Monday, August 31, 2009

let the nations be glad!

For all the planning that goes into a worship service at Pantego Bible Church, no one can orchestrate the work and ways of God. Sunday was one of an increasing number of God-moments.
Six weeks ago, three men visited our church and introduced themselves at our Guest Reception afterwards. They represented a growing community of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda and Congo. Many had been settled in the United States within the last three years through a special refugee plan in 2007. Though there may be more than 2000 of these foreigners in the DFW area, these men are connected with a known community of 100+ in south Fort Worth. After gracious introductions, they made one request: Would our church grant them a place to worship in their own tongue?

Burundi is one of the most Christianized nations in central Africa and the spiritual roots of these beautiful people run deep. As Pastor January, Method [the most English-speaking interpreter] and elders of their newly-forming church met with a group from PBC, they humbly requested a room..or a tent...or even a patch of grass to meet as a Body and worship each week.

It took little convincing of our Elder Board to give this church a place to begin worship services on the PBC campus. yesterday, many from their African community joined their pastor on our stage for us to welcome them and forge a partnership that unites 2 nations under one Lord. As we received our morning offering, the Burundi community sang songs to God and, while none of us understood a word, we translated their hearts with no problem.

I am looking forward to the days ahead as we learn more about our friends and determine how we, the church, might be able to meet their needs. Already, we have been richly blessed by their arrival. We pray that God will be made famous in this work.

To learn more about the history of the Burundi refugees, see a very informative article HERE.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

discipline

Oh the beauty of discipline:



You can also view it HERE.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

interpretation | #3

[NOTE: This is the 7th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

As we consider the importance of responsible interpretation of the Bible [remember 2 Timothy 2:15?], I think we should pause and consider the topic of translations. The difference between "interpretation" and "translation" is like the difference between a chef and a dietitian. A chef takes raw ingredients and "translates" them into a delicious meal. He could fry, bake, grill or sear fish...depending on his customer. In the end, fish is fish, but the chef has the job of presentation. The dietitian, however, isn't given such luxury of personal preference. He or she must analyze the meal and draw conclusions about the amount of sodium, calories, protein, etc. These conclusions are based on the substance, not presentation. Still, the dietitian will be limited by the meal that the chef prepares.

We have a variety of translations of the Bible. However these translations differ in presentation. They are the result of different scholars who are writing the language of the Bible for particular audiences to digest. I think about the multitude of translations in three basic categories:

LITERAL TRANSLATIONS: These translations are true to the original, Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible. However, because they are word-for-word designed, some find them to be too "wooden," or stiff. In other words, they don't sound like we speak. They are the most accurate for personal study. Example of literal translations include the New King James Version, the English Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible.

FREE TRANSLATIONS: Opposite of literal translation are those translations which are freer in their syntax, grammar and word content. The translators have taken liberty to rearrange the parts to smooth out the readability of the text. While these translations often "flow" and have an easier readability, they are not as dependable for deeper study. They are paraphrases, relying on the translator's style and perspective. Free translations include The Message, the Living Bible and J.B. Phillip's The New Testament in Modern English.

DYNAMIC EQUIVALENT: A moderating option between literal and free translations is the dynamic equivalent translation. These phrase-by-phrase versions maintain the historical distance between the original language and the current language, but updates style and grammar. Examples of these translations include New International Version and the New English Bible.

Here is a list of Bibles from most literal to most free:

King James (KJV)
New King James (NKJV)
English Standard (ESV)
New American Standard NASB)
Revised Standard (RSV)
New Revised Standard (NRSV)
Updated NASB
Amplified Bible
New American Bible
New International (NIV)
New English Bible
Good News Bible
Phillips Modern English
Living Bible (LB)
New Living Bible (NLT)
Jerusalem Bible
Contemporary English (CEV, "The Promise")
Today's English Version
The Message

Which version should you choose? I encourage Bible students to use whichever version is most readable to them for their personal, devotional time. However, when it comes to serious study, the student should use a Bible that is closer to a literal translation. I enjoy reading The Message, but it does not provide the necessary accuracy of the ESV or NASB when it comes to thorough study. Good interpretation starts with the right translation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

interpretation | #2

[NOTE: This is the 6th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

In the last several posts, I have lightly surveyed the basic steps to good Bible Study. We start with the Spirit, then learn to see, then make sense of what we see. This is the discipline of interpretation. Once I have answered my interpretive questions, I attempt to summarize the passage several ways. This task of summarizing is a very helpful exercise.

