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The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Bible Study (page 2 of 19)

Sacred Moments, Holy Ground

In Exodus 3 we encounter the famous story of God appearing to Moses for the purpose of recruiting him to liberate the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the way that God appears to Moses: in the form of a fiery bush that is not consumed by the flames that engulf it. As Moses draws near, God tells him to remove his sandals, because he is standing on holy ground. What made the ground holy? It was not that there was something inherently special about the bush. As a shepherd, Moses spent a lot of time leading his flock in the wilderness, and I think it’s possible that he had been by this same spot before, and had maybe even seen the same bush.

There was nothing particularly holy about it at those other times, but it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way.

We have had a rough time at our house for the last several weeks. Over the last several months, Kinsley’s seizures have gotten more difficult to control, which has led us to trying additional seizure medications and a special diet (you can read more about Kinsley’s story here and here). These efforts have not led to long-term improvement, and at the same time, Kinsley has been more withdrawn: she is often lethargic, sleeps a lot, and plays and interacts with us less. It is difficult to discern if this is caused by the many medications she is on, her seizures, some other factor, or some combination of all of the above.

Even more recently, Kinsley, who has always been a champ at taking her medicine, has become very stubborn about doing so: she will hold it in her mouth for a long time, sometimes eventually swallowing it, and at other times spitting it out. Obviously she does not get any benefit from seizure medicine that she refuses to take, so this aggravates the problem.

Last night as I was getting her ready for bed, I broke down. Kinsley again spit out one of her doses and I got incredibly frustrated and spoke to her in an exasperated tone. She just looked at me, with her beautiful, innocent, loving eyes. Immediately, my emotions changed, and I told her how truly and deeply sorry I was that she has to deal with all of the stuff and difficulties that she does, more than any little girl should ever have to.

And my nonverbal little princess, who has hardly communicated at all over the last several days, looked at me, put her hand on my chest, laid her head against me to snuggle, and reached out and held onto my arm.

What a powerful message she communicated! Even now, I can hardly write about it without becoming overwhelmed by emotion.

There we were, sitting on the floor by her bed, a place I have been countless times. But it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way: in His grace, God reached out to me and used my infirmed daughter as an instrument of healing.

P.S. We are going to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock tomorrow to consult with a neurosurgeon about a procedure that could potentially help with Kinsley’s seizures. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we continue to look for ways to help our little girl.

Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation

Introduction: The Bible as Literature

I recently preached a sermon in which I was discussing literary techniques that we see in Scripture. Sometimes people read the Bible in a flat, wooden sort of way, almost like they were reading a police report or something similar, where all you have is a list of facts and no sort of interpretation.

I think that is unfortunate, because the Bible is really a library of books all telling the same grand Story, and within that library, there are various types or genres of literature, and different genres of literature need to be read in certain ways if we are to understand and apply them faithfully. Much could be written both about different types of literature that we see in the Bible—wisdom literature, history, ancient biography, prophecy, poetry, apocalypse, epistles, etc.—and also different types of literary devices that biblical authors used to tell their stories in more powerful ways.*

Examining either of those in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but one literary technique that I do want to focus on here is what I call echoing, or the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.

Creation and New Creation

One powerful example of echoing can be seen in a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. I shared this particular example in the sermon that I mentioned above, and considering the feedback I got from people who had never noticed these strong connections before, I thought it would be worth sharing here.

Simply put, in the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth  Genesis 1-3:

  • In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
  • In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
  • In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
  • In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
  • Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
  • Genesis 2.12 tells us that God and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
  • God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
  • Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
  • As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
  • Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.

There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.

In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point: the creation that God created good but that was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!

*When I discuss Scripture as literature or as story, I am not suggesting that these characteristics somehow diminish its truth. I believe the Bible relates the truest Story of all, but it is still told as story, and employs a variety of literary techniques in the telling of it.

Reading in 2016

A quirk of my personality is that I like to keep track of certain things in my life, and for several years, one of those things is the list of books that I read each year. Somewhat surprising to me, people actually seem to enjoy reading the list of what I read, so I have been sharing that for several years.

