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!

First Draft Done!!!

Sorry everyone for my inconsistent posting. I have an excuse, a valid one this time. Honest. A couple of years back I felt an urge to write a book. Me being me, a lot of focus was put on the planning side of it. However over the last few months, basically since 2020 I started hammering out a steady pace of daily typing and flexing out my plan. Last month I took a week off work to focus just on writing. And yesterday, 24thJune 2020, 80,243 words later, I finished the first draft!

It summarizes, most of what I’ve learnt about my faith and discipleship since being a teenager, so has been a long time in the making – even sub-consciously. The journey from here is much more outside of my hands, so I should be able to write blog posts a little more frequently. (Plus I have a lot of ‘draft’ material I can upload if I’m stuck for ideas!)

For those interested and who want to be praying blessings over my efforts. I would be most appreciative! As far as I can see, or know, the next steps are:

1)     Look through the first draft, clean it up, make sure the sentences make sense, double check I’m not repeating myself, cull the blatantly bad bits, give nutrition to the good bits etc etc. Then I’ll have a “second draft”. [My personal deadline for this process is 10th July– Pray for me please]

2) Then I’m sending it to one or two friends who are SUPER-SMART/have written things I know and like. I’m already sending out feelers now for possible people.

3) While these amazing friends read and edit, look for heresies and grammatical failings, I’m getting in touch with a few friends and friends of friends who have published books already. Trying to network, further edit my ideas, and give me advice about publishing etc.

3.5) I’ll also be using this time to begin putting together a series of seminars, teaching on the content in the book. The power-points, extra reading material and handouts at least.

4) Once all this is done, I’ll start approaching publishers. I think this has to be done through a third party, who will store a copy of my book proposal and let mainstream publishers look it over and weigh it up against the risks of signing a new author.

I’m sure it won’t be as clear cut, but that’s the journey I’m likely going to be on over the next few months. Please do pray, I have a feeling, I’ve not yet reached the halfway mark. 😀

P.s. I was so proud and chuffed to have finished a first draft, I paid to have it bound. Here’s a picture of me basking in the various chemicals associated with pride and achievement:

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.

img_0917

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?

How Can I Improve?

Occasionally God interrupts my morning quiet time routine. These are exciting times and more often than not, I love to engage with Him in this. Today He presented a near-forgotten memory to my mind and asked me to ‘wrestle’ with Him over it. Bible down and prayer begins.

When I was a teenager and up till the age of 21, I used to ask this question very frequently: “How can I improve?”. I’d ask it after I’d lead a youth group session for my Church. I’d ask it after leading worship or preaching. I’d ask  it of my mentor whenever I’d lead a Bible study for the student group. I loved asking the question, and the feedback was so helpful and usually gave me insight for things I could actually improve.

Then one day, after a weekend away with new people, I asked it of my travel companions on the journey home…. I can remember what happened next, and it still makes me squirm!

There was a pretty long awkward silence, and one of my new-friends said ‘Paul, no offence, but that sounds like a pretty insecure question.’

I was mortified and backpaddled and defended and “clarified” myself and said lots of things to cover-up and refine the question I had asked so that it meant something different. But it was too late. I was exposed.

At the very least I was exposed to myself.

So I stopped asking the question. Completely. I stopped asking, because obviously I’m not an insecure person, I don’t need to ask this anymore. 

Four and half years later, God interrupts my Bible reading to flash this all in my mind again and asks me to deal with it with Him. My good Father reaches out to teach me and conform me even more into the Man after His heart who walks with His character and likeness.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. There were (at least) two motives behind my asking that question. I wanted to learn, I wanted to improve and I wanted to grow. I knew that it was right to give God my best and I wanted to, I wanted to be teachable and wanted to improve. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around mentors and leaders who invested in me, and could offer wisdom, insights and expertise and I was eager to extract as much as possible from them. But there was another motive at work: I wanted approval,  I wanted acceptance, I wanted to be seen a certain way. Obviously, I wanted the person I was asking to turn round and say “Improve?! Impossible, you did a fantastic job, better than me in fact, you are an amazing speaker/worship-leader/group discussion facilitator etc etc…” . I wanted this kind of approval. But not only this type… – In some twisted and “insecure” way I wanted the approval of being seen as a “self-aware” guy, who could take criticism (who even asked for it!), who was seeking to learn and grow.
  2.  There is an appropriate way to react when your motives are exposed, and I didn’t cotton on. My reaction was to stop asking the question “how can I improve?”, obviously with muddy-motives let’s stop all-together. Instead I think there is an alternative way to respond.
      • Thank God for using other people to expose hidden motives and areas of growth. Don’t lash out or, what I did, hide away. But thank God that He was using other people to sharpen.
      • Then face and evaluate the motives exposed. (They are probably there if you’re tempted to lash out or deny it strongly!) It might be that you need to repent from them. It might be that God wants to work on that area in your life right then and there, let Him speak truth into your life.
      • Then strive to move forward. This may look different depending on what the motives were. I once heard someone say “Your motives will never be completely pure, so don’t necessarily let them make the final decision” (take that with a pinch of salt). Striving to move forward will either look like:
        1.  Ditch the activity
        2.  Continue with the activity, but ask God to challenge and refine you so that the motive is cleared.

