September 2014

Too often Christians neglect the Old Testament, thinking it outdated, obsolete or replaced by the New Testament.

Not true. The entire Bible, all of scripture, “is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness,” according to 2 Timothy 3:16. And Jesus himself said, “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” -Matthew 5:17.

Many themes are prevalent throughout the Bible, despite its multitude of authors and cross-generational composition. Things like grace, blessing, forgiveness, rebellion, idolatry, persecution, salvation, God’s presence. Threads of each of these can be identified in most books. Specific prophets, kings, and other characters are quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, and the historical context often sheds light on the usage. Old Testament prophecies are often fulfilled before Christ or in Jesus himself. Many New Testament events are foreshadowed in the Old and many echoes of the OT are found in the New.

Without years of study or seminary training, leaders may throw up their hands and plead ignorance. Feelings of inadequacy cause many to shy away from leading teen Bible studies. So how can the average Bible study leader integrate the old and the new? Here are four easy ways to begin.

  1. Use the cross-references in your Bible.

Most Bibles, even without the “Study Bible” label have marginal cross references to other books and verses in the Bible. Start using these. Some cross-references are just about word usage. Others will give you a link to a passage that will shed light on what you are reading.   Some teachers call it the “secret code” to unlocking the scripture. It is no secret, just rarely used, and the letters are exceedingly small. Get out your magnifier and start sleuthing.

  1. Use your concordance.

 

Key words are listed alphabetically in the concordance, a very useful appendix in most Bibles. The concordance lists most if not all the occurrences of a given word.   These can be useful for integrating Old and New Testaments.  I love a concordance to help me find a verse I recall, but can’t quote the chapter and verse. I also love being reminded of other verses with the same words.   Bible Gateway and other internet apps can help in this regard as well. If you remember just a portion of a verse, type it into your search engine, and you will probably find the rest of the verse.

 

  1. Use the notes in your Study Bible.

 

In the classic Zondervan NIV Study Bible, great introductions precede every book and extensive, helpful notes fill the bottom of every single page. Many of these notes give historical context. Some offer archaeological findings, and many give Hebrew and Greek word derivations and meanings. The notes often give references to related passages, and these can be very helpful as well. Study notes should not replace listening to the Holy Spirit speaking directly from the scripture, but they should enhance your understanding.

  1. If you have a topical index, use it.

Or use your favorite search engine. If your lesson is on God’s love, for example, you will be directed to Psalms, Gospels, Prophets, Paul’s letters and more.

 

The three books most quoted by Jesus are Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Psalms.   For New Testament books with lots of OT references, look at Matthew and Hebrews. Check out Hebrews 11 or Acts 7 for wonderful summaries of huge chunks of early history. The prophet Isaiah spoke many Messianic prophecies.

 

Old Testament characters are often talked about in the New Testament. Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David get a lot of press, but even Jonah, Rahab, and Enoch get nods in the New Testament. As such their stories and characters are given greater weight.
Have fun incorporating the old in the new. The WHOLE Bible is there for you.

Get a good look at the entire book.

 

 

 

 

 

The struggling teen.  What is your teenager struggling with?  Today’s teens struggle with far more than the teens of previous generations.  Our world is changing speedily in technology and communication style and information.  There are pressures from parents, peers, teachers, friends.  Expectations are hard to discern and harder to meet.  So how does this affect the self-image and emotional stability of our teens?

Eight feelings and needs of struggling teens:

  • Feeling unloved, isolated, or alone —- Needing acceptance, friends, and community
  • Feeling stressed —– Needing peace and unstructured quiet
  • Feeling angry —– Needing perspective
  • Feeling bullied —- Needing refuge
  • Feeling depressed, broken-hearted —- Needing happiness, joy, and purpose
  • Feeling guilty —- Needing forgiveness and restoration and a second chance
  • Feeling hopeless —- Needing good role models
  • Feeling inadequate —– Needing reassurance

My heart breaks for kids these days.  These are very real feelings and needs.  Often in the whirl of family life parents are not even aware of what their children are facing.  Since the world is changing so fast, the contrast with the world in which we were raised is sharper than ever, and old coping tools seem inadequate.  “Concentrate.” “Get up earlier.”  “Go to bed earlier.” “Don’t worry what others say.” “You’ll be OK.” “Just get through this year.” “Study hard so you get into a good college.”

