Bible Reading Basics – Part 2

If you have a good Bible reading and study plan that works well, that’s great.  But what if you don’t?  What if others don’t get on with your approach?  Well, for you, or for someone else, this video might be helpful.  It shares a reading and study approach that I believe has a lot to commend it. 

There is flexibility – you choose what time to give to it. 

There is motivation – you choose where to put your energy. 

There is potential – I’ve not found a plan that seems more likely to build solid Bible-shaped believers.

One of the challenges of Bible reading is maintaining momentum. There are a number of momentum killers, like long lists of names and unpronounceable places. What should we do?

One way to evaluate your Bible times is by checking in on what is happening in your mind and heart the rest of the time. What does it mean to meditate on God’s Word day and night? Check out this video for more:

The question that I hear more than any other is this, “what should I do when I don’t feel like reading my Bible?” It is an important question. We all need a decent answer that can help us when we inevitably get those days. Here is a video that may be helpful.

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Bible Reading Basics – Part 1

When you first open the Bible, it is an overwhelming tome, to say the least.  Over time we can start to find our way around the Bible, just like we can learn to find our way around a big city – one landmark at a time.  In fact, the Bible gives us a great example of such landmarks right at the start of an important chapter.

Why do so many believers lose their love of Bible reading before Valentine’s Day?  Could it be that they are trying to read and study simultaneously?  Have you ever found yourself struggling through Leviticus and taking very little in while longing to be in Philippians (and knowing you won’t be there anytime soon)?  Perhaps it is time to make a helpful separation.

The Bible speaks of delighting in the words of God.  Other Christians sometimes seem to sound so delighted by the word of God.  So why do some of us never seem to reach those heights?  Perhaps a simple suggestion relating to concentration might prove helpful.

Bible Posture – 2 Points

We live in an age marked by resistance to authority.  The idea of submission has fallen on hard times.  But don’t miss either the logic or the blessing of this concept:

The Logic – Submit yourselves to God (James 4:7).  This is logical.  God is God, and you are not.  And being a Christian involves a thorough acceptance of that reality.  Nobody else has ever achieved even a tiny fraction of success in their attempt to usurp God’s role in the universe.  It is so simple.  God is God.  And I am not.  It makes sense not to pretend otherwise.

The Blessing – The Christian faith is not simply about logic, however.  James 4:8 goes on to describe how we can draw near to God, and he will draw near to us!  What an amazing thing!  If we try to usurp his place, we create a conflict between ourselves and God.  He opposes the proud.  But if we will humble ourselves and submit to him, he gives grace to the humble (see 1 Peter 5:5-6).  The blessing of submission to God is closeness with God.  And since he is a good God, this is a good thing!

So the first posture point to ponder: Be under, not over, the Word!

It would be bizarrely arrogant to think that my finite mind and experience can evaluate and judge God’s Word.  Who am I to imagine that I can decide what to accept, what to dismiss, etc.?   

In Acts 17:11 we read about the Jews in Berea. They were commended for receiving Paul’s message with eagerness, and then checking that teaching against the Scriptures.  May that be our posture too . . . leaning forward, hearts open, head nodding, eager to hear from God’s Word!

Post point two: Receive God’s Word with eagerness!

Here is the latest video (and click here to subscribe to the YouTube channel) –

Whose Word?

The Bible is unlike any other book on earth for this reason: it was inspired by God.  Other books may be written by inspiring people or by people inspired by their subject.  But the Bible is “God-breathed” – it comes from God.  God superintended the writing process so that the original authors wrote their thoughts, in their words, in their language, and God made sure that they wrote exactly what he wanted to be written.  That is why we call it God’s Word.  (2Tim.3:16)

So when the prophets wrote their books, they did not dream up their content.  Rather, they were carried along by the Holy Spirit – he was the wind in their sails!  Again, that means that what we have in our Bibles is not just humanly authored but also divinely inspired. (2Peter 1:20-21)

This all means that our goal in reading or studying the Bible is to understand what is there.  What did the Author and the author intend to communicate?  Our job is not to be creative, or fanciful, or original.  We do not get bonus points for making up a meaning nobody has seen before.  No matter how clever you are, what you can make it say is not as good as what God made it say!

