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It’s time for another Roundup of Recommended Reading Researched from Remarkable Writers around cyberspace. 🙂

11 Questions to Ask of a Bible Passage, HT to Challies.

How to Be an Encouraging Friend in Times of Pain.

The Worst Consequence of Skipping Church.

Sister, You Can Do Hard Things.

Satan Wields Ignorance of the Word as a Weapon. “Most Christians I talk to have never read the entirety of the Bible. They may read it frequently but only parts of it. But daily reading parts of the Bible doesn’t mean you know it any more than daily reading the first chapter of Moby Dick makes you an expert on the famous novel. Ignorance of the whole of God’s Word makes us easy targets in the war Satan has waged against God. Lies can slip through undetected like poison gas because we’re just not that familiar with the truth.”

A Hill to Die On, HT to Challies. “When you’re fighting a war, there’s very rarely a compelling reason to die for the next yard of soil – but that’s how wars are won, and that is how the line is held – yard by yard.”

Beware of Broken Wolves, HT to Challies. “These are the false teachers who use their own authenticity, pain, and brokenness to attract believers who are also suffering and broken—and then using their “brokenness” to lead the sheep to turn away from God’s Word and embrace sin.”

Don’t Skim the “Minor” Bible Stories.

What We Gained When We Lost Our Hymnals. This was a follow-up to What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals. I have read online a lot of complaining about using screens vs. hymnals, but I like the advantages he brings out about using screens. There are pluses and minuses to each. Our church uses both. If a song is not in the hymnal, it is projected on the wall. If it is in the hymnal, the words are also projected but our songleader tells where it is in the hymnbook for those who prefer to use it.

Living Faithfully Instead of Fancifully in an HGTV World. HT to True Woman. “To revel in the beauty of an earthly home knowing it will never completely satisfy because there’s a heavenly one ahead”; “The pursuit of joy is good but can come dangerously close to hedonism and not the Christian kind.”

Giving Up or Giving Back. This was from the Lenten season but has some tips for “giving back” in various other settings as well.

4 Ways Satan Uses Christian Generosity for Evil, HT to Challies.

Manage profanity in writing, HT to Adam Blumer. Tips for making villainous characters realistic without filling your readers’ heads with foulness.

And, to end with a smile:

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Happy Saturday!

* Links do not imply complete endorsement of site.

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Book Review: A Place of Quiet Rest

Quiet RestThe subtitle of A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (now Wolgemuth) is “Finding Intimacy With God Through a Daily Devotional Life,” and that sums up perfectly the aim and emphasis of the book.

“Devotions,” for those who might not be familiar with the term, is what we call spending time alone with God in the Bible and prayer. Some people use the terms “God and I time” or “quiet time” or other phrases as well.

In Nancy’s introduction she tells a bit of her own and her family’s history, especially her father’s example of making time to spend with God, her struggles, and finally her conclusion that:

I have come to believe with all my heart that this is something worth fighting for. I have come to understand that one of the reasons it is such a battle is that the Enemy of my soul knows if he can defeat me here, he will ultimately be able to defeat me in every other area of my spiritual life.

Satan hates God, and he works tirelessly to convince Christians that they can operate on their own, independently of God. If we concede the battle to him, he knows that we will end up defeated, frustrated, barren, and useless to God. Worse, we will end up doubting God, despairing of His goodness, in bondage to our flesh, resisting His will.

…I have come to see that “devotions” is not so much an obligation of the Christian life, as it is an incredible opportunity to know the God of the universe. He has issued to you and to me an invitation to draw near to Him, to walk right into the “Holy of Holies” to enter into an intimate love relationship with Him (p. 16).

She discusses the challenges of setting apart that time in a busy schedule, the examples from the Bible of those who drew near to God, the wrong motivations for having devotions, the inward and outward purposes of devotions, elements of a quiet time, preparing for it, the high value of the Word of God, different approaches to it, questions to ask of the text, journaling, resources, our responses to what we read, prayer, and the influence our time with the Lord will have on the rest of our lives. She quotes many Christians of past years and closes each chapter with tips for making the information personal as well as the testimony of another woman, some famous (Elisabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada), some not.

I have multitudes of places marked, but here are just a few quotes that especially stood out to me:

A carefully structured quiet time with the Lord is good, but a growing life of devotion to the Savior is more – much more – that “Do A, B, or C and you will know Him better” (p 9, forward by Joni Eareckson Tada).