When these old platitudes miss the mark, many teens seek out other ways to satisfy their needs, like drugs and alcohol, or violence, or gang communities or self-destructive habits.

A better way to address the needs of the struggling teen in your life is found in the Bible.  But where? (more…)

There are many biblical examples of great leaders – Moses, David, Peter, Paul – but let’s just take a look at Joshua. Born a slave in Egypt, Joshua rose slowly over many years into the primary leadership role for the entire nation of Israel. An impressive transition on many levels. The life of Joshua spans more than the book bearing his name. He is mentioned in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, too. From his story we can see five basic elements of great leadership.

1. Watch a real leader at work. When Moses finally led the people out of Egypt, Joshua watched as he gave credit solely to God (Exodus 15:1-21) He witnessed at close range the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 24:13-14) He listened as Moses interceded for the people after they worshiped the Golden Calf. (Exodus 32:11-14) Joshua waited outside the “tent of meeting” when Moses met with the Lord (Exodus 33:11) He witnessed the construction of the ark in which Moses was commanded to carry the law, some manna, and evidence of a miracle. (Exodus 25:10-22)

In short, Joshua learned some of the keys to great leadership by watching Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time.

2. Be patient. Moses had to be very patient with complainers in the midst of the large assembly. People did not readily trust Moses or God to bring them into the Promised Land. Remember they had been slaves for 400 years.   When Joshua, Caleb, and ten others were sent to spy out the land God had promised, the people overwhelmingly voted to live in fear. (Numbers 13 and 14) This resulted in 40 more years of wilderness wandering. Ouch. Patience, when you know what to do, is hard. Sometimes it takes way more time than it should for the people to see what the leader can see at once.

3. Be courageous. When Moses’ work is done, Joshua is commissioned. He is told over and over to “be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:6,7,9) With his 40 + year internship under Moses, Joshua had the courage that comes from faith and the strength that comes from discipline. He would need all of that when facing the native peoples of the land of Canaan.

4. Stay grounded. The greatest mistake made by leaders throughout history is forsaking the principles and character qualities that helped them rise to power. Moses left both a fine example and specific instructions on how Joshua and all the people were to remember and follow the laws handed down on Mt. Sinai. To his credit, Joshua made certain to keep these laws close by. He rooted out problems as soon as they cropped up, and acted honorably in every decision he was called upon to make. Integrity must be intentional for a leader. Joshua demonstrated this throughout his career.

5. Learn from history. Joshua understood that people have short memories. They quickly forget what God has done, and wander into dangerous territory with nothing but their foolish pride. As soon as the people crossed into the Promised Land, Joshua supervised construction of a stone monument so that all would remember what God had done in getting them from Egypt to the Jordan River. (Joshua 4) Later, he built an altar at Mt. Ebal (Joshua 8) with giant stone billboards containing God’s laws, so that everyone could see them. And finally, in Joshua 24, he set up a “stone of remembrance” at Shechem. If leaders keep in mind what has led to success in the past, they are better able to apply those practices for success in the future. Joshua exemplified this type of leadership.

Teens today need good role models for leadership. A study of Joshua teaches how young people can learn much from mentors and from history while they are waiting for their chance to shine. An excellent in-depth study is Joshua: Strong and Courageous.

What Joshua learned most of all from his mentor, Moses, was this:

The key to great leadership is a close relationship with God.

Lead on.

 

What are the right questions to ask in Bible Study? What is the purpose of Bible study? Why do we care about asking the right questions?

Any teacher or leader who cares about sharing God’s Word also cares about successfully getting students involved in the Biblical story. It’s not just learning the facts, or the language, or the history. It’s not just whether or not something actually happened. Teaching the Bible is about making it come alive and finding the truth that can be applied today. And even more important, it is about helping students see God more clearly and grow closer to Him through a better knowledge of His Word.

In the late 1980’s when I first began leading Bible studies, I read a wonderful book by Dick Murray, Teaching the Bible to Adults and Youth, Abingdon Press, 1987. Dick Murray was a lively character, a Christian Education professor at Perkins School of Theology, SMU in Dallas, who could bring Bible study fully alive with a variety of methods. Some of his methods are staples in my own style of teaching the Bible to teens.

