How To Read The Bible

Language is one of those things we often take for granted. We use it every day, whether in written form, verbal or artistic expression, or what we call “body language,” or physical interaction. It embodies history, culture, background, peoples, traditions and lifestyle. In fact, it is considerably more complicated than we often realize. Let’s take English and look at a few examples of word combinations and their meanings.

  • Same three basic words with three different meanings based on their combinations:
    • “There you are!” (I’ve been looking for you and have just found you)
    • “You are there.” (You are in a specified location, place or position)
    • “Are you there?” (Questioning your presence, or your location)
  • Cultural, historical or technical impact:
    • “Elvis has left the building.” Before Elvis’ time, this would have been a simple statement that a person by the name of Elvis had literally left the specified building. Today it means “it’s all over” or “the show has come to an end.”
    • “Google it” or “Bing it” were meaningless before the Internet and search engines. And so was “ungoogleable.” That is a modern word. Look it up.
    • “Corinthianize” – Be immoral. Based on the old city of Corinth and its immorality.
  • Expressions or Idioms:
    • “A hot potato” can literally refer to a potato that is hot, or it can refer to a controversial or highly disputed issue or topic, or to a situation that nobody wants to handle.
    • “A piece of cake” can literally refer to a slice of cake, or it can refer to an activity that is simple or easy.
    • The man is “sitting on the fence” can mean that the man is literally sitting on a fence, or that the man cannot make up his mind about a given topic or decision.
 
The above word combinations are only a few examples of thousands that make up our English language today. How do we know what is meant by a given statement or expression? We rely heavily on context. For example, if someone hands you a plate with a potato on it and says “It’s a hot potato,” you would hear “The potato on the plate is hot. Be careful with it.” If, on the other hand, in the middle of a conversation, that same person said “It’s a hot potato,” you would hear “It’s a controversial topic or difficult issue that nobody wants to address.” The context clarifies the meaning and intent of the language. Without it, the meaning may be ambiguous. And that is using our current spoken mother tongue.
 
The languages of the Bible are many centuries removed from us. Just as our English language encapsulates culture, tradition, and history, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek were similarly shaped. To isolate the language from its history can lead to drastic misinterpretations and misunderstandings. To complicate matters, we also have to consider multiple other factors, such as transcription (how the manuscripts were copied and preserved), and interpretation. That is one reason we have multiple versions today (KJV, NIV, NAV, etc.). Ancient manuscripts had a single continuous string of characters without any punctuation, sentence breaks, paragraphs, or titles. As an example, see the picture linked to this post that shows Papyrus 46, an ancient Greek Manuscript of 2 Cor. 11:33 – 12:9. As an illustration, let’s take this very simple English continuous string: “GODISNOWHERE.” You can read it as “God is nowhere” or as “God is now here.” How do we determine the author’s intent? Context is again a primary factor for interpretation.
 
Given the above (and more), it is understandable that we sometimes struggle to interpret and understand the Bible today. As a new believer in 1979, I struggled to understand the meaning of Scripture and did not know how to read and understand the Bible. I had decided to read the Bible from start to finish, but then quickly got overwhelmed when I got to Leviticus.
 
A few examples:
  • Lev. 19:19: “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” Most of my clothes were of mixed fabrics (20% Polyester, 80% Cotton and so forth). Was I going against God’s word by continuing to wear these clothes?
  • Lev. 19:28 speaks against tattoos. I had Christian friends with tattoos of crosses and “Jesus is Lord” on their arms. Were they sinning by having a “Jesus is Lord” tattoo?
  • Amos 4:6: “… I have given you cleanness of teeth…” Does this mean I do not need to worry about my yellowed teeth?
  • Hosea 10:8: What is meant by “high places?”
  • Hosea 10:9: What is a “trained heifer?”
  • Gen. 49:29: What does “gathered to his people” mean?
  • And, even in the New Testament, 1 Cor. 11:13 – “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head covered?” Does this mean that all women should cover their heads in church, or even when they pray? Why?
At the time, I did not know that “cleanness of teeth” was actually an idiom or saying that referred to starvation as opposed to a blessing. It was a judgment that people’s teeth would remain unstained by food because they would not have food to eat. Like many of my peers, I simply read the Bible at face-value and glossed over the difficult parts that I could not understand. I even thought that by asking questions, I was possibly showing a lack of faith, and that I simply needed to read the passage, believe it and act on it. But, this became an unsustainable model for studying the Bible.
 
