Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

A few years ago I read an annotated version of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Sometimes I struggled with disrupting the flow of the story to read the notes. But the notes added so much to understanding the story, they were worth it in the long run.

I read recently an article where someone brought up this difference between reading for pleasure versus reading an annotated version of a story, stopping to read every footnote. This writer brought out the disruption of this type of reading. She pointed out that we don’t read regular books that way (unless we’re in school reading an assigned text), so we shouldn’t read the Bible that way.

There are times we should just read a particular passage as it is for pleasure, with no cross references or footnotes. But there are other times we should study it out in depth. It isn’t either Bible reading or Bible study. We need both.

Some people read and study in tandem. They’ll read one passage devotionally and study another, possibly to prepare for a group Bible study. Others will take turns: they’ll read one book of the Bible all the way through, then do a Bible study project on another book or topic, then read another book of the Bible through.

When I first started using a study Bible, I wasn’t sure I liked reading a verse or two and then stopping to read the footnotes sidebars, and charts. It did seem more halting and fragmented than just reading the passage. But the extra material did aid in understanding the passage.

Instead of reading a verse and it’s footnote one by one, sometimes I read a paragraph at a time, then look over the footnotes. Or, if there is a lot of footnote information for each verse, I’ll read each footnote after its verse, and then go back over the last few lines of text just to put it all together.

Then, beyond just the notes in a study Bible, there are commentaries, Bible study guides, and a whole slew of other Bible study materials with which to dig into a passage even further..

Let’s see if I can illustrate the benefit of study in another way. I was not exposed to classical music much as I was growing up. I remember one Girl Scout trip to a symphony, a couple of performances of Handel’s Messiah in school or church, our pastor playing excerpts of Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio in a high school assembly. I remember thinking the pieces were nice and enjoying a few of the songs more than others (especially “He, Watching Over Israel,” based on Psalm 121:4, from Elijah). But I didn’t get much more than that from the pieces.

Then I went to a Christian liberal arts university which wanted to teach us more than academics, so we were exposed to various kinds of classical music concerts, Shakespearean plays, etc. During my junior year, I asked a sophomore music major roommate to help me pick out some classical vinyl albums marked down to $3 at the bookstore that she thought I might enjoy. I grew a bit more in my appreciation of classical music.

But it wasn’t until my senior year in college, when I had a class called Music Appreciation, that I really began to understand and then love classical music. We went era by era, learning what kind of music was produced by which composers in each period. We learned something of the lives of major composers. We listened to and took apart some famous works. We learned to identify the different themes in each piece, note their development, and trace how they interacted with each other. We’d have tests where the professor would play a few seconds of a piece of music, and we’d have to identify it as the first theme of the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony (a melody which was later given words by one of his students and turned into the lovely song “Goin’ Home“). Some of the works we studied then are my favorite pieces today – New World, Hayden’s Surprise Symphony (and the fun story behind it), Smetana’s The Moldau, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and others. Listening to them again is like rereading a favorite book, enjoying and anticipating the flow. I came to understand and enjoy the whole much more by studying the parts. In fact, I haven’t added any new classical music loves because I haven’t studied any pieces to the extent I did then.

It’s the same way with the Bible. As we study the individual parts of a biblical book, we learn what the details mean, how they fit within the book itself, how the book fits within the whole Bible. We trace the themes and see how they intertwine. We’ll know and get more from those passages in ways we don’t know those we’ve only given a cursory reading. And each time we read that book, we build on what we know and appreciate what we remember from previous studies. Study might seem tedious in the midst of it, but it’s worth it when you put it all together. C. S. Lewis contrasted the difference between meditating on a single verse devotionally vs. working through a longer passage: “Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden (from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis).

