories into which he was born…the faith which continues in and around me. The text reminded me of the mountaintop experiences of my life, the joy I was feeling over the good things that were happening recently in my life. But also the grief I’ve felt in the midst of changes that I didn’t anticipate or want. And the desire Peter expresses to stay on the mountaintop is a desire I know as well…even as I know that ministry awaits on the other side of the mountain. To follow Jesus is to follow him into the valley, encouraged by the vision of the mountaintop behind and those yet to come.

This text tells me to value the experiences of my life, one day at a time and one at a time. It tells me to keep going, to keep following, to be open to new possibilities. And it tells me that if I’m following Jesus, I’m walking the right path for me.

So it is that we have fun with the Bible using Bible Study Baseball!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for the various ways you encourage us along the way. Give us a confident trust in your purpose and your presence. Help us let go of the past that we might walk lightly into the future with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

From the email versions of Pastor Kerry Nelson's devotions sent out each day:
"Permission is granted to use these devotions any time, in any way you wish, with no need to attribute anything to Kerry."
 
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