Book Review: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart

From the start I (Michael) just want to say How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is one of the first books I would recommend for anyone who wants to apply the truth of Scripture to their lives. I recognize that is a strong statement, but I truly believe many people’s Biblical illiteracy is due to their feeling unequipped to read and understand Scripture on their own. Despite our feeling ill-equipped, God has shown that His Word is of tremendous value to Him; you only have to read stories of how the Bible has been preserved throughout the years to know this is true. If it was God’s heart for us to read it and have it change us, then our proper response is not only to simply read it, but equip ourselves to study it so we can best apply it to our lives. Now the task of studying the Bible takes some guidance, but not everyone has the time or money to go to college or do an SBS to figure out how. This is where this wonderfully concise book comes into play.

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The goal of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is to show the reader the value and steps of doing good exegesis and hermeneutics while studying the Bible. These two terms may be new for many, but put simply, exegesis is the process of interpreting the text through its historical and literary context (similar to the observation and interpretation steps of the Inductive Bible Study method we teach in SBS). The goal here is to make sure that the principles you interpret from the text would not be completely foreign to those who originally read it. Once such a principle is obtained, one can look at how there may be comparable situations in our own contemporary lives, to which we can apply the Scriptures (hermeneutics). Often this looks like trusting in elements of God’s character that are timeless, or understanding imperatives that are just as much a part of the Kingdom reality today as when they were revealed to the original readers. Fee and Stuart (the authors of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth) do a fantastic job of arguing the value of such Bible study and give great references for external materials helpful in doing good exegesis.

Additionally, each literary genre in the Bible is explained so one can understand, for example, that we cannot read Paul’s letter to the Romans the same way we might read the book of Genesis. Each genre of literature and its structure was chosen for the way the original authors communicated their messages. I for one feel God’s value for me when I understand the creativity He inspired when the authors of Scripture recorded their revelations of God. I feel the only right response to such an effort on God’s part is to try to put some effort into understanding what God is saying through His Word by studying it.

Now this book will not hold your hand through every book or passage, but the tools are there to be well equipped to begin a life-giving personal study of the Bible. If, however you want a more specific guide, Fee and Stuart have also written a book that walks the reader through each book of the Bible, called How to Study the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour. The heart of these Spirit-filled academics is for people to be transformed by the reading of God’s Word; that is my hope also, and I hope you are encouraged to go deeper in your study of the Bible.

Book Review: Seven Laws of the Learner, by Bruce Wilkinson

Our first assignment for Titus was to read Seven Laws of the Learner by Bruce Wilkinson; in fact, we were to read it prior to starting class. Michael and I read much of this book while sitting in The Well in Alliston while we were in Ontario just over a week ago. Wilkinson’s clear and personal writing style, coupled with sipping tea and eating delicious gluten-free cookies, made this assignment a pleasure.

What are the “seven laws” you might ask? They are the laws of:

Learner
Expectation
Application
Retention
Need
Equipping
Revival

Each law is assigned two chapters – the first chapter deals with beliefs around teaching, and how they can be changed for better, more effective teaching. This first chapter focuses on “mindset, model, and maxims.” The second chapter outlines ways that a teacher can put the law into practice, focusing on “method and maximizers”. Throughout the book, Wilkinson illustrates his “laws” with stories from his own life and his own teaching experience. In fact, if I were to fault this book, I would almost say that at times, I would have liked a few less stories! That being said, I found this book truly impactful as a teacher.

Something I found especially interesting was Wilkinson’s study on the word “teach,” based on Deuteronomy 4. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but according to Wilkinson, the word “learn” and the word “teach” have the same Hebrew root word (if you’re a Hebrew scholar reading this, and I’m interpreting the author’s Hebrew lesson incorrectly, please let me know)! This has tremendous implications for what it means to teach. According to the Hebrew grammar interpretation of the author, the Bible essentially shows that the definition of teaching is “causing learning.” This means that if my students don’t learn, I haven’t taught them. I could get up in front of a classroom and speak, but if my students don’t learn what I have said, I haven’t really taught. That is challenging, and makes me want to invest in what it takes to be a better teacher – a better causer of learning.

