When my daughter Emily was a little girl, she had a Jesus storybook that we enjoyed reading together. One evening after we had just finished the account of Jesus stilling the storm on the sea of Galilee, the skies opened up over our town of Batavia: thunder and lightening and torrential rain. Emily and I moved out to our front porch to watch the show.
She sat on my lap for a time, but after one particularly loud explosion of thunder Emily jumped to her feet, shot her arms into the air, and commanded the storm: “Be quiet!” Guess what happened? Nothing. The thunder and lightening and torrential rain continued unabated. Evidently, Jesus’ calming of the storm in the Bible was not intended to be a prescription for his followers to do the same.
Which brings me to one of the hermeneutical rules for interpreting narrative in Scripture: Decide what’s descriptive and what’s prescriptive in each story. (You’ll find the other rule for interpreting narrative in chapter two of my book, Context—along with rules for interpreting other types of biblical literature as well.) Descriptive vs. prescriptive is an important distinction for us to keep in mind as we’re reading through the book of Acts for the next couple of weeks. (The Scripture Union daily Bible reading schedule drops us back into Acts in chapter 13 today, and takes us through chapter 19 before bouncing us over to Isaiah.)
Acts is narrative. And if we don’t distinguish between the descriptive and prescriptive in this book, we’re bound to come away with some wild applications for our lives. Take today’s reading for example (Acts 13:1-12). The apostle Paul is opposed by a sorcerer named Elymas. So he rebukes this dude—and Elymas is struck blind for a time. Cool! I think I’ll try that with anybody who opposes me today.
Really? Can I do that? Am I allowed to take every detail of a biblical story and apply it directly to my life? Nope. Sometimes those details are meant to be nothing more than descriptive elements of what was happening at the time. But they’re only suitable for personal application when it’s obvious that God intends them to be prescriptive instructions for our lives today.
How can we tell the difference between what’s descriptive and what’s prescriptive? My short answer to that question is: “Read chapter two of Context.” But here’s a synopsis of what I cover in my book. You’ll know that you’ve latched onto a prescriptive insight from a narrative if you can connect it to something that’s taught in other parts of Scripture—especially non-narrative portions. In other words, if Paul tells you in one of his epistles to strike blind those who oppose you—then the Elymas story in Acts 13 is probably prescriptive. But I don’t recall any instructions like that elsewhere in the Bible, do you?
So, what is prescriptive in Acts 13 that we might apply to our lives? I’ll tell you an observation that I made as I read this chapter. (Yes, observations is the second step in the COMA Bible study method: Context–> Observations–> Method–> Application.) Paul & Co were attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I saw that pop up three times: “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said…” (v.2); “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…” (v.4); Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” said… (v.9). Attentiveness to the Spirit’s leading would definitely qualify as a repeating word or idea in Acts 13 (one of four kinds of observations to look for in any passage).
Is this idea (i.e. to pay attention to the Spirit’s promptings) taught in other portions of God’s Word? Absolutely! (I’ll leave it to you to find the pertinent cross-references.) Then this is a prescriptive insight from Acts 13 (although I won’t take the time in this blog to follow it through to the point of a specific application).
I love reading biography and history. Just finished a new book about a spy ring that George Washington heavily depended upon during the Revolutionary War. It was imbedded in New York City, which the British held throughout the conflict. This group provided critical information about the movements of Redcoat troops. The six members of the spy ring went by code names to keep their identities a secret. Thanks to reams of personal letters that historians have since collected, we now know who all but one of these spies (a mysterious woman called “355”) was.
Speaking of code names, I came across one in my reading of Micah this past week. (If you’re following Scripture Union’s daily Bible reading schedule, you finished Micah today and are heading into the middle of Acts next week.) Who are the Assyrians in Micah 5? Yes, yes, I know that the literal country of Assyria was a superpower to the northeast of Israel in Micah’s day. (Time to check out those maps at the back of your Bible.) But these don’t seem to be the Assyrians that Micah has in mind in chapter five.
