What is the likelihood you’ll be at church on Sunday? 50%? 75%?
Recently, I heard an experienced urban minister reflecting on the reality that in most urban contexts, among most young Christians — even reformed evangelicals — church attendance peaks at around 2-3 Sundays per month.
Before you judge, honestly evaluate your own attendance over the past little while. I say that because for most of these young people, if you were to ask them, they would indicate that they are very committed. In their own perception, they are more likely to be there than not, whether or not the facts bear that out. Many think they are more faithful than they are.
That’s been on my mind today because I’ve been studying about Jesus. Here’s what I read:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been raised, and he entered the synagogue as was his custom on the Sabbath day and he rose to read… (Luke 4.16)
Four little words stuck out to me. Did you catch them? ‘As was his custom.‘
If there are things we tend to not like as younger people, particularly younger evangelicals, it is commandments and customs. We don’t like to be told something is necessary. But if something is good, shouldn’t it be customary? If Jesus made it his custom to go and hear the reading and explanation of the law for the first 30 years of his life before beginning his ministry, shouldn’t that inform some of our customs?
I was further rebuked by this statement from Josephus:
‘He [Moses] appointed the Law to be the most excellent and necessary form of instruction, ordaining, not that it should be heard once for all or twice or on several occasions, but that every week men should desert their other occupations and assemble to listen to the Law and to obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge of it, a practice which all other legislators seem to have neglected’ (Ag. Ap. 2.17 §175).
The Bible is awesome. So Christians love it. Unfortunately, the Bible is also huge compared to blog posts, tweets, and most other things we read these days. So Christians fear it.
About a month and a half ago I decided that I wanted to start a new Bible reading plan. From the list of thousands available, one stuck out to me: The Bible in 90 Days.
Read through the Bible in 90 days? I wondered what kind of an insane idea this was, so I looked into it a little bit. Surely, it must be impossible, right?
Here’s what I found out:
- To read the whole Bible takes between 69 and 77 hours
- So, to read the whole Bible in 90 days, you need to read about 48 minutes per day.
Yeah, it’s a commitment, for sure. But really, it’s no more than watching one prime time TV show per day. Or one-third of a sporting event per day. Those are things that we do every day without blinking! So why not give it a shot?
I’ve been at it for a while now. And I can honestly tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as a Christian that has reaped more immediate benefit for my soul. I’m over halfway through the Bible now, and rather than fearing my Bible reading, I’m loving it! Spending the extra time in the word each day has hooked me and formed a solid habit; I’m honestly addicted. I’m looking instinctively now for ways to spend more time in the word — I love it!
The YouVersion app has been super-helpful for reminding me and tracking my progress. I totally recommend getting it, if you don’t have it.
So GFC people, look out! Once I’m done this time through the Bible, I’ll be looking for some of you to do it with me!
I’m a part of a bi-weekly Bible study that I love. Rather than working through a specific text together, we each come ready to talk about what we’ve been reading on our own.
It’s nice because each time we meet is very different. Also, it adds accountability. And no matter how many good reasons to read the Bible I have in theory, it’s easy to let it slip in practice. But if I show up and haven’t been reading my Bible, I’ll have to answer to the group as to why I’m not able to share with them.
But more than anything, the blessing is in the fellowship as we reflect on what God is saying to us through his word in an ongoing, relational context that is deliberately set-up to foster fellowship.
This past Monday night one of the people in our group shared something with me that really challenged me. We were talking about why we sometimes get away from regular Bible-reading and he strongly admonished us, ‘Don’t be okay with not reading your Bible!’
Everyone loves a good story, right? And they’re always easy to understand, too… right? Or maybe not so much.
When we move into New Testament Narrative as a genre (basically consisting of the Gospels and Acts) we move into some of the most familiar and most beloved portions of Scripture.
But we must not mistake ‘familiar’ and ‘beloved’ with ‘rightly understood.’
The Gospels & Acts
New Testament Narrative may best be described as ‘Theological History’ or perhaps ‘Historical Theology.’ The term Gospel simply refers to the proclamation of good news and was typically associated with things like military conquest or the birth of a son.
