3 Steps to Understand the Bible Better

How do I understand the Bible? It’s a book that was written many years ago by people of a completely different culture. On top of that, the world has changed drastically. Just think of communication. During biblical times letters were carried by some type of animal or ship. The process was tedious and time-consuming. Today we can call, text, or have a face-to-face discussion via services such as Skype.
With all of these challenges, the question seems to change from, ‘How did I understand the Bible?’ to ‘Can I understand the Bible?’. And rightly so! Rest assured, you can understand the Bible. God has revealed his love for us through his Scriptures. I want to share with you three steps to help you understand the Bible more.
You can understand the Bible…
From the beginning it is important that you understand this is a journey. After reading this, you will still have more to learn. I have been reading the Bible since I was fourteen, and even after all this time I am still learning. It is one of the amazing truths about God’s Word. It is an inexhaustible mine of spiritual gems, all waiting to be gathered and taken into our hearts.
These steps are in no order of importance, although I do believe them to be foundational to our overall understanding of the Bible. So grab your Bible, and let’s dive in!
Step One: Understand the world in which it was written.
 
I cannot stress this one enough. There is an abundance of bad commentaries, sermons, devotionals, and Christian-mindsets as a result of simply not understanding the world in which the Bible was written.
Let me give you one example. The world of the Bible was predominately a patriarchal society. (You can check out the Christians for Biblical Equality for a fair treatment on the topic of the patriarchal world.) When reading through the Old Testament, particularly, one can be amazed at the treatment of women. Granted, the laws and rules laid out in the Torah were extraordinarily better than surrounding nations. (Rob Bell book reference) Still, it is helpful to understand that women were seen as less than man, to put it nicely. So when reading through a passage about the selling of a daughter, one is able to understand that the world in which those books were written had a much lower view of women than many cultures do today.
Or how about another one. The Bible constantly uses the shepherd as a picture of God’s dealings with humanity (for a few references, check out: Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 78:52; John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; and 1 Peter 2:25). But why? I mean, I have never met a shepherd.patrick-schneider-213969
Now, understanding the world of the Old and New Testaments, we see how important shepherds were. They helped raise animals that would have provided milk, materials for clothing, and food. Of course, there were also the sacrifices! So they were vitally important to the biblical writers. It was an easy way for God to point to something they knew well to picture his desire to be with and take care of them.
Without at least a basic knowledge of this, the imagery may be lost. There are other variants to consider, but this is more of an overview.
Step Two: Get an idea of what the meaning looks like today.
Once you have an idea of what is going on, then begin to visualize how that looks today. This step is a little more difficult, because while some resources are out there for this (devotional commentaries seem to be the best for this step), there are often few that convey the meaning in today’s terms. For example, Ephesians 5:22-28 address the husband and wife relationship within a first century, Roman household. (For a more thorough treatment of this passage, see Rachel Held Evan‘s help overview of various literature.) With that understanding, it is helpful to realize the relationship of headship of the husband over the wife was customary. Paul’s key point, however, is mutual submission, which he uses to begin the entire passage. Taking this understanding, then, we can begin to see that for today, in which an equality exists between husbands and wives, the idea of mutual submission is the focus.
Step Three: Make a personal application to your own life.
This is where reading Scripture begins to be awesome. Because this is where Scripture meets your life.
When Scripture teaches either a direct point (see Hebrews 3:1 in which we are commanded to consider Jesus), indirect point (such as are found in narratives, see 1 Samuel 15:22-23), or simply a story in which no apparent point is made (see the graphic events in Judges chapter 19), the whole purpose of it is to apply to your life (see 2 Peter 1:3).
The whole purpose of Scripture is to apply to your life.
Once we get to this point, it is time to get personal. What do I mean? I mean that when you come across Scripture, it is time to figure out how it can apply to your life. Perhaps an example would prove helpful. Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.” (NAB) This will look different for each one of us. For me, however, it might look like this: in order to be happy (which includes a spiritual sense) I must avoid the company of bad people. Oh, in case you were wondering, this isn’t speaking about just being around people. Paul covers that in 1 Corinthians 5:11. The picture is the gate of a city, where government and social outings occurred. This is an intimate gathering, not simply an association. My application would be: I must consciously avoid building intimate relationships with people who are actively opposing God. I may take it a step further and say that I need to avoid a certain coffee shop where I am tempted to be around such individuals. But I think that gives you the gist of it.
Wrapping it Up
These steps will take time and effort. It is worth it! Push past the steps that may not suit your particularly personality and gifts. Personally, I love the first step and struggle with the second and third steps. What do you struggle with? How can I help you?
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How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

Ministry Downloads: A Great Ministry Resource

I have recently read Terrace Crawford’s #Going Social, which I reviewed in a previous post.

