Scripture Engagement & Context

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

God is a revealing God, his Word is his revelation of himself and his purposes to his world. It is wonderful we are invited by God to meet him, know and love him, through the Scriptures. As we answer this invitation and engage with Him in His Word, it is helpful to acknowledge we are a diversity of peoples, times and contexts. How we approach, view, interpret, understand and connect his Word to our lives is a question we must address with faith and with faithfulness.

Just look at Acts 3:12-26 and Acts 17:22-31 as classic examples of taking the context and those people’s questions seriously when presenting the good news.

When the working group met to reflect and discuss this issue, we thought it would be important to focus on how our contemporary context affects the way we read, interpret and live out God’s Word. We do this in the wide variety of contexts we come from where we seek to be faithful to the Lord – ‘correctly handling the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15) having our thinking, speaking and behaviour transformed by God through His Word and by His Spirit.

Through fostering a growing reflection and exchange in our global fellowship about “Scripture Engagement & Context”, we hope to better recognise our blind spots – those things that because of the milieu we live in/ have grown up in we do not see: about God, His purposes or ourselves. Through mutual learning in our international fellowship we hope to avoid some possible risks: a selective hermeneutic determined by culturally defined questions leading to ethnocentrism and relativism; or cultural ‘imprisonment’/bias leading to a poor reading of Scriptures even leaving out parts that don’t seem to be relevant (in our own eyes). For an extreme example of this see what King Jehoiakim did in Jeremiah 36!

We believe it is important to both grow in how we engage with the Scriptures from our own times and contexts, and at the same time become increasingly aware of how the Word ‘reads’ and engages with us. As we read and are ‘read’, as we participate, God transforms us and our context/community.

When engaging with the Word, we believe we are engaging with God himself in the Scriptures, with Jesus, the Living Word. We can therefore expect that he will engage with us – an experience that will not leave us or our communities the same.

Our different contexts raise a variety of questions which we should pay careful attention to when engaging the Scriptures. At the same time, the Word of God often raises other questions or gives answers that we would not have expected. Scripture reveals agendas and poses questions that people may not be asking. Thus, engaging with the Word will often disturb, question, and challenge what may be fully accepted in our context.

The reader of the Word is therefore not only personally challenged and transformed but challenged to be agents of change and transformation in the context and community within which they live.

In the end, when we are dedicated to a serious study of the Word, it should lead us to discover the heart and mind of God for our world: the Lord who is missionary, who is transforming and reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.

We pray that when paying more attention to the contemporary context we all live in, we will grow to become a better global hermeneutical community, learning from each other and faithfully giving witness to the Lord across the world from each of our contexts.

IFES Eurasia Scripture Engagement Coordinator (no name as in sensitive country) and Ricardo Borges (IFES Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement)

Inspiring Love of the Old Testament

Meeting God in ancient words, on a journey, as a scattered community…

Deuteronomy 8:3 “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

The Deuteronomy Journey:

Over the last year in Eurasia, a group of 10 senior staff participated in a journey together through the book of Deuteronomy. This pilot project was born out of two observable needs that perhaps resonate with you too:

  1. The need for senior staff to have some input and inspiration from God’s Word for themselves when they are usually the ones giving out and training others. We all need to keep growing in our relationship with God and in our knowledge and love of Him.
  2. The need for students to meet with God in all of Scripture – including the Old Testament. Confusion, fear and perhaps lack of teaching can mean that the Old Testament feels distant or even irrelevant rather than the Holy Scriptures ‘that are able to make you wise for salvation…’.
    As staff and students, we want and need to be growing in confidence in reading, understanding and teaching the Old Testament.

The Deuteronomy Journey was designed for a group of peers to do together, learning from one another. We wanted to go deep into one book of the Old Testament as a window on to the rest of Scripture. We grappled with the God that we met there; we journeyed with this God who rescued His people and led them through the wilderness. We marvelled at the words He gave to His people to live by (the law that spoke of Him and made them distinctive in the world) and at the gift of His very self!

