Bible Reading for the New Believer

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I had the opportunity to have a few conversations this weekend with some new Christians. I was reminded something that I believe we’ve all experienced at some point or another: not understanding the Bible. I know for many of us, when we finally start to get serious about our faith and begin to read the Bible it can be a daunting task. According to a 2011 survey, a mere 11% of Canadians who identify as Christians actually read the Bible daily… Instead of becoming like the majority who use their Bibles as shelf ornaments and flower presses, I suggested a few possibilities for these individuals who struggled with the Bible.

Firstly I would get a Bible Commentary. I’ve been using the Jon Courson Bible commentary and it’s great. His down to earth writing style and sense of humour is a refreshing break from most other commentaries that, well… don’t have that. What you get in this commentary is a three volume collection of chapter by chapter, book by book breakdown of what is going on as well as how everything ties into the big story. Additionally, you’ll have testimony sections where Courson describes how a certain Bible truth has personally affected him, he’s got quite the story. If nothing else, check out this guys powerful story here, in his sermon It’s Only a Test.  

Secondly (and possibly most importantly) find a mentor. We have blind spots. And guess what, they’re called blind spots for a reason: we can’t see them ourselves! That’s where mentors come in, they help us understand what we can’t see, and they push us towards what we didn’t know we could do. There’s plenty of reasons to get a mentor, if you’re not convinced that you need people in your life to sharpen you and coach you then watch this: Men and Mentors. When looking for a mentor, a good rule is to look for someone who is at least ten years older than you and way ahead of you in terms of the results that you’re looking for. There is something great that happens when we start to hang out with people that are far more advanced than we are: it stretches us. So as you go about starting to read the Bible, a mentor will help you to answer the questions you have as well as push you to do more. This is a very good thing. I know my own faith life sky rocketed after high school as I got involved in a new church and joined a three-month internship program. I was forced to read 3 chapters a day, one from the Old Testament, one from the new and one from the books of Wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes). This was incredibly simple and incredibly profound, and it would not be a stretch or a lie to say that this simple act changed my life.

Finally, get hungry for more.  You only get out of life what you put into it, the same could be said about the Bible in a sense. The Bible says that we should pursue whatever is good, honorable and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), this means going after what we know is good. Notice that it does not talk about feelings. The Christian life is not so much about feelings and emotions as much as it is about going after Truth no matter what. This being said,  there is always a next step to take, and if  you’ve found a mentor as I’ve suggested, they will surely point those out. A few of these would be connecting with your church, most churches have a basic training program for those new to the faith. Getting plugged into some sort of discipleship program is also a very good idea. Discipleship International is one of these discipleship programs that is excellent in equipping Christians as they begin their journey. They meet weekly and train people over the course of several years how to cultivate a healthy Christian lifestyle. What you would expect to learn after having gone through is how to read your Bible devotionally, how to pray, how to memorize the promises of God, knowing the core Christian doctrine as well as how to communicate your faith to others among many other things.

Finally a few other resources that you might want to check out…

Hopefully, this helps any who might be searching for that next step!

 

 

Promise Keepers Canada, 2016

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“Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.” – John Wesley 

I had the privilege of attending Promise Keepers Canada for their Winnipeg stop this past weekend. Essentially, what Promise keepers is is a mens conference aimed at empowering men to get off the sidelines and into the Christian game . I could rant on about how great the speakers where and how amazing the band was but I think instead I’ll show you this. Here’s a list of a few things I learnt this weekend.

 

God’s Grace, the get out of Jail free card. Mark Hughes

  1. No one is too far gone for God’s Grace, His arms are not too short that He can’t reach down to the lowest of the low.
  2. We must choose to put the past behind. Philippians 3:13
  3. Grace can be likened to power brakes, they won’t have much effect unless we first choose to apply them. Likewise, we need to acknowledge our need for Him and His grace will be sufficient to stop us in our tracks and get us back onto the correct road.

 

Recovering from failure: Samson and David. Nate Larkin

Nate Larkin has an incredible story, his testimony can be found on the I am second website. What Nate spoke on was how we as men can recover from our failures comparing the stories of Samson and David. Moral of the story: be like David not like Samson.

  1. Samson was a loner, David surrounded himself with a gang of desperado’s and giant killers. We were made for relationships, iron sharpens iron. Our relationships are the most important thing, good friends sustain us in tough times.
  2. David fell at home among family and friends while Samson fell in enemy territory.
  3. Samson was a man of Reflex, David was a man of reflection. In other words, Samson was mostly reactive to life, not really addressing how he felt. David on the other hand was honest with God and with the rest of Israel about where he was at emotionally and spiritually through the psalms.
  4. Jesus offers us a personal relationship but not a private relationship. “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This Christian walk is not to be done alone, we are given the church for a reason.

 

Christian Training Camp. Rick Reed

Unlike professional athletes, every single Christian is invited to training camp. This life is something to be taken seriously and given our every ounce of effort. (Hebrews 12:14-17) As an example of what not to do, Reed spoke about the life of Esau.

