How to Study the Bible

For the last few years, actually for almost a decade (man I’m getting old!) I’ve adopted a Bible reading approach which has been fantastic. It’s called Bible Read Through. The idea is you read through a book of the Bible each week, taking notes of anything you like and then exchange your three favourite points with a friend. (I’m sure I’ve outlined it a lot better somewhere else, but here is a video for using this method in your Church)

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post! Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt like God has been pushing me to study the Bible with less speed and more “chewing”. I have a good overview of what the Bible is about, what goes on in the stories, passages and songs, but now I feel that God wants me to actually study it – in depth.

This is all relatively new to me: A Bible-guzzling junkie, to actually pause, soak and chew on Scripture.

Since I’m not a half-hearted creature, probably an ‘Enthusiast’ on the enneagram model, I did some research! And got myself a baseline understanding of how to study the Bible. I’m all set up with my tools and have set myself high expectations for what’s going to happen along the way.

Start as you mean to go on….that’s what I heard anyway!

How am I going to do this? I feel like I have a big task ahead, so I wanted to share the ground-rules I got for myself. Maybe they will encourage others who want to join me on the journey:

1) Prayer… In that ‘Life Arts’ bag is my prayer journal. I don’t really want to study the Bible to get cleverer. Believe it or not, I’m not a very bright guy. I find it tough reading academic work, and am easily persuaded by most politicians about most policies etc. It’s the way God made me. But luckily, the Bible promises that it will ‘make wise the simple’ (that’s me!). I’m praying through this, because more than being cleverer, I actually want to be transformed. I want to hear God speak, and let it soak into my soul. I want to be ‘conformed to His image’ (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18). I want to radiate Christ in my workplace, in my friendships and in my family, more and more please! So I’m praying through each passage and reading, asking God to apply His truth to my heart.

2) Study aids. I got myself an ESV study Bible (partly, because I’ve mainly ever stuck to NIV in all my Bible reading, and also because I hear a lot of clever evangelicals (aka: John Piper and Wayne Grudem) go on about it being a good translation…). I’m also using a semi-commentary: The Bible Speaks, because a really dear and respected friend of mine looks up to Derek Tidball, and I hear he’s involved in the books. It’s not a ‘real commentary’ (by it’s own admission) it’s more about application…so it’s my kind of commentary.

3) Note-taking. That little black notebook, is my tool for recording things that stand out to me along the way. Like I said, I’m not super-clever, and so using pen and paper help me to process. It also helps me remember! I got a super-fine ball point pen to use to fit all my notes in a tiny book.

4) A slow, slow pace. I’m still doing my Bible Read Through, to get the Bible in me every day. But I’m taking this Study slowly, and thoroughly, slow and steady. There is no deadline for completion. I’m going one page at a time. It’s going to take some getting used to, and some major adjusting. But I intend to read each passage several times, coupled with the notes in the Study Bible and the actual “non-commentary”, along with prayer and note-taking. I don’t have enough time or money to make this a full-time job. And I really don’t want to become an anti-social recluse studying the Bible, I believe the Word of God is to help us live life in all it’s fullness. Saying that, I do intend to spend a good hour or so each day with this task. It will override a lot of my other reading endeavours.

5) A heart to teach. I spoke to my wife about this a few times, I have a massive heart to pass on what I’m learning. (Probably a symptom of working with the Navigators for so long). But even from a young age, I have always enjoyed sharing what God is teaching me, I guess I can’t help it. So I am taking notes, and consolidating my learning by turning it into resources for sharing. That’s where this blog is coming in. It will be the platform I use to regurgitate what God is teaching me.

6) Coffee. You can’t see it in the photo, but I have a lovely coffee contraption. It cooks coffee on the hob over half an hour at a time. And honestly it’s the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life.

Finally, here are my top 3 expectations, already eluded to above:

1) More like Jesus…I want to resemble Him more. I really want to carry His likeness into my workplace, friendships and family. Not only is this the best way to ‘bless’ people, it is the best way to communicate the good news to those I care about.

