Sunday, January 31, 2010

Allah Not Equivalent to Yahweh

This is a good approach to answering the question, "Isn't the God of the Koran the same as the God of the Bible?"

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why You Should Create Comfortable Environments

I exhort you to create comfortable environments, first for yourself, and then for your students or small group.

Here's why: You'll spend more time there, and more enjoyable time...and that means more learning. There's only so much self-discipline to go around, so don't try to have devotions in a place you don't enjoy. If your students are crammed close together in uncomfortable chairs, they aren't going to linger about and ask you questions -- they're watching the clock and delighted to get out of there as soon as possible!

For your devotions and study, set up an environment that you really enjoy and look forward to being in. Comfortable chair -- probably NOT the chair pictured here! A place for your stuff. Good lighting. Things around that make you feel good. Guys talk about their "man cave." (I don't know what women would call their favorite setting.)

If this sounds selfish it is. I want you to feel the freedom to create an environment where you enjoy hanging out in God's Word and in prayer.

For your teaching times, again, create a desirable, enjoyable, comfortable setting. A small group meeting with couches and rocking chairs in a living room is very inviting. People will want to be there. It feels right. At your church site do everything you can to make your class space inviting and enjoyable for people.

You'll find the learning goes up!

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Name is Graven on His Hands

A coworker, a believer, recently came to me and expressed his doubts about God's goodness in his life. So many things had gone wrong recently for him, and he simply ached over them. "God must have abandoned me," he said tearfully.

I noticed that someone had written with marker on his hand. I confirmed that it was from a school event, where they put a mark on your hand to indicate you've paid the entrance fee.
I took his hand and said, "You see this? That was done with a 'permanent' marker, and it will come off in a few days, won't it?" He nodded yes. And then I took him to Isaiah 49, where God tells Israel of his faithfulness to them even in their desperate time:

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."
Isaiah 49:14-16

I continued to encourage my brother: "When God adopted you, He gave you life, and he engraved your name on the palms of his hands. He didn't use a magic marker that will wear off with a little soap and scrubbing, you are carved into palms. Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us. Cling to that promise, no matter how you feel."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Strong Openings for Lessons

I recommend you work on strong openings. I call them "hooks" -- and one of my friends says your opening needs to hook a nerve. Get their attention!

Read my free report for details on how to create strong hooks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How Religious Is Your State?

A friend pointed me to this Pew study on the religious belief and practices across states in the US. He was appalled that only 51% of Iowans (our home state) had much religious conviction.

These observations are interesting, and have some utility I suppose. But let us remind one another of the metric Jesus gave us: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

The metrics the Pew study used were personal self-assessments on beliefs and practices. Jesus standard was what others observed of our love. That's a much higher standard -- and one impossible without the genuine work of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thinking About Primary vs. Secondary Curriculum

Bible teachers can gain important insights from the long history of public education. Education is by definition an inefficient process, because we're humans not machines.

The public schools here in the US were set up as Primary education (usually grades 1-6) and Secondary education (usually grades 7-12). Although things have shifted over the years, the basic idea was this:

Primary education was helping children learn the basics of reading, writing, math, history, science. There are very clear fundamentals we need children to absorb from a teacher and for basic understand and foundational skills.

Secondary education was designed to help young adults build on those basics. There is an increasing measure of analysis and application, more abstract thinking, more dialogue-based learning.

Let me illustrate the difference, to make sure you understand the distinctions.
Consider Math. Primary education begins with the basics of numbers, how they represent real objects, memorizing (yes, memorizing!) multiplication tables, simple addition, subtraction, and division. We cannot introduce abstract math (algebra, trigonometry, calculus) until these fundamentals are in place.

Consider Reading. Primary education begins with the alphabet and phonics. We gradually build vocabulary. We tackle short stories and simple books. We aim for fundamental comprehension. We're not asking young children to read Shakespeare and analyze the metaphors.

The word educate comes to English from Latin. It literally means "to draw out." In a secondary education setting, you can truly work at educating, because there is a fundamental collection of knowledge and skills to work with. You can't really think about educating 6 year olds only be drawing out what they know. Their learning is much more about pouring into them than drawing out of them!

