Why not start a Bible Study?

 

Why not Start a Bible Study?

It was a quiet Thursday morning when I awoke to do my morning devotions. Don't think me the super Christian because of this; it wasn't a pretty sight. I rolled off the bed like a primary school child, one hand clinging to my sheets and the other fingering through the pages of a tattered bible. I was half-blind, drunk with sleep and had morning breath that could kill a small bird. Probably the furthest time from which I would expect God to speak but He was there and He wasn't silent.

I had a burden on my heart that morning for the truth of God's word in the lives of His people. I knew many who laboured over:

  • Studies (*add your degree/education here*)
  • Jobs (“I hope my list of extra-curricular activities on my resume is long enough...”)
  • Women (“Only 2 years older than me? I can live with that...”)
  • Men (“Only 2 years younger than me? I can live with that...”)
  • Health (“This KFC Real Deal will be the death of me...”)
  • Fitness (“2 laps around UWI? – Lord, take me now...”)
  • *Insert further labours here*             

But what place did they give the word of God in their lives? What place did I give it in my life? This troubled me.

As important as it was though, it was not my only burden. I was a post-university student with a steady job, a fiancé and very much involved in church ministry. At face value, it might have appeared as though everything was in line. But on the inside, I was personally burdened by what I would say now was a desire for true togetherness with Christian brothers and sisters.  

So sincerely, I prayed to God for help- and he answered.

“Why not start a Bible Study?” The thought floated along a river and dumped into an ocean of good reasons why I should not. What will we study? Who will come? Where will we meet? Will they think it interesting? At the very worst, we would sit around a hard wooden table on uncomfortable chairs and get eaten by mosquitoes, while no one except me said a word for thirty minutes straight. Yet even if those things happened, perhaps just as likely, the Spirit could begin or continue to work. There was a sense of God’s leading that I could not shake. I contacted some people who had expressed a desire to study the word of God more and that evening, about six of us met over Luke 19:1-10 and a pot of soup. I didn’t imagine God would relieve both of those burdens through this one avenue. Being a Christian for several years now, when I thought God could not ‘catch me off guard’ I was genuinely surprised, and full of thanks.

Studying the Bible is for every believer (and unbeliever, if they’re honestly searching) at any and every stage in their Christian walk. It’s one of those tools in the shed that has been tested and proven. Sadly, it’s often the last tool we use.

The major focus of this blog post is not how to conduct a Bible study. No need to re-invent the wheel. For some helpful guidelines on conducting one, check out Intervarsity’s website here: http://www.intervarsity.org/bible-studies and https://urbana.org/go-and-do/missional-life/taking-manuscript-study-back-campus#prep.

 

Note: Personally, I’ve used the “Manuscript Bible Study” format that I learned at Urbana 12. There, I sat in a room of over 300 people, met in small groups of 6-7 persons and discussed God’s word in a way I had never done before. The studies were fresh, authentic and presented by experienced personnel who made it insightful and edifying. I’m writing this post in the hope that by sharing briefly what studying God’s word in a small group has done for me, you would feel led to start a study group among your peers.  

Seeing things at eye level

Passages that I’ve read several times become clearer as I saw them at ‘eye level’ and from different, but equally valuable perspectives. During one study, we were ankle deep in Matthew 18:21-35 (the parable of the unforgiving servant). Jesus was talking to Peter about putting limits on forgiveness. As stated by one attendee that day, “the denari of which my brother/sister requires forgiveness is absolutely nothing compared to the thousands of talents worth that God has forgiven me.” Studying this passage helped me see the magnitude of my own forgiven sin before God. We were there playing out the passage in our minds, looking at the vast difference between what each servant owed, feeling grieved over the one who was blind to the enormous debt he was forgiven of and thankful to God for His Son who took our debt of sin on Himself. It was a simple but deeply significant time of study and fellowship.

Sharing in close bonds of fellowship

In a small group, we couldn’t help but get involved in each other’s lives and indeed, we wanted to do so. Caring for Christian brothers and sisters allows us to share something of what I’ve read in Acts: being of one accord. It’s a togetherness that I’ve only experienced where Christ is the centre of a group. I see that same study group now and think of them as family. We care about each other’s lives and celebrate each other’s victories; I have gone to them with my prayer requests and I often pray for them. Studying God’s word in a small group is nurturing a unique type of fellowship in our lives.

