Tag Archives: bible study

Frameworks: How to Navigate the New Testament

A brand new Christian who is sitting in the pew hears the pastor say – “Open up to Habbakuk 3:1” and has no idea where to even start looking for that book – or a seasoned Christian who has sat through innumerable sermons and Bible studies but wants to learn about the Bible on his own… this book by Eric Larson is for those two Christians and everyone in between.

Even this guy could use a book like this!

Frameworks, according to Larson, is…

A book about Bible navigation and context – material that’s designed to build your confidence in your ability to negotiate the text and understand it. Think of it as a guidebook, a Bible companion, written for anyone who would like to have a personal biblical tour guide. This book can be sued for self-study, in small group discussions, or in classrooms to set the context for Bible reading and to lead you through it. (15)

This book certainly lives up to its stated purposes. Larson helps you navigate through the New Testament first by providing an introduction to the New Testament as a whole. Here he gives you the background necessary to read the gospels and all of the NT letters. Then he takes you through each New Testament book one by one. As he takes you through these books he answers 10 questions:

  1. What is the book like?
  2. What is this book about?
  3. Why was it written?
  4. How is the book organized?
  5. How does it read?
  6. How do I move through it?
  7. What makes the book or its author special?
  8. What should I remember most?
  9. How can I explore further or go deeper?
  10. What one verse can I apply right now?

What I liked

There are several things that really stuck out to me as being fantastic about this book:

  1. Solid use of evangelical scholarship that doesn’t dumb things down but makes things accessible to the general reader.
  2. Helpful organization of the content.
  3. Very helpful and memorable introductions to each book.
  4. Some really amazing pictures and graphics.
  5. Easy to read layout.

What I Didn’t Like

Naturally there are some things that I didn’t like about the book:

  1. The introduction to the synoptic gospels harmonizes the books too much and doesn’t allow each book to speak for itself.
  2. Some of the pictures were clearly stock photos, which I feel like I have seen elsewhere.
  3. Some of the graphics were poor in quality, its almost like they didn’t print out well.
  4. There were some typos throughout the book.
  5. Some of his book “themes” were quite a stretch, its as if he preferred to have an easy to memorize/catchy statement over a more accurate one.

Overall Thoughts

This is a fantastic New Testament survey which will definitely help “ordinary” people navigate their way through the New Testament. I wouldn’t use this book for a NT survey class in a college or seminary, however this might be an awesome textbook for somebody teaching a New Testament survey at a Christian high school or in a Sunday school class. Regardless of how you use it though, it sure is helpful, and it even sparked some ideas within me for preaching series!

(Note: I received this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)

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Martin Luther on Prayer & Meditation

I just finished Tim Keller’s new book on prayer. It is at one theological, practical, and pastoral. Overall it was a great book. However, there were a few chapters that really stuck out to me. One of those chapters was a chapter where Keller covers Augustine’s, Luther’s, and Calvin’s theology of prayer through the examination of letters that they wrote to laypeople on the nature of prayer.

Martin Luther

Keller tells the story of Luther’s barber, Peter Beskendorf, who asked Luther to give him a simple way to pray. Luther sent him a letter with “rich but practical set of guidelines for prayer.”

First, Luther suggests that one should pray twice a day. Once in the morning, before anything else is accomplished, and once at night. Morning and evening prayer is a discipline that must be cultivated whether we feel like praying or not.

Second, Luther suggests that we should “focus our thoughts and warm our affections for prayer.” In order to do this he suggest contemplation or meditation upon scripture. He advises Peter Beskendorf to begin his prayer by contemplating the word…

I want your heart to be stirred and guided…rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer.

After advising contemplation Luther describes how to do it. He says:

I divide each biblical command into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is I think of each commandment at first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second I turn into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Keller says that “this turns every biblical text into ‘a school text, a song book, a penitential book, and a prayer book.”

Practically this means that first we must figure out what the text is saying. Second, we must ask how this text leads us to praise and thank God; third we ask God how this text leads us to repent of and confess sin; finally we ask God how this text prompts us to appeal to God in petition and supplication.

So the next time you do your “quiet time” try Luther’s Four – Text method! I would love to hear how it works out!

Book Review – New Testament Essentials: Father, Son, Spirit and Kingdom by Robbie Fox Castleman

As the person who oversees college Life Groups at my church I know how hard it is to find, write, or develop good small group/bible study curriculum. Over the years I have perused tons of Bible studies and small group materials, only to be fairly disappointed every time. However, Robbie Castleman’s New Testament Essentials a collection of 12 weekly bible studies does not disappoint.