  1. Effort is Essential. Esau was sexually undisciplined, Spiritually shallow, and Short sighted (c.f. Gen. 25:29-34). Sadly, much like the average man today.
  2. The stakes are high. The results of this life have consequences far greater than we can imagine.
  3. Grace is available. Though we may be in a season of correction, we can be assured that God loves us and corrects for the very reason that he loves us.

Get in the game! John Vermilya

  1. As Christians, we are not asked to be all-stars, but we are called to get in the game.
  2. 2 kinds of people in this world: Wicked people and Jesus. We need Jesus…
  3. God’s plan is greater than my own. Whatever He says is probably a better idea than what I have in mind.
  4. The Christian life is simple, love God and neighbour with everything you have. Not just your emotions, with your time, money, abilities, relationships…

 

I knew Promise Keepers was a great event; but this year, having had the opportunity to sit in for the entire conference and take it all in, I was truly blessed. I would encourage any man to attend this conference, it could really be life changing. This is a great event with an even greater message that my bullet points may not have completely encapsulated… In other words, you should check it out for yourself!

 

 

So is Jesus a Conservative or a Liberal… Because I wanna be on His side!

The following is a paper I wrote for my Biblical Interpretations class at Providence University-College.

 

“In the words of Jesus: “Split off into groups, love your group as yourself and point fingers at all others; this is what it means to be a Christian… Not.” 

What would Christianity look like if people truly followed Jesus? This is really the question at hand. In our day and age there is this division between liberals and conservatives but rather than seeing who is right and who is wrong we need to start by asking ourselves, “what does following Jesus truly look like?”

 “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:23). The world will know we are His by our love for one another. I must begin by saying, both so-called liberals and conservatives, above all things, must learn to love one another! This means getting to know each other, giving each other’s thoughts the time of day and forgiving one another. Unfortunately what happens is that we don’t obey this fundamental command to love one another but rather we retreat to our peer groups where we can all agree together that the other side is wrong. It is this kind of groupthink that solidifies the division. “I can disagree, but I can really disagree if ten other people disagree alongside me!” Jesus calls us not to fight one another, but to fight the real enemy. If only we knew how much damage we are creating by refusing to love!

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Yet, here we are with our conservative-liberal split: two obviously different ways to go about interpreting and applying the Bible in our lives. We all fit somewhere on the spectrum whether we classify ourselves or someone else labels us. What tends to happen with this division however is that people get polarized, becoming more and more like the extreme if they wish to really “own” their title. A caricatured conservative will strive to gain a better knowledge of the rules and how everyone should obey them; liberals will strive to reinvent the Christian faith with endless “new perspectives.” These two philosophies represent two truths that have been grossly skewed: the conservative has taken the pharisaic torch and made the Law what it was never meant to be and the liberal has taken freedom in Christ and run off into the distance, away from the cross.[1]

Though we may be tempted when looking at extreme examples to say “Wow, that is so wrong,” we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As one will realize, there is truth to both of these views, what we must do is reclaim them for proper use, brushing off the lies that have been heaped upon them. We should never make the mistake of seeing faults in a particular view and then completely disregarding it like it is 100% wrong. Maybe it’s 50% wrong? Maybe we aren’t 100% right? After all, if we had all the answers, we would be God, and we’re just not smart enough to be God… at least I amen’t.

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So then what do we say to the conservative who believes the Bible is a black and white rulebook? What do we say to the liberal who thinks the Bible is an interesting read capable of bending in any direction you’d like it to? In these particular situations, I believe it is appropriate to use the “What would Jesus do?” line. When asked by the rich young ruler about what it would take to get to heaven, Jesus did not throw out the scriptures and explain how every road ultimately leads to God as long as one finds ambiguous “truth,” nor did He give Him a moral checklist (Mark 10:17-22). What Jesus did do, was redefine the question. The rich young ruler was looking at the Ten Commandments through the lens of the Pharisees: a casuistic law where if I do x, y, z then I inherit eternal life. What Jesus was doing by making the rules more extreme was changing our perspective on them from casuistic rules to apodictic commands, or goals to aim at. [2] In other words, Jesus wasn’t just saying “obey the command in order that you might inherit eternal life,” but rather, “become the type of person that does not murder, by following Me.” This is a huge difference. The emphasis was not on the Law; it was on relationship with Jesus first and foremost. The transformation of character is thus a result of a relationship with a person rather than with a rulebook.

What we see in Jesus’ example is neither the typical conservative way nor the typical liberal way. We see Jesus, not treating the obedience to a rulebook as the ultimate end. Neither do we see Him throwing the Law out the window either, suggesting that Christian life can look any way you want it depending on your own unique interpretation of Scripture. What we do see is Jesus elevating the Law and then asking us to follow Him. There is solid truth and answers, but it does not come in the shape of a checklist, it comes through a man.

Jesus is the embodiment of truth, and he cannot be classified within any spectrum. He is the truth we seek for from our spectrum positions. Jesus cannot therefore be put in a box and claimed to be on “our team,” when the common denominator between all of us, conservatives and liberals alike, is the fact that we all have it a little bit wrong. What we should be able to agree upon is our fallibility, and then in humility, search for truth in our loving, and united church body (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10).