Check out the latest video in the Enjoying the Word series:

Enjoying the Word – Introduction

New year and new project! Last year I enjoyed working through the book of Psalms on YouTube.  I hope those videos will be useful to more people this year as people choose to use them as companions in a journey through the Psalms.  And now we are into a new year and a new project: Enjoying the Word.

Enjoying the Word will be a growing collection of videos that will hopefully help people to enjoy reading and studying the Bible.  The first part of the sermon preparation process is the privilege of every believer – to spend time in God’s Word so that it gets into us and changes us.

The plan is to release short videos related to Bible reading and Bible study.  I will share a simple process to think through the Bible study journey.  I plan to release more mini-series called Pursuing God’s Heart Yourself. These short series use a single Bible book or section to illustrate important principles of biblical interpretation.  And I may work through a Bible book or two from start to finish to show the workings of healthy Bible study. 

I hope this will be helpful to you and to others you know.  Please do let me know if you have questions or ideas for videos.  And please share the resources with others too!  As videos are liked and shared, and as more people subscribe to the channel, so these videos will get in front of more people. (You can click here to subscribe to the YouTube channel.)

I am also planning to write companion posts on this blog to point to individual videos or mini-series of videos.  The subjects we will cover in the videos perfectly fit this blog, so why not?

The introductory video includes a quick look at a fantastic biblical truth!

Why Humility Makes Sense

Last time I wrote about genuine humility in Bible interpretation (click here to go there). We live in a time when there is an increasing pseudo-humility, and a decreasing genuine humility in biblical interpretation. Why does humility make sense?

Increasing Pseudo-Humility – As truth apparently becomes more personalized, people can sound increasingly gracious if that is the tone they choose (there is a militant version of it too, which is also dangerous). The gracious tone and pseudo-humility sound like this: “I can’t tell you what this means to you, but my personal interpretation, for me, is this…” If anyone ponders whether this is a humble approach to the Bible or not, they will end up thinking about the horizontal dimension. That is to say, I don’t insist that my truth must also be your truth. Horizontal.

Decreasing Genuine Humility – But what about the vertical dimension? After all, if the Bible is God’s Word, then humility in interpretation should be evaluated vertically. Beneath the shroud of pseudo-humility lies an incredible arrogance. It says: “I have sufficient knowledge of every relevant subject, and have no worries about being culturally conditioned, so that I can evaluate the content of the Bible and sit in judgment over what it should mean in the realm of ‘my truth.'”

So why does humility make sense? Three quick facts to anchor our hearts as preachers and as readers of the Bible:

1. I am not God. Seems obvious, but in a fallen world, it certainly bears repeating! What I actually know is an infinitesimally small fraction of all there is to know. I am so shaped by my environment and culture, and yet incredibly unaware of how much my values reflect that reality.

2. God is God. He always has been and always will be. He is very good at being God. (Included in this statement of the obvious, but worth stating nonetheless, is that God is a wonderful communicator…why do we think we should sit in judgment on his inspired Scriptures?)

3. God is humble. It is easy to think that God values humility in us because it serves the pride in him. Dictators demand subservience. But the Bible reveals a God to us who is anything but a demanding dictator. His other-centred, self-giving and self-sacrificing nature appreciates humility in the human heart for the right reason. It is not to crush us, it is to lift us up and embrace us. God values humility in us because it resonates with who he is.

Let us be and help others to be humble and gracious. Vertically, we sit under the teaching of God’s Word with humility. Horizontally, we can speak of the meaning of God’s Word with gracious attitudes but also with boldness. This is what our “subjective truth” world desperately needs.

Our Bible Experience

Maybe your new year Bible resolutions have already started to fade?  What we really need this year is not a renewed habit.  What we really need is to unleash God’s Word into our lives and experience all that God wants to do in us.

If our experience of interacting with God in our Bible times is going to really count for anything, then it has to be in the context of real-life struggles that the Bible has something to offer us.

Psalm 143 is a great passage to ponder as we think about our Bible experience this year.  It starts where life is at its toughest, then goes on to describe David’s experience in such an illuminating way for us.  Actually, Psalm 143 is not one of those passages that speaks directly about the Scriptures.  What it does is speak of David’s experience, which can also be our experience as we engage with God through the Scriptures.

