Summary: Striking the balance between studying the Bible, but keeping your relationship with God just that... a relationship.

Good morning and welcome to the second in a three-part series entitled Who We Are and What We Do. Before we get into the nitty-gritty today, I’d just like to say a personal thank you for all of the emails and video comments we’ve received this week. We have been really encouraged your comments and best wishes.

I’d just like to draw on a few points that came from that. The first was a video comment asking what gives the team and myself the right to preach? The answer lies in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As Christians, it is not just our right but our job to tell unbelievers about Jesus, and the function of the church is to support other believers and continuously speak God’s Word into each other lives. So, the answer to that is, Jesus gives me the right because it is what He has commanded me and every other Christian to do. And you have that right and responsibility too, because what you have to say is just as important, which is why me and the rest of the team all want to hear your comments in our forum, on Facebook and YouTube, or via email. The more people who share their insights and relationship with God, the richer and fuller all of our composite understandings will be.

A second question that Darren raised in the Midweek Remix was regarding what I said about how church isn’t a building or a specific organization, but a community of believers interacting with each other, ergo this is church. He said Monday Morning Study doesn’t have a pastor, and it doesn’t have a worship band – how important are these to church? The answer is, obviously, they are extremely important! We need all of these things as part of our lives. Having that pastor in your life, that mentor, that person who looks out for you and pulls you in line, is crucial and Jesus Himself talks at length about its importance. You will have that person in your life, and no, that isn’t me. But remember, there is one church, one leader and that is Christ Himself. Wherever we are, whatever we do we are still church; we are still the body of Christ.

Not Called To Be Academics

Today, and you can put up the first slide, is entitled Not Called To Be Academics. This is something God spoke to me about last year, and I remember it really clearly. I had decided that I was going to be really closely examining one book of the Bible really closely for 12 months, every 12 months, until I’d finished Revelation at the age of 87 and probably wouldn’t really be able to see any more without binoculars. And I’d gone to a worship service in Glasgow and God said He hadn’t called me to be an academic. Those seven words – and, as you know, seven is the number of perfection! I learned that through my academic study.

So, what does that mean? Well, last week we talked about how being part of church made us “called out”.  But  called out for what, exactly? We know we’re called, but we’re not called to be academics.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not to be academic. There is a subtle one – being academic is a verb, being an academic is a noun. Which is a very academic way of putting it across!

It’s the crucial difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them. Everyone who reads this teaching will know about me, but only my friends and family actually know me.

In the Bible, not once do we see Jesus sitting in his office reading His scrolls. Now, does that mean He didn’t read any scrolls? Seriously, answer in your head right now. Did Jesus read the Torah? Yes, I’m sure He did. He was called ‘teacher’, and in order to teach, He had to know what He was talking about! He must have read the Scriptures!

So why, in the four accounts of Jesus’ life, does nobody feel the need to ever mention Jesus reading once? Because, even though he was a carpenter’s son, I think Jesus probably was able to read although that is just an opinion. Why is it never mentioned? For the same reason we never hear about Him shaving, brushing His hair, washing His clothes, doing the loo. It just wasn’t the most important thing He did in His life.

What we see is Jesus speaking to people, praying to God, telling God his worries, taking God’s direction in His life – everything about Jesus’ ministry was relational! He told stories, most of them completely fictitious, to illustrate a very pertinent point about tax, salary, quest for meaning in your life. He also spoke about theological issues, of course He did.

But when the disciples were getting bashed about by an almighty storm in the middle of the sea, Jesus didn’t do an exposition of 7 Greek words you can say to the sea. He just did it.

Now, please, do not misunderstand what I am saying. The Bible is extremely important. Study is extremely important. And there is great importance attached to discovering the original words and meanings used in the Bible. I take it very seriously, and I’m studying towards a theology degree right now.

Let me put it another way. It’s my first wedding anniversary this month, but since I married Carron, I haven’t sat pouring over her diary ever since, gleaning what I can about her. I’ve spent time with her, and that’s how I got to know her. Sure, looking at photos and seeing her school artwork let me see more of her, find out more about her, see sides I didn’t know of her, but my deepest knowledge and understanding of Carron is the time I spent with her.

So, what? Are these two contradictory messages? That reading the Bible is vital, but also not very important? No, you just need to grasp the balance.

The best way I can explain what I mean is looking at my teacher training. As most of you know, I was at once time a student teacher. A lot of what we do is theory – child development, teaching methods, and so on. Even when you graduate you’re expected to keep up my theoretical reading to stay up-to-date. But if I’d spent all of my time sitting reading the latest teaching practice books and never actually went to a school, I would be a completely useless teacher. I would be the St. Mirren of teachers – I might beat Celtic 1-0 once in a blue moon, but it would be an accident and the rest of the time I would serve absolutely no purpose.

