Links for the Weekend (2023-09-08)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

God’s Promises Are Enough for Our Kids (and Us)

God is a promise-keeping God, and this is a strong foundation for every Christian, no matter how young.

God’s precious and very great promises are enough for our kids. And they’re enough for us too, because it’s as we know and trust them that we know and enjoy God personally. Here’s a prayer worth praying: that the go-to heart cry of all our children, throughout their lives, would simply be “Thank you, God, that you always keep your promises.”

Digital Resistance: Three Habits for the Internet Age

If digital technologies shape and form us, Samuel James argues that some resistance may be required by faithful Christians. He describes some habits that correspond to needs we have as those made by God.

My answer is that we should think not (primarily) in terms of retreat, but in terms of resistance. The bad news is that the thought patterns of the web are so embedded into modern life that we cannot effectively avoid them. The good news is that the same responsiveness to the power of habit that makes online addiction so powerful also makes analog resistance effective. 

Why Summaries are Not the Same as Main Points

When studying the Bible, it’s important to understand that summaries are not the same thing as main points. My friend Peter Krol explores the difference in this article and explains why that difference matters.

A summary is most helpful when you need to find something or remember where it’s located in the Scriptures. (“There’s a great parable about two men who prayed to God from a desire to be righteous before him. Let’s take a look at Luke 18 to see how that worked out for them.”) But a main point is crucial when it comes time to provoke change unto Christlikeness.

We’re on shaky ground if we apply only select details of a text to our lives. It’s shaky because it’s possible to go in nearly any direction with application. Using only the details enables us to steer the ship of our own lives on a heading most pleasing to us.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Heaven Is Not Vacation. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

How to Make Sense of the Bible

As Christians, we know that we’re supposed to focus on the Bible. Most of us are okay with reading the Bible, and sometimes we even work on Scripture memorization.

But the thought of studying the Bible can be daunting. We might wonder why we need to do such a hard thing when we have both paid professionals (pastors) to do this for us and an abundance of explanations of the Scriptures (study Bibles, commentaries, etc.).

Christians should study the Bible in order to know and love God more. The Bible is primarily about God and how we’re to relate to him—this is the most important topic in the universe! So, the better we understand and know him, the more we will be who he created us to be. (And, as it turns out, the more joyful we will be as well!)

The Bible is not Written in Code

At times in history, including these current times, some people talk about the Bible as though it were written in code. They imply that we have this communication from God available to us, only the very smartest and most clever people can decipher its meaning.

If we follow this logic, we must conclude that God is hiding who he is from us—that he does not want to be known or loved.

But this is NOT what God is like!

In addition to creation itself declaring the glory of God (see Psalm 19:1–6), we know that God wants to be known because of the incarnation of Jesus. God sent his son to make him known!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14–18)

Now, just because the Bible is not written in code doesn’t make the whole thing obvious or easy to understand. But it does mean that the Bible is knowable. And, as veteran Bible-readers can attest, the Bible rewards repeated reading and repeated study. There is spiritual nourishment available whether you are reading the Bible for the first or the ten-thousandth time.

Resources for Learning to Study the Bible

No matter how many times you have previously studied the Bible, it can be helpful to have some guidance and resources in your toolbox. I have one book and one website to recommend in this regard.

The book is Knowable Word, by Peter Krol. It introduces the OIA (observe-interpret-apply) method of Bible study in a clear, short, easy-to-understand way.

The website is associated with the book: Knowable Word. Much of the content of the book can be found on the website, though the book is certainly a tidier, neater package. To begin, I’d recommend this brief introduction to OIA and then this more detailed description. You may also find this page of resources helpful as you study the Bible. (I like to print out some of the OIA worksheets to aid my study.) I’ve also produced a one-page summary of the OIA method which could be used as a reference sheet.

(I need a whole pile of disclaimers here, because Peter is a good friend of mine and I contribute articles to this website myself. These aren’t the only resources around to help you study the Scriptures, but they are aimed at ordinary people and many have found them helpful.)

Studying the Bible in Community

As with much of the Christian life, God didn’t intend for us to learn about the Bible in isolation. Bible study for personal devotional time is good, but you’ll likely learn and grow even more when you also gather with a small group of friends to dig in to the Scriptures. (If you’d like to know how to connect to such a group at our church, feel free to ask any member or regular attender on a Sunday morning!)

Studying the Bible may feel like an uphill climb, but it is a worthy hike! In this lifelong work of walking with and loving God, he has given us the Scriptures for our comfort and instruction. Let’s do our best to learn faithfully from him.

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Links for the Weekend (2023-05-19)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Don’t Give Up Too Quickly

We are told in Scripture to persevere in prayer. Here’s a short article about why that might be.

I’ve been thinking that our Heavenly Father handles our requests in a similar way. There might be something that we’re excited about. We hurry into prayer with the faith, excitement, and discernment of a child. Then the Lord doesn’t immediately answer. He doesn’t say yes and doesn’t say no. Instead, through his silence and apparent inactivity, he says that it’s time to wait.

Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh: The Real Meaning of Matthew 26:41

Here’s a great example of careful Bible study and reading Scripture in context. Zach Hollifield takes a look at the famous comment from Jesus, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Peter is forced to see that while he has all the right desire in the world to remain faithful to Jesus, there is also a chasm of weakness lying between that willingness and his actual carrying it out.

I’m So Glad It’s You

This link is a confession/prayer which is a wonderful model of looking to God as the sovereign one in the midst of suffering.

I’m so glad it’s You. None of it makes sense to me, but it was done in perfect wisdom. Who else could be trusted to wound like this? All Your works are perfect, and You are infinite in wisdom. I trust that Your ways are higher that my ways, and Your thoughts than my thoughts. I’m so glad it’s You.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called What Makes a Good Friend? If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/4/2022)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The God Who Has Been My Shepherd All My Life Long

This article is quite short, but I found the reflection here moving. God is our faithful, life-long shepherd.

God, the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul, has been the same for me. Never failing to walk with me—even carry me when broken, beat up, and defeated by my own failures and sins against God or others, or enduring ill treatment from straying sheep or false shepherds. In my times of following and times of straying, He has never failed me.

Bible Study is Hard Work (And That is OK).

Like lots of things that are valuable, studying the Bible is hard work. But that doesn’t mean we should turn away from it!

Studying the Bible is hard work, but lots of things are hard. It is hard to run a marathon or write a book or raise a family or maintain a healthy marriage. Bible study is hard, but it results in a deeper and more rich understanding of who God is, and who we are. The deeper I fall into God’s word, the more aware I become of my own sin and of God’s overwhelming grace to allow me to know him.

10 Passages to Read with Someone Who Is Near Death

For Christians who are close to death, words from the Lord bring special comfort and hope. Here is a list of 10 passages to read with someone near death. Read them yourself now, to be reminded of the truths we rely on, and bookmark it for later use!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Learning, Teaching, Writing, and Women

As a writing major in college, I took a bunch of classes in literature and literary theory. In my junior year, I also picked up an elective called How to Read the Bible, focused on biblical scholarship. 

They turned out to be basically the same skillset: You consider the themes and structure of the text, its historical context, what else that author has written, and opinions from other scholars. Yet my literature classes were full of women, while the biblical studies class was mostly men.  

Women have the same capacity as men for deep study, informed and reasoned discussion, and presentation of learning. These talents, in both sexes, are a gift to the individual and also to the body of Christ. 

In churches like ours that follow the biblical teaching that women are not “to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12), though, it can feel like there’s no outlet for a woman to share what she has learned. 

Encouragement for women

Scripture makes at least one thing clear on the subject of women in the ministry of the church: Women’s voices are valuable and needed for the building up of the whole church. 

Women are commanded to teach

Paul, in a letter to another young pastor, instructs that “Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5).

Women are instructed to pass on what they learn to younger women. Paul highlights the snowball effect of investing in the spiritual growth of other women: A woman benefits herself; she loves and builds up her household–and she is even granted the honor of upholding the integrity of God’s own reputation. 

Women’s voices are not only for women

Men can also benefit from the insights and wisdom of women. We’re told that “when Priscilla and Aquila heard [Apollos preaching], they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Priscilla, wife to Aquila, is included in both the hearing and the explaining. 

Priscilla knew more than the man in the pulpit. She used her godly wisdom to instruct one who was already “competent in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), so that the gospel truth would be declared. Her contribution mattered in the kingdom of God; we find out later that Apollos’ teaching gained a large following (I Corinthians 3:4-5). Priscilla’s example demonstrates that there are appropriate avenues for a woman to instruct and even correct a man.

A need in the church

Our denomination, the PCA, has recognized that many of its churches are not encouraging women to serve to their full ability. Churches have tended to be “focused on what women cannot do rather than [on] fostering a biblically informed culture of what women are called to do” (WSMC report, Chapter 5).

The PCA commissioned the Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church (WSMC) study committee in 2016 “to pursue and equip the women of the church for every biblical role of service open to them” (WSMC report, Chapter 1). The committee submitted its report in 2017, including several recommendations to all PCA churches, detailed in Chapter 5 (pp. 58-63). 

The whole report is worth a read, to understand the value, biblical precedent, and bounds of women’s activities in the church. The thrust of the report is toward recognizing all the possible contributions women can make to the church. One opportunity that our church is pleased to offer is the WPCA blog. 

Write for the blog! 

I encourage any member to share on the blog, but this call is particularly to women. The church–our church–needs your wisdom, biblical insight, and experience. I hope the previous encouragements have eased any fears of overstepping biblical roles, but I realize there are other reasons people may hold back. 

I don’t have anything worth saying. Did the sermon strike you just so this week? Did something in your personal reading make you think? A blog doesn’t need to be a comprehensive analysis of a topic; in fact, smaller observations often make for more readable articles. I’ve found that I learn more by sitting down to write on a topic than if I simply study it for my own knowledge. 

I’m not trained in biblical scholarship. You have the Holy Spirit in you, teaching you through Scripture. There are plenty of Bible study tools out there (Knowable Word’s OIA method has been taught at our church), as well as commentaries for free online, for purchase, or for borrowing from our pastors. Study and write with prayer, and trust God to defend his truth. (Also, an editor will read your work and catch any blatant heresy.)