Another challenging take-away comes from the law of application, specifically from the maxim: “application and information should be balanced.” Wilkinson has posed the question, “What percentage of the average Sunday school class or sermon do you think is devoted to content (what the Bible means) compared to application (how I’m supposed to live)?” to thousands of people, and he has found that most people say that of the sermons and teachings they hear, 90% is content, and 10% is application. Wilkinson says that he once prided himself on being a teacher who focused on content 99% of his teaching time. I would say I’m in the same boat. But as he looked more into the teaching styles of his favourite preachers, including Charles Swindoll, D.L. Moody, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, and some favourite writers, he found they all averaged between 45 and 75 percent of focus on application. This led him to look at the Bible, hoping to find that there, content would be king. But sure enough, application won out. When Wilkinson looked at Paul’s writing, he found most of his letters were 50/50 on content and application. 1 Peter is 60% application. And Christ’s sermons, as recorded in the Gospels, average 65% application. This was convicting for Wilkinson, and it is for me. Yes, part of teaching is getting the content of the material across. But if it is not changing lives, why teach the content at all? As we begin Titus, I’m hoping that I can grow in my “percentage” of application.

The law that may have influenced me the most is the law of revival. While I found that the previous six laws had quite a bit of overlap, the law of revival addressed a topic that isn’t often touched on, at least not in my experience. When we think of revival, many of us think of large sweeping movements that cause transformation in a nation. While that is an example of revival, Wilkinson emphasized that widespread revival begins with personal revival. Wilkinson defines spiritual revival as “the bringing back to full life a Christian who has been spiritually alive but has slipped back into sin and rebellion…and is living in disobedience to the Lord.” As a conflict-avoider, I found this chapter insightful and encouraging; I don’t have to be a counselor or a mediation expert to be part of revival. In fact, as a believer, I have a level of responsibility for revival, as Galatians 6:1 tells us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” We are called to point one another towards Christ, especially when we know a fellow believer has slipped into sin and rebellion. It is the most loving thing to do, and it is the responsibility of the teacher to point his/her students towards Christ in this way and in these circumstances.

Overall, I would certainly recommend Seven Laws of the Learner. It is a lengthy read, and it can feel repetitious at times, but as Wilkinson states, “Repetition is the way that material is eventually memorized”! As you read, watch how Wilkinson skillfully uses his own laws to get his message across, and be prepared to be challenged, especially if you are a teacher!

Tacos and Titus in Tijuana

We’ve been in Mexico for four days now, and we’re starting to feel more settled in. The first day was pretty overwhelming; the campus is beautiful, and the staff are incredibly friendly, but with feeling tired from travel and going through two border crossings in one day, we were pretty happy to go to bed on Wednesday night and hope that things would feel a little less overwhelming in the morning…and they did.

The last few days have been a time of settling in, getting to know the base, DTS and CSBS (Chronological School of Biblical Studies) students, and some of the staff here. So far we’ve been to the beach twice, have eaten fish tacos, and went to an incredibly cheap movie – tough life, huh?! We start classes on Monday, and we’re looking forward to meeting the rest of the Titus participants then, the majority of whom are long-term staff with YWAM San Diego Baja. Monday is when the hard work will start! Titus begins with three weeks of training, and that training time is intense. Prior to getting here we prepped for Titus by reading Seven Laws of the Learner by Bruce Wilkinson, and over the last few days (in between going to the beach and eating tacos), we’ve been reading How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

Though we’ve been here for less than a week, we’ve already been so impressed by how this base has an incredible heart for local outreach. There are several local ministries operating out of this base – Homes of Hope, which invites businesses and families from around the world to take part in two day “builds” where a house is constructed in two days for a family in need; ministries reaching out to the red light district of Tijuana; a DTS that is run for locals in the evenings so people in this area can be discipled; prison ministries; and many more. Next weekend Michael and I get to be involved with a Homes of Hope build, as Titus Project participants will be hosting a team as they build a house. As we see the incredible heart this base has for local outreach, I  (Helen) have been thinking about local outreach in Turner Valley, and how we can serve our community. The physical needs might be different, but the ultimate need is the same – the need for Christ.

