The Journey of Bible Interpretation

Note: This post is a copy of a handout that I will be bringing to Rwanda to help teach pastors there.  This handout is on basic Bible interpretation. One of the criteria for all handouts is that the pastors there typically have a 4th-5th grade reading level, so this handout is purposefully geared toward simplicity.  I will also be teaching it through a translator, so simplicity works better!

A lesson I am learning about cross-cultural ministry is that different cultures think in fundamentally different ways.  The people of Rwanda, and African people in general, think and process in narrative stories far more than in abstract ideas.  With that in mind the handouts I am bringing are in narrative form, using a story to teach spiritual truth.  This is one of Jesus’ preferred teaching methods, which we call parables.

I would love your feedback on what I have here, and I hope it encourages you!

The pictures and basic outline are from J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word. I know Scott from meeting him at ETS in 2007, and have permission from both he and Danny to use the images and the outline for my handouts.  Please do not reproduce this for profit under any circumstances without clearing it with them and with Zondervan.  Thanks!

You are reading the Bible, trying to understand it so that you can do what God wants you to do. This is a good idea! But you have a problem. You don’t understand what the message of Ephesians 2:1-10 is. You read it, but don’t know how to live from what it says. You want to be able to live by its words and help the people you love live by them as well.
Imagine that at this moment you receive a gift. You get to travel back to meet with the Apostle Paul! You travel to the city he was in when he wrote Ephesians. You are very excited to get to meet him, and ask him to help you understand what he was saying when he wrote Ephesians 2:1-10.
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Grasp the text in their town

Paul is very glad to see you and invites you in to his home. He tells you that he is happy to help you know what he meant when he wrote to the Ephesian church. He also tells you that what he is teaching you will help you understand any book of the Bible! He shows you the steps that will work every time you want to be able to understand what God means in the Bible.

He begins by telling you what you must do to understand God’s Word. First, he says that you must understand what the writer was trying to tell his very first readers. When you understand that, Paul says, you will know what message he was giving them. This is very important, he says, because only when you know what he was saying to his readers will you know what he wanted to say.

You’re not sure how to find out what the writer said to his readers. So Paul sits beside you and you both open your Bible. Then he shows you the path. “First,” he says, “Look and see what I really said. You might be tempted to read quickly and get to what I mean, but resist! Stop and see what I was really saying. Observe, look closely. Look again! Really work hard to see what I actually said, because the words are important.

“Next,” Paul says, “Read before and after the passage you are studying. What is the topic I am talking about? What am I teaching on? This is called context, and it is very important. It will give you clues about what I am trying to say to people. Look in the whole book you are reading to see what my ideas and my purpose are. Then think about how this passage fits in with that whole idea.

“You also want to think about what you know about the person who wrote the words. Who is he? What did he do for a living? What is his passion? These can help you find the meaning. Think as well about the people he wrote to. Who are they and what are they like?”

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Measure the River

You are not done yet though! Now you must find the road home from Paul’s house to your own. There is a river between Paul’s town and yours, he tells you. That river is made up of the difference between your town and Paul’s town. You may have a different culture, a different language, a different time, a different situation, or a different covenant than the first readers. He says that you may be very like them or very different from them, depending on which book you are reading.

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Cross the Bridge

You don’t want to be stuck in Paul’s town. Now you need to get across the river and back home to your people! You think and think, and run out of answers. Just when you are about to give up hope of getting home Paul gives you an idea. “Why not build a bridge across the river?” Paul asks. He says that the bridge is made of the “big idea” in the passage that you are reading. It is the truth in the passage that any person at any time in any place can use to help them live for God. It is a timeless principle for God’s people.

Now, finally, you have a path home. Paul is very happy for you to head home to your town with the truth that God has taught in the Bible. Because any person can know this truth, you can use it in your home and in your life. In fact, all the people in your town can use this truth to help them live too! No matter who they are, they can take this truth and use it. You cross the bridge over the river and bring this truth home to your town.