2) Heart Transformation… There is so much sin in my heart and my actions, it’s pretty difficult to hide it all…I want to invite God to minister to me and heal me, grow me, challenge and sharpen me on this journey.

3) Inform my Life’s purpose (the explicit one and the implicit one). My life purpose: to be a man after God’s own heart, then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same, is beautifully worded (if I do say so myself)…but I don’t always live by it. Through reading God’s word, I’m expecting to become a man of greater integrity when it comes to my Life’s purpose.

Please pray for me.

To Him alone be the glory!

Leave Her Alone Judas!

Earlier this week, I published a post about the woman who extravagantly worships Jesus by breaking a jar of expensive perfume and wiping His feet with her hair (her glory!). We examined the reactions of those observing the scene and drew out challenges for ourselves.

In this post I want to share some of my notes from a sermon John Piper preached on a similar story in the gospel of John 12. This is the first time sharing my sermon notes as they were taken rather than presented in blog format. Enjoy! (…and excuse the mess)!

That quote from 1 Timothy 6:6-10 highlights the dangers that come with even wanting to be rich. This isn’t just about the love of money, (v10), the line is drawn even closer to home (v9). How this isn’t talked about! I think we tolerate this ‘desire to be rich’, in our own lives and the lives of our fellow Christians. I certainly do.

Dismantle Your Glory

Strange title for a blog post right?

There is a well known story in the Bible of a “sinful woman” who breaks a jar of perfume (probably a years wages), and wet’s Jesus’ feet with it, using her hair! It’s found in Luke 7:36-50. In the story there are onlookers who are judgemental. They criticise both Jesus and the woman for this extravagant act of affection.

However, the Son of God responds with gratitude towards the lady, and rebuke towards the onlooker.

This story has been on my mind and filling up my prayers for over a week. (I’ll probably spread it all over two blog posts.)

Firstly though, I had never made the connection between this story and the odd verse in 1 Corinthians 11:15 which talks about a woman’s hair being for her glory. Clearly, in this time and culture hair was important to a woman’s reputation, value and dignity.

So it is even more astonishing that we have a woman, not just extravagantly worshipping Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume, but also dismantling her own glory to do so. How humbling!

I can’t honestly say that I’ve worshipped Jesus with such abandon, such cost: material or reputational. (Thanks T. Tenney for pointing out this link between two passages!)

But we can also pick up a few points (and questions) about what this moment in Jesus’ life teaches us about worship.

  1. When we worship, we ought to be giving God our best. The woman in this story clearly does this, she breaks the most precious item in honour of Jesus, and surrenders her hair (her glory) for the glory of Another.
  2. In our Churches, do we elevate the anointed or the anointer? What do I mean? Well, it seems that in most churches we put on a pedestal those who have amazing gifts, confidence and charisma or even good looks(!), those we consider “anointed”. I think this story teaches us, that it is not the gifted – or the “anointed” – we need to look at, but rather those who are anointing Jesus with their everything. These are the people who should set the pace, the standard for our worship – not necessarily the most gifted with the guitar.
  3. Can we cope with such worship in our midst? The onlookers in this story, certainly couldn’t! When we are around people with such reckless abandon, we can feel uncomfortable. We might even label those people as “too passionate”, “too heavenly minded”, “too emotional” etc. Oh, that we would be convicted by our lukewarm attitude to worship. Jesus deserves our best. And worship is a sacrifice (see also Romans 12:1-2).

In the gospel of Matthew (26:12) it says that the true worshipper did this in preparation for Jesus’ burial. I wonder, if Jesus recalled this moment of honour and worship while He hung on Calvary’s cross? Did it strengthen His resolve, to know the love and freedom and forgiveness He would be purchasing for ever-thankful souls?

God Chasers

I finished Tommy Tenney’s book, the God Chasers this week. Interestingly, I’d already read a different version of the book as a teenager, and so many of the concepts, ideas and challenges had already become foundational to my faith. But nevertheless it was good to revisit them.