Let me explain. The first few verses of Micah 5 have been understood by Bible scholars to be a prophecy about the coming of Jesus Christ. A great ruler, the text says, will be born in Bethlehem (v.2). How do we know that Micah wasn’t referring to a king who would take the throne in his own lifetime or near future? Well, Micah describes this monarch as one whose “origins are from of old, from ancient times” (i.e. his existence would predate his appearance on earth; v.2) and whose “greatness will reach to the ends of the earth” (i.e. his reign would be universal; v.4).
That description hardly fits any earthly king—especially one who ruled in Micah’s day or shortly thereafter. But it does resemble what we know about Jesus Christ and his eventual reign on earth.
This conclusion, by the way, reflects a basic rule for interpreting Bible prophecy. (Each genre of literature in the Bible—laws, narrative, poetry, epistles, etc.—has its own rules for interpretation. These rules are explained in chapter two of my book, Context.) This prophecy rule (one of two) states that we must determine which Bible predictions have already been fulfilled and which ones are yet to be fulfilled. Because there has never been a king whose reign fits the Micah 5 description, we know that such a King and kingdom are still to come.
But this conclusion presents us with a dilemma. If Micah 5 is describing a future reign of King Jesus, then who are the Assyrians in verse five? Micah says that the ageless and universal ruler “will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses.” Micah can’t be referring to literal Assyrians, can he? They’ve faded from the scene as a dominant military threat.
This is where we apply the second (of two) hermeneutical rules for interpreting Bible prophecy. We must distinguish between what is literal and what is figurative in the text. If literal Assyrians are no longer invading the land, maybe Micah has figurative Assyrians in mind. And that’s exactly what the footnote in my NIV Study Bible concludes from Micah 5:5: Assyrians are “symbolic of all the enemies of God’s people in every age.”
By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with your life today. Lots! If Micah is talking about King Jesus in chapter five—whose reign on earth is still to come, but whose reign in the lives of his followers has already begun—then “he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land.” He will protect us from the ravages of the enemies we face today. Those enemies may be people or life-situations that threaten us.
Who or what are your Assyrians? (I’ve had a few extra in my life recently—so I’d be happy to give you some of mine if you’re lacking.) Are you looking to King Jesus for peace in the midst of their invasion?
BTW: Since we’re beginning Acts on Monday—which is a narrative—it would be a good idea to review the basic rules for interpreting narrative in the second chapter of Context.
Today’s blog is going to be brief. And I’ll be skipping Monday’s blog entirely. I’m hanging out with my new granddaughter, Ruby, in Portland, and I don’t want to miss a single one of her smiles. So look for my next full blog a week from today. But here are a few thoughts to consider…
Do you have a favorite Bible verse? A verse that you cling to in tough times? A verse that you memorized as a child? A verse that sums up your life mission? A verse that reminds you of an attribute of God?
As I was reading this week’s passages in I Samuel (chapters 15-18), I came across some stellar verses. Verses that would not only be suitable for framing—they also seem to sum up the contents of the chapters in which they’re located. Have you noticed these key verses? You underlined them as you were reading. And when you reviewed the chapter as a whole you discovered that one of these verses you highlighted actually encapsulates the theme of that entire passage.
Here are my candidates for favorite verses from the chapters we read in I Samuel this week:
15:22 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice.” Here’s an interesting exercise to go with this key verse. Note how many different excuses Saul offered Samuel to justify his disobedience. Do you use any of these?
16:7 “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Doesn’t this pretty much sum up the search for a new king for Israel? And isn’t it a great principle to apply when evaluating other people—and yourself?
17:45 “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” That word “defied” (or “defy/defiance”) pops up repeatedly in this chapter. But go back and contrast what Goliath said he defied with what David reveals in this verse is the true object of Goliath’s defiance. What can be learned from that comparison?
18:14 “In everything he did he had great success because the LORD was with him.” This chapter is all about David’s growing success—and the way it honked off his boss, Saul. Don’t miss the key to this success.
What were your favorite verses from the week?
Please note that on Monday Scripture Union’s daily Bible reading schedule (called Encounter with God, if you’re looking for the right schedule on SU’s website) moves us to the book of Micah. I hope it doesn’t wig you out to leave I Samuel before we’re finished with it. We’ll return to this story of David and Saul in October.