Apart from one face-to-face meeting at the start and end of the year, we met monthly on Zoom. The basis for these Zoom calls was written responses (shared with each other) to the Deuteronomy chapters that we had read that month. These ranged from a mini-essay to a letter to a friend and creative sessions for students. Meeting virtually wasn’t without its difficulties but coming together from different cultures gave us the opportunity to be enriched by different perspectives. Together we studied this challenging book with its history, law, some poetry and its call to a life of radical discipleship following the One True and Living God.

What participants said:

“It was good to ask the difficult questions and try to see how we can answer these – this has strengthened my faith…”

“This project has encouraged me to help students to value the Old Testament, the big picture of Scripture – so that we can together come to know the merciful and loving God who is revealed in the whole Bible…”

Deuteronomy 32:47 “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life”!

IFES Eurasia Scripture Engagement Coordinator (no name as in sensitive country)

The Bible and Mental Health

 

Imagine your friend tells you that she wants to kill herself, tonight. Imagine the despair you can see in her eyes. It’s clear: she no longer wants to live. Silence fills the room. What do you say? What can you do?

New Zealand has a very high youth suicide rate. It is twice as high as that of the United States, and five times higher than that of Britain. For many students, the above is not a hypothetical scenario but a real conversation they have had.

This reality became apparent as I trained students in evangelism last year. While we went through the content of the gospel and how we can share it, their insecurity in relating to friends living with depression and anxiety became apparent. They saw the importance of coming alongside them in their suffering, but was the gospel what they now needed? How could it be good news to them?

I realized that there were two needs. Firstly, students need to develop a ‘Christian lens’ from the Bible through which to see mental illnesses. Secondly, students also need to understand what anxiety and depression is and looks like. This will enable them to better love and share the gospel with those around them, to the glory of God. So the training event ‘The Bible and Mental Health’ was birthed.

Tim Capill, a pastor in Christchurch, came and gave us a biblical overview on the origin and solution to our suffering. Based on Psalm 139, he also spoke on six truths we can hold on to about God whilst we suffer. It was a brilliant talk that provided a solid biblical framework on suffering and, in particular, how we can trust God through depression and anxiety.

Dana Lee – a Christian psychologist specializing in youth and trauma also came and ran two seminars focusing on what clinical depression and anxiety look like. We practised in pairs with scenarios focusing particularly on our listening skills.

It was an event with a great turn out: over 50 students came to be equipped. As the organizer, I am encouraged to see that these students now have a better understanding and more compassion for those suffering with depression and anxiety. They have also become more confident that the deepest need of these friends is the same as that of anyone of us: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Candy Grice, staff worker with TSCF New Zealand
CandyG@tscf.org.nz

Book recommendation (by Sabine Kalthoff, IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement): Mark Meynell, When Darkness seems my Closest Friend – Reflections on life and ministry with depression. The honest account of a personal journey with very helpful general reflections. A worthwhile read.

A Valuable Training and Mission Resource

“The Word Among Us” is a very valuable resource that we have used as part of our training for new student leaders in Jalisco. This booklet has helped students to have stronger convictions regarding Scripture and to love the Bible more. It has also encouraged and challenged them to live out their faith according to Scripture, and it has encouraged them to trust in the power and impact of God’s Word.

Isaac was one of the first students who started to explore the six main aspects of Scripture Engagement that we find in this resource. As a result, I could see how Isaac would reflect more in depth about his personal life and his relationship with God’s Word, and in a natural way he could see the relevance and importance of doing mission at university. He also felt more confident and motivated to do it.

The questions on page 27 of “The Word Among Us” also helped us to invite new students to our Bible studies on campus. We ask them if they are fine with us asking them a few questions, and when they say yes we start by asking, “Have you had any contact with the Bible?”. If so, “where and when?”. Many people say yes, but when we ask a few more questions they end up realising that they actually know very little about the Bible, and when they acknowledge this they are open to learning more about it. At this point we invite them to the Bible study on campus. Many people agree to come and others say they might come sometime.

This is how we met Monica, a biology student. She agreed to come to our Bible study after we interviewed her using the questions on page 27. That day we looked at Mark 2:13-17, which is about how Jesus calls Levi. Monica was very enthusiastic and took part in the session. She went home happy and came back the following week. She started attending regularly throughout the whole semester and we have been able to get to know her better over this time.

