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Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Do You Read Your Bible?

C.S. Lewis analyzes the difference between 'contemplation' and 'enjoyment' in his essay, "Meditation in a Toolshed":

I was standing today in the dark toolshed.  The sun was shining outside and
through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam.  From where I stood that beam of light, with specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place.  Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes.  Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam.  Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences."

Read those two paragraphs one more time, slowly.  Philosopher Samuel Alexander called 'looking at the beam' Contemplation (abstract, external, impersonal, uninvolved knowledge) and 'looking along the beam' Enjoyment (participatory, inhabited, personal, committed knowledge).  That got me thinking about the different steps I take when studying the Bible.  Both Contemplation and Enjoyment are, I think, essential to understanding and living out God's Word.  I've often wondered why my appetite for the Bible is increasingly voracious.  For many, spending time in the Word is either a chore they would prefer to skip or a Christian discipline they'd like to accomplish quickly so they can get on to the 'more important' things in life.  There is no enjoyment involved.  I've been considering that HOW we read the Bible may affect our desire for it.

Obviously there is a spiritual element involved.  The Holy Spirit indwelling a believer naturally longs for God's Word.  But I think the human element also affects the process.  Rereading Lewis' essay led me to consider that there are three different levels of reading. Borrowing a little from Alexander, I'd like to identify them as: Fact Finding, Contemplation and Enjoyment

Fact Finding is probably the most common approach.  It involves straight reading.  For example, last week I read Ephesians, Chapter 1.  After my first read through I was mostly struck by the number of prepositional phrases and the length of Paul's sentences.  There was some understanding, of course, but mostly I found it confusing.  Many stop at this level and go on to read Chapter 2.  In a week's time if you asked them what they read, they couldn't tell you.  If you asked them what they learned about God, they couldn't tell you.  If you asked them how it changed their lives, they couldn't tell you.

Contemplation is the next level.  I reread the chapter several times and began searching for the "specks of dust".  Reading it on e-sword made it possible to easily highlight significant phrases and words.  I noticed how many times "in Christ" is used.  Then I noticed the vast number of things God has done to and for the believer, and highlighted those in a different color, compiling the list onto a Word document.  Finally, I translated and made an analytical chart of the chapter, which led me to an ever increasing depth of understanding of what Paul was saying and HOW he was saying it.  I realized he was purposely building prepositional phrase upon prepositional phrase to give the readers a sense of the  abundance of blessings they possess through spiritual union with Christ Jesus.  Paul used multiple phrases so the reader would be "weighed down" by the riches they possess in Christ!

Enjoyment was the final stage.  Now that I had a grasp of what Paul was saying and an idea of how he was expressing it, I was ready to "step into the sunbeam" and let it flood over me, allowing it to become personal, committed knowledge.  Being able to see the "green leaves" of truth I had previously been blind to, and even more importantly, seeing "the sun", i.e. God Himself, more clearly!  Thanks to the previous two levels of reading, I was now able to slowly read through Ephesians, Chapter 1 and be overwhelmed by the work of God through Christ Jesus on my behalf and understand the depth of my riches in Christ.  I could bask in the "sunbeam", soaking it up, allowing it to give my life richness and the eternal perspective it needed.

All three levels are vital in Bible study.  They build upon each other.  Don't be satisfied with Fact Finding, nor stop at Contemplation, nor try to skip ahead to Enjoyment.  I encourage you to incorporate all three into your study of Scripture.  I think you'll be amazed at the difference it makes!

[My thanks to Michael Ward's book, Planet Narnia, for inspiring my thinking by reprinting Lewis' essay.]

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teaching Your Children to Deal with Crisis & Fear

I'd like to share a post from a "Guest Blogger". Anna Thorburn & her family attend Christ Community Church with my daughter, Beth. In response to a family crisis in July when her self-employed husband was seriously injured, she wrote the following letter to their five children to help teach them a biblical approach to crisis & fear. This is a wonderful example of what parenting as a Christian looks like. I'm sure she would welcome your prayers for her family. I pray her letter will help you & your family face the difficulties in life in a manner that honors our Lord. [I have shortened it considerably, hoping more will take the time to read it. Please send me a note if you'd like a copy of the entire letter.]


Encouragement from 2 Chronicles 20: 
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

My Dear Children,

A few weeks ago, Gary Brothers shared some encouragement from 2 Chronicles 20. Since that day, I have been “unpacking” this section of Scripture. The Lord is using it mightily to encourage me as I review God’s character demonstrated throughout this passage, as well as King Jehoshaphat’s example as he responds to his situation. I write out my notes here for you, hoping it will give you some guidance and encouragement, too!

