FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The National Bible Bee

with Mike Farris | January 21, 2009
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Imagine a competition that promotes godly character in kids! The National Bible Bee is afoot in communities across the nation. Mike Farris shares exciting news about the event that motivates young people to memorize facts and passages from the Scripture, equipping them to be bold ambassadors for Christ.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Imagine a competition that promotes godly character in kids! The National Bible Bee is afoot in communities across the nation. Mike Farris shares exciting news about the event that motivates young people to memorize facts and passages from the Scripture, equipping them to be bold ambassadors for Christ.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Imagine a competition that promotes godly character in kids!

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The National Bible Bee

With Mike Farris
January 21, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Child:  Backwards – b-a-c-k-w-a-r-d-s.

Bob: Every year, thousands of school children across the country line up for an annual ritual – the spelling bee.

Child:  Elephant – e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t, elephant?

Bob: Those student who excel in spelling move on to national competition and can win big prizes.

Child: Accommodate – a-c-c-o-m-m-o-d-a-t-e, accommodate?

Bob: But what if instead of memorizing spelling words, students all across the country were spending time memorizing the Word of God?

Child: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved a worker who has no need to be ashamed rightly handling the worth of truth," 2 Timothy 2:14.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 21st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  And today we'll tell you about the first National Bible Bee.  It all happens later this year.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  We're going to talk about this upcoming competition here in just a minute, but this is Day 17 of our 40-day Love Dare.  Between here and Valentine's Day we're encouraging husbands and wives to demonstrate love for one another by taking the Love Dare, and each day we're giving you a Love Dare assignment that comes from "The Love Dare" book that was featured in the movie, "Fireproof," and that movie is coming out on DVD here in a couple of weeks.

And today's theme for the Love Dare is Proverbs 17:9 – "He who covers an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends."  The idea today is that if we want to strengthen our intimacy in marriage, we've got to protect one another, and we've got to be able to feel safe sharing with one another.  So today's assignment is this – you need to determine to guard your mate's secrets, unless those secrets are dangerous to them or to you, and you need to pray for your spouse.  We've already talked about that this week.

When you talk with your spouse, you need to really listen to them as they share their personal thoughts and their struggles with you, and then make sure they know that they can share those things safely; that you're not going to use that against them or you're not going to reveal their innermost thoughts to others.

So that's your assignment for today.  Each day we are posting the Love Dare assignments on our website,, and if you're interested in getting a copy of "The Love Dare" book, which was a New York Times bestseller, you can order it from us at  Just go to our website, and the information about the book is available there.  There is also information about our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  In fact, we're kicking those off here in a couple of weeks, and if you'd like to register for one of the upcoming conferences, you can do that online at, and you can make plans to have a great weekend getaway as a couple and love like you mean it.

Now, today we want to talk about an upcoming competition.  This is actually going to kind of be like the ultimate sword drill, don't you think?

Dennis: Yeah.

Bob: You know what I'm talking about – the sword drill.  Did you ever do sword drills growing up?

Dennis: Well, now, some of our listeners don't have the foggiest idea what we're talking about because this is …

Bob: … the combat thing going on, don't we?

Dennis: Yeah, well, there's that, but they don't have any idea how that relates to growing up in a church.  When I was a young lad growing up in a church, they would have you bring your Bible, and you would stand at attention.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: You would hold your Bible at your side, and then they would give you maybe an address of a passage of Scripture to look up.

Bob: So they'd say, "Naom 1:4" …

Dennis: Yeah, and you'd pull your Bibles out, and whoever got there first and could read it would win the contest.  Except today we have a new idea that I am really excited about.  In fact, about a year ago, I received a phone call from a business leader who cares about the spiritual foundation of our nation, and he shared with me an idea that I am thrilled to be able to share with our listeners.  And we have the gentleman who is helping to give leadership to this – Michael Farris on the broadcast with us today.  Michael, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Michael: It's great to be back with you.

Dennis: Michael gives leadership to the Home School Legal Defense Association, he is the chancellor of Patrick Henry College.  We had a couple of freshman who attend that school here on our broadcast sharing about how teenagers can make a difference, and they certainly are making a difference as well.

