Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Has God Left Satan On The Earth?

One question that surfaces regularly for Bible teachers is why God allows Satan to continue working. There is so much evil, so much pain and suffering, and if God is loving and all-powerful, why hasn't He just destroyed Satan?

John Piper gives a succinct explanation that will help you address these questions. His response is packed with Scripture, tender in its approach, and will help you see the importance of the glory of God.

"Why then does God tolerate Satan? The key is that God aims to defeat Satan in a way that glorifies not only his power, but also the superior beauty and worth and desirability of his Son over Satan. God could simply exert raw power and snuff Satan out. That would glorify God's power. But it would not display so clearly the superior worth of Jesus over Satan. That will be displayed as Christ defeats Satan by his death and then by winning superior allegiance from the saints over the lies of Satan."

Read the whole page.

HT: Matt Perman

Some Thoughts About Teaching Verse-by-Verse

I was asked recently for my thoughts about teaching/preaching sequentially through verses and chapters. The idea is simply to start in a verse, read it, and teach as you go. Loop back occasionally to help people see key points.

Some people consider this the best way to teach. I say, "perhaps" -- depends on you, the needs and preparedness of your hearers, and what God wants them to learn. God's Word is always powerful.

A few thoughts about this verse-by-verse teaching method:
  • You still need to know what you will emphasize.
  • You still need to keep people's attention, keep them engaged.
  • This kind of teaching works best for groups who have the big story, who know the fundamental themes and ideas. One of the problems with a completely steady diet of this kind of teaching is that people zone out. If they don't have the big picture, they aren't going to get it verse by verse.
The successful preachers who use this approach the most, still frame verse by verse teaching in a larger context, and include some life application.

If you're teaching in a smaller group, be sure to leave plenty of time for interaction. Remember, people will remember most what they said -- so get them talking. Use dialogue to reinforce key points.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Makes a Great Teacher?

The Atlantic magazine published an interesting article, "What Makes a Great Teacher?" While their focus was on public school teaching, there are some good points in the article that serious Bible teachers should pay attention to.

The Teach for America group has studied thousands of teachers and identified characteristics of the best -- as measured by students actually learning:
  • They tend to set big goals for their students.
  • They perpetually look for ways to improve their effectiveness. They constantly re-evaluate what they are doing.
  • They maintain focus on things which contribute to learning.
  • They plan exhaustively and purposefully by working backwards from the desired outcome.
  • They work relentlessly.
  • They frequently check for understanding. (This is not done by asking "Any questions?")
Do you see the combination of mindset and practice here? Very powerful!

I read this article and thought "I am doing enough goal-setting for the people I teach? Or properly, I should say, am I paying attention to the big goals that God has for my students?"

What questions do you have when you look at that list?

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Telling the Story of Peter

Here is an outstanding 6 minute clip, telling the end of Peter's life. If you're teaching about Peter, or from 1/2 Peter, there's good information here. Even if you're not, watch this excellent example of how to tell a story, and weave in encouragement and application.

The Early Church from Granger Community on Vimeo.

HT: LeadingSmart

Friday, February 19, 2010


I use mind maps quite a bit, just for me as I read and think and plan, but also to create presentations for others. Some people have seen my maps and would like to do this too, but need a little help getting started.

The main thing to remember: you can't produce a bad mind map. They are tools for you to use. Play with them, move things around, expand and collapse, draw connectors -- that's the point. Don't get hung up or self-conscious.

Suggested resources:

How to make a mind map

How to use mind maps to solve problems

(There are many YouTube videos on different kinds of mind maps, usually to promote a particular piece of software. Just search for "mind maps"and start exploring.

A short tutorial for using Freemind (which is one of the best free tools for mind mapping)

A series of tutorial for MindManager Pro from MindJet (this is my favorite tool; you can get a free 30 day trial version)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Address the Real Issues with Authentic, Biblical Lessons

There's an enormous temptation -- fueled in part by well-meaning advocates -- to keep your lessons light and non-threatening and fun (and of course relevant to people's felt needs). One teacher shared with me his Pastor's firm instruction: "They should feel good about themselves when they leave."

