How to Get Started in Studying the Bible for Yourself

God has given his Word as the infallible guide to our daily living. It not only tells us how to come to Christ for salvation, but it also tells us how to live the transformed life after we have received eternal life.All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

Because the Word is inspired, and intended to guide us to a full and useful life with Christ, we need to be open to its directions. It is intended to teach us, to instruct us in the truth of God, and we need to be willing to change our ideas and opinions from what we thought before to what God has actually said in his Word, that is, to be teachable by the Word. The Word also rebukes and corrects us: it defines what sin is for us, what displeases God, and why and how to stop. We need then to change our thoughts, words and actions when the Word corrects and rebukes us, that is, to be correctable by the Word. Then the Word trains us in righteousness: it guides us to be fully disciplined and prepared to do what God’s will is for us as disciples of Christ. We need then to be trainable by the Word of God.

God wants you to understand his Word. Pray first of all for him to guide you as you begin to read his word. Ask that the Holy Spirit would give you understanding of what God is saying to you through his Word (see the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-20). Understanding the Word of God also means being careful not to misinterpret the Word of God. We misinterpret when we add to or subtract from the meaning which God intended to convey.

1. First be sure that you have an understandable translation. There are several good modern language translations. Also an English dictionary is helpful to understand some of the terms such as justification, sanctification, and atonement.

2. Get a good Bible dictionary. The Bible is an ancient book, and it needs to be interpreted in light of its historical background. Look up people and places that you see for an idea of what this is.

3. Interpreting the Bible properly also means interpreting each phrase and book in terms of its grammatical context. This means each word and phrase in the sentence in which it stands, each sentence as it stands in the paragraph, and each paragraph as it stands in the book in which it is written. Ignoring what comes before a verse and after it, that is, its context, is the most consistently violated rule of scriptural interpretation, and has been used by many to try to make the Bible say something that it really does not say.

4. Interpreting the Bible properly means learning from the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Each genuine teaching of the Bible is repeated elsewhere, and one part will clarify what may seem hard to understand in another part. The Bible really does not contradict itself, and understanding what may be less clear in the light of what is more clear may make such apparent contradictions understandable.

5. Once you understand what the Bible was saying to the people of its times, we need to think about what it means for us now, on how to apply the Bible. This thinking and praying about how to apply it to our lives is called meditation on the scriptures. This is where blessing starts to enter our lives: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth” (that is, reading out loud the portion of the Bible which Joshua already had, which was the normal way people read in that time): meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Memorizing certain helpful verses will mean that you can have the Bible on the tip of your tongue when you need it. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). This means that it will be there for you when you might need it: to resist temptation (like Jesus did in Luke 4:1-13), to witness to Christ, to encourage someone else, and to remind yourself of God’s great promises for you. Learning and following the Word of God means that you have made the right start on the life of following Jesus Chist, and that is the kind of life that will never be shaken (Luke 6:46-49).

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Jury Duty? What, who, me?????

Here’s a link the local coverage for the murder by hire trial on which I was an alternate juror during the first three weeks of December 2005. It was quite an experience, and here are some highlights. It’s going to be long, but I hope that it’s interesting. We learned more about the trial process after the verdict was announced, when the judge and the defense attorneys talked with us for a little while in the jury deliberation room.

First, there was a jury selection process, and I still am surprised that I was chosen. The defense attorneys said that they were looking for professional people who were used to evaluating things in a logical manner, and my fellow jurors included a pediatric trauma surgery resident, an accountant, a social worker working on her PhD, among others. There were also several African Americans on the jury, since the defendant and most of the witnesses were African American. They tried to exclude anyone who seemed to want too much either to be on the jury or not to be on the jury.

The actual trial never happens as slick as it does on TV; after all, they need to fit the fictional ones into the standard three act one hour drama format. At one point the prosecutor sounded like he was asking one of the witnesses the equivalent of, "Did you meet the victim before or after he was killed?" There was a lot of waiting for us on the jury while the judge and the lawyers discussed what evidence and questions would be allowed. We on the jury were also allowed to submit our own questions to the witnesses through the judge and to take notes on the testimony offered also.