One way to summarize a passage is to determine a "topic" for the passage. Try and reduce the passage to one word [two, if you must]. This one word must take the entire passage into account. It's a challenge, but forces the Bible student to look at the big picture. For example, after studying the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes [John 6], a person might conclude that the topic is "provision."After studying the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [Daniel 3], they might choose the topic "conviction" or "perseverance."

Another way to interpretively summarize a passage is by drafting a "Big Idea." Every passage in the Bible answers an implied question. In John 3, the question is obvious: "How can a man be born when he is old?" [Nicodemus asked, v. 4]. So, this passage more generally answers the question, "How can people be 'born again'?" The challenge is to discern the question being asked and answered in each passage.

Here's an easy example. James 1:2-18 deals with trials. The question implied may be, "How should a Christian deal with trials in their life?" The answer [summary of the passage] might be: "...by choosing joy, seeking wisdom in faith, looking to the greater reward in the end, and resisting the inherent temptation that is sure to come." Put the question and answer together and the Big Idea is: "The Christian endures trials in life by choosing joy, seeking wisdom in faith, looking to a greater reward and resisting inherent temptation that is sure to come." Reduce the phrase a bit more and one might write: "We overcome trials with joy, wisdom, hope and fortitude."

Let's try another: Matthew 5:13-16. After a quick study, I might summarize:

QUESTION: Why must the Christian be salt and light in their world?
ANSWER: Because it reflects who they truly are and illumines the glory of God to others around them.
COMBINE: The Christian should be salt and light to reflect who they truly are and illumine the glory of God in the world.
REDUCE: We shine to reflect the glory of God in a dark world.

If I wanted, I could spend time writing and rewriting each question/answer to refine what I really believe the passage is about. This exercise is a great interpretive process.

Now it's your turn.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

interpretation

[NOTE: This is the 5th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

Preparation. Observation. The first two steps of good study. In the former, we invite the Holy Spirit's leading. In the latter, we stop to see. This process is known as the "inductive Bible Study" method [from "induce" = "to produce" or "flow out"]. Instead of bringing our preformed opinions to a text, we work hard to let the meaning of the text flow out to us.

The next step is "interpretation." Interpretation seeks to answer the question "What does it mean?" All of us are natural interpreters. We are ever analyzing and making sense of colors, shapes, textures, messages and events around us. In fact, we're forced to rapidly "draw conclusions" every moment. But, interpretation, as a Bible Study discipline, requires taking ourselves out of the mix and using good tools to better understand the meaning of a text.

Once I have made my observation "list," I began to move back through the list and find definitions, answer questions or understand connections. There are a variety of resources that a Bible student can use to help:

* Lexicon: Defines Greek and Hebrew words. You may think this is too "heady," but wouldn't you like to know that "joy" [James 1:2] means more than just a feeling of happiness? Joy is an inner confident contentment. I can't get that meaning simply by reading the word.

* Bible Dictionary: A lexicon provides the meaning of words while a dictionary provides the meaning of words, phrases, people and events. My lexicon helps me to understand that the word "train" in 1 Timothy 4:7 is the Greek word gymnaze which means "to exercise naked." When I look up "training" in my dictionary, I may get the broader understanding of how people trained, the influence of the Greek games on Paul's thinking and other words associated with the word I'm studying. In my dictionary, I can also look up places, people and events.

* Atlas: Once you begin studying your Bible, you'll appreciate the color maps in the back. A larger, more complete Bible atlas will become beneficial. For example, when Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the trip covered approximately 100 miles--not a short jaunt for an expectant mother!

* Other translations: Reading the text in another translation can often shed light on the meaning of a text. Remember that our present translations are not translations-of-translations. That is, the editors didn't simply translate from the most recent edition. All reputable translations have been crafted from a study of original texts.

* Commentary: It is tempting to read commentaries first. But, scouring a text, learning definitions and putting pieces together first allows the Holy Spirit to work in us before we hear from human authors. There is a time, however, when it is good to read the research of studied writers.

