Tag: study

How the Jews get it & the Christians miss it

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image credit: CreationSwap user Jason Harper

Traditional thinking in American Protestant culture values individual time with God. We purport that as the center of spiritual growth.

Go in your room, shut the door, and study.

Master the art of the “quiet time.” Just you and God. Not you and God and ____. Leave ____ out.

Read a book by yourself. Put headphones on and listen to a podcast by yourself. Go sit on a hammock and pray…by yourself.

This bleeds into our worship services, too. We sit in a classroom-style setting, with rows of chairs in a Sunday school class or a worship center. One person, the teacher or preacher, proclaims the Truth we need to digest, while being certain to keep our hands to ourselves. There’s no talking allowed in either setting. I even remember a note in the bulletin of a local church I attended saying, “If you have to get up during worship, please do so before the sermon starts in order to not distract the work of the Holy Spirit.” Because the Holy Spirit throws up His hands in utter ‘what-am-I-going-to-do-now’ fashion as soon as a kid gets up to go to the bathroom.

Contrast this with traditional Jewish styles of learning:

Jews seldom study Torah alone; the study of Torah is, more often than not, a social and even communal activity. Most commonly, Jews study Jewish texts in pairs, a method known as havruta (“fellowship”). In havruta, the pair struggles to understand the meaning of each passage and discusses how to apply it to the larger issues addressed and even to their own lives. – Rachael Schultz

Studying, wrestling, and seeking hard after God is done communally. We Protestants have missed that. With our rows of people, quiet services, quiet times with God, and personal spiritual growth plans, we inadvertently push people towards an individualistic faith.

My friend, James Grogan, says

Circles are better than rows.

He may have stolen that phrase, but since I don’t know who said it first, I’ll give James the credit. Circles promote group growth, unity, and a combined synergy towards knowing God, encouraging each other, correcting each other, and pushing each other towards God’s best.

The reality is that I don’t know everything there is to know about the Bible. God hasn’t revealed all angles and varied beauty of truth to me. Your life experiences have given you a certain interpretation of the texts of Scripture that help me know God more fully. Your upbringing, your failures, your pain, your victories, your passions…they all help me know God better. Not that if we study and engage God together that we have to walk out of that clones of one another. I’m still me and you’re still you. But our collective relationships with our Creator is multiplied together.

The advantages of studying together

1. We both work to fulfill the Great Commission.

Iron sharpens iron, and together we push one another to love Jesus more.

2. We build fellowship.

The early church devoted themselves to fellowship, and God honored them in this. (Acts 2:42) You can’t do this on your own.

3. We fight against pride, realizing we’re not the only ones with the “right” answer.

On your own, you’re prone to thinking you’ve got the best angle, the most understanding, and all of the “right” answers. If you thought you didn’t, you’d change your mind, right?

4. Past experiences are (at least) doubled, adding new flavors and angles to the truth.

You only have one past, one set of experiences and one mind. And thus only one insight into the vast depth of Scripture.

5. We can laugh together.

And that’s vital for our growth. If you laugh on your own, while it’s just you and God talking, people look at you weird. And put you away in “homes” for a long time.

6. We don’t get “stuck” on questions.

We’re less prone to getting stuck, because we can help each other out of our ruts of questions.

7. There’s built-in accountability.

I can’t short-cut the process of learning if I’m constantly being pushed and challenged by someone else. Alone, in a large room, though, it’s easy to disappear, not process, and not challenge myself.

8. You’re prone to being narrow-minded by yourself.

We can so easily dive straight into narrow-minded legalism and bigotry when we make our faith only about ourselves.

9. You only have 2 ears to hear from God, alone.

When you read the Scriptures and study them alone, you’re limited to your own ears. God speaks to other people besides you. You know that, right?

10. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Obeying God is too hard. Trying to understand, and obey, the Scriptures will break you. If you go it alone.

We Protestants have missed the boat when we study, prepare, and deliberate the Scriptures by ourselves. We’re better together.

Because circles are better than rows.

 

 

10 Personal Observations I learned through preaching

I had the chance to preach at Grace this Sunday.  It was a great experience communicating with my church family.

image via Flickr’s NotAshamed

And I learned a few things about myself through the preparation and delivery of this sermon as I reflected on it.  Things that seemed more tangible than other time I’d preached.  See if there are some here you’ve experienced if you’ve ever preached.

