Friday, March 6, 2015

Using Biblegateway.com for Study, Part Two - Guest Post by Brendan Ian Kennedy

In part one of this series, we discussed how to use biblegateway.com’s basic study functions, such as the concordance and reading parallel English versions. These are suitable for Bible students at all levels. In installments two and three we will cover the more advanced features.  Most of these will be more useful to pastors and others who are interested in using the biblical languages for sermon preparation or other higher-level study.

We previously learned how to use the parallel button in order to read multiple English translations on the same screen. After you open parallel versions, the concordance function will search all of them at once. If you enter a term or phrase in the search box while multiple versions are on the screen, the result will be a greatly expanded list of verses that are marked by the translation that each one appears in. This may alert you to differences of opinion on what exactly is meant by each translation in a given verse. For example, if you open up the NIV, the NASB, and the New Century Version (NCV) in parallel, and do a concordance search on “love,” you will turn up 861 results. The very first result, Genesis 4:1, appears only in the NIV. Why only the NIV? The other two versions choose different words to express that for which the NIV chooses “love.” At this point there are two options. One is to click on the verse address to the left, which will bring up Genesis 4:1 in the NIV. You can then open the NASB and NCV in parallel to it. The other option is to click on the “other translations” link just beneath and to the right of the verse. This will display a page containing all of the English translations of Genesis 4:1 that are accessible through biblegateway.com. In this way you can multiply the scholarly expertise of different translation teams by comparing and contrasting them, while keeping it in a language (English) that you understand well.

            Here is where the study capabilities for pastors and scholars really come into their own. If you have some ability in Hebrew or Greek, you can use the parallel function to set up an interlinear Bible by selecting biblical Hebrew or Greek to appear beside the English version of your choice. Interlinear Bibles are great for those who have had basic Hebrew or Greek and want to use them in ministry, but are not comfortable enough with them yet to rely on the original language text by itself. Both biblical Hebrew and biblical Greek are included among the world languages contained in the drop-down menu that is used to select versions to read. The Aramaic portions of the Old Testament are displayed when biblical Hebrew has been selected for display, and an Aramaic passage, such as Daniel 7, is entered in the search box. If you are conversant in another language, such as Spanish, you can read Spanish and English side-by-side in the same way.

The Hebrew text available on biblegateway.com is the Masoretic text as found in the Westminster Leningrad Codex (WLC). The WLC is an electronic representation of the standard scholarly edition of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Leningrad Codex B19a. It is maintained by Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS). The consonants, vowel points, and accent marks are displayed. It is not a perfect copy, and researchers at WTS are constantly correcting it to agree with the hardcopy facsimile edition of the original. You can find it beneath the English and Spanish versions under the heading עִבְרִית (the letters for “Hebrew”). The size of the font may be difficult to read, but that can be helped by pressing Ctrl-+, which will enlarge everything on the screen.

Four different Greek editions of the New Testament are available: the Stephanus, the Westcott-Hort, the Scrivener, and the SBL Greek New Testaments. They may be found very close to the Hebrew in the drop-down menu, beneath the English and Spanish versions, and under the heading κοινη (the Greek word for “koine,” the language of the Greek New Testament). The Stephanus and Scrivener versions are based on the Textus Receptus, the Greek text behind the King James Version. New Testament scholars today generally consider them to be less reliable than today’s standard scholarly version. If you prefer to use the KJV, then the Stephanus and Scrivener editions will be very helpful. The Westcott-Hort New Testament is the 19th century forerunner of today’s scholarly edition. The SBL Greek New Testament is an alternative modern edition.

In the next part we will continue with the strengths and weaknesses of the original language study tools that are available on biblegateway.com, and survey some other resources as well. May the Lord bless as you keep studying and preaching!
 