I was personally challenged, that my hunger for God isn’t enough. I mean, I have a lot of the key practices down, I know how to cultivate my relationship with God, through Scripture, Prayer, Worship, Witnessing etc. But my hunger for God’s presence was not overwhelming enough.

The vision of hunger I want is to be so filled with God’s presence that people are drawn to Jesus, simply by me being present. That’s what I’m hungering for. I want lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to pursue God’s heart. I am boosted towards this goal by His presence in my life.

Before I had settled for being close to God. But now I want other people to be close to God, simply by being close to me. It takes the calling, to be Abraham’s descendants and a blessing to the nations (Gen 12) to a whole new level.

I do find it a bit odd to tell myself I’m not hungry enough. But these words echo those famously said by CS Lewis “we far are too easily pleased”:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Yes, the morning quiet times are good, yes the journaling and prayer walks are helpful and a useful step in the right direction. Yes, the dependency on Jesus’ works not my own…all of it good. What is now being challenged anew is the heart for God.


And yet, since being a teenager, I have been heavily influenced by Christian teaching that emphasises it is all by Grace alone, teaching I stand by. The temptation with a book like this is to feel like I’m not doing enough. And to make more effort to read more Bible, pray for longer, pray better, witness more, do more etc. And I don’t think this is what Tommy Tenney intends, and more importantly, I don’t think it’s what God wants.

The last thing we want to do is come under more guilt and shame, or put ourselves under a different “set of laws”. Trying to earn God’s presence with more purity, better prayers, more hunger for Him etc.

The truth is, it’s already been earned for me. I can come with confidence before God’s throne. (Good news, right?!) This book challenged me, not to try harder, but to aim higher. I can receive so much more from God than I’m currently experiencing. How? By trying harder? No. By having longer quiet times? No. But by coming to my Good Father who freely gives all that Christ has earnt for me, through faith-filled-prayer.

“Make haste and come down”

God knows when He needs to interrupt us. Today He interrupted me.

Bringing up three significant areas of my life where I had been failing to honour Him. And challenging me to action. It was tough to be challenged and disciplined, but the real work continues. Conviction is only step 1.

I began journaling repentance and was reminded of the story of man in the Bible who encountered Jesus. Turning to read the story again in my Bible:

“Make haste and come down”

Let us not wait to repent, let us make haste and come down, responding to Jesus call and receiving the good He has for us joyfully.

The Ants are back!

Around this time last year, one of the rooms of our flat hosted an unwelcome army of visitors. Ants. They came crawling up through the carpet and all over my desk, chair and work out equipment. Last year, when I first noticed it was pretty shocking, it seemed like the ground was moving.

It happens that our ground-floor apartment is situated right by three separate ant colonies. Last year we beat them back and reclaimed our flat. But this year they are back.

It was a little less shocking this time, because I half expected it, this year, they seem to only be coming from one nest, and only infecting one room. Luckily, we had some ant powder left over and money to buy more weaponry.

Last week the room where the breach was, was powdered and evacuated by us. This week I’m moving my work back into our home office.

What I briefly wanted to share is how both times, this year and last, the same verse has come into my head about this situation, from Matthew 6:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Ants, are hardly moths, and they do relatively little damage. But they are an invasion, with the powder in the room, they did take away temporarily some of our possessions. And it’s all turned out a helpful reminder that everything we own, even the beautiful things that God has given us, are all temporary. They can all be damaged, infested and taken away.

Therefore I need to remember my treasure in heaven. And whilst I am frustrated and actually pretty annoyed that ants came in my home, I am thankful that God uses even that to teach me of this important life-saving truth! I am not living for this world but for another, my possessions aren’t mine to own, they are mine to steward. My treasure is not here, but elsewhere. My hope is secure, my joy cannot be harmed.

Finally, this situation coupled with a piece of poetry I listened to this week about simplicity and generosity. God is clearly teaching me about handling my possessions wisely.

But I like how my slate looks

I have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey’s competition programme “Hell’s Kitchen”. It’s a show where 16 chefs compete to show themselves as the best chef, and win a job which usually pays $250k. A sweet prize.