Developing intimacy with the Lord Jesus requires a conscious, deliberate choice. It is a choice to spend time sitting at His feet and listening to His Word, even when there are other good things that are demanding our attention. It is a choice to put Him first, above all our other responsibilities and tasks (pp. 42-43).

“Your company means more to Me than your cooking. You are more important to me than anything you can do for me” (p. 43, from a paraphrase of what Jesus was trying to get across to Martha).

Setting aside time for devotional activity, in and of itself, does not necessarily make us any more spiritual. (The Pharisees were renowned for their “devotional habits,” but they were far from spiritual.) Neither is a quiet time some sort of good luck charm that gets God on our side, guarantees our day will go better, and keeps us from having problems. Daily devotions are not a way of bartering or negotiating with God (p. 52).

Keep in mind that it is not enough that we should just read the Word. The object is that the words that are printed on the page would become indelibly written on our hearts. God never intended that we should merely get onto His Word – His intent is that the Word should get into us.

I cannot set aside time for God sporadically, whenever I can squeeze Him into my schedule, and hope to enjoy a vital, growing friendship with Him. That isn’t possible in human relationships, and it is no more possible in our relationship with God (p. 92).

Don’t let yourself get hung up in the mechanics. The particular Bible reading and study methods that are most helpful to someone else may not be as useful to you. The important thing is to make sure that you are getting into the Word and that the Word is getting into you. Find out which methods work best for you, and use them (p. 185).

There was one teeny little area where I wasn’t sure I agreed with the author: when she discussed Jesus’ example of making time to spend alone with His Father, she used phrases like, “This is where He discovered the will of God for His life” (I would say He knew that before He came); “This is where He gained the resources to do battle against Satan”; “This is where He received grace to love the unloveable and power to do the impossible” (p. 29); “Jesus had compassion on the multitudes and gave of Himself sacrificially to minister to their needs. But He knew that He could not meet their needs if He did not draw upon His relationship with His Father” (p. 101). I believe that when Jesus was in a human body on earth, He was still fully God as well as fully man (which I know Nancy believes as well), and some of these things were inherent in His nature as God, so I am not sure that His spending time with His Father was as much of a filling up after being depleted like we would need. But I hadn’t quite considered it this way before, so I need to think about and study it more.

I especially appreciated the emphasis on seeking intimacy, a close relationship with God. Making our way through the Bible, learning truth, learning doctrine, memorizing verses, are all important, but need to be exercised under the overarching purpose of getting to know Him better and drawing closer to Him in our hearts, not as an end in themselves.

The book is highly readable and I think it would be good for both beginners who haven’t really established regular devotional habits yet as well as those who have been having time set apart with God for years.

Even though many of these truths and tips were familiar to me, and even though making time for Bible reading has, by God’s grace, been a settled thing for me for some time now, I still find books like this valuable. I do learn some new things, but they reinforce what I have come to believe over the years and inspire me to keep on.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Faith on Fire)

 

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Laudable Linkage

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A lot of my blog friends and a family member or two are experiencing a lot of snow this week. A perfect time to get cozy and read some edifying material. 🙂 Here are a few thought-provoking reads that caught my eye the past week or two:

Are You Not Ready to Worship? HT to Challies. “A worship leader who’s aware that his/her congregation is most likely filled with people who aren’t exactly fired up and ready for…. epic worship…will present a congregation with the gloriously good news of a great and faithful God, a gracious Redeemer, and a generously outpoured Holy Spirit, instead of a guilt-inducing pressure to hype something up that isn’t there to begin with.” Yes. I hate to hear people being scolding for how they are singing or what they look like while singing – that’s not particularly worship-inducing.

Christian Life Beyond the Quiet Time.

Photobombing Jesus: Confessions of a Glory Thief, HT to Challies.

Five Tests of False Doctrine.

Theonomy, or “a movement that teaches the earthwide rule of God through the reinstitution of the Law of Moses for every nation.” Why people promote this and what’s wrong with the idea.

If Abortion Was About Women’s Rights, What Were Mine? From an abortion survivor.

9 Things Your Kids Need (But Won’t Tell You)

On love and marriage:

If You’re Looking for Romance, It’s Probably Right in Front of You.

One Hour in a Restaurant Doesn’t Make a Good Marriage.

On politics and social media:

7 Questions to Ask Before Posting About Politics on Social Media

7 Ways to Do Political Punditry Wrong in a Polarized World

And lastly, I debated about this one lest it sound like I thought yelling at God was ok. But if you think of it more like an anguished prayer, I think many could commiserate with this little boy:

Thankfully it’s not too cold where we are, and next week doesn’t look too bad except for some cool nights. But I am ready to see spring!

