Friday, March 27, 2015

A word to the doubting

I recently finished reading Jared C. Wilson's excellent book The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles. Tucked into this encouraging and thought provoking look at Jesus' miracles is a word to the doubting, specifically five ways to battle the unbelief of doubt.

I've had periods of my life when I've doubted and I imagine you have as well. Like the father of Mark 9:24 I've cried out, "I do believe; help my unbelief!" Wilson exhorts me and you to battle our unbelief in the following ways...

Concentrate on the historical fact of the cross. Read the gospels and read books about the cross and reflect on why Jesus died. 
Do not seek refuge or advice with those who would shame you for doubting. In my doubts I need the gospel and I need the kind of community that neither shames nor coddles.  
Pray. Ask the Lord to increase your faith. Pray as if you do believe. Cry out to Him in boldness and in honesty. 
Refocus your doubts toward your own failings and inability. Wilson writes that we should doubt ourselves, doubt our doubts. In other words, despair of yourself! When you realize your utter insufficiency you are better able to trust the Lord's sufficiency and grace. 
Finally, read your Bible. Meditate on the promises of God. Christ's righteousness covers your doubt! Wrestling with unbelief is actually an indication of belief.

As I've written before, we all go through stages of our journey when the Lord seems distant and we are forced to wrestle with the reality of our faith. May we turn to Him in the smallness of our mustard seed sized faith and cry out for help. The Lord is faithful and we can trust Him to remove all doubt as He brings to completion His good work in us! Yes and amen!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The day I had more faith in the plumber than in God

I am out of my league when it comes to home repairs, so I am very grateful for reliable contractors, plumbers, and all around handymen who can fix whatever is broken. Therefore, I knew who to call when the toilet started running for what seemed like forever before it finally stopped. The plumber got the job done for a fair price in less than an hour the following day. When all was back to normal, I offered a prayer of thanks for this gentleman, his skill, and the relief it was to turn over my problem to someone I could trust. But then this thought crossed my mind:

"You stopped worrying about the toilet as soon as you knew the plumber was coming the next day. Why do you keep worrying about the things you commit to the Lord? It sounds like you had more faith in the plumber than you do in God at times."

Ouch.

Well I was without excuse when it was put like that. It was a weight off my shoulders to leave the plumbing to the plumber. Why don't I experience that same relief when I commit my life and its cares to Almighty God? Why do I continue to stew and fret as though He hasn't heard me or I might have slipped His mind? Granted plumbing isn't quite on the same scale, but then again, this is the Triune God we're talking about. 

This is the God who:

Upholds the universe by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3)
Is the eternal, unchanging Creator. (Heb. 1:10-12)
Laughs at His enemies and their futile plans to thwart His purposes. (Psalm 2:4-6)
Saved me. (Eph. 2:1-10)
Promised to never leave me nor forsake me. (Heb. 13:5-6)
Intercedes. Works all things together for good and will complete His work in my life. (Rom. 8:26-30)
Remains faithful even when my faith fails. (2 Tim. 2:13)

Based on this evidence, is there any valid reason why I shouldn't have faith in God and trust Him with everything? None whatsoever. This doesn't mean that life won't have its troubles, but I'm already in the safest and most secure place there is. I am in His hands and no one can snatch me out. (John 10:28-29)

So I had to repent of my unbelief. It probably won't be the last time, but I'm thankful for His forgiveness and His faithfulness to continue to remind me of the truth. 

The Lord never wastes a teachable moment. Even a running toilet.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Christian and Common Grace

Excuse me, ma'am.

I didn't realize he was talking to me. I kept walking. Someone coming toward me directed my attention to the gentleman calling after me.

You left this. He held out a bag of groceries to me. In my haste to leave the store, I'd left it at the self-checkout station. A quick glance told me he most likely needed the food more than I.

There are still good people in the world, I thought.