Anyway, in this particular season as we get to the final five. Gordon Ramsey says to the finalists, “look guys, you’ve all done really well to get here, so from here on in I’m giving you all a clean slate. I’ll be judging your performances fresh tomorrow.” – Great news for one of the contestants, who’d had a string of bad episodes, who’d been hanging on by the skin of her teeth!

However, it was bad news for the top performer, who muttered “but I kinda liked how my slate looked”.

This stood out to me, for some obvious reasons. In Christianity we often talk about Jesus giving people a clean slate, forgiving sins and forgetting what is behind us. We also have the famous story of the prodigal son who ran away from home betraying his family. After realising his mistake he was extravagantly welcomed back by the Father. Whilst his older brother looked on disapprovingly.

Admittedly, I can relate to the older brother, in the same way I can relate to the workers who’d been working all day in the field, who received the same pay as the workers who’d only worked the final shift (another Jesus story). There is a part of me which looks on and feels as though Justice has not happened.

The people who worked the hardest, who did the most, who’d had the most success are levelled with the people who were lazy, who did the least, who’d had the least success. Is this fair?

What does the Bible say about this? Is it fair?

1) It wouldn’t be fair if it were true, if my perspective were true. From my point of view, you win if you’re better than the other guy. You win if you try harder, work fast, see more success. But what the Bible says is that “winning” isn’t about being the best, it’s about being perfect. We don’t just need the cleanest slate, we need a spotless slate. But the Bible is clear, all have sinned and fall short and all of us have gone astray turned our own way!

“Winning” eternal life requires absolute holiness. In this case the person who tries the hardest, works the fastest and produces success needs as much levelling as the person who comes last.

2) Our slate doesn’t just get wiped clean. The beautiful thing about believing in Jesus (and accepting the offer), is that not only do your sins get put away, and “passed over”. You’re slate also get permanently inscribed with the life, righteousness and holiness of Jesus. His precious blood, His perfection, His consistent resistance to every temptation, His success.

Of course, God let’s us keep our slate if we really want it. If we are proud and pleased with it. With the good and the bad… we can reject Jesus’ offer to have a wiped slate, renewed and filled with Him. But believe you me, that would be proud-foolishness! Because the truth is, it’s not good enough.

You may even be the best of the best, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law… You know what Jesus said about them? Unless you righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law you will not enter the Kingdom of God.

Do you like how your slate looks now?

 

 

 

Desiring to Live and Breathe: Jesus

I want to be the kind of person who lives and breathes Jesus. Who’s hobbies and free time all revolve around Him. I want to be known as a follower of Jesus, someone who loves Him and is trying to be as much like Him as possible. To be a man after God’s own heart and then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same.

But then I run into two problems.

Firstly, I get distracted. I lose sight of this goal and will invest my time in things which aren’t Christ centred. Which have little to no impact in His Kingdom and which don’t bring me closer to Him OR make me more like Him.

Secondly, I fear that I will become one-dimensional to others. That I will become that cliche Christian stereotype who only does “Christian things” and who therefore becomes pretty dull and has nothing to talk about.

I want to write a little truth into this second problem. It’s wrong on a few levels and needs to be combatted with correction. I can focus on the distractions later.

So first, where does this fear come from? Well, I want to fit in, I want to be cool, I want acceptance and to be able to contribute to conversations. Primal need – relationships and acceptance in community. If I centre my life of “Christian activities” then the only community I’ll find acceptance in is in “Christian circles”. And experience has taught me, this is not enough, it’s not dynamic enough or satisfying enough. In my experience “Christian circles” are cliche and fairly shallow. (Admittedly, I’ve had a fair share of frustrating experiences….) Furthermore I also want to be “relevant” to everyone else.

Remember that kid, who only listened to Christian music, only watched Christian films and only read Christian books. Not only was his experience of art, constrained to a bleak corner, but he also couldn’t/struggled to get involved in the conversations, communities and friendships that had exposure to a wider world.

