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Entries in Bible Study (110)


Grumble, grumble, grumble

Last Sunday, I taught from Hebrews 4:1-13, where the writer admonishes his readers to be careful to enter God's rest. The topic was first brought up in chapter 3, but he develops it more in chapter 4. He quotes a scripture passage, Psalm 95, when he tells them to be careful not to have hard hearts like the Israelites. The Israelites were prevented from entering his rest because of their disobedience. He uses Psalm 95 as a reminder.

The incident referred to in Psalm 95 is found in Exodus 17. There is no water to drink. So far, in their spectacular escape from Egypt they have seen God provide, most notably by taking them through the Red Sea. Still, they do what they are wont to do: grumble. "Why have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock?" (v.3). Moses is always the recipient of this grumbling, but in reality, they are grumbling against God.  

As it happened, the day following my lesson was election day here in Canada. I did my civic duty and went about my business, and I suspected what the outcome would be. When I went to bed that evening, I was proven correct, although I did not expect that our next government would be a majority. The next morning, what I woke up to from many Christians was not all that dissimilar to the Israelites in the wilderness: "Why have you brought us here?"

There was a real sense of desolation in the voices of many. But God is not surprised by this, and God is in control. What surprised me further were cries of this: "Trudeau is our next Prime Minister. I had better start praying for the country." Well, why weren't you before? We're commanded in Scripture to pray for the ruling authorities, and there is no stipulation that we only pray for the ones of our choosing. 

I find it curious that Christians often look to the government to solve all of their needs and look for it to give only what God can: rest. The three major political parties in this country will not lead us into God's rest. Only Christ can. We are pilgrims in this world, wandering in the wilderness. And just as God provided for the Israelites, he will provide for us. Our job is to stop grumbling, trust God, and pray for our leaders. If we are so bent out of shape about politics, we also have the freedom to become more involved and work to change things. In some countries, that freedom is not there. Perhaps we're all a little too complacent about things so that when things don't go our way, we look to God with frustration. That's when the grumbling begins.

And grumbling never solved a thing.


Take your bible in big chunks

The course I am taking this semester is "Biblical Introduction." It is a survey of the entire bible, and a required course. It is a pre-requisite to the biblical studies courses, which I am eager to take. I hope to take the courses on the Penteteuch, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, and Romans.

I have to read the entire bible by December 5th. I wanted to get ahead so I started on August 17. Today, I will finish to 1 Samuel 30. It takes about an hour a day, and I read about 13-14 chapters each day. As I read, I am marking the words "holy" and "covenant."  I am taking this opportunity of reading the whole bible to see how those words are evident throughout the entire bible.

Reading in large chunks like this is very beneficial. The narratives need to be read in their entirety. It's much easier to see how the bible is a cohesive whole when it is read in this way. I have been reading and studying the bible for a long time, and I am aware of the battle stories in it, but reading Joshua and Judges in quick succession really highlighted that. Reading in large sections also makes it easier to see the key words, phrases, and themes which are so important for understanding the flow of thought.

My prof told me that this would be a kind of bible reading I was not used to. I would not have time to stop and ponder long. That will come, but this exercise is to highlight the unity of the bible. Seeing the bible as a whole helps with understanding the levels of context, which is key to interpretation.

I would not want to read the bible in this way all the time. In fact, I wouldn't necessarily want to read the bible through every year, but I think it's a very worthwhile activity. I may do it again at some point. And at an hour a day, it's not all that onerous for me at this point in my life.


Teaching: you have to give it some feet

As a teacher of the Bible, and one who enjoys good sermons, I've thought long and hard about applying the Scriptures. Last semester, the class I took was about writing bible study material, and the prof's regular critique of my work was that I wasn't giving "visible" applications, i.e., I wasn't suggesting that the student do something. I've always hesitated about that approach, and even if it meant getting a lower mark than I would have liked, I just couldn't bring myself to conjure up some sort of activity to prove that one was applying the Scripture.

I was happy to find support for my views in Jeremy Walker's book Passing Through. As he introduces his subject matter, he uses a phrase which is absolutely perfect in describing contrived applications:

Though I hope to offer applications, I will not give a series of minute prescriptions, for part of the genius of Scripture is that it provides what is necessary for wisdom for all saints in all times and all places. This is often accomplished by means of broad directives that we must then apply to our lives and situations into which God lead us, seeking the help of the Spirit to do so. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that phrase? Minute prescriptions; isn't that an excellent way to describe some of the applications you've heard over the years? Sometimes, the application is simply, "Wow, God, you are amazing."

That said, as teachers, we do need to provide feet to the theological lessons we want our students to learn. An example of this popped up this past week as my friend and I studied Matthew 6:25-34. In verse 27, Jesus asks: "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" Worrying is s a waste of time, and unproductive. It's like being in a rocking chair: you're moving, but you're not going anywhere. 

In studying who God is, we learn that he is sovereign. That's a huge topic to study, and the ramifications are equally huge. In this matter, God's sovereignty means that God has ordained our days from beginning to end. Psalm 31:14-15 says:

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hand;
Rescue me from the hand of my enemies
and from my persecutors! 

