For all of May, I am going to post a series that I have on my other blog. It’s a free Bible Study that I put together. Basically what I did was write one that I would love to do with other people. But in case that never happens, I wanted to a chance to answer some of the questions that I asked. They are the kind of questions that I love to think about. I won’t answer all of them, just the ones that I felt like answering. My answers will be in [brackets]. And if you’d like, gather some friends and do an “on-line” Bible study, sharing your thoughts and your answers to the questions in the comment section. And if you want to check out the full Bible Study without my answers or a comment section, go to sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com and look up the “Iron Sharpens Iron” posts. This Bible Study is also on its own blogspot at ironsharpensironbiblestudy.blogspot.com. Well, here goes . . .
Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens
iron, so one man sharpens another.”
[Updated November 2016. I made some minor changes, added a bunch of new questions, and I added two new topics: “Is Depression a Sin?” and “Atheism and World Religions.”]Have you been a Christian for a long time? Do you have a good grasp on the basics of Christianity and Scripture? Do you like to spend time with other people discussing what you’ve learned about Scripture and how to apply it to your life? Do you like wrestling with the more challenging verses and issues?
I would love to have a Bible study that would take me deeper into my faith, that would make me wrestle with some of the harder things of Scripture, and that would help me build a deeper relationship with others as we explored these hard things together. But most Bible studies that I come across go over the basics of Christianity. And that’s great, but I’ve already done many of those throughout the decades that I have been a believer. And so since I couldn’t seem to find one that went beyond the basics, I decided to write my own.
Actually, I credit the creation of this Bible study to a friend of mine, Randi. When we were talking about getting together as couples to do a Bible study, I started talking about the kind that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want one that went over the basics or that had you fill in a blank with a Bible verse or that asked questions like, “According to John 3:16, what does God promise to give us if we believe in Jesus?” I had already been through enough of those. I knew most all of the appropriate biblical answers to the basic questions. I wanted something more in a Bible study.After hearing all that I didn’t want, Randi asked me, “Well, then, what kind of Bible study do you want to do?” And it really got me thinking.
While I value the studies that go over the basics and that give you a good, solid foundation in the faith (they are necessary and excellent resources), I am way past them. I want to struggle with deeper things. I want to get more real and raw and figure out how to apply Scripture to a messy life. I want to talk about the harder-to-understand things in Scripture, the things that don’t just give us basic knowledge but that deeply challenge us and that stir up our hearts and that call us to dig deeper and climb higher in our faith.
And that’s what this is – the kind of Bible study that I have been wanting to do. And I’m hoping that this study is challenging to your faith – beautifully, painfully challenging. No easy, pat answers. No simply filling in the blank with a Bible verse. This is about diving even deeper into your faith and wrestling with Scripture, wringing more truth from it, and discovering what it means for your life specifically. And it is my hope that this study will help you grow together with other believers and that you will be able to sharpen each other, as iron sharpens iron.
(I thought about calling this Bible study “The Heather-Likes-to-Hear-Herself-Talk-Too-Much Bible Study,” but that would be too awkward to type in every time you wanted to look it up. So I called it “Iron Sharpens Iron.” It flows off the tongue easier.)
While anyone can use this study, I am writing it specifically with mature believers in mind. It is intended for those who have been Bible-believing, Christ-following Christians for a long time and who have a bunch of Bible knowledge and a firm faith. This study will not explore the fundamentals of Christian faith because it assumes that you already know these. Plus, there are many great studies and books out there that do that.
[And I highly recommend that you spend time learning from the many great theologians out there. I have checked out so many great books from my church library, and it always saddens me to see how little they have been checked-out in the past decade or so. We are letting these wonderful, inspiring, faith-maturing gems go to waste. Take some time to read some good books on faith from those who have walked this journey before us!]
And this study won’t cover every aspect of every topic, but (hopefully) it gives you a lot of things to think about and talk about. In fact, it’s not even set up like a real, official, “proper” study. It’s more like reading my personal thoughts on these issues (as rambling and tangential as they may be) as I wrestle through them and bring up questions about them and find ways to live them. And then I give you some Bible verses to consider and a bunch of questions to answer. Think of me as a friend who is wondering aloud with you about God’s Word and Christian life and faith. (FYI: When I talk about “our country,” I am referring to America since that is where I live. But I am sure that a lot of what I say can be applied to anyone’s country.)