King Jehoshaphat learned that swarms of evil armies were about to attack Judah. He was afraid  so

1) “He set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.”(2Chron.20:3)

He flew into action, but it was an action of faith! He positioned himself for seeking. He must have felt he needed direction. He sought the Lord, who is the only One who can give it. In getting into the “seeking-position,” he proclaimed a fast, not only for himself, but for the whole nation. We will seek God together.. .we will fast together. Seeking God was a deliberate action. In this case, it involved self-denial & assembly of all those involved. Judah was being attacked, Judah fasted, Judah sought God… with Jehoshaphat at the helm. There are times that we must do this as a family [and as a local assembly]!

2) He prayed
     a. He reminds God of their relationship (2Chron.20:6)

     b. He reviews God’s power and might  (2Chron.20:6)

     c. He reminds God of His faithfulness on their behalf in His past actions  (2Chron.20:7-12)

     d. He expresses his own powerlessness & keeps his eyes on God. (2Chron.20:12)

         This is my heart cry today. I don’t know how to fix things and I am incapable of even thinking them
         through at times. (Psalm 34: 5)

     e. He states his resolution: “We will stand.”(2Chron.20:13)
         He is not assuming that God will prevent the affliction from coming upon him. It rests in God’s
         hands. They don’t know! Jehoshaphat IS, however, confident in the fact that God will hear
         them & save them. He is telling God that no matter what, they will stand and cry out to Him
         in whatever affliction comes. He knows that God will hear them and save them in whatever form He

3) “all Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, their wives & their children.”

I love this!!! They could have been home, right? What good could their wives & little ones do, standing before the Lord as an assembly? Babies need feeding, changing, naps. Little ones make noise & could be disturbing. Wives have work to do. Perhaps they could have been packing for an escape! But no, they were there, as they had been so many times before in Scripture… all of Judah assembled together, with their wives & their children. We sometimes need to seek God as an assembly, as a church & as a family. Imagine what it would be like to watch your parents & all the people from the oldest to the youngest seeking God together and then falling on their faces in worship!


“And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel…in the midst of the assembly.” He gives the message from God to them: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”(2Chron.20:14-15)

God tells them what to do: don’t be afraid or dismayed, and go out against them... but they will not need to fight. They are to hold their position and stand and wait to see the salvation of the Lord on their behalf. He says He will be with them. What a comfort!  Even when we are fighting, the battle is the Lord’s and the strength to fight is from the Lord. The outcome is God’s.

5) A Response of Worship (2Chron.20:18-19)

Jehoshaphat bows himself low and all of Judah followed his example. They fell down and worshiped God after receiving this message! Then they stood up and praised God with a “very loud voice!”

Sometimes when God has answered my prayer, I go about my business, happy for the resolution of my problem. This is just terrible! We must praise and worship God in humility and in gratitude. They hadn’t even been rescued yet. They were praising God after hearing He would be with them and would fight for them. We know that God is with us and fighting on our behalf today because of Christ’s death and resurrection. This should make us worship and praise Him continually!

6) A Response of Obedience “They rose early in the morning and went out…” (2Chron.20:20-21)

When they went out, Jehoshaphat exhorted them, reminded them some more: “Hear me… Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe His prophets, and you will succeed!” Then—this is amazing—he appointed those who would sing and praise the Lord to go ahead of the army.

7) God heard their praise and acted.  “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord sent an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah.”  (2Chron.20:22)

8) A Response of Thankfulness (2Chron.20:23-24, 26-28)

Their enemies destroyed one another! Judah spent three days taking the spoil, but then…
on the fourth day, they assembled AGAIN to bless the Lord… and then they returned to Jerusalem in joy and rejoicing, coming into the house of God w/great music to the Lord. They did not forget to worship and praise God for what He had done, even after the threat was gone and peace had returned.

9) God Was Glorified (2Chron.20:29)

The effect these events had upon all who heard about it was that they feared the Lord. When God delivers His people, those around take notice. We become part of the story of God glorifying His name on the earth—for which He is worthy—when He has triumphed over our enemies. Sometimes our enemies are difficult circumstances or persecution. Sometimes our enemy is within our own hearts. When God triumphs and the battle is won, the effect is obvious and God’s glory cannot be denied.

[Thank you, Anna...]