It’s the same with the Bible. The Bible was written for a purpose. We mentioned it last week - 2 Timothy 3:16-17,  “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Is that not exactly what I just said? I could have spent the next 45 years until I retire equipping myself with teaching books, but until I step into a classroom all my equipness is going to count for nothing. And in exactly the same way, if you spend your whole life reading the Bible to be “equipped for every good work”, but never step out and do some good work, what’s the point?

 The analogy I used last week was the Bible being a map. If you stand and look at the map but never actually get off your backside and follow it, you actually make the map completely obsolete!

The Bible is a means to an end. It’s crucial because without the means, you won’t get to the end; but if you get bogged down by studying the means and never applying it, you’re never going to get to the ‘end’ anyway. The end of showing people Jesus loves them. The end of getting to know God better.

I think someone’s said it to me before, but while I was preparing today, God said something to me that pretty much sums it up, and if you take nothing else away from today, please remember this: In 100 years, anything you know will be forgotten but everything you do will be remembered.

The knowledge that is in your head won’t be there any more, it’ll be gone. If you’ve passed it on, it’s something that you’ve done. 

Florence Nightingale. Born 12 May 1820, died 13 August 1910. On 7 February 1837 – not long before her 17th birthday – something happened that would change her life: “God spoke to me”, she wrote, “and called me to His service.”  Nobody really cares what knowledge Florence Nightingale had about the medical profession.  They care what she did for the injured soldiers.

If you spend five hours studying the lexicon of the Bible and never speak to God in that time, what’s the point? If you memorise every iota of Christian theology and don’t apply any of it to your life, where’s the use? If you stand at a street corner and shout about how everyone’s going to hell and never actually connect with anyone… nobody is going to listen to you. Nobody wants to hear about an academic God with an academic threat of an academic hell.

People are relational, first and foremost, and we are created in His image  (Genesis 1:27).

In a way, we should call this New Study Community, not New Study Church, because the community aspect is so much more important than the theoretical stuff. This isn’t about me imparting my knowledge and my thoughts onto you through your computer screen; it’s about us sharing together so that we can all add to the mosaic that makes up our understanding of God.

If you sit at home and download these studies and save them on your memory stick or print them off and put them in a folder somewhere, you’ll get something out of them. At least, I really hope you will get something out of them! But it will only be a fraction of what you could get.

I sat for three hours preparing for the last study – I read the Bible (which helps!), I thought about what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, I prayed, I looked at a Greek/Hebrew word study Bible, a topical Bible and a concordance and at the end of all that, yes, I got something out of it. Yes, there were things I took away from last week. But the biggest thing that I took away was what I said at the beginning – what Darren had asked and the viewer on Facebook. Because we communicated. Not physically, but by combining my thoughts and his questions and her comments, I learned something I wouldn’t have learned alone.

That is why I am so excited about New Study Church. It’s hard to convey emotion in printed word, but this is so special. In exactly the same way as, when you have your quiet times your Bible readings are to get to know God better by following it up with a time of prayer, these studies actually pave the way to the next step – learning together.

So read these studies, and think about them. Email me and the rest of the team with your thoughts, put them on the forum and chat to folk about them. Speak to other readers about them. Speak to people who aren’t readers about them. Make it sociable.

That is one of the biggest failings of “church” as it exists today in many places. Not all, but many. A community of believers isn’t about one person standing up, blabbing on about a bunch of facts for half and hour and you going home again ‘spirit-filled’. How inspiring is that?

It’s about discussion, about corporate study. About agreeing on things and, more interestingly, disagreeing on things. Because when somebody challenges you or throws up a different idea, like Darren did this week, that’s when you really have to start thinking about what you’ve said.

I hope this hasn’t been too confusing. I’ve tried to explain this the best way I can. I would really encourage you to take this week’s midweek study, glance over the questions on your own, but then answer them and discuss them with somebody else. Please don’t do this week’s midweek remix alone. Don’t make it an academic exercise. And if you have no-one to do it with, go onto the forum and post your thoughts there and people will reply to you.

The Bible is a gift from God. He has given it to you to read, of course He has! But there isn’t an entrance exam to get into heaven. He doesn’t want you to recite it back to Him, or win the Friday night quiz at Angels Arms or whatever the heavenly pubs are called. He wants you to use it to get to know Him better, because the whole Bible is a love story about the Father wanting a relationship with His children. Don’t let academia be just another task, just another barrier that stops you from getting to know the author.

 Stop studying the map that points towards God… and start following it. Because only through a combination of reading the map and following it will you reach where you want to go. 

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