Christianity 201

November 19, 2015

Teaching Bible Students the Skills Needed for Bible Living

ESV 2 Tim:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

NLT 1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

Today we pay a return visit to the women’s ministry blog, where we found this article by featured writer Leslie Bennett. Please click the link to read at source, and then take a few minutes to look around the website, which is also (as of this week) the new home of the True Woman blog.

3 Skills Bible Teachers Must Teach

Extensive research reveals the trend of evangelical Christian’s knowledge of Scripture is decreasing every year.

A seminary professor made this sobering statement in a course designed to prepare the next generation of Bible teachers. As an older student sitting among mostly young men and women, I already suspected it was true. I’d been teaching for over fifteen years. But upon learning this verifiable fact, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. With a trembling voice, I questioned the professor, “How can we hear this and not fall face down weeping?”

Shameless Truth-Tellers

At Revive ’15: Women Teaching Women, Jen Wilkin exhorted women’s leaders from 2 Timothy 2:15 to become shameless truth-tellers. After making the ironclad case that we’ve become a nation of Bible illiterates, she pulled the fire alarm by saying, “The modern church cannot afford for its women to be biblically illiterate. As we go into the dawn of post-Christian America, we must treasure and teach our sacred text as recent generations have not.”

Three Skills Necessary for Bible Students

Jen advocates that the methods teachers use matter in order to rightly handle the Word of God. Our methods need to cultivate a deep and enduring adoration of God. A woman who loses interest in her Bible study has not been equipped to love it as she should because the God of the Bible is too lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God. This means we must ask the women whom we teach to be more than just consumers. We must ask them to be students in the true sense of the word, not passive but active, in the way they approach the Scriptures.

1. Teach your students how to think (love God with their minds).

In Scripture we’re commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Is that a verse for men only? Is it God’s intention that women love Him with their emotions and men with their intellect? No.

Often women in the church aren’t challenged to have a thinking faith. We agree we want to be changed, so what is the path of transformation? Romans 12:2 answers, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The path to the renewing of our feelings is through our thinking. Right thinking should inform right feeling. (Case in point: Jen’s deep-seated love for cheese puffs died a slow death after reading the nutrition label.)

The heart cannot love what the mind does not know. It’s a simple formula: Know God, and you will love God. We must teach women to think rightly about God, and that right thinking will beget right feeling.

2. Teach your students how to learn.

Don’t just give students good information; give them good tools. Teachers must push them to seek firsthand knowledge of Scripture. The reason is that the false teacher and secular humanist rely on us not knowing what the Bible says. But so often women have adopted a way of thinking that resembles the telephone game. Women read a book about the Bible without reading the Bible. Instead of being able to quote the Word, we spout off what someone else said about what someone else said about the Scriptures.

God help us if we become content to be curators of other people’s opinions about a book that we cannot be troubled to read. Use those books as a supplement to—but not a substitute for—spending time in the Word of God firsthand. You are commanded to love God with your mind, not the mind of Nancy Leigh DeMoss or John Piper.

3. Teach your students how to work.

Let’s change the paradigm in the church that just showing up for Bible study is sufficient. Disciples are called to be disciplined. Do you see how the two words are so closely related? If you happen to be good at playing an instrument, you became that way through practice.

First attempts at anything worth learning are hard! It’s tempting to quit, but students must be trained to learn a skill by doing it. We must make students do the work. Try not to do anything for them that they can do for themselves. Set a clear expectation that sanctification is hard, but that as the teacher, you’ll be doing the same hard work as the students.

In 1 Peter 2, the apostle says we should crave the pure milk of the Word. Just as breastfeeding is a natural and necessary thing, it isn’t something we automatically know how to do well. Give students permission to fail at first, speculate sober-mindedly, wonder, and wait for answers to come. Women must get over the desire to have “the right answer.” The job of the student is not to please the teacher but to expand her thinking to love God with her mind.

Teachers, you don’t have to convince someone to work hard at something they love.

Our job is to help them love Bible study.


August 21, 2015

For Those Who Serve, Preach, Teach…

This post was in our draft file for nearly two years and I discovered it last night. The link is to a blog called Justified and Sinner, which redirects to A Simple Christian. The author is not named. This will resonate with those of you have devoted time to helping people in their spiritual growth.

Is it insane to keep doing/teaching/preaching the same thing over and over, and expecting…

 1  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and because he is coming to rule as King, I solemnly urge you 2  to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it (whether the time is right or not), to convince, reproach, and encourage, as you teach with all patience. 3  The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear. 4  They will turn away from listening to the truth and give their attention to legends. 5  But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (TEV)

\573         Please don’t abandon the task, don’t deviate from the way, even though you have to live with people who are full of prejudices: as if you thought the basis of arguments or the meaning of words were fixed by their behavior or by their assertions. Do try to get them to understand you… but if you don’t manage it, carry on anyway. (1)

There is a point in ministry that occurs when you realizing you are bashing your head against the wall.