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Grasp the text in your town

“Now you know how to make the journey from my town to yours,” Paul tells you. “You can make it any time you want. This is the beauty of God’s Word; the journey is always there for you to take it.”

The Parable of the Stool

Note: This post is a copy of a handout that I will be bringing to Rwanda to help teach pastors there.  This handout is on basic Christian discipleship and growth in Christ. (“sanctification” is the big word) One of the criteria for all handouts is that the pastors there typically have a 4th-5th grade reading level, so this handout is purposefully geared toward simplicity.  I will also be teaching it through a translator, so simplicity works better!

A lesson I am learning about cross-cultural ministry is that different cultures think in fundamentally different ways.  The people of Rwanda, and African people in general, think and process in narrative stories far more than in abstract ideas.  With that in mind the handouts I am bringing are in narrative form, using a story to teach spiritual truth.  This is one of Jesus’ preferred teaching methods, which we call parables.

I would love your feedback on what I have here, and I hope it encourages you!

A man in a certain town became a follower of Jesus Christ. He wanted to be a good one and desired to please God in his day-to-day living. He went to his pastor to get help. He knew that his pastor would be able to help him become a better follower of Jesus. He traveled to his pastor’s home to ask him how to be a better Christian.

“Welcome,” his pastor said. “I am glad to see you! How are you?” “I am fine,” the man replied. “I want to really know how to follow Jesus. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and I want to obey Him as my Lord and Savior. Can you help me?”

clip_image002When the man finished speaking, his pastor sat and thought for a time. He got up from his seat went to the back of his home, where a stool with four legs was in pieces on the floor. He took the pieces and brought them back to the front of the home to show his friend. “Is this a stool?” he asked. “Well, not a very good one!” came the reply. “It is pieces of a stool, but right now it’s no good to help anyone sit down. It can’t stand up or hold any weight.”

His pastor looked at him and said, “You are right. This stool is no good without its legs being firmly attached. What if I put a single leg on the stool? Will it stand now?” The man shook his head no. “Somewhat,” he said, “but not really. One leg is better than none, but this stool still will not stand up on its own. If I sit on it I will not fall, but I need to be very careful with my balance. And if I get up the stool falls over. It is still not a good stool.”

“Correct,” said his pastor. “What if I add a second leg?” The man thought a second and said, “A second leg is helpful to balance in one direction but the stool will still be unstable.” “And what of a third leg?” asked his pastor. “A third leg is really good,” the man said. “Now the stool can stand up on its own and is more stable. However, it is still not stable in the direction of the missing leg. Only when a stool has all four legs is it stable and strong.” “Exactly!” his pastor exclaimed. “You have said it correctly. Only when the stool has all four legs can it stand.”

The man looked at his pastor, puzzled. “Okay,” he said, “I understand that a stool needs four legs to be sturdy. Without all four legs it is not as good as it could be. But you haven’t answered my question! Stools have nothing at all to do with following Christ. How does a man become a better follower of Jesus?” “You are wrong that a stool has nothing to do with being a better follower of Christ,” his pastor replied.
“In fact, this stool is a wonderful t
ool to help you remember how to grow in your walk with Christ. Just as a stool needs four legs to stand firmly, a Christian needs to rely on four tools to become a mature follower of Christ. Each leg is vital; none can be ignored if a man wants to honor God with his life.

clip_image006The pastor began by putting a leg into the stool. “The first leg of this stool represents the Holy Spirit of God. Christians must depend on the Holy Spirit and live their lives just as God says in Galatians 5:16 and Ephesians 5:18. We must never forget to walk by the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit. This means that we listen to the voice of God and pay attention to the leading of God in our lives. We don’t focus on our ways or our desires, but listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. This means that we spend time every day in prayer, asking God for wisdom in living and to make us more holy like He is. This is what Paul taught us in Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:8.