Brendan Ian Kennedy, Ph. D. (cand.)
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Preaching to the Next Generation

Many Christian leaders are alarmed by the statistics for how few young adults come to church. Though there are many reasons why the next generation is finding other things to do instead of church, one reason is the preaching. Some churches think they can attract younger adults by watering down the sermon. From my observations, watering down the gospel message actually produces the opposite result because young people believe there is no point in going to church if nothing the church believes has substance anyway. Other churches have attempted to force the gospel message on those who attend through manipulation or guilt based methods. This has not worked either because young adults do not simply accept what they are told; they want to discover it for themselves.

Young adults are drawn to passionate preaching that is relevant to daily life. They do not just want a passionate communicator; they also need that communicator to connect whatever is being said to real-life experiences.

Many churches have discovered several keys to relevant, passionate preaching. One of those keys is to base the sermon on a single passage of Scripture. Young adults expect something in a sermon other than the pastor’s opinion or some pop psychology thinly disguised as a sermon. Therefore, the entire lesson should be wrapped around a single Scripture passage. Though we sometimes think that using a large number of additional verses helps prove our point that often just confuses those who are trying to follow our train of thought. This is especially true if the young adults we are trying to reach do not have a strong church background. Young people without a strong church background do not know all the Bible stories or where the books of the Bible can be found. Jumping around from passage to passage is very confusing to them. Furthermore, if refer to biblical stories as illustrations, we are going to have to take the time to tell that story to the audience. We simply cannot assume they already know it. Since we can only hold the attention of our listeners for a certain amount of time, we have to choose carefully how many of those stories we might tell in one sermon. The same would be true about using various words that may convey significant meaning to a churchgoing audience but that have no meaning whatsoever to a non-churched listener. If we want to use words such as grace, trinity, mercy, redemption, or born again, they will have to be defined. Otherwise a younger audience may have no idea what we are talking about.

In addition to using Scripture effectively, be prepared to discuss deep and complex issues with relevant application. If young adults have made the effort to come church, they want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life’s perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists and why there is suffering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad things happen to good people if God really is so powerful. Based on extensive research, Lifeway Christian Resources has discovered that “young adults are allowing these questions to change the way they shop, educate themselves, read, and even listen to music.” Lifeway concludes, “It’s a mystery to many young adults, both inside and outside of church life, why more Christians don’t take their responsibilities [about such issues] more seriously.”  Effective pastors, teachers, and Christian leaders spend time studying the deep issues and are prepared to incorporate them into their sermons because the next generation wrestles with these issues on a regular basis.

As the sermon draws to a close, it is important to challenge young listeners to consider how the truth of the Scriptures just taught can be applied to their daily lives. Though it is unlikely that they will make any spiritual commitment instantly, they should be challenged to think deeply for a period of time and then act on their reflective conclusion at some later point. This is in no way a suggestion that we should no longer give invitations or offer people an opportunity to trust Christ; it is simply a realization that the next generation is going to need more time than may be allotted in a typical closing song of a church service. Inviting them to a prayer room to talk with someone further about the implications of the sermon or giving them an email address or phone number they can text with questions about the sermon may be more effective. Young adults need to be challenged to reflectively contemplate biblical truth and make a commitment to that truth, but only after they have come to a well-considered conclusion. In my own ministry, I often tell students in advance of certain dates when we will be having a baptism or some other spiritual milestone and ask them to come see me before that date if they are ready to make some type of spiritual commitment. That allows them time to consider making a spiritual decision but does not force them to decide without having thought it through completely. When we get frustrated with how long it takes for young adults to move to a place of commitment, we must remind ourselves of that wonderful biblical truth that says no one comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him or her. Let us teach and preach the Word, filled with His Spirit, and patiently await the Father to draw the next generation to Himself.


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Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Communicating With the Next Generation

Learning to communicate with the next generation is a challenge for those of us who are over 40. Is it better to tweet than to email? Is it better to use a text than a tweet? Is a podcast better than a blog? Does an effective power point communicate better than a video? When we have a face to face meeting, do we meet at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts? Regardless of how we communicate, we must be conscious of avoiding the “I versus you” syndrome in our communication.