Also, let's take into account how teaching adults is different than teaching children - there are different learning styles, especially with abstract thoughts. Young children simply aren't capable of abstract thinking the way youth and adults are. Every human has a powerful imagination, but how we use that in teaching depends on whether we're teaching young children or adults.

If you're teaching from a Bible story, for example, we encourage young children to use their imagination to understand a Bible story as it is. With youth and adults, we still do that, but we also go beyond and encourage them in think more abstractly about the story - inserting themselves into the story, thinking about contemporary parallels, considering the implications and personal application of that story.

Now let's apply this to teaching the Bible to change lives.

Children and new believers of any age need a foundation of facts and story to operate with - that's primary education in the Christian faith. This may take several years to accomplish! There is a strong tradition of catechism to help order this work and keep it consistent across generations.

We're not satisfied to leave people there. Disciples know the fundamental stories and facts of theology, and how to use them (including how to share them with others). Disciples can apply the Word to everyday life, and help others do so. Thus we need secondary education approaches. This is our ongoing education approach, because we never truly finish this education. God continues to work in us and through us.

There are two pitfalls I have observed in churches. The first pitfall is not having a strong enough view of primary education for children and new believers of any age. The second is to continue to use primary education approaches to teaching youth and adults who already have the fundamentals. A strong secondary education approach creates stronger adult disciples.

As you think about the people God has called you to teach, consider whether you are in a primary education or secondary education situation. Teach accordingly, and you're much more likely to teach to change lives.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

You Do Your Part, Let God Do His Part

Saving people is God's work. He does use us in the process, but it's God's work.

Our part is to systematically put ourselves into opportunities to connect with not-yet believers and let them see Christ in. Verbally and non-verbally express our faith, and testify to God's goodness.

Don't measure yourself by numbers of people saved, but by your faithfulness to be available and used by God.

All believers are responsible for making disciples:

-- For people who have received Christ, and are now believers, our responsibility is to develop them in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

-- For not-yet believers, the process of discipleship starts *before* salvation. If that sounds crazy, think about this: it certainly did for Jesus' 12 disciples!

Again, work for creating opportunities for the Gospel to flow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dallas Willard on Spiritual Transformation

I've titled this blog "Teach to Change Lives" because that's our objective. Or I should say, that's God's objective through you. The issue is spiritual transformation.

Dallas Willard is one of my favorite authors, and speaks wonderfully about spiritual transformation. I encourage you to watch this and consider your own teaching ministry. How are you helping people move forward in spiritual transformation?

By the way, if you lead a small group, that site is worth exploring for helps and resources.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Countering the Hollywood-promoted Pantheism

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Cor 10:5

One of the most pervasive thought patterns in history is pantheism (God = nature) and spiritism, which gets popular expression in Star Wars (the Force), Disney films like "Pocahontas," the new movie "Avatar," and a surprising amount of pro-environment literature.

I really appreciated this NY Times column pointing out the Hollywood-ization of pantheism and the problems it creates:

"Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short. Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality."

Help your students think through these issues.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Question to Ask and Answer

One of the most helpful questions you can ask yourself is "What can I do to make my students' lives better?"

It's a common temptation of teachers to only teach what's interesting to us at the moment, or at least fun to teach. And this lets us more easily avoid conflicts and "messy" ministy to "real" people.

I do believe you should teach out of what God is teaching you. That's natural and effective. But don't do this at the expense of pushing yourself to answer the question "What can I do to make my students' lives better?" Answering that question requires thought, and probably some work. You'll now be thinking and planning from the perspective of their needs, not your convenience and personal interest. Be prepared: you're going to hit some nerves.

Ask and answer "What can I do to make my students' lives better?", and you'll be teaching the Bible to change lives!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine
Authors: Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

The subtitle of this book is "The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything"

My observation is that God works over time to prepare a man's mind and heart to receive a message, then brings the message forward in a powerful way and plants it in fertile soil.

