The Most Incredible Book

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39. 

Whether you accept and believe in it’s teachings or not, it cannot be denied that the Bible is the most remarkable, amazing, unique and incredible book that has ever been written. If you read the Bible you can find just about anything: Drama, love, hate, peace, war, romance, poetry, prophecy, history, mystery, to name a few.

There are other reasons the Bible is an incredible book. They include: 

First, consider the continuity of the Bible. Here is a book written over a 1,500 year time-span by over 40 authors from every walk of life. Nevertheless, from beginning to end, its authors spoke on hundreds of subjects with harmony and continuity. Second, consider the fact that the Bible has been read by more people than any other book in history. The Bible has out-sold every book ever written and still sells more copies every year than any other book. This is in spite of the fact that the Bible was the first major book ever to be printed on the Gutenberg press.

Third, the Bible has been translated and published in more languages than any other book. Wycliffe states that parts of the Bible are available in approximately 2,900 out of the 6,877 known languages, and that there are currently 554 languages with a complete Bible translation. The New Testament is available in 1,333 languages and many more have at least one book of the Bible available.

The Bible lived through more attacks than any other book. People have tried to burn it, destroy it and outlaw it, from the days of the Roman emperors to today. The fact that it not only survived but thrived is in itself miraculous. Discoveries by archaeologists both confirm and prove the Bible’s absolute accuracy.  Not one archaeological discovery has ever contradicted or cast doubt on a Biblical reference. Add to that the Bible is the only volume ever produced which contains a large amount of prophecies accurately predicting the future of individual nations, peoples, cities, and the coming of the Messiah!

The Bible is truly an incredible book. No matter how often you read the Bible or what book or passage you are reading, you will encounter truth, some wisdom, some life lesson that is still relevant to us today. Given all that, why don’t we read it? Why don’t we study it? Why don’t we soak up the timeless truths and wisdom that can be found in every part of the Bible?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes the Bible remarkable to you? Why?
  2. What are some reasons we don’t spend more time studying the Bible? What can we do to overcome those obstacles.

Something May Have Been Lost In The Translation

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” – Hebrews 4:12. 

There are times when what you are trying to say is lost in translation. It happens often in translation from one language to another or in printed media. For example, an ad for a Bangkok dry cleaner when translated to English read, “Drop your trousers here for best results.” Another example was printed in a local newspaper. The story revolved around a major explosion at a chemical plant. The reporter interviewed a person who lived close to the plant. Something was lost in translation when the quote in the article said, “I was awakened by a loud blast in my pajamas.”

Nothing should ever be lost in translation when it comes to the Bible. If you had been looking to purchase a Bible fifty years ago, your choices would have been between the King James Version (KJV) and maybe one other. Today, you are faced with shelves and shelves of different Bible versions. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of available options. Which one should you acquire? What factors should be taken into consideration before making your decision? 

God’s Word does not change, but languages does change, thus the need for updated and revised translations of the Bible. The overriding goal of the modern translations is to help convey to readers in contemporary English what the original text meant. Each translation has limits. The church uses the NLT, but the ESV and NIV are excellent versions as well.

The next question you hear is should you stick with one version or several.  A rule of thumb is to use multiple translations for the purpose of increased understanding — for instance, use them as commentaries — and use one main translation for the purpose of memorization. It is hard to memorize scripture when bouncing around amongst several versions. It becomes very confusing. 

Remember two things: First, we must keep in mind that the Bible must be prayed over, studied, and committed to the heart in order for it to function in the manner that God intended. The truth of Scripture is given to us for living. We may own every version of the Scriptures that is available and not profit by any of them. Regardless of what translation you use, what matters is the changes in thinking that result from what we read.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What translation do you use? Why?
  2. What can we do this week to improve how we read and study the Bible?

Small and Sustainable

“Be good to your servant that I may live and obey your word. Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” – Psalm 119:17-18. 

Why should I read the Bible? Why is it important for my life today? And how do I go about doing it?

We believe the Bible is the standard for everything we do in life as Christians and we also believe it’s our primary way of forming a deep personal relationship with God. As you read, study, seek direction, and grow, you begin to see God more clearly, and your life changes because of that. Digging into God’s Word is the foundation for a strong, healthy spiritual life.

Maybe you’ve never really read the Bible before, or maybe you’re finding that it’s tough to stay consistent. If so, you may want to start a short daily devotional that helps the Bible become a real and active part of your life, or maybe you want to work towards reading the Bible in a year. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to start somewhere, even if it is small. Small and sustainable are the objectives if Bible study is new to you.

