Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Don't Make These 10 Common Bible Study Mistakes (part 2)

This post, as was the last, was written by Chuck McNight of Fathlife Blog (www.faithlife.com)

Last week we examined five of the most common mistakes made when studying the Bible. Today, we’re going to cover five more.

5. Missing the historical setting
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible was not written to twenty-first century Americans. Each book of the Bible was written by a specific person, to a specific group of people, in a specific culture, at a specific time, and for a specific purpose. If we miss these details, we are likely to misunderstand much of what we are reading. The Faithlife Study Bible includes much of this information in the introductions to books of the Bible. For even greater detail, I would recommend adding the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (and Old Testament) to your FSB.

4. Assuming modern definitions of biblical words
Very few Greek or Hebrew words have an exact English equivalent. So we have to remember that the English words in a translation may not mean exactly the same thing as the original Greek or Hebrew. One way to get around this obstacle is to do a word study, examining every occurrence of a particular word in the Bible to see how it is used therein. However, this method is time consuming. A quicker way is to use a tool such as Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. This dictionary is a collection of such studies on almost every major word in the Bible. It makes it easy to understand what a given word actually means when used in the Bible. Add it to your FSB for easy referencing.

3. Failing to understand the genre
The Bible is made up of 66 different books, and they include many different genres of literature. There are epistles and narratives, poems and parables, instances of wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature, and a host of other specific styles. Keeping them all straight can be confusing, but it’s a vital part of understanding what we read. Thankfully, there are tools to help us here as well. One great resource to add to your FSB is How to Read the Bible Book by Book. It provides an overview for each book of the Bible—including the genre—along with a number of other important details.

2. Ignoring biblical context
All too often, we read the Bible as if it were a collection of unconnected verses. A single verse taken by itself can appear to mean something totally contrary to the author’s intent. We wouldn’t skip to a sentence in the middle of Moby Dick and expect it to make sense, so why do we do this with the Bible? One good example is Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is frequently claimed as a promise for God’s specific blessing on an individual. But when we look at the context, we see that God was talking to the Israelites, whom he had sent into exile for their sins. Only after being in exile for 70 years would God bring them back to prosperity. Those are “the plans I have for you” according to Jeremiah’s full context.

1. Studying for the wrong reasons
It is easy to view Bible study as an intellectual exercise. But acquiring information about the Bible is not a proper end in itself. Paul described the purpose of Scripture: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). If our studies do not equip us for good works, then they are unprofitable studies. As we read the Bible, our goal must be to ultimately apply it to our lives.

These mistakes are easy to make, but they can be avoided. Let’s all continue studying Scripture together, and continue living it out every day.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Don't make these 10 Common Mistakes with your Bible Study (part 1)

Today's post is written by Chuck McNight of the Faithlife Blog (www.faithlife.com)

We know we ought to be studying the Scriptures, but sometimes we don't know how.  Here are five of the 10 most common Bible Study mistakes to avoid.

10.  Starting without prayer
The Bible is unlike any other book because it was inspired by God himself. Paul told us that “the things of the Spirit of God . . . are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14), and Jesus said that the Spirit guides us into the truth (John 16:13). We have access to God through prayer, so we should be looking to him for guidance as we seek to understand his Scriptures. It doesn’t matter what incredible resources and study tools we use if we do not first go to God.

9. Studying by yourself

Scripture was intended to be read and studied in community. We’ve all but lost sight of that in our modern individualistic culture. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do personal study—there is definitely a time and place for that. But if we study on our own in exclusion to studying with others, we’ll miss out on the rich insights the community of God has to offer. Additionally, we all need the checks and balances of other believers to keep us accountable. So do your personal study, but then bring what you learn to a group setting and discuss it together. You can also facilitate your group studies by using Fathlife Community Notes.

8. Bringing preconceptions to the text

It is tempting to read the Bible selectively, trying to prove an idea we already believe to be true. If we come to the Scriptures with a predetermined conclusion, we can force them to say whatever we want. That might make us feel better, but it won’t be doing us any good. Rather, we should open the Bible with humility, knowing that some of our beliefs are wrong and ought to be changed. We must let the text speak for itself without forcing our own preconceptions on it.

