Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

Read, Reflect, Respond


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Distractions and Diversions

What is the best English version of the Bible? That’s an important question, isn’t it? And the answer is the ________________ (fill in the blank).

Personally I don’t think preferences for one Bible version or another is that important! In fact it saddens me deeply that there are churches and Christians who will not associate with other churches and Christians because they don’t use the version they use. Shame on us! I find it hard to believe that God authorizes or favors one version of His Word over another.

Arguments about what may or may not be the best version of the Bible are distractions and diversions. Far more important than what Bible we may read is this: Are we meeting God in and through His Word? Are we entering into His Story and finding our part in the drama of salvation? And are we seeing His Word shape and mold us to be more like Him?

That’s not to say that all English versions are equal. All of them are translations from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. Because all English Bibles are translations, they have limitations. The reality is that even a so called “weak” translation may in parts be better than a “strong” translation. And more, let’s note that both “weak” and “strong” Bible translations, compared to other books, have usually been scrupulously researched, subjected to painstaking textual criticism, and assembled by outstanding scholars.

So what is the best English version of the Bible? The one that gets read! When we read the Bible, be it a “weak” or “strong” translation; let’s remember the Bible is more than words. God is not limited by one version or another. When we read the version in our hands the Holy Spirit can and will lead us to God, incarnate truth, and breathe life into us.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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When the Going Gets Tough

TOUGH goingSomeone recently said to me, “I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have to admit that my Bible reading’s dry – I’m getting nothing out of it. I’ve been reading the Bible for fifty years and for the past two years it’s been a grinding routine.” “I know”, I replied. “Sometimes it can be a tough slog. I’ve had times when it feels like there’s nothing fresh.” We chatted for some time . . .

So how do we turn it around when we’re struggling to meet with God through His Word? What do we do when our expectations of hearing God speaking through the Scriptures are at an all time low? Here are some suggestions:

  • Mix it up. Sometimes we get in a rut. We read the same version of the Bible over and over again. Why not try a different version or a paraphrase? There are more than 800 English versions to choose from!
  • Connect with others. Personal Bible reading and reflection must be balanced with communal reading and reflection. Why? Because two are better than one. When one falls down the other can help pick him/her up (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
  • Open up. The Bible is good news for our lives. Are we reading it as such? Let’s be careful not to tame the Word or reduce it to the scale of our own ideas. Before reading the Scriptures we should ask God to unlock our minds to His transforming power (cf. Romans 12:2).
  • Use a reading guide. Be alert to the insights that come through others. Yes I know the Holy Spirit is the Teacher and instructs us directly from the Word, but He also works through human teachers to unpack the meaning of a text, challenge our prejudices and expose our blind spots.
  • Linger longer. We’re more likely to encounter God when we slow down. Most of us live with the tyranny of the urgent, but not God! To meet on His turf we must “be still” (cf. Psalm 46:10), which in context means “Enough! Stop trying to have control over things!”
  • Focus. There’s a tendency to read the Bible almost exclusively to find out what to do. We should rather read it to find out who we are and who we ought to be. Interact with the Bible like you would with a mirror. Look into it and ask, “Who am I? Who do You want me to be?”
  • Live it. God’s Word has a claim on our lives – a purpose. We should be living epistles. The litmus test of Bible reading is whether or not we’ve acted on what we’ve discovered. Bible reading must translate into a response. Imitate Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8).

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Reading the Whole Story

How do you read the Bible? A little bit of this, a little bit of that? A verse here a verse there? Some folk slice and dice it – treat it like a piecemeal diet. What about you? Is your Bible reading just the bare necessities – a text with a blessed thought that’s easily digested in two-minutes?

Scripture should be read holistically. The Bible shouldn’t be reduced to a depository of spiritual truisms or selected nuggets we occasionally mine. When we read the Bible we must read texts in their contexts and stories within the framework of the grand Story. Why? Because the meaning of the texts and stories are accurately gleaned only when we read with a clear understanding of the larger context and themes of the books and Bible as a whole.