Small and sustainable is regular, short times reading/studying scripture. Initially, have a 15 minute window; 10 minutes reading the Bible and five minutes for Bible-focused prayer. Initially that may be enough to not threaten your attention span. This takes introspection—knowing your limitations while working to expand them. If you can only concentrate for five minutes, start there. But also work to increase your stamina—start with a prayer for guidance, end with a prayer that reflects on what you’ve read. Pray and ask God to help it sink into your mind and heart. Then repeat it the next day until it becomes a routine.

Once the five-minute sessions become routine and easier, add a couple of minutes. Remember that 10 minutes focused meaningfully on Scripture is better than an hour that’s immediately forgotten. 

A daily devotional time reading and studying the Bible can truly be a life-changing experience. You have every possibility of growing closer to the Lord than ever before as you get to know Him through prayer and the reading of His Word. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a daily devotional time with God?
  2. What does it mean that he has “hidden God’s Word in his heart”?
  3. What can we do this week to start a small and sustainable daily time for reading/studying the Bible?

Game Changer

“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” –  Theodore Roosevelt

You can never just read the Bible. We should want and need more. Whether you read your Bible before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, we need to read and listen to what God is telling us. The Bible is one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal to grow closer to God. But, we often don’t use this God-breathed tool to its full potential.

I think I can guess your reaction: “Marty, I use my Bible daily or even weekly, so why would I say the Bible is under-utilized?” Reading the Bible is a good thing, but is often an item to check off on our obligated-to-do list. But there is a difference between reading something out of duty and getting something out of what we read.

Something happens when we study and absorb the Bible rather than just a daily chore. The Bible becomes a source of comfort and understanding. Suddenly, we are reading verses that speak to our circumstances, to our concerns and problems.  So instead of going through the motions, we read with questions, meditate on verses that stick out, write notes and look up cross-references. The more time spent studying, the more easy it is to realize and experience the very real power of God’s Word to transform, to comfort, and provide real wisdom for real life. A real appreciation for God’s Word will lead to spiritual growth. 

Maybe you’re a new work-in-progress believer who is just starting to study the Bible.  Maybe you have been a Christian for some time but the busyness of life keeps you from studying the Bible as much as you like. Or maybe you are somebody who does read the Bible, but wishes that you knew the Bible better.

I have learned over the years that the more you invest your time and energy into studying the Word rather than just reading it out of a sense of duty, the more you’ll experience the abundant Christian life that God has planned for you. Matthew 4:4 says, “…People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Psalm 119:9-11 says, “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

So what is the best way to study the Bible? Treat it like you would any other text that you are going to be studying. Get serious about it!  Don’t just read a verse and walk away. Ask questions about that verse. Find a Bible study method that really works for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a process/system for studying the Bible? Does it work for you? 
  2. What can we do this week to improve our study habits?

All Scripture is Inspired By God

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17. 

The Bible was written by ordinary men. These were real people: shepherds, soldiers, fishermen, and at least one tent maker. Some were elite: Solomon was a king, while others were outcasts. All lived in a world very different from ours. But all answered the calling they believed they had been given to communicate what was true, important, and worth recording for future generations. Their task, however, was made easier by a behind the scenes author. People of faith believe that God himself inspired men and women to put doubts and prayers, hopes and dreams into writing. Using ordinary people, He gave us an extraordinary message. 

The apostle Paul declared, “All Scripture is inspired [literally, ‘God-breathed’] by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The term “inspiration” explains how God communicated His message through human beings into the written words found in the Bible. Throughout time, people have wondered “how imperfect men could be expected to produce a perfect Bible.” Peter answers that question: “…no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Dr. Charles Ryrie (the editor of The Ryrie Study Bible) offers a simple yet effective explanation of the process of inspiration that led to the Bible: “Inspiration is God’s superintending of human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error in the words of the original autographs His revelation to man.”  In other words, inspiration means that the Holy Spirit of God superintended the human writers in the production of Scripture so that what they wrote was precisely what God wanted written. This does not mean that God dictated every word. Rather, his Spirit so pervaded the mind of the human writer that he chose out of his own vocabulary and experience precisely those words, thoughts and expressions that conveyed God’s message with precision.

There is no way to prove that the Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word, any more than we can prove that God exists. However, we can remove a few potholes in the road to belief. In the remainder of this week, we will look at some of the greatest evidences that the Bible is God’s inspired and exclusive message to us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What challenges have you heard people raise against the Bible? What do you think about the Bible’s reliability?
  2. What comes to your mind when you hear someone talking about the authority of the Bible? The inspiration? 

Retain What You Read

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39. 

The Bible is truly an incredible book.