clip_image004“Just like that stool, though, one leg of Christian discipleship is not enough. If we only listen to the Spirit we will not be the Christians that God wants us to be. We must add the other three legs! The second leg of the stool represents the Scriptures. We must read, memorize, and understand what God tells us in the Bible! In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 God tells us that the Scripture is His perfect book, and that the words in the Bible are what we need to be mature and ready to do what He wants us to do. In Luke 6:46 Jesus tells us that we must do what He says, and we learn what He says in the Scripture. So we must read it as often as we can, memorize its words and hide them in our heart. We must think about the words of the Bible and change our actions to do what they say.” With that, the pastor placed the second leg in the stool.

clip_image008“The third leg in the stool stands for the Saints of God,” he said as he placed the third leg in its place on the stool. “God tells us that other people who are following Jesus are important tools that God uses to shape us into the people He wants us to be. We can read in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and Hebrews 10:24-25 that we need to encourage one another and build one another up. This wisdom from God is also taught in Proverbs 27:17. We must gather with other believers like the early church did in Acts 2:42-47 and learn from those who have walked with Jesus for longer than we have. Paul talks to Timothy about this idea in 2 Timothy 2:2, and Jesus tells us that we will become like who we learn from in Luke 6:39-40. God uses His people to lead us to be better followers of Jesus.”

clip_image010Finally, the pastor placed the fourth leg in its place on the stool base. “The stool can stand with only three legs, but it is not completely stable. It can still tip over! The fourth leg makes the stool sturdy and complete. That leg represents our Christian Service. In James 1:22-25 we read that to be blessed by God we must be someone who not only hears the word of God but acts on what we know. Jesus also says in Matthew 5:16 that we glorify God when we serve Him, which makes us better followers.”

The pastor placed the stool on the floor and sat on it. It kept his weight secure, and he was able to move from side to side and front to back without falling over. When he stood up the stool stayed in place and didn’t fall. “You see,” he said. “This stool stands strong with four legs. As Christians we must remember this stool and let it remind us of how to be strong in the Lord. As we add the legs of the Spirit, the Scriptures, the Saints, and our Service we become strong and true as followers of Jesus.”

The man thanked his pastor and friend very much. He went home thinking about the humble stool and what it taught him about his Christian life. And then he committed to living his life by the four legs on that stool! He began praying every morning and every night and listening to God. He prayed at regular times for his wife, his children, his job, and his heart to obey God. He prayed for his friends and for his church and pastor. He prayed and talked to God regularly.

He also started reading the Bible as often as he could. When he heard the Word of God preached he listened carefully and memorized what the Bible said. He thought about it and obeyed as best he could, praying and asking God for wisdom in how to live by what it said.

The man made another great change in his life: he worked hard to make friends with other godly people. He sought advice from godly people about his life and about following Jesus. He asked his pastor and other godly people from church for help in making good, godly decisions. He listened to them! He also tried to help other Christians to honor God with their life and know how they should worship Him. He served God in his church and in his business, making every day part of his worship to God.

Soon the man knew the truth of the stool. Before long, he began to see changes in his heart for God and in his life. He was really living for God, and his heart of praise to God grew right along with his ability and desire to do what God wanted him to do.

A Whirlwind Ride: Rwanda Update

I can hardly believe that we will be leaving for Rwanda in less than three weeks!  I wanted to update everyone on how preparations are going, what God is doing to provide for a successful trip, and for ongoing needs that must be addressed before we leave.

You can read up on what’s taken place before in part 1 and part 2 of preparation updates.

God is at work

It is pretty clear to me that God is definitely at work in this trip.  So many doors have been opened and so many obstacles have been removed that the only way you can’t see God in it is if you completely deny His interacting in the world. 