And things may not be black and white. In fact, they may bring up more questions than they answer. But I think this is where a lot of growth happens. In the wrestling and the contemplating. In exploring it with others. In meditating on Scripture and pleading with God for insight. In digging deeper for answers. In challenging others and being challenged yourself.
This is why I say that this study is intended for mature Christians, because it might raise more questions and doubts than it answers. It might challenge your faith. It might confuse you. And some of these things might not be comfortable to think about or talk about.
But do not be afraid of contemplating them, of wrestling with Scripture and with God over things that confuse or trouble you. Discuss these hard things with other believers, challenge each other and learn from each other. This is why I am writing this rather unorthodox Bible study. It’s not just academic and theological. It’s not just for the mind. It’s meant to be relational and personal. It’s for the heart and the mind together.
Getting StartedSo if possible, gather a couple of your closest friends (keep it small, 3 or 4 people at most) and meet regularly for discussion. Try to allow for a couple hours each time you get together so that you have time to enjoy each other’s company and some good conversation (and maybe some cookies and coffee). Meet as often as you wish, like once a week or every other week.
Each week, start with the fun, light-hearted “icebreaker question.” Maybe ask this as everyone is getting settled and getting a snack. It’s to get everyone talking and sharing and hopefully laughing. Then, when you are ready to move onto the lesson, open up the evening in prayer. I’m a firm believer in prayer and that it makes a difference.
When it comes to the “lesson” part, I suggest that everyone reads it on their own before you meet as a group. They are long sections, and I ramble and detour and repeat myself sometimes. And just when you think I’m wrapping up, I’ll dive into it again. (I can’t help it. I like to repeat myself, to say the same things over and over again, to beat a point to death. It’s just who I am. A redundant, repetitive, point-beater!) So it might make it hard to read it out loud together in the group.
And I also suggest everyone answers the questions (all of them or just the ones you want to answer) before you meet together. Then when you get together – after the cookies and icebreaker question and prayer – you can begin sharing your thoughts about the section and your answers to the questions.
[But if you really prefer to not have “homework,” everyone can read the section silently to themselves when you get together. It will take about 15-30 minutes or so. You could possibly read it aloud as a group, but it might take longer. And then answer the questions as you read through them. But I think you will get more out of this study by doing the work ahead of time, before the group meets. And then get together to discuss your answers with each other.]
The lessons are not necessarily meant to “teach” you, because they really are just my thoughts and opinions on these things. (Feel free to disagree with anything I say.) But my intention is to spark thoughtful contemplation and sweet conversation about deep, spiritual things. The “meat” of the study will be in the fellowship, in answering the questions together and wrestling with Scripture and with how to apply it to your life.
There will be some overlap in questions within a section and between sections. But answering the same question from a slightly different angle reveals more truth to us. And since there are a lot of questions and the conversation might last a long time, you might want to have at least two meetings to go over the longer ones. And that’s okay. It just means more time in good conversation with close friends.
This is the reason I say to keep it really small - so that you can get deep into conversation with a few people instead of shallow with many. At least that is how I prefer things to be. But I’m sure it will work with a large group, too. (I hope.) It’s up to you and your preference.
But when answering the questions, don’t just always give vague answers about Christians in general. Make it personal. Give answers that relate to your life in particular. Be specific and personal whenever possible.
Remember, these questions are not meant to be fluffy or formulaic or to give you basic biblical knowledge. They are meant to challenge you and grow you, to make you wrestle with yourself and God and life and faith. And remember that we are not looking for just our opinions on these issues. We are looking for a strong biblical view of them, trying to find out what the Bible says. So try to bring it all back to the Word of God.
[Please note that some of the questions may be too painful or too personal. So it is important to pick people you trust to go through this with. But make sure everybody knows that they have the right to “pass” on any question they don’t want to answer and that not every question needs to be answered and discussed. Pick the ones that matter most to you.]
Oh, and bring your Bible. You may want to look up some of the verses I quote and read them in context. Plus, it is my hope you will be able to contribute by sharing your own verses with the group, ones that you want to explore or talk about or that go with your answers.