An example – someone comes to you looking for spiritual guidance, and you offer it, and they go – thanks, and then going back to the same behavior that caused them to come to you in the first place.

Or someone who asks you to help them understand a Bible passage, you take the time to work it through with them, and then watch them return to the confusion, only to ask the same question in a similar manner a few weeks down the road.

It has been said that insanity can be defined by doing the same thing repeatedly, but hoping for a different outcome.   In this case, many pastors, priests, teachers, counselors are not just simply insane, but completely insane.

There see to be two options to this insanity, first – keep doing the work in the same way, but give up caring about the results, or second, change things regularly, looking for the precise combination that will work in your community, in your parish, in your classroom.  Sometimes we even bounce between the two, depending on who we last heard that appears to be successful, that appears to at least give an answer to our dilemma.

This glass half full/half open pendulum, and the second guessing and thinking that our “return on investment” must result in a immediate result that is satisfactory dominates our churches.  We are blown about by winds of, not of doctrine, but of some definitions and measurements of “faithfulness” and “success.”.  We are hurt because we get into these fields because we desire to change the world, and would like to at least change some lives.  We know the answer is Jesus, (as does every pre-schooler !) we know where people will find the answers, we are trained to give them both clearly and in a way that should appeal to people.

And then we wonder if they will ever hear us…

And eventually we wonder if we are insane (in the sense above) or we act on the lack of success and desperately try new ways.  Even to the point where we don’t give them time to see if they will work.

The nearly identical advice is seen above, (I saw St. Josemaria’s first – my Bible devotional reading was somewhere else).  Our endurance in the midst of our preaching, teaching, counseling is not based on their changed lives.  It’s not about “faithfully” doing it by dialing it in either.  It is about realizing our role is to give the message, Because Jesus is coming back, and that is news that is incredible to anyone who trusts in Him, and if they don’t hear it, they won’t be able to trust in it.

Days preaching and teaching and counseling aren’t supposed to be easy, they often demand great sacrifice, it often requires us to carry on, to keep looking at Christ and realizing the treasure that they need.  Ministry and teaching and counseling isn’t about our strength, its about the glory of God in which we work, sustaining us, encouraging, helping us endure, and driving us when needed.  We are going to have to suffer in this role.  Not just because of persecution, but because of those who do not hear the message, who we weep for, even as Christ wept over Jerusalem.  We need to realize that this struggle is okay.

That’s the example we have in Christ, and in our Father in Heaven.  They have kept calling us, hounding us even though the results haven’t been all that spectacularly different.  We still sin, we still forget about God, we still struggle, then repent, then worship.  And still God loves and calls, and forgives and comforts and is here with us.  He doesn’t change… He never will… although the results can’t be seen by us yet, He knows them, and dances with joy as He realizes those who trust in Him, who treasure His love.

In Him, we find the strength and the patience to avoid the insanity of reacting to what the world thinks is insane.  So let us keep our eyes on Him, He who begins faith and completes it is us, and in those who hear our message.

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2448-2452). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

March 24, 2015

Serving While You Are Young…and When You’re Older, Also

In I Timothy 4, Paul instructs his “son in the faith” (1:2) on the carrying out of his ministry. If you’ve ever had to write a word of encouragement to a younger Christian — especially a child or teen or twenty-something — chances are you might have quoted verse 12:

12a Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young…

But there is more to that particular verse:

12b Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 

Breaking it down, Paul gives “Tim” five areas in which he is to be an example:

  • words, teaching, speech
  • conduct, behavior, actions
  • love, charity, agape
  • belief, faith, faithfulness
  • purity, integrity, a pure life

But this verse also leads off a list of five things Timothy is encouraged to do:

12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15 Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.

The other four would be:

  • read the scriptures; preach the scriptures; exhort and encourage people from the scriptures
  • do not neglect (or be careless with) the gift that was given to you, referencing a gift specifically imparted when the elders laid hands on (i.e. set apart) Timothy for ministry service
  • serve this ministry with abandon; immerse yourself in all aspects of the work; be absorbed in it, devoted to it, and un-distracted from it.
  • while doing all this outward ministry, watch and be conscientious about your inner life; be self-critical with your own spiritual progress; and do this not for the sake of your own spiritual life, but that of those who are watching you and are under your spiritual care

The Asbury Bible Commentary notes,

Paul’s exhortation in v. 12 shows an obvious awareness that some may not respect Timothy’s youth and that Timothy might even use his youth as an excuse for immature belief. Example is a pattern or copy from which other patterns or copies are made. The trio of love, faith, and purity conforms nicely to the admonition of 1:5.

