Two different ways of reading Scripture

I remember once hearing a preacher say that there are two different ways that we approach reading scripture. The first was described as looking down over scripture, whilst the second was referred to as being under scripture. So what is the difference between these two methods and does it actually matter?

The first one is the idea that we stand over scripture and ask what do I think this passage means? I expect many of us will have attended Bible studies over the years when we have been asked that question or a very similar one by the group leader. Whilst that sounds fine in reality it is not quite what it seems. When we read scripture like this we often approach it with our own theological leanings and biases which then determines our interpretation of the passage in question. Therefore, depending on what our theological position is on a particular subject it then affects the way we interpret the passage before us.

The other way, that he referred to as sitting under scripture, is different though. In this approach we put aside our theological leanings and biases and ask God to open our hearts to truly understand what He is saying, even if it contradicts our theology! The obvious advantage to this method of reading scripture is that we have more chance of hearing God this way. Why you may ask? The reason is because we have not already decided the meaning of the passage by our own biases and prejudices and therefore we are hopefully more open to hearing God.

Do you ever read theological debates on line? I expect if you do you will have noticed that one of the problems with these debates can be we look for our “proof” verse to support our viewpoint. We then wade into the argument saying that we are right and everyone who has an alternative view is wrong. It is obvious they have to be wrong because otherwise we could be incorrect in our presumptions! Sadly the arguments sometimes do not just stop at saying someone is wrong but can generate into accusing fellow believers of not being real or genuine Christians! This to me illustrates the problems that can occur when we come to scripture and bring our theological biases and decide in advance what a passage means

I have to be honest and say that I myself have done this and it can stop one from fully engaging with scripture. I guess though it is a safe way to read the Bible because if we come to it in a spirit of humbleness and openness there is always the risk that God might show us that we are wrong in a particular area. We then might have to change our viewpoint and completely rethink our theology in that area or maybe in many areas! Additionally we might have to make changes to the way we live too. This sounds like it could potentially be dangerous and life changing!

This Season of Lent

Today is the first day of Lent, which lasts for 40 days excluding Sundays. During this time Christians prepare to remember the death and resurrection of Christ at Easter. Lent is a time for reflection, study and repentance, and the 40 day period reminds us of the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tested by the devil.

Often when people discuss Lent you may hear comments such as: “I am giving up chocolate for Lent” or “I am giving up coffee for Lent.” When I hear someone say that I am often curious why they are doing that, especially if they do not appear to have a Christian faith. Obviously, all the money you save by not having chocolate or coffee could be given to a charity helping people who are less fortunate than you are. It might also be a good thing from a health prospective too! However, I do think if we limit our thinking on Lent to statements like those two ones we are missing out.

Instead of giving something up for Lent have you considered taking something on instead? What do I mean by that?

As Lent is a time for reflection then it seems to present a good opportunity to set some additional time aside this season to seek God. There are many different ways of doing this. For example:

  • Joining a study group for the Lent period. This might be one at your local church. Alternatively, it could be an inter-church one. A few years ago the churches in our parish used to meet together in small groups to study a Lent course.
  • Reading a Christian book in Lent. This does not have to be about Lent of course, it could be on any theme.
  • Spending some additional time studying the bible in Lent. This could be using a Lent study guide but does not have to be.
  • Committing to spending extra time in prayer during Lent. This might be by yourself or perhaps joining a prayer group with others.
  • Listening to some online sermons. These could be sermons that have been preached at your own church or maybe at another one.

If you are anything like me then you find it very easy to waste or fritter away time. Whether it is the television, Netflix, YouTube or social media we seem to spend a lot of time in these activities without too much effect.

The season of Lent presents us with a good opportunity to deliberately set time aside to get to know God better. To spend time listening to God and obeying Him.

One of our old church leaders used to use the expression “fasting and feasting in Lent” and I thought that summed up very well how we can use this time to grow in God.

It goes without saying that we do not have to wait until Lent to set additional time aside to seek God. but this season does present an opportunity for us to slow down and focus afresh on God. Paul tells the Galatians that we reap what we sow. If we spend time with God it will help us to develop our relationship with Him and also enable us to be a blessing to others. Whether you keep Lent or not use the time wisely to reconnect with our Father.

