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Review: Women of the Word

My wife Carly was kind enough to read and review a recent release from Crossway by Jen Wilkin, a Bible teacher and author from Dallas. Here are her brief thoughts on the book (and I can speak for her: she gives it five stars!).

Jen Wilkin. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. $9.94 (Amazon).

Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher who attends the Dallas mega-church The Village. In this new book intended to help women in their study of Scripture, Jen reveals her own struggle with being raised in church yet being biblically ignorant. This gives the book such a real and personable feel. No one wants to learn from someone who claims they have it all together! Her personal stories are easy to relate to and help the reader understand the information in the book. The chapters are quick and easy to read, but contain vital content for becoming more biblically literate.

In the opening pages, Jen talks about the mountain of Biblical illiteracy many Christians face (chs. 1-2). And she says that this mountain must be moved one spoonful at a time. Yes! But just by the end of the introduction, I was ready to put on my work boots and start digging!

The highlight of the book comes in chapter 6 where Jen talks about the process of study. Her very practical process does seem a bit daunting and time consuming (especially to this stay at home mom of two toddlers!) but our generation is biblically illiterate and starving for a reason. We assume we don’t have time to study the Bible in depth so we give ourselves 5 minutes a day to “read the Bible” which really just means reading the verse of the day that we have texted to us while we’re brushing our teeth. The biggest take-away for me–the one line that stood out–was when she wrote, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” I think I shouted “Amen!” out loud at that point.  If we want to know and love God deeply, we must know and love his Word. You must spend time studying God’s word if you want to know and love him!

If you gain nothing else from this book (believe me, though, you will gain more than this), you will gain a hunger to know God’s word deeply, and be mastered and changed by it.

So, I highly recommend this book to new and mature believers alike. I would love to see women’s ministries in churches read this book before launching into Bible and book studies which are helpful, but may not teach women to study the Bible for themselves.  It’s easy to read and engaging even for people who don’t usually read non-fiction.

After reading only a few chapters (and hi-lighting every other line), I arranged for a friend to read it with me and we meet and talk about it weekly. It’s been helpful for us to digest together and keep each other accountable in our study of Scripture.

Thank you, Jen, for writing this very practical and helpful tool that I hope and pray will be used to bring about spiritual renewal and Biblical literacy among Christians today!

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Life

Time With the Lord, Part 2: Tips for Study

In the first post on spending time with the Lord, I addressed why studying the Bible is necessary and vital and what are the key elements (of holiness) that we need to have when we study.  This post will be practical tips for how we would study a particular passage of Scripture.

Before I go on, though, I want to say a word about how long we should actually spend time with the Lord.  No doubt people will say that putting a mandate on time in the word will be legalistic.  I agree.  However, quality is not the only important aspect of our time with God.  Quantity is equally important.  Here’s why: Imagine that you are married (and some of you are married).  You go to work all day, perhaps talk to your spouse once for five minutes, and then come home and chat for 15 minutes.  Then you eat dinner (sometimes together depending on the circumstances), but afterward go on to ignore your spouse and watch SportsCenter (or something else).  How do you think your spouse would feel if you gave them 15-minutes in a 24-hour day?   Would it be legalistic to say that your desire is to spend two quality hours with your spouse on a daily basis?  No!  It would be an overflow of the love you have for her in your heart.  Now, how much more do you think God desires you to spend quality, intentional time with him in his word?  If we truly love God, our heart will be passionate about making time (a lot of time!) to spend with him.  God has spoken.  It’s written in his word.  If we desire to know God, we will meet him there daily.

Now, with that said, what does it actually look like to sit down and study the Bible?  So often, I think, people do not know what to read in the Bible, nor do they know how to read it, because they simply haven’t had any training.  Here are three basic principles of study that will help in your pursuit of learning God’s word.

  • First, observe what is going on in the passage. This is simply asking who, what, when, and where. You can take it section by section (some Bibles break up the chapters into sections, you know that). Otherwise, if your Bible doesn’t, just find out where the writer’s idea ends and use that section. So, for example, let’s look at Colossians 1:1-12.  I looked for words in this section that describe God the Father, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit. I looked for every time Paul mentioned “I” or “we” or “us”. I looked for connecting words like “for, and, therefore, since, so that, because of, but, yet” etc. You can look for words that are repetitive. In Colossians, I looked for words that describe God’s Word (the truth, the gospel, etc). Finally, look for any words that look important to you or words you don’t know that you want to find out what they mean. I would ask questions like, “What is an apostle” and then proceeded to look the word up.  I asked about Colossae the city.  What made it special?  Who lived there?  Where is it located?  Observing the passage will help you come to what I call a “Message Big Idea.”  It’s simply the overview of the passage.  This will help set up a good base for determining the “Theological Big Idea.”
  • Secondly, interpret the passage. Here is our “theological big idea.”  We could be very detailed in this step, but for simplicity’s sake, I want to discuss one particular interpretation method that has been very rewarding for me (especially in the Old Testament).  I will call it the redemptive focus.  Every passage in Scripture answers two questions (among many others): What is the fallen nature in man? And what is God’s redemptive plan?  From Genesis to Revelation we see this theme.  So when we read Ephesians 2, we know that our fallen nature is a dead spirit that is apart from the living God.  We also come to know that part from God’s grace and mercy we would remain dead in our spirit.  But because of God’s love for us and his preordained choice (from Ephesians 1), we are no longer children of wrath, but become adopted children.  Even in the Old Testament, when we read about sacrifices, laws, rituals, exiles, covenants, and on and on, we can see the beauty of the gospel.  The whole Bible communicates God’s gospel (“good news”) to his covenant people.  Some passages are harder than others to find the redemptive focus.  To do this, we need to study parallel and clarifying passages.  We must read commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament) lexicons.  Remember , our most precious commentary and resource for the Bible is the Bible itself.  Use cross references and easier Scriptures to interpret harder Scriptures.  Find themes and connect your passage to other Scriptures.  God’s plan is to redeem a broken world, a broken people.  He has revealed that plan in Scripture.  Enjoy studying and learning it!
  • Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to apply the passage to our lives. We can call this putting the passage into practice.  This part is fairly open to how you want to do things. Give yourself challenges, questions to ask yourself, or maybe goals to meet. You can pick a verse or two to memorize or you could just meditate on that section for a few days.  Most importantly, we must pray over and through the passage and have a heart of confession.
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Life