The first manifestation of that is our team meeting on Thursday night.  We got together at the home of one couple who is going; the purpose was to get to know one another, plan, update, and focus our efforts.  We also wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page.  It was a really good time, and Laura and I both made some good connections among the team.  Laura really “clicked” with one of the ladies who is going, and we found out that she will be our travelling buddy for the plane trip from Phoenix to Belgium!  I was also really, really glad for how much the members of the team valued the skills that Laura will be bringing.  They were all very supportive of what she is able to bring to the people of Gacundezi and excited for her to be there.

I am so blessed at the attitude of the team leaders.  Unfortunately churches here in America can be very territorial and unwilling to work with others outside of their local body at times.  Ron, one of the strongest leaders on the team, specifically told me that he was working with the leadership in his church to partner more with other local churches to join them in reaching out!  I think that honors Christ and I am very thankful that the team has welcomed us with open arms.  I will admit that I had a touch of hesitation that there might be some friction between “Scottsdale” people and “Glendale” people, but that was completely absent.  Praise God!

I am also very impressed with the nature of the help that we are bringing.  This trip is being organized and led by Highlands Church in Scottsdale, who has entered into a 10-year partnership with the village of Gacundezi in Rwanda to help them.  They don’t just want to bring handouts, though!  Africa is bombarded with handouts from America; this type of aid fosters a culture of dependence, which the church wants to avoid.  Therefore the aid that we bring must all be aimed at helping the people of the village develop economic and social sustainability.  We are spearheading building classroom space for the elementary school, but not going in to build it.  Instead, one of the team members who knows government well is working with the governor of the region to partner with them to provide the materials and hire the local people to build it.  Having some “skin in the game” will hopefully build community pride and ownership.

This is evident in my mission as well.  I am not going to just teach the pastors a systematic theology; I am going to teach them skills that they can use to build their own.  I am not going to shepherd their flocks, but to give them tools to use to build their preaching skills and shepherding.  Everything is aimed at helping the pastors bee able to build the kingdom of God without being dependent upon American churches to do so.  That’s exciting!

Preparation is well underway for both Laura and me.  I emailed the authors of the Bible interpretation textbook that I use (Grasping God’s Word by Scott Duvall and Danny Hays) and asked them for copyright permission to use some of the images that they have in the book.  Their graphics are simple, easy to understand, and really helpful in building a system of Bible interpretation.  They both agreed wholeheartedly!  If I get the handouts done early enough we will also have them translated into Kinyarwanda (the native language) rather than leaving them in English as well.  English is the second language of the people of Rwanda, but it would be MUCH better to have the material in their native language for obvious reasons.

It just so happens that Dwight, the Food for the Hungry country coordinator for Rwanda, is in the USA this week.  I will get a chance this morning to talk to him about the local pastors and what he sees as their biggest needs, which is amazing!  I am also going to get to have a face-to-face meeting with another man who has lived in both the USA and in Rwanda who will hopefully be able to help me translate materials and get to know the local culture before I go.

Laura has been able to connect with a local midwife who has worked in central Africa to help mothers learn to birth more effectively.  That connection has been significant, as Carol has been able to help Laura put together clean birthing kits that cost less and take up minimal space.  It has also been a great connection to give Laura confidence in her mission and help her prepare.

The kids are going to stay with my parents, which should be awesome on lots of levels.  They haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with my mom and dad, so this will be a great chance for them to bond with their grandma and grandpa for almost 2 weeks! 

I am amazed to see what God is doing; spiritual and educational preparation is well underway.

Ongoing needs

While we are well on the way, there is a lot left to do before the 21st of July!  If you could pray for us in the following areas, I would really appreciate it.

First and foremost, please pray for our heart.  I don’t see any personality conflicts, and it looks like the team will get along really well.  Please pray for us that we grow together and keep our eyes on Christ and on His work.  We are not going as Americans, but as servants of Jesus Christ.  Pray that our focus is true and that we continue to keep Him front and center in all of our interactions.  The team has asked me to lead morning devotions while we are there (which I am happy to do of course), so pray that God works on our hearts daily.  We are g0ing for the glory of God and the benefit of the people of Gacundezi, so please pray that God uses this time to bring them closer to Him.