God speaks to us through His Word. When texts or stories are read in isolation they can be interpreted with meaning they were never meant to convey. God wants us to know truth. When we de-contextualize Scripture or read passages divorced from the overarching narrative we may miss out on what God is really saying. So let’s make sure we don’t short circuit the process of God speaking to us – let’s read the whole Story.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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New Year Resolutions

The beginning of a new year signals a new start. Many of us get freshly motivated to do better than we did the year before. Christians often think about how they can improve their Bible reading. The trouble is they tried that last year, and the year before, and when they hit Numbers their days were numbered! March comes and goes and our good intentions to read through the Bible are nothing more than a distant memory.

So what can we do this year so that our resolution to read the Bible doesn’t fizzle out? Here are three practical suggestions:

1. Get connected. Don’t go it alone. When we read the Bible in isolation we’re more likely to run out of steam. So invite your spouse, one or two friends, or a sibling to join you in 2013. Work together to set goals, figure out how you’ll be accountable, find times to chat about what you’re reading and spur each other along.

2. Be realistic. Sometimes we set ourselves unreachable goals. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s better to read shorter portions of Scripture that you ponder on than read lengthy sections that go in one ear and out the other. So read less and meditate more. And, most importantly, read only what you can absorb and apply.

3. Use resources. Bible reading coupled with reflection is the primary catalyst in the development of our spiritual health and growth. If you’re a newbie to Bible reading consider using the E100 Challenge to get an overview of the major themes of the Bible. If you’re a veteran Bible reader consider using one of Scripture Union’s Bible Reading Guides – Daily Bread, Encounter With God, Closer to God. You can also download the eDaily Devotions for free.

Now onward and upward with this year’s Bible reading resolution!

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Good News Bad News

In “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them” Ed Stetzer (Lifeway Research) surveyed 1,000 unchurched young adults about the issues of church and spirituality. The study revealed that young adults are more open to issues of Bible engagement than older generations.

The Lifeway research findings for younger unchurched Canadians are as follows:

– 51% say they would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked them

– 89% say they would be willing to talk to someone about Christian faith

– 32% would be willing to join a small group to study the Bible

While many un-churched young adults are prepared to study the Bible, they’re not too keen on the church:

– 41% believe the church is full of hypocrites

– 67% would not visit or join a church that does not welcome or affirm homosexual members

[Note: The main reason why younger un-churched Canadians won’t visit churches that don’t welcome homosexuals is because they consider it to be a justice issue. In contrast most churches view homosexuality as a moral/biblical issue]

In another recent study, Thom Rainer interviewed thousands of unchurched non-Christians and asked them what they really thought about Christians. One of Rainer’s seven key discoveries was that unchurched non-Christians would like to learn about the Bible from a Christian, but not in a church setting. Rainer cites someone who said, “The Bible really fascinates me, but I don’t want to go to a stuffy and legalistic church to learn about it. It would be nice if a Christian invited me to study the Bible in his home or at a place like Starbucks.” [Source: What Non-Christians Really Think About Christians]

The bottom line: Younger unchurched Canadians give thumbs up for Bible engagement and thumbs down for church engagement. That’s the good news bad news!

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Hemorrhaging Faith

According to Rick Hiemstra, Director of Research for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, young Canadian adults who have left the church by 25 years of age are unlikely to return.  Hiemstra’s comment is informed by the recent findings in Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to Church, a ground-breaking Canadian study of 2,049 young people between the ages of 18 and 34.

Other troubling revelations in the study include:

  • Two in three young adults who attended church weekly as a child don’t do so today
  • Three out of five young adults who stop attending church reject their Christian identity
  • More young adults checked out of church between grades 8 and 9 than between high school and post secondary education/careers

Why are most churched Canadian young adults leaving church? One of the significant findings of the study is the direct correlation between hemorrhaging faith and the spiritual disciplines of Christian parents. When mom and dad are seen by their children to read their Bibles, pray and go to church regularly, then the children will more than likely continue in the faith as adults. But when parents inconsistently or almost never read their Bibles, pray, or attend church, their children usually stop attending church just as soon as they can.

Parents, you are the most important spiritual influence in your children’s lives. Do your children see you regularly reading your Bible, praying and going to church? More is caught than taught. When you aren’t practicing basic spiritual disciplines your children ultimately view your Christian faith as inauthentic or hypocritical.