Bob: Are you talking about Brett and Alex Harris?

Dennis: I am.

Bob: Yeah.

Dennis: You are, Michael, not only the proud father of 10 children – how many grandchildren, by the way?

Michael: Just 11, so far.

Dennis: Just 11, just 11 – but you are also the chairman of the board of the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, okay? 

Michael: That's right.

Dennis: Okay, now, explain what the Shelby Kennedy Foundation has to do with Bob's illustration of sword drills.

Michael: Well, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation was named to honor a remarkable young lady from San Antonio, Texas, who loved God's Word, memorized it voraciously, and then the Lord chose to take her home when she was a young woman about 20 years old from leukemia.

And at her funeral, this business leader that you were talking about, was inspired by the teachings about her love for the Word of God and thought that's what we need to see young people doing in this country is having the Word of God go deeply into young people's hearts and minds.

And so his idea was to start a National Bible Bee, and he's a friend of mine, and he asked me to bring the organizational leadership together, and I've been glad to do that, and so we're here to talk about a contest of a National Bible Bee that's really going to be exciting.

Bob: Now, when he first sat down with you and said, "I have this idea for a Bible bee," did the lights go on immediately?  Did you go, "That's a great idea?"

Michael: I did, mainly because of his explanation.  He said, you know, I see kids memorizing obscure words in a spelling bee and spending enormous numbers of hours doing it.  In fact, I've known some kids who have done very well and gone to the National Spelling Bee.  I just see the devotion to that.

The eternal value of learning how to spell onomatopoeia and hyperpolysyllabicescovidalianism and things like that.

Dennis: What did you just say?

Michael: That means the excessive use of big words.

Dennis: Okay.

Michael: Is really limited, and so his desire was to have kids devote that same energy to something that is of eternal value, and that is the Word of God.

Dennis: And today we've lost the idea of sword drills as well as Scripture memory.

Michael: I came, apparently, from a liberal church because we were allowed to sit down when we did our sword drills

Dennis: Oh, really?  Yeah, that is a liberal church, no doubt.

Michael: But, you know, the value in my own life for memorizing the Word of God – I was going to a Good News Club when I was six years old, and that was the first of my systematically memorize the Word of God.  When I was in first grade, and you got a price every 10 verses you learned, and it just really helped me, and I believe that both mental development and spiritual development is tied up in learning the Word of God.  It's an incredibly valuable resource.  It's really a shame of how little people have learned about the Bible or learned the Bible itself.

A recent survey showed that 9 percent of professing born-again believing teenagers believe that there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong.  Now, if we don't get that, if the majority of our kids don't even know that there is absolute right or wrong – why not?  Well, the ultimate answer is they haven't really digested God's Word into their lives, and the best way, God's way, of digesting His Word is to memorize it and meditate on it.  And it's got to be put into the lives of kids to have a chance to really germinate.

Bob: So give us the details about the Bible Bee.  When is it going to be?  How is it going to work, and what do kids have to do?

Michael: Well, the first step is we are recruiting as many churches, Christian schools, home school support groups, anybody else of a similar nature that wants to sponsor a local bee to do so.  They could go to the website, it's, and sign up – start the process of holding a local competition.

And then all the local competitions will be held in September – September 12th of 2009, and there will be scores fed into a computer, and the top 100 kids from all over the country at all these local bees will be invited to the National Bee.

Dennis: Now there are rules, of course, that they're going to find on this website.  Give us an idea of kind of the general rules that they're going to compete by?

Michael: Well, there are going to be two categories of knowledge.  One is just direct memorization of Scripture, and we're going to give the students a curriculum of the verses that we've selected as the target verses for this year.  We've got 300 to 500 verses.  It will be the maximum anybody will be asked about.

And then there's Bible knowledge questions.  So about half of it is Bible knowledge, just straightforward, objective Bible information, and the other half is direct memorization of Scripture, and the kids will alternate rounds between Bible knowledge and Bible memorization.

And those who score the highest points after the local contest will be allowed to go into the national contest.

Dennis: I know Bob is just eager to enter this contest early.  So could you ask, Bob …

Bob: Well, here is my first question, because my wife wants to know what version you're using.  Is there a preferred version here?

