“The Bible for my friends” – a video series.

I love to help people understand the Bible at the story level. It’s why I wrote “A Great Work” as a conversation with Nehemiah. It guides my daily writing at 300wordsaday.com. It’s been part of my work as a pastor for the last fifteen years and in higher education before that.

All that background is why I started “The Bible for my Friends.” Short video lessons helping explain and explore the Bible. My current plan is to start with 13 episodes.

As I say in the first episode, I love reading the Bible. I hate having to read the Bible. That’s why I’m not great with Bible reading plans that start here and go to there in 90 days or 365 days. Lots of my friends struggle with that, too. And so they have great intentions about the Bible, but they don’t get far with reading it.

In this series of videos, I’ll share with you some of the ways I approach the Bible. Ways that show up in my writing, my teaching, my conversations with God. Ways that have made people say, “You help me look at the Bible differently.”

I’m not a Bible scholar. For me, that’s a person with degrees from seminaries and a mastery of Greek and Hebrew. I am, however, a communication scholar. And if the Bible is actually God talking with us, I can shed some light on what’s being said.


Episode 001 – Introduction and 5 ways to read the Bible

Episode 002 – Five more ways to read the Bible in community

Episode 003 – The Camera as Commentary: five ways to read the Bible through the lens of a camera

Episode 004 – The Sunday School class you missed – finding your way in New Testament

Episode 005 – Feasting your way through more ways to read the Bible (Coming soon)

You can subscribe at www.youtube.com/jnswanson. And if you find these helpful. I’d love for you to share them.

Sarah gets confused.

Sarah just stared at Carol. Finally she asked, “How are sandwiches and prayer and significance and love and the royal law connected? I mean, in your head.”

Carol smiled. “Let me get it out of my head. See if this makes sense. We hear the phrase ‘love your neighbor’ all the time. As neighbors, we want it to apply to us. Which is perfectly understandable. Because we crave love. When we scold someone for not loving neighbors, we are, at least sometimes, saying ‘you aren’t loving me.'”

Sarah nodded. “Right. I get that part. When someone starts ranting about ‘those people’, I want to raise my hand and say, ‘you mean people like my friend Carol?'”

“And you fill in my name because if they don’t love me, they may not be loving you?” Carol leaned forward. “And because it would be really scary for you to say ‘you mean like me?’ We don’t want to risk that kind of openness, particularly since we’re broken.”

Sarah shook her head. “What does openness have to do with brokenness? And sandwiches?”

Carol broke her scone in half and pushed the plate across the table. “Here, have something to eat.”

Sarah shook her head. “I’m not hungry. I’m just wanting you to make some connections.”

Carol smiled. “I am. But I need to tell you a story to tell you a story to get to your question. Is that okay?”

Sarah picked up the piece of scone. Carol was a good teacher, but there was going to be time to eat this.

“The picture Jesus uses to talk about this royal law was a broken man,” Carol said. “Do you remember the story about the man who was mugged and left for dead?”

The question came too quickly. Sarah’s mouth was full of crumbs. She mumbled something.

Carol laughed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to surprise you. Let me tell it, just for review.”


You can read the story Carol’s referring to. Samaritan. And you can read the first two parts of the story at Sarah gets the royal treatment and Sarah looks for significance.

Sarah looks for significance.

Sarah put down the Bible and picked up her journal. “What if we kept the royal law?” she thought. “What if we actually loved our neighbors as ourselves?”

She realized her coffee was empty. She walked back upstairs to refill the mug.

The pot was empty. Julie must have finished it. Sarah was ready to make another mark in the “Things-My-Housemate-Does-That-Annoy-Me” notebook in her mind until she remembered the words she’s just written.

She walked to the stairway and called up. “Would you like some fresh?”

This was going to be annoying. She was glad she was meeting with her mentor after work.

“I want to do something that matters,” she said to Carol. She knew she sounded like all the research about millennials, the research that millennials hate because they don’t like being treated as generalizations.

“I’m curious. What would be something that mattered?” Carol asked.

“You know. Like building an orphanage or drilling a well or rescuing children or something amazing.”

“So build an orphanage.” Carol was direct.

Sarah squirmed. “But that’s big and impossible.”

“And time-consuming?” Carol asked. “So what’s the smallest thing you could do that would make you feel like you were doing something that mattered?”

Sarah thought back to her journal. “There’s the royal law thing.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s in James. He talks about the royal law of loving our neighbor. He says that if we do that, we are doing right.” Sarah leaned back.  “So that would be a small thing.”

“Ah yes. That’s a wonderful statement. People talk about it all the time. But we never quite understand it. It’s a great way to find something that matters. So let me ask you something, Sarah. Who’s the poorest person you have ever prayed for? Did you give them a sandwich?”

Sarah gets the royal treatment.

Sarah yawned. As she looked at her calendar for the week, she shook her head. It was another week of the same stuff.

She got her coffee.

Her work wasn’t awful. Some days it was a delight. But most days it was work. She longed for it to be subversive.

Her friends weren’t awful. Most days they were a delight. But most days they were acquaintances. She longed for them to be accomplices.

Sunday morning, she’d heard a sermon that had been eating at her. The pastor was working slowly through the letter of James. Achingly slowly sometimes. One Sunday she wanted to stand up and say, “Wake up! James is attacking us! Living like this would be aMAzing!” Then she realized that she had been dozing.

But this week, a word gleamed as she scanned down the page. “Royal.” James – brother of Jesus, leader in Jerusalem, no friend of King Herod or Rome, no friend of status – used the word “royal.”

She sipped her coffee, trying to remember the sentence. Finally, she put down her journal and picked up a Bible. She found the sentence in James 2“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.

She looked at what came just before this. James had been talking about favoring rich people and ignoring poor people. He accused people of pleasing the rich people who were suing them and ignoring the poor people who were being abused. And then he said that the royal law was to love your neighbor.

It seemed like the opposite of all the exploitative royalty she’d ever read about.

“But I want to be doing right,” she thought.

She had no idea that this was going to be a week that changed her life.



How are you?

I’ve got a bunch of writing and video projects that I’m working on for you and others. Some of them will be fun, actually, to flesh out. But as I was getting to the end of a good and active weekend, I thought, “You don’t need to read something heavy and challenging today any more than I need to write something heavy and challenging.”

I know that we are supposed to sharpen each other, that we are supposed to make the most of every opportunity. On the piece of paper in front of me, are some questions that I wrote this weekend: “Who am I teaching today? What am I teaching?”

But some days, a week after Easter, when we are recovering from the post Lent release and the post-Easter slide toward ordinary time, we need a smile. We need to be encouraged to do what we know rather than hearing more things to do.

starting 8th year of walking.I know. There are obstacles and challenges. Over the weekend I heard several. There are people, friends of yours, friends of mine, in difficult situations – decades in the making, unresolvable  in the visible future. But there are people, friends of yours, friends of mine, who are laughing this morning. The test result came back clear. The details worked out in a way that may best be described as miraculous.

If you are in the former group, take courage. You are seen. If you are in the later group, give courage. You can see. And do both together.

It’s to us Paul writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

So this morning, I’m cheering for you. I’m cheering you.


Check out the latest episode of The Bible for my Friends: Camera as Commentary. And get a list of all of them at 300wordsaday.com/the-bible