As you start Micah, don’t forget to read the Introduction in your Study Bible. You need to discover the historical setting—the Context—of this book in order to understand and apply it to your life. Context is the first step in the COMA Bible study method that I coach in this blog (Context–> Observations–> Message–> Application).
A friend of mine recently returned from a business trip to New Orleans and he asked me if I’d ever visited that city. Yeah, I told him, I hitch-hiked down there on a spring break from college. What a blast from the past! When I’d stuck out my thumb in Chicago years ago, my plan had been to travel south to a lake in Missouri and camp there for the week. But when I encountered ice on the lake the first morning I stepped out of my tent, I decided to pull up stakes and keep heading south until I met with warmer weather.
I didn’t plan to end up in New Orleans. But I couldn’t stop hitching once I got started. I hopped into one southbound car after another. And that’s sometimes the story of my daily battle with sin. If I get headed in the wrong direction, it’s easy to convince myself that: “I’ve already gone this far…I might as well go a little further.” Does this resonate with anybody out there?
Once you’ve let an angry retort out of your mouth—why stop? Might as well give the person who honked you off a full reaming out. Once you’ve spent too much on the new jeans—why stop? Might as well buy other items to complete the outfit. Once you’ve clicked on something a bit tawdry—why stop? Might as well go to some websites that show everything.
I’m convinced that one of Satan’s most effective strategies is to convince us that if we’ve dipped our toe into the water of sin we might as well keep going and plunge in head-first. That’s why I found Samuel’s warning in I Samuel 12:20 to be something striking: “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD…” God’s people had already stuck more than their toe into the water of sin (“you have done all this evil”). But Samuel pleaded with them not to use past failures as an excuse to give full vent to their disobedience (“yet do not turn away from the LORD”).
It’s never too late to stop. That was the message that I drew from my observation (i.e. something striking) in the text. Then I bowed my head and invited God’s Spirit to put his finger on any sinful trajectory in my life that I should put a halt to before it goes any further. This application completed my COMA study of I Samuel 12 (context–> observations–> message–> application).
Are you making observations as you read the Bible each day? Are you underlining them in your Bible (or highlighting them if you’re reading God’s Word on a tablet or phone)? Are you summing up one of those observations in a journal—and then crafting it into a message, followed by a personal application?
As I point out in my book, Walk, your journal entries don’t have to be long. Mine are seldom more than a paragraph in length. But writing something out will benefit you in two very important ways. First, it will help you crystalize what you’ve learned from God’s Word that day. Don’t leave your insight from Scripture in a nebulous state. If you merely think it, but don’t write it down, it will probably remain too vague to become an application for your life.
Second, recording your COMA in a journal will help you remember it throughout the day. My guess is that you won’t be able to recall what God said to you in his Word by lunchtime if you didn’t write it down while sipping your early morning coffee.
Doesn’t matter if you use a spiral-bound notebook from Walgreens, or a Moleskin journal from Barnes and Noble, or an electronic file on your PC—start putting your COMAs in print.
I have to admit that I fit the male stereotype when it comes to asking for directions. I don’t. This is partly due to the fact that I grew up in the Chicago area where many streets are laid out at right angles, north-south and east-west. Ours is an easy city to navigate. (It helps to burn down your town and rebuild it from scratch, thereby providing an opportunity to systematically lay out the roadways.)
But Sue and I have lived in the Boston area…twice. And according to local New Englanders, their streets originated by paving the cow paths. I believe it! The roads are maddeningly circuitous. There are few right-angle turns, but lots of forks where you simply bear right or left.
So, on more than one occasion I was compelled to swallow my pride and ask for directions. (Not that this always helped. Locals would sometimes try several different explanations of how to get where I was going, then sigh resignedly and confess: “I don’t think you can get there from here.”)
As I was reading I Samuel 9 this week (the Scripture Union daily Bible reading schedule covered I Samuel 7-12), I was struck by repeated references to people seeking direction. Before I point these out to you, let me admit that the narrative we’ve been reading about the selection of Saul as Israel’s first king seems to yield few personal applications. I mean, it’s a riveting story—but what is there to learn from it for our contemporary lives, right?