I believe your lessons should be engaging, and relevant, and meaningful. They need to be true to Scripture, authentic to the message of the Gospel. They need to address the real needs of people, whether they "feel good about themselves" or not. Your lessons must have genuine spiritual content if you're going to see lives changed by the power of God's Word being used by the Holy Spirit!

Even curious not-yet-believers in your church or small group or neighborhood Bible study are curious about what the Bible really says, not just a feel-good lessonette that they could get from Oprah on TV. (Side note: you say you don't have not-yet-believers in your class? Why not? Whom could you invite?) Down deep, you'll have better retention of people over time if you challenge them, not coddle them.

In the end, in truth, it doesn't matter what people want. There is sin. People need the Savior.

Teach the Bible to change lives!

Bible vs. Avatar

Get recharged! I pray that we all have this kind of passion for God's Word!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Unfolding the Napkin

This is a cross-post from my "Be Bold, Be Gentle" blog. I think this book is valuable for pastors and Bible teachers also, because we're in the communication business. -- Glenn

One of the most intriguing and useful books I've read in months is Dan Roam's Unfolding the Napkin. The subtitle gives you the value of this book: "The hands-on method for solving complex problems with simple pictures."

For years I've been an inveterate doodler. One friend at work jokes with me that "it hasn't been a meeting until Glenn gets up to the whiteboard. Maybe he likes to sniff the dry-erase markers."

The book is actually like a workshop. It's helpful to practice the drawing process along with the author.

The primary methodology is built on the FACT that our minds like pictures. Pictures communicate. Pictures are memorable. Pictures -- especially simply pictures -- engage our intellect and imagination.

I really liked Roam's process of breaking down problems into 6 elements (who/what, how much, when, where, how, why) and then using a SQVID process (it's an acronym) to figure out how to work through problems and present solutions to different types of stakeholders. Brilliant stuff! I think even a lot of the Ph.D.'s I know would appreciate this, and I'm confident that most teenagers would instantly get it.

Roam also gives at the end some very practical advice about tools. Nope, you don't need elaborate software, even for a computer intensive group that loves complicated software.

For me, this goes back into the reread in 2 months pile after I've practiced with pictures.

If you're a leader or teacher, you need this book. What I should say is, you need this capability to use pictures to communicate and solve problems.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Recommended Resource for Greek Word Study

I have a helpful product to help you learn the basics of Hebrew and Greek word study, but if you're ready to go beyond this, I recommend you subscribe to the free weekly lesson from Bill Mounce. He is the author of the bestselling New Testament Greek resources, Basics of Biblical Greek, and served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version translation of the Bible.

I appreciate both his depth and his helpful cautions.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Got a Kindle? (Or free Kindle reader on PC?) Great Free Books Available!

Whether you have a physical Kindle device or are using the free Kindle for PC application, there are some terrific Christian books available for free. has 1.8 million books in their library -- and they are now starting to provide books in the .mobi format, which works on the Kindle and some smart phones! You can pick up classics like Calvin's Institutes, John Bunyan's complete works, Thomas Goodwin's complete works, etc -- all free. An excellent starting point is Project Gutenberg.

Here's how to use the Kindle browser to get books:
  • Open up the Internet browser on your Kindle, by going to the Home screen, pressing Menu, choosing Experimental and then choosing Basic Web.
  • Enter this URL on your Kindle
  • Either browse or search to find a book you like.
  • Click on "Mobipocket/Kindle to download it to your device.
  • After you accept the download, the book should appear in your Home screen.
Also, watch for specials on Christian classics. The ESV Study Bible in only $9.99 in Kindle format, and the complete works of Jonathan Edwards were available for $1.98.

Spotting Counterfeits

In the not-distant past, one of the ways banks found counterfeit money was by feel. They trained tellers by having them spend hours handling authentic bills. Just moving bills in their hands. A teller so-trained could take a stack of bills, riffle through them fairly quickly, and toss to one side any bill that didn't feel right. A large fraction of those "wrong" bills were confirmed to be counterfeits.

The best way to train people (of any age) to be able to spot Satan's lies is by having them spend a lot of time in the Bible. Even if they can't articulate why something isn't right, they'll have a such a strong feel for the truth that they'll be suspect of it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Most Difficult 12 Inch Gap

It's about 12 inches from a person's head to his or her heart. If you desire to teach to change lives, the most difficult 12 inch gap you must traverse is the distance between their heads and their hearts!

