JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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J.I. Packer on Bible Engagement

J.I. Packer, the British-born Canadian theologian, is considered one of the most influential Evangelicals in North America. His most popular book, Knowing God, has been read by more than a million people and was listed 5th by Christianity Today on their list of “The Top Fifty Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.” Here are ten Bible engagement statements from Knowing God:

God has spoken to man, and the Bible is His Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation.

We must seek, in studying God, to be led by God. It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it.

Knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself.

Do we apply the authority of the Bible, and live by the Bible, whatever men may say against it, recognising that God’s Word cannot but be true, and that what God has said He certainly means, and will stand to? If not, we dishonour the Holy Spirit, who gave us the Bible.

The word which God addresses directly to us is an instrument, not only of government, but also of fellowship.

God sends His word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also calls us into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself.

The claim of the word of God upon us is absolute: the word is to be received, trusted, and obeyed, because it is the word of God the king … We are to believe and obey it, not only because He tells us to, but also, and primarily, because it is a true word.

What is a Christian? … He is a man who acknowledges and lives under the word of God … believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. His eyes are to the God of the Bible as his Father, and the Christ of the Bible as his Saviour. He will tell you … that the word of God has both convinced him of sin and assured him of forgiveness. His conscience … is captive to the word of God, and he aspires … to have his whole life brought into line with it.

The wise man reads the Bible as a book of life … as the book of the church … and as God’s personal letter to each of his spiritual children.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 1973.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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In Love With the Author

International Evangelist, Ken Terhoven, my late father-in-law, used to tell this story:

There was a young woman who bought a novel, read several pages, decided it was boring, threw it in a box and forgot all about it.

A year later she met a guy and fell madly in love. Some months into the relationship it was obvious they would get married.  It was just a matter of time. She was waiting for him to pop the question. He was looking for a ring.

She was constantly wondering when he’d do it. Would he get down on one knee? Where would they be? Would he do it privately or publicly? She was looking for clues, gearing herself for the big event. So on the night they were enjoying a wood oven pizza at their favourite Italian restaurant she gave him her full attention when he announced, “There’s something I want to tell you . . . I’m a published author.”

His announcement, though not what she expected, was a surprise. Why hadn’t he mentioned it before? This was important. Her mind was buzzing with questions: What genre of literature did he write? How many books? Who was the publisher? Where could she buy his book?

“I’m not much of an author”, he said sheepishly. “I’ve only written one book. A novel. It didn’t sell many copies.”

She sensed his pain, immediately understood why he hadn’t talked about it before. He’d obviously hoped for more – maybe dreamt about the book being the launch of a successful writing career.

“What’s it called?” she asked gently.

“Justice Spurned”, he replied.

She was gob-smacked! That was the title of the boring novel she’d thrown in a box. What should she do? Should she say something? She decided not to say anything . . .

Intrigued, she was eager to get home to resurrect the book. She found it in the box behind the shoes in her closet. Pulling on her nightdress she climbed into bed, turned on the bedside light and began to read. The first paragraph captivated her. After a few pages she was spellbound. Every word was devoured, every page sent shivers up her spine. Enthralled, she read right through the night. Finally, with the first rays of sunshine poking through the chink in the curtains, she finished the book, placing it on the side-table with a contented sigh. It was the best book she’d ever read!

So what changed? Why was the book boring the first time around but riveting on the rebound? It was the same book – the same words.

Of course we know what made the difference – know what changed. She was head over heels in love with the author.

Similarly, when we’re head over heels in love with Jesus, we’ll want to read His Word for all it’s worth!

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

 

 


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Get in the Game

If I read about football, listen to what people say about it, watch it on TV, remember the plays, learn the rules, spend hours on end thinking about the tactics, and share my views on football with others, I’m nothing more than a spectator. But if I’m sprinting downfield to receive a pass, I’m in the game.

Similarly, I can read the Word, hear the Word, study the Word, remember the Word, meditate on the Word, talk about it with others, and do it all as a spectator! Bible intake, in and of itself, is not the objective. I should read, hear, study, remember, meditate, and discuss the Scriptures for one end – to be in the game!

God wants us to be doers of the Word. The ultimate goal of Bible reading and reflection isn’t to learn the history of the Bible, to understand doctrine, to enjoy the stories, get our theology straight, or know everything there is to know. Bible engagement must include application. God gave us His Word to give us life and to change lives! “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22 (NIV).