No matter how often you read the Bible, or what book or passage you are reading, you will encounter truth, some wisdom, some life lesson that is still relevant to us today over 2,000 years later.  It is full of interesting characters, equally interesting stories, plot twists, enough to satisfy any novel reader.  The Bible has been the inspiration for people throughout the centuries. A case in point, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” speech contains numerous references to Bible passages. One is Amos 5:24, “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” Dr. King talked about dreams when he quoted Isaiah 40:4-5, saying, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (NIV)

The Bible is a rich book. But how do you remember or retain what you read?  It seems that too often you forget what you have read as the tasks and activities of life reenter the picture. How do you keep from merely scanning the page or checking out as the mind wanders to that project that is due at work, or that paper that is due at school. If that is you, you are not the only one. If that is you, you may want to consider the following when reading a passage or teaching that you want to retain:

Read and re-read the same passage over and over again. Read it as many times that is needed to understand what the passage is telling you and to remember it going forward. First read-through: Read as you normally would. Second read-through: Read out loud.  Read the passage once more, picturing yourself in the scene. What do you imagine the scene is like? What do you see around you? How do you feel?  In the last read through, use a pen or pencil to mark the passage. Underline anything that stands out, and feel free to write down any observations that come to mind.

Yes, this does seem like a lot of time and effort to go through. The reality is most passages won’t take you longer than 15 minutes for all 5 steps. And you’ll find that the more you engage with a passage, the more you’ll notice the details and nuances you didn’t see before.

Remember the goal isn’t to earn extra credit or to impress God with our efforts, but rather to grow deeper in knowledge and love for God. You can do that just as well through studying a handful of verses as you would reading chapters upon chapters at a time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What system do you use if you want to retain a passage of scripture? Does it work?
  2. What are the advantages of having a deeper knowledge of scripture in your day-to-day walk with God? 

Why Study the Bible

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” – Hebrews 4:12. 

It may seem an odd question to ask—Why study the Bible? Many Christians would look at the person asking that question and reply, “why wouldn’t I?”  Others would point to the fact that studying the Bible is a huge undertaking. It is also a lot of work if you really want to grasp what the Bible is really saying. The 66 books in the Bible collectively make a unique volume that talks about all the most important matters of life. It deals with right and wrong, morality, life on earth, life after death and touches on all the complicated issues of humanity. Biblical scholars have argued over different themes and passages in the Bible for centuries. While it is the most popular book ever written, it is also the most controversial.

And besides that, if you have spent any time attempting to understand the Bible, you have probably realized that it’s not always a walk in the park. It can take time, effort, concentration, and perseverance. At times, we must be willing to research and dig into resources outside of our normal reading. It requires teachability and the desire to learn.

So why should you study the Bible? The Bible remains the only source of divine revelation and power that can sustain you as a Christian in your walk with God. The Bible provides us the incredible privilege to know God personally through His Word. Bookstores are filled with books attempting to help us figure out this life. There are countless self-help books on marriage, parenting, relationships, and personal growth. There are countless other books on addiction recovery and the ups and downs of life. Still more give views on life after death, good and evil, and the human condition. But only the Bible gives us answers to those questions directly from the God who created us. The Bible is God’s inspired words to us. No self-help book can come close to the words of our Creator.

Studying God’s Word may be a challenging task, but it is doable and eminently worthwhile. God did not give us His Word to confuse us, but to enlighten us. He revealed the contents of the Bible so that we could understand. But understanding requires study. If we are not willing to put in the effort and the work, then it is easy to miss out on rich, life-changing knowledge we gain  by studying the Bible. The rewards of pouring over and examining the Bible make the work well worth it. The effort we exert in seeking to know the Word will be nothing in comparison with the payment we receive back from it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 119:103, 105, 114, and 160: What do this verses say to you about studying the Bible?
  2. What can we do this week to improve how we read and study the Bible?

Reading Is Not Optional

“To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?” – Queen Elizabeth II

Americans have a positive view of the Bible. However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. It was not always that way. If you are like most followers of Jesus, you had a season when you couldn’t get enough of God’s Word.  You had your head stuck in a Bible making notes about key passages that seemed to jump off the page or screen. It seemed every day you were adding a new translation or a new commentary or some other resource. The local Christian book store knew you by name. And the weird thing is it was as if the Bible was written for you. It was uncanny. It talked about your struggles, your ups and downs, your yearnings, etc. And best of it all, it had the answers. It was a truly amazing time.

But at some point other priorities seeped in and the Bible faded into the background. The connection was disconnected. The desire to learn more and more wane. Because of other time restraints, you no longer had the time to enjoy the Bible as you once did. If that is true of you, you are not alone.  Research indicates that most Americans face that challenge in their life. And as a result of that challenge, many Christians are not as oriented to the Bible as they could or should be.