Whether it's airline passengers subduing someone rushing the cockpit or someone handing us an item we forgot, sometimes it's easy to forget that people - even Christians - are not inherently good. Perhaps we are so bombarded with the bad news in our fallen world that long to see the good in people. We forget, as Steven J. Lawson writes, there is
...the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, who strives with unconverted men in order to restrain them from being as sinful as their immoral imaginations would lead them to be. This is a general restraint upon their lives, impeding them from being fully engrossed in their sins. (The Problem of Good: When the World Seems Fine Without God, p.5).
I had heard of common grace, but did not have a good understanding of it until reading this primer on the topic. It was a much-needed reminder for me that we are all sinful creatures. If we don't accept this truth, if we only see the good in people, how will we be compelled to share the gospel with them? And how will people who live good, moral lives or have an abundance of blessings see their need for a savior? These question deserve much thought, and The Problem of Good explores them carefully and answers them wisely.

As much as I may, at times, be quick to think that people are basically good, I confess that there is another side of common grace that confounds me. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). I confess that there are days when I wonder at this verse. I see its truth evident all around me, and I'm frustrated by it. Why should Christians suffer while those who deny God's existence reap benefits seemingly beyond compare? What about having our best life, of being blessed if we do and give enough? They are hollow promises that fall woefully short of the Scriptural truth that in the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).

Perhaps unbelievers living the American dream don't desire God  because Christians so often despair the way of the cross. Why would they choose the lot we bemoan? In The Problem of Good, Ruth Naomi Floyd quotes Charles Spurgeon,
I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down (p. 82).
Modern Christians seem to have strayed so far from those before us who, like Spurgeon and Samuel Rutherford, held firm to the belief that...it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say 'Courage, I am thy salvation,' than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God. (source). In our estimation suffering should belong to other people, not to those who spend their lives serving God.

I wonder, what would happen if we blessed the Lord for our sufferings? What if, instead of begrudging others their good fortune, we fully grasped and accepted that, as John Leonard writes, ...instead of questioning God's fairness we should be praising him for his goodness...the goodness that we see all around us in the daily acts of men should lead us to worship God because it proves that he is good (The Problem of Good, p. 56-57)?

The truth is, as a believer in Christ, I should not be worried with fair. Regardless of what I consider my present sufferings to be, I have received much more than fair.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Temporal sufferings, like temporal blessings, are an opportunity to bring glory to God. If we who have Christ as our model don't believe that, a lost and dying world never will.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Solid Food for Little Ones

or A Short List of Theology Books for Preschoolers.

I’m interested in theology books for children for two reasons. First, I have preschool grandchildren and I want to be like Timothy’s grandmother Lois. I want to help pass on the faith to them.

Second, I’m the librarian for my church, so it’s my responsibility to see that the library has a well-rounded collection of Christian books for children. When I took over the library job, it was built around donated books, and the children’s section was long on fiction, short on Bible story books (because people hold on to those, I suppose), and completely empty when it came to anything that taught doctrine to children. So I’ve added a few Bible story and theology books, and any age-appropriate ones that impress me I order for my grandchildren, too.

Since many of you also have young children in your lives, I thought you might be able to use some recommendations for preschool books that teach good theology. Here’s my short list. (Please add your own recommendations in the comments.)

Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Trinity
by Joey Allen. This is simple Biblical teaching on the Trinity without the use of analogies. (When it comes to the Trinity, analogies—shamrocks, eggs or ice, water, and steam, for instance—tend to confuse rather than clarify. There is nothing else like the Trinity.) For ages 4-6 or so. 

There’s a series of Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books, including Big Thoughts For Little Thinkers: The Scripture and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Gospel. I’ve only seen the one on the Trinity, but since it's so excellent, I’d bet the others are good, too.

Update: In the comments below, the author links to another book in this series, Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Mission. What's more, I've discovered that Westminster Bookstore sells all four Big Thoughts books as a set.