Here was my reading list for 2016:

  1. A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering, by Gregory Stevenson
  2. Scribbles and Sketches, No. 2, by Ruby Tobey
  3. Dogmatics in Outline, by Karl Barth*
  4. Fables Don’t Leave Footprints: Following a Trail of Archaeological Discoveries from Genesis to Jesus, by Jan Sessions
  5. The Book of Revelation, by Chris Koelle (Illustrator), Mark Arey (Trans), and Philemon Sevastiades (Trans.)
  6. A Missional Church: Assessing and Developing a Missional Culture in an Established Church, by Matthew Morine
  7. Just As I Am: Married, Divorced, and Remarried, by Wayne Dunaway
  8. Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last And What Your Church Can Do About It, by Mark DeVries
  9. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, by Gregory A. Boyd
  10. Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating, by Norman Wirzba*
  11. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, by George A. Lindbeck*
  12. Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, by Simon Chan*
  13. Four Views on the Historical Adam, by Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick
  14. Change of Heart: Seven Money Truths to Help Teens from the Inside Out, by Joey Sparks
  15. #NoFilter, by Scott Utter
  16. Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson
  17. Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques, by Mark E. Young
  18. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, by Matthew S. Stanford
  19. Competency-Based Counseling: Building on Client Strengths, by Frank Thomas and Jack Cockburn
  20. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, by Brother Lawrence
  21. Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey
  22. The Bombay Boomerang, by Franklin W. Dixon
  23. The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights that Illumine the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  24. Essay on Negro Slavery, by James O’Kelley
  25. Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts, by Ron Susek
  26. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland
  27. Discover Your Conflict Management Style, by Speed B. Leas
  28. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, by Peter L. Steinke
  29. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, by William Barclay*
  30. The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute
  31. Guiding People Through Conflict, by Ken Sande and Ted Kober
  32. Building Conflict Competent Teams, by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan*
  33. Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, by Randy Harris
  34. Why I Value the Bible, by Kerry Holton
  35. The Beatitudes: Jesus’ Formula for Happiness, by Rubel Shelly
  36. Managing Church Conflict, by Hugh F. Halverstadt*
  37. 11 Youth Ministry Hacks So You Can Spend More Time on What Matters Most, by Kindred Youth Ministry
  38. The Listeners’ Bible ESV, read by Max McLean
  39. Don’t Quit on a Monday, by Jeff and Dale Jenkins
  40. How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth, by Kerry Holton
  41. Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott
  42. Centered in God: The Trinity and Christian Spirituality, by Mark E. Powell
  43. Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, by Seth Haines
  44. Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, edited by Margaret Warker
  45. Paper Covers Rock, by Jenny Hubbard
  46. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  47. The Story, by Biblica
  48. Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson
  49. The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech
  50. The Big Field, by Mike Lupica
  51. Advent and Christmas, by Thomas Merton

A few major observations before I talk about a couple of specific books:

  • My reading total increased slightly from 2015, when I read 48 books. I actually think I read less total, however, because I did not do as much reading of articles or long commentaries. Still, I did a lot of writing and editing this past year on various projects, and I know that cut into my reading time somewhat.
  • Looking back, I think there were more books that I read this past year that I really enjoyed than in 2015. My Top 10 books for the year are highlighted in bold above, but there are several in the list above that did not make that cut that I still enjoyed.

Some of my favorite books for 2016.

Of those Top 10 books, I would like to highlight a few (Note: I previously reviewed Centered in Godand hope to review 2-3 others in the near future):

  • Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, by Matthew S. Stanford: I read this book for a counseling class,  and it might have been the best book I read all year. It helped me consider mental illness from a more biblical and theological perspective, and also discussed various mental illnesses clinically as well. I really think this is a book that all Christians should read, as mental illness of various types is prevalent in our society and thus in the church as well, and traditionally, we have not done well showing grace and compassion to those who suffer from these illnesses that we generally struggle to see or understand.
  • Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries: I have been a youth minister for over a decade now, and I have tried to become a student of youth ministry in an effort become more effective at helping young people develop lifelong faith. With that in mind, I have read quite a few books on youth ministry over the years. Mark DeVries became one of my favorite Youth Ministry thinkers with his Family-Based Youth Ministry, but it is possible that I enjoyed Sustainable Youth Ministry even more. The basic idea of the book is simple: youth ministries should not be built upon the foundation of a specific person (the youth minister), but should rather be constructed in such a way that they are able to survive for the long term and not be dependent on one person. There is a lot in this book to digest and I am still determining how best to implement some of the ideas, but the key principle is outstanding.
  • The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights that Illumine the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser: I am not a huge fan of the title of this book, because it makes it sound shallow or not serious. It is not, however, as the material that Heiser presents represents solid biblical and theological scholarship. Honestly, I felt like much of what has taken me years of college and graduate school courses to learn was condensed in this one, very readable, volume.
  • I did a lot of study on the Sermon on the Mount this year, and read several books and commentaries as a part of that study. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland, was a good read that presented some excellent background information, and some challenging sermons based on the Sermon. But easily the best resource I read was Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott. Stott writes with penetrating insight and a gentle spirit, and with rare exceptions, I thought his interpretations of the SOTM were dead on.