In the first four verses David is crying out for God to answer his prayer, but to do so in faithfulness and mercy.  He doesn’t want God to be acting as judge, otherwise he, like all of us, would be in real trouble.  David is troubled by his own sin, and also by opposition from the enemy (see v3).  Verse 4 describes a wiped out David – a man with nothing left to give.  Sometimes that is where we find ourselves: either through our own sin, or the opposition of the enemy, we feel like we have had the stuffing knocked out of us and our spirit faints within.  David writes that his heart is devastated, or laid bare.  He feels like he has nothing left to give.

And so what do we do when life hits us like that?  Where do we turn?  Do we look within, or turn to a philosophy, or throw ourselves into a career or hobby, or perhaps just numb the pain with a substance?  The world really has nothing to offer us.  Of course, as we all know, we should turn to God.  And so from verse 5 David’s experience is described in such a way that it can reflect what our experience could be as we engage with God through the Bible.

I want to share five things that unleashing God’s Word into our lives might bring this year.  Before I do, a comment about Bible character envy.  Perhaps you struggle with this envy at times.  It goes like this: if I had David’s experience of defeating Goliath, or heard God’s voice on the mountain as Moses did, or met with the LORD as Abram did, then I would not struggle in my spiritual life today.  Really?

Perhaps we could reverse the situation.  Imagine we could travel through time and organise a conference for all the Bible characters to attend.  Imagine we could tell them that after their time, in the future the Messiah would come, and then his followers would write more books, and then all the books from the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, and the apostles, would all be gathered together and freely available in many languages. I suspect that would be a room full of Patriarchs and Kings and Prophets who would be jealous of us!

So what does unleashing the Bible into our lives offer us?

1. We are rooted in the reality of God’s greater story. In verse 5, David speaks of memory, meditation and musing on God’s past activity.  He had his own story, and he had the stories passed down from his ancestors.  And as we read our Bibles we will be lifted out of the one square metre of our own experience and struggles.  We will be reminded that we are part of a much bigger story that stretches across all centuries and all continents, from eternity past to eternity future, a story that is being written by God himself.  We need that because life has a habit of sucking us into the vortex of our own struggles.

2. We are reminded that our greatest need is God. In verse 6, David describes his awareness of his own great need.  His soul was like a parched land desperately thirsty for God.  Even in our greatest struggles, we have an innate ability to assume we are just being unlucky.  If God would just give us that promotion, or a lucky lottery ticket, or a perfect spouse, or a new spouse, or a new job, or whatever … if we could just get a fair set of circumstances then we would be able to succeed in life.  Really?  When we spend time in God’s Word we are reminded that actually what we need is not financial or circumstantial, it is profoundly spiritual.  We need God.  Desperately.

3. Our responsiveness to God is stirred by His steadfast love. In the beginning of verse 8 David refers to God’s steadfast love – perhaps the key theme of the Old Testament.  You can find references to this proactive, selfless, loyal love on page after page of the Psalms.  And as we read the Bible we are stirred to respond to that love as we see God’s faithfulness to his people, God’s self-giving for those he loves.  We cannot work up faith within ourselves, but as we glimpse God’s steadfast love, then a response of trust is stirred within us.

4. We are redirected to live our lives by God’s good Spirit. The second half of verse 8 speaks of being shown the way to go. In verse 10 David asks for God to teach him to do God’s will, and for God’s good Spirit to lead him on level ground.  When we are convinced of God’s favour toward us then the next step is not only trust, but also obedience.  It may be that unleashing God’s Word in your life this year will mean God takes you to levels of obedience you never thought possible.  Maybe areas of your life that you have tried and failed to fix, and now are ingrained in your rhythms of life, and you feel defeated and resigned to living with the secret shame…maybe that is where the light of God’s Word might shine in the coming days!  Trust Him, and be willing to obey.

5. We are revived by our encounter with God. In the final two verses, David is clearly concerned about his life.  So the request is translated as “preserve my life” in verse 11.  Essentially the “preserve” is supplied by the context, but what he asks for is life.  Whether asking for preserved life or revived life, God is the right person to be asking.  As we engage with God in His Word, the deep cry of our parched souls for life can be answered because God is a God of steadfast love toward us.