In a follow up to that, Terrace has just unveiled his newest help, Ministry Downloads.

Ministry Downloads Image

Go ahead and check them out!

Here are a few people who will benefit from this: Senior Pastors, Student Ministers, children’s workers, and even small group leaders!

The amount of help on this site is incredible. One of the neat aspects of this hub is that people can contribute to it! Have you ever taught a series and it was spectacular, but you weren’t sure how to share it? Well, Terrace handles that problem for you. In fact, you can actually profit from your work. Head over to their website for the details on that.

Also, if you have some cash to spare, go get Terrace’s book. Even if you are familiar with social media, you can always learn some new tools for your life and ministry.

God bless!

 

Mother’s Day: The Best Mother

Where would we be without mothers? As a man and a father, I can say that on this side of eternity I will never truly understand everything they do. My own mother as well as my wife cause me to stagger in unbelief at the amount of work they accomplish, the love they shower on the family, and the countless hours spent worrying and caring for us.

Scripture, the Tanakh and the New Testament, was written during the patriarchal period. I doubt many people would argue with the fact that women were treated unequally, to say the least. However, several prominent women stand out as incredible women of virtue. Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, and Abigail, all women of wonderful faith.

But one sticks out to me: Mary. I was raised in a independent, fundamental baptist church. In order to keep from ‘compromising’ they put Mary on the back shelf, in order to not appear to ‘worship’ her, as they accused Roman Catholics of doing (which is absolutely absurd, but let’s stay on task). So I never really thought about her, other than that she gave birth to Messiah.

Mary stands out as the preeminent mother in Scripture.

But when I really began to look at Mary, I was overwhelmed at her simple faith and trust-informed action. I wish to spend the next few moments with you looking at Mary and hopefully encourage our mothers (my own mother and my wife stand as examples of this as well).

Simple Faith

One of the first aspects of Mary’s life that draws me to mirror her life. This poor girl, unknown to the world of first century Israel, became the mother of God, the theotokos. This betrothed young lady is visited by Gabriel, an angel.

Let that sit in just for a moment. Just meditate on the fact that this simple lady, waiting to join Joseph, has Gabriel (consider his history in Israel, that was an incredible honor!) come and declare a wonderful announcement: she would bear the Messiah.

After being told she would bear Jesus, her saintly reply was, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Can you imagine that simple faith? Even when she asked how it would be possible, she was not asking from a position of doubt but of curiosity of means. What simple faith!

Contrast that with our own lack of belief. When God says that he will never leave us, our reply: Why are you so far off God? When God said that he desires to be with us every day, our reply: Only when it is convenient for me, God. But Mary? Her reply: whatever you say Lord! That is the essence of simple faith.

After being told that her Son would die and she would experience a pain compared to a sword piercing her heart, Mary simply believed. That is simple faith.

Another act of simple faith (and should we say profound faith?) is her interactions with Simeon. During a prophetic utterance, he mentions something terrible, “…and you yourself a sword will pierce…” (Luke 2:34). This, of course, is a reference to the horrific torture and death her Son would endure and the pain a mother would be overwhelm with at the thought and eventual sight of it. Now, as a father, I cannot grasp this. How could a parent cope with such an utterance?aaron-burden-21616

How can Mary, after being told such a thing, have simply “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”? (Luke 2:19) Again, this is the essence of simple faith. What a challenge to us! If God were to tell me of some horrific death one of my children were to undergo, I confess that my faith is weak and that I would struggle. I would take them and flee for protection. But not Mary. Mary trusts in God, that God would protect them. This is such a challenge to me, and as a mother she is an incredible example.

Trust-Informed Action

Trust-informed action? What in the world? Let me break this down and then we can look at this in the life of Mary. Action is our efforts in accomplishing a task. For instance, if I want to build a bookshelf I set up plans, procure the materials, and then begin the work. Now, it would be foolish if I were to just grab some two-by-fours and start building. My action would be building, my truth-informed aspect is that planning and procuring part.

Mary’s life was trust-informed. She knew the Scriptures. If one was to compare her song (Luke 1:46-55) with that of some of the songs in the Tanakh (see Exodus 15:1-21, for example) one would see how close they are. Though Scripture is silent to this, I imagine she would think of the many Psalms that speak of the Messiah as her Son grew up. Whether she learned this through Synagogue or attending Temple doesn’t matter, the fact is Mary’s faith was informed by Scripture.

Mary’s actions were informed by the sweet Scriptures.

But it did not stop in her head.  She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And then she spent her life raising her Son, the Messiah.

Do our lives reflect this? Do we know the Scriptures like Mary, and do we follow through with it?

