It can be both startling and surprising when I meet Christians (or engage with Christians online) who, for all their talk of Christianity, can’t seem to make sense of the Bible. How could this be?
How could it be that we would become so disoriented in our own worldview that our own book wouldn’t make sense to us?
JI Packer describes one prominent reason one reason why the Bible doesn’t make sense to people: they don’t understand sin.
The subject of sin is vital knowledge. To say that our first need in life is to learn about sin may sound strange, but in the sense intended it is profoundly true. If you have not learned about sin, you cannot understand yourself, or your fellowmen, or the world you live in, or the Christian faith. And you will not be able to make head or tail of the Bible. For the Bible is an exposition God’s answer to the problem of human sin, and unless you have that problem clearly before you, you will keep missing the point of what it says. Apart from the first two chapters of Genesis, which set the stage, the real subject of every chapter of the Bible is what God does about our sins. Lose sight of this theme, and you lose your way in the Bible at once. With that, the love of God, the meaning of salvation, and the message of the gospel will all become closed books to you; you may still these talk of things, but you will no longer know what you are talking about. It is clear, therefore, that we need to fix in our minds what our ancestors would have called “clear views of sin.”
‘The subject of sin is vital knowledge’ indeed. May God make us faithful to study it, know it, read the Bible, and relate to our God in light of all that he has shown us about our sin.
Who Is a Good Parent?
It’s a loaded question, isn’t it? It seems to me that often the people who think they are great parents aren’t, and the parents who are doing a great job (even if imperfect) tend to feel their weakness the most acutely.
As evangelicals in the western world in the 21st century, it seems that there is more pressure than ever to do well at this parenting thing. We have Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram telling us everyday how great everyone else is doing at this parenting thing; the proof is in the nicely edited photos, right? The family lives of so many others around us seem to be smiling faces, happy hearts, and many memorable moments of family fun.
And that’s just the world. Nevermind in the church. Other Christians are doing a great job at family devotions, praying for world missions, and teaching their children to memorize the whole Bible (or so it seems). And doesn’t that make sense? I mean, if the non-Christians in the world are doing well at this family thing, should we be doing better? Isn’t family a Christian thing?
Sadly, many Christian parents end up feeling guilty, over-burdened, and stressed trying to keep up with all the family things that we feel we need to do to be good parents.
Horoscope vs. Bible
Have you ever wondered how it is that some people seem to be so intrigued by their horoscope? I think we all know at least a few coworkers, friends, family members, or neighbours who interpret all of life’s events through Zodiac signs. It’s weird, right?
But they get so excited to read the horoscope! They are eager to read it because they really want to find out what their future (and everyone else’s future) seems to have in store. And they really believe they’ll find out here.
The sad thing, to me, isn’t just that they’re reading these fanciful, generic, basically-could-apply-to-anyone, type predictions. What’s actually sad is that they are more excited about reading the horoscopes (and seem to benefit from reading them more) than some Christians are about reading the Bible.
But the Bible is the inspired Word of God! How could this be?
Reading with Expectation
Someone might answer that it’s hard to benefit from reading the Bible because it is harder to understand. That may be true, in part. But there are lots of easy articles and books devoted to helping you understand the Bible, and many great study Bibles that you can take advantage of as well. Understanding doesn’t have to be (and typically isn’t) the issue.
I think the difference is faith. Expectation. Anticipation. Hope. The difference between horoscope readers and Bible readers, much of the time, is that horoscope readers, sadly, often read with more faith. They genuinely believe that something in those pages will make a difference in their life.
The Bible is awesome. So Christians love it. Unfortunately, the Bible is also huge compared to blog posts, tweets, and most other things we read these days. So Christians fear it.
About a month and a half ago I decided that I wanted to start a new Bible reading plan. From the list of thousands available, one stuck out to me: The Bible in 90 Days.
Read through the Bible in 90 days? I wondered what kind of an insane idea this was, so I looked into it a little bit. Surely, it must be impossible, right?
Here’s what I found out:
- To read the whole Bible takes between 69 and 77 hours
- So, to read the whole Bible in 90 days, you need to read about 48 minutes per day.
Yeah, it’s a commitment, for sure. But really, it’s no more than watching one prime time TV show per day. Or one-third of a sporting event per day. Those are things that we do every day without blinking! So why not give it a shot?