Some days, even some seasons of life, like when young children are in the house, our Bible reading may be more like grabbing a quick protein bar instead of sitting down to a meal. There are many good reasons to read the Bible, and sometimes we’re greatly blessed from just reading a passage. While working on this post, I read Julia Bettencort’s great post about reading the Bible for pleasure. Some days our thoughts are already scattered, and focusing on and absorbing a single passage is more helpful than adding notes or references. But we also benefit from studying more in depth at times. Our study informs and enhances our general reading. It’s good to make time for both.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story,
Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth, Worth Beyond Rubies)

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Here are some good reads I’ve discovered recently:

Why Study the Old Testament? “Since the NT speaks directly to believers today and since the OT speaks directly to Jewish people many years ago, is the OT now irrelevant and obsolete? The answer to this question is a resounding ‘no.’ But why?”

How Cancer Healed My Dad, HT to Challies. “He endured months of aggressive treatment that made him feel horrendous, only to be told after each scan that he hadn’t responded to it and the cancer had spread further. He developed infections and bowel obstructions which hospitalised him at times, and when he was at home he spent most of his days on the sofa. But curiously, he described it all as the best year of his life.”

Can We Finally Break the Silence Around Tamar? “When we tell Tamar’s story aloud, we dignify her grief. And we begin to become for our sisters the advocates Tamar should have had.”

How an Internet Mob Falsely Painted a Chipotle Employee as Racist, HT to Challies. This kind of thing has to stop. People shouldn’t automatically believe what they see on the Internet and then pass it on without confirming it.

You Never Know, HT to Maree. Speaking of misjudgment – this is one mom’s scenario of what was going on behind a situation where she could easily have been misjudged.

Karen Swallow Prior, author of Fierce Convictions about Hannah Moore, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (both linked to my reviews), and On Reading Well (on my To be Read stack) was hit by a bus a little over a year ago. She has shared some enlightening reflections on the accident and her recovery in a couple of places:

The Role of the Body in Healing After Trauma. This was especially helpful to me, as some of her experiences paralleled mine after Transverse Myelitis. Though TM was traumatic in itself at the time, I hadn’t considered that I needed to recover from the trauma as well as the illness.

Sin is Like Getting Hit By a Bus.

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It’s been a little while since I have shared good finds on the Web. Here’s my most recent batch. Maybe you’ll find some of these good reading as well.

Partially Hydrogenated Bible Study. “Much like junk food manufacturers, Christian writers have been known to appeal to our senses to garner popularity. But the stakes for dining on spiritual junk food are high.”

Falling in Love With God’s Word, HT to True Woman.

The Gift of a Friend’s Rebuke. “Because I had not willfully sinned against her in my heart, my conscience had not been awakened to shine the light on my oversight. But still, I had hurt my friend. So much so that she no longer looked forward to hanging out with me, which was how she knew she needed to address it. Because she valued our friendship and cared about me, she spoke up, even though it was highly uncomfortable for her.”

The Surprise Meaning of Judge Not Lest You Be Judged.

Are We Doing Church Wrong?

Avoiding Difficult People, HT to True Woman. Though “there are clear circumstances that call for avoidance, distance, or even permanent severance from a relationship,” the “cultural philosophy of avoiding difficult people has an underlying worldview that should alarm any Christian.”

How Does She Do It? The Making of an Atypical Woman. HT to True Woman. “Isn’t that the beauty of God’s work in our lives? He takes us — the un-super, regular, sometimes scraping-by women — and he works on us.”

Kitchen Table Discipleship, HT to Story Warren. “So often we think our greatest accomplishments will come from outside the four walls of our house, but the discipleship we do right at the ‘kitchen table’ has eternal impact as we raise little ones to love and follow Jesus.”

Our Culture of Contempt, HT to Challies. “People often say that our problem in America today is incivility or intolerance. This is incorrect. Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people.” “Contempt makes political compromise and progress impossible. It also makes us unhappy as people.” “What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better.”

Famous Christian Quotes . . . That Aren’t Real, HT to Challies.