God Knows My Name
by Debby Anderson. This book teaches little ones aged 1-4 about God's omniscience—and a few more attributes, too. This one has been a favorite of my grandchildren, who love knowing that God sees them and knows everything about them, including their name.

I also recommend I Love My Bible! and Jesus Is Coming Back!, the two other Debby Anderson picture books in the church library.


Everything a Child Should Know About God
by Kenneth N. Taylor.  I received my copy in the mail yesterday and have already read through it. I wish I’d known about this little gem when my own children were little.

 “The purpose of this colourful book,” Ken Taylor wrote in the introduction, “is to teach young children about God.” Since some teaching on most of the Bible's major doctrines is included, I'd call this a pint-sized systematic theology. There are a only couple of places in 187 pages where I would have phrased things differently—and when it comes to book of theology, that much agreement is a rare thing.

I often give Bible story books as baby shower gifts, especially for second or later babies, but I’ve decided that as soon as my current supply of Bible story books runs out, I’ll be giving this book instead. It’d be perfect for a new baby’s 2-5 year old brothers or sisters.

[This book is not stocked by Amazon, and Westminster Bookstore (linked above) is sold out until May. I ordered from Book Depository, but it looks like they’re out of stock now, too.]

Are there any preschool theology books you would add to this list?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Find Phrases

This is a bit of a heavy week for me, so I have resorted to the archives of my own blog for today's post. Bible study "how to" and "why to" books abound. On my shelves, I'm sure I've got about ten of them. This one is a little different. Bill Mounce's Greek For the Rest of Us is one that not only focuses on bible study, but introduces us to Koine Greek. I think learning the original language is something more women who teach and lead ought to consider.

The subtitle of the book is "Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Greek." You won't learn about declining nouns, or translate anything, but Mounce promises a few things:
  1. You will be able to understand why translations are different.
  2. You will discover the meaning of the Greek that lies beneath the English.
  3. You will learn the basics of exegesis.
  4. You will learn to make good use of commentaries. 
The chapter where Mounce discusses why translations are different is very eye-opening and dispels some common misunderstandings about translations. If you read this chapter alone, you will be left appreciating the very difficult and complex process that is translation, and you will understand why good translation is done by committee rather than an individual. This chapter re-inforced my stubborn refusal to use The Message when I study the bible.

The chapters that discuss basics of exegesis rely on something Mounce calls "phrasing." Some people call this block diagramming, and Precept Ministries offers courses (I took them all) based on similar principles, and calls it "structuring." Bible Arcing also resembles this process, but is much more involved.

When we do phrasing, we take a passage of scripture and evaluate its component parts, its thought units. When Mounce calls it "phrasing" he does not necessarily mean the grammatical term for phrase; clauses and phrases alike are thought units, and he refers to them all as phrases when he discusses this process.

The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate each phrase, how they relate to each other, and thus determine the main flow of thought. Phrasing has been one of the most helpful tools I have used in bible study. It forces me to slow down and really engage with the text.

First, the text is broken down into sections by identifying the topics in the passage. This step is especially important when reading an epistle, because that helps us establish the context. After the sections are identified, we separate the individual pieces further.

Here is my initial breakdown of James 1:2-4. This section, obviously, is about what to do when confronting trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet with trials of various kinds
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect
that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

The bold words are the main phrases. The others are modifiers. When I do phrasing, I write it out by hand, and I put the main phrases at the left hand margin. Both "Count it all joy, my brothers," and "And let steadfastness have its full effect" would be at the left margin. The modifying phrases would be put on a separate line underneath, indented to show how they modify. For example, both "when you meet with various trials," and "for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastnesses," modify "Count it all joy," and would be indented underneath it. They explain why we are to count it all joy when we meet with trials. The phrase, "that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing" modifies "And let steadfastness have its full effect," would be indented underneath to show that. The result of steadfastness is to be complete.

