Bible Study 101

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“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

I love to work with Cryptogram puzzles – where every letter in every word is substituted with another letter of the alphabet throughout the sentence or list to be solved. My son watched me one day and asked. “How do you know what letters to use?”  “I’ve learned to recognize word patterns – single letters will always be an “A” or an “I” – three-letter words are often “the,” “and,” or “you” and a four-letter word that begins and ends with the same letter will almost always be “that. Apostrophes will always be followed by an “s” or a “t.” ” I build from those words and eventually, the whole thing becomes clear.” Then he said, “But if you start wrong you’ll end wrong.” “Absolutely,” I said.

You know this is not just about word puzzles.  There are a couple of great Bible study applications here. First, the best way to begin studying the Bible is to read it, read it, read it – even if you don’t understand it at first. I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT QUIT. You’re not going to learn anything if you give up. The more you read the Bible and learn the pattern and flow of Scripture, the more you’ll start to recognize names, places, themes, and principles through repetition. Use what you understand to help you unlock what is more challenging. Eventually, the context will become clear and you will be amazed at what you’ve learned.

Second, be sure you start with the right understanding. How can you know? First, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” When I started seriously studying my Bible, the first thing I did was look up the cross-references. If your Bible doesn’t have cross-references, I would suggest you get one that does.  This is invaluable. The second, and I think, most important step is context, context, context. An isolated verse can say almost anything you want it to say. What comes before it? What comes after it? Ask: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Word studies are a great tool too, but if you do just these two things, you will avoid a lot of misunderstandings. And last, but not least, never hesitate to ask a seasoned believer you trust for guidance. It’s a holy privilege to mentor someone in the Scriptures. The Word of God can be a puzzle, but it isn’t unsolvable. It takes time and determination, but it’s worth it!

The Secret to Bible Study

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“They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” Deuteronomy 32:47

I’ve had so many people ask me “How do you know the Bible so well?” and “What is the ‘secret’ to life-changing Bible study?” I’ve been a Bible student for 35 years and a Bible teacher for 25. I’ve been in countless “How to study the Bible classes” and attended seminary to gain a better handle on the Scriptures. I’ve learned the hermeneutical, exegetical, in-depth, precept-upon-precept methods. I dig into word terminologies and contexts, run down cross-references, and study commentaries.

But I found the most important secret to Bible study is this:
T – Turn off all distractions
I – Immerse yourself in the text
M – Meditate on the words
E – Every single day

The B.I.B.L.E.

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I love words – and I love The Word with all my heart. I love to research, to dig into word studies, to chase down cross-references, to look for connections in the Scriptures, to mine the treasures of great theologians, scholars, and godly thinkers. It gives me such a thrill. (That just screams “nerd” doesn’t it?)

But lately, I’ve set aside a lot of the deep thinkers and deep studies and returned to reading just the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to open my eyes. It’s very refreshing and I’m surprised by how much I’m learning without all the extras. I’m also seeing once again the beauty of the Scriptures. The Word of God is breathtaking.

I’ve heard preachers and speakers play “Twister” with the Bible trying to tell the old, old story from a new, new angle. I confess I’ve done it myself. But I’m reminded that the Lord told the prophet Habakkuk: “Write down the revelation and make it plain . . .” (2:2). If I impress you by waxing elephants but confuse the message, I’ve failed at my calling.

Here’s a secret I probably shouldn’t share with you: You don’t need me to tell you what the Bible says. While studying and digging add insight and understanding, the simplest mind can read the Bible and know the heart of the Holy Writ: “God loves you.” You don’t need a seminary degree to understand that. All you need is the Word of God in your hand and the Spirit of God in your heart. You – yes you – can read and understand the Bible. I may have just talked myself right out of a job.

Beloved, of all the things I write and say, I hope that the message you hear in every post or lesson comes through loud and clear: God loves you. But you really don’t need me to tell you that. Pick up your Bible and read it for yourself.

Why Should I Read the Bible?

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“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

When I study the Bible, I like to do so slowly and deliberately, digging in deep, examining details, context, and words, asking questions of the text, cross-referencing Scriptures and consulting resources for a better understanding. Like a jeweler turning a diamond over and over in his hand, I look at a verse from different sides to see what new facets I can find. What’s amazing is, no matter how much I look, I can never see it all. It’s a living Word and is constantly producing truth and wisdom. Not new truth or new wisdom, but more of what it has faithfully said for thousands of years.

Yet for all my digging and study, there are things about the Bible that I cannot make sense of. Not all of my questions about the text have nice, neat answers. Maybe I should stop reading the Bible. Come to think of it, God has yet to answer a lot of my questions about life. Maybe I should stop believing in God.