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent, HT to Challies. I really appreciate the balance here. “What is more important than the practices we take on is the heart attitude behind them. If there’s anything we should give up this time of year, it’s our sense of superiority either to those outside the church or those inside the church who do things differently than we do.”

A thought from Pinterest. I couldn’t find where it originally came from to credit the creator.

And don’t forget, it’s that time of year (seems way early to me!)

 

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Here are some great reads from around the Web:

I Learned to Read the Bible Through Tears, HT to True Woman. “But on days when I felt desperate, I didn’t care about duty. I was dedicating time to be with God because I needed it — not because I had to. I approached my Bible reading with a different mindset, with expectation and anticipation, not a sense of obligation.”

How Reading the Bible Changed My Life, HT to Challies.”So when I look back at that time in my life, I don’t see a 14-year-old who suddenly became ‘spiritual’; I see a gracious God who chose to intervene in an apathetic teen’s life. I don’t see my own faithful heart; I see the faithful heart of God that kept on pursuing me, despite my faithlessness, and that still pursues me to this day.”

Am I Invisible? One Mom’s pain-relieving response to being excluded, HT to Linda.

Age-ism: The New (or Old) Prejudice, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “About forty percent thought that older people should be banned from public activities, like shopping. Then the vitriol gets worse. Some of sites declared that older folks should ‘hurry up and die already.’ One quote went, ‘Anyone over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.’ This is nothing but brutal hate-speech.”

Children Who Get What They Want Are Not Creative, HT to The Story Warren. Interesting piece on how creativity thrives within structure and discipline rather than in total freedom. “When we [always] give a three-year-old whatever he wants, we are just postponing that child’s battle with his desires until a time in which he will find the fight far more difficult.” I don’t know that the best reason to serve a child food that he doesn’t like is so that he can engage his creativity by figuring out various ways to get rid of it, but I am thinking that section might be written tongue-in-cheek.

My Mother Practiced the Piano. “Certainly motherhood may limit your participation in certain endeavors, and there are some years that moms mostly just have to survive. However, if you are reading a site like Story Warren, my guess is that you are already highly committed as a parent, and that commitment frees me up to remind you that your passion and curiosity matter. There’s nothing selfish about working toward your artistic interests as God allows the time. In fact, your children can benefit from watching you model discipline and discovery, so don’t give up on your art, invite your kids into it. Let them watch you conquer little pieces of the world so that they will know how to tame their own chaos one measure at a time.”

Finally, seen on Pinterest from the Prince of Preachers site, this principle is not easy, but it is true.

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Just a few good reads to share today:

Read Your Bible to Fight Unbelief, HT to Challies. “We stop reading it when, in our unbelief, we start living as if we were autonomous and knew well how to do this thing called life without any direction from the Holy Spirit.”

Why Paul’s Messy Churches Give Us Hope.

Walking Saints Home, HT to Challies, on “the calling to walk with men and women to the end of their earthly lives.”

Why You Shouldn’t Stop Blogging (or Why You Should Consider Starting)

And, finally, this was floating around Facebook a while back. It always cracks me up:

Happy Saturday!

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I wanted to share these before we get too far away from Christmas since many of these posts relate to it.

Desperation, a Speech, and a Sick Child: Dickens and “A Christmas Carol.” What spurred the writing of Dickens’ most famous Christmas work.

What We Lose if We Ditch the Virgin Birth, HT to Challies.

One part of the Biblical Christmas story that often gets passed over is the murder of male babies in an effort to exterminate Christ. Two articles discerning truth from that horrendous occurrence are The Forgotten Part of the Christmas Story, HT to Challies, and From the Manger to the Cross: Mourning the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

Why Modern Christians Should Obey the Ten Commandments, HT to Challies.