Michael: No, actually, we have five versions of the Bible that we will allow the students to select from.  We just have to have some limitation so that we have the computer program set up for the judges.  But you can memorize from any one of the five most …

Bob: The five, that's cool.

Dennis: Well, I was actually thinking about you asking Bob a sample of one of the questions from the survey side of the Bible, and then one of the memory verses, because I'm sure it's just right off the top of his …

Bob: Go easy on me here.  Do you have any idea what any of these things are going to be?

Michael: Well, some of them are going to be very simple and straightforward like John 1:12.  We'll make sure that everybody knows John 1:12.

Bob: And that would be, "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us?"

Michael: No, that's John 1:1.

Bob: No, that's 1:14.

Dennis: "If we've received Him?"

Bob: "But as many received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God" …

Dennis: "Even of those who believe in His name."

Bob: Way to go, give me five.

Michael: All right, and we could go to the really difficult questions like Nahor's two nephews, or Uz and Buz.  We're not going to do that.

Dennis: What was that again?  What did you just say?

Michael: There are two guys in the Old Testament lineage named Uz and Buz, and we'll use that if we have to, but that's not what we're starting on.  But the deadline for signing up to be a local sponsor is the end of January of 2009, and the dates to start signing up as student contestants starts on February 15th.

Bob: And a church can sign up to be a local sponsor, a Christian school, just any local organization can say, "We want to do one of these in our city?"

Michael: Basically, yes.  We have hundreds of groups that are already starting the process, and about 40 that have finished the application process, and we expect to have many locations in every state, and so people could go to the one and sign up for the one closest to them.

Bob: And in some cities there may be a half a dozen or a dozen different locations all having their own Bible Bee.

Michael: That's correct, it could be.  And we want to encourage participation.  Now, what we haven't said is the prizes.  The top prize is …

Dennis: Yeah, that's where I was going to go.  I happen to know what some of these are, and it's like this is no cheesy contest.

Michael: No, this is the top contest in the country of any kind.  There's $100,000 first prize for the winner of the senior division.  There are three divisions – younger kids, elementary kids, and then …

Dennis: Senior division, that's …

Michael: Fourteen and up.

Dennis: I'm 60.


Bob: You're too senior for this.

Michael: Unless you were born on February 29th and haven't had your 18th birthday yet.

Dennis: Okay, 14 and up to what age?

Michael: To 18.

Dennis: 18, okay, that's the senior division.

Michael: That's the senior division.  And then 11 through 13 is the middle division, the junior division; and then the primary division is 7 through 10.

Bob: So the winner of the senior division gets $100,000?

Michael: Right, and …

Bob: Winner of the middle division?

Michael: $50,000.

Bob: And the winner of the small fry division?

Michael: $25,000.

Bob: Wow.

Dennis: So they're going to support their parents after this, right?

Michael: Well, that's up to them and their tax lawyers, but they can take the money, tax free, if it's college scholarship, and they can take the money and pay taxes if they take the cash.

Bob: Wow.

Dennis: And the competition is going to be in D.C.

Michael: That's right, just like the National Spelling Bee.

Bob: You're at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, and that's early November for the finals, right?

Michael: That's right, and so all the details are on our Bible Bee website, and so if I've stated the dates slightly wrong, just to go the website and make sure.

Bob: So, again, if somebody wants to sign up as a participant, and they're not ready to sponsor it for their city, but they say, "I'd like to compete in that," they just need to find where there is going to be a regional Bible Bee near them and get signed up?

Michael: Right.  There's a map there that you can look at the flags on the map of where the current locations are, and there are hundreds that are in process beyond the ones that are already there.  But by the time the students are eligible to sign up, February 15th, that will all be completed for this cycle.  And, of course, next year, if people miss the deadline, the thing to do is start working for the 2010 contest.

Bob: And participants can sign up between February 15th, and I think it's April 30th that is the cutoff for them.

Michael: That's right.

Bob: And then you spend your summer with 300 to 500 verses that you're locking down, right?

Michael: That's exactly right.