Castleman’s book focuses on two basic characteristics of the New Testament – first that it is Christocentric and second that it is thoroughly Trinitarian. These two themes get developed across three bigger sections: 1) the person and work of Christ, 2) the person and work of the Spirit in the church, and 3) the kingdom of God. Under each of these sections you will find a Bible study portion – 5 in the Christ section, 3 in the Spirit section, and 4 in the Kingdom section.

Each of these sections include:

1 – Bible Study: scripture to read, some texts to memorize, and some question to reflect on based on the reading.

2 – Reading: a section written by Castleman in which she offers background and insight into the passage.

3 – Connecting to the Old Testament: here she helps the reader understand how the New Testament draws upon the Old Testament.

4 – The Ancient Story and Our Story: a section on how the passage connects with our lives as Christians today.

Thoughts….

I was pretty impressed with the book. Rarely do I come across a bible study that actually challenges me to think deeply about Scripture and deeply about my life. Bible studies tend to go one-way or the other, but this one found a a great balance. Also I thoroughly enjoyed it – in fact I did one study each morning for 12 days. During those twelve days I was forced to ask myself deep questions about my life with God and I was challenged to really read Scripture instead of simply skimming it. All in all it was a valuable exercise.

However I can foresee some issues that people will have with this book. First, and maybe this was just my own issue, the book started falling apart in just a few days. Maybe it was created so you could rip out the pages for “study purposes” but I highly doubt that is the case. Second, I can foresee some people saying that the study questions are way too difficult. The author really leads the reader into some heavy exegetical work, meaning that most people will have a difficult time making it through the questions in a timely manner. I found the depth quite refreshing, but I know not everybody will feel the same way. This makes me wonder about its intended audience, who is this book really for? Is it for a new believer? I doubt it. Is it for the average adult? Probably not. I imagine that it is probably geared towards college students and/or seminarians.

Overall this study guide impressed me. I enjoyed working through each session. I was challenged and stretched and I believe that others will be too.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Four Types of Small Groups

For Christmas 2010 my girlfriend Amelia gave me a book on small groups called Missional Small Groups. In one of the Chapters the author (Scott Boren) tells the story of four different small groups. Each one of these small groups represents various models that have been created for small groups. I thought it was very interesting and worth sharing. I would love it if I could get some feedback from ya’ll about what you think.

1-The Personal Improvement Smallgroup

  • We get together because life is tough in this world and we need a few friends. It is not always convenient for us to meet every week, but we do meet when we can. Usually we meet in short six or seven week periods or we meet a couple times in a month. We get together talk a bit about God or study the Bible, and share what is going on at work and in our family. I am not sure that we are close, but it is good to have a place where we can share a little about what is going on in our lives. Being in my small group has improved my life.

2-The Lifestyle Adjustment Group

  • This group has become a priority to us. We have adjusted our schedules to meet together at least every other week, but usually we meet weekly. In our meetings we either study the sermon preached by our pastor or use a Bible study guide that we all find personally beneficial. We truly enjoy each other’s presence and we put a high priority on the group and the members in the group. We even do something social once each month. We rise to the occasion when someone has a need and there is a sense that we are friends.

3-The Relational Revision Group

  • Our group has a weekly meeting but I’m not sure that you would call it a meeting in the formal sense of the word. When we get together it is the culmination of the rest of the week when we have bee in one another’s lives. It is a time of sharing what God has been doing, praying for each other, and talking about how God is using us in our normal lives. Yes we do have a weekly lesson, but the leader usually only asks one or two questions from it. The most important part of our group however is not the meeting; it is how we are connected the other six days. I have never been part of a group in which people are so willing to sacrifice time and energy for each other. And this connectedness actually spills out into our neighborhood. It seems like we are always interacting with, praying for, and serving people who live near us. And in some ways they are just as much part of our group as those of us who call ourselves Christians. Recently we had to wrestle with some relational conflict and hurt feelings. In the past I would have run away from such encounters but not this time. It was not easy but we pressed through. We are still learning what it means to be God’s family.

4-The Missional Group

  • We have developed a way of connecting with each other and God that has resulted in some rather unpredictable developments. 2 couples and a single person in our group live within walking distance of each other. So as a group we decided to adopt their neighborhood. We started with a block party. At first it was hard because no one knew us but after the first party we started becoming a presence in the community. Then one person started a summer children’s Bible study and as she got to know the neighbors and their needs we began to pray. Now we have come around a single mom who has 3 kids, and we include her as much as we can in the life of the small group. She has yet to fully understand who Jesus is, but we feel led to embrace her and her kids and see what God does in her life.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Which one of these best describes the small group that you are in right now?
  2. Which one of these is the kind of small group that you aim for?
  3. What is keeping your small group from getting to that “level?”

I would love to hear your feedback or any other comments in general.