I did not know if I was correctly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). I struggled with 1 Peter 3:15 – “… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” How could I give a good answer if I did not have the answers to my own questions?! Then, that same verse hit me hard. “Always be prepared” meant that I had to do something to prepare myself. To what purpose? “To give an answer to everyone who asks.” That meant three things. First, it implied that asking was not only acceptable, but expected. Secondly, it implied that the question should be answered. Thirdly, it clearly stated that I needed to “be prepared” which implied digging, asking questions, searching, studying, discovering and truly being a student of God’s word.
 
In the early 1980’s there was no Internet, no Google or Bing, and I did not have easy access to resources. I did not even have a concordance until the mid-1980’s. But, I poured into the Bible, cross-referencing verses and passages, talked to other believers, and read what I could find. Over time, I realized that I could miss so much by simply reading the Bible at face-value, or by not using the brain God had given me. A system of study developed that I still use today, and it is centered around CONTEXT.
 
Before I explain the system, let me just say that Scripture is multi-dimensional. This means that God can take any part of His word and use it to get our attention. We do not need to be scholars or multi-lingual to be blessed by God’s word. God’s word is alive and active (Heb. 4:12) and will accomplish what God desires (Isa. 55:11). Do not be afraid of reading the Bible, or of asking questions. “… The Holy Spirit … will teach you all things…” (John 14:26). Here are a few simple suggestions to help you:
  • Before you start reading, say a simple prayer “Lord, please help me understand your word and apply it in my life every day. Open my eyes to see, my ears to hear and my heart to receive what You have to say to me today.”
  • Turn off your phone, your TV, and block distractions and spend time reading the Bible.
  • Get a notebook and use it as a journal of sorts. Use a new page for every day, date it, write down the Bible chapter and verses, and then jot down any thoughts or questions that come to mind while you are reading.
  • Pray
 
You do not need to be an expert scholar to follow the above steps. God will draw near to you as you draw near to Him (James 4:8; Heb. 10:22).
 
Having said that, please keep in mind that the Bible that you are reading, regardless of version, is based on a lot of hard work to interpret and translate from the original Biblical languages, taking into account factors like culture, linguistics, history, geography, archaeology, and much more. And that in itself is relying on the scholarly interpretation that went into the English edition that you now have. It is therefore important to ask questions, dig deeper, and search the meaning of verses. Why? This will deepen your own understanding of God’s word and who He is. It will help you appreciate the significance, background, history and fuller meaning of what you read. And, the more you understand, the better you will be able to apply it in your own life. Ultimately, that is the end goal. It is not about amassing head-knowledge, but about applying God’s revelations in our daily lives.
 
To that purpose, I will now share my system of study that can also help you with your understanding of Scripture and its application in your life. Whenever I read any Biblical passage, I always ask three primary questions and then use a methodical approach to unpack each question for that passage.
 
WHAT?
 
This question seeks to uncover the background, history, geography, people, culture, language, terms, sayings and purpose. I ask questions such as:
  • What is this writing?
  • Who wrote it?
  • Who was the audience?
  • Where was it written or sent to?
  • What was going on at the time?
  • What do we know about the location (geography, culture, economy, history, traditions, etc.)?
  • What did the words mean (example: “white teeth” refers to starvation)?
  • Why was it written?
  • What else can I learn about the time, people, history, background, etc.?
 