10 Personal Observations I learned through preaching

 

1. Preaching causes me to pray more.

I was on my knees more this past week than I have been in a long time.  I needed a fresh word from God, fresh insights, and a message that was True.

2. Preaching causes me to study more.

I can’t just pull a message out of thin air.  I have to study the Scriptures a lot in order to prepare a message.  It was a rich time for me.

3. Preaching humbles me.

a) Knowing I’m preaching the Scriptures and people are learning them through that preaching…that’s both humbling and intimidating.

b) Knowing I’m being prayed for…that’s humbling, too.  I can’t tell you how many people I heard from directly offering an encouraging word of prayer.  It was powerful.

4. Preaching causes me to worship more deeply.

I felt a deeper dependence on God than on normal weeks, and I consequently felt a deeper level of worship.

5. Preaching causes me to be more aware of God’s presence

As I was working to craft my message, I was processing it throughout my days.  As I went about my normal activities, I felt more aware of God’s presence as I was consistently ruminating over deep truths.

6. Preaching stretches me.

I’m used to writing blogs and articles.  A blog is typically less than a page of typed notes.  An article is 2-3.  I had 10 pages of single-spaced, typed notes, for my 30 minute sermon.

7. Preaching refines my thoughts.

I’m an external thinker.  Which means that, in order for me to make sense of my thoughts, I need to express them externally.  Typically, that clarity for me comes through writing.  Preaching is another way that I externalize, and refine, my thoughts.

8. Preaching gets me fired up.

The more I meditate on the Scriptures, and what I’ll be communicating, the more I get fired up about sharing the Truth.  I was pumped, not nervous, when I came out on stage.

9. Preaching reminds me that pastors can be lonely people.

The role of a pastor can be lonely.  I studied by myself, prepared the message by myself, and delivered the message by myself, alone on stage.  Afterwards, I criticized myself for things I should’ve done differently.  A pastor may be in the spotlight, but there has been a lot of alone time leading up to that sermon.

10. Preaching drains me.

Preaching takes a lot of energy, because not only are you spending extra time during the week preparing, you’re also pouring your heart and soul into speaking.  I put a lot of emotion…not banging the pulpit though, mind you…into my preaching.  I was exhausted last night.

Have you ever preached?

Do any of these observations resonate with your experience?

 

 

 

A truly “deep” study

I posted this question last week on my blog:

What does it take for a “regular” Bible study to turn into a “deep” Bible study?  What goes into making small group time a “deep” Bible study?

You can see all of the great comments I received HERE.

Instead of jumping straight into the methodological (how-to), it’s appropriate to look at the theological/philosophical (why?) definitions of what I believe is a “deep” discussion in a small group.  Starting with the theology behind the methodology helps to give a framework so that groups know why they are doing what they are doing…and why change is (or might be) necessary.  If we were to jump straight to the “here’s how to lead a deep discussion” topic, we’d be undercutting the foundation.

When we go about defining what a “deep” study is, we find it’s pretty simple.

A truly “deep” study is one that helps us to take steps of faith.  A “shallow” one does not.

And what does it look like to take a step of faith?

1. Start following Christ. As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9)

2. Understand what it means to follow. Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

3. Repeat daily. Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

4. Go. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

I’m not negating the sovereignty of God to draw and grow people, nor am I doing away with personal responsibility, but if a small group discussion doesn’t help the group members to love God and their neighbor more (which Jesus defined as that which the Law and Prophets hang), then it’s not deep.  Period.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a “seeker” small group, a college group, a preschool group, or a boating affinity group.  Discussions that don’t put feet to the Word and propel us to go are ultimately fruitless.

There will be much debate on how to flesh that out, depending on whether you operate with Sunday School classes, cell groups, home groups, community groups, or knitting groups.  And that’s okay.  I know that the way that each small group system fleshes the disciple-making process out will be a bit different. But here’s my admonition to us all: let’s not make the Christian life (and becoming a disciple) too difficult.  Jesus didn’t.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  That’s difficult enough.

Depth is less about the transfer of information and more about life transformation.

I’ll continue this series of posts tomorrow, and talk about various aspects of studies that lend to the disciple-making process as described above.

What do you think?  Have your thoughts on “deep” studies been challenged?

 

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