Sunday, November 15, 2009

Good Books, Good Coffee

There's nothing better than curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee--and there's no better book than the Bible. Sandra Glahn continues her series of Coffee Cup Bible Studies, presenting Kona with Jonah and Frappe with Philippians. Using creative teaching resources, including the Internet, art, online study groups and more, Glahn provides a special blend of bold and flavorful experiences that will bring participants back for a second cup of God's Word.

Kona with Jonah begins with a brief history of Jonah and Ninevah. Merging historical event with current modern day practicality, Glahn invites readers to take a walk in Jonah's sandals. Coffee sippers will find it hard to escape the similarities as these two worlds collide. Prayer, mercy, city revival and other strong themes will perk the interest and heart of diligent students.

Frappé with Philippians brews for five weeks of strong, powerful conversation about Paul and the heroes of the Philippian church. With detailed study time spent examining the letters of Paul to the Church, readers will come away feeling like they have met with the man himself. With sections entitled "That God Will Get me Out of Here, and Other Prayer Requests Paul Doesn't Make," Glahn keeps the tone of the study light, without disrespecting the seriousness of the study of God's Word.

A Chat Over Coffee w/ Sandra

Women who typically feel they don't have the time to do Bible Study find your studies relevant and easy to use. What's the secret to making the study inviting?

I don't know if there's one secret. Different things appeal to different people. But I do know that with my own personal Bible study time, I've been able to stay fairly consistent Monday through Friday when my daughter is at school. But on the weekends everything changes in our household. Sometimes we travel. Or we sleep later on Saturday. And we rise and go to church on Sunday. Result: my routine gets disrupted. For this reason I often have a more difficult time doing Bible study on the weekends. So I designed the series for Monday-through-Friday study with only short devotional readings on the weekends. The weekday time can require twenty minutes or more; the weekend readings take less than five minutes.

I think the studies also appeal to the right-brained person. As an artsy type, I sometimes engage more with the Bible if I can write out a prayer, draw, view a related video, compose a story, sing a song... And I wrote this series with that person in mind. The devotionals are also full of stories, which most of us love to hear.

In addition (and this is probably the main reason), when I was working full-time, I wanted a study I could stash in my purse without having to lug a Bible and a commentary. I wanted to use my lunch break for a quiet time without parading my resources in front of people. And I think it helps that the Coffee Cup series books don't look like typical Bible studies; they're all-inclusive (text, commentary, questions included); they're small enough to throw in a briefcase or diaper bag; and they're both spiral and bound--making it easier to use on a treadmill or fold in the lap and write on while sitting. In short they're designed for the multi-tasker. I heard from an ob-gyn who uses them as she's sitting in the doctors' lounge waiting for babies to arrive.

And one more thing--I also include a prayer at the end. I heard from an eighty-something man who told me how much those prayers meant. All his life he had struggled with prayer, and that guidance helped him respond to God. I'm glad that a series directed to women didn't scare him off!

In Jonah with Kona, what do you hope participants will take away and apply to their own lives?

We tend to like our own causes best; we like our own country best; we like our denomination best; we like our own families best; we prefer the schools we attended, the neighborhoods where we grew up, our own political party or cause, our gender--even our brand of peanut butter. And somewhere along the way we cross the line from preference to prejudice. We pray for our loved ones but rarely, if ever, our enemies. Mention atheists, opposing politicians, humanists, materialists, homosexuals, and radical feminists in most churches today, and the response you'll evoke will sound nothing like, "Let's pray right now for God to pour out his love."

Genesis tells us that humans are fellow creations of one maker. The qualities of God that so angered Jonah are the very qualities we most need: grace, compassion, patience, mercy, abundant love, and truth. And not just for those we love--but for those we hate. For those who have wronged us. For those who want us dead. For those with whom we strongly disagree. The only possible way we can demonstrate such remarkable goodness is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The focus of Frappé with Philippians is the life of Paul and the early church. What kind of historical research did you do and did you learn any surprising facts as you compiled your information?

I think it's enormously important to understand the world in which Paul was writing. Let's take the view of women, for example. The Jews were the most conservative. The Greeks were better, though greatly influenced by Aristotle's low view of women. And the Roman women had the most freedom--even owning property and supervising gymnasiums. Knowing a city's predominant citizenship helps us understand Paul's letters on such issues.

My PhD work relates a lot to the Greek pantheon and Greek and Roman history. The historical backgrounds for the Bible books are essential, and fortunately they interest me.

I also love getting a sense of the geography, if I can. I had the advantage this summer of taking a clipper to follow the journeys of Paul. Some of our stops included Corinth, Troas, Neapolis, Philippi, and Athens.

One sentence out of the mouth of a guide in Corinth really stuck with me, as she provided a key to understanding the cities we visited. She mentioned that while American visitors seem generally uninterested in talk of gods and goddesses, knowing which member of the Greek pantheon a city worshiped is essential to understanding that city's mentality. The more I thought about this, the more sense it made:

ATHENS. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, so citizens of Athens wanted their city to reflect culture, religion, and philosophy. And sure enough, in Acts 17 we find Stoic and Epicurean philosophers hanging out at the Areopagus (Mars Hill). Paul affirms them for being religious, and rather than dissing their many false gods, he zeroes in on their altar to the unknown God and tells them about this Almighty one who was not made with hands--One who is never far from any of us.

CORINTH. Corinth was the home of Aphrodite, goddess of love (and not the agape version). Behind the city ruins stands a towering hill at the top of which sat Aphrodite's temple. One could not walk down the street without being conscious of its prominence. Might that explain why the Corinthians had so many issues with sexual immorality, and why Paul tells them that it's good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Cor. 7:1)? For the sake of the kingdom, he encourages them to consider embracing sexual abstinence rather than marrying. How fitting that in a city that prides itself on being a center of love, Paul pens the beautiful definition of true love--known to us as the love chapter (1 Cor. 13).

EPHESUS. Ephesus was home to the virgin Artemis who loved her virgin status and was immune to Aphrodite's love arrows. Among other things, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt. If you take a close look at the Artemis statues from the first and second centuries, you find her legs covered with numerous animals and flanked by a couple of deer. Now, usually we think of women as gatherers and men as hunters. And the fact that Artemis was a hunter suggests she had a less-than-feminine persona. In Ephesus we find stone work with the Amazon story (these women were way independent!), and guides tell visitors that the city was founded by an Amazon queen. The Book of Ephesians was probably intended for more than one city (like Laodicea), so we don't find much that points to a specific city's mentality in that book. But we do find 1 Timothy directed to Paul's protégé in Ephesus, and in it we find an emphasis on widows, women teaching false doctrines, and the need to marry and have children.

When reading the New Testament, I think it's important to find out something of its geography and certainly what member of the Greek pantheon each book's readers were up against. How its authors approached the cities' demons can provide insight for us into engaging a culture that's in love with worldly wisdom, immorality, and a low view of family.

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