Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Choose a Study Bible

A good study Bible is an investment in your faith development.  Many people ask me "What should I Get?" and we even have a tradition of taking new high school grads to purchase their first "adult study Bible."  So, I'm finally putting my thoughts down in print.  The following are some study Bible’s that I recommend.  I’m sure there are other good study Bibles that are not in my top 3.

ESV Study Bible (English Standard Version)
Thorough notes.  Online access as well.  More “hot topics” articles and info available (different religions, social issues, clarifications on theology, etc).

NIV Study Bible
            Not quite as detailed as the ESV, but still good.  Popular if you love the NIV.

Life Application Study Bibles (NIV, NLT)
            Comes in multiple translations.  Good notes as well.

Steps to Choosing:
  1. Make sure you are comfortable with the translation.
(NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB, there are plenty to choose from.  All have slightly different purposes.  Some desire to put it the translation as literal as possible while other try to use more modern language).  Find a few of your favorite verses and compare how they are stated.  You should be comfortable with any listed above.

  1. View the Books of the Bible Introductionsat the beginning of each book of the Bible.  Cover helpful info such as author, date, history, and themes.
  1.  Study NotesFor me, quality and configuration are important.
Configuration - Some do much better at using boldness of words or passage references to easily navigate through the notes.  Others are just crammed together and hurt the head to look at.
Quality – look at some of the stories you know well (maybe in the Gospels).  Chances are if you know most of what is said in the study notes, than it might not be as thorough of a study Bible as you would want.

  1.  ConcordanceThis is in the back.  Essentially, it is a “word search.”  Looking for verses on “love,” then go to the back concordance and it will list verses with “love” in them.  Not all concordances are created equal.  Some provide just the top few examples where “love” is found.  Others will provide most or all references where “love” is found in the entire Bible based on your translation. 
  1.  Design Layout Some Bibles let you read left to right in one column per page.  Others have two columns.  If you are OCD, then this will matter to you.  I prefer one column per page and I think it helps link well with study notes at the bottom of the page, but to each their own.
  1. Physical Size do you want a compact and easy to carry or pack Bible?  Do you want bigger and better because you know that you will primarily use it at home and not take it with you everywhere (especially if you use a Bible App for casual reading on the go)?  Sometimes a compact version does not have all the extra content that a full size Bible has.  
  1. Bonus Stuff every Bible has a few different bonuses. 
-Life Application Bibles like to give biographies of people sprinkled throughout each book of the Bible to inform or remind you of each person’s importance and context. 

-The ESV Study Bible goes the extra mile (at least in the full size version, in the compact version I think it is only available online) for theology, history of the church, other religions, social issues, etc). 

-Most have a few basic maps as well.

-Some provide charts and other helpful info graphics throughout (timeline of Jesus’ miracles, list of Kings in chronological order, list of parables, diagrams of the temple or a city, etc).  These can be very helpful for connecting different stories into a uniform line of thought.

Those are my tips. Remember, if you never use it, then it doesn’t matter which you pick.

And don’t be afraid to write notes, underline and highlight, just make sure your highlighter doesn’t bleed through the page!  Every mark you make will help long term retention.

Did I miss anything in selecting a study Bible?

Also: Wesley Study Bible – I have never used it, but it comes recommended.  It is on my “to get list” for its theological footing in the United Methodist and Wesleyan view.  This would be subtle in the commentary notes to the average evangelical Christians, just as the ESV may have inclinations towards Reformed theology that most might not notice.  

Lastly, on a lighter note, you can just pick your Bible by using this chart below via Adam4d.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Visual Communication

As our world's attention span changes and our culture shifts from long blogs to tweets to instagram pictures it has made me think how I communicate.

I've made a few of these word pix as one of my goals of using social media is to point people towards God and hope and away from complaining, gossip, and narcissism that often overruns social media.  Ironically, taking the few minutes to make it has given me extra time think through what I was posting and has had a deeper spiritual impact on me as well (compared to simply typing it and posting it).

Take time to meditate on God's word....or settle for mediocre and shallow faith.  It's up to you.  I prefer the former.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Changing Youth Ministry Accountability

Ok - that's a big title.  Maybe "tweaking" is a better term.

Common Youth Group Scenario:
We're so excited everyone is ready to (read this devo, study this book, read through the Bible together, use a 1 minute daily Bible).  Then, a few weeks go by, with the only accountability being while everyone is together.  Most are behind.  Most feel overwhelmed to catch up or guilty (or at worst, don't care).  As a result, no real growth occurs.

We've been wrestling with theses issues:
-How to help students develop spiritually through the rest of the week (besides Sundays and Wednesdays)
-Strengthen accountability so you don't feel alone in the process.
-Be more prepared to make their faith visible each day to those who don't have faith.