This is why it’s so important to know what to look for as you read God’s Word. The second step in the COMA Bible study method (the O) is observations. You will never come away from Scripture with something for your life without first observing it in the text. As an old Irish recipe for rabbit stew says: First you must catch the rabbit.
There are four kinds of observations that I’ve coached you to make. (For a fuller treatment of these, check out Walk, the fourth book in the Bible Savvy series. It’s a quick read.) These four categories can be remembered with the help of the acronym TRTS (you’re looking for “treats” from God’s Word).
The initial T stands for theme. The theme of a passage is often easily discovered by looking at the heading in your Bible. But unfortunately these headings are sometimes not very insightful. I Samuel 9, for example, merely reads: “Samuel Anoints Saul.” While that is an accurate summary of the chapter that follows, it doesn’t exactly point the reader in the direction of a personal application.
The R stands for repeating words or ideas. Let me come back to this one, since it’s how I found my Observation-> Message-> Application (steps two through four of COMA) in I Samuel 9.
The second T stands for truths about God. This one is so obvious that we often miss it. This past week in my men’s Supergroup (a gathering of four Community Groups) we reviewed several chapters in I Samuel by looking for nothing but truths about God in each text. I wanted the guys to find as many as possible so as to drive home the habit of looking for such. Try that yourself as you read I Samuel this next week—squeeze out all the truths about God, explicit or implicit, that you detect in each day’s text.
The final S stands for something striking. This is a catch-all category. What jumped off the page at you?
OK, back to the repeating idea (R) that I observed in I Samuel 9. People asked for directions—most notably from God. As Saul was searching the countryside for lost donkeys, his servant suggested that they ask a local “man of God” for help: “He will tell us what way to take” (v.6). A few verses later, Saul’s servant suggests that seeking direction from such a spiritual leader is how people “inquire of God” (v.9).
The spiritual leader that Saul and his servant eventually inquire of is Samuel. And the day before this meeting took place, “the LORD had revealed” to Samuel what to say to Saul (v.15; see also v.17). Obviously, Samuel was getting directions–from God. Another reference to this topic. In case we missed this observation, the chapter ends by repeating it. Samuel says to Saul: “Stay here for a while, so that I may give you a message from God” (v.27).
Once I’d made my observation in I Samuel 9, I translated it into a message (which is a timeless principle that we try to express as if it were a slogan on a wall plaque): Ask God for directions. And then I looked at my own life for a specific application of this truth. What am I currently wrestling with? Could I benefit from some divine direction? I must prayerfully seek out such.
Now it’s your turn
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. (No, don’t stop me since those of you who’ve read my book Context are familiar with this anecdote. But it serves a point—which I’ll apply to our Bible reading in I Samuel—so allow me to repeat it.) This is a story about Benny.
“Benny was out exploring ancient ruins one day and he came across a Grecian urn. When he wiped off the urn with his handkerchief, a genie appeared. But this wasn’t a nice genie offering Benny three wishes. This was a genie who was ticked off at having been disturbed. So, she put a curse on Benny. She said, ‘You must never shave, for on the day that you shave I’ll turn you into an urn.’ So Benny never put a razor to his face.
“But eventually Benny’s beard got so long and straggly and itchy that he just had to shave it off. The minute he finished the job the genie appeared and—poof—she turned Benny into an urn. And so, the moral of this story is (can you guess?): A Benny shaved is a Benny urned!”
If you’re wondering why I included such a lame anecdote in a book about interpreting the Bible, here’s the explanation that followed my Benny tale: “I want to illustrate the fact that—contrary to how Benny’s story concluded—the Bible’s stories rarely come right out at the end and tell us the moral, the theme, the major lesson of the story. It’s our job to figure it out. And the reason that it’s a good idea to try figuring it out is that this exercise keeps us from misinterpreting the details of the story. I’ve heard some pretty whacked-out interpretations that people have pulled out of Bible narratives because they’ve read way too much into a minor detail or two.
“What is the theme of the whole story? Why do you think God included this story in His Book?”
The excerpt from Context that I’ve just quoted comes from a chapter in which I emphasize the importance of understanding the literary setting of each Bible passage we read. What kind of literature is the text? Is it a narrative? Poetry? Prophecy? An epistle? Each literary genre has its own set of rules for interpretation. I would encourage you to keep a copy of Context handy and turn to the chapter on literary setting when you begin a new book of the Bible. Review the rules that apply to that portion of Scripture. (There are only two or three rules per genre—so this is a fairly easy task.)
