Great piece by Matt Gemmell:

Writers are haunted creatures.

Everyone is a writer, of course. You invent stories every day. Your flights of fancy, your daydreams, your alternate scenarios, your fears.

But if you make things up explicitly, all the time, it changes you. You exist in the eye of a hurricane. Everything around is in flux.

How do you get your ideas?

That’s the classic question. The corresponding answer is usually something like “they just come to me”, but it’s a half-truth. We all know that, deep down. The reality is more prosaic: your outlook alters, such that everything is an idea. In the same way that a former spy can never fully switch off their vigilance, a writer’s imagination just becomes perpetually active.

Reading is what makes it possible – you have to read in order to be able to write – but you have to write to actually activate this shift in perspective. It happens fast: within days. The problem isn’t ever finding ideas; it’s filtering them.

When I listen to music, it’s a soundtrack to a scene – or usually ten different scenes. People I meet or see are characters. Places are settings. Idle points of interest are window-dressing, for added colour. Anecdotes from others become my own memories, in a dozen permutations.

Once it starts happening, you can’t stop it.

Writers aren’t figurative deities, playing with their characters’ lives; we’re more like avid spectators, powerless to look away.

He wouldn’t thank me for it, but there are so many ways in which this description of change in mindset is helpful in thinking about the ways in which this reflects the Bible Apps most bookmarked, highlighted and shared verse in 2014:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

As we meditate on the word and prayerfully seek renewal by the power of the Spirit, our whole outlook on the world around us changes so that we think differently. Every experience and every moment an opportunity for worship, service and conformity to His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Judge not

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand” (Romans 14:4).

“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”
― Billy Graham

“We shall, as we ripen in grace, have greater sweetness towards our fellow Christians. Bitter-spirited Christians may know a great deal, but they are immature. Those who are quick to censure may be very acute in judgment, but they are as yet very immature in heart. He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more; he overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it. … I know we who are young beginners in grace think ourselves qualified to reform the whole Christian church. We drag her before us, and condemn her straightway; but when our virtues become more mature, I trust we shall not be more tolerant of evil, but we shall be more tolerant of infirmity, more hopeful for the people of God, and certainly less arrogant in our criticisms.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 1-10

As I reflected in a previous post, the problem we face is that the desire to see evil judged is made more complicated by they fact that we are often the ones in the wrong…. I need to humbly reconise that the bad things we see in the world and wish God would prevent or punish in others is right there inside of me.1

I want both God’s justice (exposing the truth about our wrong) and mercy (forgoing the negative consequences we deserve). Sometimes God saves by judging2 – but I’m with Billy Graham and the Bible. Our job is to do the loving.

  1. A bit of an adaptation of: “The evil we so much wish God would prevent or punish in others is right there inside ourselves” (Christopher Wright, God I don’t understand p. 34). ↩
  2. By judging our evil, by naming it for what it is, by penetrating our denial and self-delusion, God begins saving us. (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p 95) ↩

Where did all the Bible study go?

Keeping on the theme of making the Bible your native tongue, Dave Miller reflects on the tendency to go to commentators on the Bible before we go to the Bible itself:

Read the text, observe it – before you check other peoples’ opinions and insights. Let the Spirit be your first teacher. After you have studied, after you have labored over the text and figured it out, then you consult the wisdom of the wise (often to see where you went astray).

I know that it is my own experience to ‘rush in’ to what others say about a passage rather than do the hard work of working through what insights I can discern first. I would like to consult the author of scripture before I read what the commentators have got to say.

Often, a commentary may very well correct or clarify my own reflections – but I need to keep bringing myself back to going to scripture first, and then, and only then, to the thoughts of others.

Make the Bible your native tongue

I distinctly remember there being times at school when I spent more time reading the ‘Cliff Notes’ guide to a book in my English Literature class than I spent reading the book in question itself. Not that I do things last minute or anything, but I remember watching Richard Brannagh’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ the night before an exam, as a quick way of getting a basic understanding of the plot. It never occurred to me to read the play through for myself!

The point is that we can all too easily rely upon the helpful, but secondary, sources for comment and understanding rather than go to that which is the subject of the commentary.

When we have questions of faith and practice, do we go first to google, our favourite celebrity pastor or twitter to find answers when we should be putting in the hard work of going to the Word of God ourselves? Listening in on what God is saying to others through his Word is no replacement for developing our own listening ears for what The Lord is saying and sitting under the authority of his written Word.

Tim Kimmel on reading the Bible as a second language:

With tweets, blog posts, predigested podcasts, and fingertip access each week to downloads of some of the most engaging Bible teachers in the world, it’s tempting to develop an on-going input of the Bible at the hands of others that overshadows, or even eclipses, input from personal time spent pouring over it on our own.

The drive-by options we have to phenomenal biblical insights can easily meet our need for spiritual satisfaction. Forget the possibility that much of it may be the equivalent of spiritual junk food — great insights and observations that feel good being consumed but can’t possibly provide a well-balanced biblical diet. Throw in some white noise from our preferred theological hot buttons, and the evangelical celebrity status of our favorite Bible teachers, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our primary connection to God becomes one or more steps removed from God himself.

There are some fantastic tools for Bible study and interpretation out there today, but they should compliment and not replace a vibrant personal commitment to hearing God speak daily and personally to us through his Word.