These are not exhaustive questions. I’m sure you’ll think of other “what?” questions. Ask them. Then research them. Look online or use reputable references to search for details. In the process, weigh what you read. Not everything published is accurate and true. Look for multiple sources and consolidate your answers to give you a good synopsis of the “WHAT?” as described above. If you are still unclear, seek help from others. Compare notes. Reach out and ask your leaders. Don’t give up on finding an answer. And don’t get discouraged.
 
SO WHAT?
 
This question takes what you learned above to the practical level at the time of writing. By combining the WHAT and the SO WHAT, you uncover the CONTEXT of the writing. I ask questions such as:
  • What was the outcome of this writing at that time?
  • What difference did it make to the people who read this back then?
  • How did the audience interpret and understand this passage with respect to their circumstances and environment (as learned from the WHAT above)?
  • How did it change their lives? What did they stop doing? Start doing? Continue doing?
  • What was the significance of the writing to their faith and its development?
Again, these are not exhaustive questions. The main point is to grasp the broader context of the writing. This is very important because it will guide you in correctly handling God’s word, both in studying and in teaching (2 Tim. 2:15).
Let’s use a silly English language example to illustrate this point. If someone tells you “I’m going to let the cat out of the bag,” do you yell at them for being cruel to the cat by keeping it in a bag?! Of course, not! You don’t, because you understand the CONTEXT of what was said. You understand that it’s not literal, but an expression that means “I’m going to tell you a secret.” In a similar way, when you grasp the full context of Scripture, it helps you in interpreting and understanding its meaning. To go back to the “white teeth” example, once you know that it refers to starvation, you will never use that passage as an excuse for not going to the dentist. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been told that by someone who had completely misunderstood the meaning of this expression!
 
As a rule, teach yourself to think contextually, and not in isolation. When you see a lone verse, look it up in its full context. It will significantly deepen your understanding and application of the Bible.
 
NOW WHAT?
 
Once you have the context defined and understood, you can then apply it to your own life. I ask questions such as:
 
  • How does this passage apply to me today?
  • Based on the full context of this passage, how can I apply its principles and grow in my own life?
  • What do I need to change in my own life? Stop doing? Start doing? Continue doing?
  • What is God saying to me through this passage?
  • How do I overcome the challenges that this passage addresses directly and that the original audience struggled with in their own way and time?
  • What are the principles that I can apply in my life every day based on what I have learned in this passage?
  • How do I pray through this passage?
 
Don’t be afraid of digging, searching deeper, reaching out for help and asking God to help you. “… Seek and you will find…” (Mat. 7:7).
 
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Heb. 13:20f).
 

Highly recommended reading:
“How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.        


Read more...

We Are Growing!

Family. Mission.
 

Family and Mission…two critical elements of our DNA as a church. At White Rock we live out the belief that church IS family. Scripture calls us “children of God” and instructs us to pray to our “Father in Heaven.” These aren’t empty terms. They are words that define our reality. We are part of God’s family through our faith in Jesus Christ. And as part of God’s family, we are on mission. Families have missions. Some are on mission to achieve greatness on the ball fields or in the classrooms for their children. Some families are on mission to accumulate wealth and material possessions. God’s family is on mission to bring others into loving and restoring relationship with their Heavenly Father. That’s the heartbeat of God. To find the orphan, the fatherless, the brokenhearted, the lost. But not JUST to find or identify them, but to bring them home. To wrap His arms around them and give them a place in the family.

Healthy families grow. Sometimes unconventionally: adoption, stepping in and raising a grandchild, absorbing a lonely elderly person. Love doesn’t have limits. Love reaches out and brings in. Love envelops everything it touches and communicates value and belonging. We love because He first loved us. And as a church family, we belong and we have status and a place we call home. BUT, we don’t just sit in self-centered comfort. We live out our Father’s values. We love and reach and bring in. We add to our family, to His family. We have a limitless capacity to love others. Don’t be mislead by the enemy’s whispers of lies or doubt. We can love without limits because the love of Christ dwells in us. We limit ourselves. He says love even your enemies. We say we can’t. He says, “You have no idea the reservoir of love that you are tapped into.”