What I would like to suggest is that there is a type of middle ground on the conservative-liberal spectrum and it has to do with the way in which we view Scripture. The Scripture is the living Word of God. If this is true, and if we meditate on this for just a few minutes, conservatives might realize that what was true for your grandparents may or may not be true for you. “Heretical teaching!” one might say, but Jesus taught the same thing. Going back to rich young ruler, we see that Jesus asked Him to give away all his material possessions. Now, did Jesus, ask this of all His followers? No, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). What we see is that the Word of God, is able to affect you differently based on the thoughts and intentions of your heart. The word will intentionally have a different effect from one individual to another, it was meant to do that! After all, let’s not forget to realize that we are all part of the Body of Christ, living as different body parts. Naturally, different parts will receive different signals from the Head! Now it all makes sense…

Once again, we must be careful here and realize that this can be taken too far. “Hey, this is the signal the Head gave me, don’t judge,” a liberal might say to his conservative friend. While we cannot perceive the intents of the heart of others, we can measure their outward actions up to the Law. Christ does not ask us to do things, which are outside of God’s commands. He will not ask me to disown my family or leave my wife for another lady, this is contrary to His word and He is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). While the conservatives tend to go a bit too hard on the Law thing, liberals must realize that there is a Law for a reason and the world’s idea of moral relativism is in complete contradiction to the Word of God. There needs to be a solid foundation for our belief system, otherwise we are building our houses on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27). While we should see variations of application to biblical truth, we need to realize that all authentic Christian living stems from the one true foundation, our Rock, Jesus Christ. What the extreme liberal who believes the Bible to be a nice book with neat lessons should realize is that the Bible is the story of God’s restorative work in the world with a very simple lesson: follow Jesus. This world has a way of complicating things but at the end of the day, the simple Gospel message can be understood by toddlers, it is not something that may or may not be true, it is the very foundation of the Christian faith. To deny this, one is by definition to not following Jesus.

Now what we are left with is the conservative who gives himself very few options, while the liberal has given himself too many of them. We should celebrate diversity yet when this freedom exceeds the scope of the gospel message, we’ve gone too far. Now while we thank God for the simplicity of the gospel message, we can’t kid ourselves, we humans are complicated! Therefore, when it comes to human application, let’s not assume moral formulas will work as a blanket answer to every individual we ever come across. This is where the confusion takes place for conservatives who love straightforward and simple answers for all of life’s complex problems. God is simple and ordered but humans are complicated, messy and living in chaos. We need to realize that life’s chaotic situations take more than a just citing scripture verses at people. People’s problems require communication with the Word of God, not citation. What I mean by this is that we must go to the living God in order that we might receive the living Word for any one situation. Now this is often times a simple procedure: when someone asks you if murder is okay, we don’t need to spend hours in prayer and communication with God to give them an answer, His word is very clear on the issue. What liberals should note from this example is that there is a definite right answer, and there are many definite wrong answers. It is simply a matter of seeking Jesus in all things. Picketing with “God hates homosexuals” signs doesn’t happen when Jesus is consulted, for example.

Humans in general have a tendency of grossly misunderstanding who the Creator of the universe is. The book of Job teaches us that life is complicated sometimes and doesn’t humanly make sense. Paul tells us that we see now through a glass dimly. If anything, there is a need for humility when we tread through the tough issues. In life, we won’t see the whole picture and on top of that it’s a blurry view (1 Cor. 13:9)! How can I translate the beauty and loveliness of God’s Law to an unbeliever when I personally can’t read the fine print through my own foggy glasses? Love is the answer, this above all things in Scripture is loud and clear and shown to us through Jesus Christ. Though we will never figure out all the intricacies of God’s perfect Law given to Moses, we can settle for agape love, which is more than enough. You won’t be wrong, no matter where you are on the spectrum, if you chose to err on the side of grace and love when confused about what to do in any one situation.

In closing, I’d like to offer my own caricature of this situation. It is an image of a conservative climbing higher and higher up the moral ladder leaned against the wall of self-righteousness while the liberal runs freely off into the distance approaching a cliff called apostasy. They are both yelling at each other that they know where Jesus is, if only the other would follow them! Meanwhile Jesus is on the ground in the forefront of the picture helping the poor and broken all around Him. Where we all ought to be!

No matter where we are in that picture, we must not lose sight of where Jesus is: on the ground loving those who are in need of love. At the foot of the cross there is neither conservatives nor liberals but simply the children of God ministering to one another; this is what we should all be striving for, as the Word of God says: this is pure religion (Js 1:27).

 

[2] YouTube, “Casuistic And Apodictic: Part 3: Jesus Reads More Scripture“, last modified 2015, accessed December 15, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUBtNGgdLso.

 

What am I doing anyways?

This being my first blog post, I think it would be appropriate to make a list of the things I wish to accomplish through this act of writing which I’ll admit doesn’t come very naturally to this guy.

 

  1. Be a running list of the stuff I think about, my thoughts, my insights, some things I am still unsure of as I go through Christian College and life in general.
  2. Provide some entertainment to the occasional passer-by.
  3. Provide a place to be terrible writer in order to eventually become betterer at righting.

The end.

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