God ordained when we came into the world, and he has ordained when we will leave it. No amount of worry will change that. When we fret over matters and micromanage things in the hopes that we can stave off the struggles of our lives, we are not adding anything into our lives. In fact, we're taking away from living in today.

Over the years, as I have struggled with worry, my husband has shared that encouragement with me time and time again: worry is fruitless. As the lesson was taught in the context of God's sovereignty, the lights finally turned on more fully. Before, they were dim and hazy; they are shining more brightly now.

I think it is a delicate balance to avoid over applying. It takes stime and study to discern the principles. As a teacher, I don't want to over apply and rob the student of thinking through things herself, but neither do I want to present things in a way that they just sound like platitudes. It's hard work; much harder than I reazlied. It makes me look back and cringe over my teaching in the past. I can only throw myself upon the grace and mercy of God for the times when I have not taught well.


Lots of heart, but where's the theology?

One of the assignments I have to do is review three bible study booklets. These titles were given to us:

Nehemiah, Overcoming Challenges, Bill Hybels
God's Comfort, Jack Kuhatschek
Romans, John MacArthur

The assignment is to do the second chapter homework for the book and then evaluate the material based on the balance of observation, interpretation, correlation and applications questions. There also must be a good balance between those "heart" questions, and the the other kinds of questions. We are also to evaluate it on whether it looks like it would promote good group dynamics.

I have never heard of the second author. I know who Bill Hybels, but have never read anything by him. And, of course, I'm very familiar with MacArthur. We used his study guides when we taught teens. 

I had a look at the Hybels study guide last night. The second lesson was based on Nehemiah 4, where Nehemiah and those who are rebuilding the wall face obstacles, mostly from the ridicule and malice of Sanballat and his cronies. Nehemiah and the people persevere so much that at one point, they have tools in one hand and weapons in the other to protect the work.

The theme of this chapter is killing momentum. There are four momentum killers: ridicule, threats, fatigue and discouragement, and frontal attacks. There is one correlation to other Scripture passages, to Ephesians 6:10-18 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, which definitely fits in with the theme of protection from enemies. 

The lesson definitely focuses on how a person can put these principles into practice in his own life. How does this example look in my life? Who is ridiculing me, and how can I react? Where do I see attacks on what I'm doing? How can I encourage others when they are feeling tired and discouraged. Nehemiah is seen as an example of how to overcome the momentum killing that goes on in our lives. And those things are good things to know.

What is totally missing from this study is the place of this narrative in the larger picture of Scripture. Generally, application follows interpretation, and I didn't see a whole lot of that. Why is the book of Nehemiah in the bible? What does it say about God's redemptive purposes? I recognize that I have only looked at one chapter. I may go back and see what the remainders are like; there are only six in the whole book. But if this is representative of the study, then I think it's missing something. There wasn't really much about the background of the book provided in the introductory section.

In the opening pages, the study promises much in the way of developing community:

We all long to know others deeply and to be fully known by them....The first section of these six studies creates a place for deep knowing and being known. Through serious reflection on the truth of Scripture, you will be invited to communicate part of your heart and life with your small group members.

When I read that out loud to my husband, his reaction to that was, "NO!" He really is not the typt to share the most intimate recesses of his heart with a group of people in a bible study. This would not be the study for him, I suspect. What I found interesting in the introduction was the absence of a promise to know God better, or that it was even a goal. There was talk of celebrating God, but there was little in the way of talking about how the study would help one know God better.

On the upside, the Scripture was focused on in some detail, and even though I think the student should have been asked to do more than he was asked, at least there was focus on that. 

I think I'll do the MacArthur study next. It ought to provide an interesting contrast.


Writing needs speaking

I've been working on a big assignment which is due on April 18. I have to do worksheets for four passages, with questions and answers. This is not as easy as one might think. I am limited to 10-12 questions, and for a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, that is limiting. If I was preparing to teach that passage, I'd have a lot more. I'm more an incremental teacher, building on small pieces. The approach this course is taking is that a good observation question should have many answers. A yes or no question is not good. I asked a yes or no question on my James assignment, and I was reminded not to. I don't know as if I agree with the general principle that a question with a yes or no answer is always a poor question.

Yesterday, as I was working on a passage from Philippians, I was struggling with my questions. The questions are supposed to be written in such a way that they direct the conversation. This means that I must be envisioning how the discussion will go. One thing I have learned from teaching is that often, the act of speaking can bring into the dialogue things that we don't think of sitting in the quiet of our studies, preparing lessons. Over and over again, while teaching, I have had occasions when, as I speak, something else comes to my thinking. The input of the class members, the discussion, and the act of responding often brings up something I never thought of. When I prepare for teaching, I will often talk through my lessons out loud to myself, and there are many times when more ideas will come to mind as I speak. I'm sure some expert out there could probably explain what kind of cognitive processes are going on in the act of speaking. Whatever it is, speaking often helps writing.

So, here I was yesterday afternoon, struggling with feeling that everything sounded so contrived and scripted, but I finally finished. I did manage to finish one assignment and am half done with the next passage. I stil have to work on a passage from Esther and Luke. I am wondering if I shouldn't be talking to myself as I think of these questions.