Phrasing can be time consuming, but for passages where we're not quite certain about the flow of thought, it can be worthwhile. If you want to invest in a really excellent commentary, and see how phrasing is done for an entire book, check out the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on 1,2,3 John, written by Karen Jobes. That authors of this series do phrasing for the books they are commenting on.

Greek for the Rest of Us is a book is well worth your time. It's good to recognize that we need to know how to study our bibles better, but for many, they don't know where to begin. This might be helpful for someone. I know it's helped me, and I've been studying my bible for years. We all may not have classes available, but we can certainly start ourselves with the help of some good tools.

Also check out Biblical Training for free lectures of Mounce's material.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Let's be real

You can generally spot an old timer blogger by the title of her blog, her url, her twitter handle, or all three. Here's the key: none of them will contain her real name, certainly not her real first and last name. Hence "lisa_writes" on the Twitter and "lisa-writes" on my first blogspot address.

Back then anonymity was heralded as the blogging best practice. We were warned against, and in response we feared, that nebulous bad guy out there intent on nefarious action regarding our real name. And don't even think about posting pictures of your kids!

It's funny in hindsight, what with the explosion of mommy blogging whose single most identifying characteristic, at least in my unofficial and unscientific observation, is beautiful, professional quality photography of the children.

Which I love by the way. Though they hold up a standard I could never ever hope to aspire to, I do love cute kids in a great pic. Just so you know.

Some habits die hard though. I rarely if ever refer to my kids or even my husband by name on my blog. Not so much because I think you the reader want to do them harm but more because I respect their privacy and want them to be the arbiter of their online presence when and if they choose. Same deal over on Twitter. Two of my children have Twitter accounts but I always hesitate just a moment before I retweet or mention. Maybe I'm hearkening back to those overly cautious early days of blogging but, whatever the reason, I've decided to err on the side of too careful rather than too careless.

Speaking of old timers, any of you who blogged way-back-when remember the meme "I am more than my blog"? The point of the meme was, as is no doubt obvious, that not all of my life is represented on the blog. What you see is merely a sliver of my real life, which incidentally is only the sliver I allow you to see.

I think about that meme when I am tempted to make the following PSA: "Dear Twitter friends, what you see here is not the sum of what I think, believe, appreciate, or esteem." I leave you to determine my tone of voice. There may or may not be a certain level of snark involved. Shocking, I know. Just keepin' it real.

The blog posts and the Twitter feed and the Facebook timeline, while I strive to be as authentic as possible, they are not the sum of who I am. Neither are yours. The virtual life is the virtual life, important, perhaps, edifying, to be sure, fun, of course.

But it is not real life.

My real life has real people in it, a real family that is my privilege to love and serve. There's a real church too where I learn to worship the Lord in accountability and fellowship with other believers. There are real women I meet on Wednesdays at the pregnancy center with real problems that break my heart. They need the real gospel--and here's a news flash: my blog posts or Twitter updates, no matter how wise or witty or well written, will not give that to them. There are real women in the Bible study I teach, real women hungry to know the realness of the Word to infect their real lives with real power and real passion as they grow to know and love a real God.

I am not abandoning the virtual life, not at all. I both enjoy and learn from my online friendships and the interactions I find there. I am the better for the friendships I've made with women from around the world. How else but the Internet? Who else but our God?

What I am saying is this: let's not pursue the virtual at the expense of the real. Serve your online audience and serve them well but do not do so to the neglect of the real people that the Lord has placed in your immediate, real context. And let's remember we are all real people and, as such, more than our blogs, our feeds, and our timelines.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Comparison Trap

In Monday's post, Melissa accurately described the stress of "keeping up with the Joneses." Based on the reader response, many of us could relate to the notion that we would be better Christian women if we did [fill in subject] or copied [fill in name]. Given the overabundance of information at our fingertips, it's no wonder that the pressure to do it all, do it well, and photograph it tastefully seems to have grown with the size of our bandwidth. The number of global Joneses has far exceeded the neighbors down the street.