I’ve been at it for a while now. And I can honestly tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as a Christian that has reaped more immediate benefit for my soul. I’m over halfway through the Bible now, and rather than fearing my Bible reading, I’m loving it! Spending the extra time in the word each day has hooked me and formed a solid habit; I’m honestly addicted. I’m looking instinctively now for ways to spend more time in the word — I love it!
The YouVersion app has been super-helpful for reminding me and tracking my progress. I totally recommend getting it, if you don’t have it.
So GFC people, look out! Once I’m done this time through the Bible, I’ll be looking for some of you to do it with me!
In sermon preparation this week, I’ve been struck again by the simplest of realities. (Why is it always the simplest things that I have to re-learn the most often?) As I was praying over my study for the day — with my mind wandering from sustained prayer to thoughts about the text, and then back to prayer again — I found myself burdened with this reality:
The point of the text is the God of the text; apart from knowing the God who breathes the words, the knowledge of the meaning of words means nothing.
What does it profit a church-goer to gain a whole dictionary of knowledge, but forfeit the opportunity to know God? It is God himself who is exceeding joy, and whose love is better than life (Psalm 43.4; 63.3). It is God who is our refuge and strength, and God alone who proves himself to be for us when all else seems against us (Psalm 46.1; 56.9).
Don’t get me wrong. Rigorous study is an absolute must and precise attention to grammatical and contextual and historical detail is absolutely essential, lest we misunderstand what God is actually saying. But in the midst of the grammatical trees, we must not miss the covenantal-relational forest: Our God has revealed himself to us! He gave us these words that we would know him, and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 29.29; Mark 12.29-30).
The reason any person speaks is for the purpose of being known. Our God speaks that he might be known, and that we might live in covenant with him. If my sermon — or any sermon — explains the words of the text, but doesn’t bring people face-to-face with the living God who spoke the text, it must ultimately be deemed a failure.
We must work with all diligence to discern the meaning of the words of the speaker, so that the speaker might be understood, cherished, and loved. May God make that true of me this week and every week!
I’m a part of a bi-weekly Bible study that I love. Rather than working through a specific text together, we each come ready to talk about what we’ve been reading on our own.
It’s nice because each time we meet is very different. Also, it adds accountability. And no matter how many good reasons to read the Bible I have in theory, it’s easy to let it slip in practice. But if I show up and haven’t been reading my Bible, I’ll have to answer to the group as to why I’m not able to share with them.
But more than anything, the blessing is in the fellowship as we reflect on what God is saying to us through his word in an ongoing, relational context that is deliberately set-up to foster fellowship.
This past Monday night one of the people in our group shared something with me that really challenged me. We were talking about why we sometimes get away from regular Bible-reading and he strongly admonished us, ‘Don’t be okay with not reading your Bible!’
I’m thankful for the 10 reasons for expository preaching listed by HB Charles Jr. Though I am committed to expository preaching through successive biblical texts as the norm for our church, it is all too easy to forget the reasons why, and to just assume the practice without thought to the reason.
In particular, one item on Charles’ list stuck out to me:
Expository preaching addresses the needs of the people which never occur to the preacher
I simply cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this. Almost invariably, when someone feels that something in particular in a sermon is ‘for them’, it is not something I knew was going on in their life. It was not a need I was aware of now. But it is a need that God knew of so long ago when he inspired the text and ordained for me to preach it on this particular Sunday.
Viewed from that perspective, of knowing the needs of human hearts, we actually begin to see something of the audacity of not habitually preaching expository messages. Preaching topically, or as I see fit, actually places more faith in my ability to assess the needs of our people than it does in the sufficiency of the revealed word and will of God.
Expository preaching forces us to preach on topics and texts that we would never choose. Expository preaching forces us to be controlled in what we talk about next.
If the medium does indeed convey the message, then expository preaching in and of itself serves both the preacher and the people well in that it says: ‘This man is being told what to talk about; he is not the one who knows what we need.’ It militates against the projection of the false image of the pastor as the one who is ultimately setting the vision for the church. If the vision for the church is biblical, people will see it as it is drawn out from the word, rather than created in the mind of the ‘visionary’ pastor.