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.

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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.  

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...