We must teach to get across information. Your students need to know the story of the Bible, the principles and commands and the promises. That's basic education, and we can never walk away from that responsibility. (Also, do not underestimate how many repetitions of these basics are valuable!)

But life change does not come from head knowledge alone. This is why we prayerfully seek the power of God to be at work in our student's lives! They need a lightning strike of insight and changes their conviction. They need to hear the still quiet voice that shatters the walls of their hardness.

In God's plan, He has a part and he gives us a part.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Worship Before You Teach

Let me stress this to those of you who want to teach the Bible to change lives: worship before you teach.

It's true that our whole lives should be worshipful. (Equally true that they aren't.)

Before you begin teaching a class or leading a small group discussion about God's truth, create some time and space for personal worship. Consciously reconnect with God through praise and celebration! Listen to music, sing songs, pray aloud with hands raised high, whatever you can do, but get your whole mind and heart and body engaged in worship that pleases God.

Having worshipped the living God, your teaching can flow from that. And that's teaching that can change lives!

Are Christians Required to Tithe?

It's a common question: "Are Christians required to tithe?" Let's be good students of the Word and think through this together. (By the way, this might make a really nice lesson for your students.)

The simple answer is that you will not find a clear command to tithe in the New Testament. You also won't find an explicit command to not tithe or not give generously. The New Testament tells us that the reality of our "new creation in Christ" life is a much higher standard of giving than legalistic tithing.

Let's walk through the Scriptures on this.

Many people will point to Matthews 23:23 as evidence that Christians should tithe. (There is a parallel passage in Luke 11:42.) I think this interpretation is missing the primary point.
In the whole chapter of Matthew 23, Jesus speaks harshly to the Pharisees about their religious practices. In verse 23, He does not condemn their systematic tithing (even of kitchen herbs) but challenges them to go beyond the letter of the law and live as a reflection of God's grace to them:
23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)

Let's review New Testament passages which lead me to believe a higher standard of giving is normative for Christians.
Jesus commanded giving to God. It's not an option, if I read this correctly:

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21)

Jesus commended the widow who gave far beyond a tithe:

1As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)

After Pentecost the new believers were incredibly generous with giving and helping. It does not appear they limited themselves to a tithe:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Paul commends the extreme giving of Macedonian churches and urges the Corinthians to "excel in the grace of giving:"

1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Corinthians 8:1-7)

Paul's instruction to the Galatians and Corinthians is to give regularly in proportion to the income God has provided (without mentioning a specific figure):

1Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Cor 16:1-2)

I suggest to you that Christians are not given a command about a specific percentage offering (a legalistic standard) because we're called to give from the heart (evidence of God's grace).

Consider this part of Paul's letter to the Corinthians:
6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written:
"He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Corinthians 9:6-13)

Another issue which is important to review: are we cursed if we do not tithe? Failure to keep the Mosaic law led to cursing, so if we don't tithe are we cursed by God? (Or at least not blessed as He describes in Deut 14:29 and Malachi 3:10-12?)

The answer is No. The work of Christ at the cross delivers Christians from the curse of the Mosaic Law, because the law has been fulfilled in Christ.

When people ask the question "Are Christians required to tithe?" my question is the attitude of the heart that provokes that question. I fear they are really asking "What's the minimum I can do and still be ok with God?" Legalism is deadly, but attractive because it's manageable within our own strength and tangible.

From the passages above I believe the New Testament give us a picture of extremely generous giving as the normal reflection of God's amazing love and power in our transformed hearts. Let's work to shift our attitude from "I have to tithe" to "I get to give generously and joyfully!"

In terms of directing our giving (e.g., how much should go to my local church?), there is no direct statement of command in the New Testament.

Let's think about some principles we can glean from the whole of Scripture:
  1. Everything we have is God's, not just X%. (See Psalm 24:1)
  2. We will be held accountable for how we steward what has been entrusted to us (Luke 16:12; 19:11-27)
  3. We should support church leaders and those who minister to us (see Galatians 6:6 and 1 Tim 5:17-19)
  4. We should help the poor, including widows and orphans (many passages)
  5. We should support missions outreach (many passages)

Let's also consider the structure of the Mosaic Law tithes, which included:
  • The tithe to support the Levites (see Lev 27:30,32; Num 18:24)
  • The festival tithe (see Deut 12:11-12)
  • The welfare tithe (see Deut 14:28-29) [This model provided for the whole community without any further government functions in an agrarian culture.]