I have a LOT of preparation to do to make sure that the materials I bring to the pastors are helpful and good.  Pictures need to be scanned (unfortunately neither Danny nor Scott had what I needed electronically) and formatted; the process of Bible study needs to be written down simply but comprehensively; the materials must be translated into Kinyarwanda; it must be printed and laminated to take with us.  We are also seeking out Bibles in Kinyarwanda, which right now are hard to find for some reason. 

There is still some significant financial need to cover the cost of the trip.  Plane tickets were more than expected, and some costs have been more than we initially estimated.  Yesterday I plunked down $770 for immunizations above and beyond what I got from the VA! (that included Laura’s immunizations)  We are responsible to cover all costs for our layover in Belgium, which will be a few hundred dollars too.  God has been at work here in amazing ways, raising a total of just over $4,000 in 17 days!  When we add everything up, the TOTAL trip costs for both Laura and me with immunizations, baggage fees, clean birth kits and the like looks like it will be about $5,400.  This is about $1,400 more than originally expected.  We are getting closer to fully funding this trip, and I would really appreciate your prayers that we could raise the remainder of the funds we need to go.  (see post #1 above if you would like to donate toward the trip costs)  We are trying to be the best stewards that we can possibly be, so thanks for your heart to help and to pray for us.  I have been blown away at the generosity of people in providing for our financial needs, from kids donating $1 to unexpected families making sizeable contributions.  As Jesus tells us in Luke 21:1-4, it is the size of the heart behind the gift that matters more than the dollar amount, so thank God for the heart of generous people that is overflowing!

I would also ask you to pray for the kids’ time with their grandparents.  Mom and dad are great people and I have no worries that our kids are in good hands.  They are not followers of Christ, so pray that our kids would be salt and light to them.  Also, my mom is really worried because they have a pool in the back yard and mom will have to work most days at least for a few hours each day.  I have no worries that the kids will be in danger (they know how to obey and stay out of the pool, and all are good swimmers regardless) but my mom is a worrier.  So safety and security are concerns.  Laura will be driving 7 hours each way before and after the trip to drop them off and pick them up, so prayers for her safety are needed too!

Finally, please pray for our church as we are away for awhile.  WG lived without a pastor for 13 months between when the previous pastor left and I was hired, and I have no doubt that they will live for 4 weeks without me there. (we will be gone for 2 Sundays after we come back from Rwanda too)  That said, during our trip the church will be working on renovations in the sanctuary as well as Sunday School training and the resumption of our Family Night midweek services.  I have preaching lined up for all four weeks (we have plenty of talented men who can take the pulpit), so prayers for them that they would feed and lead the church are vital.  There will be a LOT going on, so prayers for God to work in the congregation to remember that I am just the shepherd and that they have a wonderful team of elders, pastors, and leaders would be appreciated.

Now you’re up to date on the progress.  Thanks for your willingness to be part of the trip.  Sola Deo Gloria!

A Divine Appointment, and a Chance for You to Help!

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

I hate asking people for money.  I suppose that because I am a pastor I am sensitive to the impression that clergy are money-hungry and in the ministry for the financial benefits. There is certainly a wrong way to go about it, which is unfortunately all too popular:

If you haven’t heard, I have been asked to participate in a mission trip to Rwanda from July 21st-August 1st.  I will be teaching approximately 20 pastors Bible interpretation and preaching skills, as well as pastoral skills.  I can’t wait!  The trip is totally an act of God, in that last week at this time I knew nothing about it.  Please pray for me as I prepare to go.

Laura, my beautiful wife, has seen the need for a woman with her skills there and is going to go as well.  We firmly believe that God has provided for this trip for us in many ways (see her letter below); the only needs that remain are for people to pray for us and for people to provide the finances to make it a reality.  If you can help, I would be very grateful.  Below is her letter!