The verse mentioned at the end occurs just a few after Paul calls Timothy his “son.”

I Tim. 1:5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.

While some of you reading this may not be young — in years, or in your faith journey — I believe this passage can be used by all of us a type of “report card template” for us to examine ourselves to see how we’re doing.  Here are all nine of the above bullet points restated as a question:

  • What do people know about me by my speech?
  • What do people see through my actions?
  • Am I known as a giving person; a loving person; a person of charity?
  • What is the role of my beliefs in my life; how are they reflected?
  • Do I have a reputation for integrity; am I walking in purity?
  • Is my life scripture-rooted? Am I passionate about God’s Word?
  • Am I using my gifts in service or have I set some aside?
  • Would I be described as passionate in my devotion to Christ?
  • Is there a consistency between what people see and how things are internally?

You might even want to print these out, and keep them in a special place. You could check-mark things where you’re feeling no particular focus is needed right now, and underline things which need to be addressed. Then check back with the list in a month, in a new season, or in a new year.

Go Deeper: Here’s some teaching on Paul and Timothy relationships as part of a study on The Antioch Tradition. The graphic below is from that source.

Paul and Timothy




January 16, 2014

The Vision God Births in You

Today I want to juxtapose two verses of scripture and apply them to a context that may seem unusual.

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about the earliest days of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. While I am grateful for the theological heritage I gained from learning the hymns, I am also grateful for the Christian musicians who pioneered a whole new genre, and endured the thunder and lightning storms that take place when Christianity meets culture. I am grateful also to be able to bring friends and acquaintances to church knowing they won’t suffer an immediate disconnect because of the use of 17th and 18th century musical styles. I am especially thankful for the artists who re-write the hymns with modern chords and those who are part of the modern hymns genre who give us fresh lyrics within familiar structures.

It’s easy to look back at the early days of CCM and say, “Well, it began in California at Calvary Chapel;” or “It began with Larry Norman;” or any other source we might wish to name.  On closer examination however, you discover that God was working in the hearts of young people across the U.S., Canada, England and beyond. There are literally dozens of examples of recordings that pre-date the usual suspects.

The first verse that popped into my head was I Kings 19:18. This is the passage where Elijah waits for God, expecting him to be found in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, but God speaks to him in a whisper. Then Elijah speaks to God and laments that he is all alone.

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

But God tells him that he is not alone in ministry.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Paul quotes this passage in Romans 11: 1-4.

Elijah felt he was operating in a vacuum. The comparison to those early music pioneers — or anyone who sets out to do a new a thing — is apt. The musicians were counter cultural on two levels: They were proclaiming Jesus in a medium not accustomed to hearing about him, in places where drug use and free love were normative.  But they were also going against the musical styles and preferences of the established church. They were getting flak from both directions.

But then, almost immediately another rather disparate verse struck me.

In John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter and then Jesus gives Peter a brief glimpse into his future. But Peter suddenly is interested in knowing John’s future.

20 Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” 21 Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” 23 So the rumor spread among the community of believersthat this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

The connection to me is one of personal accountability for vision. If you join these verses together it’s saying, you need to pursue the vision God gives you and not be looking around at anyone else. You need to follow God’s leading even if you’re the only one. You need to consider the possibility that you’re not the only one; that God is doing something and stirring people in locations you can’t see from your current vantage point.

Elijah was told that God was working even when Elijah couldn’t see it.
Peter was told that God had a future for Peter that wasn’t inter-dependent on others.

I don’t usually use illustrations here, or borrow material that starts with illustrations, and I know some of you prefer traditional church music and are not so fond of today’s worship choruses; but I believe that right now, God is birthing dreams and visions in the hearts of a new generation. Some of them will feel they’re going it alone, and if that’s the case, and you see the Spirit of God working in their lives, come alongside them to give encouragement. Let them know that their future is unique to their particular gifts and calling.

February 27, 2013

Howard Hendricks Quotations

“You’re looking at a completely fulfilled human being. If I died today having produced some of the people God has given me the privilege of shaping, it will have been worth showing up on the planet.”

—Prof Hendricks to the Dallas Morning News, 2003

Many in the Christian blogosphere took time last week to pay tribute to Howard Hendricks.  Some of his books included As Iron Sharpens Iron, A Life of Integrity, Teaching to Change Lives, The 7 Laws of the Teacher, and Living By The Book. He was a mentor to many, taught the mentoring principle through his teaching and writing. You can read one such tribute at Daily Encouragement, and  at Dallas Theological Seminary’s online magazine.

