Monthly Archives: June 2010

Primer: How to Study the Bible

Our church began a Wednesday night theology series last week we’re calling PRIMER, and I’ve had a few people ask if I could share the outlines we’re using. So below is the content of the handout from last week, plus a few added notes to explain points that were expanded on in class but may not be clear from the outline itself.

The first class was on How to Study the Bible.

I. Know What the Bible Is (. . . and how it is it)

Your interest in Scripture will correlate to what you believe about it.

Genre: What kind of writing is this book?Author: Who wrote this book? What kind of person was he?Audience: Who was this book written for?

II. Get Help

Pray for illumination from the SpiritSeek the gifted teaching of other believers and the communal clarity of church tradition in Bible study & worship

Resources:Study BiblesCommentariesBible dictionariesConcordances

III. Adjust Your Expectations

Many times we burn out quick in Bible study because we take on a heavy load ourselves but are skeptical about the Word proving itself to be transforming.

Take the pressure off yourself and put it on God. He can handle it.

Engage according to your wiring: Maybe a few verses a day will be profitable to you than many chapters. Maybe studying in the evening is more fruitful for you than in the morning. Etc.

Grazing vs. Feasting: Take time in Bible study to both meditate (chew the cud) and inundate (drink deeply).

IV. Interpret Before Apply

Ask “What does this mean?” before you ask “What …

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Deeds and Creeds

Matthew 25:41-46:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This passage tells us that if you call Jesus “Lord” but don’t really live like he is, you do not really worship him. Your deeds matter.

Matthew 7:22-23:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

What I find interesting about this passage is that the unrighteous are pleading their deeds. They allegedly did “mighty works” in Jesus’ name. But he still says …

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Missions: Someone Else’s No is Your Yes

I received an email a while back from a missionary to a rather dangerous South American nation sharing with me how he has become estranged from his parents because of his vocation. Missions was not the dream they had for him, and at first they assumed it was a bit of a lark. Now that he has been entrenched in and committed to the field, they have cut off communication with him, so great is their disappointment and discouragement. They think he is crazy to take his wife and children someplace not safe, and the cause of the gospel is not great enough in their minds to justify the risk.

I was reminded of this message this past week when I received a reply from a missionary to the Middle East we support to an email I had sent. My message had been flagged, she said, and she asked that I be very careful when messaging her not to use the “m” word (mission/ary) for her safety. What a startling reminder again about how cheap Christian missionaries consider their lives in light of how precious they view Christ and his gospel.

Last night I had the great privilege of preaching the commencement sermon at a Christian school graduation here in Vermont, and one thing I always try to do when speaking to young adults in New England is encourage them to listen to whether God is calling them to ministry. New England needs its young generation of Christians to get passionate about …

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Wandering Prayer

“Our obsessive drive to control our minds in the presence of God, that is, to pray about one thing or stick to one list, may be a form of hiding from God.” – David Hansen, Long, Wandering Prayer

The great thing about our God is that he takes us as we are but does not leave us as he finds us. This means that a wandering mind (and even body) is okay in prayer. If you are engaged in the practice of intentional prayer in solitude and quiet, God who is outside of time is not offended if it takes you time to get everything expressed or you have to wander around your house or neighborhood or park to clear yourself of noise. There is nothing magical about staying in one place or staying on one track mentally. You may begin with many words and slowly run out, but if you are drawing close to God, stay there and think. Let your mind wander and then find its way back to prayer. There is no such thing as perfect prayer. Jesus is perfect and he bears the burden of perfection in prayer for you. Walk around. Sing. Read. Intersperse prayer with devotional reading or Bible study. Talk to yourself a bit. Work out the kinks. It’s okay. God can handle “messy.” The effort of wandering prayer is dirt enough for God to breathe life into.

“Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.”– Paul Miller, A Praying Life

(This is …

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Kill Your Jesus Talisman

I can win any slam dunk contest through him who gives me strength. If I will ask God for the ability to do so “in Jesus’ name,” of course.

When I was a kid I had a poster of Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” — with a photo of a guy dunking a basketball. You can bet I thought long and hard about how Jesus was gonna help me dunk on some fools.

Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi from jail. Chapter 4, verse 13 may sound like it needs to be slapped on whatever the Christian equivalent of a PowerBar is, but Paul was not talking about Jesus being our genie, but Jesus being our satisfaction in all situations, whether rich or poor, free or enslaved, healthy or sick, successful or getting dunked on. Wherever our promised trouble-full life finds us, we will persevere only in Christ.

Similarly, Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse, but it’s not an affirmation of the American dream. It’s an affirmation of God’s predestining purposes even when the American dream crashes down around us and we are crushed. You can put it on a coffee cup, I s’pose, but don’t throw it away when you’re on the streets and you need it to beg for change. The verse will still be true.

Jesus is no talisman. Crucify “Jesus as key to your personal achievement” and he will stay dead. But the real Jesus achieves a victory greater …

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Memorial Day Prayers

Our little town hosted its 40-something’th annual Memorial Day parade yesterday, which includes a ceremony on the town green.

Because our church owns the town green, we are free to appeal to the name of Jesus. Most of my readers know I am wary of the conflation of Christianity with patriotism (of any kind), but we were blessed by the slice of traditional small town life on full display yesterday and humbled by the community’s reflection on our nation’s fallen heroes. And I was honored to have the opportunity to offer the ceremonial prayers.

The Rutland Herald did a nice little piece on it here. The story excerpts from one of the prayers. I have pasted the full text of both below.

INVOCATION

Heavenly Father,

This afternoon I thank you for the beauty of your creation and this beautiful day to enjoy it with our community. Thank you for this opportunity today to remember fallen heroes and to celebrate memories old and new.

I ask that you would please cover us all with joy and gladness.

Help us to honor well those who have made the utmost sacrifice for the cause of liberty. Help us to honor them with sincerity and fondness, in intellect and inspiration, and for hope and happiness.

Let us grieve well and rejoice well.

And above all help us to follow every gift we encounter on this green earth like a trail of bread crumbs to you, the great Giver of grace, the great Giver of Yourself.

It’s in the name of Your …

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