Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Pleasures of Bible Study Groups

Good morning, Happy Souls!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so. I know that I am!

I was inspired to write this post by observing my wife's experience with Bible study courses over the last several years. She has occasionally invited me to join in for social sessions of the groups, and I have become acquainted with several of her fellow students.

Trained educators, some of whom know the original languages of the Bible and can make additional comments based on that knowledge, lead some of her classes. One of her classes has no leader. It's just a small group of friends who like to translate and consider the Bible together.

Our marriage has been strengthened by these studies. Because of her studies and my Bible reading, my wife and I have some Scripture in common that we can discuss. We are each fascinated by the different perspectives that our respective readings and studies take. I feel rounded out by what she has to offer, and she often looks at me in amazement because the questions I ask her . . . none of which have ever occurred to her. I don't know if you have Scriptural discussions in your home, but if you don't, you've missed an interesting way to become more spiritually intimate with your family.

One of the sessions I attended of her largest Bible study class was very interesting because the leader encouraged the participants to relate the material to their own lives, opinions and perspectives. At first it seemed like just a lot of rambling. But as time went on, it was clear that these adults felt validated that a person educated in the Bible was interested in their views. From that experience, I realized that many people are intimidated by the gap between their knowledge of the Bible and the knowledge that ministers and pastors have. Because of that intimidation, they rely on the "professionals" to lead them to the Bible rather than doing their own Bible readings. I think that's a shame.

As someone who has read the Bible from cover to cover more than once, I am always struck by how different the perspective is of being familiar with the whole text rather than just hearing about a few verses as part of a sermon. Like everyone, I have my favorite verses and like to return to them when they provide special guidance or comfort to me. When I do, they sparkle like chests full of diamonds. They seem even more remarkable because I can find them, know when I need them and draw special comfort from having been there before. Each memory and experience deepens my relationship with God.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you employ Bible study groups to make your faith stronger and more effective in your life:

1. Have a daily Bible reading habit. This will keep you connected with God's word. By starting at the beginning and continuing to the end, you will gain a better sense of our relationship with God.

2. If you like languages, consider learning the Biblical versions so that you can begin to appreciate the Bible in the original texts rather than in translation. This is a lot of work, and you will soon know if you are called to have this level of understanding or not.

3. As you find that certain books of the Bible speak more strongly to you, consider taking a Bible study class on one of those books. Many women, for instance, take special pleasure in Ruth and Esther.

4. If you cannot find a Bible study class that appeals to you, consider starting your own with friends. What better way could there be to deepen your friendship and to provide more time to be together? If you would like to have some guidance during some of the discussions, many spiritual leaders will agree to lead such classes for nominal fees.

5. Consider taking more than one class at a time. You will gain from the variety of experiences and perspectives.

6. See if you would like to graduate to leading and teaching Bible studies. Many large churches offer programs to help you become qualified to do this work. If not, a regional church organization probably does. My wife and older son are both involved in this kind of work, and both find it to be very rewarding. My experience has been that you learn something much better by teaching it than you do by studying it. Even if your goal is just to study, such teaching can be very valuable.

7. Engage your children in Bible studies. Ask most children about their Sunday School experiences, and they don't describe those experiences as being the best. If you can make Bible study more relevant and interesting to your children, you can help avoid having a number of years when they aren't well attached to their faith. You know your children better than their Sunday School teacher does. Spend some time on Sunday exploring the Bible with them personally. It will do everyone a lot of good.

8. Extend beyond Bible studies to apply what you learn to the secular world. I don't remember a time when the gap between the Bible and what is displayed in public has been so wide. If I watch television or walk down the wrong street, I get the impression that I live in Sodom rather than in the United States. As we apply our faith, we can be a force for God and for our own Godly living.

9. Let your Bible studies help you to know what Jesus would have done in your shoes. Whenever I find myself in an ethically challenging situation, I try to project from the Bible what Jesus would have done. When I'm not sure, I do the best I can and then go on to do more reading to find out. A Bible study class that focuses on dealing with sinful temptations, sin, sinners and those in need can be especially valuable here.

10. Use your Biblical knowledge to witness for Jesus. I am always happy when I can remember a parable, a historical story or a quote from the Bible that fits a situation I run into. As I muse about the situation, I am glad when I remember to share the Biblical material with whomever is with me. When I do that, I feel like the Holy Spirit is leading me by the hand into the paths of righteousness and my heart is glad.

Can a billionaire do better? Yes, but I doubt that many are.

Billionaires find themselves surrounded by an excess of things, money and people wanting something from them. Although there are clearly some very religious billionaires, such as Sir John Templeton, you tend to find them in fields where they don't have to be in the public eye very much. I suspect that even the most religious don't do very much with Bible study classes out of concern that their privacy will not be respected. If you know any billionaires who do attend Bible study classes, please drop a comment onto this blog for others to read.

A retired billionaire could certainly do a lot in this area for themselves by employing scholars to help her or him. I hope that some are.


N.B. As you can tell, I'm experimenting with color. Let me know what you like and what I should change about my use of color. Many thanks to Linda Grace for her suggestions which I am following!

Please let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

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Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell


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