Have a great weekend!

 

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Manufactured Spirituality

I’ve had this draft sitting here since last July, and had jotted some notes and spent a lot of thought on it even before that. I’ve (obviously) had a hard time bringing my thoughts into a cohesive and coherent unit. I thought about calling it form vs. function, or the mechanics of ministry, or using artificial means to accomplish spiritual ends. Finally what seemed most apt was manufactured spirituality.

I see this on three different levels:

1. To try to be more self-disciplined, we establish habits to aid in godliness, like regular times of reading the Bible or prayer, church attendance, etc.  And that’s a good thing. But we all know what it is to have days when we’re just going through the motions, when our eyes are dragging across the page and we check “Have devotions” off your list of things to do for the day but haven’t really engaged with the text or been affected spiritually. Or we “feel spiritual” if we’ve crossed that duty off or don’t “feel spiritual” if we haven’t.

2. To try to minister more effectively as a church, we set up various programs or committees. But sometimes our routines and programs not only don’t accomplish the ministry for which they are intended, they can even hinder them. For instance, we’d all agree it’s a good thing for church members to greet visitors. But once when we were visiting a new church, no one spoke to us or even looked at us the whole time we were there – except at the hand-shaking time built into the service.They had squeezed all their greeting into that few moments, leaving visitors feeling awkward and not really greeted at all.

We can fall into the trap of thinking that when we show up for church visitation, then we’ve gotten our witnessing obligation in for the week, or because we have official greeters at church, none of the rest of us needs to greet new people, or because there is a committee to take care of x, y, or z, we don’t have to be involved.

3. We try to force results. For instance, we can feel that small groups would be good for the congregation to get to know one another better, and they work best if everyone participates. So we “make” the quiet person participate by putting undue pressure on them to say something, calling them out and putting them on the spot. Then we feel self-satisfied that the group went quite well today because everyone spoke, when we left the quiet person miserable and determined not to come back. Or, as happened to us once in a new church, whatever the pastor was talking about (I’ve forgotten now), at the end he asked everyone to break into family groups and discuss and pray right then and there about how to implement what he preached on. That seemed to my husband and me like forcing the issue or “making” people respond instead of letting God use His Word to convict and change. Another example: we want people to “go deep” in their conversations and relationships, so we have “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” sessions instead of letting those opportunities arise in a more natural way. We’ve known people who made a profession of faith after a zealous Christian buttonholed them and would not back off until the person responded, yet there was no life change, no interest in the Lord afterward. By contrast, Jesus let people walk away sometimes.

Setting up good habits and routines and even programs can greatly aid us in our walk with God. But we have to keep in mind what they are for and not get lost in them for their own sake.

A book I read recently about getting more from our reading of God’s Word emphasized applying what we learn. That’s a good thing: we’re told to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. But his illustration went something like this: we need to apply God’s Word in measurable ways, not vague ones. So if, say, we come to a passage about prayer, instead of saying to ourselves, “We really should pray more,” according to this book, we should instead make plans to pray six minutes every day. As if God cared how many minutes we pray. The better approach, in my opinion, would be to stop and think about what I could and should be praying for. That in itself would generate a longer prayer list than I could probably keep up with (some people divide their prayer lists into categories over several days). Then the next step would be to study the prayers in the Bible, particularly in the epistles. Paul’s prayers in Philippians 1, Ephesians 1 and 3, and Colossians 1 are wonderful examples. Granted, that author probably intended that, if a person planned to pray six minutes and ran out of things to pray in three, that would lead him to these other ways of expanding his prayer life. But the emphasis on “measurable results” can lead to outward exercises without always the accompanying inward change. Similarly, if I read a passage and am convicted about needing to be more loving and less selfish, it might help to think of specific ways in which I need to do those things. But it would be wrong to check those off my list at the end of the day and think, “There! Done! Good work!” Sometimes instead I need to carry those thoughts with me all throughout the day and apply them in ways I couldn’t know I would need to when I first read them.

Years ago we were visiting my in-laws, and a couple of ladies from the church came by to visit my husband’s mother. I think it may have been her birthday, or maybe they were just visiting her as an “older” church member, but they brought a small plant, and, I believe, a card. She tended to be profuse in her thanks, and perhaps to counteract that a bit after she thanked them several times, one of them responded, “Well, you were on our list.” Wow, what a way to deflate any good feelings about someone coming to visit. She never said anything about it after they left, but it would have been understandable if she had thought, “They don’t really care: they just came because I was on ‘a list’ to visit.”

