Archives For Bible studies

A new Bible

ib2newseditor —  March 20, 2017 — Leave a comment

Like most Americans, I’ve always respected founding father Thomas Jefferson. But I was surprised, and frankly disappointed, to learn recently that in the latter years of his life, Jefferson actually constructed his own version of the Bible. He did so by literally cutting and pasting, with razor and glue, numerous sections of the New Testament, intentionally omitting the miracles and any mentions of the supernatural, including the resurrection of Jesus.

To be fair, Jefferson apparently didn’t refer to his reconstruction as a Bible, but rather titled it “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Yet over the years it has come to be commonly known as “The Jefferson Bible.”

In fact, from 1904 into the 1950’s, the Government Printing Office gave all new members of Congress a copy of the Jefferson Bible, and that practice was resumed by a private publisher in 1997. The American Humanist Association published its own edition of the Jefferson Bible in 2013, adding passages from the Quran, the Buddhist Sutras, the Book of Mormon, and other works, and distributing it to members of Congress as well as President Obama.

Bible readership

We as Southern Baptists should be truly grateful that, since 2004, our own LifeWay Christian Resources has stewarded its own original Bible translation from the original languages, the Holman Christian Standard Bible. And now, this month, LifeWay is introducing a revised and updated version, renamed simply the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

Recently I was invited to LifeWay, along with other state executive directors, for an overview presentation of the new translation. In fact, it was there that the Jefferson Bible was used as an illustration of what can happen when God’s Word is not stewarded carefully, and faithfully. In the CSB, LifeWay has sought to balance the two most important aspects of Bible translation: accuracy and readability.

I came away from that presentation greatly encouraged, but also greatly challenged. You see, I also learned during this presentation that Bible ownership is not really the main problem today. 88% of American households own a Bible, and the average number of Bibles per household is 4.7. The real problem is that only 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more. With the CSB, LifeWay’s goal is not to sell more Bibles; it is to grow the number of people who read the Bible, and are spiritually transformed by it.

LifeWay has carefully studied the activities linked to true spiritual growth. And the number one activity contributing to spiritual growth is Bible reading (91%), followed by church attendance (87%), personal prayer life (85%), and being mentored by another mature believer (81%).

By providing a freshly updated translation, LifeWay is seeking to grow the number of people engaged in the activity that most often leads to spiritual growth—reading the Bible. In doing so, they have relentlessly preserved accuracy, calling on some of the world’s finest Bible scholars to serve on the translation committee. Yet they haven’t sacrificed readability. Rather, they have sought to carefully balance the two.

So I came home from LifeWay with a new Bible. I don’t really need one. I’m the son of a pastor and a school librarian, and I worked in Christian publishing for almost 20 years. I already have way more Bibles than the 4.7 average per household.

But this new Bible gives me a fresh incentive to delve more deeply and more frequently into God’s Word. It gives me a renewed appreciation for our friends at LifeWay who faithfully steward this translation. And it gives me a reason to give others a new copy of the Bible, and to pray that our reading of it will bring the true spiritual growth that God desires.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Follow the follower

ib2newseditor —  February 16, 2017

follow-jesus

Christian leadership training experts like to cite Jesus as an example of the best leader ever, Michael Kramer told Illinois Leadership Summit breakout attenders. While he agrees, the pastor also believes Jesus is an example of the best follower the world will ever see.

The education pastor from Immanuel Baptist in Benton based his claim on this: “Christ called us to be followers. Even Jesus followed the will of the Father. Jesus was the greatest follower and his disciples followed him… As followers we are to be deeply dependent on Jesus.”

As leaders, Kramer stressed, we are to follow the tenet of John 3:30—He must increase, I must decrease. “Our intake of Jesus must be greater than our outtake,” he said. “We need to be spending much time in the Word. Not time in sermon preparation, don’t count that.”

Kramer suggested several ways to increase private prayer time and Bible reading. “Read through the Bible in a year or read a Psalm a night. Download a Bible app and listen. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s the most creative Bible I’ve come in contact with. It goes straight to the heart. Memorize a Bible verse a week.”

“Pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning before your feet hit the floor,” Kramer said. “Go away for a few hours or an even longer period of time once a month just for prayer.” Kramer will spend a few hours in the woods walking and talking with God. He also recommended praying through a prayer list with your spouse, children, or grandchildren

By increasing time spent with God, you begin to decrease your focus on self. “What’s it look like to decrease?” he asked. “When God wants to go after your heart he’s going to do it in an unexpected way. Christ is going to go after the places that he wants to claim in our hearts.”

Smart phones make smart disciplesMy faith was greatly impacted in college by a church that challenged me to be a student of the Bible. That love for personal Bible study has motivated me to become an advocate for biblical literacy—a need highlighted by a recent Lifeway Research study that found only 45% of regular church attenders read the Bible more than once a week.

Before becoming a pastor, I always viewed the main responsibility as preaching. But now I understand why the role isn’t called “Senior Preacher.” As a pastor, I have a responsibility to build stronger disciples in Jesus Christ, and that’s an impossible task apart from the Bible.

