By Terry O’Casey
With a belch of diesel smoke, the bus speeds off to another site—just another stop in another too crammed, too rushed day.
Rush, rush, rush—get off the bus, snap a quick photo, cram back on the bus—rush, rush, rush! Off to the next stop on the agenda—capture a quick memory—get back on the bus.
In the rush the people caught a glimpse of Old Faithful, but completely missed Castle, Grotto, and the grandest of all, Grand Geyser. Only the unrushed get to see these marvels. Meanwhile the bus rumbles on.
The rushed strain to see a distant wolf pack. The driver intones, “There—those tiny black specks . . . do you see ’em?” Then it’s “pedal to the metal” to dash and dine at Roosevelt’s Rough Rider Lodge. Yet the unrushed watched the wolf pack bring down an old elk to provide a meal for their young.
That’s how it goes with visits to Yellowstone National Park. And that’s the way we too often interact with God’s Word.
In the pressure of an overbooked life, the way we experience God’s awesome revelation in his Word often reflects our experience of his awesome revelation in his creation—rush, rush, rush. A quick snapshot here—back on the bus—rush, rush, rush. Can the lessons of Yellowstone show us a new way to experience the Word of God?
In a life dictated by Day-Timers and Palm Pilots, there is an old practice that needs to be resurrected—sauntering, a word that suggests slowly walking across “holy ground.” Here is a prescription to saunter with the Word of God.
First, recapture an insatiable curiosity to discover.
Ninety-seven percent of Yellowstone is never seen by tourists. Most of it is off the beaten track. Hop a winter snowcat from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone. Only then will you experience boiling water shooting out of Lone Star Geyser falling back on your face as a mist of ice crystals. Or hike to Sentinel Meadows where P.W. Norris’s 1880 cabin teeters. Listen. Only in the silence can you hear the sandhill crane rookery high in the lodgepole pines.
In the same way, 97 percent of the Bible is never experienced. Don’t simply read Jonah, but experience his adventure—not for a sermon—but by sauntering and discovering.
Can you visualize the fugitive from God lurking in the shadows of Joppa’s port, complete with sunglasses, hat, and trench coat? Board the ship with Jonah. Can you feel the salt spray stinging your face as the bow digs into the monstrous waves? Did you hear the intensity of God’s perfect storm as the mast snaps and the mainsail crashes down?
Move from being Bible spectators to authentic participants in the story. Ask, “What storms have I caused in the lives of others by running away?”
Second, search the journals left by earlier explorers.
To discover the hidden treasures of Yellowstone, you must immerse yourself in the field notes of the explorers who first saw the wonders of the park, such as Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane’s journal of the 1870s Yellowstone expedition. In the rush to do Yellowstone in a day, the modern tourist completely overlooks such resources and never experiences the hidden Yellowstone.
Have other biblical explorers—those who have gone ahead of us—left their journals to guide us in our own explorations? Matthew Henry’s notes have stood the test of time. Kenneth Bailey’s Poet and Peasant helps us understand the parables of Jesus in the culture of the Middle East.
It is the height of arrogance to say, “It’s me and Yellowstone’s 3,500 square miles.” It is equally absurd to assert, “It’s me and my Bible,” and completely ignore the work of other explorers. Make exploration a community adventure. Read and discuss explorer notes from generations ago.
Third, become a regular pilgrim to holy sites.
Repeat visitors make new discoveries they missed the first time. It wasn’t on the first trip to Yellowstone—or the second, or the third—that I stumbled upon the old bottle dump from the original headquarters. Yet because I was a repeat visitor, I was able to hold in my hands a purple bottle with a thin neck and stopper that had been cast aside in the distant past. (It’s still there; I left it for another generation of explorers to find for themselves.)
When Timothy is introduced in Acts 16, the Greek text suggests that his father probably is deceased. Revisit the stories a second time. In ad 64, Paul wrote to Tim, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12). In ad 64 Paul still considered him “young.” So how old was Tim when Paul first called him in Acts 16, some 14 years earlier (ad 50 or 51)? If Tim is young in 1 Timothy, he must be a teenager in Acts 16. Revisit the same story a third time. In Acts 17, Paul and Tim visit Thessalonica. A few weeks later Paul writes 1 Thessalonians. Stop the bus at this intersection. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1 again, slowly. “Paul, Silas and TIMOTHY” (author emphasis). A teen coauthored a book of the Bible? No way! Actually, Tim coauthored SIX books of Scripture. Subsequent trips reveal significant details missed on the first visit.
Fourth, experience the joy of helping another person discover for himself.
There is nothing more exciting than seeing a person discover what you knew was there all along. South of Mammoth, the hot springs soar over the bridged river leading to Osprey Falls. Pull over and saunter a few hundred yards up into the trees with your family. You know where to look, but let them make the discovery and have an “aha” moment. Watch them run their hand across the ancient tepee poles, and travel back at least 150 years to a day when the Sheepeater Shoshone slept in their wickiup.
Drop down into Pleasant Valley past John F. Yancey’s old cabin site. Walk along a creek cobbled with waterworn petrified trees with amethyst hearts. At the base of a cliff, pick up a handful of small rocks hidden in the pockets of fallen boulders. Blow hard! Do you see ’em? Glistening garnets in the palm of your hand. Even better, let your daughter—the next generation of explorers—make the discovery first. Share her joy as she holds the gems up to the sunlight prisming purple.
You hold the guidebook in your hands. You know where the treasures are hidden. Will you sign on as a tour guide on the bus as it lumbers from one site to another, offering predigested tidbits to tourists crammed in their seats? Or will you lead a guided expedition allowing others to discover and have their own “aha” moments?
You will never play out the gold mine of Scripture. On your next trip through Yellowstone or your Bible, saunter across the valley, or lean back in your chair, Bible and guidebook in hand. Grin ear to ear as you mutter, “Wow!”
Then, when we come before our people in a weekend service, or sit at a small group in our home, our faces will radiate. We have come face to face with the Lord in his Word and in his world. We can’t wait to show the golden nuggets and glistening garnets. Better yet, we can’t wait to take others with us into the mine of God’s relevant, exciting Word.
Terry O’Casey served as minister of a rural church on the Oregon coast from 1990 to 2006, helping to grow it from 30 to 350. Since 2007 he has served in a joint partnership with Oregon Christian Evangelistic Fellowship and High Lakes Christian Church to reenergize the small, 25-year-old church plant in one of the fastest-growing areas in Oregon—the Bend-La Pine region. The congregation has grown from 90 to 300 following three simple principles: “Simply Jesus,” “Simply the Bible,” and a “Simpler Way of Doing and Being the Church.”
Terry received a bachelor’s degree from Hope International University, Fullerton, California, a master’s degree in New Testament from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and a doctorate from George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon, working under Leonard Sweet.
Terry is an adjunct professor at Northwest Christian University, Eugene, Oregon, and is also president of the 2010 Oregon Christian Convention.
Terry and his wife Carol have three children: Elizabeth (23), Michael (21), and Isaac (15).
He gives special thanks for two great elder/coaches in his church who helped with this article, Chuck Philips and Kevin Bryan.