Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Whatsoever Opportunities

Individual Bible reading and study are vital in the life of every Christian, but sometimes we need more.  Jesus established a church for many reasons, and one of them is so that we can learn from one another.  A lot of that learning happens in our local congregations, but I've been blessed recently to take advantage of another avenue of learning within the church.  I live close to a local school of preaching and Biblical studies, and the benefits have been great enough to make attending one of the classes the highlight of my week.

I decided to take a class on Isaiah since that book has always given me trouble, and it has been a joy to learn from a teacher with a wealth of Bible knowledge.  He is able to bring together Biblical chronology and knowledge of prophecy is such a way that Isaiah is actually a fun book to read rather than a chore.  The handouts he gives, like an outline of Isaiah or a timeline of the kings of Israel and Judah, are particularly helpful when I come to a difficult passage.

As I've understood Isaiah, I've been able to make connections between it and other parts of the Bible that I'm studying in Bible class at church.  I never realized how many similar themes can be found in the Old and New Testament.  Worldliness plagued both the 8th century Jews and 1st century Christians (as it does the 21st century church). Isaiah warned the Jews about the dangers of materialism.

Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room, So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!... Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, Nor do they consider the work of His hands. (Isaiah 5:8-12)
Although James doesn't quote the prophet here, echoes of Isaiah's warnings are clear.
You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:2-4).
It sounds nerdly, but each time I read the New Testament and see something that reminds me of Isaiah, I get a little thrill.  I love the reminder that the Bible is more than just a collection of writings but a beautiful whole.  
God's word is not the only thing that has given me a thrill as I've taken this class. As much as I love my congregation, it's not particularly diverse.  I have truly enjoyed being around Christians that I've not met before and that are different from me. I love experiencing variety in the family of God.  Praying and singing and learning with new people is refreshing to my soul.

Not only that, but I've learned a lot from my fellow classmates.  When I asked what it meant for Jerusalem to be like a watchmen's hut in a cucumber field (Isaiah 1:8), a kind older gent was able to explain to me from his own experience that cucumbers are a vine that will take over a garden if not pruned, just as Babylon would take over Zion.

I would encourage all of our readers to consider taking a Bible class outside of their congregations.  It has been nothing but a blessing to me as I have learned from a knowledgeable teacher (and students) and made connections with all my other studies.  If you don't have a school near you, check out for an internet school of Biblical studies.  I believe the extra study is well worth everyone's effort.  


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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