 

Being surrounded by others who share a heart for the word of God has granted me great joy. Never have I more enjoyed meeting with believers to hear how the word of God affects their hearts and guides their thoughts, molding and shaping them as clay in a potter’s hands. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He chose an intimate circle of twelve to be the start of Christianity. God can use such a small group to nurture and disciple believers into close bonds of fellowship, to serve as support for when the torrents pound and the wind tosses about. Just as importantly, the word can be firmly planted in our hearts as the go-to tool for life’s various struggles.

 

 Conrad Chang -Graduate of the University of the West Indies.

Conrad Chang -Graduate of the University of the West Indies.

As a final recommendation, I want to tell you that our group has never felt pressured by numbers. The aim here is not to start a church and experts recommend that groups of this sort contain their numbers to about ten to twelve persons. However many you decide to study with, keep God’s word at the group’s centre. Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. Happy studying!

Bookworm’s Top 5 Picks!

Bookworm’s Top 5 Picks!

 

As you might guess from this article’s title, I am a bookworm and have been for as long as I can remember. For more reasons than I can name, books have been one of the most important things in my life. They have brought me to faith, shaped the way in which I view the world and remain one of my greatest sources of joy, strength and inspiration.

I often get asked about my favourites and for the purposes of this blog, I’ll describe five (5) that have greatly contributed to my spiritual growth. While there are countless others, these are the ones I can recommend to everyone regardless of their specific literary tastes.

 

 The Hiding Place: Corrie Ten Boom 

The Hiding Place
By Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill

I adore history and highly recommend it as a hobby, because it answers (for me) the question of whether evil really exists. Few instances in history reveal human depravity to me the way the Holocaust does. 

In the book, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie are sent to a concentration camp as punishment for hiding Jews during World War II. There, they experience terrible cruelty at the hand of the Nazis while also striving to shine the light of the gospel to their fellow prisoners. Corrie goes from detesting to pitying the evil she sees in her captors and the simple lessons of love, forgiveness and God’s unconditional love learnt in her childhood shine all the greater in this pit of darkness and despair. 

 

What moved me about “The Hiding Place” was that it showed that evil is fought, not only through international policy or among world leaders, but by the simply courage and love found in simple people. As middle-aged, childless spinsters (a situation most women today would abhor!)  Corrie and Betsie were able to impact their community, even a concentration camp community, with love and grace. I wondered, after reading “The Hiding Place”, how many Jews might have been saved had more Christians been willing to put their safety on the line to assist them. 

Book Quote: “When He tells us to love our enemies He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” 

 The Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan

Pilgrim's Progress
By John Bunyan

This is THE Christian classic! It’s amazing how well Bunyan understood the Christian life, and how real spiritual things were to him. He was a mere tinker (mender of pots and pans) and yet was able to produce the greatest allegory in the English language. I first thought it a child’s story, but Bunyan was able to relate such clarity through figures like “Mr. Legality”, “Mr. Worldly Wisdom” and “Faithful” that I saw them in their true form in my own life and even in my own heart. I too, have been captured by the “Giant” named “Despair”, only to remember that I hold the key called “Promise” that opens the doors of “Doubting Prison”. Who hasn’t fallen into the “Slough of Despond” (a slough is a swamp) or crawled through the “Valley of Humiliation”? Blessed however, is the Christian who finds their “House Beautiful” in which rest and edification is given. Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is the reminder to constantly keep the “Celestial City” (heaven) in our minds throughout our earthly life, as our present sufferings cannot compare to the glory promised there. 

Book Quote: “I seek a place that can never be destroyed, one that is pure, and that fadeth not away, and it is laid up in heaven, and safe there, to be given, at the time appointed, to them that seek it with all their heart.”

 Disappointment With God: Philip Yancey

Have you ever wondered if God was unkind, unfair, unjust or needlessly distant? Do secret doubts plague you in times of suffering that you’re afraid to voice in church? Are you ever frustrated with God for not making Himself more visible to an unbelieving world? Yancey, more than any other writer I’ve yet encountered, is genuinely concerned about the secret struggles that affect believers and non-believers alike. In this book, he takes us on a journey to the Old Testament and looks at instances in which God made Himself visible through mighty miracles, swift victories and His chosen prophets. Yet these displays did not always bring about perfect obedience or unfaltering faith in those to whom He revealed Himself (remember the golden calf? Those people saw the Red Sea part. Enough said). Obedience, Yancey shows us, springs from faith, not miracles and those who witnessed the greatest wonders were not necessarily those who believed best. Tenderly, the author reminds us of a God Who allows suffering but Who also did not exempt Himself from it for our ultimate salvation. I closed this book with tears in my eyes, greater kindness towards my sometimes skeptical heart, but most of all, with the greatest assurance that God can be trusted. 