Time With the Lord, Part 2: Key Elements of Study

In the previous post, we discussed why it is important to study the Bible and make it a daily discipline.  The Bible is the very words of God given to his people so that we can have everything we need that pertains to life and godliness.  Jesus is worthy to be treasured.  The way to treasure him is to know his word.  To know it, we must be serious in our study of it.  The word “theology” simply means the study of God.  We all do theology, whether we are pastors, lay-people, or agnostics.  We all study God in some way, shape, or form.  For Christians, we study God through the only true way: his word.  And, I will say, for Christians, some have good theology; others, not so good.  To be quality students of God, we must think rightly about God and in order to do that, we must study Scripture.

During this post, I want to address some key elements of a quality time with God in his word.  These are not the only things that are necessary in a time with the Lord, but these are the essential elements of study.  This list may surprise you.  The overarching theme of this list is holiness.  Our holiness is more important than our note taking ability.  In the next post, I will discuss how we actually sit down and study a passage, but for our purposes here, holiness permeates throughout.

  • Be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals true interpretation of Scripture.  “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from Gos as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).  If the Holy Spirit is the divine author of Scripture, then it is necessary that we believe that he is the only one who reveals its truth to us.  If Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), how much more should we be filled when we go before the Lord in his word?
  • Strive for humility. It takes a humble person to come before God’s word and submit to and follow it.  Why?  God’s word so often requires that we think and act differently than our sinful nature tells us to.  We must humble ourselves and come to God’s word on his terms.  We must ask, “Lord, I know you are high and lofty and I am not.  Humble me so that I can see where you want me to change my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and actions so that they are in line with your word.”
  • Be Repentant. As we read God’s read from Genesis to Revelation it does one thing, among others: it shows the holiness of God and our sinfulness.  One of the many goals of Scripture is to show our total depravity.  When we read passages that talk about the grossness of sin, the point is that we would grow to hate our own sin and confess and repent.  We should be like the man in the temple, who could not even raise his face to heaven while he cried, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
  • Pray. Martin Luther said, “Pray hard, for you are quite a sinner.”  How true is that statement!  We must prayer fervently and with conviction.  We must trust that through our prayers, God will change us to become more like him, and that the ground for change is the Scriptures (1 Thes. 2:13).  We must pray to apply God’s word into our lives.  James 1:23-24 says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he looks like.”  The word without application and without prayer for the Spirit to work will do no good for anybody.  That person will be no better than a Pharisee.
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Life

Time With the Lord, Part 1: Why We Study the Bible

In American Christianity, there is no doubt a lack of knowledge when it comes to knowing the Scriptures.  I don’t know the statistics about how many American Evangelicals read their Bibles on a daily basis, but from my short experience in college ministry, I can only guess the numbers are low.  Some may say that college students aren’t a good sample to examine, but I would argue that in college, one has more free-time available than any other time in life.  If a person won’t take intentional time to be with the Lord on a daily basis when there is much free-time, what would change when a person works full-time, is married, has kids, and other responsibilities?

With that said, I want to begin this short series of posts with the question, “Why do we study the Bible.”  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’ll discuss what a time with the Lord looks like, but we’ll do that in a couple of days.  Today, the question I just asked needs to be answered.  We won’t know how to read, what to read, or what to do when we sit down to spend time with Jesus if we don’t even know why we study the Bible.

Let me first say that I ask this question because studying the Scriptures is essential to how we know God.  Second Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  And Psalm 12:6 says, “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.”  Prayer, singing, fellowship, evangelism, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines are all good and essential, but they are void of power and effectiveness without the word of God.  We study the Bible because, after all, Jesus is described as the Word itself in John 1.  “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” (v. 14)

So, why do we study the Bible?  If God’s word is true, lovely, and righteous, then we should read it everyday. If God is truly who he says he is, then we should take heed and read his word. We should make it our lifeblood. We should make it a priority to spend time with him by reading it. In Christianity today, we talk so much, we utter senseless prayers so often, and we seek so much advice from “experts.”  Perhaps, if we were connected to Christ at the root — his holy word — then perhaps we would be more devoted to him and we would kill more sin and we would have so much more joy in evangelism, discipleship, and missions.

Jesus said eternal life is knowing God and knowing himself (Jn. 17:3).  Jesus is the word (Jn. 1:14).  Knowing the word means that we know more of Jesus and will experience the abundant life that he came to give.