Christianity 201

January 7, 2013

Bible Study Process

john_3.16 license plate

A couple of years back I wrote a piece describing my own Bible study process. It’s not always as orderly and sequential as some would like. But it gets me digging deep. In the last couple of days I looked at a couple of parables Jesus taught from Luke which sent me down all sorts of rabbit trails. But it gave me a greater appreciation for the text.

But first, I want to talk about a memorization process I did last month. I committed myself to learn, in my own words, the early hymn from Philippians chapter two. Here it is from memory without reference to any notes:

You should have the same mindset as the incarnated Christ, who, although he was 100% God, did not consider that something to be leveraged (or we could say leveraged every five minutes) but rather he humbled himself; first by fully experiencing the human condition; second by generally taking on the posture of one who is serving, not leading; third by living out the human situation even to the point of death; finally a death that was that of someone who had done nothing wrong yet suffered the most painful torture the Romans could devise. And then, at the end of all this, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the highest name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to God the Father’s glory.

…You see, I could just memorize it as written. But this way I know the material and you know that I know it. The words have taken on life.

But not content to just rest there, I’m now looking at memorizing John 3: 17-21.  (Okay, verse 16 is in there, too; but we all know that one.)

An old acquaintance from a Christian summer camp I worked at once shared the ordination process he went through to become a pastor in his denomination. You’d expect these to be hardcore questions about deep doctrinal matters, but instead, one of the examiners kicked back and said, “So… tell me about John chapter 1.”  And then, “Now tell me about John chapter 2.” And so on.

It wasn’t what he was expecting.  Let’s consider that line of questioning:

John 1: John’s prologue (there’s one to memorize!)
John 2: The first miracle, the wedding at Cana
John 3: Jesus and Nicodemus (where “born again” originates) and that trademark 16th verse
John 4: Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well
John 5: …uh… see this is where I would phase out…

However, he was caught a bit off-guard by the question and didn’t even do that well.  So let’s go back to chapter three.

Jesus has his meetup with Nicodemus and they hash through Nick’s question about re-entering his mother’s womb in order to be reborn. And then there’s verse 16. And then? What do you think is the key theme of what follows?

One of the best parts of doing this blog is when I write the ‘tags’ that appear at the beginning of each entry. Especially if it’s something that I didn’t write. What is this really all about? What are the key points? What is the defining theme? Who is this for?

Tagging verses 17-21 of John 3, one would instantly recognize that this is a passage about light. The end product of verse 16, the result of God loving the world and giving Jesus is that light has come into the world.

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”  (NLT)

The light has come. People preferred darkness. They stay away from the light because it would expose their contrariness to God’s standards and God’s best for their life. But those who see his way as the best way are actually drawn to the light so the world can see their attitudes and actions.

(The above paragraph is a little too extreme a paraphrase, my end memorization will be something in between that and the original.)

So next time you think about vs. 3:16 — and it’s hard to get away from — think about light. How light dispels darkness. How light illuminates those who choose to walk in the light.

And that’s a bit of my personal study.

P.S.: Before anyone thinks me to be super-spiritual, let me hasten to add that my November memorization project didn’t get finished.  I’m still working on solidifying Titus 3: 3-7; which is another passage I would recommend.

Some translations present the clauses of Phil 2: 7 & 8 in a different sequence.

Image source

May 15, 2011

Psalm 139: He Knows us Full Well

Today in our worship time, we had a reading of Psalm 139 that reminded me of an early Michael W. Smith VHS video where he reads the Psalm from memory.  Searching for it today, I found this first, it’s a composite of Michael doing the same thing at Creation 2002 with crowd shots at the annual festival. 

I have to be honest here, I’ve memorized a lot of scripture over the years, but never an extended passage like this.  Beyond what the text itself says about God’s intimate knowledge of us, I’ve always been challenged hearing Michael W. doing this because there’s something about the reading of scripture from memory that has a certain power that you don’t get from reading from a printed page.

Here’s the same text from the NLT:

1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!…

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

And the same text from The Message:

 1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
   I’m an open book to you;
      even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
   You know when I leave and when I get back;
      I’m never out of your sight.
   You know everything I’m going to say
      before I start the first sentence.
   I look behind me and you’re there,
      then up ahead and you’re there, too—
      your reassuring presence, coming and going.
   This is too much, too wonderful—
      I can’t take it all in!

 7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
      to be out of your sight?
   If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
      If I go underground, you’re there!
   If I flew on morning’s wings
      to the far western horizon,
   You’d find me in a minute—
      you’re already there waiting!
   Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
      At night I’m immersed in the light!”
   It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
      night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

 13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
      you formed me in my mother’s womb.
   I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
      Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
      I worship in adoration—what a creation!
   You know me inside and out,
      you know every bone in my body;
   You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
      how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
   Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
      all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
   The days of my life all prepared
      before I’d even lived one day.

 17-18 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
      God, I’ll never comprehend them!
   I couldn’t even begin to count them—
      any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
   Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! …

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
      find out everything about me;
   Cross-examine and test me,
      get a clear picture of what I’m about;
   See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
      then guide me on the road to eternal life.

December 26, 2010

Five Reasons to Read the Bible

  1. For the truth about God. The world gives us a multiplicity of meanings as to who God is and what He is all about.   The Bible gives us a proper standard for truth by which to test everything else we hear or read.  For the LORD gives wisdom;  from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.  (Proverbs 2: 6, 9 NIV 2011)
  2. To keep our thoughts focused. Living in the world, we think worldly things.   That can cut off our focus on God and our communication with him.   It’s a tug of war.   God’s word will draw us to Him even as the world tries to draw us away.   Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)
  3. Because we need direction. Just as our thoughts can be drawn away from God so our will and decision making can be drawn away from His best.   Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.  (II Tim 3: 16, 17 The Message)
  4. As an act of obedience. If we love God, we will want to do the things that please Him.   He should keep it with him all the time and read from it every day of his life. Then he will learn to respect the Lord his God, and he will obey all the teachings and commands.  (Deut 17: 19 NCV)
  5. As a weapon of our spiritual warfare. The Bible is described as the “sword of the Spirit.”   It can be used against the ideas that Satan confronts us with through others, or simply puts into our minds.   Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”  (Matt 4:10 ESV)