I’m CSPC Director of Middle School Ministry Dan Davis, and this is how I’m living deeply.
I always saw people who kept prayer journals and Bible study journals, and that was never something I could do real effectively. As a kid, starting when I was elementary school-aged, I grew up drawing in church- all the time; just doodling. This, for me, was the way I engaged with Scripture. Even at school, my teachers said it helped me focus when I was doodling. I’m not sure that was always the case, but I knew it was at least some of the time. Since my dad was a pastor, I was in church all the time. And there was this gentleman at church I really admired- I’d watch him and he’d do all these really great drawings. So one day I just started bringing my own sketch book or pieces of paper and drawing. Eventually I realized I was listening to my dad more -his sermons and stories- and I started drawing pictures of what he was talking about. As I grew older, I was coming to see the Bible stories I’d grown up with as moments in history- these were real people! They would’ve had real reactions to some of the things they were seeing, doing, and experiencing. ‘What would those have been?’ I thought. So for anybody who’s starting to engage God, I’d say you shouldn’t just pick up the Bible and read through it checklist-style. That’s usually not the best way to do it. I had done it that way for so long, but I think it was the least effective way. God will still use that, obviously, but it’s better to really take your time with Scripture and start to thoughtfully ask: ‘What was going on here? What were the people thinking? How might they have perceived this? What was the intended audience for this and how did they first need to hear this story?’ Looking at it from those angles is the whole idea behind a new book I’ve just finished and made available- it’s called An Odd Testament: Genesis. It’s a Bible study, devotional, and Sunday comic strip all rolled into one. I love The Far Side comic strip (who doesn’t?)- the cartoons are so quirky, and you don’t get all of them, but you feel smarter when you do.
So in that vein I thought, ‘Maybe I, as a middle school director, could start drawing these moments from Scripture in a way that isn’t quite so obvious to someone who doesn’t know the story.’ As the idea took shape, my vision for each chapter in the book was: read the story, figure out why it’s funny, look at these as real situations, and find God’s application for your life. My fear was that I would make it seem like fantasy, like some of the Bible story cartoons when I was growing up did. No, these are real stories, real people, and they would’ve maybe had some strange thoughts in these situations that we haven’t considered before! Take Noah, for instance. I grew up reading how all the people around him always made fun of him and jeered while he built the Ark. But in the Bible, that’s not really part of the story. So I drew two guys dressed up like bears wanting to walk on the Ark with the animals because they were actually curious about what was happening. Instead of being like, ‘Noah, you’re an idiot!’ they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to see what’s going on there.’ Another story is Abram- the idea he’s left everything to follow God, but then a chapter later, he’s pretending Sarai is his sister in Egypt. In that picture, I have them getting ready to go into Egypt and he’s holding up t-shirts that say, ‘I love my little sis’ and ‘I love my big bro’, and telling her, ‘We’re going to wear these when we’re in Egypt.’ I mean, what scheming did they have to do to try to make that work? So I threw in a little modern-day comedy. I wrote this with middle schoolers and above in mind. It’s an audience that needs to see I’m not making fun of the Bible yet needs to relate to it somehow. And humor is very relatable to young people- they’ll scroll through their Instagram feed all day laughing at little things. My hope is that I put some of these drawings out there and they’ll identify with that- like, ‘I never thought of Genesis in that way.’ And these are bite-sized: Here’s this story- how does it relate to my life? Each devotional probably takes 10 minutes total, even if you read the Scripture with it, and it’ll take you all the way through Genesis.
I finished the book, once I got serious about it, in roughly a year and a half. I wasn’t going to release it at first- I began writing with one person in mind, mostly: my sister, who’s fighting stage 4 cancer. She’s battling hard, and we’re all hopeful and prayerful for a full recovery. She’s so important to me, such a spiritual leader in my life. My sister was the first of my siblings to get saved and baptized, she tried to live a holy life in high school when her friends were doing the bad things. She was such a great spiritual mentor for me, it would just devastate me if she didn’t know this part of my life. Her diagnosis really drove home the fragility of life in a personal way, so that was when I decided to seize the moment and really focus on getting the book done. There’s even a dedication in the back where I thank her for all she is and has meant. God has shown me His kindness by enabling me to get it done for her. But that’s not the only way this experience has taken me deeper. Through writing this book, God’s really inspired me to be more responsible in how I draw out instruction and application from His Word when I’m teaching my students. I’m interested in His Word like I never had been previously. Before, I kind of looked at these as individual stories. Writing the book forced me to look at them as part of a complete story that points to the need for Christ to come and save us. Even the patriarchs we lift up as great people in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, these are not the greatest people in the world morally. Yet, through even their weaknesses, God uses them. They fall and God picks them up again. And isn’t that the story for all of us?
***NOTE: Dan’s book, An Odd Testament: Genesis, is available now on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and most online booksellers. You may also follow his work regularly by liking and following @anoddtestament on Facebook and Instagram.