I recall participating in a discussion group at a church where we were studying a passage of Scripture that had some strong words that are sometimes difficult to apply to our lives. The leader of the group shared stories of his own journey of faith, which were very moving. However, as the discussion wore on, I noticed that most of his comments began with statements like, “I did this and you need to do it too,” “I stopped this behavior, and you need to stop this behavior too,” and “You need to change the way you think, feel, and act and become like me because I have overcome these problems.” The leader, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to imply that he had all the answers and had everything about this particular issue figured out. After a while, his moving stories started to sound more like arrogance than empathy.

It also became clear that the leader assumed the people in the discussion group could not live right until they changed their behavior to be more like his. While his story was powerful, several of us in the group thought of half a dozen other ways people might apply that Scripture to life and produce positive change. Not everyone would take the exact same journey that this well meaning fellow had taken. By the end of the evening, we found it difficult to get past the constant “I versus you” statements.
When communicating with young people, it is important to share the stories of our own spiritual journey, but we must avoid the I versus you style of sharing. That type of sharing sounds arrogant and condescending to the next generation. We must learn to use "we and us" statements instead of "I and you" statements.
Using we and us statements helps everyone feel as if the person communicating is part of the group instead of above the group. This does not mean that we can not talk about difficult issues; it just means that we should not create an “I versus you” environment in the process. Because young people will perceive this type of environment as being judgmental, they are unlikely to want to engage in a second dose of hearing how great Christians think we are. Retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements can be quite a challenge.
The following might be an example of a less-effective statement:
“If you continue in your addiction, you will never have a happy life. I trusted Christ, and it helped me overcome my addiction. I have been happier ever since. If you trust Christ, He will help you overcome your addiction, and you will be happier too.”
Though every word of the preceding statement may be technically accurate, it sets the speaker up as "better" than the "hearer" and to many people that is arrogant, and therefore, a less effective style of communication.
An example of a more-effective statement might be the following:
“Many of us have struggled with various addictions in our lives. We know what it is like to overcome such addictions, and we know what it is like to give in to those addictions. But as we have learned to turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we have found new strength to overcome our addictions. Let us encourage one another in our struggles and use the power of our faith in Christ to help one another overcome the addictions all of us battle.”
That type of statement expresses the need to turn away from negative behavior but does not put the speaker above the group. To the contrary, it puts the speaker and the listener on common ground. The next generation responds much better to this type of inclusive statement than to one with an I versus you perspective.
Whether we are posting a message on Facebook, sending a tweet, text or email, making a podcast, posting a Vine or Snapchat or writing a blog, we must retrain ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements. Though it may be a challenge for those of us over 40, it is a challenge worth engaging in if we hope to communicate well with the next generation.







Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Friday, February 27, 2015

How I Came to Have a Genuine Relationship with God

Recently my friend Jay Moore, from the Fellowship of the Cross in Tulsa, Oklahoma, challenged me to post a video of my testimony on the Internet. Jay is encouraging ordinary Christians around the nation to do this as a way of helping others understand who Christ is. My testimony is posted in the video below. I pray it is a blessing to someone. For more info about how to have a strong relationship with Christ, go to PeaceWithGod.net


video

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Attitudes about Church - Guest Post by Logan Loveday

I recall a conversation with a friend that was sparked by a blog article I shared. The article discussed how many churches today try relate to millennials and young adults by giving them what they want; not what they need. The author emphasized the need for churches to be authentic and biblical rather than trendy or “current” just to get a crowd. While the article did address the need to reach people, the author argued that churches should not compromise on the need for spiritual maturity.

In my conversation with this friend, I could tell that he agreed with the premise of the article, but focused on all the hypocrisy that he had experienced. He agreed that churches should teach truth and transformation rather than create an atmosphere of moralistic therapeutic deism. My friend obviously spoke from past experiences. In the past my friend experienced a church culture that taught dogmatic principles and ritual lifestyles. When churches began to go in the opposite direction of this “church culture” some embraced being different by means of compromise. Some churches would often surrender theology and biblical truth in order to reach the culture. My friend argued that neither of these approaches are correct and middle ground needs to be found. He believed that something needed to be done, however, his attitude about those incorrect churches was very negative.