I’m not a writer. Writing is just thinking on paper. If you have an idea, jot down some notes and see where it goes. Ryan, as editor of the blog, or another writer can help with the writing. You could even co-write a piece with someone else to take the pressure off of you. 

Blogs are too high-tech for me. Write it by hand! I volunteer to type it up for you. Writers for the blog are not responsible for any of the techy stuff like formatting and posting articles. 

The WPCA blog exists for members of the church to share with one another what God is revealing to us. Anybody can write for the blog: men and women, pastors or lay people, the highly educated or the self-taught. We’d love to hear what God has taught you!

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Overcoming Yourself: Why You Should Step out of Your Comfort Zone

I first saw it on Facebook: “Dwelling in Scripture – Biblical Training for Women.” Sounds good.

I read their purpose statement:

  • To help women to independently study the Bible within the context of redemptive history.
  • To encourage women to receive the inspiration and power of God’s Word.
  • To help women to grow in their relationship with and knowledge of God.

Even better. Where do I sign up? The page stated that they would send you a passage to study before you arrived. That seemed different, but interesting. I was sure it would enhance whatever the speaker would be teaching us.

As promised, about two weeks before the conference, I received an email to inform me of my passage to study: James 1:2-18. I read through it and decided that, though familiar, it would be beneficial to work through it carefully. Then I noticed the fine print:

“Prior to the training you will be given a scripture passage to meditate on and to use to prepare a 5-minute presentation during the group time at the event.  You will also be given preparation materials to assist you in working on your assigned passage.”

WHAT? I thought I was attending to learn HOW to do this, not to actually get up in front of people and do it myself.

It wasn’t really fine print–I just hadn’t read the whole page carefully. I panicked somewhat, but not enough to keep me from putting it off until the following week, which is typical for me.

The following week I was sick. All week. Which is not typical for me. I was sick enough that I didn’t do much of anything that week. However, from time to time I’d glance at the passage and write down a few words. James 1:2: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” Ha. Ha. The irony of my assignment was not lost on me.

As the week progressed, I was doubting I would even make it to the conference because of my illness, but I continued reading and jotting.

The day of the conference I woke up feeling slightly better, maybe even well enough to attend. I arrived that evening, located my table (we were seated with our small group), and cautiously ate a few bites of my dinner while chatting with my table mates. We sang a few songs, then went right to our assigned rooms for our small groups. All fairly typical conference stuff, right?

After the leader gave a brief introduction of how the small group format would work, the first presenter read her passage, then wrote her central idea on the board. Writing a central idea was part of our assignment. It was defined as a biblical truth about God, a simple sentence, and God-centered. It should not be a summary. The group then spent time dissecting her central idea, making sure each phrase was God-centered and not man-centered.

I glanced down at what I had written as the central idea for my own passage. Even though the sentence began with the word “God,” it was very man-centered. But I felt justified! This passage is full of directives: “consider,” “ask,” “ask in faith,” “let no one say,” “do not be deceived.” How could I write a central idea that is not even a little bit man-centered? I was starting to get annoyed.

As the evening progressed, I found myself getting more irritated as what I thought were perfectly good central ideas were taken apart, analyzed, and re-written.

Back at the hotel room, I decided I wasn’t going to obsess over it or change anything – I would just present it as is. I called Don and subjected him to an in-depth rant. He politely listened, but offered no counsel.

After a fitful night of sleep (I’d been struggling with insomnia for weeks), I woke up at 4 a.m., wide awake. I couldn’t stop thinking about the concept of making my central idea God-centered. I looked again at what I had written: “God uses trials and testing of our faith to strengthen us; we are blessed when we look intently into His Word.” It was all wrong. I considered when it was my turn to present, going up to the board, writing my central idea, then immediately drawing a red line through the whole thing. Except the word “God”—that’s good. That can stay. I got out my Bible and read through the passage again. Then I went back to the beginning of the passage and tried to focus particularly on any characteristics of God. I was still in denial, thinking my central idea was very good and convinced that any changes would leave out important concepts.

I prayed, and as I wrestled through the verses, God’s character shone through: “God, who gives to all generously,” “the Lord has promised,” “He Himself does not tempt anyone,” “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” I was seeing a familiar passage with fresh eyes – eyes that had previously predetermined what they saw, but were now slowly being opened to a different way of thinking. I was astounded. My irritation was fading and being replaced by thankfulness.

I completely changed my central idea: “God generously gives His wisdom and goodness through trials.” The leader said she was excited that I had “wrestled” through the passage. I found I enjoyed sharing what I had learned and appreciated the group’s addition of two words to the beginning of my central idea: “Our unchanging God…” We had all started as kindred spirits in our anxiety about presenting to strangers, but ended up enjoying each other as sisters in Christ and in our study of God’s Word.

Do you hesitate at the thought of going to a conference? Or maybe there’s something else that makes you think, “I can’t do that.” Ask God to show Himself and His character to you. Don’t forget that Jesus has already done the heavy lifting for you. Ask Him to change you. You may still feel intimidated, but go forward anyway.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

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