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.

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November 17, 2012

Did God Reveal it To You, Or In You?

The beauty of scripture is that no small detail has been omitted and nothing has been included by accident. This discovery was taken from the blog of Baptist pastor Brad Whitt where it appeared under the title, The Location of Revelation.

“…to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” Galatians 1:16

Paul is describing for us the process of his personal salvation – the light of His Lord that he saw from heaven on the road to Damascus. In doing so he gives us a very unique insight regarding the location of that revelation. He tells us that it pleased God “to reveal His son in me.”

Why did he say “in me”? Why didn’t he say “to me”? Wasn’t the light that blinded him and arrested him on that dusty Damascus road an outer vision? Didn’t it stop him in his tracks with a brilliance that was brighter than any noonday sun? Didn’t it block the way to his old nature and cause his life to halt in the middle of its journey? Absolutely. Surely then, this was a vision of his Lord that was presented as a picture to his eye. Not at all. Because you see, no picture can only be a picture to the eye. A thing can only be revealed to me if it has first been revealed in me.

Are the beautiful mountains I am so blessed to see simply a picture that is presented only to my outward vision? Again, no. You see, there could in reality be no beauty without if there was not first revealed a sense of beauty within. Is the music that I hear only revealed to my ear? No, or I would always be deaf to its beauty. There would be no harmony without if there was not first a sense of harmony within. Such is it with the one described as “the fairest of ten thousand.’

I must confess. Many times I have secretly envied those who were permitted to look upon the bodily form, the physical person of Jesus. I have found myself jealous of those who were able to see the smile on His face, to hear the encouragement and comfort in His voice. Yet, wasn’t it those very ones of whom it was said, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” So, in reality it was not the eye who saw the smile or the ear which heard the comfort. It was the heart, the life, the soul. It was the responsive spirit that was bearing witness with His Spirit. The open heart that ran out to meet its completion and found in Him the fulfillment of its salvation because it found in Him all that it ever desired.

That’s why God had to reveal His son in me. You see, I needed more than an audible voice, for I might mistake it for another. I needed more than to simply see handwriting in the clouds, because I might have been like a child who can’t read looking at letters in a book. I needed Him to reveal Himself in me.

You see, not even the most accurate description of a sunset could declare its splendor to one born blind, and likewise no description of Jesus could properly present His glory to a loveless soul. That’s why the Spirit of love must breathe into the heart the new sensation of loving, the new experience of being loved. He must unseal the soul’s eye, unclog the spiritual ear, so that the harmonies and symmetries of His creation might be revealed. It is only in His light that we will firstly and fully see light. Only when we are rooted and grounded in love will we be able to understand His love. That love, though revealed and familiar to all those who belong to Him, is still beyond our finite comprehension.

So, Paul says to you, “You will see the King in all of His glory and beauty when His glory and beauty is revealed in you.”


~Brad Whitt

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February 4, 2011

Salad Bar Theology

Today, I want to continue the discussion I alluded to yesterday, which centers around the much longer item I blogged at Thinking Out Loud today, in reference to high profile ministers and musicians who don’t subscribe to key doctrines, and as to the question of whether or not they can be considered “Christian” in the sense the rest of us use that word.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  (Acts 17:11 NIV)

There is a general agreement today that younger generations of Christ-followers are not as attached to the name on the front door of the place they happen to worship.  Many churches have themselves gone out of their way to lose the denominational tag and have adopted generic names like “Community Church” or “Neighborhood Church” instead of wearing their affiliation more proudly.

Don’t get me wrong; there are things about this I like.  I also like the fact that many of our churches are singing out of the same songbook; there are common worship anthems and choruses with which we can all join together in one powerful voice.  Of course, there are also distinctives that each group has that we can learn from, just as there are some hymns and modern worship songs that remain somewhat unique to each group.

But in the process, we’ve become like consumers at the proverbial salad bar.   We take a bit of this and a bit of that, and we pass on chick peas because we don’t like the texture, but load up on the bacon bits because we love the flavor.   So we love grace and forgiveness, but we’re not so passionate about judgment or the wrath of God.   We’re quick to tell our relatives and c0-workers that we’re living in the end times, but don’t believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative in the 21st century.  There are over 100 references to gluttony in scripture, but we ignore the chronic obesity that dogs many believers but are quick to give our views on the question of homosexuality.

We pick and choose.

Many of us make the choices based on careful study of the scriptures, such as the above-mentioned Bereans in Acts 17.   Some choose on the basis of preferences; rejecting certain doctrinal elements that might actually affect the way we live, not unlike atheists who reject the stories of Noah or Jonah because if they are true, so are other parts of the Bible and that would having to engage and respond.

But many of us make our decisions based entirely on what (a) our friends, (b) a TV preacher, (c) a favorite author, or (d) our church or pastor tells us.  But what if a Berean study of scripture led you to a different conclusion?

So here’s the question:  Would you be willing to confront your friends or church and/or change churches if your study of scripture led you to something different from what you’ve heretofore believed.

Many of the people in the current crisis in Egypt have been heard to say, “For the first time ever, I am starting to think for myself.”  This is a breakthrough moment for them.

The problem in some churches is not strictly salad bar theology, but the numbers of people who have been eating a prepared salad.

It’s time to take your church’s statement of faith and examine it, and make sure that you have a personal statement of faith; time to take ownership of a personal theology.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… (I Peter 3:15 NIV)