So, that was my reading for 2016. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

I have a ton of books I have accumulated over the last few years that I am anxious to read, and for the first half of the year I do not have any graduate courses so I am hopeful that I will actually get to read some of them! I am looking forward to reading a diversity of works, and in particular, I am hoping to read more fiction this year.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

Are Your Teens Actually Learning in Bible Class?


If your church is like mine, you probably spend quite a bit of time and effort teaching the Bible to teenagers. I think this is a very important task, but there are some important questions related to teaching teens. First, although you may be teaching, are your students actually learning about the Bible and Christianity? Second, how do you know if they are learning or not?

Incredibly Inarticulate

The National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) was a massive research study conducted from 2002-2005. More than 3,300 American teenagers between the ages of 13-17 were included in the study. Of that number, 267 sat down for follow-up face-to-face interviews, and 2,500 of the 3,300 were revisited a couple of years later to see how their religious lives changed as they aged. The study included teens from all different religious backgrounds: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Agnostic, etc.

The results of the study were illuminating, but also, from a Christian perspective, concerning: the NSYR found that three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, but only about half consider their faith to be important, and less than half practice their faith as a part of their daily lives.[1] Furthermore, the report showed that “the vast majority” of U.S. teens are “incredibly inarticulate about their faith.”[2] In other words, even those teens who claim to be Christians are unable to explain what it means to be a Christian or what they actually believe.

When asked questions about what they believed religiously, here were some of the actual responses:[3]

  • “Uh, I haven’t really thought about that [pause]. I don’t know.”
  • “I believe in the [pause], I, ohhh [pause], I don’t think I’d really like to talk about that.”
  • “Hm, I don’t know, I’d have to like ask somebody or something, I don’t know.”
  • “Um, I guess I believe…[laughs], um, I don’t know. I don’t really know how to answer it.”

Now, if you were to ask young people in your congregation questions like, “What does it mean to you to be a Christian?” or “What is the Gospel?” or “What does God want for your life?”, I’m sure that some could come up with some pretty good answers. At the same time, I know that some would struggle as well, and I know this not just because of what the NSYR says, but also because I have worked with lots of teenagers over the years and have asked these exact questions and witnessed firsthand the difficulties that teens have articulating their faith.

Assessment in Bible Class

With all of this in mind, I have become convicted that it is not enough for us to teach teens at church; we also need to assess what they have learned and do that in such a way that they are given the opportunity to put what they have learned into words.

In other words, I believe that assessment should be a major part of what we do in Bible class. To be sure, this can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Class discussions where students verbalize their beliefs or their understanding of what has been taught
  • Presentations where students share material they have learned with other students
  • Objective tests and quizzes where students demonstrate their learning (matching, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, etc.)
  • Short answer and essay tests where students write out what they have learned in their own words

As an example, we recently spent a quarter in our Sunday Morning High School Bible Class studying the Sermon on the Mount. At the end of that time, I wanted to evaluate how effective the class had been, and what the students had learned. Below are some questions from the short answer test I gave my students, along with some of their actual answers:

We talked a lot in this series about how in the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), Jesus was describing what His kingdom looked like, and that it is an alternative community. What do we mean by that term?

–We don’t live how the world lives. We stand out.

–A community that is set apart with a different set of standards than the world.

At the beginning of the SOTM, Jesus described what citizens of the kingdom look like with the beatitudes. In general, how are these characteristics that Jesus values different from what the world values?

–What He values seems very weak and powerless, while the world values riches and power.

–In general, the values of Jesus are much different than the ones of the world. The values of Jesus are sometimes viewed as weaknesses by the world, like being meek, being poor, and being persecuted.

What does it mean to live as salt and light in the world?

–We have to season the Earth and preserve it and show the good in an evil world.

–Salt makes things taste better and light helps us to see. We need to make the world a better place by being the salt in how we act and we need to be the light that leads and shows people the way to Christ.

–Salt helps preserve food and also make it better, we as Christians should strive to preserve and save lost souls. The light shines in the dark. We are supposed to live like Christ, thus shining our light, in the world, which is the darkness.

Explain Matthew 5.43-48 in your own words.

–We need to strive to treat everyone the way we want to be treated or better because God gives good to everyone and we are told to strive to be like Him.

–Loving those who love you is a normal basic thing that takes no effort, but loving those who hurt you is a challenge. Jesus died for all of us and that show His love even for those who put Him to death.

–Matthew 5.43-48 is saying it’s easy to love those who are good to you and that even the people of the world do that. But it is much harder to love those who do you wrong and mistreat you. As an Alternative Community we must be different from the world and show love to everyone, especially those who do us wrong.