It is our responsibility as staff workers to equip students to carry out our mission and help them to engage with Scripture. This is why we use this valuable resource, “The Word Among Us”, when we equip new student leaders.

Rosa Angélica Ramírez Blanco
Staff worker in Jalisco
Compañerismo estudiantil

A Message of Transformation

My name is O.F.S. and I’m a Bible group coordinator in Nicaragua. 2018 and 2019 have been crucial years of change and surprises for me, my country and our student movement. What has happened in Nicaragua over the past two years? In April 2018 students marched to protest the lack of measures to deal with forest fires in an important reserve in our country. A few days later, a law to reform the public health service came out, which affected minority groups, and hundreds of people took to the streets to demand justice. What followed were days of violence, death and repression by the government. Since these events, human rights organisations have reported many deaths, people have been exiled and hundreds of others have disappeared.

Universities were closed for eight months, the country came to a standstill, people became desperate and in our groups many were asking questions – how can we offer hope in our context? And how can we continue the student work if the universities are closed?

I returned home feeling anxious, looking for answers and facing the challenge of continuing our mission; so I decided to meet up with some friends and young people from church and read the Bible together. This gave us strength and meaning in the midst of so much pain and suffering. We used the booklet called “The Word Among Us” and tools like “Writing a Psalm”. It was a liberating experience and our spirituality was really challenged. We were sorry we weren’t engaging with our community because the situation was so delicate, and we felt powerless because we weren’t helping our neighbours enough. As we tried to express our whirlwind of thoughts and examine them in the light of Scripture, we felt peace as we poured out our hearts to God and to one other. This helped us to experience a kind of faith that we should put into action thanks to Scripture engagement, and it showed us how prayer also calls you into action.

I was in exile. But I returned to my country because I want to be salt and light in this moment in time and because I believe that if we change the university we’ll change Nicaragua and we’ll change the world, because we should continue to proclaim the prophetic message of our God of true PEACE, JUSTICE AND LOVE. I realised that where there was a student, there was student work to be done. Our movement continues to embrace this belief, the call to be defenders of justice and ambassadors of faith. This is our commitment and it is only through Jesus Christ that we can change our reality and our country.

We cling with all our hearts to the redeeming hope that we find in Jesus!

Reaching out to an International Student with Far-Reaching Consequences

My name is Masha and I’m still a student. My father is not a believer and worked for the state security services until his retirement. My mum was a Christian, but she died when I was nine. I knew the truth from my childhood, but it didn’t inspire me. I didn’t really care about life after death, the creator of this world or other deeper questions. Even though I knew that God exists, I had no interest in a relationship with him. But then after a Christian summer camp at the age of 19, I started to go to church and six months later, I accepted Jesus.

I got involved in ministry for international students. I saw a big need to serve these students who suffer from loneliness as they are far away from their families and homes. One of those students was Katia (changed name), a girl from one of the most closed countries in Central Asia. She came from a traditional Orthodox background, but knew very little about God and the Bible. She started to attend our church because of a friend who was going there. Then after two months, she stopped coming.

I decided to take the first step and suggested to her that we meet. She declined several times saying that she was too busy with her studies. But then she found a day for me and we met. We had a great conversation. I shared my story and suggested that we read the Bible together. (At the beginning of my Christian life, I also had someone who read the Bible with me.) I had never invited someone to read the Bible with me before. I was a little scared and had no idea how to lead a Bible study. I was so happy when she agreed and we started to meet up every week. During our meetings, she asked lots of questions about Christianity and the gospel. Her strategy was to speak little and to ask much. But I liked it! And I was very encouraged when she started coming to church again.

During the student’s international forum that we put on, Katia heard a lot about Jesus and his love. She also had three dreams in which she tried to run from the devil and Jesus saved her. After this forum she accepted Jesus. She now comes to church and our meetings for international students, and of course we still continue to have our personal Bible study. It is moving to see how she has grown in her spiritual life. In May, she got baptised. She said: “I think God did not bring me to this country by accident!”