So, we're trying Faithlife.com.  Why?

1.  Mobile. It can be done on your phone (via Faithlife Study Bible app) or online.  When it is with you it is easier to do then if it is a hard copy that you left at home, lost at school, left in a friend's car, etc.
2. Allows dialogue that provides some accountability.
3. Gets everyone into the Bible.
4. Like it or not, we live in an ADHD and twitter world.  Short attention spans.  We can only fight that so much.  So, the more we can provide a small passage, a short statement, and one question to dialogue the more each teen can engage in thought on their terms, during their day, so it sticks with them in their current context.

Praying it makes an impact.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Future Gift for My Son - My Study Bible

Somewhere along the line I said to a college student "Get into God's word or get into trouble."  I believe that is true.  We have plenty of wisdom and principles and the Holy Spirit's guidance to gain from reading the Bible regularly and studying it.

Don't just read.  Study.  My hope is my Bible can be full of pages like this one for my son someday to have.  It takes longer to mark it, but is worth it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Change is Good

Brainstorming with some of our teens.  Can't get stuck with how we are reaching people when there are always more people to reach.

The key to our discussion: How can we provide greater connection with Christ and each other throughout the week to foster better spiritual and numerical growth?


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Spiritual Conversations Matter

I recently posted about the need for Christians to share their faith and what we were doing as a result.  

Here is a follow up to the Spring Break Stretch Retreat.
It was 3 busy days of "Knowing God's Story, Knowing Your Story, and Sharing those Stories."

I could share a lot of stories and details on the training, but I'll let the words of the teens who participated in the retreat share.

“The trip was great and really strengthened my faith and allowed me to be bolder.  I didn't realize the retreat would affect me so much.”

“I always knew I should share my faith.  This helped me know how to bring it up at anytime.”
“The more people I talked to the easier it was.  It isn't scary to share my faith.  I learned a lot.”
"I know how to listen, how to transition conversations and bring up Jesus. It's not that scary."
"This was far more helpful and practical than I could have imagined."
"It helped me care more for others and think about life without Jesus."
"I'm introverted, so it got me out of my comfort zone."

If they keep sharing the Gospel, then they can make a huge impact over the course of their life.

There are only 2 reasons adult Christians don't make an impact spiritually in the lives of others.
1. They were never trained.
2. Don't care enough to do it.

Let's pray the training and the heart stick with every teen who participated.

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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What if Parents Led Their Children?

Scenario 1: Parent drops teen off at church.  Parent picks them up a few hours later.  Parent asks "how was it?"  Teen responds "fine."  End of Conversation.

Child continues to grow in their faith all the while the parent does not really know what is going.  Sure, they read the youth calendar and their teen may or may not attend Sunday morning worship with them.  Maybe they pray at lunch together, occasionally.   

Bottom line - the parent has unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) passed off the faith development of their child to the church.  That teen graduates and goes off to college having lost their only spiritual support group they've ever known.  It could be a LOT worse.  But, it could be better.

Scenario 2: Parent drops teen off at church.  Parent picks them up a few hours later.  Parent has a resource of different specific questions to really find out what the teen just did for the last few hours.  Thorough conversation ensues.  Questions.  Dialogue.  Sharing.

The church actually schedules less programming and events so that families can spend more time together.  And the church provides additional resources to help the parents take the lead in developing their child's faith with as simple of things as lesson recaps, questions to ask, suggested activities, and other options to help both sides share their faith.  

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Someday, that teen will probably live in a different town, far away from their youth pastor or "church friends."  There are a billion studies that talk about teens struggling to have a faith of their own when they hit college.  One of the biggest differences between those who do have a faith of their own and those who don't are actively engaged parents - because the parents are the one's who make the most impact and will be with that teen for the rest of their life.  

There's plenty about all of this.  Two of the best places are Sticky Faith and Fuller Youth Institute.

We're tweaking how we do our intermediate ministry called Level Up (5th-8th grade).
1. Only meeting the first 2 Sundays of the month.
2. Providing more dialogue and resources for parents.
3. Using mature high school students to mentor the intermediate group.

I'm not saying it will be a perfect ministry.  I'm not saying there won't be a learning curve or new obstacles with the increased focus on providing parents with resources (as opposed to just information).  I know there are other questions out there (for example: what if the parent isn't a Christian?).  But, I'm excited for the possibility.  Our church has done well with Children and with the Senior High, but we have struggled with the intermediate age group.  It's time to level up - balance your life while you grow in your faith.  (Note: Our Senior High still meets weekly).

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Biggest Problem Christians Have

Most Christians are ineffective in sharing their faith.  It's that simple.
Maybe they aren't equipped. Maybe they are lazy or lack the desire.  Maybe they are not intentional or bold enough.

If Christianity is going to help restore the world by pointing people to Jesus Christ, then most of that will be done outside of the physical church building.  People interacting with other people and openly discussing their faith and how God has changed their life for the better is arguably the best tool to bring people to Christ.

Perhaps the reason Christians struggle with this the most is that they have never experienced effective spiritual conversations in everyday life.  So, while a sermon or a study on it is nice for gaining information, most people need the extra step of being shown how to do it.  You could say it is a Biblical model.

1. Jesus invited the disciples along on his journey to see who he really was (Messiah).
2. Jesus invited them to observe him (Mission & Ministry).
3. Jesus taught them directly (Teacher) and allowed them to ask questions.
4. Jesus empowered them to do ministry and grow in their faith (Experience).
5. Jesus released them and delegated them to reach the world (Full Responsibility).

Jesus was with them consistently. Showing. Leading. Correcting. Releasing.
Jesus provided a way for the disciples to experience it, and expected them to do the same thing.

Over Spring Break we're trying to provide more of that equipping for today's teens.
Know God's Story.  Know Your Story (how God changed you), Share Your Stories.
G  E  T      S  T  R  E  T  C  H  E  D

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. But do this with gentleness and respect.  

Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Note: I have put together a fairly thorough booklet (60 pages!) for the retreat.  If you'd like to see it, review it, or want to consider it for your group (any age) please leave a comment.

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Are You Supposed to Do with Your Life?

High school students ask this as they weigh their college, major, and vocation choices.
Adults see this as the fulfillment of their job, family, and overall life.

It can be empowering when we know the answer.  It can be deflating when we are dumbfounded.

Often we wait....and wait...and wait for an answer from God.  But, what if sometimes God just wanted us to act based on what we already know?

Enter Nehemiah - a man who is discussed far to infrequently to children in their faith development.

Basically, here's the story.  Nehemiah's hometown (Jerusalem) was destroyed before he was born during the Babylonian Empire and all the smart guys and good looking women were taken to Babylon to be slaves for King Nebuchadnezzar.  Eventually, the Babylonians are overthrown by the Persians, to whom Nehemiah is a servant for the King.

Nehemiah hears that Jerusalem, approximately 150 years after having its walls torn down by the Babylonians, still does not have a wall around the city!  Having a wall around your city is a big part of protection and honor.

What does Nehemiah do?
He prays to God for forgiveness for his people's lack of obedience.  And he asks the King that he might go home to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  And the King says yes.  It's a long story....but basically, no one near Jerusalem wants the wall rebuilt.  In fact, Nehemiah and his fellow wall rebuilding crew are threatened and a plot is setup to fight Jerusalem.

These enemies "all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night."    Nehemiah 4:6-9 ESV

But they didn't stop to fight....verse 17 says "Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked."  That's determination and focus!

Nehemiah's Steps
1. Heard the problem (Jeursalem in ruin).
2. Prays for forgiveness of his people AND for opportunity.
3. God works through the King to let Nehemiah go home
4. Opposition. More opposition.  Pep talks (not included above).
5. Prepares for worst (a battle) but never stops with his God given mission.
6. Wall is built in 52 days.  52 DAYS!!!!

While it is good for us to seek God's guidance, many of us wait for that burning bush or parting of the Red Sea to know what God wants us to do.  Not Nehemiah, he found a need, prayed to God, and then got it done!

See the needs around you.  Pray to God for wisdom and strength.  Get it done.  That is what you're supposed to do with your life.

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here

Thursday, March 07, 2013

What My 2 Year Old Taught Me About Leading By Example

I have a 2 year old.  I can teach him fun sayings (I say "God Bless" - he says "America") or even to count to ten in Spanish.  I also tell him he can only play catch with balls or stuffed animals.  But, then I throw his sippy cup across the room to my wife to save myself a trip.  Guess what he wants to throw?  On a side note, I did teach AJ to shovel snow!

Words are powerful.  But, so are our actions.

This is true for parenting.  
Proverbs 22:6 - Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Note: this is a principle, not a guarantee).

And there's this CNN article from Princeton Theological Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean.  She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips...But it's not enough to be radical -- parents must explain "this is how Christians live," she says.

This is also true as a Christian.  If we don't shine like stars to those around us and show that our lives are better now than before because of Jesus, then what have we really done?
Philippians 2:14-16 - Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (italics mine)

Christians - be intentional with your faith.  Know who you want to be, how you want others to see you, and how God wants you to live.  Be intentional with your attitude, time, actions, and money.  Don't just wish for the best.

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here