For example, the Bible is not a traditional book—written by a single author and divided into chapters. The Bible could be described as a compilation of 66 individual books written by different men over about 1,500 years. Although about 40 men wrote the 66 books of the Bible, in another sense, there is only one author. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” The books are of different lengths and different literary styles. Yet through it all, the Bible is the story of God pursuing a relationship with people. It is a story of God working to restore a broken relationship between himself and humanity.

Secondly, the Bible is two testaments, the Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books) because the Old Testament described the history of the people that God chose to be the ones through whom the Messiah would come. Therefore, it contains the history of God’s people (Jews) and also includes prophecies of the coming of Jesus the Messiah. The New Testament was written as a demonstration of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus as well as letters written to various churches and individuals informing them of proper Christian behavior. 

Studying and understanding the Bible can be a lifelong adventure. It contains both simple and practical insights, but also profound and moving insights that will help Christians of all kinds grow in their faith. Bible study should never become just an academic task. Rather the overarching point of studying the Bible is to know God better so that He may be glorified. Along the way, you will be edified, challenged and changed for the better. Learning to correctly handle “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ) through Bible study begins with an orientation and ends in putting it to use in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How well do you believe you have been oriented to the Bible? What can you do to fill in the gaps?
  2. Bible study is not the same thing as Bible reading. How are they different?

Humility In Action

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:11.

Most Christians have heard the story of Nehemiah. On the surface it looks like a long list of names of people doing work, but it is so much more. But if we look a little closer and read a little slower we might find something that’s insightful and has something to teach us, even in a book that looks like a list of names of people doing work. Names like Berechiah and Meshezabel, Zadok and the daughters of Shallum to name a few. Nehemiah was building a wall. The goal of the wall was making the city of Jerusalem defensible.

Organizing that effort and deciding who worked where was quite a job for Nehemiah. The book of Nehemiah is full of people you would not expect to see working on a building site. But they did their bit. They got involved and did what had to be done. For example, we read in Nehemiah 3:14: “The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, the leader of the Beth-hakkerem district. He rebuilt it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars.” You have to have respect for Malchijah. Who would want to build the dung gate? It’s hard to imagine people waving their hands saying to Nehemiah, “dude, I want to do that job.” But somebody had to do it and Malchijah humbly takes on this objectionable task for the overall good. 

Another section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” (Nehemiah 3:5 NIV) They decided not to get involved. We’re not told why. They clearly resented being told what to do by their supervisors. The nobles want the benefit of the project without being willing to contribute or help to make it happen. That kind of attitude: being uncooperative, selfish, and unwilling to do one’s part to make things better is because of pride.

Who do we want to be, the nobles of Tekoa, or Malchijah? The answer is choosing humility over pride.  Augustine gave the following advice to people who are faced with that decision. “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is the difference between the nobles of Tekoa and Milchijah played out today in what we will or won’t do?
  2. Are there any ways you are actively seeking to become more humble? Are there strategies, approaches, or attitudes that have helped you in the past? 
  3. What is at least one way you can practice humility in the coming week?

Super Humility

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” – James 4:10

It seems like there is a new superhero movie hitting theaters weekly. There are things that every superhero movie has in common; one, they have some extraordinary power and the second one is, every one of them has a weakness. It makes sense, because if you have no weaknesses, you couldn’t be defeated and there would be no drama in the movie. And that doesn’t make for good comics or movies. I mean if the hero is unbeatable, what’s the point?

So Superman has his kryptonite. For Green Lantern, it’s the color yellow. Even real life heroes like Samson have their weaknesses. For him it was his hair. We each have a weakness as well. For most people it is pride. But we also have a power to overcome that weakness, humility. As Christ followers, we are called to be like Jesus including His humility. We’re called to be much more than typically humble people. If we are to be like Jesus, we must practice super humility. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” ( Philippians 2:3-4)

So then, what does it mean to have an attitude of super humility? The simplest way to describe real humility is: know who you are in Christ, know who you were or who you would be without Christ, and then treat everyone as though they are just as important in God’s eyes as you are because they are. Humility is about doing things for others because you know that God loves them just as much as He loves you. Humility is about putting the Lord and His people first and yourself second. Humility is about seeing other people as valuable not as obstacles in your way.

Jesus is the perfect example of humility. He never for a moment thought of seeking His honor, or asserting His power for Himself. Jesus, the Son of God, would voluntarily accept the path of humility. “he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)  He would even embrace the most abhorrent death of all, a sin-atoning crucifixion. In spiritual agony, He would pray, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39).

My prayer is that we will be humbled by the humbling Jesus Christ accepted in coming to this sinful planet to save sinners.  As God, He deserved all honor and glory, yet the Son of God was willing to become a lowly, human servant. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you nurture humility in your life?   
  2. What benefits and promises are there to those who walk in humility?