What kind of literature is I Samuel (our current reading as we follow the Scripture Union daily schedule)? I hope you guessed narrative. This book is a collection of stories. And one of the two basic rules for interpreting a narrative that I cover in Context is: summarize the theme (or major lesson) of the story.
Now this is where the Scripture Union Bible reading schedule sometimes does us a disservice. It chops narratives into so many shorter pieces–spreading these fragments over several days of reading–that it becomes difficult to get a feel for the lesson of the story as a whole. For example, the narrative about Eli and his wicked sons (I Samuel 1-4) is broken up into six days of reading! In the words of an old saying: We can’t see the forest for the trees! And so we’re bound to miss the big picture.
Let me quickly summarize that big picture for you. (Disclaimer: the story of Eli and sons is not the only one going on in I Samuel 1-4. Hannah and her son, Samuel, also play a prominent role in these chapters. But right now I’m only interested in tracing the Eli and sons narrative.) Our introduction to Eli’s bad boys comes in 2:12: “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD.” As practicing priests, these guys stole sacrificial meat for themselves: “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt” (2:17). Add to this the fact that they were sleeping around (2:22).
You get the picture. But there’s another dimension to it. How did Eli respond to his sons’ transgressions? He scolded them, demanding: “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours” (2:23). While Eli’s rebuke was a move in the right direction—it was too little, too late. “His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke” (2:25). Unfortunately, that reprimand was about as hard as Eli would come down on the boys. He was one of those parents who keeps warning, warning, warning—but never disciplines. There were no consequences to his threats.
What did God think of Eli’s performance as a parent? God was not happy with this dad. “Why do you honor your sons more than me…? Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained” (2:30). Strong language. And when God draws a line in the sand—he sticks to it. In chapter four (sorry for jumping ahead in the story, but I need to wrap up this blog before it becomes a sermon) Eli’s two sons are killed.
When I look at this story as a whole, there is a message here with obvious application for me as a dad. (Context–> Observations–> Message–> Application is the Bible study method that I coach in this blog.) However, I’m not going to spell out my message and application for you. I hope you’ll do that for yourself. Especially if you’re a parent.
Please remember, as you’re reading bits and pieces of larger stories each day in I Samuel, to occasionally step back and look at the narrative in its entirety. What’s a major lesson to be learned from the whole enchilada?
BTW: I have no idea why Scripture Union skips chapters five and six of I Samuel. I read them anyway today—and would encourage you to do the same.
One of the guys in my Community Group emailed the rest of us this past week to say that he wouldn’t be joining us on Wednesday morning. Then he engaged in some good-natured gloating, explaining that he would be down in sunny Florida sitting on a quiet beach. But he hoped we’d enjoy our weekly Bible study in sub-zero Chicago.
I smiled when I read his taunts. But a second email arrived from this guy a few days later that took the smile off my face. His three-year-old grandson had just been rushed to the hospital. His lower limbs weren’t moving and the doctor had no idea what the problem was. My friend was contacting the brothers in our group to intercede for this little boy.
As I pleaded with God for healing, I imagined this concerned grandpa doing the same thing…passionately! He might have been in Florida on vacation, but I was absolutely sure he wasn’t lounging in a beach chair, sipping a diet Coke, as he prayed. He was no doubt earnestly crying out to the Lord.
Did you notice the fervency with which Hannah prayed as you read the opening chapter of I Samuel this week? (If you’ve fallen behind Scripture Union’s daily Bible reading schedule, it would be easy to catch up. We’re only four chapters into I Samuel. You could read it in 20 minutes.) Hannah was a childless wife—a cause for great shame in her culture. As she prayed for a baby, there was urgency in her voice.
I spotted this earnestness several times in chapter one. And, as you know by now from my coaching in this blog, repeating words or ideas is one of the observations to make whenever you’re reading God’s Word. Consider these excerpts from I Samuel 1: “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly” (v.10). “She kept on praying to the LORD” (v.12). “I was pouring out my soul to the LORD” (v.15). “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (v.16). There was a lot of intensity in Hannah’s prayers.