ProLife Speaker Ryan Bomberger Publicly Discredited for Making Wheaton College Students and Professors Feel “Unsafe,” HT to Challies: “There is a right to free speech, but not a right to hear only what you want to hear.” “Our society and our colleges are under no obligation to protect frail and vulnerable college students from the discomforts of hearing what they don’t agree with. In my opinion, thin-skinned intellectualism has no place on college campuses. We need to encourage students to learn how to articulate their own ideas, not to try to shut down others from articulating theirs.”

Teach Your Teen How to Read the Bible.

There are usually lots of posts about Bible reading plans at the end of December and beginning of January. Lisa has created a 2-year Bible Reading Plan that I think is really good. I found the “Bible in a year” plans a little too rushed and pressured, so 2 years gives you a little more breathing room. It’s good to have both overview reading, to keep the big picture in mind and to read all of God’s inspired Word, and to do some more intense study on smaller bits as well. Lisa’s plan leaves room for both.

Giving Up Our Rights, HT to Challies. “Consider the formula: Giving up rights = Gospel advancement. Rights are those preferences and freedoms we enjoy as Christians related to what we eat, drink, and enjoy and even some things that we are owed or deserve.”

And, finally, this rang true for me, especially not knowing the day!

Found at Pinterest, apparently from the Letterfolk Instagram account.

Happy last Saturday of 2018!

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It’s been another good week for online reading! Here are posts I have learned from lately – maybe some of them will interest you as well.

Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life, HT to Challies. “But the way the Bible does its work on our hearts is often not through the lightning bolt, but through the gentle and quiet rhythms of daily submission, of opening up our lives before this open Book and asking God to change us. Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, it happens over time, as we eat and drink and exercise. The same is true of Scripture reading.”

Advent Reading Plans. Several doable, workable plans for reading from the Christmas-related passages of Scripture during December.

Don’t Downplay Your Suffering, HT to Challies. “One of the biggest mistakes believers can make when facing a tragedy is to minimize it. I think so many of us do it because we are lacking a robust theology of suffering.

The Most Difficult Time of the Year: How to Love Grieving Parents at Christmas.

How Long Does It Takes to Read Each Book of the Bible? HT to Lisa.

Should We Stop Publicly Shaming People?  HT to Lisa. Yes, indeed. Sometimes a public outcry helps, like the reaction to the Dove commercial a while back. But often instead of letting people learn from their mistakes, they are run into the ground and ruined for the rest of their lives.

Beyond Truth and Fiction: Loving Our Neighbors With Dementia, HT to Out of the Ordinary. The Christian alternative to lying to someone with dementia so as not to upset them.

My Husband Was Hurt by an I.E.D. The Lasting Injury Was to Our Family, HT to Challies. Sometimes devastating injuries don’t “show” on the outside and affect the whole family.

Join Me on a Ride to Malvern, HT to Challies. A favorite childhood memory, a reminder that “all of these ‘small moments’ have the potential of eternal significance for your child.”

Stop Hand Washing Your Dishes, HT to Lisa. Nice to have my preferences justified. 🙂

And a smile for the day, found on Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!

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Welcome to another gathering of great reads discovered this week:

Imperfections Make Sundays More Beautiful, HT to Challies. “I’ll admit it: these human quirks and errors sometimes exasperate me. I’m here to focus on the Lord! Your awkwardness is distracting me from worship! So mutters my self-righteous heart. Perhaps the real problem isn’t with the clumsiness of others, but with our expectations for corporate worship.”

The Bible: Reading the “Ordinary” Way, HT to Challies. Good thoughts about taking the Bible “literally,” how metaphor is used, etc.

Are You Different Enough? 5 Ways to Use Differences in Your Relationship.

The 17 Phrases That ‘Scare’ Introverts the Most, HT to Lisa. This was posted before Halloween, thus the “scary” faces.

Heartwarming Photos of Acts of Kindness, HT to Lisa.

Back to the Sources, HT to Linda, on cases of what were probably inadvertent plagiarisms by Christian authors (see the comments for how it could possibly have happened).

The 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Gift Guide for Book Lovers, HT to Linda.