So, as a church we stand at a bit of a tipping point. If you’re reading this blog and haven’t had a chance to catch the sermon audio from May 6, 2018 I encourage you to pause here and take a quick listen. Or, see it on facebook live if you’re able. I’ll wait…

 

I’m good…still waiting…

 

Okay, so you’ve got the picture. We have five cars illegally parked in the ditch (the police have issued us a warning that they will be handing out tickets if vehicles are found on the roadside). We have jam packed rows of people in the worship center. We have a GREAT problem. Our family is growing. God is drawing and reaching and people are coming to worship, to grow, to be a part of this awesome family of His. It’s fantastic…but we’ve got to do something. We’re running out of room. We’ve drug our feet as long as we can, and we’ve looked at all our options over and over and over. And it’s time. We all see it. It’s time to adjust our Sunday worship routine to add a second worship service to accommodate all this growth.

One church. Two worship gatherings.

It’s not too complicated: 9am and 11am with an adult Sunday school class slipped into the middle. Is it perfect? Nah, we’ll surely have to tweak a few things here and there. Is it polished and refined? Wait, have you ever been to White Rock? Is it what the Holy Spirit is clearly leading us to do? Without a doubt. It won’t necessarily be easy, but the Lord has confirmed and reconfirmed over and over again during the last several weeks that this is the direction He is leading. Now all we have to do is prayerfully get in step with His leading and try to keep up!

There will be some challenges and some adjustments along the way…in fact I think that might even be the working definition of the word “grow.” Growth is not always easy or comfortable. But, following the Lord is never the wrong decision. He never, ever, ever fails us. We can trust Him. He knows what He’s doing.

And so, I invite you along on this crazy adventure. We begin this new chapter June 3rd. And I encourage you to pray; seek the Lord. Come when you are supposed to. Plug in and serve where you are supposed to. I’m like you, I probably have more questions than answers. That’s why I’m sticking really close to the One who knows the answers. He’s leading and it’s going to be quite a ride! I’m excited that you’re part of this big, crazy family. Let’s go chase after Him and see where this thing leads us!


Read more...

White ROCK Kids: The Cocoa House Gets Emotional

 
This week the White ROCK Kids Cocoa House got an overhaul! (We meet Wednesday nights at 7pm!) We switched from rocking out to the latest Christian songs and learning how God speaks to us in song to talking about our emotions! We will still be jamming out to some rockin’ songs from time to time and sipping hot cocoa while focusing on how God wants us to handle our emotions!
 
This week we talked about happiness and how we can be happy because of God’s great love for us!  We talked about how our world can be unhappy in a lot of different ways and how we can maintain happiness in Christ Jesus.  This happiness is available because we know that God sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins and was resurrected from death three days later.  We learned that no matter how grim our situation may look; the end result, if we have asked Christ to forgive our sins and live in our hearts, is that we will have eternity in Heaven with God!  That can bring us joy in any situation!  
 
Our memory verse this week is: “How you made me is amazing and wonderful.  I praise you for that.  What you have done is wonderful.  I know that very well.” Psalm 139:14 (NIrV).  God made us amazing and wonderful; all that He has done for us is wonderful!  Pairing that truth with the truth that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave for our sins creates a truth bomb that can cut through any bad day that we could possibly have!  We can’t wait to see what emotion we might talk about next Wednesday night!

Read more...

Easter Is No Laughing Matter!