In my situation, I’ve decided that I will start asking the question again at appropriate times when I actually want to learn. But ask God to keep checking my heart and asking Him to bring healing to the insecurities.

 

 

What would change?

What if Christ actually compelled us? What if we were completely enamoured with Him so that everything else in our lives looked like utter rubbish? What if He alone stood in the ‘vision statement’ for your life, marriage, career and ministry?

What would change?

Would you end up sleeping more than you do, or less? Would you exercise more, or less? Would you even think about it – or would it be according to the ‘felt need’ on the day? What about your diet, would you eat more, or less? I’m guessing it’d be healthy, but to what extent? How much would you spend on vitamins and fruit and veg – would you only get organic? How much would you care?

What about money? Would you end up buying the things you buy? Would you save, if so how much, percentage wise? How might you budget? Would you be more inclined to stick with a budget, or to abandon it in a moment? How much would you give? To who or to what cause?

What would your mornings look like? The first thing you’d do, what about second? Would it be the same each day, or different? What about your evenings?

Or how about your conduct at work? Would you work harder, how much? Would you talk to more to people – how much? How much interest would you show the homeless person you pass each day.  How much attention would you give to each member of your Church family, who would you prioritise?

Would you have principles – would you stick to them more? Or would you feel freer to abandon them for the right thing in the moment? How would you work it out?

What would your prayer life look like? Kneel more? Journal less? Dancing? Singing? Silence? Bible first or after? Alternating? What you ‘feel’ like, what you’d planned?

There are so many questions, and I intended for them to feel overwhelming. Because the truth is, they are. The Christian life, even with the desire to live it well, is impossible.

The Good News, is that God gives us

  1. His Word – to teach us.
  2. His Spirit – to lead us
  3. His Grace – to forgive us, and keep us going when we fail.

My prayer is that I would lean into His word for instruction, receive from His Spirit the power and guidance that I need for each day. And remember His Grace, each and every time I stumble and  get lost.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Phil 3.12-14

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. – Psalm 119.9

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. – John 16.13

 

 

The White Flag: Called and Equipped to do much.

One of the significant activities God has been leading me into over the last 5 months is the process of ‘stepping out of ministry’. This has been an interesting time and I’ve learnt a lot. I wanted to share a bit of that journey and what it’s all been like.

Since October 2017, I have been doing what I called ‘bi-vocational’ ministry. I was working 9-5 for Cancer Research UK in their clinical trials unit, and at the same time running a student ministry with Navigators UK. It was great fun, it was a great challenge, it had it’s ups and downs like any ministry endeavour – but it was incredibly rewarding.

My average day started around 4.30-5am with all the regular routines and disciplines I needed to sustain me through the day (quiet times, exercise, reading and study), then I’d be out to meet with a small group of students on campus at around 8. We’d often simply read our Bibles and pray together. A fantastic way to start a working day, a fantastic way to approach discipleship, a fantastic way to grow friendships. Meeting daily in the mornings, you really do get to see each other on good and bad days – weaknesses exposed, yet together meeting to encourage each other and bring our days before God.

Then I’d be at work. I might meet someone at lunch (the trials unit was based at the university!). Then, depending on the weekday – I’d either be meeting a student 1-on-1, attending/leading/hosting a Bible study. It was busy. But being in my early twenties I have/had a lot of energy and time to spare for these good endeavours.

After a year at this pace, I added to my life FFM (Foundations For Ministry – a 3 year training course with Navs) and my wife and I took up our Church’s youth group’s mid-week gathering. Wow. Oh, and on top of all that, I was being allowed to preach once a month at Church (something I deeply cherish, and feel so honoured by!)…. Looking back on all this, it sounds like too much. But honestly, God sustained me.

I held firmly onto two verses which inspired and motivated and kept us both going…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me!” – Col 1.28-29 (which continues beautifully and relevantly into chapter 2!)

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;” – Ecc 11:2 (I felt God give me this verse one morning in my quiet time, it also came with the word: there is a difference between investing and managing)

With these verses, which I genuinely believe God gave me, I was encouraged to do all the many works I felt He was asking me to do. He put the work before me, and then enabled me to do it. I would say to myself, and to anyone else, that they really shouldn’t do as much as I was doing, unless God has specifically called them to it – and to remember – He probably won’t call you to it permanently.