The Books of The Bible

If you visit your local Christian bookshop, with a view to buying a bible, you will see many different options available to you. There will be various translations and versions aimed at particular groups of people. It is fair to say that you will be spoilt for choice! Most of these bibles will have one thing in common, they will contain chapter and verse numbers in the text.

However, The Books of The Bible is an NIV translation where the chapters and verse numbers have been removed from the text (with the exception of the Psalm chapter numbers). This version also contains single-column settings, like you would find in a novel or biography.  Section headings have too been removed from the text. The books of both the Old and New Testament are also in a different order to the normal one. Additionally, books that were originally joined together, but had to be separated due to the length of the scrolls, are shown as one book. For example: the two books of Samuel and Kings are shown as one book.

But does this actually make any difference to the reading of scripture? Is this just another gimmick which gives an excuse for another version of the scriptures?

Well actually I have found it does made a difference. Whilst chapter and verse numbers can be useful references when using a commentary or concordance, they can influence the way that we read passages of scripture. When they are removed the text flows more naturally. Although it might seem strange at first reading a bible without chapter and verse numbers we need to remember that they were not in the original text and were only added afterwards. The publishers have instead made breaks in the text at what appears to be more natural places.

The single-column setting makes for a much cleaner layout, which in turn I have found helpful when reading longer passages of the bible. Whilst section headings and footnotes can be useful, they can also be distracting too whilst reading the bible.

Should you buy this version? I purchased The Books of The Bible a few years ago and have found it a very helpful addition to my library of bibles. It is one I certainly recommend.

Who Is the Most Important Person in Your Church?

So who do you think is the most important person in your church? As they might say at the Oscars “here are the nominations”

  • Is it the pastor / vicar? Well you can’t have a church without a leader can you?
  • Is it the preacher? Well you can’t have a church without a preacher can you?
  • Is it the worship leader? Well you can’t have a church service without any singing can you?
  • Is it the youth leader? Well you can’t have a church without someone leading the young people can you?
  • Is it the Sunday school teacher? Well you can’t have a church without someone teaching the children about God can you?
  • Is it the crèche leader? Well you can’t have a church without somewhere to leave the young children during the service can you?
  • Is it the Treasurer? Well you can’t have a church without someone paying the bills and making sure that the church does not run out of money can you?
  • Is it the Technical team? Well you can’t have a church without someone making sure all the microphones, sound mixers, laptops and various other gadgets are working properly can you?
  • Is it the person on the coffee and tea rota? Well you can’t have a church which does not serve coffee and tea after the service can you?
  • Is it the caretaker? Well you can’t have a church where no repairs and maintenance are ever done to the building can you?
  • Is it the cleaner? Well you can’t have a dirty, dusty untidy church can you?
  • Is it the administrator? Well you can’t have a church that is disorganised and not run properly can you?

And the winner is…….. well there is no winner because no one person is more important than any other. We all have different gifts and they all need to be used to build up the church.

It is strange though that we often act like we do not believe this. You will hear people say things like:

  • “We’ve got a really great pastor at our church”
  • “The preaching is outstanding at our church”
  • “The worship is awesome”
  • “We have a great youth leader”

However we rarely heard anyone say:

  • “We have a great treasurer and even though money is a bit tight they always insists we regularly give to mission work”
  • “Our caretaker is great he always ensures that repairs are carried out immediately and keeps the building in fine fettle.”
  • “The technical team are awesome. They arrive an hour before the service starts to set up the equipment and stay on for an hour to put it away. Nothing is too much work for them.”
  • “Our church is so clean and immaculate.”

I wonder why we tend to regard some people as more important based on their particular gifting?

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)

Encouraging Articles January 2021

As we come to the end of the first month of 2021 this has certainly been a difficult and tough month for many people. At the beginning of January the UK entered its third national lockdown. We have seen a new variant of coronavirus emerge with the challenges that this brings. Sadly the number of deaths continues to rise and over 100,000 have now died from the virus in the UK.

The NHS are under significant pressure in different parts of the country as they battle to help those affected by coronavirus.

On a positive notice, it has been good to see the vaccine being rolled out and hopefully that will aid in the struggle against this virus.

If we are being honest it can be quite discouraging looking back over January. Therefore I thought it would be good to share some links below to articles written by other Christians, that I have read this month and found helpful. I have included an extract from the article beneath each link to give an indication of the content of each one.