Masha, linguistic student in Eastern Europe

Messengers of Hope – The University in God’s Story

This World Assembly theme was developed in a series of Bible expositions from Luke and Acts. What follows is an excerpt from one exposition. You can listen to it fully and to the other World Assembly Bible expositions at https://ifesworld.org/worldassembly.

Please read Acts 1:1-11 before continuing with this article.
In her exposition on Acts 1, Janna Louie from InterVarsity USA invites us into a deeper hope – a hope that brings meaning and perspective to our lives and to our broken world.

Jesus reframes power for the apostles. Not only will God’s Spirit be manifest through what the world deems weak, but the Spirit is given to a broken and vulnerable people. In this reframing, God deepens their hope. God’s Spirit is not self-protective. God’s Spirit is not nationalistic. Instead, the Spirit expands their hope for what is possible.

The apostles expected King Jesus to bring about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, but restoration will be greater than their hopes for Israel. Instead of seeing themselves merely as victims to be vindicated, they are witnesses who testify to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They are given a vision in which they are no longer just the oppressed, but they bear the testimony of Jesus across the borders and boundaries created by the empire. They are not confined to walls built by superpowers, but they join God’s Spirit to reach across man-made walls. Their testimony will not just be confined to Jerusalem, but will go to all who are within Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In this statement, Jesus deepens their vision about restoring the kingdom of Israel. The testimony of Jesus will not be confined merely to the Jews, but will be manifest through them to the Gentiles. Their hope reaches beyond their community to include the Gentiles – and even their oppressors. Relief from oppression is too small a hope. Instead, Jesus invites a vulnerable community to steward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus even to the ones who make them vulnerable.
[…]
The power of the Holy Spirit is an invitation first to see the resurrected Jesus in the places where we live. It is to see our homelands with Jesus’ eyes. To bear witness to the hope of Jesus where we are most vulnerable. The power of the Spirit is the power that enables us to endure in the places that cause us pain. The command to receive the Spirit’s power is not a quick fix. It’s a power that refuses to conquer and dominate, but perseveres in suffering. To touch and to heal. To grieve and to mourn. To wait with hope. It’s the power to testify of Jesus’ life in the very places we live. […] The Holy Spirit’s power invites a vulnerable people to transform the world around them.

You can listen to the whole exposition here.

At the table

There have been a number of ‘wow’ moments that have dramatically changed my life, especially regarding the way I view God and ministry. One such moment was the 2007 IFES World Assembly in Canada. The Bible expositions from the Gospel of Luke by Peter Kuzmic (Croatia), Jacques Buchhold (France) and Ziel Machado (Brazil) were soul-searching and very challenging. Ziel Machado’s first exposition stood out for me and at the same time took a strong grip on my heart. I could not let go of it until I put it into practice. Ziel Machado reflected on where ministry is done: the table as a place of acceptance, community and kindness; contrasting it to the desk, a place of business, achievements and success.

It was so challenging to me personally as I reflected on how I was involved in ministry. Was I doing it at the table or from my desk? At that time, I had served for four years as staff worker in my national movement, the Student Christian Organization of Malawi (SCOM). At that point, ten more years of service were ahead of me. God spoke to me so clearly that student ministry was to be done at the table, where students should feel welcomed, where they could be built into strong communities of believers, and as a way to take Christ to their universities. This changed how I was involved in student ministry. I took this Word from God in a literal way and opened my home to students, transforming the table of my home into a place of ministry. Countless students have eaten at this table: it became a place of discipleship and evangelism to so many young people.

At my home’s table, students who were struggling academically got confidence and performed better. Around it, Christ revealed Himself to many students and gave them a purpose for living. At this table, broken relationships have been restored. It was at that table where students have found life partners. Gathered around the table, students have learnt from Christ. At my family table, students have seen the frailty of our humanity and the sufficiency of God’s grace through interacting with my wife, our son, and myself, engaging with God’s Word and allowing it to bring amazing fruits in our lives. The Word of God must always be allowed to move from the head to the heart, then to the hands and feet: that is when we experience genuine transformation.