Have you ever had God drop something in your lap that made you overwhelmingly excited and scared to death at the same time? If so, I can relate. My reason is probably different than yours though, so let me explain.

Usually, people fall into one of two groups: those who dream of going to a third world country (especially as one being sent representing Jesus Christ), and those who have NO interest in leaving America for an “un-industrialized” country. I’m one of the former; my draw has been to Africa for some time. I figured I would go eventually- on a special anniversary or important birthday. I pictured myself staying in a “nice” hotel, eating at the “safe” restaurants, and taking the “planned” excursions. You know-“nice,” “safe,” and “planned” being the big words there. And then… God got involved.

Last Thursday, June 10, John got an email from a local church. They were seeking someone to teach and train pastors whom had little or no Bible training, but a huge heart to learn. It was for a 10 day trip. To Rwanda. In less than six weeks! Incredulously, it was just about the only 10 day time frame that would fit into John’s busy schedule. The sponsoring church was going to pay his way. I was thrilled about the opportunity for him. Even more so, I was excited about the idea of going with him! There was a chance for me to use my skills as a doula (labor and delivery support person) to help with the birthing women who come to that village specifically to have their babies. Perfect!
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Immediately, though, there were challenges to be overcome. What would our church think? What we would we do with the kids? Could I find someone to be with the women I was supposed to be a doula for here? Was it safe? And how ON EARTH would we be able to raise enough funds to cover my trip costs of nearly $4000 in just five weeks??

Just as quickly, God began to open doors. The elders of our church and the congregation were supportive; I found a backup doula for my client; John’s parents offered to take the kids for the entire time; and I found a peace that I’ve never experienced when thinking of the “what ifs” regarding my health and safety. Which only left the fundraising. I simply refuse to believe that God would make such a straight path- providing answers in the most amazing time frame- only to fail to provide the money for us to go to Africa as a couple. Luke 1:38 reminds me that “…nothing is impossible with God.” In comparison to all the fantastic things He’s ever done, it makes fundraising seem like a fairly small thing! Watching the ways He’s already worked, I am excited to watch him work in this area as well.

That being said, would you like to be a part of making the seemingly “impossible,” possible? ANY financial donations will be helpful. Whether you can donate $1, 10, 25, 50 or more… every bit is helpful! You can use it as a tax deduction if you make the contribution through our church, West Greenway Bible Church, 5341 W. Greenway Rd, Glendale AZ 85306. Please make checks out to WEST GREENWAY BIBLE CHURCH, with “Laura’s trip” “Africa” or “Rwanda” in the memo line (otherwise it will make it into the general fund. Good for the church, but not so helpful towards my fundraising).

If you are not worried about the receipt, you can give cash or check donations to me directly, or deposit it in my Paypal account (email address: TheCorreias@cox.net). Paypal does not have a fee when the money comes from your Paypal account or bank account. However, there is a 3% fee when you use a credit or debit card, or with Paypal Credit, so please take that into consideration. Please remember to include your name and address with your donation so I can send acknowledgment of your gift. If donors’ generosity exceeds the trip costs, I will use the excess to bring basic necessities (that are unfortunately lacking) to the birthing/medical center I’ll be working with.

Perhaps you have a heart to help, but are unable to do it monetarily. Please consider partnering in prayer with us as we go. We will only be successful with people praying for us! In addition to the money needed to be raised in a short amount of time, there are many logistical hurdles to overcome. If you are interested in praying for us leading up to the trip and/or while we are gone, that would be an amazing blessing. Please email us at TheCorreias@cox.net to get prayer specifics.

Thank you so very much for supporting us in whatever way you find yourself lead- financially, prayerfully, or perhaps you could link this note to your Facebook page or blog… even just in sharing our excitement with us! This experience has truly shown me the magnificence of God in a very real way. I hope that you are able to grow close to Christ in your life, and can be confident knowing He has a plan for your life… even if it includes Africa!

In Christian love,
Laura Correia
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