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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - Observe and Question

Studying the Bible doesn't have to be big and scary.

Although the Bible is a BIG book, filled with lots of names and places that are unfamiliar, with some stretches that are not so interesting, it is also full of stories of valiant warriors, tender poets, miracles, and very fallible human beings. Many of the stories have rightfully been made into epic movies since they are stories of epic proportions.

The Bible is a wonderful blend of excitement, mystery, and truths that challenge our thinking and our reality. So how do we begin to understand what this big book says.

One way is to Read - Observe - Question. What does that look like?

Pray. Any time that we study the Bible, we want to invite the Holy Spirit aka the Spirit of Truth to help us understand what we are reading. (John 14:16,17, and 26)

Choose a Selection from the Bible to Read. The amount of time you want to spend and the depth of the study you want to undertake will largely determine the length of your selection. The length could vary between a few verses to an entire book. If you're looking for inspiration and encouragement, the Psalms would be a good place to begin. If you're looking for biblical teachings, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) or Epistles (Romans through Jude) would be good. If you're looking for the history of the world, the Jewish nation, or Christianity then Genesis, Exodus through Esther, or Acts would be helpful. Old Testament prophetic books are Isaiah through Malachi and in the New Testament Revelation is the primary prophetic book.

Read a Passage of the Bible. Read the passage you have chosen all the way through once without stopping. Pause.

Write down your initial response, observations, and questions.

Read it again slowly and thoughtfully.

Write: What else do you observe? What other questions arise? Do any answers surface?

Using your Bible Study Tools such as cross references, a study Bible, commentaries, and a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia search for answers to your questions. Bible Gateway is a website that offers several free resources as well as links to those for purchase.

Record your exploration, what you have learned, and your conclusions.

Apply. Ask yourself how this study has impacted your life and how it makes a difference in your day to day interactions with God and with other people.

If you try this type of study, I invite you to talk about your experience 
or what you have learned here in this online community. 

NOTE: I do not receive any type of reimbursement or benefits from any endorsements made in this post. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Do I Understand the Bible? - SCPTP

While we are often told that reading and studying the Bible are important, many are not sure where to begin or how to study the Bible. A simple way to learn more about the Bible is to read a few verses or even one verse at a time asking five questions. If you're new to reading or studying the Bible, this type of study creates a great foundation for deeper study at a later time.

How do you go about this study?

Choose a passage to read. This study works best when reading a single verse or paragraph in the Bible. Over time you can read a variety of short passages or you can choose to read through a book a paragraph at a time. This study works particularly well with the Gospels (Matthew through John) or the Epistles (Romans through Jude) in the New Testament. You may want to begin with a shorter book such as Philippians, Colossians, or 1 John.

Pray. Ask God to guide you through the Holy Spirit into a deeper understanding of His message to you through the Bible.

Read and Record. Read your chosen passage for the day. In a journal or on an electronic device jot down the date, reference of the passage you read, and then the answers to the following questions:

Is there a . . .

Sin to confess?
Command to obey?
Promise to claim?
Truth to understand and believe?
Prayer to pray?

Sin to Confess - Does the Bible address a particular sin, something that God says is not what He desires for us? If so, jot that down. To apply this question to your own life, ask yourself if this is a sin that you have given into. If so, God tells us to confess our sin and He will forgive us. (1 John 1:9)

Command to Obey - Is there something that God wants us to do? What is that? Record the answer in your journal. Think about how you can begin to do this thing God is asking of you.

Promise to Claim - Does God make a promise to you in this verse? Write down what the promise is. How can claiming that promise help you in your current circumstances?

Truth to Understand and Believe - What truth is captured in this verse or paragraph? Why is it important? What difference does it make in your life?

Prayer to Pray - Is there a prayer given? What does it say? What does it help you understand about how to pray? Are you willing to pray this prayer to God?

Let's do an example together:

We'll try a verse that is familiar to many, Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Is there a sin to confess? Not specifically.

Is there a command to obey? Yes, more than one: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart" and "In all your ways acknowledge him". And, we are told not to lean on our own understanding (our own intellect, reasoning, or logic). How can I do this? Currently I am in the midst of working with my family to make some serious decisions. In those decisions I need to choose to trust God and to acknowledge His ability to guide us.

Is there a promise to claim? Absolutely, "he will make straight your paths." I can have assurance that as I trust God and acknowledge Him in these decisions that He will guide us and he will show us clearly the right thing to do.

Is there a truth to understand and believe? Nothing beyond those we've already identified.

Is there a prayer to pray? Not specifically, however praying Scripture and asking for God's help to trust and acknowledge Him, to avoid leaning on our own understanding, and claiming His promise to us, is appropriate and can make our prayer times more meaningful.