As I interpret a text, there is a mental list that I follow to help me discover the meaning. I seek the answers to these questions:

1. What is/are the key word(s) and what do they mean? [Usually, this is a word that repeats or a major theological word that is set apart]
2. What are the connections? [cause and effect; if/then conditions; statement and reason; chronological comments]
3. What is the context? [I pay particular attention to the preceding and following verses to get the larger meaning]
4. What is the tone? [forceful, warning, persuasive, defensive, compassionate, etc.?]
5. What are the commands or questions?
6. What cross-references support this passage? [use the center column cross-reference tools to help you]

Once you have done the heavy lifting of this study, there is one more interpretive discipline you can exercise to help arrive at the meaning of the text. I'll write about this in my next post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

observation | #2

I started this series of blog postings on how to study the Bible and then found out that I wouldn't have efficient Internet access for 2 weeks. So, I've been slow in updating. Now home, I am able to resume this important topic.

In my last 2 posts, I have highlighted the first two steps of good Bible study: Preparation [prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit to teach us] and Observation [the discipline to "What do I see?"]. Interpretation without observation ends in presumption.

Before moving on to the next step, I think it might be helpful to model the process of Observation. Consider Galatians 3:26-29:

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Here are my initial "observations" on these four verses:

1. The author is Paul, the Apostle
2. "You" are the Christians in Galatia, a church established by Paul
3. They become sons of God "through" faith in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that all people are not automatically "children of God"?
4. "all" is repeated 3x
5. "for" indicates reason or cause: The reason we are sons of Christ is because we have been baptized and clothed in Christ.
6. What does it mean to be "baptized into Christ"? Is this water baptism?
7. What does it mean to be "clothed with Christ"?
8. The "clothing" is something we do [i.e., "clothe yourselves"].
9. Why does Paul raise the issue in v. 28?
10. What does it mean that we are all "one in Christ Jesus"?
11. Is there any reason why Paul uses "Christ Jesus" instead of the more common "Jesus Christ"?
12. Conditional statement in v. 29: "If you..."
13. Does "belonging" parallel "sons" and "clothed with Christ"?
14. What is the significance of "Abraham's seed"? Does the concept appear in other places?
15. "seed" is singular--We might expect "seeds"
16. An "heir" to what [v. 29]?
17. What "promise" is Paul talking about?
18. What problem does Paul seem to be addressing?

Just by recording these observations, I guess that this passage is about clarifying who is included in God's promise to Abraham and, therefore, true children of God. Of course, I won't jump to this conclusion without a more thorough investigation. But, the work of observation [notice that I haven't even done the work of answering my questions] already begins to shed light on the meaning of the text.

Now it's your turn. Find James 1:22-25 in your Bible and make 10-20 observations about the passage. Good practice.

Monday, August 3, 2009

observation

In my last post, I mentioned that studying the Bible is like appreciating and discovering the meaning behind a beautiful piece of art. We begin our journey by connecting with the artist/writer: God Himself. Prayer prepares us with the mind of Christ.

The second step to good Bible study is "observation." This is the discipline of seeing, and it's not easy. Truth is, most of us are not very observant of life around us. We can't describe the order of instruments on our car dashboard though we sit behind the wheel every day. Moreover, we approach the Bible with presuppositions, bias, background, ideas--a whole host of baggage that has potential to lead us to wrong interpretations. So, we must stop, resist jumping to conclusions [literally] and ask, "What do I see?"

This exercise begins with larger questions about the text: Who wrote it? To whom? Why? Knowing that a letter was written to combat a known heresy rather than to provide encouragement through persecution might cause us to read the phrase "be strong" as "don't give in to the lies" rather than "don't be afraid."

Next, begin to observe the pieces:

* Which words are repeated in the text?
* Are there conditional [if/then] clauses?
* Are there cause/effect statements [since, because]?
* What verb tense is used?
* How does this passage fit with the surrounding context?
* What is the "flow" of this passage?
* What is the tone of this passage [stern, hopeful, etc.]?
* What words are unclear [need to be defined]?
* List commands, promises, warnings.

Yes, I know it sounds like alot of work. But, as with any discipline, the more you do it, the more intuitive it becomes. Fortunately, as we slow down and begin to observe, we will see things we have never before noticed in God's Word.

To learn more about this method of Bible Study, go to one of my favorite sites for serious Bible Students: Precept Austin.