The biblical narrative should be our native tongue, not a second language. I want to know and be familiar with the cadence of scripture – to let it shape my life not sit on the shelf referred to but unread.

Learning from Joseph’s Righteousness

I’ve really been enjoying working my way through the 52 reflections included in Devotions on the Greek New Testament. The first of these, by Roy E. Ciampa, has been really instructive as a reflection on what righteousness looks like in practice From Matthew 1:19:

Ἰωσὴφ  δὲ  ὁ  ἀνὴρ  αὐτῆς  δίκαιος  ὢν  καὶ  μὴ  θέλων  αὐτὴν  δειγματίσαι  ἐβουλήθη  λάθρᾳ  ἀπολῦσαι  αὐτήν.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

You can interpret the main participles in this sentence “being righteous – δίκαιος  ὢν – and not wanting – μὴ  θέλων – to make an example of her” as either causal or concessive. Joseph either plans to divorce her because he is righteous and doesn’t want to disgrace her, or despite his righteousness in recognising the demand to publicly denounce unfaithfulness he decided to divorce her quietly. Our choice of translation cannot be separated from our understanding of righteousness: either Joseph’s actions are unexpected in the light of his righteousness (concessive), or they are a direct result of his righteousness (causal).

This is a theme that Jesus (and Matthew) flesh out as the gospel continues. For Jesus, and in key passages of the Old Testament (e.g. Hosea 6:6), mercy and compassion are not at odds with righteousness but a key mark of righteousness. Mercy is extended to us on the cross, we are not left to our own destruction.

Perhaps it was this Jesus-style righteousness, and not the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, that led Joseph to think and act in the way that he did.

This short passage is a good example of one of the many thousands of translation choices made in each English rendering of the Bible – and why we shouldn’t rely on any one version as our only source.

Christ in the Psalms

Last Sunday I preached at Highgrove Church on the topic of ‘Songs of the Saviour’, looking at Jesus Christ in the Psalms:

I was keen to read quite a bit of scripture as part of the talk and honed in on Psalm 22 and Mark 15. As part of this, I also reference the following (by no means exhaustive) references to the Psalms in the gospels:

Sufferings of Christ

  • Stone the builders rejected: Ps 2:8; 118:22-23 – Matt 21:42
  • The Garden of Gethsemane: Ps 40 – Matt 26:42
  • His close friends would betray him: Ps 41:9
  • Jesus’ last few words “into your hands I commit my Spirit” quote Ps 31:5.
  • His bones will not be broken: Ps 34:20
  • He will rise from the dead – “you will not let your faithful one see decay”: Ps 16:8-10

Glories of Christ – the God depicted in Psalms fit Jesus like a glove

  • Kings bow down to him: Ps 72:10 – Matt 2:11
  • Descendant of David: Ps 89:3-4; 35-36
  • Beatitudes blessed are the meek: Psalms refer to the meek Ps 37:11
  • Jesus calms the storm: Ps 107:29; 65:7 – Mk 8:24; Matt 8:26
  • As Jesus is clearing the Temple, the disciples remembered that it was said in Ps 69:9: “zeal for your house will consume me.”

I sought to avoid giving the impression that these are ‘proof texts’, but rather convey the frequency with which the gospels draw upon the Psalms as it processes what is going on in and through the life of Jesus. The frequency with which Jesus himself quotes or draws upon the Psalms cannot be ignored. Interpreting scripture through the lens of Jesus does not mean that we read every passage as pointing to Jesus. But that the story of Israel, and our story, only begins to make sense as we read scripture with new eyes. The story only hangs together with Jesus.

… the New Testament continually uses the book of Psalms to fix our gaze upon the excellencies of Christ, upon [his] majesty, beauty, and glory.

– Michael Morales

Praying with loud passion

Andrew from Olive Tree talks about starting prayer times with good intentions but quickly creating a prayer sandwich with a distracted filling that looks something like this:

My unfocused prayer sessions were bugging me so… the next day as I was about start my prayer time I tried something different. Instead of softly mumbling my prayers to God, I made them loud. Not only did I make them loud, I actually stirred myself up to speak them as if they were actually really important, as if they were urgent, and as if they really mattered! Not surprising, my prayer time not only lasted longer but it was more focused.

Jesus didn’t just pray quiet prayers, but also prayed with loud passion.

Reading the Bible in Ten Different Places

Inspired by Bob Kauflin’s experiences so far, I’ve decided to begin Prof. Grant Horner’s Bible reading system for the next month (and possibly longer if I can keep it up).

I’ve been reading the Bible through every year since the age of 18, and with a few years off here and there am approaching 10 years reading the Bible ‘in a year’. I’ve used numerous methods from chronologically or simply cover-to-cover, in a variety of translations.

This year I thought I’d give this a go (for a month at least!) and see how I go. The plan involves reading one chapter from ten different places in the Bible each time you read. Once you reach the end of a section you start over. Having recently read the Bible through in 90 days (believe it or not, I was on track up until the New Testament ;-). I’m intrigued by the fact that you read a chapter of Acts every day, and have read of others who have swapped this to Romans for example.

I’ve created some bookmarks, adapted from Nathan Bingham. You’re welcome to download the PDF by clicking the image below (or get the editable PSD here) if you want to give it a go yourself. Let me know how you get on!

[If you have an iOS device (iPhone/iPad) with Olive Tree installed, you may well also be interested in this article.]