Mary’s life as a mother is incredible. My wife and mother are incredible. Happy Mother’s Day, and may we all be more like Mary!

How can I journal my prayers?: The Warm-Up

What is prayer journaling? What is involved? How does it look? What do I do?
Perhaps you find yourself asking these questions. And these are good questions to ask. In fact, when my wife first recommended journaling my prayers I had no idea where to begin. So I set out to find out how! I read different blogs, a few books, and a couple of articles on the web. What I came to find out is that there is no one set way to prayer journal.
At first this disappointed me. I am of a practical nature, and when someone informs me of something that will help I really want a step-by-step list of things to do. So when I saw a variety of ways to engage in prayer journaling, I was not thrilled, to say the least.
However, after spending some time searching for the way that called to me, I found that writing it out in a typical journal format was the best. Since then I have toyed with a few other ways, but I always return to, what I call, the traditional way.
To begin with, let me suggest a few things. If you are interested in prayer journaling, it might be helpful to do the following (this is not exhaustive or a list to be completed in any particular order, so if you are like me, I’m sorry!):
  • Do some soul searching:What makes you you? What causes you joy, sadness? Why do you get out of bed every morning (or evening, if you work overnight)? Some practical suggestions are taking a personality profile. Here is a website that offers a fun, basic personality profile. Spend time, and I mean thorough time, learning about you. When you begin to learn about yourself, how you react and interact, then you can begin to narrow down what type of journaling in which you may be inclined to engage. For example, I am introverted. When I am around a lot of people I get exhausted! I like to think, to contemplate. I enjoy crafting a thought and then writing it down in a journal. The same applies to my prayers. I spend time thinking of what I am going to say to God.

    What makes you you? Finding you is a great place to start on your prayer journaling journey.

    For others who are artistically gifted, art may be the avenue in which they pray. If they need strength for a difficult time, painting a picture of a field with a rock while meditating and praying to the God who is their rock may prove to be helpful. The bottom line is to find out who you are and then proceed to the type of journaling. I’d also recommend taking an Emotional Quotient test and a multiple intelligence test.

  • Find out what method is better suited for you:When you are looking for a certain prayer journaling method, it is important to find one that is best suited to you. I’ve already mentioned discovering the youness of you, so that should be a factor. With that being said, people are at different stages of life. A college student can do things that a married mom with four kids and a job cannot. A stay-at-home dad may be able to spend more time engaged in his method, while the executive wife has little time. So, what stage of life are you at? What is the freest part of your day? Do you have access to a physical journal? Will you use electronic means?
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    Will you use a traditional journal? A laptop? Or a canvas? The possibilities are boundless.

    Do you have the ability to write? Or do you prefer painting? Not only should the specifics of the journal and the means of journaling come into examination, but also the time. What does your life best equip you for? Does your career demand work regardless of time? Do you maintain a 9-5 job? Learning the best time to journal is as important as journaling itself. Being consistent is the key to helping you in your walk as well as deepening your perception of God.

  • In the initial stages, utilize several different methods for certain periods of time:Begin by finding two or three methods. Research them, explore them, read about how different people do different things. And then set up a time to try them out. Be realistic here, because if you determine to use a certain method for a year you may never branch off and find anything new! Perhaps two weeks would be a good place to start. After you understand the basics of the method, then begin practicing that for two weeks. Avoid the temptation to jump back and forth. Stick with one long enough to where you can work out your own kinks and also get an honest evaluation. If at the end of that period you don’t like any of them, find some new ones!
  • When you truly start, go all in:Once you have found your method, go all in! The time to play it safe is over. It’s the third period (that is a hockey reference, in case you did not know!) with a minute left of play and your chance to bag the game and head home in victory. Now, does this mean that you determine to spend seven hours a day journaling your prayers to God? Well, probably not. Of course you may have that free time, in which case, more power to you! But if you are like the average individual, your time is limited. Once you find your method, that extension of you, then go all in! For example, I love the traditional way of journaling. I’ll share the practical aspects of that soon, but one of the elements I love about journaling is its artistic nature. I love calligraphy, I love drawing.
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    I love felt-tip pens. There is something aesthetically pleasing when writing with one.

    I love the old world: leather-bound books, verbose works, and beautiful handwriting. So I use a leather-bound journal, I have a felt-tip pen (thanks Mrs. Burnside!), and I love crafting the beauty of the written language as I create a prayer to God and an extension of myself. If drawing your prayers is your preference, then get quality materials for the art. Make it a beautiful extension of your soul to God’s.