Are COVID-19 vaccines made from aborted babies? What is HEK293?

Adrian Warnock has written a very comprehensive piece on the Covid-19 vaccines and starts by saying: “Some Christians do have genuine concerns about vaccination which I will address in this article. I wish to appeal to believers to consider carefully these matters rather than reflexly reject the COVID-19 vaccines.”

3 ideas for living well in 2021

Chris Goswami gives us 3 ideas for living well in 2021 and says “As we enter what we hope is a less exciting year than the last one, few of us now doubt that we are living in historic times. You may have heard Uncle Albert’s signature line in the comedy Only Fools and Horses: “……during the war …..”. He sits in the corner and says it a lot, and it gets met with a chorus of sarcasm from Rodney and Dell Boy. Well I wonder if we will end up in our old age quipping “during the virus …..” only to be met with a chorus of “grandad you tell us that story EVERY WEEK!” I don’t know, but “the virus” is the defining narrative of our age, the story we will retell for years to come, a period of history on which school examination questions will be set.”

OK Christians, Time to Do Your Job

Jeff Weddle reminds us that it is time for Christians to do their job and says “In our current state of rancour, arguing, shouting, rioting, and clamouring, I have an idea: how about we listen to what the Bible says a follower of Christ should do and quit following the world’s example.

If we did, we would shine like lights in the world. The good news is that what we’re told to do sounds very refreshing and lovely right about now!”

Is Sin Inevitable in the Christian Life?

Randy Alcorn asks if sin is inevitable in the Christian life. “One common Christian misunderstanding today is that grace and salvation in Jesus means God has lowered His standards, as compared to the Old Testament law. That’s simply not true. God has raised His standards for the Christian life—but He has empowered us to live that Christian life through our relationship with Him and His indwelling Holy Spirit. His grace teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness (Titus 2:12).”

Tempted and Unarmed

Garrett Kell reminds us why we need the armour of God. “It was the boy’s first day of junior high. All was going well until three older kids took his lunch, ruffled his hair, and stuffed him in a locker. They snarled at his squeals and high-fived one another as they walked away. What the bullies didn’t know, though, was that the kid in the locker was the little brother of the football team’s starting middle linebacker.

After lunch, the boy told his brother what happened. His brother looked him in the eyes. “Let’s go.” As the boy came to his locker, the bullies were waiting for him, grinning. But he hadn’t come alone this time. He came in the strength of his older brother. That was the last day they messed with him.”

Find Strength in God

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. (1 Sam 23:16)

Many people are finding life difficult at the moment. Last Monday was the day known as “Blue Monday”. According to psychologist Cliff Arnall the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year! Thus the name “Blue Monday”. Additionally, this year in the UK we are also in our third lockdown. Not really a great combination. Whether or not last Monday is the most depressing day is obviously not a fact but life is not easy for many at the moment.

What do we do in the current situation to cope in these difficult times?

Do we spend more time on social media?

Do we binge watch loads of stuff on Netflix?

Do we try and drown our sorrows by excessive drinking?

Do we go out for long walks everyday?

Do we spend all day in bed and just hope the situation improves?

David, before he came king, was facing a very difficult situation with King Saul. He was in the wilderness with his group of 600 men and Saul was searching for him with his army. We are told that day after day Saul was searching for David. This must have been a very difficult stressful time for David. Although David had known the presence of God with him, he was also, like you and I, a human being too. When you hear that someone is searching for you with the intention of killing you then it would be understandable if you got very worried and concerned.

And then we are told that Jonathan, Saul’s son, went to meet David at a place called Horesh and helped him find strength in God. We are not told what Jonathan did. Perhaps he reminded David of how God had given him victory over Goliath. Maybe he reminded David of the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. We are not told. It simply says that he “helped him find strength in God”

Three brief but important thoughts strike me from that verse:

Look to God

When we are facing problems we need to look to God for His help. We cannot do things in our strength. Many of us think we can. But we cannot. Our pride might not like that but it is true nevertheless.

Life might be a lot easier if we just recognised that. God’s strength is mighty, ours is not. Look to Him. Do not look to the solutions I mentioned earlier, instead we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:3)

We need others

We do not exist on our own as Christians. We are part of Christ’s family and share our faith with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although we can meet God anywhere, He will often use others to help us and to be a blessing to us. You will never reach the point when you outgrow the need for the help and support of other believers.

Others need us

Jonathan was able to bless and help his friend. We should look to encourage and support our fellow believers, especially during these difficult days. Let us aim to encourage them to keep on going and not give up. Being a Christian is not just about us. There are others in our family we need to support.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thess 5:11)

Whatever situation you may be in today look to the Lord and find your strength in Him.

How Should We Use Social Media?

In the light of Donald Trump recently being banned from Twitter I thought it would be good to consider how we should use social media. It goes without saying that social media can be used for both good and bad purposes. In that light how should we use it? In no particular order here are some ideas of how we can use it well.

SPEAK THE TRUTH

When we post anything on social media we should try at all times to tell the truth. This may well mean that we have to research something, checking out the facts before posting, rather than share any old information. If it is impossible for something to be true and there is no evidence to support it, then best practice is not to post it. We should not deliberately share things that we know are lies. Instead we should aim to build our online timeline with truthful statements.

I know that some are very interested in conspiracy theories, but we need to check the credibility of the theory before posting. In recent times some have claimed that 5G is linked to coronavirus. However, there is absolutely no proof of this. Therefore posting statements linking the two is irresponsible and should be avoided.

Speaking the truth can be very powerful and the footballer Marcus Radford has done a wonderful job in the last few months raising awareness of child hunger in the United Kingdom. He has shown that injustices can be raised and tackled via social media.

THINK BEFORE YOU POST

It really should be obvious that it is important to think you post. Ask yourself: do I really need to post that? Once you post something then someone will see your post. Even if you delete it and hope no-one notices, someone will see it, and it might still come back to haunt you.

If you are angry then the best advise is do not post! Unfortunately, if you post when you are angry you will invariable post something that you will regret and could cause a whole lot of trouble, even if you delete it. Go for a walk, count to hundred, wait until you calm down before posting.

We also should be careful which posts we like and share too. When doing this we are endorsing their views and saying that we agree with it. Ask yourself if you really agree with their opinion before doing this. I know I have liked things and then realised that was not appropriate and had to go back and unlike them!

AIM FOR EDIFYING POSTS

I wonder how much different social media would be if we always aimed for our posts to be edifying to others? Why not make it your goal to post things that encourage and help others. How about having a policy of not criticising others on social media? It can be done!

We need to remember that there are real people on social media. You will never know the effect for good or bad your posting might have on others.

YOU CAN DISAGREE WITHOUT ARGUING

I am not sure why but social media does seem to encourage some to argue. Somebody may be nice and polite in real life but once behind a keyboard they become a completely different person.

Social media is not really the best place to have a proper sensible discussion, especially with the character limits in Twitter. If we do have discussions online then we need to learn to accept different views. If someone has a different view to you on a subject there is the possibility that they might be right and you might be wrong! Please remember that there are subjects on which you can disagree and still remain friends. And be ready to apologise if you are wrong about something.

Sadly it is very easy to get involved in pointless arguments. You only have to read comments to Facebook posts or YouTube videos to see this.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL LIFE

Whilst social media can be enjoyable we must remember that it is not real life. There is a life outside of social media and you certainly do not need to spend your whole life on social media. Neither do you need to share everything single thing you do or think either. Take breaks from social media and enjoy the real world.

MOTTO FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

In conclusion, although social media did not exist when the New Testament was written, there is a verse in the book of James which we could aim to use as our motto for social media:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)

The Magi, Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law

Today is Epiphany, when the Western Church remembers the Magi visiting Jesus as described in Matthew 2. This is a very familiar piece of scripture which many of us have probably read or heard read to us dozens of times.

Last Sunday our sermon was preached from Matthew 2:1-12 and the preacher had some interesting thoughts about the chief priests and teachers of the law, mentioned below, who I had not previously thought much about before:

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

It is obvious from the response of the chief priests and teachers of the law that they were fully aware of where the Messiah was to be born. They knew the scriptures. However, strangely they did not seem to be interested in the journey of the Magi and meeting the child, to see if he was the fulfilment of the prophecies.

Why did they not ask to go along with the Magi? Bethlehem is only about 5 or 6 miles from Jerusalem. Surely that was not too long a journey to undertake to see if the Messiah had at last been born?