But this comparison trap is a rather artful device that may ensnare us in a different way. On the one hand, we compare ourselves to others and feel inadequate because we don't measure up. But on the flip side, we may compare ourselves to others and look askance at those who don't measure up to us. 

For example, I started going gray when I crossed the half-century mark. I've chosen not to color my hair mainly because I don't want to spend the money or the time. But I've fallen into the comparison trap as soon as I attach a sense of moral superiority to my decision, as though a woman's vanity can be judged by whether or not she has kissed Miss Clairol™ goodbye.

This snare seems to spring into action over issues that are not as clear-cut in Scripture, areas of practice and preference rather than principle. So what should fall under the heading of Christian liberty often becomes a measuring stick with which we assess others. I remember when toting one's television to the curb was a sure sign of piety a few decades ago, and woe to those who did not follow suit. Sound familiar?

Now don't get me wrong. I firmly believe that our choices about time, money, leisure, and everything that affects us should be a direct result of Who we belong to. But sometimes we forget that we are in various stages of sanctification. Our struggles with sin aren't identical. You may be strong where I am weak and vice versa. The Holy Spirit may be focusing His lens on an area in your life that is different from mine. The means may be different and the day-to-day outworking as well. But this is His work. Not mine. Not yours. It's His prerogative to prune and produce fruit as He pleases for which none of us can take the credit.

So when I fall into the comparison trap...
When I'm tempted to pat myself on the back and think others should do as I have done...
When I think I was wise enough to make a right decision or take even the tiniest step in the Christian walk on my own...

May I repent of my pride and remember these words:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV)

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Gospel According to Pinterest

It seems I’m always one step away from being completely overwhelmed by social media. I’ve purged my Twitter and Instagram feeds and I’ve radically altered my Facebook settings. These changes have made social media more enjoyable for me. I can better process what I see. I don’t feel as if I’m dodging a barrage of words and images being hurled at me at lightning speed.

 Pinterest is another story.

When I first created my account, I thought Pinterest was a wonderful idea. All those recipes, craft projects, and tips conveniently saved for later perusal. But “later” hardly ever came, until last week. 500+ pins, all testifying to my insatiable need to be better.
  A better cook.

  A better decorator.

  A better homemaker.

  A better reader.

  A better student of the Bible.
Projects I will never tackle, recipes I will never cook, and homemade cleaning solutions I will never try - they all mocked me horrendously. Staring at all the amazing things other women are doing, I felt ashamed.
Ashamed that I’m not making my own lotion and keeping my husband from the numerous toxins lurking inside the store-bought bottle on our bathroom counter.

Ashamed that I’m not making everything from scratch and protecting my family from the myriad dangers of harmful pesticides and GMOs. Not to mention the money I could be saving.

Ashamed that I’m not making my own gifts or wrapping paper to show my friends how much I truly care about them.

 Ashamed that I’m not reading more books or participating in the latest revolutionary Bible study methods.
If I subscribe to the gospel according to my Pinterest feed, I will feel compelled to do these things in order to save myself and my family. I will, as Michael Horton writes in his book Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, be "driven by more a desire for self-justification and self-acclaim than by being secure in Christ enough to tend now to the actual needs of others." (36)

Paul's opening chapter in his letter to the church at Ephesus is a much-needed reminder of the basis for my justification.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth— in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
(Eph. 1:3-14 NKJV, emphasis mine) 

My salvation does not rest on whether I feed my family a gluten-free, paleo, vegan, organic diet.

My salvation is not found in making my own laundry and dishwasher detergent.

My salvation is not earned by decking the halls of my home for every season.