The testimony both of the eyewitnesses and the expert witnesses, such as the coroner and crime scene investigators, was what the judge advised us was the evidence we were to evaluate, and the attorneys’ arguments for or against the charges were not in themselves evidence. In addition, the physical evidence we saw was pretty much either contaminated or inconclusive, except for the DNA evidence for the victim’s blood; it looks now to me like the investigators on the CSI shows hit a home run with the evidence in every scene.

We were permitted to go home each day while we were hearing testimony, but we were advised not to listen either to media reports on the trial nor to discuss it with anyone. We weren’t actually sequestered, though, until it was time for deliberations. Then we were kept on the floor of a hotel when deliberations were not underway. It only lasted for one night, though, since the regular jurors came to a decision early on the afternoon of the second day of deliberation.

The rights under the US Constitution of presumption of innocence, to face the witnesses against oneself and against self recrimination were in evidence throughout the trial. The defendant never had to take the stand in her own defense, and she did not, and the judge instructed us that this could not be held against her. The grand jury indictment of the defendant on first degree murder could not in itself carry a presumption of guilt. Her codefendant could not be compelled to testify in any way that might result in self recrimination.

The regular jurors came to a decision of not guilty, and it was not because they were all convinced of the innocence of the defendant but because the prosecution had not met the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt. We alternates pretty much agreed with this decision.

On the one hand, I hope that none of you never have to hear a three time convicted killer tell on the witness stand how he committed two of his murders or to see any photos of such a brutal beating as the victim received. It was also horribly shocking to hear how the person who actually did the killing could take his own whims for the slightest material gain as a reason to take the life of another person w ho had done him no wrong. But at the end, I was glad to have known my fellow jurors as people, and to know how carefully they did work to consider the evidence and try to make the best decision that they could. I’m reminded how imperfect our courts, judges, juries, and laws are but how many normal conscientious people there are that actually try to get things right.

Take the Compassion Challenge: Make A Difference in One Life

There are many people in the body of Christ who do not have current responsibility as a parent who nevertheless could take up an additional responsibility. There are many children throughout the world who could use a sponsor to help provide for their education and for other needs throughout their lives. I would like to give this challenge to those who are in my age range whose children are now starting to leave home: become the sponsor of another child somewhere else in the world who needs you. I would like to give this same challenge to any single adults of any age: become the sponsor of a child somewhere else in the world who needs you.

Please make this a matter of prayer first, and a matter of faith that God will provide for a child somewhere else in the world through you. Please make this a matter of giving beyond your regular church and missionary giving.

The expense of sponsoring a child or even a family elsewhere in the world is not great: about $30 a month for a child and $40 a month for an entire family. That’s less than the cost of basic cable TV or a cell phone in most places. Many of us can afford that even without skimping on our own luxuries and entertainment.

Here are two links which can get you started if you are interested:

“As surely as you have done it to the least of these my brothers, you have done it for me.”

I am NOT Charlotte Simmons

Recently I’ve read this book to get an idea of what Tom Wolfe’s experience was with modern campus life while researching this book. I regret that I cannot recommend it for general reading because of the pervasive profanity and sexually explicit scenes. Throughout the book, I noticed only two real differences that I could identify with my own experiences as a Christian at a secular university in the late 1970’s. First, there does seem to be a greater amount of profanity in regular conversation according to the narration, although profanity was very definitely a part of what some saw as their coming of age to adulthood. Second, the coed bathrooms were a different feature, although I’ve read that private bathrooms for each dorm room is part of new construction now. Maybe there were more complaints by parents and alumni than had been publicized.

I’ve heard some evangelical commentators speak of the main character, Charlotte Simmons, as an example of someone whose Christian background was overturned by her experiences at a secular university. Frankly, I did not see her as an example of someone with a background of more than church association — what I’ve termed evangelical churchianity. Her Christian commitment seemed pretty shallow, as more of a church association with her family, and as a social and family influence that had produced real little depth of character.

Here are some ways in which she demonstrated her rootlessness. A series of small compromises led to her eventual moral downfall, and in the conclusion, she did not seem to come to any kind of real repentance and spiritual renewal. These then point out some ways which I and others of my age group maintained our faith and grew in Christ even amidst a secular university. It should be noted that these criticisms are, after all, only criticisms of a fictional character, and not those of any real person. But I am hopeful that real people might find some guidance through the following points.

  • Neglect of Christian Disciplines

    Not once is Charlotte Simmons shown as cracking open her Bible to read for her own spiritual growth or to seek guidance on any issue. Not once is she shown as spending any time in private prayer or praise. It does not seem that she had developed any kind of personal devotional life prior to or during her coming to the secular university.