We don’t have all the details as to what our outreach will look like, but we have learned that outreach will be right here in the Tijuana area. Because this base has so many local ministry connections, we’ll have opportunities to teach in lots of different areas, to many different people. We’ve also learned that we’ll be staying at the San Diego Baja base (where we are now) for the entire three months, which is a bit unusual for Titus! Typically, Titus teams are in one location for three weeks, and then go overseas, so for us to be staying put for three months was not on our radar, even though we knew we’d be staying in Mexico for outreach. Though this was a bit of a surprise, we’re excited to be in one place for three months, as it means we can get to know DTS and CSBS students a bit better. Three weeks isn’t a lot of time to connect with other students, but three months will give us the opportunity to learn more than just a few names and faces.

As we get started with classes on Monday, we’d love if you’d be praying for us! Here are a few ways you can pray:

  1. Pray that we would settle in to life here at YWAM San Diego Baja, and that as classes start and we get to know other Titus participants, we’d be able to build friendships and learn from the people around us.
  2. Pray that we would get the most out of our three week training time! We’ll be doing more reading, will have several practice teachings, and will have lots to do over these three weeks, and we want to soak it all in so we’re equipped for outreach.
  3. Pray that as we prepare for outreach, God would give us a heart for the people we will be serving and teaching.
  4. We’re still unsure about outreach costs; pray that we have what we need, or that what we need will come in as necessary.
  5. Pray that we would be hearing God as to what other local outreach opportunities God has for us in this place, beyond teaching. We want to be available to plug into other ministries as God leads.
  6. Pray we’ll learn some Spanish quickly! Most people on the base speak English, but it would be really helpful to know some basic Spanish phrases when we have the opportunity to speak to people in the community. We’ll be teaching through a translator, but for communicating on a day to day basis, some Spanish language skills would be an asset.
  7. Pray that we would be intentional about seeking and trusting in God throughout this three months in Mexico. I’m daily realizing that investing into outreach here and doing the Titus Project is not something I can do in my own strength, and I don’t want to do it in my own strength. This time will be much more powerful and effective if we allow God to work through us in every moment.

Thank you for praying! As Titus begins and we get into a routine here, we will keep you updated as to what we’re doing and how you can be praying for us!

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Dorms at YWAM San Diego Baja.

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Ocean views.

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Dinner and entertainment for Homes of Hope team.

Encouraged.

When Michael and I planned on coming to Ontario, we felt we really wanted our time out East to be a time of honoring and encouraging our supporters. We get to see our supporters in Alberta on a semi-regular basis, but for obvious reasons, haven’t been able to connect with our supporters in Ontario as regularly. When we first considered the Titus Project as our next step in ministry, we had all sorts of fundraising ideas we could carry out while in Ontario, but as our time of being out East approached, we realized that that was not what God had for us – it wasn’t the way He intended on providing this time around. There’s nothing wrong with fundraisers for outreaches – we were involved with plenty for last summer trip to Thailand and Nepal – but this year, we felt we just needed to sit back and trust God, and we felt that rather than making our time in Ontario about us, it should be about those who allow us to be in ministry through their support.

I am writing on the last day of our time in Ontario, and looking back on the past two weeks, I would say that we were bang-on when we heard the word “encouragement,” but we have been on the receiving end of so much of that encouragement! We initially had plans to host a party for our supporters while in Alliston (Michael’s home town), but it quickly became apparent that God had other plans, and because of scheduling conflicts, had to reschedule, and eventually cancel, the event. We were initially disappointed, but by cancelling the event, we instead had the opportunity to see most of our supporters in a more personal setting. We were welcomed to barbecues in backyards, we shared a breakfast at Cora’s, we were invited to share at church. We got to hear the things our supporters are doing for the Kingdom of God, the ministries they are invested in, and the dreams on their hearts for more of what God wants to do through them. We spent much of our time in Alliston in a cafe called The Well, a ministry of Alliston Christian Fellowship, and we got to experience first hand what local outreach looks like for this church. We were so encouraged by people who came into The Well – people who ministered and were ministered to as they shared coffee, baked goods, or lunch in this unique and welcoming space. As our supporters and Michael’s home church shared with us about what’s going on in their lives and in their ministries, we were so encouraged and excited for how God is moving and working through those who so generously support our ministry.