Let me clarify, I know that to have a life which is Christ centred – doesn’t mean only engaging with the “Christian Bubble”. I know that there really isn’t so much as a sacred-secular divide as people in the olden days supposed. I know this, I’ve been around the block. It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out – Jesus said that.

But at the same time, I do believe Christ calls us to a life of purity. Where we are selective about what we engage in. And deliberate about what we do. We know that there are certain activities which harden our heart to God’s truth, we know that there are things which cause us to stumble, we know that we need to live selectively because our days are short. We are ambassadors with a limited time frame to work, to harvest, to fish. Therefore we should live in such a way that demonstrates God’s love, passion and blessing to this world. And not get caught up and entangled with distractions.

Let me also clarify that a life lived after Christ, isn’t insular, it isn’t passive and useless, it tackles the problems that the world faces. It offers light and salt to a world hungry for it. It shines hope into darkness, truth into lies, freedom into captivity, healing into brokenness and glory into shame. It does all this and more. And therefore it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, in the periphery and outskirts of ordinary life.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t be living in fear of being excluded or being rejected. This Good News, is ugly news to some and off-putting to others. The lifestyle of radical discipleship to our Rabbi, will upset, frustrate and anger people who don’t like Him. It is enough that the student be like his Rabbi/teacher. If they persecuted Him, if they laughed at Him, rejected Him and excluded Him, how much more us?!

Sometimes I just need to write truth down, and speak it to myself.

Afterthought, I also think that a selective life is very interesting to a watching world. Ever met someone who didn’t have social media, or a Netflix subscription – because of a deliberate decision. They usually have an interesting story behind it. And we are eager to know about it. May my selective life, draw others to Jesus.

“…to live in a way which demands an explanation.” Was a motto my wife and I adopted when we got engaged. It’s time to dust it off and start again.

I get to do this everyday!

One of my favourite things to do as a Christian is to get time alone with God. For some reason, I don’t think a lot of people who “love Jesus”, love spending much alone time with Him. There’s probably a lot a play with this, and there are times I lose sight of the great benefits of deliberately carving time into my day to abide in His presence without distractions.

But I’m having great times meeting God these last few weeks. That’s for sure, its keeping me focused and joyful in the midst of the UK lockdown. I wanted to share the routine I go through, partly because I’ll end up looking back on this post later down the line with fond memories. And partly because I think it might encourage other people to spend time with Jimg_0918esus.

I put on the coffee, I have one of those fancy hob-cooking coffee machines, I actually bought this to have “special coffee” with God. So I only make coffee in the hob-cooker when it’s me settling down to meet with my King and maker. (Kind of like going somewhere nice for a date!)…

Then I sit down in my special chair, with my special coffee and read my Bible. (Very lucky to have one of these, heard about a boy who had to pray and fast for weeks in order to get one in China during cultural revolution.) Sometimes I might find my mind wandering, so I’ll have to stop and ask God to help me focus. It’s usually early in the morning, and despite the coffee, it can take me a while to get in the zone. I want to hear what God is going to say to me.

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As I read I’m underlining, and making little notes in the margins. I’ll transfer these into my notebook when I’m finished reading. But I find I lose track of what I’m reading if I’m stopping frequently to make notes.

Then, when I’ve finished the readings. I move over to my desk, pull out my journal and switch on the Inner Room app I’ve got on my iPod. And pray through some of my prayer points. I love this app, because it stops you half way though and tells you to “Now, listen to God’s voice”…pen down and listen. I make a couple of notes afterwards, if I feel Him say something I want to remember.

That’s exciting, hearing from God. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found the praying time get shorter and the listening time get longer. Because I kind of already know what I’m praying about, and some of the things on my list – I’ve prayed for over and over again. So listening is the exciting part. The last few days, I’ve felt like I’ve got my ‘daily marching orders’ and God’s given me specific tasks for the day ahead.

Then I enter the day. Filled with God’s word, with a soul that has been heard, and ears that have listened for their Maker’s voice. He leads me.

I get to do this every day, for free, and so do you. And I reckon, you probably want to do it too. So what’s stopping you?