While each Gospel-writer has his own purpose for writing, and therefore his own themes, we need to be familiar with big themes of the Gospels & Acts (kingdom, authority, end of the age, revelation of God, etc.). In particular, we want to see how each is deliberately trying to portray Jesus as the fulfilment of all humanity’s needs and all the OT’s expectations.
Forms of Writing in the Gospels
Parables: A parable is a short narrative that demands a response from the hearer. They are sheep-discerners (Mark 4.10-12). Some hints for parables:
- Watch for contextual indicators which teach why parables are told (Lk 18.1; Lk 15.1-3; Lk 10.26-29)
- Look for a single major point (with perhaps some secondary points), rather than allegorizing or universalizing
- In some sense, these are proverbs in narrative form, contrasting how different people live before God (wise & foolish builders, pharisees/Levites & Samaritans, rich man & Lazarus, Pharisee & tax collector).
- Parables are supposed to make you pensive; don’t press on too quickly
Back in the summer I began a series giving some ‘Guidelines for Reading the Bible.’ At that time I covered Old Testament Narrative and Wisdom Literature.
Today I’d like to move on and cover the Prophetic Literature. These books may be divided up into their three main redemptive-historical categories of pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic (all referring to the Babylonian exile of 605-536 BC).
All of the writing prophets have their ministry span falling between about 760 and 460 BC. Just like your pastor’s message to your church this coming Sunday will be different than the message preached to our people (addressing different sins and different cultural pressures, etc.), the prophets were addressing different people groups (either Israel in the north of Judah in the south). It’s important to know where and when these prophets are ministering so you can make sense of their warning / admonition / rebuke. A good study Bible will always help you here.
Prophets as Historians and Future-Tellers
Often when we conceive of prophecy and prophets we think merely of future-telling. But there is much more identity-grounding memory-jogging in the prophetic literature than anything else. As historians, they were to remind God’s people of their covenantal past and all that God had already promised & warned.
But inasmuch as they reminded people of what God had said in the past, the prophets could predict the immediate future (because they knew God would keep his word to bless & to curse appropriately). The prophets saw the future events of the ‘last days’ as a mountain range in the distance, as one singular unit. Living in the ‘last days’ now, however, we see that within the mountain range there are many peaks and valleys between individual predicted events.
Some Patterns in Prophetic Literature
- The Lawsuit: (1) Call (2)Accusation (3) Announcement, and often, (4)plea for repentance (e.g. Amos 4.1-3)
- The Woe (e.g. Isaiah 5)
- The Promise (e.g. Isaiah 40)
- The Poetry (e.g. Isaiah 52-53); also, proverbs, riddles, satire, etc.
- The Prophetic Narrative (e.g. Jeremiah 32)
- The Apocalyptic Prophecies (e.g. Daniel 7-12)
Who doesn’t want to be wise? Everyone wants to be wise! No one wants to make foolish decisions that they will later regret. And Christians especially want to know how to make decisions that are pleasing to the Lord.
That’s why we have the wisdom literature in our Bible (for my purposes here, I’m lumping in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, all in this category). These books are given specifically so that we could know how to live wisely.
But the problem is that when we pick up these books, we’re often filled with more questions than answers: How come these statements aren’t always true in my life? How come some back-to-back statements seem to contradict each other (Prov 26.4-5)? What are all these strange forms of sayings and strange images? How is someone ever supposed to live on the corner of a roof anyway (Prov 25.24)?
Here are ten hopefully helpful principles for interpreting Wisdom Literature. It’s important that we get this right, since this is God’s means of helping us to become wise.
If you’ve ever begun to read through the Old Testament and been filled with more questions than answers, you’re not alone. Many of the stories of the OT are hard to understand and hard to apply.
We know that narratives are inspired and ‘useful’ for us (2 Tim 3.16-17), but how? Are we really supposed to cheer on Samson? Are we always supposed to take Abraham as a positive example? Are we really supposed to take the admonitions of God to Joshua as personal words of exhortation & promise to us?
Here are ten hopefully helpful principles for interpreting Old Testament narrative. It’s important that we get this right, since this genre of Scripture makes up about 66% of our whole Bible.