Pinterest has given me some wonderful recipes and household tips that have blessed my family. Yet I must remember that my salvation is in Christ, and in Him alone. My salvation is not the result of my own efforts; it is because I was chosen in Him (v. 4) and accepted in Him (v. 6), because I have been redeemed in Him (v. 7) and have obtained an inheritance in Him (v. 11), because I have trusted in Him, and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of that inheritance (vv.13-14).
Believers have comfort to live upon that the world knows nothing about. We have the comfort of God’s promises. And what do you think is best, to live upon earthly pleasures, or upon the promises of God? The earthly are yes and no, but the promises are yes and amen. The earthly are deceitful, but the promises are sure and faithful. The earthly feed the sense, but the promises fill the soul. He that lives upon the promises, lives by faith, and the life of faith is the only safe and true life in the world.
- Matthew Mead (source)

 I am in Christ. I have been given the right to live upon the promises of God rather than the hollow promises of the world. I have been set free from the gospel according to Pinterest.

Yes and amen.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Holy Parentheses

It's been a busy week: sick grandchildren, a deadline for another project—and more. Here it is, my turn to post here and I have nothing. But I did read something last night that I loved, and I think you might like it, too.

In his book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders points out that the work of the Son and the work of the Holy Spirit are thoroughly intertwined as they fulfill their roles the plan of salvation. As proof, he quotes a list from R. A. Torrey's summary of Christian doctrine, What the Bible Teaches (pages 287-89)—a biblical list of ways Jesus's earthly ministry is accomplished in the power Holy Spirit. 
  1. Jesus Christ was begotten of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:35)
  2. Jesus Christ led a holy, spotless life, and offered Himself to God through the working of the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 9:14)
  3. Jesus Christ was anointed for service by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 10:38; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:14, 18)
  4. Jesus Christ was led by the Holy Spirit in His movements. (Luke 1:4)
  5. Jesus Christ was taught by the Spirit who rested upon Him. The Spirit of God was the source of His wisdom in the days of His flesh. (Isaiah 11:2; compare Matthew 12:17, 18)
  6. The Holy Spirit abode upon Him in fullness and the words He spoke were the words of God. (John 3:34)
  7. Jesus Christ gave commandments to His apostles whom he had chosen, through the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:2)
  8. Jesus Christ wrought His miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:28; compare 1 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  9. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:11)
And it doesn't end there. The Holy Spirit continues to be involved in the Son's accomplishment of salvation even after the ascension. He applies the work of Christ to believers, regenerating them and empowering them to live holy lives. Christ ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit indwell his people. And at Pentecost, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, the Holy Spirit "inaugurates the new era in God's ways with the world."

"Thus," writes Sanders,
the work of the Holy Spirit surrounds the work of Jesus Christ, as he goes before and after the incarnate Son like a set of holy parentheses embracing the story of salvation in Christ. [Deep Things of God, page 135]
If you want to know more about the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the work of salvation, or, to use Sanders terms, the Trinitarian shape of the gospel, The Deep Things of God is an excellent source.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How We Study the Bible

Here at the blog, we always encourage our readers to be in the Word as much as they can. What better topic for a post than reading the bible?

Today, some of us here at the blog are going to share our approach to bible reading. We hope you are encouraged by these comments. None of us believe we have the perfect approach. But, hopefully, if you're looking for some ideas, you'll get some.

Kim:

My bible reading is influenced by the fact that I teach every week. That means that what I teach, I study. Even in the summer months, as I plan ahead, I'm reading what I will ultimately teach.

Starting on Monday, I read the passage every day, about four or five times.  For each passage, I make up a worksheet which has the text on it in two versions, side by side. I use the ESV myself, but my students prefer the NIV. I just copy and paste from Bible Gateway, make nice wide margins and extra spacing, and that is where I begin my notes. Sometimes, I will do what is called "phrasing," but not every time. It's really time consuming, and I don't always have time. It is very beneficial, though, because it makes me slow down. I use a couple of commentaries to help me understand things I'm uncertain of. My goal in the first few days as I study is to be careful and slow, seeing the relationships between words, paragraphs and sections.