As we look ahead to Thanksgiving in the US this week:

There seems to be a theme running through most of the posts I’ve read concerning Thanksgiving so far this year: the fact that thankfulness isn’t an emotion, but an act of the will, and not always easy. Here are a few:

Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons. “To intentionally call to mind images of gratitude in the midst of peace and prosperity is one thing, but it takes a sinewy faith to summon them when chaos reigns and the future looks bleak.”

Being Grateful Ain’t Always Easy (Or Is It Just Me?)

Thankfulness From Those Who Suffer.

Time Out for Thanksgiving

For some Thanksgiving fun:

Free printable Thanksgiving trivia, for use as a game or conversation starter

Thanksgiving Bingo.

Thanksgiving Word Search Place Cards, HT to Laura.

And, finally, a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving quotes:

Happy Saturday!

 

Don’t Plug In: Abide

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In our era, we’re used to plugging technology in to recharge. We have to bring power cords on trips and search for a place to plug in. We keep an eye on our phone so it doesn’t conk out on us at important moments. Our vocabulary has grown to include phrases like “recharging our batteries” when we need rest or refreshment or “plugging into” a power source. Some have even used the latter in connection with God and His power and provision.

In yesterday’s reading from Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada, she notes the differences between plugging in and abiding.

Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Joni comments:

We don’t get charged up in God in order to unplug and live on our own–until it’s time for the next charge. No. We never disconnect from Him. We are living branches connected to the living Christ. His life is our life.

Then, in probably the best definition for abiding that I think I have heard, Joni says:

Abiding is living in constant awareness of total dependence on Jesus. It involves a constant flow of life-giving sap from the Holy Spirit–not a spiritual charge that takes us up to 80 percent. Abiding in Christ is a 100 percent relationship.

It’s true that the Bible likens God’s Word to spiritual food, and our relationship with God, our love for Him, and our Christian character all grow as we spend time in the Bible. Our time in the Word of God helps cultivate that awareness of our dependence on Him. But we don’t, as Joni notes, “sit down for our quiet time and ask ourselves, How long do I have to be plugged into God today to get a good spiritual charge?

No, once we believe on Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we’re a vine connected to His branch. His life flows through us. He doesn’t charge us up and then us send us off to live independently til we need another charge. We don’t have to worry about becoming disconnected to Him. He’s always with us, constantly empowering us to live for Him.

I need your presence every passing hour.
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1847

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

 

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Welcome to another gathering of great reads discovered this week:

Downstream. Love this analogy: “A river reaches places which its source never knows.”

If Kids Don’t Understand Why Miracles Don’t Discredit the Bible, Their Faith Will Be Easily Crushed, HT to Challies. “Miracle accounts simply don’t automatically discredit the Bible. Anyone who thinks they do hasn’t thought critically about the subject. Please help your kids understand this so they’re prepared the next time someone tries to make them feel like a fool by making simplistic appeals to ‘common sense.’”

Musical Choices–Objective Subjectivity. What music is appropriate for Christians has been the subject of multiple debates for years. But I think we can agree that music (not just words) which appeals to the flesh would fall on the wrong side for us. And we have to be honest about that appeal: as is shown here, if even secular musicians apply words like “raunchy” and “angry” to their music, how can we deny those elements are there?

Praying for Your Missionary’s Emotional and Mental Health. We pray for physical safety, but missionaries need help in other areas, too.

Josh Harris releases a statement on his book I Kissed Dating Good-bye. HT to Challies. I’m glad to see this. We gleaned some good principles from the book but formed our own philosophy which disagreed in parts with his.

The Literary Christmas Reading Challenge runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.

If you like Christian Fiction and/or scavenger hunts, the annual Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt starts here, with an opportunity to win “25 books as well as Amazon gift cards, an iPad and more!” Plus most of the individual authors are hosting giveaways on their own sites as well.

And, finally, a couple of thoughts found on Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!