In asking Bible study questions, there are four keys to keep in mind.

  1. Address multiple learning styles
  2. Dig for meaning
  3. Ask theological basics
  4. Find an Application

 

Multiple Learning Styles: Much research (more…)

Social Media is here to stay. And that’s a good thing. There is so much potential for good interaction, even for Bible study. Social media platforms are changing every day. Here are just three easy ways to use social media to enhance your teen Bible study.

YouTube Everyone loves a good video. Video viewing is increasing all the time. A youtube search of hymns or contemporary Christian songs turns up beautiful slide shows or concert segments.  Music that speaks Biblical  truth can be the hook that connects a person to some deep insight. As a leader, you can use a good video at the beginning of group discussion, or at the end, or encourage students to find one they like and then share. In Peter Rock Star from Galilee, students are encouraged to view youtube segments like this one by Rich Mullins about discipleship, or this one with Tenth Avenue North on realizing God’s love and forgiveness.  

Pinterest Visual learners are everywhere and, as the old saying goes, “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” Pinterest is a library of visuals. A pinterest search can turn up fine art, crafts, photographs, scripture in meme format, and all sorts of other things. For my current Bible study on Ruth, I have assembled a Pinterest board with photos of modern-day gleaning, artwork by Marc Chagall and others showing Ruth and Naomi, as well as Ruth meeting Boaz. If  students view the board, they may find something that speaks to their own style. They can also be challenged to pin other pictures that relate to the theme or topic of the week. Sharing “pins” offers another way to reinforce what is being learned. Check out my Ruth and Boaz board(more…)

There are plenty of reasons to offer Bible study to teenagers. But here are five benefits or by-products that can have a positive, lasting impact on teens.

Acceptance:

The Bible tells teens just how accepted and valued and loved they are, just as they are.  The world is full of critics and comparisons.  The Bible is the only place where teens can find proof of God’s undying love for them. In Genesis, they will see that all humans are created in the image of God and he called them VERY GOOD. That is better than GOOD, which is what God said about everything else in creation. Every sunset, every tree, every rocky shore- God called them good, but every single human being starts by being, in God’s eyes, Very Good. No matter our background, our mistakes, our abilities or disabilities, God wants to include us in his kingdom family.

 

Benefit #1: Knowing God’s everlasting love is directed at you.

 

 

Decision:   

By getting deeper into the Bible, teens get an opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they believe the basics of Christian faith. They can test the truths of what they heard in Vacation Bible School or Sunday School. The more they study, the more they see grace, the underlying theme of the entire Bible. It all hangs together in amazing ways, with echos of earlier concepts in later writing and prophetic passages which prove unbelievably accurate. Teens begin to see how biblical faith is distinct from other religions. They can ask deeper personal questions about the nature of God and the nature of faith. They can make an informed decision about following Christ.

 

Benefit #2: Knowing the truth about God and his overarching story.

 

Relationships:

Students in small groups learn from each other at least as much as from the leader/curriculum.  Teens gain valuable friendships with others in Bible study. By listening to one another and discussing what they read, students bond over important values instead of only sports teams, fad clothing or music videos. Adult leaders, especially those who are not the teens’ parents, demonstrate what mature faith looks like, and teens absorb this knowledge as well. More important than the relationships with peers and adults, a relationship with the God of the universe grows bright as the sun. It is this by-product of community that almost always adds value to time spent in Bible study.

 

Benefit #3: Making solid friendships with others while building a close relationship with God.

 (more…)

Kids today are really busy. If they come to a Bible study group at all, you want to help them get the most out of it.

So don’t overload them with homework or expect they will be able to get it all done each week.

We have to meet them where they are.

The character studies available here include passages to look up and think about, preferably before coming to the group for discussion. That only works well when students are motivated and have plenty of time.

But here is another – perhaps better – way to approach the study. Preview the week’s material ahead of time, and decide on 4 or 5 sections to work together. You may decide based on the interests of your students, or passages you like a lot, or simply on the amount of time you have. 90 minutes is about as long as I would ever try with teens. (more…)