Four Q&A with the creator of the Bible Timeline Learning System, the basis of the “The Bible in a Year” podcast.
Jeff Cavins, keynote speaker at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (September 14) created the Bible Timeline Learning System, which is the basis of the “The Bible in a Year” podcast.
Although they want to learn more about the Bible, many parishioners may not know if this is really the best time to start a Bible study. Even if their pastor supported the proposal, many Catholics would not know where to start.
Aleteia asked Mr. Cavins the following questions.
How do today’s challenges reflect periods of captivity in Bible history? Why is the present weather on better time to rebuild and restore our Church?
Jeff Cavins: In the Bible, there were three great times when God’s people found themselves in captivity, in a situation where life was not as they had known it. Times when they’ve been stretched to step into a new reality. The first was the 400 years of Egyptian bondage. And then after these 400 years of captivity, God sent Moses to deliver them and lead them to freedom. The second experience of captivity was in 587 BC when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took the people of Judah to Babylon for 70 years. And then in the New Testament many disciples ended up in prison because of the Word of God. In all three cases it looked bad, it looked hopeless, but it was actually the place that God wanted his people to be to fulfill their destiny and enter the next chapter of history that he had in mind for them.
And so it is often precisely when the going is very difficult that we discover the heart of God and his purpose, if we look at it. What we face today with the pandemic and its challenges is very similar to these three examples of captivity. Life is not the way it used to be, we don’t even know what “normal” means anymore, and people are looking for two things: first, someone to trust, and second, a better future. Scripture reveals the heart of God and the plan of God that fulfills these two desires that we ultimately seek.
The sad part is that many of us will settle for less, which can mean another 40 years in the wilderness.
How can Bible studies energize parishes, revitalize souls, and restore hope?
Jeff Cavins: Over the past two years, not only have individuals lost their sense of direction, but many parishes have lost it as well. As a result, people feel hopeless, as if something has happened to their “internal compass”. When done right, Bible study isn’t just about learning facts, it’s about reorienting our lives around Jesus. It’s a relationship. And that’s exactly what people need in these tough times.
Meeting God every day in his Word is the anchor our lives need. The book of Hebrews says that “hope is an anchor for the soul”, and the Word of God gives us hope no matter how difficult things become politically, medically, socially, Studying the Bible teaches us who we are and who God is. Studying the Bible shows us that there is nothing we cannot face with Christ at the helm.
What are the biggest obstacles to starting a Bible study in a ward, and how can parishioners overcome them?
Jeff Cavins: One of the most common comments I get from people is that they don’t have a good Bible study in their ward, and they ask me what they can do about it. And my answer is: “you will start studying the Bible! of Ascension The Great Adventure Bible Study program makes sure that you don’t have to be a scholar to conduct a Bible study, you just have to love people. The videos and program materials do all the teaching – just be ready to serve, help greet people, and hit the video playback. You really don’t have to be an expert at all, just a willing disciple. If you are prepared to serve in this way, then you can play a major role in restoring joy and hope to your ward.
One of the amazing things this year is that The Ascension has moved all of our Bible studies online– so that your group can meet in person if you can, but if for some reason you have to go virtual, everything is easy to do with our website. The wonderful Ascension staff are available by phone and email to help you with any technical support you may need. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be prepared to serve others by organizing your group.
In the Bible, Israel and the early Church were “scattered.” They called him the diaspora– due to persecution, God’s people were forced to flee their homes and worship communities. Around this time, they were forced to get creative and find new ways to nourish people spiritually. I think something similar is happening with the Church now – we are seeing new and creative avenues of evangelism, catechesis, and community bubbling up, as the incredible response to our Bible in one year Podcast. We have over 100 million downloads and we haven’t even finished the year yet! It’s incredible. I think in a way we’re going to go back to that time and think, why haven’t we done it this way from the start?
What is the impact of being a regular reader of the Bible [your]daily life?
Jeff Cavins: Each day my wife and I meet downstairs and start our mornings with daily Mass readings, which of course follow the liturgical calendar. Each morning, without any deviation, we have a cup of tea, open our Bibles, and read the Bible using lectio divina.
It does a number of things for us: First, it creates a habit of meeting God daily, because we need to hear a new Word from God every day. When I was a Protestant pastor, before my reversion, we asked people the question, could you use a Word of God today? And the response was always overwhelmingly “Yes! ” We need a daily Word from the Lord. He nourishes us, directs us, corrects us and also gives us a Word that we can be called to share with others whom we will meet later in the day.
And as a married couple, this habit brings us together every day around the Word of God. Even though we are in an argument, we still meet around the Word of God because that is where our souls are met, nurtured, corrected, and it is there that we come to know the heart of Our Father and His plan. It creates a foundation of trust for our family: trust in God.
Another advantage of starting each day in lectio divina thus the liturgical year is not just random readings – it begins with Advent and ends with the feast of Christ the King. The liturgical year is the life of Christ inscribed on a calendar.
I like to joke that if you were to look at Jesus’ Google Calendar you would get the liturgical year with all its readings and feast days! And of course, we want our lives to reflect his life. Thus, when we follow the Church’s liturgical calendar daily, we are literally conforming our life to the life of Christ.
It is beautiful because as Catholics we are not at the whim of any particular pastor who has special verses or passages that he likes, but rather we get a regular diet of all the great stories in Scripture, we meet all people of age, during the three-year cycle of readings that the Church gives us. It is a beautiful thing.
There is so much anxiety right now in the culture. A lot of people spend so much time and energy watching the evening news, cable news, YouTube, conspiracy theories, all that… I listen to them talk about these things and I wonder: did you give time today to listen to God? A loving God, who knows your situation better than any news channel on the network? May God have a Word for you in the midst of everything you are going through, and it will bring you so much more peace than watching more news and social media.
I think our friends who listen to the Bible in one year podcast have learned this lesson: that there is something better than the news! This is the GOOD news, and this Good News has changed their lives.
Jeff Cavins is the creator of the famous The Great Adventure® Biblical Chronology Study Series which has enabled generations of Catholics to understand the “salvation story” of the Bible. Jeff has been a leading Catholic evangelist, author and podcast host for decades, and is best known for hosting EWTN’s “Life on the Rock” TV show for six years. Jeff’s best-selling books and Bible studies include “The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation,” “Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible,” “Jesus: The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” “The disciple activated and walk with God: a journey through the Bible.“