7. Reading from only one perspective

Similar to the above mistake, it is tempting to only use study resources we already agree with. But this severely limits our spiritual growth. I’ve found that those whose perspectives differ from my own often have the most to teach me. When Logos selected contributors to write the notes and articles in the Faithlife Study Bible, we wanted to avoid getting stuck in one particular viewpoint. So we reached out to a wide range of different theologians. You’ll find contributions from such men as Timothy Keller, N. T. Wright, and everywhere in between. They all share a love for God, but their differing perspectives bring unique insights to the Scriptures.

6. Using only one translation

We’ve discussed this point on the blog before, but it’s worth repeating. Different Bible versions follow different translation philosophies. The basic categories include formal equivalence (seeking word-for-word accuracy), dynamic equivalence (seeking thought-for-thought accuracy), and paraphrases (rewriting the overall message). Furthermore, the Greek and Hebrew texts have many nuances that can’t be captured by a single translation. If you don’t read Greek or Hebrew, comparing multiple translations can help you see the various nuances each passage has to offer. While Ray recommended pairing the NASB with NLT or the ESV with NIrV, my personal preference would be to pair the NET with the LEB.

* * *

Have you made any of these mistakes before? I know I have. Let’s learn from our past mistakes. What steps can we take to avoid them in the future? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to come back next week to see five more common Bible study mistakes to avoid.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Conquering Child

Here is a recent devotion from EPIC Ministries I think you'll enjoy...

  "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring
            peace, but a sword."  Matthew 10:34

All those who visit our home during this month each year quickly realize this is our favorite time of the year.  As soon as they enter they are greeted with a wide array of colorful seasonal displays which all promote the joy of the season and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  There is, however, one mandatory requirement that must be met to gain entry:  you must leave your gloomy faces and any ‘Bah Humbug’ attitudes at the front door.  No Scrooges are allowed in this place dedicated to celebrating the coming of our King.  Joy to the world the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King! 

There are many reasons why I particularly love this time of year.  I love how the END of each year is always marked with the celebration of the birth of the One Who is the Beginning of all things.  No matter what the year has brought to our lives, good or bad, we end the year by celebrating the One Who orders our steps and causes all things to work together for our good and His glory.  What an awesome way to get prepared for the coming year.  Then, I love watching how the birth of one small Child born of a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem centuries ago continues to radically impact all of society, especially at this time every year.  Looking at things from a completely different viewpoint I find it humorous watching the man size attempts so many make to suppress or change the real reason for the season.  No matter how hard they try their efforts are always in vain.  Nativity scenes continue to abound, Christmas programs continue to dominate television, the smell of freshly cut Christmas trees wafts through countless parking lots across the land, families are uniting around food, fun, secret family recipes and overblown stories of Christmas’s past, Christmas songs are played in every store and business, neighborhoods all throughout our cities and towns are transformed into spectacular displays of lights and ornaments of all sizes and shapes, and it’s all because UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN, UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN!  Hallelujah! 

Lastly, I love the fact that at this time of the year even the naysayers cannot deny that something special happens throughout the land, and the singular reason for the change is the birth of the Christ Child.  Year after year from Thanksgiving to New Years tens of millions of people become infatuated all over again with the story of a meek and mild little Child Who was born in a lowly manger.  After all, who doesn’t love a perfect story about a perfect BABY?  Conversely, I find people during this time of the year more approachable and accessible when sharing the Gospel with them.  At the same time I realize the window of opportunity will close with the beginning of the New Year.  Just because people believe Jesus came as a little Child in no way means they know Him as their Lord and Savior.  Pondering all this reminded me of the old spiritual ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy’ made famous by Mahalia Jackson. 

Sweet little Jesus boy, born in a manger. 
Sweet little Holy child.  We didn't know Who You were.
Didn't know you’d Come to save us all, to take Our sins away.
Our eyes were blind, we did not see.  We didn't know Who You were.
The lyrics to that old song identified where people were in 1934 and correctly identifies where they still are today.  The multitudes who are presently infatuated with the Child lying in a manger in reality still have no idea Who He is or why He came.

So let me ask you, Do you know Who He is and why He came?  If you are not careful you, too, might overlook the fact this little Child is not like any other baby that’s ever been born.  This little Child didn’t come to just be cuddled, but in fact He came to Conquer!  Those who momentarily embrace Him as a Child must come to see and embrace Him as the Conqueror.  This Child came as the Deliverer, Redeemer and Savior for all those who choose to believe in Him and His purpose among men.  Make no mistake, this little Child has emerged from the manger and is the Living terror of hell.  The once meek and mild Baby is now the Destroyer of every sinister scheme that could ever be conjured or formed against those who place their hope and allegiance in Him.  The sweet little Child is the incarnate Sword of Heaven Who has pierced the deceptive armor of Satan and forever overcome the wicked scourge that held all mankind captive.  Worthy is the Lamb!

