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Bible Engagement Blog


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You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t read the Bible!

You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t read the Bible! Now hear me out …

If you don’t read (hear, connect, engage, study, contemplate, reflect, act on) the Bible, you don’t know who Jesus is. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you can’t worship Him. If you can’t worship Jesus, then how can you call yourself a Christian?

I meet a lot of people who tell me they’re Christians. When I ask them if they read the Bible and they say “No,” or “Not really,” then I ask, “So what makes you a Christian?” They usually say, “Because I love God/Jesus.” Now here’s my dilemma. If someone says they love Jesus, but don’t read the Bible, then what “Jesus” are they loving? That’s a crucial question. For if we don’t love the Jesus of the Bible, then there’s a problem.jesus-in-bible

Forgive me if I’m blunt, but surely it stands to reason that if someone doesn’t worship the Jesus of the Bible, then that person’s worshipping a different “Jesus.” And who is this other “Jesus” that millions of non-Bible reading “Christians” are worshipping? Probably a “Jesus” they’ve created in their own minds. One who can be shaped and moulded to be whatever a person wants him to be.

There’s a chilling verse in the Gospel where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” Matthew 7:21. Every time I read this verse I wonder, “Who are the people who call Jesus ‘Lord’ yet don’t get into Heaven?” Well maybe they’re the people who’ve created an alternative “Jesus” who values what they value, tolerates what they tolerate, and cares about what they care about.

Here’s the rub: If you’re worshipping a “Jesus” who you can control, then you’re worshipping an idol. Jesus said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” John 4:23. To worship Jesus in “spirit and truth” our worship must be informed, not by the non-biblical things we think we know about Jesus, but by the Word of God.

Now I know, the Jesus of the Bible isn’t a tame Jesus. He disrupts our lives, opposes our personal opinions and preferences, demands holiness, gets in the way of the pursuit of happiness, and expects us to do uncomfortable things. Let’s be honest, the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t line up with our preferred version of Him.

Little wonder that people say, “I respect Jesus, but don’t agree with everything in the Bible.” For in their heart of hearts they know they can’t do things their way if they love the Jesus of the Bible.

So which Jesus do you worship. Is it a “Jesus” shaped by your imagination or is it the Jesus of the Bible? If it’s the latter, then that’s only true if you’re reading the Bible. There is no other way. You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t read the Bible!

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Why We Should Read The Bible

The story is told about a youngster who found a Bible on the bookshelf. “What’s this dusty book Mom?” he asked. “That’s God’s book,” said his Mom. “Well why don’t we send it back to God? We don’t use it here, do we?” asked the boy.

The story raises an important question, why read the Bible? Of all the great books that we could read, why should we read God’s book? Here are 5 reasons why:

The first and most important reason why we should read the Bible is because it’s a God-given window through which we get the best view of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27). And why is it important to check out Jesus? Because He claims He’s “the way and the truth and the life” John 14:6. That’s a mind staggering and potentially life altering declaration. If it’s true that no one comes to God except through Him, that Jesus personifies truth and is the source of our existence, then it’s a claim that has to be reckoned with. What Jesus said cannot be ignored or dismissed out of hand. So we should read the Bible to consider His claim on our lives.

Hands of a person raised together in prayer with bibleThe second reason why we should read the Bible is to see how God sees us. Most Westerners, due to Existentialism, view life as meaningless, apart from the meaning they choose to give it. But that’s not how God views us. The Bible indicates how God places a high value on every life of every person. We are loved by God and created for a purpose. When we read the Bible it soon becomes clear that it’s a love letter from the Creator to His creation. As God says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11.

The third reason why we should read the Bible is for our deepest needs to be met. Most of us (Nihilists are the exception) want to know why we exist. Is there meaning and a reason for my life? The Bible, by virtue of its content, is the book of life. It reveals God’s meaning and reason for our lives and how we can possess and enjoy fullness of life (cf. John 10:10). Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” John 6:63. Did you hear that? The Bible is “full of … life.” Even if the other reasons for reading the Bible didn’t exist, this should be reason enough to read it.