    By contrast, the time in the secular university was where I and many others found that having a personal time in the Bible and prayer was utterly necessary to maintain the depth and reality of one’s faith in and walk with Christ. The challenges that we faced spiritually, intellectually and socially, drove us to the Word and to our knees before God. This kept my own contact with the Lord Jesus real, and my heart warm and fervent for him amidst influences which could easily cause the heart to grow cold.

  • Isolation from Christian Fellowship

    Charlotte Simmons neither had nor sought any relationship with an evangelical church or any other evangelical student fellowships or any other evangelical students while she was on campus. This is one of the key factors for, if not spiritual growth, at least spiritual survival. Separation from fellow believers, the ministry of preaching and teaching in the church, and regular praise, prayer and fellowship cannot but make the heart grow cold and backslidden.

    By contrast, I count contact with a strong and caring pastor and fellow students who shared a like precious faith in Christ as one of the factors that helped me to stand firm and grow in Christ through these key years in the secular university. For many years afterward I have maintained contact with these fellow believers. The roots of Christian commitment can reach deeper and become stronger if there is continuing contact with other believers.

  • Lack of Scriptural Standards for Dating and Courtship

    Charlotte Simmons fell into exploitative dating relationships. Apparently she had no standards for dating, courtship and eventual marriage beyond wanting to be the recipient of the attraction of a prominent fellow student. The result was over a series of small compromises she eventually became just another sexual conquest. Her virginity upon coming to the university does not appear to have come from a scriptural conviction that sex outside of marriage was against the will of God for her life. Nor does she appear to have had any scriptural guidance or standards to her dating life as far as her choices on whom she would date and why.

    This is the one area in which many believers on campus can fall into coldness, backsliding and transgression of scripture. Yet for many of us, the challenges here again called us to search the scriptures, and find God’s standards. We learned not to pursue romantic relationships with those who did not share our faith in Christ or who were lukewarm and shallow. We stayed by the scriptural standards of sex within marriage even when we were mocked and ridiculed and our manhood and womanhood were being challenged.

  • Lack of Scriptural Guidance for Spiritual and Intellectual Exploration and Growth

    Charlotte Simmons fell into the view of a secular university as a place for experimentation with anything and everything, where anything goes. She did not let the Lordship of Christ guide her explorations and continue to use scripture as her guide for life. Therefore she ended up exploring into areas which scripture’s exhortations are to ‘flee.’

    In contrast, I and many others found that our time of Christ centered exploration in the secular university became a time of tremendous spiritual growth and discovery. For myself, I discovered the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Francis Schaeffer, among others. It was a time where the exploration under the boundaries of scripture meant a great deepening of convictions and strengthening of spiritual disciplines that formed the foundation of a growing Christian life. I came to know several strong Christians with deep spiritual lives and intellectual convictions among the faculty and staff at the university. Certainly there were many professors who did not share my evangelical convictions, and some that did actively try to ridicule and overturn the evangelical convictions of their students, but this testing of our convictions became rather a strengthening in the end.

  • Lack of Family Preparation for Challenges

    The parents of Charlotte Simmons did not appear to have any sort of awareness of the challenges that their gifted daughter would face. No one else in her life appeared to do anything to help prepare her for the spiritual, intellectual and social challenges that she would face at the secular university. While many Christian parents and churches do neglect their students, many more do try to do what they can to prepare them for the challenges that they face.

In writing these things, I am fully aware that the book I Am Charlotte Simmons is a work of fiction. My hope and prayer is that for the vast majority of those students from an evangelical background who attend secular universities that it remains so, and the experiences depicted are a warning but not a reality to them.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.
Put away perversity from your mouth;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet
and take only ways that are firm.
Do not swerve to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:23-27.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Evangelical Churchianity

The most deadly, least recognized, most prevalent and most subtle counterfeit of Christian discipleship has been at work for decades deadening churches, sapping missionary and evangelistic vision, and deluding many into lukewarm Christian lives. This counterfeit is evangelical churchianity.

Evangelical churchianity is more often a counterfeit lifestyle than wrongly held doctrines. It is where someone who has orthodox doctrinal beliefs and genuine saving faith in Christ nevertheless places his or her devotion in religious association, conformity and ambition. This manifests itself in certain attitudes and actions which deviate from the New Testament portrayal of the life of following Christ.