Duncan Chiyani, EPSA Associate Regional Secretary for Southern Africa

Sharing the Word in the context of student ministry

The Bible has a central position in student ministry. We organise our devotional life, our training activities, our dialogue with the university and our evangelistic activities around the Holy Scriptures. The high value we place on Scripture is the base for three steps that I consider whenever I share the Word at our meetings.

Step 1: Seriously study the biblical passage and strive to apply it in a fresh and appropriate way.

We frequently receive instructions to develop a profitable reading of the Scriptures. We learn a variety of biblical study methods and use many auxiliary resources, which allow us to make a good approach to the text. Indeed, from the initial steps found in devotions, to the ability of some of us to work on the original languages, we face the challenge of using every resource available to do a good and appropriate reading of the text. Meanwhile, we need to find pathways that allow our audience to apply the lessons learned in a faithful, opportune and fresh way. Because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

Step 2: prayer support

The nature of biblical exposition implies permanent prayer support, because it requires putting the heart of all those involved in the process (those who minister and those who listen) before the Word of the Eternal God. I once heard from a teacher; “the purpose of biblical exposition is to comfort the broken-hearted and challenge those who have become accommodated”. Nobody is indifferent before the Word, neither the person who exposes nor he who listens. As the Paul the Apostle said, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)

Step 3: becoming accessible to listen to those who listen

When developing biblical expositions, one of the most important moments in learning is when I decide to make myself accessible to listen to those who listened to me. This allows me to see how they have understood the text and how they are applying it to their lives; I listen to their questions, suggestions and doubts, and this has deeply enriched my continuous learning process in the ministry of biblical exposition. We should seek these moments to learn to listen in an attentive, humble, reverent and respectful way towards our brothers and sisters who received “the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit… became a model to all the believers.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

These are the three simple steps I try to follow in the ministry of sharing of the Word of God.

Ziel Machado, Former IFES Regional Secretary in Latin America.

Bible Study Bookmarks for Different Genres of Scripture

In many Bible study groups, the following thing happens: you come together and read a Bible text. After a short moment of silence, somebody brings up his or her favorite topic that is vaguely connected to the text. This might be predestination, baptism or world politics. All these topics are important, but the purpose of the meeting gets lost – that is, to share around a Bible passage and let God speak to you.

At the IFES World Assembly 2015 in Mexico, I got to know the Intervarsity USA Bible study bookmark that guides through an inductive Bible study. Back in Germany, I translated it into our context. It was great: the students concentrated more and dug deeper into the text with the guidance of the bookmark.

As long as we read the Gospels, it worked quite well. Yet as we studied other types of biblical texts like prophetic, poetic or apocalyptic literature, it became more difficult to work with the bookmark. It was, for example, problematic to read Old Testament law as we read the Gospels – we couldn’t simply apply the law directly to our life. Some students asked: “Why should I follow Jesus and not the whole Old Testament law? Both are in the Bible and come from God…? And what about the psalms that talk about vengeance? Doesn’t Christ call us to love our enemy?”

We realized that we need different kinds of questions for different literary genres in Scripture. When reading narratives, we observe what the different characters say and do, how events evolve and how God is at work in the midst of this. When reading prophetic texts, observation is more about asking what social, ethical or religious wrongs are being addressed. Poetic texts often use imagery to convey their message and so we need to give them appropriate attention. Similarly, the questions we ask in interpretation will differ from one kind of biblical text to another.

After a while, we developed Bible study bookmarks for seven different genres: narratives, epistles, prophetic passages, poetic texts, Old Testament law, wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature. For each genre, the questions suggested for the Bible study correspond to the theological and literary characteristics of this type of text. You can find them here.

With regard to these bookmarks, Markus Heide – head of SMD student ministries – says: “I experience their value when they help student groups to unearth the treasure of Scripture instead of only hearing what they already know. I experience their value when they help a Christian to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend and together they make discoveries, instead of the Christian explaining everything to the non-Christian.”

Fabian Mederacke, former regional staff of SMD Germany
fmederacke@gmx.de