In my book Prayer Coach (published originally by Crossway, but now republished by and available through Christ Community Church), I devote an entire chapter to the importance of praying with passion. Allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from that chapter:
“There is more power to our prayers when they’re delivered with some oomph. (Don’t ask me to define oomph. Just the sound one makes when saying it should communicate its meaning.) We can pray. Or, we can PRAY. What’s the difference? PRAYING (as compared to praying) is marked by greater volume, determination, and passion.
“There are times when God allows difficult circumstances in the lives of his people. We pray for help. But nothing happens. God refuses to get involved until we ‘cry out’—and not a second sooner. This crying out demonstrates an earnestness in our praying. It’s a bit like kneeling down or fasting, two other physical acts that underscore the fact that we mean business.”
Several pages later in Prayer Coach, I challenge my readers: “What about you? Is there any heat to your prayers? When was the last time you cried out to God for the wisdom you desperately needed to make a critical decision? When was the last time you pleaded with him to deliver you from a sin which has plagued you for far too long? When was the last time you interceded with a broken heart for those who are victimized by the tragedies of famine, AIDS, terrorism, or natural disaster? When was the last time you prayed for a spiritually lost friend as if you believed his eternal destiny was at stake?”
Do you pray with passion? If you’ve never read Prayer Coach, I’d encourage you to do so. If you’ve never studied it and put its lessons into practice in a small group, I’d highly recommend it.
A final word about I Samuel. In next Monday’s blog I plan to make some observations about Eli as a dad. Did you pick up on any disturbing trends in this guy’s parenting? See if you can spot them before I point them out in my blog.
Oh…I almost forgot to conclude my opening story. Got an email update yesterday from my buddy who asked our men’s group to intercede for his grandson. The boy was treated at the hospital for his paralysis and is making a remarkable recovery!! May we all learn to pray—about whatever concerns us—with greater passion.
When Moody Publishers came out with my Bible Savvy series last spring, they asked me to consider blogging in order to raise my profile as an author. Initially, I had no interest in doing so. My plate is quite full as the senior pastor of a large, multi-site church. And I also felt the world already had too many bloggers. Why would I want to add my voice to the cacophony?
But then I got to thinking about the main reason that I had written the Bible Savvy series. I am passionate about getting people into God’s Word and coaching them to draw something from it for their daily lives. Bible Savvy was intended to jump-start this spiritual discipline among my readers. But how could I help them keep the process going?
My own experience of reading a good book is that I’m rarely able to recall much of its contents six months after I’ve finished it. If that’s what happens to the Bible Savvy books—if they’re quickly read, placed on a shelf and forgotten—then I will fall short of my goal of producing daily readers, skillful interpreters and practical doers of the Bible.
So I decided to start blogging as a means of providing ongoing coaching for those who want to put what they’ve learned from the Bible Savvy series into practice. I told Moody that I’d do this twice a week for at least one year. I’m now ten months into it and reflecting on the worthwhileness of my efforts.
The good news is that a few thousand people read the Bible Savvy blog each month (according to the diagnostic tool that measures such activity). And I frequently hear positive feedback from my readers, usually in person or via email. But as I evaluate “the juice for the squeeze” (i.e. the results I get from the effort I put into blogging), I’m weighing whether or not to continue this blog beyond the one-year mark. There are several short-comings I must overcome in order to reach a broader audience.
#1 I am not polemical. Several successful bloggers have told me that they occasionally spike the number of their readers by posting something controversial. Suddenly a bazillion people are responding with heated comments and telling their friends about the blog.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the Bible Savvy blog is intended to be pedagogical not polemical. My aim is to help readers develop Bible study skills—not to rile them up (although I’ve managed to do the latter on a couple of occasions when the Scripture passages for the week dealt with the rapture or homosexuality). I rarely trigger ”comments” from my thousands of readers.
If word about this blog is going to spread, it will be because readers are being helped in their understanding and application of God’s Word—and telling their friends to check it out.