Our ministry isn’t boxed into a particular time, place, or group of people. Our programs don’t take care of all of our obligations. There is a sense in which we should always be “on,” always at the ready to serve. Even if there are official greeters at church, we can greet people when we see them or help a confused visitor find the right place. Even if there is someone designated to send cards to sick Sunday School class members, we can send one, too. If God has placed on our hearts that we need to help someone else in the church, we need to pray about how to do that rather than just dismissing it because our church has a benevolence committee to take care of those things.  If there is trash on the floor, we can pick it up instead of thinking, “There is a custodian for that.”

On the other hand, I’ve known women who felt terrible for not “serving” in church when their whole lives were ministering in “unofficial” ways. One lady would often apologize for not being more involved in our ladies’ group, but she lived next to and helped her elderly mother, cared for a disabled son, was the go-to baby-sitter for the rest of the family. She sang in the choir and took an interest in people, yet felt she wasn’t really being used of the Lord because she couldn’t plug into some of the ministries. Another had to step down from a position for which she was uniquely qualified, and I watched and was blessed as she found various other ways to minister: greeting newcomers, inviting ladies over for lunch, and other ways that didn’t fit in with any particular official ministry in the church, but ministered very well to the people involved.

Habits, routines, programs help greatly in organizing a ministry, and we need to use whatever systems are set up (reporting a plumbing problem to whoever is in charge, signing up for taking a meal to someone so she doesn’t receive two or three in one night or receive something she’s allergic to, etc.). And sometimes we do need those systems and routines because we don’t always “feel like” doing what we need to. A former pastor once said that the best time of prayer he ever has was when he didn’t feel like praying and had to confess that to the Lord right off the bat. Sometimes just doing what we should whether we feel like it or not is the first step to feeling like it.

But we should seek God’s grace to serve not just out of duty, and not to check off all the designated boxes, but with a right heart. The mechanics of ministry and spiritual disciplines are tools, but not the main focus, not the end-all of our efforts. Routines, habits, programs are an avenue of ministry, not an end in themselves, and ministry doesn’t take place only within those parameters. On the other hand, sometimes we can perfectly follow all of our routines, and our programs can seem to be going swimmingly, but we’re unaware that we’re missing something vital.

The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now, as always, God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

God created whole systems of programs and routines for Israel in the Old Testament. But there were times He told them He hated their sacrifices and feasts – the very sacrifices and feasts He had commanded them (here, here, and here, for a few). Why? Sometimes because they harbored sin in their hearts even while performing their religious duties outwardly. Sometimes because they missed the main point, like those who kept the systematic observations but failed to minister on a personal level, or like Pharisees whose religious zeal was wrapped up in keeping not just God’s law, but their additions to it. God said to them through Hosea, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). We’re no longer under those systems, but in the same way I think He would want us to implement whatever habits, routines, systems, or programs are helpful, yet not get lost or fixated on them for their own sake, and to keep in mind that the main point is to know Him and make Him known and minister to others in their need in His Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3

Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Ephesians 6:6

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 (Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday)

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Laudable Linkage

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It’s been quite a while since I have been able to share with you some interesting reading I’ve found online the past few weeks. So here goes:

What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas. “For those who’ve recently lost someone they love, the holidays can seem more like something to survive than to enjoy.” That’s true for other holidays and occasions besides Christmas and for other losses or hard times as well.

We Need to Talk About Church Scheduling.

How Not to Parent a Strong-willed Child.

Honoring the Dishonorable. How do we honor parents when they act in ways undeserving of it?

Taking Back Christianese” “America Is a Christian Nation

Dear Women’s Ministry: Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful. “The question is not whether or not these things are true, but whether or not this is the most important message women need to hear.”

This is the time of year a lot of people rededicate themselves to reading their Bibles, so there have been a lot of articles touching on that:

One Reason to Dedicate Yourself to Bible Reading in 2017.

4 Reasons to Have a Quiet Time.

5 Ways Daily Bible Reading Impacts Your Life.

3 Fresh Ideas for Improving Your Bible Reading in 2017. Love the opening sentences here: “I am still blown away by the idea that the God of the universe wants to communicate with us on a daily basis and that he has chose to do so in this miraculous book we call the Bible. Historically—both the history it contains and the history of its shaping and transmission in the community of faith—it is astounding. Literarily it is magnificently crafted. Narratively it is riveting, and poetically it is breath-taking. Theologically it is deeply grounding, and practically it is life-altering.”