Dennis: How many young people to you anticipate will enter?  I mean, you have to have a goal and kind of a dream and a vision here.

Michael: Well, the first year, we're hoping for about 10,000 young people, but we want to see hundreds of thousands in a few years that are really involved in this.  Because the real prize is not the $100,000, the real prize is the eternal value, and every young person that memorizes Scripture is going to get that eternal prize.  And it's life-changing.

Bob: And are these going to have to be word perfect delivered?

Michael: Well, that's part of the scoring competition.  Every time you miss a word, that counts.  And so you can get a score that could qualify you by having one or two misses, but if you start having five or six misses, you're not going to go anywhere in the competition.

Dennis: And if you're a layman, who is listening and going, you know, "I don't know if my church will host one of these, but I might like to give leadership to that within our local church."  They could actually use your website to go and maybe go back to their pastor being armed with the information and give leadership making a Scripture memory program more visible within their church, right?

Michael: Absolutely, and I'm sure, having pastored for three years, every pastor will say, "If you are willing to lead it, brother, then you've got my permission."  And so –we just – sometimes some pastors will want to do it themselves, but we're looking for volunteers and the blessing of the church, of course, but it doesn't have to be all the pastors that do this.  We need to get people who want to see young people memorize the Word of God involved in providing that local leadership.

Dennis: I want to go back to that figure you used of 9 percent of today's teenagers believing in absolute truth.  One of the questions is – how can we, as laymen and women make a difference and make a dent in that?  Well, we can begin to introduce the standard of Scripture, which is truth, into the next generation, and the way you do that is by getting them in The Book.

Michael: Absolutely.  In fact, this is an especially wonderful opportunity for people who are retired.  There are some execs, other retired people that are retired from business, from the military, other places, and there are moms and grandmothers that are capable of leading these programs, and we want to encourage people to seize the opportunity to help young people.

Dennis: How many hours a week do you think it would take leading up to the competition?

Michael: For the volunteer, it probably is going to take 40 or 50 hours altogether.

Dennis: Total.

Michael: Total – you'll space it out in some fashion.

Bob: And I'm sure some churches will be having preliminary training kinds of things so that kids can get together, and they may do some dry runs or help kids get ready for this.  Is it possible that a church or a Christian school will take on the responsibility to be a site for this, and their first real exposure will be on September 12th, or is everybody expected to have some kind of preliminary activity over the summer?

Michael: No, there will be – the vast majority, the first real activity will be September the 12th.  It's up to individuals and, of course, if his church wants to practice, you know, so much the better.  But there is no requirement that that happen that way.

Bob: Let's say my son is going to go to the Bible Bee in – we live in a small town in northern Montana, and there may only be six kids who show up in our small town in northern Montana for the Bible Bee.  But in another location, there are going to be 100 or more kids who are going to show up for that.  Ultimately, how do you figure out who the 100 going to Washington, D.C. are going to be?

Michael: It's by their total score.  They are all going to be asked the same questions and the same Scripture passages in a controlled atmosphere, and there is a very detailed scoring system that we've worked out.  And so we're trusting the integrity of the scorers and the people running the contests.  We have some requirements for that so that it's not all one parent and their kids.  You can't rig the contests.

The other thing that will happen is once they get to Washington, D.C., there is going to be a written exam for the first round.  And if you've faked it to get there, you'll be weeded out right now.  And it's just the kids who get the best scores nationwide will be invited to come.

Bob: If my son wins the regional and qualifies as one of the 100, we've got to raise the money to get him up to Washington, D.C.?

Michael: That's one of the local sponsor's responsibilities, yeah.

Bob: Help raise that money and cover his food, transportation, lodging?

Michael: Right.

Dennis: I like, also, your tag line – "Learn it, speak it, live it," because it's not just about in the head, it's about ultimately applying it in lives and calling young people to begin to make choices based upon the Scripture that they know.

Michael: Absolutely.  If all we have is head knowledge, then we don't understand what the Word of God is about.  But if we don't start with the head knowledge, we'll never learn to live it out.  And so we need to have the whole sequences of "Learn it, live it, speak it."