So, Merry Christmas to all of you!  I pray each of you will slow down long enough to take time to rejoice as you gaze upon the manger.  However, I also pray you will not linger there long.  Just as surely as He first came as a Child He is returning as our Conquering King!  Lift up your eyes and look full upon Him Who is our soon coming Redeemer King.  In the twinkling of an eye He will appear again, but this time it will be with a sword issuing forth from His mouth and the armies of heaven following Him.  One thing is certain, Satan and all his demons are not concerned whatsoever that you embrace or even relate to Jesus as a Child still lying in a manger.  However, they are terrified and tremble at the possibility of your seeing Him for Who He now is, Almighty God, KING of kings, LORD of lords, Savior, Deliverer, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Ruler of all.  That sweet little Jesus boy will never again don the swaddling clothes of a baby or lay in a manger.  The Child is now the Conqueror and will soon return as our Victorious King!  Now that’s the reason I love this time of year most of all.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Beginning of Advent...

Sunday, December 1, began the Advent Season.  While the retail world has been preparing their store displays for Christmas for several weeks now, pretty much since before Halloween, and they saw it begin with earnest on Black Friday, we see the Christmas Season as officially beginning Sunday, December 1, the first Sunday in Advent.  And as they see it as a chance to dramatically increase sales before the year-end, we see it as a chance to prepare ourselves again for the second coming of our Messiah. 
I love Advent.  It is a holy time of year for me.  A chance to reflect on God Himself becoming human, being born in the most unholy of circumstances.  Truly becoming one of us, even one of the least of us.  Yet inside, He was still fully God.  Living on the outside just as you or I might have, yet, pure and holy.  Our divine Lord. 
But not only do have the promise that He was coming, we have the promise that He is coming again.  And Advent reminds us of that.  And it gives us an opportunity to make ourselves ready.  Three quick ways to do this:  first, we identify with Christ by getting baptized and becoming a member of his church.  This shows that we are a part of His body, the church family.  We need to commit to him, and to his family. 
Second, we live by the qualities Jesus lived by while he was here on earth; these are love, humility, truth, and service to others.  In other words, we sort of role-play what Jesus would do if He were in our situation.  We try to become imitators of Christ, regularly asking ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” 
And thirdly, we watch ourselves carefully, so we don’t fall into any sin.  We work on our discipline, we become more self-controlled, we stand up to sin – we don’t give in.  We need to monitor this carefully, because sin starts with a tiny temptation.  We need to make sure we avoid any little thing that might open the door to sin.  When we work on these three things, we will be ready for his return.

William Coffin once said, “We have learned to soar through the air like birds, to swim through the seas like fish, to soar through space like comets. Now it is high time we learned to walk the earth as the children of our God.”  This advent season, make sure you’re ready for his return.  Make sure you’re walking as one of his children.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

How Big Our God Is...

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.  I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends to the earth.”
Isaiah 49:6
It sometimes amazes me to think of how big our God is.

I know that He wants to use me, to work through me, and perhaps sometimes I allow that to limit Him.  If God were to work through me, then maybe God can be no bigger than me.  When God works through you, maybe He is limited to how big you are.

But then this verse changes that.  God is speaking to Isaiah, and in verse 5, it says, “And now the Lord says – He who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself…”  Isaiah knew God formed him in the womb, he was destined since birth, he was born for this – to bring the nation of Israel back to God. 

To me, that sounds like a big thing.  How can just one man turn an entire nation?  I’m sure Isaiah thought it to be a big thing.  But then, here in verse 6, we see what God thinks.  “It is too small a thing…”  God wasn’t limited by Isaiah. 

It wasn’t enough for Isaiah to be God’s servant.  It’s wasn’t enough to bring back the entire tribe of Jacob.  It wasn’t even enough restore the entire nation of Israel.  God was way bigger and way more powerful than Isaiah.  And for God, the entire world was always the plan.  That through Isaiah, Israel would become a light for the Gentiles, that salvation might come to the ends of the earth.