Imagine the training required for a marathon. A lady trains for months, years, to take on that arduous task. Training, nutrition, proper sleep all play into the success or failure. In a similar way, the ground work for prayer journaling is more important. Our goal is to connect with God on an ever-increasing, intimate way. Like a crazy person, we could just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon. And like a crazy person we would fail. Just as a marathoner spends time in preparation, so you and I need to put in the work of learning who we are, what methods are appealing, how they look practically, and then when to run the marathon. Once you’ve reached this point, your prayer life will change.
What about you? What have you found helpful on your own journey in prayer journaling?

 

Why Should I journal my prayers? Benefits of Prayer Journaling 

Prayer Journaling, as I mentioned in a previous post, completely transformed my prayer life. But how? What are the benefits?

Certainly, prayer journaling is not for everyone. However, I (and others) have found it to be immensely helpful. Here is a small sampling of the benefits I personally found. I’d love to hear yours! Please comment below!

  • It helped with my consistency.

    I am somewhat disciplined. I have consistently worked out since I was eighteen. And when I say consistently, I mean consistently. One year I recorded the temperatures of the room in which I worked out. The high for that year was 118° and the low was 18°. I even woke up early on Christmas morning to get my workout in! With that being said, I struggled with prayer. But as I began to journal my prayers, I began to look forward to it more and more. There is something about writing a letter to God, focusing my thoughts into a meaningful conversation with him. And the desire increased the more I journaled.
  • It helped with my actual prayers.

    A fellow blogger mentioned that journaling helped her not be so repetitive. I couldn’t agree more! When I began prayer journaling, my prayers became more focused. No longer did “Father”, “Lord”, “please help so and so…”, fill my prayers. Now my prayers are focused. They are well-thought out. They are precise. And I love it.

    My prayers are precise. And I love it.

  • It helped with my closeness with God.

    I don’t know if others have found this to be true, but there is, for me, a certain reverence when writing to God. I feel his presence, that calm, still, small voice, right there with me. It is always quiet, as I tend to wake up early to spend time with him.

  • It helps focus my thoughts.

    Sometimes my mind wanders! I know, surprise! This affliction besets us all, I am sure. But prayer journaling has relieved me of the stress and worry of, “What did I say last?” Instead, a brief look down at my journal is all it takes. I see where I last left off, and pick it right up. It’s like a written bookmark of my soul as it is being poured out to God.

  • It provides encouragement for the future.aaron-burden-90144

    Whenever I look back at some of my older journals, I am always encouraged. My prayers become more focused overtime. My walk with God deepens, and I feel a closeness the longer I spend time with him. Whenever I remember a problem I faced, I return to that period in my journals. I am always excited. I saw God work in that time, and now, with that knowledge, I can look forward to what he has ahead.

I ask again, how has prayer journaling helped you? May God sweetly guide you on this journey!

How Journaling Transformed My Prayer Life

About five years ago my prayer life was changed. I mean radically changed. I’ve always read books about men and women who had thriving prayer lives. These wonderful people would report a closeness with God that, to be honest, baffled my belief. I began to ask, ‘How could I have that kind of prayer life?’

There were so many mornings I would get up early, before work, and try and pray. I would fall asleep, get distracted, or simply get involved in preparing for work that I would remember three hours into my shift that I had failed to pray. I was frustrated at my own lack of self-discipline and my weaknesses.

Then my lovely wife offered a simple suggestion that would transform my prayer life, ‘Why don’t you journal your prayers?’

How do you journal prayers? If you are of a crafty bent, check out Sparkles of Sunshine.

Journal my prayers? Journal? I admit, I was incredibly doubtful. I grew up in a church where long prayers were seen as spiritual prayers. Added to that the over usages of ‘God’, ‘Father God’, and ‘Lord’ and you had the right formula for a good prayer. But Journaling? How would that even work?

Regardless of my doubts, I went out and purchased a small journal. I am of an aesthetic bent, so I wanted a rustic, older

A journal and pencil. I use a pen, but this gives you an idea of what I use.

looking journal. It was a brown, faux leather journal of about 180 pages.

And then I started. It was weird at first. Instead of speaking verbally to God I was writing to God. What do I write? Is God going to read my prayers? In my mind, however, I was speaking to God. The pen and paper were simply a means to help focus my thoughts.

I cannot overestimate how helpful prayer Journaling has been.

Almost over morning (I pray in the mornings!) my prayer life changed. I was amazed! After years of being a Christian, years of failing, I had finally found a perfect avenue for speaking to our Father. The longer journal my prayers, the more beautiful it becomes.

What has helped your prayer life? Have you ever journaled your prayers? I’d love to hear about it!
Also, be on the look out for my thoughts on the benefits of prayer Journaling!

Brandon Adams replied with a great thought, “Journal entries become altars to God’s faithfulness in our lives.” In addition, Brandon has some great helps on prayer. Check him out!