Because of the hypocrisy on both sides of the church spectrum, this friend gave up on church altogether and became cynical. He felt that because he had been done wrong he needed to be critical of the Church as a whole. Just because he experienced several bad churches or “church cultures” he assumed no one was “doing it right.” The pain and hurt of incorrect beliefs and methods soon turned to anger and bitterness.

While I agreed with my friend’s thought process, I have a totally different attitude towards church.  See, I grew up with this friend and I experienced some of the same hypocritical teachings and lifestyles, but I have come to a completely different conclusion. My friend’s outlook toward church derives from his poor experiences which result in bitterness and cynicism. Because of the way he was treated or the incorrect manner in which things were done or said, he distanced himself from church. I admit, there were times, when I was younger, in which I struggled with church but by the grace of God I was brought to different conclusion.

Yes, some churches do and say the wrong things. I have had this conversation with many young adults. Many say they were hurt or turned off from church because of their bad experiences. While many teenagers and young adults have cynical attitudes towards those churches for believing, saying or doing the “wrong things,” I was taught to take a different approach towards church. I believe that instead of bashing the Church as a whole or criticizing those “hypocrites,” it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ to be a part of the change.

Many people love to criticize others when mistakes are made or when bad beliefs or methods are expressed. Few people make the choice to help repair or correct the situation. Just like in the comparison of my friend and I, the right attitude must be taken if we want to see positive changes. Bitterness and anger towards someone or something typically results in only more problems. If someone believes that something or someone is wrong, they should help be a part of the change. First, this involves having the right attitude about the situation. If we constantly criticize people or groups when they are wrong, they will probably never want to change. Second, it may require un-teaching an incorrect behavior or belief. Many times people do things wrong because of poor examples or because they simply do not know the truth. Third, changing a situation like this always requires the teaching of correct truth and methodology.

If we believe the goal of the Church is to make disciples, then we need to teach others in word and deed. We cannot fix problems in the Church simply by pulling away and criticizing those who do it wrong. If our attitudes are focused on being more like Christ, then we must help others see the truth and be a part of positive and constructive change. Whenever we are wronged by the Church we can leave and become critical or we can stay and be a part of healthy growth. Remember, all believers are a part of the body of Christ. When one body part does something wrong another body part should not cut itself off assuming that is the solution to the problem. If disagreements arise have the right attitude and help be a part of healthy church growth. 
               



Rev. Loveday is the pastor of Faith Christian Fellowship, which meets on the University of Hartford campus in West Hartford, CT. He also has a blog called All for Christ, where the above post previously appeared. This post is re-posted by permission.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Six Handles to Help Us Distinguish God's Voice - Guest Post by Gary Knighton

Here are some practical handles that I think can help you distinguish the voice of God apart from the voice of self, society, the enemy, and false prophets. This can serve as a frontline checklist to help you recognize the voice of God.


1. The Scriptures  - The voice of God will never contradict what God has already spoken through scripture.

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -  
 2 Timothy 3:16

2. God’s Peace – When being led by the Spirit of God we receive God’s peace in our decision making.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 8:5-6

3. Will Jesus be glorified? – When the voice of God is leading you the directives He gives you will glorify and exalt Jesus.

He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
John 16: 14

4. Will others believers be edified – The voice of God will not only give you directions that will edify you but the instructions He gives will lead to the mutual edification of the saints.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Romans 14:19

5. Seek wise and spirit filled counsel – It always important to talk over what you believe or think the Spirit may be saying to you with people more seasoned in the faith.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Proverbs 11:14 ESV

6. Instinctual by way of a continued relationship – The voice of God will become more familiar as your relationship with Jesus grows closer and closer.

 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
John 10: 5


Helpful Prayer: Each morning pray and ask God to fill you with today’s oil and ask God to quiet and still the voice of enemy, the voice of self, the voice of society and the voice of false prophets around you. Finally, ask God to amplify His voice above the cares of this life and noise of this world.