As Christian’s today, we have a similar mission, to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing tem in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”  (Matthew 28:19).  To be Jesus’ “witnesses in Jerusalem, and all in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Before you start thinking that’s too big a thing, remember Isaiah.  And remember how big God is.  And remember that God is not limited by you.  Rather, through you, He can do amazingly big things.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Invite Someone...

It is all a bit anticlimactic really. 

In Matthew chapter 3 Jesus is baptized, and then in chapter 4 he is tested in the desert.  Chapter 4 ends with a quote from Isaiah about the bar of the oppressor being broken and captives rejoicing as at the harvest.  Isaiah says that people will no longer stumble in darkness but will walk in light, and the “chosen one of God” will accomplish all of this.  Jesus is standing in the very place Isaiah mentions, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.  It dawns on us that Jesus is going to make all this happen.  He is the chosen one of God
We can almost hear Beethoven’s 5th building in the background as the story rushes headlong to its climax.  We might expect a flurry of miracles, some thunder and lightening, at least cheering crowds swelling behind him as he travels.  We know this is the inauguration of grand things.

So what follows this auspicious beginning?  Jesus takes a solitary walk along the Sea of Galilee and strikes up some conversations with a few fishermen who are toiling to earn a living to feed their families.  It is a bit anticlimactic. We were expecting, perhaps, something a bit more dramatic.

There is, however, something to be learned by this rather low-key initiation of the ministry of Jesus.  He simply, as the British might say, chats up a few folks and invites them to travel with him.  It is not a grandiose beginning, but it is one that bears fruit a bit later in the story.  These guys become 4 of the original 12 apostles, one of them being Peter.  All that follows begins with a simple, personal invitation.

This coming Sunday, September 15th, is National Back-to-Church Sunday.  People all over the nation are going to invite someone to go with them to church on that Sunday.  Are you willing to do that?  Think about your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your neighbors.  Is there someone whom you could invite to go to church with you?  You could say:  “You know, I enjoy going to my church.  It helps me as I try to live my life and make good decisions.  Would you like to go with me this Sunday?  I think you might like it.” 

This is how Jesus began there by the Sea of Galilee.  There were no slick brochures, no Internet training modules, no football or movie stars spokespersons, no national film or book promotions, no funny U-tube videos of cats playing the piano, and no free gifts.  It was just one person inviting another person to journey with them to a new way of life.  Give it a try and see what happens.  Who knows what fruit that simple conversation might bear?  Let me know how it goes.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches of New York State 
This week's message is now online...

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn - September 8, 2013
This week we’re continuing our series on the Beatitudes.  And we’re going to look at the second of those beatitudes, found in verse 4, which reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  We saw last week that to be poor in spirit was to be humble, and specifically humbled by a vision of your own sinfulness before God.  So what is it to mourn?  What attitude is Jesus specifically referring to?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blessed are You...

On Sunday, we started a new sermon series titled, Blessed Are You.  The first message in that series shares the name.  It's been posted to the Almond Union of Churches website, and can be seen by clicking the link below...

Blessed Are You...  August 25, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Short Film on the topic of envy...

On Tuesday night, we finished our Book Study on Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life.

As I had stated when we started, the book has been re-released under the title, What On Earth Am I Here For?" and now includes two new chapters, one on envy, and one on people pleasing.  Both are excellent chapters, and we spent a lot of time discussing both of them.

That was a rather long lead in to a fairly short video that I think really drives home the point...  Notice when the boy with old, worn out shoes cries out, "It isn't fair, I wish I could be like him..."

We've all struggled with envy.  But remember that we have no idea how much the other person has sacrificed to get what they have.  Maybe we aren't willing to sacrifice that much...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Made For a Mission...

Sunday's message has been posted on line.  This was the last of Rick Warren's five purposes for our creation.  We were made for a purpose.  Check out this week's message below:

8-11 Made For a Mission

There's even an audio link if you would like to listen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to Attract Young Adults - Seven Charachteristics...

I found the following article from the Huntington Post:

In Herriman, Utah, single adults ages 18 to 30 form their own ward in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Washington, a synagogue offers "Drinks and Drash" gatherings where participants in their 20s and 30s gather at a local restaurant for study sessions.

In Scotch Plains, N.J., a ministry experiment in an Assemblies of God congregation has become its own church within a church for young adults.