Have you ever tried studying the Bible this way? Was it helpful? 
What has helped you to study the Bible?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How do I Understand the Bible? - The Necessary Tools

How do I understand the Bible? It's so thick with unfamiliar words and confusing stories and teaching. I don't even know where to begin. As a teacher and coach, I have heard this question asked many times. And, it's an important one.

God gave us the Bible so that we could understand Him better and it is the sacred Scriptures of the Christian faith. Therefore, reading and studying it will help us in our relationship with God and in growing in our faith.

Over the next few weeks I want to share with you ways of studying the Bible that will help you increase your knowledge of its contents, your understanding of what it means, and how to apply it to your own life and situation.

A skilled craftsman knows the importance of having the right tools for the job - be it a woodworker, an electrician, a chef, a diver, a teacher, a writer, a glassblower, a surgeon, or an artist. The right tools make it much easier to produce a great work and in some cases, such as a diver or electrician, it may be a matter of life or death. So, if you want to know how to understand the Bible better, what tools do you need?

Studying the Bible does not have to be complicated or involve a great many books or tools, although as you delve more and more deeply into the Bible there may be books, software, or apps that you would like to purchase. However, to begin the list is rather short:

1. A Bible. A study Bible that contains a summary of each book (giving its history, author, and an overview of its contents), maps, charts, and a concordance (a list of where particular words are found) is especially helpful. My favorites are The Life Application Bible, The Quest Study Bible, and the NIV Study Bible. I have found each of these to have comprehensive and helpful tools.

2. A journal, notebook, computer, or tablet where you can track what you are learning.

3. Prayer and the Holy Spirit. Some passages of the Bible and some people described in the Bible are difficult to understand. Therefore, it is important that you seek the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you in your study and to reveal truth to you and to help you avoid misinterpreting the Scripture.

These three things are sufficient to help anyone get started toward a basic understanding of the Bible, what it says, and what it means.

Perhaps you are interested in going deeper in your study. Perhaps you are puzzled by various things and want deeper answers or maybe you would like to help someone else understand the Bible better and you want to understand the Bible more completely yourself first. The following tools are helpful for those who want to go deeper. I have listed them in the order I would recommend attaining them.

4. A Concordance. While today many Study Bibles have extensive concordances, most do not have an Exhaustive Concordance. An Exhaustive Concordance lists every word in the Bible and all the verses where it can be found. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is one of the most famous concordances and is very helpful. Some websites such as Bible Gateway can also function as a concordance by allowing you to enter a key word into their site and it will list all the verses where that word is found. Bible Gateway also has a number of other very helpful resources including the option to view a verse or passage in multiple translations of the Bible.

5. A Commentary of the Whole Bible. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible is readily available in both book and online formats and is well-known and widely respected. As your study grows you may want to invest in commentaries on specific books of the Bible or sections of the Bible. Also, many Study Bibles contain commentary at the bottom of the pages. A commentary explains the meaning and background of the verses in the Bible.

6. A Bible Dictionary. This is a dictionary that focuses specifically on biblical and theological terms that may be unfamiliar. My personal favorite is the Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words by Larry Richards. I have found this to be both comprehensive and easy to understand.

7. A Bible Encyclopedia or Handbook. I personally have found an encyclopedia more helpful than a handbook, however both can help you to understand the cultural context and history of biblical events.

8. Bible Study Books. Many good Bible study books have been written in a topical, systematic theology, or book study format. These books are useful in guiding you through a particular study, usually asking you to read a portion of Scripture, providing an explanation of or thoughts on the passage, and questions to help you think more deeply about it. Fisherman Bible Study Guides provide a plethora of choices for both topical and book studies. The Navigators also have many excellent Bible study guides available.

What have you found to be challenging about studying the Bible?
What resources have you found that have helped you?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five Minute Friday - Fill

Five Minute Friday is an opportunity to just write for 5 minutes - no editing, no over-thinking, no planning - and then gather with other bloggers to encourage and support one another's efforts. Join in over at Kate's site - Heading Home. Today's prompt is "Fill."

Ready . . . go . . .

Dear Lord,

Around me, so many are running low on fuel, their hearts and lives in turmoil . . .

The friend going through frivolous law suits at the hands of her ex . . .

The friend facing a life-changing diagnosis for her husband . . .

Friends and family who recently had children that will face challenges all of their lives

My brother just starting his fight with cancer and having unplanned and immediate surgery today . . .

A fellow congregant getting used to the new routine of dialysis . . .

They . . . we . . . are starting to run low on energy and hope, dear God.

Please fill us. Please fill us with hope, with peace, with YOURSELF, with strength to face what each day brings. I long for You and I know that You alone are the answer. Please fill us with trust . . . with child-like, fully abandoned trust that You will work all things together for good.

In Jesus' name. Amen.

I'd love to hear what you do to refresh your soul and body when you're tired and running on empty.