The study is a wake-up call. The disengagement and attrition of young adults from church and faith must be stopped. Something more than another book, purpose driven programs or parenting workshops is required. Sending our children to Christian schools or improving the youth ministry in local churches won’t make a huge difference. What’s needed is parents being spiritually responsible. We must do what we’re not doing. Regular Bible engagement and prayer coupled with faithful weekly church attendance should be normative for every Christian mom and dad.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Bible Reading and Polarization

Many Canadians don’t read the Bible. When asked why, a lot of people say they’re too busy and some say they have no interest in doing so. [Source: The 2009 National Bible Engagement Survey conducted by SGM Canada with 1259 people of all age groups in 18 cities in 9 provinces. The findings revealed that 58.8% of Canadians do not read the Bible]            

What lies behind the reasons people give for not reading the Bible? Polarization may be a contributing factor. Polarization is the term used to describe the gap between people who value faith and people who don’t. It is the current religious reality in Canada. It’s also a widening gulf – there are rising numbers of people who constitute an “ambivalent middle” as well as a growing core of people without faith (cf. Reginald Bibby, A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada).

From a Bible engagement perspective, polarization is a significant issue. Why? Because when people don’t value faith, they don’t read the Book that informs faith. When people don’t read the Bible, they’re not positioned to become part of it, i.e., to meet the One who wants to merge their stories with His Story.*

The problem of polarization raises a challenging question:  How is an invitation to read the Bible extended to people who don’t want to read it? For many years this question was a conundrum for the SU Canada staff. Then in 2011 we conceived the writing and publishing of an e-book that would be an invitation to read the Bible. This birthed Taste and See: An Invitation to Read the Bible.

When the author, Annabel Robinson, was nearly finished writing Taste and See, we found ourselves at an impasse. We realized the book wouldn’t serve its purpose if we didn’t find a way to connect the prospective reader with it. As we grappled with this problem we quickly realized we would have to make it available as a free e-book – our reasoning being that no one would pay for a book about a book they didn’t want to read! But making it a free e-book didn’t guarantee anything. Many good books don’t get read because they’re not marketed. Our friends at the Canadian Bible Society suggested a social media campaign. It was a great idea. As co-publishers of Taste and See the CBS developed a marketing strategy wherein we equipped people of faith with the means to tell their non-Bible reading friends and family about the book via Facebook, Twitter, etc.

What are your thoughts or comments concerning the problem of polarization? We’d appreciate hearing from you.

    Taste and See: An Invitation to Read the Bible

Published by SU Canada and the Canadian Bible Society
Available as a free download

*This statement is not meant to imply that Bible reading is the only way to come to faith in Christ. People come to faith in many different ways.  That said, faith isn’t faith unless it’s a biblically informed faith!

© Scripture Union Canada 2012


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Story

Story is integral to Bible engagement. Story, when used with a capitalized “S” delineates God’s Story as distinct from other stories. Story is the metanarrative, the immense Story of the Creator himself – about the One of whom the Scriptures speak and who entered our world as the Saviour, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from sin and death.

Story, when used as a term, is a summation of the narrative, saga, and drama of the Bible. It is more than an arrangement of facts, ideas, propositions, or a compilation of spiritual laws. Story describes God’s narrative – an account that is unified, immediate, multidimensional, relational, non-manipulative, unique and central to knowing truth and the One who is Truth. It is a spacious realm that we are invited to enter with imagination and faith, and once we have entered, to see ourselves as participants. Story invites us to actively engage it and get caught up in the saga by receiving it and reenacting it.

The meeting of our stories with God’s Story are not simple affairs. Encounters between people and God are complicated and convoluted. This is due, not to God, but to us. We have a tendency to confuse, digress and destroy. The problem is we are inclined to indwell an alternative story to the story God invites us to participate in. In our ignorance improvised scenarios are created, distorted roles developed, and conflicting dramas enacted.

