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Living Without the Instruction Manual

Yes, everyone knows it: men don’t read instruction manuals.  They somehow feel that they’ve either got it all down, or they’re smart enough that they don’t need them, or that they can do just as well by figuring out things as they go along.  Consequently, our culture is filled with stories of how badly things go wrong when men fail to read the manual.

For those who can remember back to the eighties, there was even a television series based solely on one premise: a man living without the instruction manual.  The sci-fi comedy/drama The Greatest American Hero featured a schoolteacher who was given a mysterious alien super suit.  His only problem: he lost the instruction manual.  So, every show was about him desperately trying to use this amazing suit with incredible powers, but always comically messing up because he didn’t have the instruction manual to read.  Every week millions of people across America tuned in to watch a guy with the capability to do supernatural stuff fail over and over.

Guess what?  That story is more than just a TV show— it’s really the story of the church in America. You see, as Christians we have more than a dorky looking super suit: we have a regenerated soul indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  We have the ability to lead truly supernatural lives: to be supernaturally loving, wise, joyful, and self-controlled.

So what’s the problem?  Why aren’t we leading supernatural lives?  Could it be that part of the problem is that we aren’t paying enough attention to the instruction manual?

Yes, we have the most incredible “instruction manual” ever written: the Bible.  In its pages we can learn all that we need to know about God, about ourselves, and about the blessings that God has bestowed upon us.  We have all the directions to the “super suit” that God has given us in the new birth.  And yet, research studies show that less than 1 in 10 Americans who identify themselves as being born-again have a Biblical worldview.

John Eldredge once wrote, “I need to study the Word of God with all the intensity of the men who studied the maps of the Normandy coastline before they hit the beaches on D-Day.”  Do we really have that heart-felt intensity, to study the Bible for all that its worth?  Or are we stumbling clumsily through life unable to fly, just because we aren’t studying God’s instruction manual?

BibleApps.com Rocks!

Ok, I can’t remember the last time I said a bible website was “fun” or “fiendishly addictive” (sorry you didn’t make that cut, centurion!)

But this new website that I discovered today has already wasted too way too much of my time, and it is a featured site for the ultracool new google friendconnect engine.

BibleApps is a simple concept: throw out a random Bible phrase, and give you three choices of which book of the Bible it comes from.  Score points, and go from a noob to a deacon to a pastor to ?Ned Flanders? to a scholar to a Bible Magnate (apparently emergent bloggers have a lot of spare time on their hands!).   Very, very cool, very very addictive.

Ouch!

Well I was walking on my treadmill this morning, scanning over blogs when I ran across this interview.  I always enjoy reading Covey, because I think he has taken the time to think through a lot of things about the practical living of life.  But I got a BIG OUCHIE from the answer to the question of what his morning routine was:

“I work out on a stationary bike while I am studying the scriptures for at least 30 minutes.”

OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!ouch facer by zachstern via flickr

I thought it was somewhat ironic that I was exercising, reading a blog about a Mormon who was spending his time reading the Bible while he was exercising.

That did it.  I’m going to start reading my Bible while I’m on my treadmill.  I had always told myself, “No, I can’t spend QUALITY time in the Bible on a treadmill, I want to spend QUALITY time.”  Kind of sounds like the mantra people use about spending QUALITY time with their kids, which of course never happens unless you spend QUANTITY time first.  HMMM……

YouVersion.com

There are a multitude of bible helps on the internet, so why do we need another one? Well, the premise of YouVersion is Web 2.0: the ability to share a variety of media (text, links, pics, videos) linked to various Bible verses. This is somewhat similar to the now inactive project xpound.org which I liked a lot but never got off the ground. I think YouVersion has a much better chance of catching on, since it is developed and supported by Lifechurch.tv. Right now it is still a very rough beta version, many planned features are not implemented and some features which really should be implemented (text editing after posting, html and css formating of entries) aren’t currently supported. Worth checking out, and I hope it will continue to develop and be a useful tool for many.