 

Book Quote: “We tend to think, 'Life should be fair because God is fair.' But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life- by expecting constant good health for example- then I set myself up for crashing disappointment.” 

Further reading: Other fantastic Yancey books include “The Jesus I Never Knew”, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “Where is God When it Hurts?”

                                                   

Through Gates of Splendor: Elisabeth Eliott

 

Through Gates of Splendor
By Elisabeth Elliot

I had to include at least one missionary book here, because it is one of my favourite genres of Christian literature. The lives of Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, William Carey and countless others have been invaluable sources of nourishment to my spiritual life and have affected me in immeasurable ways. These are people who joyfully gave up the comfort of home and family to meet spiritual and social needs in far off lands, long before the world was connected via the Internet. In the case of some (like Amy Carmichael) it meant never returning home. 

 

In “Through Gates of Splendor”, the journey is told of five young male missionaries who were eventually murdered at the hands of the Aucas, a violent Ecuadorian tribe they were ministering to, leaving their five wives without husbands and their children fatherless. One of the widows, Elisabeth Elliot wrote the book in tribute of their lives and faithfulness. A bittersweet tale, it serves to show how for these remarkable individuals, the call of God and His work were worth a great and costly sacrifice, even death (and they certainly knew that death was indeed possible).

 

Books like these remind us that suffering is a part of life and we are not excluded from it, even in obedience. They show that patient and courageous suffering, with the understanding of God’s sovereignty, can be transformed into glory.

Book Quote: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Further reading: “Passion and Purity” is a lovely story of Elizabeth’s courtship with her future husband, Jim Eliott and of their shared commitment to honour God in that season. I read it multiple times during my own courtship and I highly recommend it.

 

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

 

Now before you roll your eyes at this “children’s story”, please hear me out! One of the most wonderful things about literature, particularly fantasy literature, is its ability to reopen your eyes to the wonder of lovely things that have become familiar. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” does just that; it imagines another world in which Christ appears in another form, as the lion Aslan. Aslan helped to make the Christ of the Bible real to me in various ways. One of the most profound was the description of him, several times, as “not a tame lion”. It made me realise the bigness of a God that cannot be placed in a box, described through a simple analogy or reduced to what I would like Him to be.  Furthermore, when Aslan *SPOILER ALERT* gave his life for a traitor, my eyes were opened to the unfairness of the Cross. Our salvation at God’s expense is not like a knight rescuing a damsel in distress from a dragon; it’s more like a noble king sacrificing himself for a treacherous traitor! Narnia helped me to better understand how unmerited grace really is and for that I am ever indebted to this author, who has also shaped my faith and mentored my mind more than any other individual. 

 

Book Quote: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

Further reading: “Till We Have Faces” and Lewis’ space trilogy are my favourite of his works, but require some concentration on the reader’s part. “Mere Christianity” is a modern classic and if you can get one, read it!

                                                   

Free (Again) Poem by Jasmine Benjamin

Free (Again)

 

For so long I was in that place

That was filled with so much pain

That I wondered what it would be like

To be free

Again

 

I struggled to breathe, to have peace

Wondering if the hurt upon hurt would never cease

And tried to imagine what it would be like to be free

Again

 

Take it away, God, I begged

Give me joy instead

And on the outside, I seemed perfectly fine

And all the while, I was crying out to be free

Again

 

I laughed and hung out and celebrated others

I went to work, and at Church I smiled and shook hands with the sisters and brothers

All the while praying,  begging,  pleading to be free

Again

 

It did not happen in a flash or with a bang as I had hoped

But slowly,  gently,  God healed me and took away the hurt

And one day, I realized that I was free

Again!

 

I realized that I could get up in the morning without that burden on my soul

And I could go through a whole day

Feeling not broken but whole

And what showed on the outside

Reflected what was going on the inside

Because I was free

Again

 If ever you were burdened or hurt

And the healing process took a while

Then, you will understand these lines

And if you're currently experiencing pain and praying for the rain

Know that although the enemy desires to sift you like wheat

Mercy has said no

And God has promised not to let you go

And someday,  someday,  you will be free

Again!!

 

 

by Jasmine Benjamin