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How to Study the Bible with Purpose

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Injecting Purpose into Our Bible Study

Every good endeavor should be done with purpose. Without a clear sense of purpose, our efforts to do a good thing well can flounder. But with a clear purpose, we are far more likely to persevere. This is certainly true of building Bible literacy—it takes effort to build, but maintaining a clear sense of purpose sustains us in our labor. How can we begin to be more purposeful in the way we approach Bible study? It might seem terribly obvious to say that we should study the Bible with purpose.

Certainly, we all have some purpose in mind when we begin to study, but we want to have in mind the purpose that the Bible itself intends us to have when we open its cover. No lesser purpose will do.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God. This is the Big Story of the Bible, the purpose for which it was written. Each of its sixty-six books contributes to telling this Big Story—a story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. The Bible purposes to tell us this Big Story in a thousand smaller stories, from its first page to its last.

It follows, then, that our purpose in studying must be to look for that Big Story each time we go to the Scriptures. We should study asking not just what a particular portion of Scripture wants to tell us, but how that portion of Scripture is telling us the Big Story of the Bible as a whole. Studying the Bible with purpose means keeping its overarching message in view at all times, whether we are in the Old Testament or the New, whether we are in the Minor Prophets or the Gospels. In order to do this, we must “zoom out” from any one particular book or passage and gain an appreciation for how it plays its part in unfolding the Big Story.

What a Plane Ticket Taught Me

I gained a clearer understanding of this Big Story principle on a vacation. Most vacations find our family making the ten-hour drive from Dallas, Texas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to spend time with grandparents. We have grown accustomed to the trip—coffee stop in Wichita Falls, lunch in Amarillo, snack in Tucumcari. The scenery on the drive is intermittently spectacular, and the kids know exactly where I will tell them to drop whatever they are doing to enjoy a mandatory “nature moment.” My husband is a lover of maps, and his faithful recitation of the topographical changes to the landscape is always a hit:

“We’re on the southern plains now . . .”
“Just entered the Red River Valley . . .”
“Here we go up onto the Llano Estacado . . .”
“We’re dropping into the Mesalands . . .”

The fact that he even knows these details has always been a marvel to me. His high school geography teacher should be basking in the glow of a job well done. And mine should be languishing in obscurity: I haven’t known the topography because I was never taught the topography.

So it wasn’t until I had a reason to fly out to Santa Fe that I began to fully appreciate what my husband knew. As we lifted off and turned west, I suddenly realized I was watching the southern plains unfurl beneath me, transected by the Red River Valley, punctuated by the Llano Estacado. I saw the fingers of the Mesalands reaching toward the mountains in the north. I saw from a bird’s-eye view the story I had only appreciated in part, and suddenly all the intermittently spectacular moments of the drive fit together into one continuous and stunning landscape. The perspective I gained on that flight forever changed the way I perceived the drive. For the price of a plane ticket, my children gained not one, but two parents babbling about topography for ten hours each holiday.

The Big Story of the Bible

The Bible has its own topography, its own set of “geographical features” that fit together to form one continuous and stunning landscape. But many of us have never bought the plane ticket to understand its contours. Many of us, after years in the church, don’t know the topography because we haven’t been taught the topography. We know when we are seeing something beautiful in the pages of Scripture, but we don’t always know how what we are seeing fits with the rest of the story.

But without the bigger picture, we can gain only a partial appreciation of what any individual snapshot is trying to tell us. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God. Its topography speaks of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in every vista. The topography of the Big Story is populated with different genres of writing—Historical Narrative, Poetry, Wisdom Literature, Law, Prophecy, Parables, Epistles—all conspiring to expand our understanding of the reign and rule of God in different ways.

Knowing how a particular book of the Bible relates to the Big Story is important, but the individual elements of the creation-fall-redemption-restoration theme can also occur in the smaller stories of the Bible, in various combinations. Our task is to search for these themes as we study.

If only learning to connect a passage of Scripture to the broad vista of the metanarrative were as effortless as buying a plane ticket to Santa Fe. Identifying the metanarrative as we study does not happen effortlessly—it’s a study skill that requires time and practice to acquire. All new skills require a learning curve. As you begin to study purposefully—with the Big Story in view—allow yourself a learning curve as your eyes adjust to this new vantage point. Over time, you will become better at integrating individual areas of study into a collective understanding of God’s purpose from Genesis to Revelation.

This post was adapted from Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin.

Jen WilkinJen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. During her fifteen years of teaching, she has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. She is the author of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds.

Midweek Roundup – 9/3/14

Each Wednesday we share some recent links that we found informative, insightful, or helpful. These are often related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting and encouraging break for the middle of your week.