Web Watch: The Automated Topical Bible

This is something new:  a topical Bible that is generated by a computer algorithm!  By using several programming tools from Yahoo! and the ESV Bible, this website allows you to type a word, like “marriage” or “salvation”, and pop! it generates relevant Bible verses.  Since it is dynamically generated by computer, you generally get fairly pertinent results, although sometimes the verse choices are ?interesting?  Both fun and useful and VERY WEB 2.0!!  thanks to the ever-interesting ESV Bible Blog for the heads-up on this site.

PodBible

iPod BibleYou’ve got everything else on your iPod, why not the Bible?  Now you can with this free download of the ESV New Testament.  There are separate versions optimized for both the 2nd generation iPod nano and the video iPod. (well, yes, we’re an iPod family with a 1st gen iPod, two 1st gen shuffles, a 2nd gen shuffle, two 2nd gen nanos, and a latest gen video iPod, sinfully lusting for an iPhone but not going to pay $500 for it, but you really didn’t need to know that, did you?)

iPod Verse of the Day

This just in from the ESV Bible Blog:

Get a cool image of a daily Bible verse sent straight to you via RSS feed and then save it to your iPod.  How?  Through the generous efforts of this guy.  How?  Read this!!  I think this is a great example of how one simple idea can end up impacting a lot of lives for the Kingdom through the web.

Web Watch: Biiible.com

There are many online Bible resources available, but I recently stumbled upon www.biiible.com.  It has several unique features.  One, it has a simple, straightforward search interface that allows you to word search multiple translations at once. Very nifty.  It also has a downloadable version of itself that runs in JAVA which makes it compatible on most computers (it runs fine on my Mac).  It has a few simple but useful study tools such as a Bible timeline. It also has downloadable PDF and MS-Word of several different English translations, so you can have a readable Bible with you when you’re away from the internet.  Overall, Biiible is a good site to add to your bookmarks.

God Speaking

I celebrated the first sunny spring afternoon above 80 degrees in East Tennessee by breaking out the back deck hammock from winter storage and making sure it could still safely hold an adult’s weight for half an hour.

While nurturing future skin cancer and listening to the birds, wind chimes, and occasional bumble bee, I started turning over some Bible verses in my mind and allowing them through the Spirit to work on me and some problems I am dealing with.

I thought of this article by John Piper that has been buzzing in the blogosphere in the past week (go ahead, read it if you haven’t already!). Thinking about his time in the pre-dawn darkness of northern Minnesota and my time on my hammock, three truths about God speaking came to my mind:

  1. You can’t hear God speak through Scripture unless you have Scripture in your heart.  I couldn’t have heard what John Piper heard that Minnesota morning because I didn’t have Psalm 66 committed to heart like he evidently does.  And as I was lying on my big lazy hammock I thought to myself, “How much Scripture do I really have on the tip of my tongue, that God can draw up from my heart and speak to me?”  Ouch.  So I am going to try and get back into a habit of memorizing verses— not to have notches on my belt or to accomplish some goal, but to give God the raw material to speak to and change my heart.
  2. You can’t hear God speak unless you take the time to listen. When was the last time you followed God’s prompting to simply take time in stillness and solitude to wait upon Him? Not that God can’t speak to you in hustle and bustle if He chooses, but if you read the Psalms and read the lives of the saints it’s pretty clear that we hear better when we are away from the world, even if it’s as simple as getting up early and sitting on a couch or taking a few minutes in a hammock.
  3. God is always sovereign in His speaking.  We can’t command God to answer our questions; He is the One who decides when and what to speak to us.  There is no formula to follow to have a private revelation from God.  But what is always available to us is the infalliable and sufficient Word that we can take up and read at any time to hear His voice.

Steps to Successful Scripture Study

Step 1:  Get a Bible

Walk into Lifeway and you will be staggered and bewildered by row upon row of differing Bibles.  Which one should you get? First, you need to decide which of over a dozen versions to purchase.  Here is a simplified overview of the three types of Bibles:

Formal equivalence translations: these Bibles try to translate the original languages “word for word,” that is, each Greek or Hebrew word in the original manuscripts match one-to-one with an English word as far as possible.  In general, these Bibles are the most accurate to the original manuscripts, and are the best to use when trying to understand exactly what the Scriptures say.  The KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV are examples of this type of Bible.

Dynamic equivalence translations: these Bibles try to translate the original manuscripts “thought for thought” instead of “word for word”— so they will substitute or change words or phrases from the Hebrew & Greek to try to make the language more clear in English.  This can make the Bible easier to read, but is also more subject to the translator’s own bias, theology, and/or agenda.  The NIV, RSV, TNIV, HCSB, and NLT are examples of dynamic equivalence.  Some of the versions, such as the NIV and HCSB, are fairly close to a “word for word” translation. However, some of the newer translations such as the TNIV and NLT have deliberately substituted “gender inclusive” language that basically tries to eliminate male pronouns wherever possible, even if they are specifically in the original manuscripts.  Even more blatant & serious errors are made in “translations” made by non-Christians such as Mormons(JST) and Jehovah’s Witnesses(NWT).

Paraphrases:  These are complete rewrites of the Bible in the author’s own words.  The most popular are The Living Bible and The Message.  These can be helpful to figure out what difficult wording may have been intended to mean or to obtain a fresh perspective on a familiar passage, but are not well-suited for in-depth study of the Scriptures.

So, which version?  I’ve read completely through the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and Living Bible, and used several others, especially The Message, as well.  The ESV is currently endorsed by leaders at Southwestern, Southern, and Dallas Theological Seminaries as well as many other pastors and professors and is my current favorite, but the NKJV and NASB will still serve you well for serious Bible study.

So, once you pick a version, you still have lots of choices as far as study helps.  I have used the Open Bible, Thompson Chain Reference, Life Application, MacArthur, and Reformation study Bibles extensively in multiple translations, and my favorite after many years remains the MacArthur.  It’s “bottom of the page” notations are consistently good, the cross-references are well done, and the maps, chapter introductions and other helps are all useful.

If you’re really going to be digging into a passage, an internet connection is invaluable nowadays.  The website I have found most helpful for study is www.blueletterbible.org, followed by www.nextbible.org.  To look closely at the Greek nothing tops www.zhubert.com.
 
Step 2: Pray

O, how often I forget this step, and in my hurry and in my arrogance read the Scriptures without asking the Holy Spirit to open my mind and heart.  We truly can understand nothing of spiritual importance, no matter how diligent the study, without the Spirit’s guidance.

Step 3: Read the Bible

Ok, that was obvious, but that’s what you need to do.  And then read it again.  And again.  It’s not uncommon to find something on the tenth time through that you completely miss the first time through.  One prominent Christian blogger recommends twenty times to completely absorb the meaning of a passage.

Step 4: Start Asking Questions

Who wrote this?  Who did they originally write it to, and why? What does this reveal about the nature of God?  The nature of man?  The nature of God’s plan of redemption?  Why did the people act as they did?  Did they respond to God in the right or the wrong way?  How am I not thinking or acting in accordance with this passage?

Step 5: Start Making Connections

Draw, underline, circle, see how the passage explains itself and find out how it interlocks with the rest of the Bible.  Write in your Bible!  A lot!!!  Remember, the text is sacred, but not the paper you hold in your hand, so mark it up.  Internet Bibles can be a great help here as well.  Where else is this Greek word for fear used in the Bible?  Where’s the other place David talks about sin?  Many nuggets of information that would take hours of research now only take seconds on the right website.

Step 6: Keep your seat in the chair until you understand the passage!

Ok, I stole that step from MacArthur, but it’s true.  We often give up or stop digging far too soon, and we miss the gold that was waiting if we had just been a little more industrious.

Step 7: Write it Down

In your Bible, in a journal, but somewhere.  Students of the Bible, students of God, record what He is teaching them.  And pray what God has shown you back to God, in praise and confession.

Step 8: Make a Change

Write down at least one concrete thing that God has shown you that needs to change in your life, do it, and then write that down too. God calls us to be doers, not just hearers. of His Word.

Step 9: Share It!

Part of being the body of Christ is telling others what the Bible says.  This can be a part of the daily rhythm within your family, to your spouse and children.  With proper wisdom, you can also build up other believers and open doors to share the gospel with the lost as well.
A Microsoft Word copy of this study is available on the Downloads page.