This book is like this for me. I've been wrestling with ideas for our church and developing ministry leaders and administrating all the disciple-making and missionary-launching work that I am convinced God has called us to. My senior pastor and fellow elders have been praying for direction and talking about these issues for some time. What does the personal expression of the Great Commission look like for our local church fellowship at this time, and for the future?

And so the message contained in "The Trellis and the Vine" landed in fertile soil.

Marshall and Payne outline what some will perceive as radical and "you-can't-be-serious!" ideas here, and carefully point out they are not new ideas at all. I find their biblical exposition of disciplemaking and ministry very strong.

They advocate ministry mindset changes:

From running programs to building people
From running events to training people
From using people to growing people
From filling gaps to training new workers
From solving problems to helping people make progress
From clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
From focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships
From relying on training institutions to establishing local training
From focusing on immediate pressures to aiming for long-term expansion
From engaging in management to engaging in ministry
From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth

The title comes from distinguishing between work that builds a trellis (which only has the function of supporting the growth of the vine) and ministry work that fosters growth of the vine. On page 39 they write "However, despite the almost limitless number of ontexts in which it might happen, what happens in the same: a Christian brings a truth from God's Word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working on his Spirit. That's vine work. Everything else is trellis."

They don't diminish Sunday morning congregational worship or preaching, but they do argue that it is insufficient. Indeed, they argue for more depth! I like their statement that "sermonettes produce Christianettes."

The authors put forward very practical suggestions on implementing a highly-relational training effort that develops people with doctrine, character, and skill to minister to others -- not plugging holes in your church gaps, but identifying the opportunities to build a ministry around their strengths and connections to others.

I highly recommend this book. I hope it gets a wide reading and a lot of attention. I pray that the message of this book is actually implemented in thousands of churches.

Right now this is the only place you can order "The Trellis and the Vine" online.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Part of the Body Are You? (Humor)

I'm sure some of you teachers can identify with this! Let's keep loving the people that God puts in our sphere of influence with HIS power.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What is Paul's "Thorn in the Flesh"?

There’s been much speculation over the centuries about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” described in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8.

I think it’s mostly likely that Paul had problems with his eyesight, perhaps caused by or made worse by an illness. Here’s why:

  • He wrote to the Galatians saying, “You would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” (Galatians 4:13-15)
  • He didn’t seem to recognize that Ananias is the high priest -- which would have been obvious from his attire. (Acts 23:1-5) Paul is probably some distance across the room.
  • He closes the letter to Galatians with “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11) and often used someone else to record his letters. A person with poor eyesight usually writes in larger letters, and for anything serious prefers someone else writes it so it is legible.
  • He picks up firewood and doesn’t see the snake in it Malta until it bites him. (Acts 28:13)

Poor eyesight would have been a serious handicap for someone who traveled and taught as extensively as Paul. I’m sure Paul felt it limited his ability to minister to people.

For those who say that getting healed requires the right level of faith, I ask this: “Did Paul lack sufficient faith in the power of Jesus Christ? How many people had God healed through Paul?”

And how does God respond to his three prayers for relief? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

What are your weaknesses that God uses?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Using Humor When Teaching

God invented humor, and you should use it occasionally when you teach. We're teaching a serious subject, but that doesn't mean you can't use humor to get key points across in memorable ways.

When you're teaching believers and seekers, you can help people work through the humor and understand biblical truth. (This approach doesn't work as well, in my experience, with people without apparent spiritual interest.)

Here's a nice example for you to try out. You should be able to help them see immediately the truth, and can even invite them to look up verses as references for each part.

Major Recall Notice

The Maker of all human beings (GOD) is recalling all units manufactured, regardless of make or year, due to a serious defect in the primary and central component of the heart.

This is due to a malfunction in the original prototype units code named Adam and Eve,
resulting in the reproduction of the same defect in all subsequent units. This defect has been technically termed "Sub-sequential Internal Non-Morality," or more commonly known as S.I.N., as it is primarily expressed.