#2 I am not interactive. I met a woman at Starbucks the other day who was tapping away at her PC. She told me that she’s a “professional blogger.” I’ve noticed that many of the popular blogs out there are written by people who devote a large chunk of time to posting new material and interacting with readers. But as I said in the opening paragraph of today’s blog, my “day” job is crazy busy. I can carve out time to write coaching postings twice a week, but I lack the hours in a day to respond to readers who raise questions or objections.
Believe me—this kills me! I would love to be more interactive—and in my overall ministry I am. Every week I lead a men’s Community Group, meet people for coffee, and exchange a flurry of emails. But unfortunately, I can’t be as interactive as a blogger. I am counting on there being enough value in the coaching I offer to make the Bible Savvy blog beneficial to readers even though I’m not able to carry on a dialogue with them.
I suppose this makes my postings feel more like a devotional guide than a blog. But I recoil from that label. Because a devotional guide merely provides the reader with gems that the author has discovered in Scripture. My goal is to help you mine your own gems!
#3 I am not visual. OK, I’ve been reading a lot of “how to improve your blog” stuff lately. And much of it has to do with making each posting more creative by adding pictures and links. Once again, the time—and tech savvy—it takes to do that is beyond me.
However, I’ve begun to pray that God would give me a partner in this venture who could handle some of this (i.e. creative embellishments)—if God wants the Bible Savvy blog to continue after its one-year anniversary. This partner might also be able to address some of my other shortcomings. He (or she) might be able to expand the readership by: contacting guest bloggers to write occasional Bible Savvy postings; challenging other churches to encourage their congregations to become better Bible readers with the help of this blog; interacting with those who raise questions or comments; etc.
Why am I telling you all this? Mostly, just to ask you to pray that God would give me direction regarding the future of the Bible Savvy blog. I’m thankful that it’s helping a few thousand people each month in their study of God’s Word. But if the Lord wants me to continue as a blogger, I’m looking for a break-through (and partner) in the venture.
BTW: Did you start I Samuel today? Don’t forget to read its intro in your Study Bible so as to discover the book’s context.
I spent four days in Miami this past week. Not a bad location to hang out, considering that my fellow-Chicagoans were enduring sub-zero temperatures and more snow. But the best part of being in Florida was not the weather—it was the group of guys I was with. They are the senior leaders of Christ Community Church, overseeing our major departments and four campuses.
Once a year I travel with this team of a dozen leaders to a city where we have contacted three thriving churches who are each willing to spend a day with us trading ministry strategies and best practices. Three churches in three days. It’s actually a fairly rigorous experience, so don’t get the idea that we were soaking up the rays at a Florida beach this week. (And we don’t always head south for this annual trip. We’ve also hit cities like Minneapolis…in February!)
As I was debriefing with some of my teammates on the way to the airport for our return flight, several of them mentioned how this sort of interaction with other church staffs makes them appreciate even more their co-leaders at Christ Community Church. I couldn’t agree more. I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to work with men and women who: love God; are extremely gifted; care about people; work hard; put up with me.
It appears from our reading of the closing chapter of Romans this week (see Scripture Union’s daily Bible reading schedule, Encounter with God) that the apostle Paul felt the same way about his team. Did you count up all the personal names that Paul crams into this chapter? Repeating words or ideas is one of four kinds of observations that I’ve coached you to make in every Bible passage you read. Well, name after name after name pops up in Romans 16.
More importantly than the names, however, I hope you noticed the qualities of these teammates that Paul cited. Here’s a sampling of what he says about these men and women in verses 3-16: “co-workers… risked their lives… the first convert… worked very hard for you… in prison with me… dear friend… has stood the test… works hard in the Lord… a mother to me… brothers and sisters.” These people had made specific investments in Paul and his ministry—and he took the time to recognize each one’s particular contribution.
I am constantly reminding those who attend Christ Community Church that following Jesus is a team sport. If you’re a true believer, then you’re: a soldier in Jesus’ army; an ear, eye or and hand in Jesus’ body; a building block in Jesus’ temple; a brother or sister in Jesus’ family. All of these biblical word pictures describe the Christian life in communal terms.