Evangelicals have rightly recognized a form of churchianity in churches which do not clearly adhere to Biblical authority and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But churchianity infiltrates doctrinally evangelical churches also, through shallow conversions, false professions of faith, backsliding, Biblical ignorance, and treating the life of discipleship as church attendance and association. While it is the religion of those who want church association without true spiritual life in Christ, the nominally but not spiritually Christian, it can also become the the real religion of a church that is nominally evangelical.

Christianity: New Testament Discipleship

Churchianity: Human Centered Religious Association
Emphasizes Jesus Christ as the one to be trusted, loved and obeyed.

Centered on the church as a social group and human organization

Emphasizes the Bible as the authority for faith and practice.

Follows an often unwritten set of human rules and traditions.

The church is a fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ united by their common faith in Christ.

The church is an earthly social gathering united by social compatibility and conformity.

The mission of the church is worldwide evangelization.

Maintenance of the status quo for personal comfort and prestige is the real agenda.

All people are made in the image of God and are to be treated with the self sacrificial love of Christ.

Anyone can be treated according to the personal likes, dislikes, prejudices, insecurities and expectations of those in control.

The qualifications for leadership are from the Bible and the model for leadership is the servanthood example of Jesus Christ.

The qualifications for leadership are social standing and the model of leadership is the social climber.

Fostering Discipleship Rather Than Churchianity:

  • Clearly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation by his grace through faith in him alone.
  • Clearly teach and model the Bible as God’s Word and the true basis for our faith and deeds.
  • Clearly teach the nature of the church as the church of Jesus Christ, and his sovereign Lordship over all the church.
  • Clearly live as if the church itself were a fellowship supernaturally created and sustained by God through the Holy Spirit.

Dealing with the Tactics of Emotional Abuse

These guidelines were distilled from a number of sources. The tactics of the manipulator are often found in the Bible in the behavior of characters such as Laban, Tobiah, Sanballat, Saul and others who certainly weren’t the ones wearing the ‘white hats.’

1. Note the tactics that the manipulator is using:

  • Denial (whitewashing aggressive actions)

  • Selective inattention (playing dumb or acting oblivious)

  • Rationalization (excuses for inappropriate or harmful behavior)

  • Diversion (changing the subject, dodging the issue, bringing up long past issues)

  • Lying (withholding information, distorting the truth, exaggeration)

  • Covert intimidation (veiled threats to intimidate or silence)

  • Guilt tripping (trying to make the other person feel guilty, playing on that person’s conscience)

  • Shaming (subtle sarcasm and putdowns to induce fear, self doubt in others)

  • Playing the victim role (portraying oneself as the innocent victim of circumstance)

  • Vilifying the victim (putting the victim on the defensive by pretending to be responding to or defending against the aggression of the victim)

  • Playing the servant role (cloaking self serving agenda in the guise of service to a more noble cause)

  • Seduction (charming, praising, flattering or overly supporting others to elicit trust and loyalty)

  • Blameshifting and scapegoating

  • Blindsiding

  • Traps and something for nothing pseudo-exchanges

  • Exaggerations and grandiose self promoting stories

  • Minimization of the pain and hurt to others from his or her behavior

2. Redefine the terms of engagement.

  • Describe what you think that the aggressor wants in this situation and why it may be inappropriate.

  • Describe your own needs and wants in this situation.

  • Describe what personal limits are acceptable to you: what behavior to tolerate and when to take action.

  • List your direct requests (“I want you to . . . “, and “I don’t want you to . . . anymore”), and your requests for direct responses to these requests.

  • List any possible responses (stonewalling or outright refusal, yelling, etc) and counterattacks and your own responses that the aggressor might and could do to avoid perception of losing.

  • List your personal support system.

  • Describe an appropriate win/win solution.

3. Prepare for confrontation:

  • Note any previous body language which signals a deceitful, disdainful and aggressive intent: icy smile, intimidating gestures, invasion of personal space, unnecessarily strident or intense voice demonstrating repressed hostility and/or fear. Plan on responses to these if you understand what they signal.

  • Make the inappropriate behavior the issue.

  • Keep the weight of responsibility on the aggressor for behavioral change.

  • Keep the aggressor aware that aggressive tactics will not work.