God’s Word has been and always will be a call to action. To profit from it we must apply it. This requires faith. We have to trust God to give us the insight and means to practically relate it to our daily lives. Thankfully the Holy Spirit is not limited. He can and will show us what our practical response should be when we read/hear the Word with expectancy.

Some say it’s hard to apply the Word because it’s difficult to understand. But most of the time understanding isn’t the problem. The majority of the Scriptures are clear and straightforward. The problem’s internal – the sinful nature. As the Apostle Paul says, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” Romans 7:19 (NIV).

When evil is right there with us how do we stop doing the sinful things we don’t want to do and start doing what God wants us to do? By learning to think right. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2 (NIV).

Get in the game. Right thinking leads to right actions. To think and act right we must do the following:

  • Ask God for help. We can’t engage with the Word in our own strength. We need the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts – to enable us to understand, digest and apply truth.  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV).
  • Think deeply about the Word (cf. Psalm 119:15). There are no short-cuts. To be in the game we must be in strict training (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25). Meditating on the Word is the key to putting it into practice. When God told Joshua to “meditate on it day and night” it was “so that you may be careful to do everything written in it”. The promise, “then you will be prosperous and successful” would then be fulfilled (cf. Joshua 1:8).

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Preach the Word

I’ll never forget Warren Wiersbe’s intensity as he gripped my hand, stared at me through large horn rimmed glasses, and said, “Lawson, preach the Word!” When a veteran pastor, teacher, writer and theologian clearly and compellingly counsels a course of action, one does what one’s told to do! Even more so when one knows the directive is the same charge Paul solemnly gave to Timothy (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Preaching is a vital cog in the wheel of Bible engagement. To know the Word, people have to hear the Word. To hear the Word, someone has to proclaim the Word. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 (NIV).

In North America there are about 700,000 vocational pastors, chaplains, preachers, teachers, ministers and evangelists who kerrusso (Greek meaning to herald and proclaim divine truth) the Word. Through times of convenience and inconvenience, regardless of cost or response, God commissioned men and women have an awesome trust: to give their all to declare the message of the King!

Preaching is unique. It’s not a talk about spiritual matters. It’s taking a stand with God’s Word. It’s allowing God, by the Holy Spirit, to speak the Word through you. It requires conviction, love, patience and endurance. And it requires a kingdom perspective – preachers must never lose sight of the fact that it’s not our words, but His Word we proclaim.

When the divine agent works through the human conduit, variety and creativity abounds. Despite the fact that different preachers deliver the Word differently, everyone should aim to preach the Word so that it:

  • is Christ-centered
  • proclaims the Gospel
  • profiles the Trinity
  • exudes grace
  • demonstrates the Spirits power
  • connects with the big Story
  • exegetes the text
  • explains and interprets culture
  • contains sound doctrine
  • hooks in with the audience
  • highlights truth
  • honours the biblical context
  • challenges, warns and urges
  • is organized, clear and focused
  • is authentic, relevant and authoritative
  • encourages questions
  • engages imagination
  • helps listeners hear from God
  • trains in righteousness
  • equips for good works
  • declares the counsel of God
  • emphasizes faith and obedience
  • invites repentance
  • moves hearers to action
  • informs the mind, inclines the heart, guides the will
  • prompts discussion and application
  • forms and transforms people in Christ
  • sends people back to the Word

Pastors, preach the Word! Every time you step into the pulpit make the Word the main point, not the footnote, of your sermon. Your preaching methodology, delivery style and even your sense of humour – everything must serve one end – to explain and proclaim God’s Word. Why? Because when the Bible speaks, God speaks!

Much more could be said. What would you add or subtract from the comments above?

[Note: October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Thank your pastor for preaching the Word. 1 Timothy 5:17]

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Assimilate the Word

assimilate vb. to learn and understand thoroughly, to absorb, to incorporate, to be changed into another.

Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated by the Borg in late 2366. His assimilation allowed the Borg to acquire all of his knowledge and experience. Now I’m not a Star Trek fan like my wife, but I’m big on assimilation. Not what the Borg do. I’m into assimilating God’s Word.

Is God’s Word part of you? Are you consumed with longing for it? Is it embedded in your soul – undividable from who you are? We set our hearts on many things. Have you set your heart on being a man/woman of the Word?

To make God’s Word a part of who you are, you must read and reflect on it. There are no short cuts.  Reading and reflection require discipline – a regular routine of listening to the Scriptures, meditating on them and memorizing them. On a daily basis God’s Word must enter through your eyes or ears before it can be fixed in your mind.

Reading and reflection are the preliminary stages of assimilation. To go deeper you must be shaped and changed in the depths of your being. God’s Word must be absorbed into your DNA. Your mental knowledge of the Scriptures must be actualized. A metamorphosis has to take place. Information must transmute. What you know, you must become.

Becoming . . . God’s Word must lodge inside us and burst out through us! It should whisper in our spirit and trumpet through everything we say and do. It should be in our hearts, but also in our hands. In our minds, but also on our lips. In the privacy of our homes, but also in the public square. And, like the Borg Collective, it should continue multiplying through further assimilation!

© SU Canada 2013


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Opposition to Bible Engagement

Many Canadians reject the Bible because they distrust it. The reason why many Canadians distrust the Bible is because they do not believe in metanarratives*. Distrust in metanarratives has arguably done more to alienate people from the Bible than any other aspect associated with culture.

In an online survey inviting feedback on why people think the Bible is not relevant, some of the remarks were:  “The Bible is one gigantic anachronism”, “It’s a book – nothing more!”, “It cannot be accepted as a reliable document”, “It reflects a worldview out of date with scientific advances”, and “There is more than one holy book, more than one religion.” [Source: June/July 2009 online survey conducted by SGM Canada with 66 Canadian humanists, atheists and agnostics]

Coupled with the distrust that many Canadians have for the Bible is the popular notion that there are no absolutes and no objective or exclusive truth. There is also the view that reality is unknowable, language does not convey reality, and everything is therefore open to the interpretation and perspective of the individual. As a direct and indirect result of these ideas many Canadians have typically adopted pluralism and multiculturalism. The outcome of adopting pluralism and multiculturalism has been the elevation of tolerance as a prime social norm.

Distrust in metanarratives places popular culture in direct conflict with Christian faith. The clash is fiercest over the Christian belief that the Bible is truth (the belief that the Bible is truth because it agrees with God, who is absolute, and describes who He is – the Truth). Based on the conviction that the Bible is truth, Christians believe that the Bible is authoritative. This explains in part why, when Christians try to gain an audience for Bible engagement, they are labeled as intolerant, ignorant or arrogant.

How is the church responding to people who are alienated or in conflict with the Bible? Some elements of the church (Conservative Catholics, Conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) adopt a defensive attitude (isolate/insulate themselves) or go on the offensive by working hard to make the Bible available and accessible (mostly using approaches developed more than 50 years ago). Making the Bible available has not helped stem the decline in Bible engagement. Other elements of the church (Liberal Protestants and Liberal Catholics) are generally not concerned. They have little interest in functioning as conduits for Bible engagement and do next to nothing to promote the Bible or invite interaction with it. In practice they accommodate popular culture by favouring a broad humanism and acquiescing to the deconstruction of the Bible.

So is there any hope for Bible engagement? Yes! There are elements of the church (mainly Evangelicals) attempting to creatively re-imagine and critically re-form their faith and practice around what Marcus Borg describes as a “transformation-centered paradigm”.  Within this paradigm Christians are re-conceiving, articulating and embodying the Story in contextually meaningful ways. This includes efforts to restore the message of the Bible (e.g. SU Canada’s  theStory™), invitations to read the Bible as a narrative of faith (e.g. SU Canada’s free e-book – Taste and See: An Invitation to Read the Bible), re-imagining language and relationships (e.g. SGM Canada encourages the development of relationships and companionship as the primary catalyst for Bible engagement), and inviting people to participate and enter into conversations/dialogue with the narrative of the Story in communal and inclusive forums. Added to this is the understanding that our invitations to engage with the Bible will be fruitless if we attempt anything without grace, vulnerability and humility.

*Metanarratives are defined as narratives about narratives that give a totalizing, comprehensive account to various historical events, experiences, and social, cultural phenomena based upon the appeal to universal truth and values.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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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