Some of the symptoms include:

Loss of direction
Foul vocal emissions
Amnesia of origin
Lack of peace and joy
Selfish or violent behavior
Depression or confusion in the mental component

The Manufacturer, who is neither liable nor at fault for this defect, is providing factory-authorized repair and service free of charge to correct this defect.

The Repair Technician, JESUS, has most generously offered to bear the entire burden of the staggering cost of these repairs. There is no additional fee required.

The number to call for repair in all areas is: P-R-A-Y-E-R.

Once connected, please upload your burden of SIN through the REPENTANCE procedure. Next, download ATONEMENT from the Repair Technician, Jesus, into the heart component.

No matter how big or small the SIN defect is, Jesus will replace it with:
Self control

Please see the operating manual, the B.I.B.L.E. (Believers' Instructions Before Leaving Earth) for further details on the use of these fixes.

Continuing to operate the human being unit without correction voids any manufacturer warranties, exposing the unit to dangers and problems too numerous to list and will result in the human unit being permanently impounded. For free emergency service, call on Jesus.

The human being units not responding to this recall action will have to be scrapped in the furnace. The SIN defect will not be permitted to enter Heaven so as to prevent contamination of that facility. Thank you for your attention!


Please assist where possible by notifying others of this important recall notice, and you may contact the Father any time by 'Knee mail'.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Are You Evil?

Let yourself be challenged here. "God loves the sinner but hates the sin" is not a strictly biblical phrase.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

How Does the Bible Measure Pi?

An acquaintance challenged me on the "error" in the Bible by assigning the value of the mathematical constant Pi (the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter) as 3.

I'd never heard this before, but a quick Google search led me to this fascinating analysis that suggests the Bible references an extremely accurate value for Pi.

We had a good conversation after that about the integrity of the Bible accounts!

If someone presents you with a puzzle or conundrum you don't know the answer to, don't bluster or act as if you do know. Simply say, "I had not heard that. Shall we investigate it together?" That generally leads to constructive dialogue.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Biblical StoryLine

Graeme Goldsworthy has produced an excellent summary of the biblical storyline. This is different than a detailed chronology of the events of the Bible.

Not only is this ideal for those of you going on the read-the-Bible-in-30-days challenge with me, but this is a fabulous teaching tool for new believers. Ground them in this storyline, and then they'll be better equipped to study the Bible as a whole!

Here's the summary:

Creation by Word Genesis 1 and 2
The Fall Genesis 3
First Revelation of Redemption Genesis 4–11
Abraham Our Father Genesis 12–50
Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption Exodus 1–15
New Life: Gift and Task Exodus 16–40; Leviticus
The Temptation in the Wilderness Numbers; Deuteronomy
Into the Good Land Joshua; Judges; Ruth
God’s Rule in God’s Land 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1–10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1–9
The Fading Shadow 1 Kings 11–22; 2 Kings
There Is a New Creation Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The Second Exodus Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
The New Creation for Us Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The New Creation in Us Initiated Acts
The New Creation in Us Now New Testament Epistles
The New Creation Consummated The New Testament

Read through details here.

Listen to the Bible

I know some people are more listeners than readers, and everyone will do well to listen to the Word of God as well as read it. Therefore you might consider this "podcast" approach to listening to the Bible.

Seminary Courses Online

I'm delighted to see that more and more seminaries are offering distance learning programs, and many schools offer a wide range of free training as well. Serious Bible teachers are always in learning mode -- we will never exhaust the well of Scripture!

A number of seminaries are now putting actual classes online. For example, Dallas Theological Seminary has what they call iTune University. Sometimes schools offer video and PowerPoint slide decks to accompany audio recordings of lectures. Some schools like Gordon-Conwell Seminary will even mail you CDs to listen to.

These are excellent training opportunities. I encourage you to check out different seminaries and consider what they offer. A seminary geographically closer to you means that you might even be able to visit there and meet with some of the faculty.

I'm not going to make a specific seminary recommendation for you. The readers of this blog span a wide theological framework, and you need to investigate the perspective and history of a seminary before you invest time in their courses. Make sure you're comfortable with their doctrine statements. Talk with your pastor if you need counsel on this.