Easter is no laughing matter…but laughter absolutely does matter! While celebrating Resurrection Sunday we managed to slip in a few fun “April Fool’s Day” moments. The teen band rocking an ancient Hebrew song about the resurrection turned out to be “Go, Fight, Win.” The promise of a double-feature of two full length sermons turned out to be one average length Easter message with some closing wrap up thoughts. The teens passing out brownies…er, I mean brown “E’s” (pieces of brown construction paper cut out in the shape of the letter “E”) to the congregation at the end was an instant classic for sure! But my favorite had to be the Rock Your Debt program. The reminder of the crushing weight of financial debt coupled with the hope of someone coming alongside and bringing some help and support was something all of us could buy into! And what a painful moment to realize it was all a hoax! But the point behind such a prank? Well…that was no laughing matter. The truth is that all of us are in desperate shape because of our sin debt. We owe a debt we cannot pay. Nothing we can do to be good enough. Nothing of any value that we possess that could cover our debt. The wages of sin is death…eternal death. And sadly, that debt is getting called in. We are getting foreclosed on. We are dead in our sins and lost forever…but…all is not lost. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the greatest Debt Consolidation Program in all human history. We could not pay, so He did. We faced death, so He died in our place. He took upon Himself all the sin debt of all humanity and paid it all off with the sacrifice of His own life. He was sinless and pure, and paid off our sin debt with a currency we did not have. Hallelujah to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who paid our debt, who bought our freedom from slavery to sin, and who lives and reigns forevermore! This is the hope…no, It’s not just a hope…it is the truth and the reality of Easter. Your debt has been paid. You are set free.

Read more...

Easter Egg Hunt 2018! Rain or Shine!

As I remember it, hunting eggs is probably one of the most exciting parts of Easter in the eyes of kids!  The candy, the hunt for candy, the sugar rush!  When the eggs are all empty and there is no longer candy to find, kids go home with bags full of candy to last them months.  All the while, parents are praying that some of it gets lost and forgotten somewhere in the car on the drive home.
 
This Saturday kids will not only get the change to hunt for eggs filled with sugary goodness and empty those eggs into their baskets to take home, they will also get an awesome opportunity to learn about something that Jesus left empty! Come join us Saturday at 2:00 at 21070 Schulley Road in Noblesville for hunting candy, and to hear about what Jesus left empty…and why He did it!  RAIN or SHINE!
 
-Pastor Ryan Christopher
Children’s Pastor

Read more...

Triumphal Sunday

Jesus is not who you think He is.

He does not fit into your simple little picture of who He is.
 
He’s not some “deity”, some “celestial being”; He is utterly the most awesome, terrifying, horrifying power you can’t even dream up, imagine, or pretend to imagine. He is more awesome, and scarier than you can possible imagine. He is not a lord, He is not a king, He Is THE Lord and THE King. Ultimate authority, Ultimate power, Ultimate being in perfect form and strength and wisdom. He is more than the best of everything, more than our eyes can take in, more than our minds can fake like we can imagine, more than our senses can process or even make sense of. He is the Epic, Eternal King of Kings and Lord or lords from all time and all places and all beings. He is not just a baby in a manger or this Jesus of Nazareth fellow. HE IS GOD ALMIGHTY, and the earth will shake with His presence and the hills will melt like wax before Him.           
 
He does not fit into your simple little picture of who He is.
 

And this Jesus turned his gaze, set His face as flint and made His way into Jerusalem to put death to death. He would lay aside His majesty, His power and His dominion over death to end the eternal curse of sin brought upon men by their rebellion against Him.

But death could not hold Him. The grave, strong by all appearances, was rendered powerless against Him. Death had a short-lived façade of victory that soon gave way to the eternal reality of who our God is. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah cannot be defeated. He cannot be overcome or overrun or overwhelmed. There is no dethroning Him, there is no destroying Him, there is no denying Him. And there is coming a day when every knee of every being who has ever been or ever will be shall find themselves face to face with the awesome reality of who this Jesus really is. Tremble; be afraid. The earth shakes and the mountains are made low before the greatness of our God.

Don’t play the fool, your king comes to you gently, riding on a donkey. His arms are open and his hands are stretched out to you. What will you do with this king? What will you do with His offer?

           


Read more...