It's been quite a while since I read through the bible in a year, and this year I was inspired to do so after reading Tim Challies' blog, recommending God's Glory In Salvation Through Judgement.  I don't always get to that reading every day, but I play catch up on Sundays. I also read the Psalms daily, using a morning and evening schedule from The Common Book of Prayer.  Reading the Psalms feeds into my prayer time.

I do my bible study in the morning because my mind is well-rested. On some days, I take half an hour in the late afternoon to finish the Psalm readings for the day. Not everyone prefers morning reading, and I think it's a mistake to insist that it's the perfect time. My husband is not a morning person, and he prefers to read at night. The more important thing is to find the right time and place where one can be free from distractions.


Rebecca:

Except for when I’m reading something purely for entertainment, I am a very slow reader because I don’t want to miss anything. I’m even slower with my Bible reading. I usually read 4 or 5 verses a day (or even fewer), paying particular attention to the connections between words and the flow of the argument. I also circle the key words and often do a little research to see how the author of the book I’m reading tends to use a specific word. If I have a commentary on the book I’m reading, I’ll read what that says about the passage.

I've also done a little Bible arcing, particularly for the gospel of John. Like phrasing, arcing takes a lot of time, so I've abandoned it, but I would like to pick it up again someday.

In the past year or so I’ve worked my way slowly through John, Hebrews, Romans, and Ephesians. Right now I’m reading/studying the second chapter of 1 Peter. Since most of my reading in recent years has been in the New Testament, when I finish 1 Peter I plan to move on to something in the Old Testament.

I’ve read through the whole Bible in a year a few times. While it was useful for me to do it in order to get an overview of scripture,  I’ll probably never do it again. That kind of reading is a real chore for me. I enjoy my Bible reading much more when I’m not rushing through.

Unlike Kim, I study in the evening, because in my home, it’s the evenings that are quiet. One problem with studying the Bible in the evening is that can I get busy or tired and my Bible reading gets pushed off until tomorrow. This happens more frequently than I want to admit.

Melissa:

My Bible reading/study is constantly evolving. Even my original plan for this year has changed, because a friend recommended the study Behold Your God. After viewing the introductory video, I shared it with my husband. We knew this study would be a great fit for our family and we just started it this week.

During the week, I spend my morning study time working through Behold Your God. I plan to spend Saturday mornings reading through the Gospels, with a commentary as as reading companion. I probably read at a pace somewhere between Rebecca and Kim, so I expect to finish two of the Gospels this year.

On Sundays I like to review the Scripture from our sermon, again with a commentary as a reading companion. (We are currently studying Exodus, which is one reason I've chosen to study in the New Testament on my own.)

Each evening I finish out the day with New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional and the Scripture passage listed for further study. Ironic, I know; but it works best for me.

Getting back into a guided Bible study has made me realize how much of a benefit it is for me. When I finish Behold Your God, I will probably begin The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books by Nancy Guthrie. I imagine the rest of my reading will continue as I've outlined here, but I'm always open to change.

Persis:

I've given up trying to read the entire Bible every year. While I think it's very important to read through all 66 books, too often this has lead to my skimming the passage as quickly as possible so I can check the box. Consequently, I don't have a self-imposed deadline for my current reading/study. I read a passage in the morning along with the morning portion from Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This allows me to consider what I read throughout the day and do more digging in the evening, which works better for my schedule. It's also rather settling for my soul to go to bed having just been in the Word. Am I always consistent? No, but I push on.

I am currently reading through the Old Testament chronologically. This was inspired by my pastor's current sermon series on Genesis, which has been tracing God's promise of the coming Messiah throughout this book. I am taking up this same theme but extending it to the whole OT. I've read The Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy to get the big picture of the OT. I'm also reading From Paradise to the Promised Land: Tracing the Main Themes of the Pentateuch by T. Desmond Alexander. Alexander's book unpacks themes such as Abraham's faith, Passover, the Sinai covenant, and the Tabernacle and connects them to the New Testament. He also provides recommendations for commentaries and other resources for further study. I am currently in Exodus, so we will see whether I finish the OT this year or not.