True Bible engagement begins when we respond to the Great Storyteller (God) as He invites us to take the role intended for us. The roles are many and varied, including: listening, speaking, reading, studying, reciting, memorizing, interpreting, singing, preaching, receiving, and acting – both individually and communally. All our spiritual senses need to be engaged with the Story. We need to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8); open our eyes to it (cf. Psalm 119:18, 82); and open our ears to it – “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).

The point is this: When the Bible is reduced to a handbook for church dogma, a moral rule book, a depository of propositional truth, or a collection of wise sayings to guide people through life; it is easy for people to take it or leave it. But when the Bible is shared, in the power of the Spirit, as the Story which runs deeper than the world’s stories, it invites people to enter into a different world and see themselves in a different light, that is, to share God’s view of the world.

© Scripture Union Canada 2012

 


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Why Pastors Should Make Bible Engagement Their Priority

The single most beneficial thing pastors can do for their congregations is help them read and reflect on the Scriptures. Bible engagement is critical for spiritual health and growth. The primary catalyst for developing mature Christians is Bible reading coupled with reflection. In fact Scripture reflection has twice the power of any other spiritual discipline to advance people in their love for God and others.

Bible reading and reflection on the biblical text are two distinct spiritual disciplines. Pastor, if you’re preaching about the importance of Bible reading and provisioning members of your congregation with a Bible reading plan, you’re not doing enough. Don’t assume that Bible reading will result in reflection on Scripture. Reflection must be taught, modeled and facilitated. The best way to facilitate reflection on Scripture is to equip your congregation with resources designed for this purpose.

So what are the resources that help people actively reflect on God’s Word? Not devotional books. Books with illustrations or stories tied to a text are not designed to help people chew on and suck the sustenance out of the Scriptures. Some of the best resources for Scripture reflection are Scripture Union’s Bible reading guides. Scripture Union’s Bible reading guides are published quarterly, take the reader through the Old and New Testaments in 4-5 years, and are available for all ages. Uniquely, the reading guides are built on the Scripture Union Bible Reading Method™ – a methodology designed to help readers actively engage with the Scripture text, get caught up in it, receive it, and reenact it.

Bible reading, together with reflection on the Scriptures, results in strong Christians and healthy churches. According to the Reveal survey there are 25 significant catalysts that help people grow in Christian faith. Of these catalysts, reading and reflecting on Scripture outstrips the other catalysts by a 75 percentile. Pastor, if you could choose only one thing to help your congregation grow spiritually, reflection on Scripture should be your number one choice.

© Scripture Union Canada, 2012


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Through Jesus and For Jesus

Why do you read the Bible? People mainly read it for their personal needs. A 2009 Canadian case study on Bible reading revealed that people read “for guidance, knowledge and direction” (28.2%), “for help, reassurance and comfort” (26.4%), “for understanding, answers and perspective on life” (21.5%), or to know/learn about God/Jesus (20.2%).

Check out a church bulletin or website and it’s obvious that many Bible study, life or small group meetings are “me” focused. Studies harness the Scriptures to address felt needs. Marriage groups spotlight husband and wife relationships, youth groups tackle adolescent issues, parenting groups deal with child rearing, recovery groups target substance abuse, and so on. In many small groups the Bible is mainly a manual of divine instruction.

Is it possible to read, reflect on and even revere the Bible yet completely miss the point of what it’s all about? Some people can quote sections of the Bible, sometimes in its original languages, yet they don’t know faith in Jesus Christ. There are ministers who recite Scriptures from a lectionary, something they’ve done for decades, but they don’t know the One who is the Word. And some theologians reduce the Bible to nothing more than a reference book to uphold their theological perspectives.

I used to think we needed a Bible reading revival. My thinking has been amended. Bible reading per se is not what transforms our lives. Jesus transforms lives. What we need is a Jesus revival! That’s not to say that transformation can happen independently from God’s Word – far from it! But it is to say that we can be “Bible-believing” or “Word-centered” yet miss the point if we’re not “Christ-centred”.

While it’s true that God’s Word is our source of guidance, comfort and understanding, let’s make sure we don’t limit it to these ends. Ultimately God’s given us His Word to lead us to Christ. So let’s read the Bible to know Jesus and make Him known!

© Scripture Union Canada 2012