To help combat biblical illiteracy at our church, we have turned to an app called YouVersion. I think of it as an example of what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” YouVersion is a 21st century response to Paul’s approach.

With over 200 million downloads, the app is a helpful tool that any church can easily use. It’s free, can be carried on any smart phone or tablet (or accessed by a computer at bible.com), and offers valuable opportunities for biblical accountability and community.

A long-time church member stopped by my office last month and said, “I want to grow closer to the Lord.” After listening to his testimony of faith, I inquired about his personal devotional times. He admitted to not reading the Bible much, and so I asked him to pull out his phone. We quickly downloaded YouVersion, and got him started on a daily reading plan through the Gospel of John.

He texted me later that night to tell me he finished the entire book of John! “Should I just go onto Acts?” he asked. Since then, he has not only finished Acts for the first time, but is now re-reading it to gain a better understanding of the story. He credits his success to the ease of YouVersion.

We’ve used YouVersion with recent converts to Christ. I helped them get the download and choose a reading plan. This has provided these brand new believers with a clear plan and goal for their Bible reading.

As with other forms of social media, you can “friend” others through YouVersion. As you do, your homepage fills up with news of their progress through Bible plans or verses they highlighted. So I not only learn from my own Bible reading, but that of others in my church. And anytime one of my friends has been offline for a while, I know to check in with them.

Two weeks in a row, highlighted Scriptures from members of my church made their way into the messages I had been working on for that week. They were thrilled to know their personal study of the Bible had influenced my own.

Even my 10-year-old daughter switched to YouVersion on her Kindle last year and I use it to monitor and comment on her reading.

I also use my YouVersion newsfeed as a prayer list. As I see the names of friends and passages they’re studying, I pray for their study and usually let them know I’m praying. And watching comments between our members regarding a particular passage is a great encouragement to me as their pastor.

We as a church also use the YouVersion live component. This allows us to create “events” for each upcoming sermon. People can read the Scripture passage and interact through polls, or by posting comments or questions. And again, it’s 100% free.

I should tell you, YouVersion doesn’t pay me for my advocacy. I’m merely sharing how this Bible app has had an impact on our church. Like many churches, we’re often slow adopters when it comes to technology. And while a digital Bible is no better than a traditional Bible, it’s time we used every opportunity available to us in building biblically literate believers in Jesus Christ.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

Teaching Sunday School

Lisa Sergent —  February 22, 2016

I have the privilege and challenge of attending a different church almost every week, but this past month I was able to attend my home church two weeks in a row. The first week, at the end of our Sunday school class, our teacher announced that he and his wife would be gone the following Sunday, and asked if any of us were available to substitute.

Our eyes met, and he smiled and said, “I don’t guess you will be here next Sunday.” I replied that actually I would, and a few minutes later I was walking out the door with his teacher’s book under my arm.

Teaching Sunday schoolI love teaching Sunday school. I’ve done my best to learn to preach over the years, but I’m really more at home in a classroom setting. I love the process of studying and organizing a lesson, of thinking through its most relevant, real life applications, and then planning creative illustrations or exercises that will help everyone take home some practical help.

But it’s more than just the teaching process that always made me love leading a Sunday school class. It’s living life with a small group of people week in and week out. It’s coming together outside class for fellowship and ministry. It’s doing missions projects together. And it’s making our class so fun and inviting and loving that we have lots of opportunities to welcome others in, and even send some of them out to do the same thing elsewhere.
That one week I got to teach Sunday school, I really only got to do the teaching part. Most of the rest of those benefits only come with consistent, loving investment in a group of people over time.

But the Lord did give us a special moment during that lesson. Our text in 2 Corinthians spoke of the burdens and hardships that Paul was carrying for the sake of the gospel. It wasn’t in the curriculum, but in my notes I had simply written the question, “Are we carrying any burdens or enduring any hardships for the sake of the gospel?”

When I framed that question for the group, I made it clear that I wasn’t just looking for a list of minor inconveniences, or for the self-absorbed whining in which we can readily engage. I asked them what burdens or hardships they were currently facing because they longed for someone to know Christ.

Frankly, I didn’t expect a lot of response. Sometimes teachers ask questions simply to create reflection or allow for conviction. But in the hallowed moments that followed, several in the class shared with quiet emotion the difficulties they were currently facing while trying to lead someone they loved to Christ, or back to Christ.

After a few minutes of sharing, we encouraged one another, and urged one another “not to give up,” as Paul had written. Paul labeled his own afflictions “momentary” and “light” compared to the glory that is waiting for us. And as our class shared our own burdens with one another in the context of God’s Word, we felt them get lighter as well. We walked out of that class with renewed determination and optimism. Now that’s Sunday school.

My one week back in teaching Sunday school reminded me again how powerful and transformational small group Bible study can be. And it gave me a renewed appreciation for my own Sunday school teacher, Matt, and for the thousands of faithful men and women that lead Bible studies in our churches every week.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.