Or maybe I should have faith. Maybe I should believe that God is good and His Word is true, even though I can’t resolve every issue with the Scriptures or with life. Maybe I should trust that things will make sense – in another time and another place. Maybe I should take Jesus’ words to heart: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:12).

Beloved if you’re approaching the Bible for the sole purpose of finding answers to all your questions, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The Bible isn’t a life-answer book or a self-help book. It’s not just a book of wisdom or direction – although those are all there. It is the testimony of Almighty God – His autobiography you might say. When you approach the Bible as anything less you miss the point entirely. And you miss God. If you come to the Bible to know God you will find Him on every page in every word. Let’s make 2020 the year we study the Scriptures and believe what God has to say.

Time to Grow Up

“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.”   2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’ve been in church pretty much all my life, from the “cradle roll” (who remembers that?) to being a Bible teacher today. Other than a short stint of youthful rebellion, church has been part of my life all my life. I was taught all the Bible stories, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Baby Jesus and the Empty Tomb. As I got older I listened to my Sunday School teachers and Pastors tell me what the Bible said – and I took their word for it and went on my merry way. Until about ten years ago, when God began to stir something up in me – a deep thirst for His Word – and so began a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life, studying the Bible – for myself. Because, while my teachers and Pastors did their best, they couldn’t speak truth into my heart and life like the Word and the Spirit can.

Our key verse was the first Bible Drill verse I learned as a kid (who remembers that?). And it is a powerful word about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the whole counsel of the Word of God. The Bible is not a man-inspired construct, but is man-penned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. It is truth, and it is true. I believe it is infallible, inerrant and as relevant today as the day the fresh ink hit the papyrus.

I couldn’t always say that though, or at least not with the same conviction, because I didn’t know the Bible well enough. I took what had been spoon-fed to me all my life and that was enough for me. Until it wasn’t. I was like the people in the book of Hebrews, who were still drinking milk and refusing to sink their teeth into the meat of truth. The writer says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (Hebrews 5:11). From our contemporary perspective, that seems to imply a learning disability, but in the original Greek text, the word “slow” is translated “lazy and undisciplined.” That just took my breath. Read the verse and explanation again. They could not understand the deeper truths of the faith because they were lazy and undisciplined. Today we could say they spent more time watching T.V. and playing video games and Candy Crush Saga than attending to their souls. They went for the snooze button rather than the Scriptures every morning. Yes, we all need down time to give our brains and bodies rest, but have we gotten that out of balance? Don’t our spirits need to be refreshed as well, if not more so? Look at verse 14: “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (emphasis mine). Ask any talented musician how they play so beautifully and they will tell you – constant practice. Ask a pro athlete how he became so good and he will tell you – constant training.   Do you want to be a more mature Christian? Get into a Spiritual training program –a Sunday School class, Bible study class or seek out a godly person to be your spiritual mentor. Put in the effort, and God will reward you with understanding and revelation and a deeper hunger than you ever imagined. Yes, understanding comes from the Spirit, but the Spirit ain’t gonna do all the work for you.

Let me show you one more thing I learned. As I said, I’ve heard this verse almost all my life, but I saw something very personal in it this morning. This is in the center of Paul’s charge to his young protégé Timothy, whom he has appointed as the Pastor and leader of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). From 2 Timothy 3:10 through 4:5, Paul exhorts the young Pastor in his calling. The passages in our key verse are a personal word of advice and instruction to Timothy. And that is what God spoke to me today (note: I am using my given name Dorcas, because God uses that name to speak to me): “Dorcas, all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching you Dorcas, rebuking you Dorcas, correcting you Dorcas, and training you Dorcas in righteousness, so that you Dorcas may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This passage is not intended to be used to point to – or worse – point at others, especially non-Christians about the authority of the Bible. It is meant to be pointed at me. God is calling me to submit to the authority of His Word and to allow it to teach, rebuke, correct, train and equip me “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [me] to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Maybe you got that long ago, but it hit me with great force this morning.   As a Bible teacher, I tend to read the Scriptures searching for the lesson I am to present. I often forget God wants the lessons to apply to me first.  As important that it is to know the inspiration of God’s Word it is even more important for me to know its authority over my own life.

What does God’s Word mean to you? Is it light and life to you? Is the Bible your delight and hope? Come, dig into the rich treasure of the Scriptures as see how sweet it is. It’s there for tasting.

God of the Word, please stir in me a hunger and thirst for Your Word; that passion for the Scriptures will press me closer and closer to you. Amen.

Out With the Old, In with the New?

“Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”  Hebrews 9:15

New Year’s resolutions are so easy to make, and so hard to keep. Old habits die hard.  Old desires still burn within.  Chocolate seems all the more tempting in January than it was in December, especially when you resolve to lose weight.  Many of us make a resolution to start good habits, eating healthy, exercising, and reading the Bible every day.  These are good, life-affecting habits, but all too often we get sidetracked and let our good resolutions fall by the wayside.  I would like to encourage you in one particular good resolution, that of reading the Bible daily.

I love the Word of God.  It is my passion and my calling.  I am both a teacher and a student of the Bible.  I have been reading and studying the Bible for many years, getting up early every morning to spend time in prayer and to soak my spirit in God’s Holy and perfect Word, to study and dig deeper for understanding and nuggets of wisdom and truth.  God’s Word has changed my life – it has changed me from the inside out.  And it will do the same for you, if you don’t give up.

When we determine to read the Bible, we start off well, Genesis and Exodus are exciting books, filled with personal stories and great wonders of God from Creation, the Flood, to the calling of Abraham, and this family that God declares will be a great nation.  Exodus offers us the awesome burning bush of Moses and the plagues that brought freedom for the enslaved Hebrews, the parting of the sea, the people’s wanderings because of their disobedience, and the beauty of the Tabernacle of the Lord.

Then we start on the book of Leviticus, and all of the sudden we are bogged down in the mire of sacrifices and offerings and rules and regulations.  And our resolve weakens.  The book closes and the dust starts to build.  And Satan claps his evil hands in delight.  What is the point of reading this archaic account of sacrifices and things that have no bearing on us as New Testament Christians?  Why do we need to read about dead kings and prophets and people who are so wishy-washy towards God?  But – aren’t we being wishy-washy in giving up on this marvelous book about the God we have claimed our allegiance to?

One reason I love the Old Testament so much is that everything written in those “archaic” books points toward the One who is their perfect fulfillment – Jesus Christ.  For instance, Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (see 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29).  The Old Testament is rich with evidences of Jesus Christ, a subject I will be studying and writing about more in the coming year.

The study of the Old Testament sacrificial system gives us all the more reason to rejoice and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ.  When we read of the severity of these sacrifices, and consider the weight of the rituals and regulations that the Old Testament Jews had to endure to be in relationship with the Lord God, it should tell us that 1) sin is a serious offense to God, 2) the price that had to be paid to cover man’s sin was extreme, and 3) our salvation came at the highest price – the life and blood of God’s Son.

A passage from the book of Hebrews isthe perfect example of why the study of the Old Testament is vital to understanding our redemption through Jesus Christ.  Look with me at Hebrews 9: 12-14:

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!”

In these verses we see the juxtaposition of the Old Testament against the New.  Before Christ, the blood of sacrificed animals was an external, or outward, cleansing of the people’s sin, and this only applied to unintentional sin (sins committed in ignorance-see Hebrews 8:7).  Levitical law stated that “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible” (Lev. 5:17). But the Lord made it clear, there was no provision under the Old Testament sacrificial system for intentional sin.  Listen to Numbers 15:30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly…blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s Word and broken his commands… his guilt remains on him.”  That is a chilling thought.  How many of your sins and mine were committed with the full knowledge that we were disobeying God’s Word?  Under the Old Testament law, we would remain forever guilty.

Now look back at Hebrews 9:12-14 and rejoice with me that the blood of Jesus cleanses – “once for all. All sins – intentional and unintentional, every act of rebellion and disobedience, every stumble and fall – is covered by the precious blood of the Lamb of God.  Oh I can hardly keep from shouting (and waking my family at this early hour)!  While the blood of animals cleansed the Jew outwardly and only from unintentional sin, the blood of Christ cleanses all of our sins – and cleanses us from the inside out.  Verse 14 says that Jesus’ blood will “cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death.” In other words, Jesus blood cleanses us from the guilt of sin and from the desire for sin.  Jesus cleanses us from within, where man’s sinful nature lives, the root of our passions and the impulse that drives our actions.   The blood of animals had no effect on man’s inner nature, on his heart.  But the blood of Jesus Christ changes not just our outward condition, but our very heart, soul and spirit.  When we surrender to this transforming power we will find that our sinful desires are replaced with a passion to know God and to live for Him in all we say, do, and think.

Oh how I love the Word of God.  It shows me who I am, who God is, and the price He paid to redeem me for His own, to change my heart and my life.  My ministry is to encourage you in the study of God’s Holy and Living Word – because it is life and light and nourishment to our very souls.  Don’t give up my fellow Bible student – there are riches waiting for you beyond your wildest imagination.

Holy Father, God of the Living Word – my heart is overwhelmed by the joy of Your salvation and the beauty of Your Holy Word.  Etch it deeply into my heart and let it always be ready on my lips.  Thank You for Your Life-giving Word.  Amen