  • Avoid threats, sarcasm, hostility and putdowns.

  • Use assertive “I” statements to state what you want and need.

  • Stay with the present issue and avoid past issues.

  • Make appropriate, reliable, verifiable and enforceable agreements (win-win if possible).

The Circle of Faith and the Ripples of Praise

Over the years, as I’ve been part of many fellowships, I’ve seen fellow believers calling around frantically for others to pray when there are needs which they feel deeply. Often enough, though, the others who are requested to pray are not really those who are experienced in praying scripturally for others. Sometimes those who are requested to pray may not even be believers.

The remedy that I suggest for the improvement of corporate prayer in the body of Christ is a method which I call The Circle of Faith and Ripples of Praise. It is a method which I have followed for many years without really giving it any special name or even really sharing it with others.

The Circle of Faith are those believers who have agreed and have prayed for the request to God in mutual faith.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all believers in Jesus Christ.

    The first reason for this method is seeking for all those in prayer to be on ‘praying ground.’ This means that they are all ‘in Christ’ — regenerate believers who can legitimately claim the promises of God in Jesus Christ. This is not to say that God does not answer the prayer of an unbeliever, but that the covenant promises of answered prayer in the scriptures are addressed to those who are believers. This avoids the problem with those who call those who may not even be believers to join in corporate prayer concerns — they are calling those to agree with them in prayer who do not have the scriptural relationship to be assured of answered prayer.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all ‘walking in the light as he is in the light’ (I John 1:7).

    A believer in Christ has the normal condition attached to answered prayer of abiding in Christ (John 15:7) and not harboring intentional, unconfessed sin (Psalm 68:16). This avoids the problem of calling professed believers who may not be walking closely with Christ to join in for corporate prayer concerns. The agreement sought in prayer is not undercut by those whose lives do not meet the scriptural conditions for answered prayer.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all agreed on what they are asking God to do.

    Paul in I Timothy 2:1 calls for believers not to dispute with each other as they pray. Moreover, the condition in Matthew 18:19-20 calls for agreement among those in prayer. This avoids the problem of calling those who are not really agreed in what they want to ask God asking God for contradictory things when they are attemptingt to join together in prayer. The basis of the request needs to be the persuasion of all joining in prayer that what they are asking is a scriptural request before God.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all asking in faith for what they want God to do.

    This means that all in the Circle of Faith need to fulfill the promise of Mark 11:24. This means that the circle of those praying will be singleminded in faith before God for what they are asking, and not simply several people exemplifying the doublemindedness reproved in James 1:6-8. This addresses the problem of those who may not really be ready to trust God do do what they are all asking. It avoids those who attempt to ‘correct’ and ‘edit’ the prayer of the person who has just prayed, rather than agree.

  • The members of the Circle of Faith are all asking for what they want God to do for the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

    This fulfills the condition of answered prayer from John 14:13. It is the one reason for prayer which those who love God can agree upon: the glory of God.

The Ripples of Praise are the testimonies of God’s answers to prayer which come from the members of the Circle of Faith to others.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others who are not believers in Jesus Christ as a testimony to the God of the Bible, who hears and answers prayer.

    People of all religions and all denominational backgrounds go through rituals of prayer, but the testimonies of answered prayers from believers show the reality of God to those for whom prayer is simply a ritual or recitation of words.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others who are not ‘walking in the light as he is in the light’ (I John 1:7) as a testimony to the joy of godliness.

    One of the lies to which the backslidden are in bondage is that their way is ‘practical,’ and that a genuinely godly walk without the compromises that they have fallen into is not. It is the false survival ethic, of living as if God really did not exist, as if he were not faithful to his promises, and as if following him faithfully were not much more rewarding than a compromised life.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others as a witness to the effectiveness of agreement in prayer.

    One of the tremendous corrections needed to the futility of much ineffective corporate prayer is to demonstrate that true agreement in prayer genuinely receives answers from God.

  • The Ripples of Praise may be shared with others as a witness to the effectiveness of praying in faith.

    Praying in faith often encouraged by example of those who ask and receive from God regularly and who have lived in faith for many years

  • The Ripples of Praise are shared with others as a witness to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

    Each testimony of answered prayer is ultimately a witness to the glory and grace of God through Jesus Christ, not the spiritual superiority of the person or persons who prayed.