…And then at Christmas 2018, we felt very clearly God was telling us to start drawing back…

 

Heroes of the Faith

And it’s Monday again, and it’s a bank holiday at that, so I’ve had another good long weekend. Feels like I’m getting a lot of time off work at the moment – which isn’t a bad thing. But I forced myself to write this on Monday evening again, trying to build a regular habit of posting, even though I probably could have done something this morning. I figure if it’s the same time every week it’s easier for me to create a “habit” out of it. Regular postings are key. Consistency is at least. Nevertheless, excuse my rustiness.

img_03511.jpgAnyway, it’s been an eventful bank holiday and I wanted to write about an amazing lunch I had on Sunday. We were invited to dinner with some real hero’s of the faith! Wolfgang and Beryl Stumpf. An older couple at our Church who have an amazing story to tell (in fact it’s so amazing he put it in a book, one I’d highly recommend!)

The Long View Forward

We’ve known this couple for years and Wolfgang in particular has had a giant impact in the way I live out my faith on a daily basis. When I was in youth group as a teenager, he came in  to deliver a session for us instead of the normal youth leader. He came in and shared about his personal devotional time. What he’d been doing for decades and decades!

Every morning he wakes up at 5am and reads his Bible and prays. To a wide-eyed teenager I was so convicted and challenged and awed at this man’s dedication to meeting with God. This was my target. And now as a 24 year old, I’m still doing it. Waking up early because some “old-person” in our Church told us that’s what he did to keep close to God. What an example to imitate! Let’s never be scared to talk about our devotional lives and what helps us connect with God with others’ because we don’t want to be perceived as proud, who knows what some eager listener might adopt as a result.

Anyway, long story short this couple spent a large amount of their lives in the middle east as missionaries. Now retired, they are still living out their faith passionately loving Jesus and providing themselves as a beautiful example for younger generations of disciples. I want to be like that when I’m old!

We really got to know them through their daughter and her husband who mentored us through our dating years and who now serve as missionaries in Egypt. Thank God for amazing role models, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without the example, mentoring and investment of a stream of amazing hero’s. Wolfgang preached at our wedding on a highly unconventional & difficult passage we’d given him (Rev 19:1-10)

We got to spend time with them again for lunch at theirs after church… and well, what hospitality, what interest they showed in us, what vulnerability in what they shared, what hope they displayed for the future and what love for Jesus…what legends!

 

Systematic Theology 10: The Knowability of God

E-08897

Forcing myself to get this up and posted. Thanks to everyone who ‘liked’ the previous post – not that I’m doing this for the approval. Because that would be vain of me 😉 and we all know that is not a pitfall battle for me! ;P But, seriously, it is actually encouraging to get the likes, especially on such a mammoth task as this.

Chapter 10, part 2 of 11 chapters on the Doctrine of God. And I am feeling pretty motivated to get it finished by end of February. That, is a tall order. But it’s worth setting targets.

So, if the previous post/chapter was trying to explain how we can know that God exists. This chapter seems to be building on it, can we really know God and how much of Him can we know. In short, we can know a lot about God, but not all there is (because He’s infinite!). We can know specific things about Him, but not the complete depths of those specific things. Not only can we know things about Him, but we can also know Him as a Person.

What did I like about this chapter?

  1. We can never fully understand God! He is so big, so infinite, so deep and wide we’ll never know too much or know completely. Even in Heaven when sin isn’t affecting us. The Bible is clear: God’s vastness is not fully comprehensible, partly because of sin, but also partly because of His greatness! (Grudem acknowledges an argument against this rooted in 1 Cor 13.12 “now I know in part, than I shall understand fully“….But he says the phrase “know fully” is simply an attempt to translate the word epiginosko, which suggest deeper or more accurate knowledge. Simply looking at Psalm 145.3 and other verses like this should clear up confusion. ‘the passages…attribute God’s incomprehensibility not to our sinfulness but to His infinite greatness p.151)… This makes it fantastic for someone who has a intellectual spiritual pathway to God, like me (!), to know that I can keep studying God’s word and meeting with Him and never get bored! Furthermore, it means that there will very likely be things about God that every other Christian will be able to teach me. This keeps me humble and reminds me to be teachable!
  2. I get excited that not only can we know about Him, like a superhero and famous leader, but we can also get to know Him. Real personally, He is our Abba. In fact, we’re told we should boast that we know Him. We are encourage in Scripture to boast that we know God. How awesome is that! God is my Father, I speak to Him on a daily basis! He knows me, and I know Him! This is amazing! It is also a challenging reminder, whenever my study is invested more in knowing about Him than actually knowing Him personally. May my study always be centered and rooted in prayer!
  3. Finally, even though I can’t know God fully, I can know Him truly. I know that He is love (1 John 4.8), light (1 John 1:5), Spirit (John 4.24) and Righteous (Rom 3.26). I know that He loves the world and has made me. I know that He works all things together for my good. I may not know everything, but I do know that He does. He reveals Himself to me through scripture, nature and His Spirit and I get to respond.