The mentoring principle in scripture is best expressed in the relationship between the Apostle Paul and Timothy, who joins Paul at the beginning of Acts 16:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named  Timothy,  the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.  He was well spoken of by  the brothers  at Lystra and Iconium.  Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him…    (ESV)

and in the introduction to his first letter to Timothy, Paul refers to him as a spiritual son:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

That’s the kind of relationship Howard Hendricks felt every mature Christian should have, and it works both ways; you can ask yourself, ‘Who is my Paul and who is my Timothy?” Sometimes we can emphasize one over the other; we are being helped and influenced by one person but not passing that on; or, conversely, we are constantly giving of ourselves to nurture another person, but nobody is guiding and shaping us.  Yes, it is God that forms us, but his desire is that we grow in community. Yes, God uses His Word to teach us, but he also works through other believers He places in our lives.

Many of Hendricks’ quotations online are one-liners from his teachings, but we’ve also included some longer quotations below as well.

  • howard_hendricksIf your religion does not work at home, don’t export it.
  • Succeeding in business and failing at home is a cop-out. For no success in the workplace will ever make up for failure at home.
  • There is no fear of judgment for the man who judges himself according to the Word of God.
  • A good leader has a compass in their head and a magnet in their heart.Our problem is that we are in the Word but not under the Word.
  • You cannot impart what you do not possess.
  • How big is your God? The size of your God determines the size of everything.
  • The Bible was written not to satisfy your curiosity but to help you conform to Christ’s image.
  • If you leave the church service thinking about how good the pastor was, he has missed the mark. If you leave consumed with Christ, the pastor has been used by the Lord.
  • Man is the only animal which you can pat on the back and his head swells up.

A webpage devoted to Dr. Hendricks at Talbot Theological Seminary contains some longer quotations of which these are two:

The greatest tragedy among Christians today is that too many of us are under the Word of God, but not in it for ourselves. (p. 9) The genius of the Word of God is that it has staying power; it can stand up to repeated exposure. In fact, that’s why it is unlike any other book. You may be an expert in a given field. If you read a book in that field two or three times you’ve got it. You can put it on the shelf and move on to something else. But that’s never true of the Bible. Read it over and over again, and you’ll see things that you’ve never seen before. (p. 81) I think the great need among God’s people today is to get into Scripture for themselves. And because they are not doing so, they are losing the fizz in their spiritual life. They are flat and lukewarm. Nothing is more repulsive. People are weary of words, but they are starving for authenticity. (p. 340)

Living by the book. Chicago: Moody Press. (1991)

Perhaps you find yourself talking more these days and enjoying it less. If so, you may be on the verge of the greatest breakthrough in your Christian life and ministry. Nothing is as easy as talking; nothing is as difficult as communicating. Those to whom you and I effectively communicate are changed; they are never quite the same again. I believe communication is one of the most delicate and critical tasks ever to confront the human mind—especially communicating in the spiritual realm. Here the results affect not only time but eternity. (p. 24)The man or woman who stops learning today stops communicating tomorrow. (p. 26) I have found that the closer I get to an individual, the more influence I have on his life. I talk to many students; unfortunately, I teach very few. Those I teach, I change, and that requires personal involvement. (p. 58)

Say it with Love. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. (1972)

January 30, 2011

Imitate Me, As I (try to) Imitate Christ

Jon Swanson’s blog, 300 Words a Day is one of a very few listed in this blog’s sidebar because of his consistent devotional focus.   This piece appeared there several days ago under the much simpler (!) title, Being a Model…

Am I living a life I’d want someone to copy?

Why not?

Those two sentences found their way into my journal over the weekend, as I was thinking about a presentation I’ve got coming up. I’m going to talk about being and making disciples. (That subject has shown up as my one word and in my list of 8 ways to get better at following.)

As I thought about the idea of making disciples, of developing followers, I realized that part of making a disciple is being willing to be a model.

I hate that. So do you. The last thing we want is for someone to use our life as a pattern. We know all of the ways that we fail. We know all the strategies that don’t work. We know how we don’t measure up. We know how we hurt someone we love.  We are, we think, models for spiritual failure.

But I think I’m wrong.

Paul consistently said, “Here are my failures. Here’s what I don’t do well. Here’s what God does wonderfully, sometimes in spite of me, sometimes through me.” He said this especially to Timothy, his most mentioned disciple. (A working definition of a disciple is a person who chooses to allow the life and teaching of someone to shape his/her own life.)

Helping people learn how to follow Jesus doesn’t mean being perfect.

It means being translucent, keeping the details hidden but allowing the outline of your humanity to show. It means acknowledging the failures and the forgiveness. It means showing when you let your mouth get ahead of your brain, here is how you ask forgiveness.

When you don’t know how to talk to God, here’s where you start. When you feel like you aren’t measuring up, here’s how you stop trying so hard.

~ Jon Swanson