3 Tips For Reading the OT like a Christian. Helpful for times like when you get bogged down in Leviticus.

A 5-Day Bible Reading Plan. Nice because it gives you some leeway for those times when the unexpected comes up.

And, finally, I could have used this tip when singing soprano in the choir. 🙂 I like how they keep a straight face through it all:

Happy first Saturday of 2017!

Laudable Linkage

It’s a busy time of year, but I’ve discovered several thought-provoking reads online the last couple of weeks. Perhaps some of them will pique your interest as well.

Weep, Groan, Wail: The Need to Lament. “How is it possible to grieve, mourn, and wail but still know God is good?”

Even If He Doesn’t. “When the bad things come, when the kind of rescue we think we need just isn’t part of our story, will we be able to testify before a watching world that God can do it, that He will do it, but even if He doesn’t, we won’t turn away.”

Immanuel. From a friend’s whose 25 year old daughter is fighting yet another setback in her cancer battle. God is with us, even in the hard places, even in bad news.

5 Reasons to Read the Bible When You Feel Absolutely Nothing. I kept thinking Yes! all throughout reading this.

Jesus Isn’t Threatened by Your Christmas Gifts. Loved the practicality and balance in this. “The implicit messaging is that Christmas is a kind of either/or proposition in which we can either emphasize Jesus or emphasize gifts. But one always threatens to displace the other. I disagree with this.”

Miracles at Midnight.

5 Ways We Stunt Our Spiritual Growth.

Seekest Thou Great Things For Thyself? HT to Challies.

It’s Time to Take Your Medicine. “As we read the letters of Paul we find he always frames things this way: ‘God has done this for you in Christ, therefore you should respond in the following ways.’ ‘Thus the motivation, energy, and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ.'”

Words That Shimmer. “For Christians, isn’t it amazing that our gracious God chose something as powerful as words to communicate to us His glorious truth? Everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). What a gift! What a treasure! Collectors of words take heart:”

Praying Biblical Prayers.

(Re)Remembering What We Mean. “Fairy tales employ the tool of the fantastic to jar us back to a truer vision that sees that all things are fantastic. Wonder is an appropriate response to all things because all things are wonderfully made.”

On parenting:

Should Parents Lay Down The Law Or Give Grace? “Grace is not rejecting authority. Grace is not walking away from the need of my children to have boundaries in their life—grace is about the way that I do that.”

My Changing Thoughts On Being a Mother. I wrestled with many of the same things mentioned here.

On writing:

Why Backstory Is Better Than Flashbacks.

And finally, I loved this video of a deer and rabbit playing. At least the deer is playing – it takes a while for the rabbit. Someone posted this on Facebook with the caption “Bambi and Thumper are real!”

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Knowable Word

knowable-wordKnowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible by Peter Krol lives up to its title. It begins with a section about why to study the Bible (to get to know the Person behind it). It concedes that Bible studies and commentaries and such are valuable in many ways, but promises to give the tools for the reader to mine from the Bible on their own and to get to know God better.

Sometimes…we seek a mountaintop experience where we can behold His glory and see Him face to face. We want to hear His voice speaking with clarity and power. We long to be wowed from on high. The apostle Peter had such an experience with Jesus, and he concluded that you and I don’t need to have to same experience.

“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:16b-19a) (pp. 13-14).

After a brief discussion of a few off-base approaches to Bible study, Krol dives into the method he advocates and teaches, which is not new but today goes by the acronym OIA:

  1. Observation – what does it say?
  2. Interpretation – what does it mean?
  3. Application – how should I change? (p. 16)

He discusses each in more detail, explains why each is important, illustrates it from everyday conversation and from Jesus’ teaching when He brought out truth from the OT. He reminds us that no method or set of tools replaces our dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide and illuminate us.

The next several chapters discuss each of these steps in more detail and shows how to use them by applying them to Genesis 1 and 2. Observation, for example, means that we don’t bring in preconceived notions or gloss over familiar passages because we think we know what they say. Observation involves considering genre, the author, repeated words, grammar, structure, and mood or tone. He similarly delves into more detail with interpretation and application.

This a short book at 117 pages, but it is densely packed and contains little to no fluff. I have sticky tabs and markings on almost every other page.