1. 20 quotes from The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper

1. Many Christians were raised to be suspicious of Hollywood entertainment, but all of the warnings seem to have done little to curb what people watch, except, perhaps, to add a patina of shame to any admission of viewing. (17)

2. Storytelling—be it literature, theater, opera, film, or re- ality TV—doesn’t aim at our rational mind,…It aims at the imagination, a much more mysterious and sneaky part of us, ruled by love, desire, and hope. When people, against their better judgment, find themselves hooked on a show, we can trace the line back to find the hook in their imagination. (19)

2. Rob Bentz on the importance of pastoral presence

Today, courtesy of social media, the ministry of presence is even more needed and relevant than it was a generation ago. Most of the people in our congregation have all the friends, followers, contacts that anyone could want. Yet someone with whom they can enjoy an honest conversation of some degree of depth is rare.

This is why the spiritual leaders of our day must be those who sit, eat and live among the people we seek to serve. It’s not enough to sit in our office and fire off emails, newsletters or blog posts. We must be among our people—loving them and encouraging them with our pastoral presence.

3. Kevin DeYoung shares 5 tips for leading your small group

2. Think through your questions ahead of time.

If your group consists of nothing but very mature Christians who have known each other for years you may be able to get away with little preparation. But that’s not the make up of most groups (and if so, it’s probably time to mix things up a little for the sake of newcomers and those just starting out as followers of Christ). Make sure your questions are crisp and clear. If you aren’t sure what you are asking, you can be sure no one else will either.

4. Ligon Duncan on Victoria Osteen, the glory of God, and Reformed worship

This next installment of “What our Gathered Worship Should Look Like” has been helped by the internet storm caused by Victoria Osteen (wife of Joel Osteen of “Your Best Life Now” and prosperity gospel fame) because of comments she made in a recent service at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. In exhorting the audience to participate, she laid out a case for why they ought to be motivated to do so. In sum, she said, affirmatively:  “You’re not doing it for God, you are doing it for yourself, really.”

5. Nicole Whitacre on how to be patient with your children

Stephanie’s has a two-year-old whom she loves to pieces, but who whines a lot. Ashley has five children at home under the age of nine. Both wrote to ask “how do you stay patient with young children?” I can certainly relate. Impatience is a common temptation for us as moms. So, as I always do, I asked my exceptionally patient mom (she raised me after all!), and wrote down a few of her suggestions.

September 3, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Midweek Roundup,News | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

What Can Small Churches Do Together?

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This is a guest post by Chris Bruno. He is the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.

An Unlikely Partnership

Matthew grew up in an idyllic Scottish village by the sea. Mez grew up in institutions in Ireland, moving from foster home to children’s home to prison. No, this isn’t the opening to a Charles Dickens story.

Matthew grew up trying to avoid the Mezs of the world. Mez grew up trying to steal from the Matthews of the world. But God intervened to bring these two men to Christ and, ultimately, to an unlikely partnership.

Mez had replanted a dying church in the poorest community in Scotland, called Niddrie Community Church (it sounds better with a Scottish accent). The church is located in the middle of the worst “scheme” (low-income housing project) in Edinburgh, a community plagued by drugs and prostitution. But the congregation was composed of middle-class Christians who commuted in for Sunday services and left as soon as the benediction was given. Completely isolated from the neighborhood, Niddrie was regularly firebombed by antagonistic residents.

On his first night at the church, Mez was pulled over and arrested by the police, who couldn’t believe a thuggish-looking guy like him would be driving a nice car registered to a gentleman named Rev. Mez McConnell. By God’s sense of humor, Mez’s arrest gave him immediate street cred with his new neighbors. The church started to fill with unbelievers from the scheme, and it quickly became a vibrant hub of community life. Many people were redeemed and radically transformed by Christ. The difference between their old lives and their new was as stark as black and white.

Matthew had moved to America and planted a church in rural Kentucky called Bardstown Christian Fellowship (he says it sounds better with a redneck accent). He had a deep desire to return to Scotland to plant churches, but never felt released by God to leave his church in Kentucky. Then, at a pastors’ conference, he met Mez. Hearing about the incredible things God was doing in the schemes, Matthew saw a way to fulfill his dream and God’s calling: form a partnership between the two churches.

Niddrie Community Church needed funds and full-time workers to fulfill its vision to plant gospel churches across the schemes of Scotland. Reaching the residents of the schemes requires endless hours of intense personal counseling. So Bardstown Christian Fellowship began to recruit and send trained workers for long-term ministry at Niddrie.

Expanding the Vision

The partnership’s vision quickly began to expand. The partner churches asked, What would it take to plant or replant gospel-driven churches in the twenty neediest schemes in Scotland? The answer: a highly trained church planter and five full-time workers for each scheme, along with the financial resources to sustain them.

This was far beyond the capacity of two churches, so Matthew and Mez got to work finding additional partners. More churches soon signed on. Each church personally invests in one scheme church plant, sending money, long-term workers, and short-term teams. The church knows that if it doesn’t follow through on its commitments, a church on the other side of the ocean might not be planted or revitalized.