*(Reading and studying the Bible, praying, journaling and other spiritual disciplines are also vital to strengthening your relationship with God.)

This post was originally posted at Penned Faith and can be found at:
http://garyknighton.blogspot.com/2014/12/six-handles-to-help-you-distinguish.html
It was reposted with the permission of the author.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Using Biblegateway.com for Study - Part 1 - Guest Post by Brendan Ian Kennedy

Many of us have heard of biblegateway.com, an online Bible resource that allows a user to choose from a large variety of English translations quickly and easily. In my experience of using it as a professional biblical scholar I have found a tremendous amount of functionality on it that most casual users have never even thought to look for. Many of these functions could be of great value to bivocational pastors who lack the time and money for serious study with powerful, usually expensive electronic tools. Biblegateway.com offers many of the same benefits as electronic study tools, and it is free!

Biblegateway.com is a free website maintained by HarperCollins Christian Publishing. It
allows users to use quickly what amount to web-based study, accessibility, and personal devotional functions. The study capabilities are most useful for preparation of sermons and lessons. The accessibility functions make the Bible more effective in outreach to those for whom reading is a challenge, and for non-English speakers. The devotional functions enable pastors and others to learn more and better ways of using the Bible for personal spiritual growth. In this post, we will survey some of the very basic study features of the site that will be useful for anyone who wants to study their Bible in more depth, including pastors and Bible study teachers. Subsequent posts will cover more advanced features that will be especially useful for sermon preparation and academic research.

First of all, biblegateway.com offers some very powerful study tools for busy pastors that are free, and can maximize one’s investment of time, if they are used properly. One such tool is the search box. There is a drop-down menu of Bible versions on the top right-hand side of the homepage which may be used to select the version you wish to read. Next to it on the left-hand side is a search box which can be used to look up passages by their chapter and verse reference, but it also may be used as a concordance for whatever version you are using. Simply enter a word or phrase in the box, click “search,” and a list of verses including your search terms will appear.

This concordance function is powerful enough to be useful, but it is not quite exhaustive. A search on “love” using the New International Version turned up 686 occurrences, which included words in which “love” was merely the first component, such as “lovely.” This is not as powerful or precise as my electronic study tool, which found 814 occurrences of “love” in the NIV as either a complete word, or with prefixes or suffixes attached. The program I purchased is better than biblegateway.com for this purpose, but a serious student of the Bible with limited funds should consider whether the investment is worth it when something almost as good is available for free. I have the program because I use it for academic research, not sermon or lesson preparation.

A second basic study feature of biblegateway.com is the parallel button. After you have selected a passage using the search box, a series of brown icons will appear just above and to the right of the text. The fourth one from the left looks like an open book. Click that, and it will divide the viewing area for the text into two columns, with your original version on the left, and a new version that you can choose on the right. You can use the drop-down menu above it to change the version as you desire. You can add up to four columns with parallels on the same screen, for a total of five versions.

You may be asking, “What is the point of reading two translations side-by-side? Isn’t my (ESV/KJV/NIV/whatever my favorite is) good enough?” That is a fair question. It would take another blog post (or several) to answer it completely. In brief, reading translations in parallel helps the reader identify spots where the different teams of scholars who create translations disagree. If you know where the disagreements are, you can begin to think about why they might disagree, and make an informed judgment on which translation is more accurate. Keep in mind that no translation is perfect. God did not breathe out the NASB; he breathed out words in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic which are faithfully but imperfectly rendered by the NASB into English. The same could be said for every other legitimate translation of the Scriptures.

The search box with its concordance capability and the parallel button are two basic features of biblegateway.com that are free, easy to use, and can yield great rewards for Bible students at all levels. In the next post we will discuss some more advanced features for even deeper study of the Scriptures. May God bless you as you continue to discover the riches of His Word!

Brendan Ian Kennedy
Ph. D. (cand.), Biblical Studies
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary