JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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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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“All Ear”

A missionary working on Bible translation in Africa had difficulty finding a word in the local dialect for “obedience”. One day as the missionary was walking through a village his dog wandered off. When the missionary noticed the dog’s absence he whistled for it to come to him and, hearing the whistle, the dog rushed to his side. An elderly local who was sitting by the roadside was impressed by the dog’s obedience and exclaimed, “Mui adem delegau ge!” which literally translated means, “Dog yours, ear is only”. In other words, “Your dog is all ear”. This gave the translator the word he needed for obedience, i.e. “To be all ear”.

Some folk believe if they hear a good sermon or attend a Bible study it’s all they need to grow in maturity and please God. Wrong! It’s not enough to receive the Word – we must act on the Word! Any response to the Word other than unqualified obedience is inadequate. Hearing is not the same as doing. The bottom line: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22 (NIV).

Strictly speaking, Bible reading is not Bible engagement. While Bible reading is a necessary first step in Bible engagement, true Bible engagement hasn’t occurred until there is evidence of the Word being practically applied. The psalmist says, “Blessed are they . . . who walk according to the law of the Lord” (Psalm 119:1 NIV) and Jesus states that we are only his disciples if we keep on obeying His teachings (cf. John 8:31 and Luke 8:21).

Here’s an enigma: There are people who say they’ve made a profession of faith in Christ Jesus yet they don’t hunger and thirst for His Word. Are they Christians? The distinctive trait of the real Christian is someone who is daily living his/her life according to the Word. As the apostle says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” 1 John 2:3-6 (NIV).

To be all ear . . . We may hear the Word, read the Word or say we’ve placed our faith in the One who is the Word, but if we’re not authentically and consistently living the Word, we haven’t engaged the Word. Engagement and obedience go together. As Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” Matthew 7:21 (NIV).

[Based on “To Be All Ear”, Seize the Day: Meditations for the Year, 2002 by Lawson Murray]

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Family Faith Formation

Family matters! Here are several practical suggestions to help get the family into the Word:

  • Use versions of the Bible suitable for the grade level of each member of the family. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but some parents give their children the KJV, NRSV, RSV or NASB (versions using grade 11 language). A child should understand what he or she is reading. Consider giving children the NIrV, NCV, TEV or NLT (versions using grade 3-6 language), give teens the CEB or NKJV (versions using grade 8 language) and give young adults the ESV or NIV (versions using grade 10 language).
  • Utilize video, internet and other technology to augment and accentuate the stories of the Bible. About two thirds of 8-18 year olds own cell phones, iPods or MP3 players and about one third own laptops. In a multimedia society it’s essential for families to be able to interact with the Bible electronically. Use social media and other means to share, tweet, text or comment on a verse.
  • Have Scripture easily accessible around the home. Display favourite verses with cool prints. Hang up Scripture posters or write/paint a special text for a child or teen on the walls in their rooms.
  • Enjoy family devotionals after dinner every day. Get everyone involved. Be enthusiastic, authentic and creative. Act out scenes in the Bible with props and costumes, pull out instruments and worship, download YouTube videos, benefit from hearty theological debates, read Bible narratives dramatically with each characters ‘lines’ in the story read by different members of the family, etc.
  • Help children and teens pick out devotionals they like at a local Christian bookstore or online. For great age appropriate Bible reading guides check out  http://scriptureunion.ca/bible-guides
  • Pray and read the Bible with young children before they go to bed. There are excellent biblical books for young children available at http://scriptureunion.ca/books-for-children
  • Be seen to be reading and reflecting on the Bible. More is caught than taught! When we see other members of the family digging into the Word it encourages us to do likewise.

© Scripture Union 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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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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Revival

Revival is intimately linked to Bible engagement. The 19th Century Swiss Protestant theologian and church historian, Philip Schaff, wrote: “Every true progress in church history is conditioned by a new and deeper study of the Scriptures.” That is to say, every spiritual awakening has sprung from and been fuelled by God’s Word.

Revival is a breath of Heaven – a divine visitation bringing deep repentance, renewal and righteousness. Individuals, churches, communities and nations are in desperate need of revival. In a time of plenty we have so little. There’s no shortage of food and water, but spiritual emptiness, shallow enticements and energy sapping pursuits are robbing us of fullness of life.

We’re falling away from God. Someone once said, “As the church goes, so goes the nation.” Performance and program driven churches are generally the order of the day. Consumer motivated values inform what we do and why we do what we do. The majority of people attend church wanting to socialize and enjoy the entertainment. Prayer meetings are usually the poorest attended meetings in the church. Many Christians don’t read the Bible regularly and few live lives informed by a biblical worldview. As God said thousands of years ago: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me . . .” Isaiah 29:13 (NIV).

Revival is the need of the hour. The psalmist cries, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6 (NIV).  If we share the heart cry of the psalmist we need to know that one of the preparatory conditions for revival is “a new and deeper study of the Scriptures”. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the puritan revivals in the 17th century, the revival ministry of Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards and others in the 18th century, and the extraordinary awakenings in the 19th and 20th centuries were all marked by a return to the Word.

Revival changes everything. May a generation of Bible studying, Bible believing, Bible living men and women be raised up for the 21st century.

© Scripture Union Canada 2012