Explain the following quote and how it relates to Matthew 6.1-4: “There is a significant difference in being seen doing good works and in doing good works to be seen.”

–It’s all about motives. If the only reason you are doing a good deed is to be seen doing that good deed, then your motives are wrong. We should do good deeds with the thought of actually helping someone.

–When we do good we should do it out of the goodness of our hearts to help others, not to get recognition for it.

–If you do something to be seen, you want someone to reward you, but if you do something and happen to be seen doing it, you’re doing it because you know it’s right.

Matthew 6.25-34 talks about worry, and in class, we said that in a sense, when we worry, we are declaring that we are atheists. How is that true?

–When we worry we’re essentially saying no one will take care of us and we’re going to have to do it on our own.

–We should not worry because God is in control of everything. If we worry, in a sense we are saying that we don’t trust God and that we think He can’t do for us what we think we need Him to do.

–God tells us not to worry and if we have worries, He tells us to give them to Him, but if we don’t give our worries to Him, we essentially are doubting God and His ability to handle our problems.

What parable does Jesus use in Matthew 7.24-27 to end the SOTM? How does this parable function as the “Invitation” to the Sermon? What response is Jesus seeking from His audience?

–Building on the sand vs. solid foundation. It warns them of the dangers of not taking the invitation and not following Him.

–He used the parable of the man who built his house on the rock and it stood firm and the other man who built his house on sand and it fell apart. We should strive to build our faith on Jesus where it won’t fall apart.

–The wise and foolish builders. It is an “Invitation” because he is making them evaluate themselves. He is expecting them to really think about their foundation and whether or not it’s with Christ instead of the world.

What was something new that you learned in this study?

–It helped me to grow stronger in my faith. It has helped me in my attitude toward others by treating everyone as good as possible.


Now, as you read through the answers above, you may have had some quibbles here or there, but for the most part, I was very pleased with these responses, because they showed that the students paid attention in class and also grasped significant concepts from Jesus’ Sermon.[4]

But the point of this post isn’t that my students are brilliant—I love them, but trust me, they’re not! 🙂 The point is that in the face of research which states that teenagers generally lack the ability to put their faith into words, we as teachers need to give them the opportunity to practice doing just that.

You can do that through a test as I did above, through a less formal method of assessment like a class discussion, or a host of other ways, but it is imperative that we help teenagers be articulate about what they believe. After all, how can young people share the Gospel if they don’t know how to put it into words?

[1]Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005): 31; Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 10.

[2]Smith, 131.

[3]Smith, Ibid.

[4]In the interests of full disclosure, I had some students give answers that were not nearly as good as the ones I shared above. At the same time, three of my best students were not in class that day, so their answers (which likely would have been very good) are not reflected either.

The Seamless Story of Scripture

Seamless Story of ScriptureA lot of times, the distinctions between the Old and New Testaments are exaggerated and caricatured. People talk about “the God of the Old Testament” versus “the God of the New Testament.” They will (mistakenly) emphasize that the Old Testament is all about law while the New Testament is all about grace. They may even argue that we don’t even need the Old Testament, because as Christians, we live under a different age. I have written about some of these problems before.

Increasingly though, as I study more and more, I am struck by just how well the two testaments of God’s Word—Old and New—fit together. This year for my daily Bible reading, instead of reading, I have actually been listening to Scripture, specifically to Max McLean’s reading of the ESV while I drive around in my car. This is the first time that I have attempted to make it through the entire Bible by listening to it, and it has been interesting, and has brought out certain elements of the text that I had missed before. One example of this occurred just yesterday, as I was driving in the car and the recordings transitioned from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New.

The end of Malachi reads:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

(Malachi 4.5-6)

Transitioning into Matthew, you get the genealogy and birth story of Jesus, and then we get this:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

(Matthew 3.1-6 )

I have long known that John the Baptist was the “second Elijah” prophesied about in the Old Testament, who would prepare people for Jesus to come, and I think I knew that Malachi contained such a prophecy (in addition to Isaiah, etc.), but the unity of these two books was never emphasized to me as much as it was yesterday, when I heard both of these passages back-to-back in one short car ride. Matthew picks up where Malachi left off: with the coming of God’s representative who would prepare people for the coming of God Himself in the flesh.

This might be a really obvious example that you have noticed before, but for me, it is a reminder of a great truth: Scripture is not comprised of two disjointed halves, but is instead a seamless whole—a well-woven story crafted by God’s Spirit, relating God’s creation of the world and His quest to redeem and reconcile that creation.

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