As fewer young people fill the pews of houses of worship, some congregations are trying innovative ways to halt the exodus of young adults from organized religion.

But it is a massive challenge. Young adults today are more likely to claim no religious affiliation, and less likely to attend worship. The average age of worshipers is 54, or 10 years older than the average American, according to the 2008-2009 U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

So what does work when it comes to attracting young adults?

A new report analyzing the 2010 Faith Communities Today study of more than 11,000 congregations provides insights into what makes congregations with significant numbers of young adults distinctive. The profile by researchers Monte Sahlin of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research explores the characteristics of the mere 16 percent of those congregations where 21 percent or more of participants are ages 18 to 34.

Here are some of the report's key findings:

Young churches, young people: Congregations organized in the past decade were three times as likely to have a significant number of young adults as congregations organized before 1976. "One of the most effective ways to reach young adults is to launch new congregations," Sahlin said.

The KISS principle: Keep it spiritual, stupid: Congregations reporting high levels of spiritual vitality were three times as likely to have significant numbers of young adults as congregations with low spiritual vitality. "What they are looking for is something that touches them," Sahlin said of young adults. "They're looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way."

Eat, pray, read the Bible: Congregations that reported a lot of emphasis on spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture reading were five times more likely than congregations that put no emphasis on such practices to have large numbers of young adults in the pews. "It appears that congregations that teach spiritual practices are much more attractive to young adults," Sahlin and Roozen reported.

Keeping up with new technology: Congregations that reported multiples uses of technology such as social media and websites were twice as likely to have a significant percentage of young adults as those that reported marginal use.

Electric guitars rock: Congregations that used electric guitars and overhead projectors in their worship often or always were about twice as likely as congregations who never used them to have significant young adult participation.

Gender balance: While women outnumber men in most congregations, the study found the more men there were in a congregation the more likely it was to attract young adults.

Promoting young adult ministry: Congregations that placed a lot of emphasis on young adult activities and programs were more likely to attract young women and men.

In many ways, young adults are attracted to what matters most to believers of any age: Being part of a congregation that recognizes and meets their spiritual needs.

In looking at communities that were successful in attracting young men and women, "It's pretty clear that these were congregations that were, No. 1, intentional about engaging young adults," Sahlin said.

But with the aging of many congregations, incorporating changes from adding electric guitars at worship to integrating young adults into leadership positions becomes even more imposing.

"The church has to go through a process of change," Sahlin said. "That has been difficult every step of the way."

For faith communities who may have given up hope, however, the study provides some encouragement. Fulfill the spiritual needs of believers in their 20s and 30s, and they will come.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

John Wesley's motto in life...

In our readings in the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, he passes along John Wesley's motto in life...

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as you ever can.

I'd say those are words to live by!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shaped to Serve God...

This week’s message is the sixth in our series, What on Earth Am I Here For?  We’ve been looking at our purposes for being here, as found in Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life book.  This week is our forth purpose, we are Shaped to Serve, one of our purposes for being created is to serve God.  We see how to serve God, what that really means, and we see some things about Jesus that models this service to God.  
To read this message, click here. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 12, 2013

God Wants you to Grow Up

Your heavenly Father’s goal is for you to mature and develop the characteristics of Jesus Christ.  Sadly, millions of Christians grow older but never grow up.  They are stuck in perpetual spiritual infancy, remaining in diapers and booties.  The reason is that they never intended to grow.

Spiritual growth is not automatic.  It takes an intentional commitment.  You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing.  Discipleship – the process of becoming like Christ – always begins with a decision.  Jesus calls us, and we respond:  “‘Come, be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him.  So Matthew got up and followed him.”

- Rick Warren
The Purpose Driven Church

Friday, August 9, 2013

You need to be part of a church…

In many religions, the people considered to be the most spiritually mature and holy are those who isolate themselves from others in mountaintop monasteries, uninfected by contact with other people.  But this is a gross misunderstanding.  Spiritual maturity is not a solitary, individual pursuit!  You cannot grow to Christlikeness in isolation.  You must be around other people and interact with them.  You need to be a part of a church and community.  Why?  Because true spiritual maturity is all about learning to love like Jesus, and you can’t practice being like Jesus without being in relationship with other people.  Remember, it’s all about love – loving God and loving others.
- Rick Warren
The Purpose Driven Church

Faith First

  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him...