The Old Testament tithe command is therefore not a comprehensive 10% (as most people think), but much more generous.

If we follow that pattern, then, giving to the local church for ministry support would be comparable to the tithe to support the Levites. Giving to support special events would be comparable to the festival tithe. And giving beyond that to support those in need would correspond with the welfare tithe.

Therefore many Christians have looked at 10% of income going to their local church as a good starting point, and then giving to special events/needs and to support the poor above and beyond that. I think this is a reasonable approach, but will not make it an expectation or mark of a "true" believer.

I cannot support the statement "Christians should give 10% of their income to their local church" specifically from Scripture. What I can support from Scripture is that Christians should give very generously to others, in accordance with the love of God in their hearts. Instead of a legal obligation to tithe we are offered the opportunity to give cheerfully and joyfully from the heart.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Proving You Don't Exist

I really liked this:

The story is told of an atheist philosophy professor who performed a parlor trick each term to convince his students that there is no God. "Anyone who believes in God is a fool, " he said. "If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove he is God, and yet he can't do it." The professor then dropped the chalk and watched it shatter dramatically on the classroom floor.

If you meet anyone who tries this silly trick, take the roof off. Apply the professor's logic in a test of your own existence. Tell the onlookers you will prove you don't exist.

Have someone take a piece of chalk and hold it above your outstreatched palm. Explain that if you really exist, you would be able to accomplish the simple task of catching the chalk. When he drops the chalk, let it fall to the ground and shatter. Then announce, "I guess this proves I do not exist. If you believe in me, you're a fool."

Clearly, this chalk trick tells you nothing about God. The only thing it is capable of showing is that if God does exist, he is not a circus animal who can be teased into jumping through hoops to appease the whim of foolish people.

- Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, p.150, 151

HT: Take Your Vitamin Z

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How to Study the Bible with People Who Can't Read

Excellent advice here.

In my experience, even in situations where people read well, you should be reading the Bible aloud. It's powerful.

Monday, February 01, 2010

This Wasn't For Me--Until I Started Using It

You know I'm a big proponent of using questions in Bible studies and lessons. (I even wrote a book on it!) Jesus taught with questions, story, and dialogue and so should you.

I generally don't have problems coming up with questions to use in Bible lessons. But many people write me and ask for help with this.

Someone in my family gave me the Serendipity Bible for Personal and Small Group Study for Christmas.

My first polite thought was "Well, that's nice, but I don't need that." A few days later I picked it up and started leafing through it. I was impressed at how well organized this is for small group leaders -- and for any type of small group leaders. The questions are actually very good.

Here's some description about the Bible:

"It provides Bible study leaders with ready-made, life-changing discussion questions on any passage of Scripture. In-text study questions help groups open discussion, dig deeper into the meaning of a passage, and reflect on life application. The 200 studies and 60 course plans address the needs of ten different groups, including men, women, singles, youth, and more. With the ready-made studies in the Serendipity Bible, the only thing a group leader has to prepare in the coffee!

Features include: • Thousands of penetrating study questions • 60 felt-need course plans for ten different kinds of groups • 16 topical study courses offer basic and deeper question tracks for study • 200 Bible story questionnaires offer another study alternative • Separate studies for each book of the Bible • Lectionary-based Bible studies for churches that follow the church year calendar • 200 general group studies address the needs of ten different groups, including men, women, singles, youth, recovery, and more • "Open-Dig-Reflect" questions help you discover each other’s hearts and apply God’s Word to your life • 32 two-color introduction pages help you use this Bible more effectively."

I heartily recommend this as a resource for Bible teachers and small group leaders.

I'm using it as a resource for my devotion and lesson prep the way I use commentaries. I spend a lot of time in the Bible text itself, chewing it over and over, and praying for insights. Then I will look up that same passage in this Serendipity Bible and check out the questions they have lined up for that passage. I'm usually picking up at least one really good idea with this approach.

I haven't yet tried any of their recommended courses (which take you topically through multiple passages of Scripture), but they look promising.

Teachers and small group leaders, add this to your resource library.