And do not approach this study as a coloring page, where you have to color in the lines. Look at it like a springboard, using it as a starting point to launch you into deep conversations and possibly unexpected directions. Don’t worry about staying “on task.” Follow the bunny trails that you end up on and go where the Spirit leads. Challenge each other. Ask follow-up questions. Put the study aside and spend hours discussing something else that came up. After all, those are the most memorable, relationship-building, heart-changing conversations. And we don’t seem to get enough of those in life. (This is one of the reasons I wrote this study, to give us more of those kinds of conversations. The kind I ache for.)
A ConfessionBefore you start this study, let me just clarify that I am not a Bible expert or a theologian. I am actually a licensed professional counselor who got my Master’s Degree in psychology at a Christian graduate school. [But I am not working outside the house right now because I decided to stay home to raise and homeschool our four sons. (God help me! It’s like herding cats sometimes, trying to make them sit at the table, stop bickering, and get their math done!) And I love it! Wouldn’t trade it for the world.]
But I have been a Christian for over 30 years now. And I have spent the last many years struggling through trials, heartache, depression, loneliness, poor self-esteem, doubts, and fears (fear of abandonment, of never feeling “good enough,” of burdening others, of being a terrible failure in life, etc.).
I have struggled long and hard to learn to live with the scars of a broken home life – having a mom who is on her fourth husband (my father was the first one), having a biological father who had almost nothing to do with me, losing contact with step-dad #1 early on and then having step-dad #2 basically vanish after a really messy divorce, losing contact with my five younger brothers and their families after the horrible divorce devastated the family, losing contact with basically all extended relatives when they all went their own way after one cousin died of stomach cancer at 58 years of age, losing contact with my one real friend (at the time) who abruptly stopped calling me when her marriage was struggling, and watching one close relative struggle with deep, suicidal depression.
And all of this is on top of the incredible self-doubt and fear that comes with being a homeschooling mom (actually, that comes with just being a mom in general) - the pressure to always do more and do better, the self-loathing that comes with realizing that you can’t do it all and that you can only do half of everything you attempt to do because not only do you have to do the schooling but you still have to do the cooking and cleaning and child-care and life-living, and the constant fear that you are going to fail your kids and that they will be terrible losers in life because of you.
It’s been a long, hard road. And I don’t pretend to have walked it well.
The struggle and pain have knocked me down many times. I once had a mild nervous breakdown, causing me to flee with my husband and two kids to the middle of nowhere for a few days so that I could get away from the stress. I have recently had my first – and God-willing, only – panic attack, being so overcome with stress and heartache that I couldn’t get out of bed for days because I was so weak and so afraid that moving around would make me throw up the one cracker that I ate that day. I freak out when one of us gets sick because I am always expecting something bad to happen. I have had my heart broken and my dreams dashed so many times that I have learned it’s “better” to simply stop caring, stop hoping, stop wanting things to get better. And I have spent several years in deep depression, wrestling with the deepest parts of my faith and trust in God.
[Things have gotten so bad at times that I know I would have lost my faith completely if it weren’t for two very “supernatural” experiences I had which convinced me that there is definitely a spiritual world out there. (I’ll get into that in one of the lessons.) I can totally understand and have sympathy for those who lose their faith when the struggle gets too hard, who have been battered by life and are left wondering, Where is God in all this? My heart breaks for them.]
As I have gotten older and faced more trials, I have learned that life and faith are not as easy, straightforward, and simple as I used to think they were. And I am not as strong and confident and polished as I used to be, as I always thought I was. Whereas I used to have all the nice pat-answers for everything, now I seem to have none of them. Things have gotten a lot messier . . . but a lot more real.
And I am learning to be okay with that, as I wrestle with the deepest things of faith and with how to apply them to a messy life, with finding and embracing grace wherever I can find it and sharing it with others, and with learning how to cling to God despite all the heartache and struggle. (I have blogged about a lot of this at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com. And a lot of the stuff in this Bible study comes right from that blog.)
As you read this study, you’ll be able to see that it’s not written from the mind of a scholarly theologian. It’s written from the heart of a counselor and from the very human heart of an imperfect, struggling, fellow Christian.
And if this scares you or bothers you, this may not be the study for you.