But this isn’t just about giving. The American churches feel that they are receiving as much as they give. After sending its first team, Bardstown Christian saw short-term missionaries come back from Scotland better equipped to reach the same kind of people they met in the schemes. Alcoholics and drug addicts started showing up at their Sunday services. Broken people with messy lives soon met Jesus through a group of Christians who, just a few years before, would have been very uncomfortable even talking to them. Matthew explained, “Making disciples in the schemes of Scotland helps us make disciples in rural Kentucky.”

Guidance from the First Century

These twenty-first century churches are imitating the church of the first century, when Gentile churches across the Roman Empire partnered together to invest resources, leaders, and prayer for the ministry of the poverty-stricken church of Jerusalem. This ten-year-long project consumed more of Paul’s time, energy, and emotion, than any other single initiative in his ministry. He saw it as a way to accomplish kingdom goals of fellowship, compassion, and evangelism that no single church could achieve on its own.

And even better, Paul saw it as a way each church could be blessed in its giving: “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need” (2 Cor 8:14). Like Bardstown Christian Church discovered, true partnership is interdependent. It’s not just a way for bigger, wealthier churches to feel better about themselves by helping smaller, poorer churches. Everyone can expect to gain something from one another in partnership. Churches of all sizes can accomplish great things and benefit in amazing ways when they partner together for God’s glory.

In what ways might God be calling your church to partner with others?

Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) is the executive director of the Antioch School Hawai‘i and pastor for discipleship and training at Harbor Church. He spends most of his time leading a church partnership for theological education and church planting. He has written numerous articles and reviews and is the author of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses and the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together.


September 2, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Leadership,Church Ministry,Community,Evangelism / Missions,Life / Doctrine | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

Christ in All of Scripture – John 21:15–19


John 21:15–19

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus didn’t hurry the process of Peter’s restoration. The Savior asked three times for affirmation of the apostle’s love, reflecting Peter’s three denials during Christ’s passion. Gospel surgery is free, but not always easy. Grace produces redemptive pain, not punitive pain. But pain is still painful. Indeed, the gospel brings an end to all deadening worldly grief. But the gospel is the beginning of enlivening godly grief (2 Cor. 7:10–11). The law condemns, the gospel convicts; the law creates self-centered tears, the gospel creates God-centered tears.

“Do you love me more than these?” It would have been easier on Peter had Jesus asked him, “Do you promise not to fail me again?” But Jesus knew better than to ask that question, because, of course, Peter would fail again (e.g., Gal. 2:11–21). Jesus is more jealous for our love than zealous for our works. If he has our hearts, he’ll have everything else.

This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.


September 1, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible News,Gospel Transformation Bible | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:28 am | 0 Comments »

Materialism: The Material Girl


In this series of posts, the late James Montgomery Boice helps us avoid being “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) by unpacking the 5 major “isms” that dominate the modern world.

Get Rich or Die Trying

A fourth “ism” which is part of the “pattern of this world” is materialism. This takes us back to secularism, since it is a part of what secularism is. If “the cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be,” then nothing exists but what is material or measurable, and if there is any value to be found in life, it must be in material terms. Be as healthy as you can. Live as long as you can. Get as rich as you can.

When today’s young people are asked who their heroes or heroines are, what comes out rather quickly is that they have no people they actually look up to except possibly the rich and the famous—people like Michael Jackson and Madonna. And speaking of Madonna, isn’t it interesting that she is often referred to as “the material girl”? For some fans, Madonna apparently represents the material things of this world—clothes, money, fame, and above all, pleasure. This is what today’s young people want to be like! They want to be rich and famous and to have things and enjoy them. They want to be like Madonna.

Examining Evangelicalism

Are evangelicals much different? The older ones probably would not know a Madonna song if they heard it, but they might well be equally materialistic. Are they any different from those the poet T. S. Eliot, in his poem “The Rock,” described in this devastating epitaph?

“Here were a decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.” (1)

How different is the Lord Jesus Christ! He was born into a poor family, was placed in a borrowed manger at his birth, never had a home or a bank account or a family of his own. He said of himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). At his trial before Pilate he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight. . . . My kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). When he died he was laid in a borrowed tomb.

If there was ever a person who operated on the basis of values above and beyond the world in which we live, it was Jesus Christ. He was the polar opposite of “the material girl.” But at the same time no one has ever affected this world for good as much as Jesus Christ has. It is into his image that we are to be transformed rather than being forced into the mold of this world’s sinful and destructive “isms.”


(1) T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909–1962 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1963), 156.

This excerpt was adapted from Whatever Happened to The Gospel of Grace?: Rediscovering the Doctrines That Shook the World by James Montgomery Boice.

James Montgomery Boice was senior minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for thirty years and a leading spokesman for the Reformed faith until his death in 2000.