The fourth reason why we should read the Bible is for our health and growth. As I look back over the course of my life I can see how I’ve matured. Do you want to grow in wisdom? I’m thankful that I no longer think and act like a child or youth. And I’m thankful that since I started reading the Bible, the Scriptures have made me “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 3:15. My reality can be anyone’s reality. “For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” Psalm 107:9. So read the Bible because we were not meant to “live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

The final reason why we should read the Bible is so that we can learn how to love and accept love. The sad litany of many people’s lives is that they don’t find, receive or love others adequately. Or worse. Many people never encounter the love that surpasses knowledge and fills us with the fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3:19). The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). To know love, the real thing, we must be Bible engagers. That’s because the primary way to know Love is in and through reading His Word.

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible. But we’re not going to consider them now because good reasons need to be coupled with right actions. So let me ask, “Are you reading the Bible? I mean really reading it?” How you answer this question can make or break you. I don’t say that lightly. It would take a book to spell out all the benefits of Bible reading. So please understand why I close by urging you to truly get into God’s Word and discover the joy that comes from having the message of Christ dwell in you richly (cf. Colossians 3:16).

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Opening the Scriptures to Open Eyes

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Luke 24:45 (NIV).

They were trudging down the road, shoulders slumped and faces drawn, their distress evident for all to see. From their animated and heated discussion it was clear that they were trying to make sense of a recent tragedy. And then a man drew alongside them. Matching their pace he asked what they were talking about. They stopped walking … the burden of his question seemingly too much to bear. Unfazed by their unhappiness the man asked a question, and moving on they began to chat about the things that were heavy on their hearts.

The conversation that unfolded between the men on the road was about Jesus of Nazareth and the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of Him. What the men on the road didn’t realise was that the man who’d joined them and was now talking to them was Jesus Christ – the one who’d been crucified three days previously and the very one about whom they were speaking!

“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

The encounter on the road to Emmaus is revealing: It points to the tremendous value Jesus placed on the Scriptures and how, because they were central in His life, He wove them into His daily dialogue with people. The encounter also shows us that people need a fresh understanding of the Story in order to make sense of the issues they’re facing. Jesus opened the Scriptures and in so doing opened the eyes of the disciples.

Which raises a pertinent question: How will people come to know and understand the Story if we don’t share it with them? Conversations are needed … conversations seasoned with life words … conversations that explain what the Scriptures say about Jesus Christ … conversations that Jesus can use to open eyes to see Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement Renewal

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, started a schism in the Catholic Church when he sent a Theses (also nailed to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg) enclosed with a letter to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz. The Theses propositions disputed the power of indulgences and effectively started the Reformation and the branch of Christianity known as ProtestanBruenig_Lucas_Cranach_imgtism.

Luther’s dispute with the Catholic Church included a belief in the Bible alone (rather than with sacred tradition) as the highest authority in matters of faith and practice (sola scriptura). So for most Protestants, and a Bible engagement advocate like myself, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is hugely significant.

While much could be said about the doctrines of sola scriptura, prima scriptura (Anglican, Methodist, Wesleyan), or the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Catholic), the purpose of this article is rather about how we desperately need a Bible engagement renewal.

Despite all that’s been accomplished down through the centuries to stress the primacy of God’s Word in the faith and practice of the Church, there’s a significant lack of emphasis on Bible engagement in many churches. Something’s lost that needs to be found. And to find what’s been lost we must begin with lamenting the weak state of Bible reading, reflecting, receiving, remembering and responding.

Someone once said that we “need to let the Bible accuse us.” The trouble is we’re not connecting with it in a way that opens the door for the Bible to show us where we’ve gone astray, and we don’t give it room to help us return to the place where it gets to have its way with us (because Bible engagement is essentially Jesus engagement, this statement should also be understood as Jesus getting to have His way with us through His Word ).

Through the course of history God breaks into the affairs of humanity to renew and restore us to Himself. Five-hundred years on from the last great renewal in Bible engagement we need the Lord to bring us alive to His Word again. There are no shortcuts to a Bible engagement renewal (unless God chooses otherwise). The process of renewal usually requires the following:

  • Recognize the need for a Bible engagement renewal. “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6.
  • Pursue a Bible engagement renewal personally. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” Psalm 51:1.
  • Seek forgiveness for personal and communal sin. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” Psalm 51:10.
  • Promise to follow the Lord and engage His Word with all your heart and soul and mind (cf. 2 Kings 23:3).
  • Act on the Word. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22.

Now pray for a Bible engagement renewal; trusting God to usher in a much needed season of long term growth that will be marked by the strengthening of individuals and communities of faith as they connect with Jesus and His Story.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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A Bible Engagement Church

While there are many church congregations that believe the Bible informs our faith and practice, there are very few Bible engagement churches. That’s not to say that the Bible isn’t read or preached in most churches, it usually is. But it is to say that Bible engagement hasn’t permeated every facet of local church ministry.

So what are the earmarks of a Bible engagement church? Here are ten suggestions:

  1. A Bible engagement church is a church where everything is aligned with Scripture, submitted to Scripture, and seen to be subservient to Scripture; in as much as when the Bible speaks, God speaks.
  2. A Bible engagement church models the priority of Bible engagement. The Bible is opened in the business meetings to inform the decision-making process, finances are disbursed according to the principles in God’s Word, weekly small groups study the Scriptures, and the church website, social media, bulletins, newsletters and PowerPoint announcements advocate for Bible engagement.
  3. A Bible engagement church is evidenced by the fact that everyone in the congregation knows that Bible engagement is a high priority. Ask an individual in a church what’s special about their church and if one of their top three answers is, “We value God’s Word,” then it’s possibly a Bible engagement church.
  4. A Bible engagement church fosters meaningful congregational participation and interaction with the Scriptures. It’s a disaster when, functionally speaking, a congregation thinks or acts as if Bible engagement is something reserved for the pastor, experts or professionals.
  5. A Bible engagement church is a community of faith where people line up their lives with the Word. In other words, they’re living epistles. On a 24/7 basis they’re striving (as the Holy Spirit empowers) to say and do what the Scriptures say they should say and do.
  6. A Bible engagement church intentionally integrates God’s Word into every aspect of the Sunday service. The Scriptures are read regularly and well, the content of the songs/hymns are biblically and theologically sound, the prayers are fueled by the Word, and the sermons consistently remind and reinforce the importance of connecting with the Word in order to connect with the One who is the Word.
  7. A Bible engagement church equips and teaches children, youth, adults and seniors how to engage with the Bible. Every person (all age groups) in the church has a Bible and a daily Bible reading guide. Bible engagement resources, curriculum and tools are incorporated and injected into every ministry, program or event in the church.
  8. A Bible engagement church incorporates the Scriptures fully into the discipleship and evangelism strategy of the church. Members of the congregation are taught how to personally listen, read, pray, interpret, contemplate, study, imagine, memorize, journal, apply and share God’s Word.
  9. A Bible engagement church has a pastor who preaches sermons that are Word-soaked, Spirit-inspired, and Christ-centred. The pastor finds ways to demonstrate that the Scripture text(s) for the sermon are more important than what will be said about the text(s). The preaching also takes seriously the oral and narrative nature of the Bible and incorporates sizeable readings of the Scripture.
  10. All told, a Bible engagement church makes Bible engagement central to the life of the church so that people live it out as part and parcel of everything they do together. A Bible engagement church is therefore one where the congregation have learnt how to let the Bible move; to be our voice in all the discussions we engage in, to be the main point in our preaching and teaching, to be the truth that we build our lives on, and to be the window through which we see Jesus.

Have your say. Is there something you’d add or subtract?

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement in Small Groups

Getting together with a micro-community of believers to read/hear God’s Word is an effective way to get to know God and understand how to live in a vibrant relationship with Him. Here are ten ways to strengthen Bible engagement in small groups:

Bathe everything in prayer. Pray before, after and during the time spent together. When you begin, pray something like, “God we’re going to be reading your Word. Help us to engage it actively, but also to listen attentively. You are the Teacher and we’re your students. Please convict, guide and transform us. Amen.” For the duration of the gathering be prepared to stop the dialogue to pray the Scriptures into personal needs or situations. When you close, pray something like, “Thank you Lord for the way we’ve met you in and through your Word. Help us apply your Word in everything we say and do. For your honour and glory. Amen.

Get to know each other. Create time and space for building relationships. Strong relationships are needed for heartfelt/meaningful dialogue. Foster an environment that’s friendly, respectful, and builds trust. Look for practical ways to love, encourage, and celebrate life together.

Read the Bible in multi-sensory ways. Be creative and three-dimensional, i.e., move beyond the printed page. For example, when reading about the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Communion in 1 Corinthians 11, have a fresh loaf baking in a bread maker so that the smell pervades the air. When you finish reading the passage, eat the bread while discussing the text.

Teach public reading of Scripture. When we read the Bible together we should aim to read it well. Some basic instruction will help people read more confidently and meaningfully. For more information check out the Bible Engagement Blog post, Reading the Bible Publicly.

Don’t reduce the Bible to a sourcebook for finding the right answers. The purpose of a small group Bible study should never be ‘knowledge about the Bible’. Bible knowledge isn’t an end in itself, nor is it a means to an end. The aim isn’t right answers, it’s knowing the One who is the answer. Interact with God’s Story in ways that our stories (as individuals and as a group) are formed and transformed by His Story.

Use open-ended questions. Allowing the formulation of any answer, rather than a selection from a set of predetermined possible answers, will help people press into God’s Word. Ask questions like, “What stood out for you?”, “Did it raise any questions for you?”, “Do you see the Father, Son or Holy Spirit in the text?”, or “Why is this in the Bible?” As a discussion progresses, direct people back into the Word. Ask, “Where do you see that in Scripture?”, or “Is there something in the text that informed your perspective?”

Make the main thing the main thing. Spend more time reading the Bible than reading books, commentaries, curriculum, or study guides about the Bible. It’s not a Bible study if the main thing is reading someone’s book about the Bible, listening to someone preach/teach on a topic from the Bible, or watching a video series about the Bible! God’s Word, read/heard, should be the primary text/content, and the Holy Spirit should be the ultimate teacher.

Discuss the uncomfortable/difficult passages. Be prepared to struggle with the ‘hard’ Scriptures, even when you don’t find satisfactory explanations. Wrestle with different points of view in a respectful and mature way.

Aim to read/hear the Scripture through the voices/ears of the whole group. Recognise how your own view of Scripture is limited, and that the fullness of Bible reading comes into its own when God speaks through different people.

Listen beyond your traditional theological grid. Allow God’s Word to challenge your presuppositions. Be humble. Be aware of the limitations of your insight and understanding. Be open to how God works mysteriously and powerfully, in and through His Word, to redeem and restore your life, and the lives of everyone in the group.

Using different methodologies may also be helpful. Try implementing one of these strategies:

The “Book Club” approach. Ask group members to read a whole book of the Bible prior to getting together, or read a big chunk when you are together (an entire story). Then open it up for dialogue. Discuss the writers intent, themes, plot, characters, what people liked or didn’t like, and so on.

The “Visual Arts” approach. Read a portion of Scripture, then view art forms (from different cultures and centuries) such as ceramics, drawings, paintings, sculptures, stained glass, wood carvings, and such, that illustrate the text. Discuss the artists context, how s/he interprets the biblical narrative/event, and how it may or may not be true to the text.

What would you add? Share your tips for strengthening Bible engagement in small groups.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Teaching Principles

The way we learn varies from person to person. There are 7 styles of learning: visual (spatial, using pictures and colour), aural (auditory, musical), verbal (linguistic, word-based techniques), physical (kinesthetic, using sensations or role playing), logical (mathematical, using reasoning), social (interpersonal, in groups), and solitary (intrapersonal, working alone, self study). Most of us incorporate a mix of these learning styles and rarely fit in only one category. My predominate learning style is intrapersonal, but I sometimes need an interpersonal learning strategy to help me reflect on and critique my understanding. I’m also very dependent on logical systematic thinking and word based techniques.

Because we’re all different in the way we learn it stands to reason that when we teach the Bible we should do so in ways that facilitate different learning styles. So with this in mind here are 12 creative Bible teaching principles:

  1. The Paul and Timothy principle. Learning is strengthened when it’s under the guidance of a Christian mentor (cf. Philippians 4:9). Some biblical examples include Jethro guiding Moses (cf. Exodus 18), Priscilla and Aquila explained the way of God more adequately to Apollos (cf. Acts 18:26), Paul teaching Timothy sound doctrine and practical faith (cf. 2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2, 3;10, 14), older women training younger women (cf. Titus 2:4), and the ultimate example of Jesus investing 3 years into the spiritual development of the disciples.
  2. The yacking principle. Some people love to chat. Bible teaching is strengthened when people are given occasions to verbalize their thoughts and discuss what they’re learning.
  3. The theme park principle. Memorable learning experiences help to etch God’s Word on our hearts and minds. Working in a soup kitchen is a more powerful learning experience than reading about the poor. According to Edgar Dale the least to most effective teaching methods are: verbal activities, visual symbols, simulated experiences and direct experiences.
  4. The Sherlock Holmes principle. Some people are more motivated to learn when the answers aren’t obvious. Simplistic yes/no questions should be avoided. Jesus, the master teacher, used parables with hidden meanings. When we teach the Scriptures we should interact with the mystery and suspense that’s ingrained in the Story.
  5. The sticky principle. The only Bible learning that really sticks is that which is Spirit informed (cf. John 14:26). Human teaching must be subject to and guided by the Teacher (the Holy Spirit) because only He can ultimately inform, transform and conform the learner to His Word.
  6. The Sandals Beach Resort principle. An environment that’s comfortable is usually more conducive for learning than one that isn’t. On a purely practical level the Bible is best taught in settings where there are suitable lights, furnishings, an ideal temperature and the distractions are eliminated.
  7. The action-attitude principle. We believe what we do more than do what we believe. Christibible-teaching-button-300x169an education professor John Westerhoff says, “If we want people to be able to accept or reject the Christian faith, we have to turn our attention and emphasis from teaching about Christianity to offering within the church experiences which demonstrate our faith.”
  8. The concrete principle. Organized, rationale, logical thinking should be the underlying foundation for all teaching. Learning that requires abstract, hypothetical, or philosophical thinking should be built on concrete foundations.
  9. The show and tell principle. My wife, when she was a full-time kindergarten teacher, scheduled a weekly show and tell. It gave each child an opportunity to show and tell the other children about something that was special or important. Show and tell shouldn’t be restricted to children. Facilitating creative space for all age groups enhances the learning experience.
  10. The Google principle. The ability to search the internet for facts, answers, opinions and such enables us to take ownership of what we learn and when we learn it. Bible study is strengthened when there’s shared ownership of the process.
  11. The travelling supper principle. A variety of settings enriches the learning experience. I’ll never forget studying Acts 17:16-34 while sitting on the Acropolis rocks where the Areopagus would have been situated. And I’ll never forget Psalm 30:5 after singing it over and over again with a congregation of poor believers on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.
  12. The iTranslate principle. We learn new things better when we’re given a chance to put what we’re learning into our own words (e.g. Matthew 16:13-20).

 

Have your say. Share your Bible teaching principles.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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The Death of Reading

I recently read Philip Yancey’s article in The Washington Post titled “The death of reading is threatening the soul.” While Yancey’s article isn’t specifically focused on reading the Bible, it got me thinking about how the death of reading is having an adverse effect on Bible engagement.

Yancey’s premise is that reading books (“deep reading”) is dying out. He suggests this is due, in large part, to our brains being rewired by the internet to read only a paragraph or two (shallow reading).

In the book Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, Glenn Paauw promotes reading the Bible in “slower, smarter, deeper” ways as a prerequisite to reading the Bible adequately. I agree with Paauw. Our spiritual formation is significantly hampered if we’re not in the habit of concentrated reading of big chunks of the Bible. As I said in the book Bible Engagement Basics, “When Christians subsist on a diet of Scripture snacks, they’re not feeding on the Word! Bible reading is more than a catchphrase, more than a shortStudy-of-Death-300x208-lived inspirational text, and more than samplings of texts isolated from their historical, literary or cultural contexts.”

So if deep reading of the Bible is essential for spiritual formation, how do we do this when our brains may no longer be attuned to deep reading? Or to phrase the question differently, Is there a way to overcome shallow reading and develop deep reading skills?

The answer to the above questions is that we can all develop deep reading skills. But determination or discipline won’t get us there. According to Yancey who quotes Quartz, “willpower alone is not enough.” We need to build a “fortress of (new) habits” if we’re going to break free from shallow reading. And how are a “fortress of habits” that facilitate deep Bible reading developed? Here are some suggestions:

  • Claim God’s promises. You can develop deep reading skills because you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (cf. Philippians 4:13)
  • Ask God to renew your mind (cf. Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:23). If the internet can wire our brains to read one way (shallow reading) surely God can reprogram our brains to read another way (deep meditative reflective reading).
  • Change your lifestyle. Replace bad habits with good habits. We should make no provision for the flesh (cf. Romans 13:14). If you continue to spend most of your time on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and reading emails you’ll never develop deep reading skills because you’ll continue to get a dopamine rush (the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) from your shallow reading.
  • Ask mature Christians to help you (cf. Proverbs 15:22, 19:20, Galatians 6:2). Don’t try to battle this out by yourself. Invite instruction from Christians who have strong daily devotional Bible reading habits.
  • Spend time in prayer (cf. Mark 11:24).

Have your say. What would you add or subtract?

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Create a Banquet

Writing experts say that half the struggle is getting people to read what you write. They also say that a good title is everything. This may be true. When I saw The Hottest Thing at Church is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader, the title of a Christianity Today (April 2017) article, I was enticed to read it.

It’s a good read. It highlights the fact that the number 1 explanation for why Americans go to church is for “Sermons that teach about Scripture.”

That’s music to my ears! I firmly believe that reading, preaching and appreciating the Word (which is to appreciate the One of whom the Word speaks) should rank above every other reason for why we go to church.

Which reminds me of something a veteran Bible teacher and preacher recently said to me, “We should lay out a banquet for people to feast from when they come to church.” He’s absolutely right. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word should be spiritually tasty and filling.

Unfortunately pastors don’t always provide their congregations with a weekly banquet on God’s Word. Sometimes it’s only a snack and sometimes it’s just a morsel – certainly not enough to sustain or nourish a congregation.

Pastors, “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). That’s literal language. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not figurative. With every ounce of strength and passion, prayerfully and humbly, carefully and patiently, in the power of the Spirit – preach the Word! Exegete the text. Do everything possible to invite every person to enter into the Scriptures, engage the Scriptures, encounter the One of whom the Scriptures speak, and emulate the Scriptures in everything they say and do.

I still remember, about 30 years later, how one pastor told me that it only took him 3-4 hours to prepare his Sunday message. He was proud of this because it gave him more time to spend with his family … the implication being that it was good and right for him to make his family his highest priority. I’m still flabbergasted! A good message takes days of preparation, hours and hours of wrestling with the text, and even sleepless nights as the preacher seeks to reconcile himself with the text because he knows he can’t preach if the Scriptures don’t have ascendency in his own life.

In fact sermon preparation is somewhat similar to cooking. When my wife and I want to prepare a really nice meal for friends or family it takes us about two full days to do the planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, vacuuming and dusting (our house must first be clean before we can serve up a banquet), dish washing and drying. Similarly, when I prepare a sermon I know it requires planning, getting all the ingredients together, arranging and organizing, making sure my own house is in order before I tell others how to get their house in order, serving something sumptuous, and doing what needs to be done so that others will say, “Thanks, that was great!”

One more thing: I’m a nobody when it comes to cooking and I’m a nobody when it comes to preaching. But that’s okay. The Christianity Today article mentions how the Gallup poll also discovered that “people in the pews care far more about what’s being preached than who’s preaching it.” That’s good news for every ordinary pastor who is diligently feeding the congregation a Sunday banquet week in and week out.

It’s also a reminder that the preacher plays the supportive, not the main role. When I go to a restaurant and eat a good meal, the food itself, not the chef, is the focus of my gastronomic experience. Similarly, the texture, flavour and aroma of the Scriptures should be the focus of the preaching, not the preacher. And for this to happens the preacher’s main aim should be to preach the Word so that everyone can “taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Engaging the Bible Relationally

Many people engage with the Bible in order to know more. They study the Bible to learn about faith, God, morality and how to live their lives. Gaining information and growing in knowledge about the Bible is the desired end.

An informational approach to the Bible is largely borne out of the fact that we’ve been wired by educational institutions to gather facts, interpret events, and understand our world. But the Bible is not a text book and God never intended for us to treat it as one. That’s because the goal of Bible engagement is something far greater than elevating our knowledge or trying to understand the Word.

So what is the goal of Bible engagement?

Our primary motive for engaging the Bible should always be relationship. Specifically, the main reason for connecting with the Bible should be to elevate our worship, communion and love for God. Why? Because Bible engagement, while it involves us, is not ultimately about us. I’m guessing Rick Warren would agree. His mantra in The Purpose Driven Life is, “It’s not about you!”

Maybe one of the reasons why we approach the Bible informationally rather than relationally is because we’re inclined to look out for our own wellbeing. We study the Bible because we want help, healing, hope and so much more. And yes, God gives us these things, but only within the context of a reciprocating relationship. The trouble is, we sometimes get the cart before the horse, we major on the benefits of the relationship when we should be majoring on the fact that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …” James 1:17.

That’s not to say that engaging the Bible relationally is easy. It’s not. Bible engagement requires personal discipline and intentionality as well as wisdom and strength from God. In fact when we try to engage the Bible relationally, without the help of the Holy Spirit, we usually fail.

Here’s the rub: Knowledge about the Bible is important, but knowledge without an intimate and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, is hazardous. This is the point that Jesus was trying to make to the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-13). It’s a matter of first principles. We can’t find truth or know truth if we’re disconnected from the truth-giver.

Years ago, when I was a full-time pastor, I remember hearing a story about a dinner gathering that was attended by a well known orator. During the course of the meal he was asked to recite the 23rd Psalm. He eloquently recited the psalm and everyone was impressed. Then someone turned to the old pastor who was also there that night and asked him if he would recite the 23rd Psalm. As he recited the psalm it was obvious that his words came more from his heart than his lips. Instead of the people being impressed, they were moved. Of course we know what made the difference, the orator knew the words but the pastor knew the One who is the Word.

Do we know the One who is the Word? Effective healthy transformational Bible engagement fails or succeeds based on how we answer this question.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5