In fact, I have faced a little “scolding” about this Bible study. After writing my blog – myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com – I decided that instead of just sharing it on-line with the world, I really should share it with my home church, too. Aren’t they the family of believers that is closest to me? Shouldn’t I make sure to offer this to them specifically, in case it can help or encourage anyone? Shouldn’t I get their input, to make sure that what I am writing is on-track? If my blog suddenly became popular, shouldn’t they share a little of the spotlight and have a little ownership over it, getting a little recognition as the church that helped “launch” it?
And so on my church’s blog, I left a quick message that included a link to mine. And someone actually clicked on it and read two posts, one of them being the introduction to this Bible study.
But then the very next thing that the pastor wrote on the blog (just a few days later) was a post about the dangers of doing independent Bible study, without input from other wise, godly sources. And while he didn’t exactly call me out or direct it at me, it felt like an admonishment, like disapproval of what he read on my blog, like it was meant to scold me for thinking that a common, everyday Christian could dare to write a Bible study or encourage people to do their own Bible study, without some godly theologian or pastor directing them.
[The worst part was that I left a comment on that post like “Yeah, I know what you mean. I know someone who won’t listen to what the major theologians believe but who reads the Bible on his own and thinks that God reveals all sorts of hidden secrets to him that He doesn’t reveal to others.” But as soon as I hit “send comment,” I realized that the post was most likely in response to the Bible study that I wrote. How humiliating!]
While I do value pastors and theologians and scholars and while I do think that we common Christians can sometimes get off-track when left to ourselves, I do not think that we cannot understand or study the Bible on our own. I think that God’s wisdom is available to all through it and that it is possible for all of us to understand it. And I think that mature Christians can help each other learn from it and grow through it.
However, please understand that I am not encouraging anyone to formulate their own theology or to become some sort of “Bible study renegade.” We always need to be cautious to make sure that we are being true to what Scripture teaches and that our theological beliefs are not off-track. And this is why input from other godly sources (from theologians and godly pastors and scholars) is crucial, to make sure we are not going off in our own misunderstandings.
So once again, please understand that I am not encouraging anyone to make up their own theology or to spread misguided views. But I do think that we “common, everyday Christians” can encourage and help each other on our journey through faith and in learning how to understand and apply Scripture. And if we say things that are off-track, we should welcome the gentle, constructive correction that we might get – that we should get - from other believers. Because that is what it is to be a family of believers, to help each other on our journey of faith.
But if you think that I am erring in my judgment here (and I pray this is not the case because I do not want to insult the Lord at all or encourage the spreading of misguided theology) and if you think that I really should have left it up to the professionals to write the Bible studies, then I apologize for my brazenness and irresponsibility. And this Bible study is probably not for you.
[I will admit that I have had to work through some bitterness and heartbreak over the post on my church’s blog. It just felt like such a slap, and after I put myself out there so honestly and vulnerably, just wanting to encourage and help others. I don’t know . . . maybe I really am the one who’s off-track here but just can’t see it. So if you begin reading this and believe that I am ungodly in my views, please stop reading and send me a comment about it. I would rather be challenged and corrected than bring disgrace to God or lead people astray. And I really do mean that.]
Really, I am just one Christian sharing my experience with other Christians, hoping that my life and thoughts and struggles might help you on your spiritual journeys. My opinions are just that – opinions. Do not take them as authoritative. Use them as food for thought. Disagree with them if you want to. But let them take you deeper into your faith and deeper into some real, raw, heart-changing, faith-challenging conversations.
So . . . are you ready?
For reference, here are the topics in order (and I will tell you which ones are exceptionally long so that you can prepare accordingly):
1. A Full, Abundant Life
2. In The World, Not Of The World (long)
3. Humble Like a Child
4. Transparency and Tearing Down Walls
5. A Proper Balance
7. Wisdom and Fearing God
8. Bringing God Glory
9. Predestination vs Free Will (really long)
10. Understanding God’s Will (kinda long)
11. Be Still
12. God’s Word
13. Prayer (definitely long)
14. Radical Obedience
15. Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God (exceptionally long)
16. Righteous Living and Idolatry/Temptation (somewhat long)
17. Is Depression a Sin? (really, really, really long)
18. Expectations and Contentment (Happiness vs Joy)
19. Modern-Day Pharisees (pretty long)
20. Atheism and World Religions (Very long)
21. The End Times (really very long)
22. Gray Areas (short . . . quite short)