Bob: Chancellor, let me ask you this – if you are looking at applicants for Patrick Henry College someday, and one of the things that is on that student's resume is "I was one of the 100 who went to Washington, D.C. and participated in the National Bible Bee, does that give them a leg up getting into Patrick Henry?

Michael: It gives them a very big plus, absolutely.

Bob: I think we have to stop and consider – a student who succeeds in this, one of those 100, that's a significant achievement that isn't just going to matter at Patrick Henry, but it's going to matter in a lot of places where that student is going to be applying.  Even, perhaps, in some mainstream environments.

Michael: Absolutely.  People expect and appreciate rigor wherever you find it, and I think you'll see a lot of good things coming for these kids.

Dennis: Yeah, it was a couple of months ago when I received a letter about the Bible Bee, and I got it, and I read it, and I thought, "I want to bounce that off Bob.  I think that's something, as a broadcast, we want to get behind and really help bring some visibility to and tell the story, and, Bob, of course, you made some contacts with Mike's organization and found out more about it, and we really like what we see.

And, of course, our listeners know, Michael, that we're all about taking timeless biblical truths and bringing them into homes and into hearts and seeing it applied in people's lives.  And, personally, it's why we kind of crash to do this broadcast, to bring it to our listeners.  We know time is short, there are a couple of key dates that they need to be mindful of.  One is for the groups that want to sign up and host it, the other is for the young people who want to either get in the senior group, that middle group, or the elementary age group and, keep in mind, we're talking about $100,000 in prize money for the winner of the 14- to 18-year-old group.

Bob: And those key dates that you mentioned are on our website at FamilyLife, so if you're interested in hosting one of the local competitions in your area, you need to do that quickly because we're just a couple of weeks away from the deadline.  It ends at the end of January.  If you are interested in participating as a contestant in a local Bible Bee, the window for that is between February 15th and April 30th and, again, we've got the link on our website at for anyone who wants to go there and get more information about the Bible Bee.

Dennis: And, Michael, I just want to thank you for being a Christian statesman in this culture.  You've served Christ in a number of roles, and now as chancellor of a major Christian college, and I just appreciate you, as a husband, a father, and a Christian leader in our nation and, personally, I appreciate you and the stand you've taken, and how you're giving your life to this.  This is great.

Michael: Well, thank you so much, it's very kind of you.

Bob: And, again, if our listeners are interested in more information about the Bible Bee, they can go to our website,  We've got links there to your website.  The end of this month is the first deadline for churches or groups that want to sponsor a Bible Bee in a local community, and then the enrollment for contestants takes place from the middle of February to the end of April. 

So, again, all the information is on your website.  Just come to and click the link, and it will take you right to where you need to go, and you can start working with your children now to have them begin the process of memorizing these verses so that they can compete in one of the local Bible Bees and maybe go on to Washington, D.C. for the National Bible Bee next November.  And, of course, we'll keep you up to date with what's going on with the Bible Bee as the date for the national competition draws closer.

Let me take just a minute here, if I can, Dennis, and say thanks to those folks who helped support our ministry.  FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported broadcast, which means that the folks who listen, some of you call in or go online and help support what we're doing with donations from time to time.  It's those donations that keep us on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country.

And this month, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount, we have a book we'd like to send you written by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  It's actually a 365-day devotional guide for couples called "Moments With You."  This book was the follow-up to the bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples," and it gives you an opportunity, as a couple, to read together through a brief devotional.  Then there is discussion question and a suggested prayer topic so that the two of you can talk and pray together.

And we're making the book available this month when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  If you make that donation online at, just type the word "moments" into the keycode box that you see on your donation form.  That way we'll know to send you a copy of the book, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329.  Make your donation over the phone and just ask for a copy of the book "Moments With You."  Again, we're happy to send it to you as a way of saying thank you for your partnership with us and for your support of this ministry.  We appreciate you and want to say thanks for listening and thanks for helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Tomorrow we want to talk about how you can make a different kind of investment – how you can invest your life for Kingdom work.  Bob Buford is going to join us, and we're going to talk about what a lot of people are doing after halftime in life.  We'll talk about that tomorrow, and I hope you can join us for it.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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