Missional Small Groups

Simple Smallgroups (pt. 4): Pattern 1 – Connecting Your Own Group

I know its been a LONG time since I posted for this series…. but school is on break so here we go!

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Pattern 1: Connecting (Your Group)

When I was growing up I had two kinds of friends, the friends that were so close to me that we should pretty much be related and the friends that were only my friends because I was in the same class with them. It might just be me, but looking back at these relationship I can’t think of any significant moments that I shared with this second type of friend, whereas I could go on and on telling you stories of all the things I did with the first type of friend. We did all sorts of thing, from getting chased by security guards for skating on private property to getting chased by a homeless guy for waking him up (come to think of it…. We got chased a lot.) The point is that even when I was growing up I had two kinds of friends, the really close ones and the not so close ones. And its not that one kind of relationship was better than the other, they were just different. The same truth holds true for Lifegroups “We should think of connecting as a continuum with varying degrees of intensity. More intense isn’t better or worse than less intense experiences.”

Lets take a look at three phases that the typical Lifegroup will go through: Meet, Commit, Belong.

Phase 1 – Meet

Have you ever felt out of place? Have you ever entered into a room with absolutely nobody that you know? If you are an introvert like me, you know how much of a nightmare this can be. Now imagine going into a place where you feel like everybody knows the bible, everybody is super spiritual, and everybody knows one another. This is how many people who are joining a Lifegroup for the first time feel. However this anxious, first time feeling isn’t unique to the first day of Lifegroup, it can also be an extended period of time. A few weeks, months, or even quarters! It is during this period that the first phase happens: The Meet Phase.

During this phase most people treat the meeting as a meeting… surprise surprise! They don’t see it as a Lifegroup yet, its merely a meeting. Its an event they attend, but aren’t emotionally attached to. Yes they get together, they talk about the bible or the sermon, they know eachother’s names, maybe they even say hi to each other at church. If you have ever been in a group that stays in this phase you know it can be emotionally draining. It can become a lifesucking event rather than a lifegiving encounter.

How can you tell that you are in this phase? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are people coming to the group?
  • Do they show up regularly?
  • Do they participate in discussion?

Phase 2 – Commit

As your Lifegroup continues to meet over time they may begin to commit to one another, hence the commit phase. Depending on the people in your group, and even the leaders and apprentices, getting to this phase may take a few meetings to a few quarters. Regardless of how long it takes to get there, those in the Commit phase will begin to form closer relational ties to one another. They will begin to show interest in each other’s lives and they might begin to connect inside and out of group. Sure they might not be a family yet, but they genuinely are friends.

So how do you know that you are in this phase? If you can answer yes to any of the following questions you are likely in the commit phase:

  • Do they hang around after Lifegroup?
  • Are they sharing personal thoughts and opinions in the discussion?
  • Are they showing an interest in each other?
  • Do they know what is going on in each other’s lives?
  • Do they communicate outside of Lifegroup?

Hopefully by know you are starting to see where your group lands on this continuum. Lets take a look at the last phase and then evaluate where we are at.

Phase 3 – Belong

         First of all we must realize that not every group will reach the Belong phase. Although we desire it to happen, there are other factors that will result in groups usually staying in the commit phase. However, when your group members begin to feel like they belong to one another, when they begin to move from a friendship to a family like relationship you have reached the belong phase. When we are living out the reality of the Belong phase we are living out the reality of what Jesus meant for the church. Take a look at Matthew 8:19-21

19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

In this passage Jesus says that his true family consists of those who hear God’s word and put it into practice. In God’s Kingdom we are invited into a family that is marked, not by blood relationships, but by our relationship to God himself. As someone who follows God we can be certain that we are a part of his family. This reality is meant to extend into our Lifegroups, if we are living out our true identity as sons and daughters of God then we can really say that out brothers and sisters in our Lifegroup are family.

So how do you know if you are in the belong phase? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my group spend time together outside of group?
  • Do they know one another’s life stories?
  • Do they confess their struggles or sins in the group?

Evaluating Your Group

Next time we will be taking a look at how we can move up on the continuum of connecting phases. But for now I leave you with a couple of questions and some food for thought. First go ahead and Read Acts 2:42-47. How does this image impact your expectations for your Lifegroup? Is this a model to be followed or does it set some patterns that are generally true of all Christian gathering? Then ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How have you defined connecting in your group? What do you think a group that connects well would look like?
  2. What are the barriers the keep your group from connecting?
  3. Which of the three phases do you think your group is in?

I hope that these questions help you think through some of the issues your own group might be facing, and that you are led to pray for God to show up in your group to establish the community he intends it to be. I know I’m praying that for my own group and I’m praying that for yours as well.

(as always this material is based of Bill Search’s book Simple Smallgroups)