Don’t make this another year of Bible reading as an attempted habit.  Make it a year in which you unleash God’s Word into your life and you encounter God in the Bible as never before!

7 Ways Preachers Read the Bible

ReadingBook2Preachers tend to read the Bible like preachers.  We can’t help it.  But this is neither automatically good nor bad, it all depends what we mean.

Here are three wrong ways to read the Bible like a preacher:

1. Always look for a sermon when you read.  Some texts are easily preachable, others more challenging for sermon construction.  Don’t settle for an outline or struggle for an outline, read the text and look for what it is saying to you about God.

2. Always look for the sake of others, but not hearing the message for you first.  Your listeners need you to be hearing and responding to God in your life, not just hunting on their behalf.

3. Always force the text into some sort of sermonic shape – i.e. looking for the “third point” when the passage may not be structured that way.

And here are four right ways to read the Bible like a preacher:

4. Always expect the Bible to communicate because God is a great communicator.  Don’t quit trying to make sense of it just because it isn’t immediately obvious.  Trust that God knew what He was doing and that studying the text will be worth any effort involved.

5. Always anticipate inherent unity in a passage, rather than chasing down every tangent that the details might bring to light.

6. Always look for order and progression in the text to see how the author develops his thoughts.  Is he explaining, proving, applying, or moving onto a new, but connected thought?

7. Always be sensitive to the author’s intent and tone, as well as his content and structure.  He was writing for a particular audience and wrote in a loving way for their sake.  Don’t treat the Bible as mere data, but as heartfelt communication.

If you are a preacher, then hopefully you read your Bible.  When you do, you will read it like a preacher, but be sure to make that a positive thing!

 

Resolved: Read God’s Heart

resolved2Three years ago I wrote a post that really polarized readers.  I wrote a critique of a famous Bible reading plan.  If you want to see that post, click here.  As we start a new year, many of us, and many in our churches, will be making the determination to read through the Bible.  For some it will be the first time.  For many it will be a repeat attempt.  Sadly, for many, they will have failed more than they succeeded.

Here’s the bottom line for me – I want people to be reading their Bibles.  Whatever else goes into the mix of a personal devotional life, being exposed to the Scriptures is a critical ingredient (really it is the “without this, nothing” ingredient in the recipe for relationship with God).  Now it may be that someone you know is not a confident reader for whatever reason . . . know the audio options and be ready to promote them (even good readers would benefit from listening to the Bible too!)

Motivation Issues – I know the motivation of reading plans is to help give some structure and sense of progress to readers.  That is great.  My concern is that the plan can easily become both the focus and a taskmaster.  We should be concerned when there is a lack of motivation for God’s Word – both in our own lives, and those we care about.  A lack of motivation is not an irrelevant emotional blip that can be overcome by our great diligence, determination and accountability.

Motivation Matters – Let’s treat a lack of motivation as a flashing light on the dashboard of our lives.  When the oil light flashes I don’t “obey” it and choose not to drive the car.  Equally I don’t disregard it and press on.  I address the issue.  It is the same with a lack of motivation for Bible time . . . don’t simply obey it, nor ignore it, but address it.

Addressing Motivation – The best way I have found to address this motivation issue is to talk to God about it.  Be honest.  Out loud.  Tell him what is more attractive to you than His self-revelation.  That will typically be convicting and bring us back in humility with brokenness and renewed, albeit weak, hunger to hear from Him.

Best Motivation – The best motivation for Bible reading is a hunger to know God more.  Therefore the best motivator for stirring others to read their Bibles is to know God more and be infectious with it.  When you are captured by a person, others will want to know Him too.  This is a far cry from language of diligence, duty, discipline and so on.

Marital Accountability? – I don’t ask my friends to hold me accountable to pretend to love my wife and listen to her.  I may ask them to point out if they see me rationalizing a drift from healthy relationships though.  It is the same with the Bible reading.  I don’t need someone to crack the whip to make me do it, but I am wide open to hearing from a friend that I seem touchy or less excited about God than is normal.

I would love our churches to be filled with people eager to hear God’s heart as they chase Him in His Word.  I know that for our churches to be filled with this kind of people we will need our pulpits filled with this kind of preacher.