Staci

A couple of years ago, I read through the Bible in 90 days. Apart from the time I read through the Bible chronologically, it was one of the most helpful things for my understanding of the Bible I'd ever done. I realized then that reading large chunks of Scripture was more helpful for me.

I've always been a big picture thinker. I can't really absorb details until I have a good overview. I tend to retain more by reading at a faster pace and then going back to it in a few months.

For the last couple of years, I've followed Professor Horner's Bible Reading System. In this plan, I read a chapter from several sections of the Bible each day. When I finish a section I start it again. For instance, if I don't miss any days, I read through the Gospels in 3 months (although it usually takes me closer to four). Reading through the prophets takes at least 8 months (but actually more like ten). As you can see, I miss days here and there. If I'm short on time, I just read a few of the chapters and don't worry about the whole list.

I've seen some interesting connections reading different chapters side by side. And since all the sections go at a different pace, I don't ever read the same chapters together. I return to the same sections every few months, and I pick up new details every time.

I usually read in the morning. If I don't get it done early it usually doesn't get done.

This isn't for everyone. Most people, like my friends, do better zeroing in on smaller sections. I'm a fairly fast reader, and my kids are old enough that they don't need much help in the morning. I doubt I could have managed this when my kids were small. But at this stage of life, with my current schedule, it works well for me.

Update:

It occurred to me that perhaps some of our readers would like to share some of their bible reading habits. If you would like to add something in the comments, that would be great, and I think others would benefit from it as well.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The God Who Sees

It’s happened so often that I should be able to see it coming. I was talking with a friend, and let loose with a sarcastic comment. But instead of making her laugh, the comment stung. I had accidentally found a sore spot, and I hurt her.

But there was a further problem: She really didn’t want me to know. I owed her an apology, but apologizing would force her to admit her sensitivity, and that would have made her even more uncomfortable.

I could have forced the issue, but I felt like I’d already done enough. I ended up resorting to a non-apology apology, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. She gave a flustered denial, Don’t worry about it. I knew what you meant.

Ugh.

Besides wishing that life came with some sort of delete button (or even a flux-capacatior-equipped DeLorean so I could journey back in time and redo these encounters), I’ve spent a lot of time scolding myself for this incident. Why did I say that? What possessed me to think this wisecrack could be anything else but hurtful? And yet, I understand her desire to hide just as well. When I’m feeling vulnerable, I also like to hide. During times when I really should be opening up to receive healing, I retreat. I hide behind a book, or go work in my office to shut myself away from my family and the world.

I usually resort to pop psychology to explain these things, but when it comes down to it, all my issues can be explained in the book of Genesis. I’m a sinner who keeps trying to fix herself. Most of the time I'm either building my own personal Towers of Babel, or covering myself with fig leaves. Look at me! I scream. Just don’t look too closely!

We see this in the story of Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Abraham’s wife Sarah. We don’t know the details of Hagar’s story, but we can assume her servanthood in a foreign country didn’t come about in a happy way. And then she was used by her mistress to bear Abraham’s child. Then she was mistreated because of it. And because Hagar is also a sinner, she tried to capitalize on it as well. So she was sent away with her son, and she is despairing for their lives. Then God intervenes. And she refers to him as “the God who sees.”

The God who sees. The God who sees our strivings and our insecurities. The God who sees our sin clearer than we can, and the futile attempts to cover it over ourselves. The God who sees is the only one who can fix it, and he fixes it by sending his Son, the only solution that can actually work.

The answer is not to keep striving. Nor is the answer to hide in shame. The answer is to rest and trust in the God who sees. Because the one who truly sees is the only one who can offer the true solution.