Why were they not excited and expectant on hearing about the star? They seem to have no spiritual hunger.

Were they like Herod and the rest of Jerusalem disturbed by this news?

Were they scared of losing their positions in the status quo?

Were they scared of the unknown?

Did they think that God could not possibly reveal the Messiah to gentiles?

Perhaps they were scared of how Herod would react? After all, he was not known as someone who was favourably disposed towards potential rivals!

Our preacher described the chief priests and teachers of the law as having “heads of knowledge and hearts of stone.” How very sad that they could quote the Bible but it did not seem to mean anything to them.

Is there a danger that perhaps we can know spiritual truths intellectually but not in our hearts? Do we quote Bible passages parrot fashion and not know their reality in our lives?

Compare that with the Magi who were overjoyed (v10) when they saw the star stopping over the place where Jesus was, and then bowed down and worshipped Christ offering their treasures to Him (v11).

As we go through 2021 let us not be like the chief priests and teachers of the law, but instead emulate the example of the Magi and seek Him eagerly.

The End of Another Year

As we come to the end of another year we will probably read articles and watch television programmes that review the previous 12 months. I often enjoy watching television reviews of the year, especially the sporting ones. It is amazing how quickly you can forget sporting events that occurred several months ago and enjoy watching them again.

This year has obviously been a very difficult and different one for most people. The word unprecedented has been used many times to describe it. I expect most of us will be glad to see the back of it. Perhaps we hope to wake up on 1 January 2021 and discover that 2020 has just been one bad nightmare!

When reviewing and reflecting over this past year there will be both good and bad memories for all of us. There will be things that bring a smile to our face but mixed with these there will also be events that make us feel sad too. Looking back honestly normally involves laughter and tears.

When looking back we will remember our sins and mistakes of the last 12 months. These sins can spiritually cripple us if we constantly dwell on them. Instead of lingering on them we need to confess our sins to God, forsake them and receive the wonderful forgiveness that Christ Jesus offers us.

We will recall opportunities that presented themselves to us. Some of these we took but others we missed. Those missed opportunities will not return to us and this could cause us to despair. There is nothing to be gained by constantly beating ourselves up, wishing we could turn the clock back and change events. We cannot change the past. The past is the past. It is gone. Instead of despairing we must put those wasted opportunities into God’s hands and then leave them in His hands.

On thinking about the new year perhaps we are excited about the future or maybe we are very worried. None of us know what the next 12 months will bring. We hope that it will be better than the previous 12 months, but we cannot guarantee that.

We can pray about the future and make plans. However as we have seen this year sometimes unexpected events occur preventing these plans from being fulfilled. Therefore, as we face the future we need to have open hands and commit our future into God’s hands, not worrying but trusting Him to work out His good purposes in our lives.

The above thoughts are inspired by a reflection written by Oswald Chambers and I shall conclude by a direct quote from it:

Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.

Good News that will Cause Great Joy for All the People

Shortly after Jesus was born an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds who were nearby and said:

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

That is a very familiar passage of scripture to many of us and perhaps we gloss over it quickly without paying it much attention. There are some amazing truths in these words from the angel. I especially like the fact that we are told that this good news will cause great joy for all the people.

Currently there does not appear to be much good news or great joy around. Last Saturday many people’s Christmas plans were ruined following the announcement of tighter restrictions to combat the spread of the new variant of Covid-19. Sadly, due to the late change of government policy concerning Christmas, many of us will be facing a very different celebration this week then we had planned a few days ago.

However, whilst the government may have cancelled our planned Christmas celebrations, you cannot cancel Christmas itself. Why you might ask? Well because at Christmas we are remembering the birth of Jesus and that has already happened!

As we have seen in the verses from Luke, Jesus has already been born. And it is: “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Maybe you are feeling fed up about your Christmas being ruined? Maybe you feel totally devastated at the end of a dreadful year? Maybe you have lost all hope?

Whatever your personal circumstances remember these three things:

  • The birth of Jesus was and is still in 2020 good news.
  • The birth of Jesus did cause great joy and will still in 2020 cause great joy.
  • The birth of Jesus was and still is in 2020 for all the people.

This Christmas put your hope and trust in Jesus and know He is the “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”