One area where I would disagree with Krol just a bit is in application. I agree that we need to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22) and we need to be specific rather than vague. He does admit that he delves into this more in the book for illustration and that in reality he would just take one or two specific applications. I agree that we need to apply the Bible inwardly as well as outwardly, and as he advocates, apply it to head, hands, and heart. The point where I have a problem is in coming up with measurable actions steps from each day’s reading. Sometimes that might be the case. As we read, we need to be asking God for wisdom in applying what He teaches us and we need to act on anything He convicts us about. But I imagine a scenario like this: I’m convicted about my need to be more loving (often) and my need to get out of myself and reach out to others. So after reading a Bible passage about Christian love, I might sit and think of ways to show more love to others and interest in them. So I decide I’ll bake some cookies for my neighbor and make my husband’s favorite dinner. And that may be exactly what I need to do. But in my thinking, after I have done those things, I can check “be more loving” off my list because I have done my good deeds for the day. On the other hand, if I ask God’s help to carry the reminder to be more loving with me throughout the day, He can guide me into situations that I didn’t know were going to come up and apply it all day. (Actually I have found that telling myself to “be more loving” focuses on my lack and inability. But if I remind myself to “love as Jesus loved me,” that removes the focus from me to Him, from my lack to His fullness.) There are points in the day I know I will desperately need that reminder, like when someone interrupts me at the computer and I lose my train of thought for the paragraph I am writing, and I have to remind myself that people are more important than tasks. Or when I go in to change my mother-in-law. Since she’s not verbal and often groggy, it’s easy to fall into just doing the task at hand and forget the person. But I have to remind myself to look her in the eye, smile, speak even if she doesn’t respond, show love and care and interest in her as a person. As I read about loving as Christ loved, those two examples come to mind first. But I’ll need to apply that truth in multiple ways, not just the two I thought about while considering application. I think Krol would agree with this: he’s not advocating just generating lists to check off. And measurable action steps are not necessarily a bad result of Bible reading. I just don’t know that I would end every Bible reading time with such a list.

One other section that had me scratching my head a bit described his church hiring a brand new preacher who made some mistakes in his first sermon, realized it, and braced for some criticism from the leadership. I agreed with them in dealing with the issues but assuring him that Jesus had died for him, including these issues, and they’d rather he “give it his all, making a few mistakes in the process, than that he hold back out of fear of imperfection. He was free to live out his calling as a preacher with confidence that he was accepted by God and already approved” (p. 96). But what I thought odd was that, under the idea of “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one,” the author said, “So let’s study (and especially apply) the Bible with such great confidence that we can ‘sin boldly,’ as Martin Luther once advised his student Philip Melanchthon, ” and then he shares this quote from Luther: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.” I don’t know the context of Luther’s quote, and I do know that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20), and I agree that we should “give it [our] all, making a few mistakes in the process, [rather] than…hold back out of fear of imperfection.” But still – I don’t see any encouragement in the Bible to “sin boldly” because we’re under grace.

As I said, I have multiple places marked in the book, but I’ll try to share just a few of the quotes I found most helpful:

Careless presumption will kill your Bible study. It will strangle observation and bear stillborn application. It will make you look like the stereotypical, narrow-minded Christian, and it will diminish your influence for the Lord. By strengthening your confidence in questionable conclusions, presumption will cloud your relationship with Jesus and your experience of his grace. When it comes to Bible study then, guard yourself against every form of unexamined presumption (p. 47).

Since we’ll continue observing new things in God’s Word until Jesus returns, our observations could be infinite in number. But interpretations are not infinite (though our grasp of them may mature over time). Biblical authors had agendas, and we are not authorized to add to those agendas. We investigate the facts of the text until we’re able to think the author’s thoughts after him. And since biblical authors wrote God’s very words, good interpretation trains us to think God’s thoughts (p. 49).

Don’t use minor details to make the text say what you want it to say. Don’t build a theology from one unclear verse (p. 51).

Ancient authors didn’t waste space with meaningless details. Every word has a purpose. Every sentence captures an idea. Every paragraph advances the agenda. And every section has a main point. The accumulation of these points promotes the goal of bringing the audience closer to the Lord. And once we understand how that main point directed the original audience toward the Lord, we’ll be ready to consider how it should shape us (p. 59).

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone, whether a new reader of the Bible or one who has read it multiple times for years.

Genre: Nonfiction
Potential objectionable elements: A couple of minor areas of disagreement.
My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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