In addition to being blessed by spending quality time with our supporters, we leave Ontario feeling so rested and ready for this next season of our lives. We’ve been spoiled rotten by Michael’s parents, and additionally, we’ve seen God provide in huge ways while we’ve been here. We’ve felt so supported and prayed for while we’ve been here, and I don’t know how many times someone has said to Michael or I, “I really loved your blog post on ___________.” Unless you have a blog, you have no idea how encouraging it is to hear that someone actually reads what you write! We’ve been encouraged in every way.

We came to encourage, we’ve left encouraged. Hopefully we’ve been an encouragement while we’ve been here!

Generous God

I (Michael) once told God I couldn’t do the type of financial situation coming into Youth With a Mission would demand of us. For those who might not know, Helen and I do not receive any kind of income from our work with YWAM. We are volunteers supported by the generous givings of those who partner with us financially. God in His infinite wisdom took my lack of faith on as a challenge, and has brought Helen and I through an incredible journey of growth in the area of trusting Him for our financial needs. We have seen our monthly support grow to a level we never imagined it reaching. We have seen support come from people we would have never expected, and at times had only just met. Last summer, God challenged us to trust Him to provide over $7000 for us to go on outreach to Thailand and Nepal, and He actually over-provided in such a way that the money left over helped other members of our outreach team. This provision left us with the faith to trust God’s call for us to pursue bringing Titus Project to YWAM Turner Valley, a change in our ministry that would see us going overseas every year.

Earlier this year, the staff of YWAM Turner Valley were challenged to read George Müller’s autobiography. His willingness to run the ministries he did without fundraising or even advertising his needs led Helen and I to seek God about how to approach the funds needed for our time participating in the Titus Project in Tijuana this Fall. We felt God wanted us to trust in a similar way and not pursue any big fundraising, or even advertise our needs in the same fashion as we did last summer. At first glance, this can seem like Helen and I are just being lazy, but actually I think I’ve spent more energy trusting God this summer than I did last summer. God has been faithful to provide as we were faithful to walk forward in pursuing Titus. Actually, our whole journey around the needs for this trip has been one of trust. With Tijuana being a new location for Titus Project, costs have been unclear and we have thought at times that we would need up to $10,000 for this Fall (including a trip to Ontario to connect with family, friends, and supporters). As the details have come more fully into view, it seems that our time with Titus will be less expensive than we dared hope (though if I’m honest, I am still unsure how much it is all going to cost, but Helen has a rough idea which is all that matters). Additionally, we have received funds from places we would have never thought we would. It started with our Leadership Team deciding to put financial support behind their words of affirmation around us bringing Titus to Turner Valley. We started to receive other gifts, but I started to doubt we would have enough money in time to book multiple flights we needed, without having to pay ridiculous prices. After my deadline had past, God met His own deadline in the form of a large donation from a faithful supporter and friend. This allowed us to look for flights and amazingly, find a flight to Ontario that was cheaper than any Helen and I have ever booked in our six years of marriage. I was completely blown away and in my own way, understood the gratitude Müller continuously expressed in his autobiography. Since then, we have received support from our local church and its members. We’ve only been part of this church for two years, but in total, they have contributed several thousand dollars towards our work this Fall. I do not tell you that to brag about the church, but to boast in the Spirit of God who inspired each person to give.

When Helen and I began working with YWAM we decided we would go and do whatever God asked, but never by going into debt. I was more than willing to go somewhere not knowing how we would take care of ourselves once there, but I wasn’t going to put the flight on a credit card. Personally, I just did not see God encouraging that in Scripture. Faithful God has allowed us to live up to that standard, and even though we do not have all the funds we need to completely pay for our time in Mexico, we have enough to get there and see what God does to finish providing. I am nervous about this reality if I am honest, but I am also excited to see what God is going to do after all He has done to get us this far.

I hope reading this will encourage you in the way that reading about George Müller built my faith earlier this year. I will say by way of final encouragement that while God’s call for you to trust Him may not look the same as the way we are trusting Him at this time in our lives, God who is providing for us is the same generous Father who cares for you and longs for you to trust him.