So, who’s on your team? Are you part of a team that studies and applies the Bible together? (At Christ Community Church we call these Community Groups.) Are you part of a team that serves in some area of your church’s ministry (either internally, such as in children’s ministry; or externally, such as at a homeless shelter)? Are you part of a team that worships God every weekend? Are you part of a team that’s helping each other overcome an addiction or rebuild a marriage or navigate the waters of grief? (We do this at Care Night on Tuesdayevenings at CCC.) Are you part of a team that’s proclaiming the Good News of Jesus in your local community? (If you attend CCC, I hope you’ve invited a friend to hear our interview with former NBA star A.C. Green this WOW weekend.)
Could you, like Paul, take out a sheet of paper and make a list of 15-20 people who are currently impacting your walk with Christ? Do you have teammates? If you don’t, I’d encourage you to take some steps in the direction of joining a band of fellow Christ followers. If you do, I’d encourage you to drop a note (make it handwritten, not just an email) to two or three of these people thanking them for their investment in your life.
Next week we start I Samuel. The Bible study method we use as we follow the Scripture Union daily reading schedule is called COMA. This acronym (which is more fully explained in my Bible Savvy series book, Walk) stands for: Context–> Observations–> Message–> Application.
The first step of this approach—Context—means that every time we begin a new book of the Bible we must discover the historical background of that portion of Scripture. This is easily done by reading the 2-3 page Introduction to the book in a good Study Bible. So, don’t forget to familiarize yourself with the Context of I Samuel before delving into it on Monday.
I’m not a big TV watcher. Which is why yesterday was a bit unusual for me. I turned on my flat-screen an hour into the Super Bowl. Missed the opening kickoff because I’d been visiting with a friend who’d recently fractured her leg skiing—and, besides, I wasn’t in a hurry to get to the game because I was sure that Peyton Manning’s Broncos would blow out the Seahawks. (Uh-huh.) But I finally settled into my chair, remote in hand, around 6:30 p.m.
By then Seattle was already making Denver look ridiculous. (Did anybody tell Manning there was a game on?) The score became so lopsided that when my daughter and son-in-law announced that the latest episode of Downton Abbey was beginning at 8:00 p.m., I eagerly turned the channel. For the next hour I was intrigued by the interweaving storylines. Will Mr. Bates kill the guy who messed with his wife? Is Edith pregnant? What plot is Thomas hatching against the Granthams? Inquiring minds want to know.
When Downton ended at 9:00 p.m. I was ready to move on to a good book (several of which I’m currently reading). But my son-in-law (this is where I shift the blame) reminded me that the third episode of PBS’s Sherlock was about to air—and there are only three episodes created per season. This would be the year’s finale. Not to be missed. And it was pretty captivating. Until 10:30 p.m. Which meant I’d been in front of the TV for four straight hours by the time I turned it off.
Ugh! “What a waste!” I scolded myself as I left the family room. Fortunately, it’s something that rarely happens to me. But I still regretted the loss of time that might have been spent doing something far more edifying—like reading. In my book, Foundation (volume two in the four-part Bible Savvy series), I diagnose why reading is becoming an endangered pastime in today’s culture. This is an extremely dangerous trend for Christ followers because God has chosen to reveal himself to us in a Book. If we ignore the daily reading of this Book, our relationship with God will be seriously stunted.
How are you doing at regularly carving out time to meet with God in his Word? When have you found the best time of the day to do this? If it’s first thing in the morning, do you occasionally cut your study short in order to scan the newspaper (or your online news source), or to check your emails, or to scroll through the latest pictures on Instagram, or to see who’s posted on Facebook or Twitter?
Is it time to recommit yourself to protecting a daily block of time in the Bible? Keep up with the Scripture Union reading schedule (or get started on it if you haven’t already). Stop by Walgreens today and pick up a spiral-bound notebook in which to record your COMA insights (context, observations, message, application). I’d also encourage you to read the final chapter in my book, Walk (it’s only four chapters long and wraps up the Bible Savvy series). It will coach you how to develop life-giving spiritual disciplines.
In light of yesterday’s TV gluttony, I was struck by the following verse as I meditated on today’s Bible reading (Romans 15:4): “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” There is endurance and encouragement to be found in God’s Word! I must not neglect my Bible, nor allow other media to minimize my time in it.