The heart of the matter (How to read the bible part 2)

I am blogging my notes on a talk I gave at the UEA a few days ago entitled “How to read the bible”.

It’s possible to miss the point of the whole bible. When I was looking for a version for my children it took me a while to find one that communicated it clearly. Let me read you the introduction to “The Jesus Story Book”:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing….Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes.

So what is then? Listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you posses eternal life. These and the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me and have life. John 5:39-40

The bible is not about you or me it’s about Jesus. It’s not about Abraham or Othniel , its about Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. In a great video on youtube Tim Keller hammers home this key point:

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden (his garden, a much tougher garden) and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Abel, who though innocently slain, has blood that cries out not for our condemnation but for our equital
  • Jesus is the  true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar, to go into the void not knowing wither he went.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Isaac who was not just sacrificed by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from me. Now, we at the foot of the cross can say to God, now I know that you love me because you did not with hold your son, your only son whom you love from me.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the king and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.
  • ….
  • Jesus is the  true and better Ester who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one. Who didn’t just risk his life but gave his life. Who didn’t just say “if I perish, I’ll perish” but “when I perish I’ll perish, to save my people”
  • Jesus is the  true and better Jonah who was cast out in the storm so that we could be brought in.
  • He’s the real Passover lamb, he’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light the true bread.
  • The bibles not about you!

The bible is about Jesus. What John says of his gospel is true of the whole bible. It’s written to reveal Jesus as the son of God so that we would know him and have life in him (John 20:31).

So how do you read your bible? To find out how to live? To see examples to copy? These are very, very secondary reasons and they can turn sour and make you  miserable unless they are submitted to this primary one. I read my bible to see and savour Jesus. To know him. To encounter him. To delight in him.

To the Psalmist God’s word revealed and made knowable God himself. He says:

“Blessed are they who keep all his statues and seek him with all their heart.” v2

and again in verse 10:

“I will seek you with all my heart” v10

I love the way he starts of talking about God in the third person “his laws” and by verse 4 he is talking in the second person saying “your ways“. He is not interested in impersonal facts, through God’s word he is seeking a relationship with God. To him God’s word provides landing lights and a safe touchdown into a loving relationship with his saviour.

One commentator wrote that:

The composer of Psalm 119 poured over the Torah, the law of God, and understood its various divisions as few others do. He knew that God’s law represented His Name, His character and His will; that it was a transcript of the Almighty’s own soul and an everlasting fountain of blessing.

The reason he finds God’s word as sweet as honey (verse 103) is that he loves God. I love my wife’s voice, the way she looks, the way she moves, because I love her. I am besotted with her. For the Psalmist, as for me, reading the bible is a matter of the heart. As we read it we are enjoying and deepening our relationship with our wonderful saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having looked at the Psalmists heart, in the next blog I will consider what is going on in his head.


Lights please! (How to read the bible part 1)

I thought it would be an easy talk but as always it took some hard graft to put together. I had been asked to speak at the UEA CU on how to read the bible. I love reading the bible and there are a lot of things that I could say about it, but still, putting a 20 minute talk together was a challenge. I wanted to make it personal and practical but also ground it in the bible itself. After all, if the bible is so good, why not let it speak about itself!

I began thinking of a passage I could base the talk on and Psalm 119 came to mind. It is a massive Psalm but I very quickly homed in on a few verses. I wanted everyone, including me, to experience something of the metaphors that the Psalmist was using so I gave out lots of sweets, turned all the lights off and began to read the passage by torch light:

How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. Psalm 119:103-105

It’s amazing how exciting it is being in a dark room with a torch. My kids love it and I guess I’ve never grown out of it. I was tempted to give the rest of the  talk in the dark but sanity prevailed and the lights went back on.

I wanted to vividly make the point that God’s word is sweetness and it is light! That there is both an experiential delight and an intellectual enlightenment to be found in the bible. That is certainly the testimony of the Psalmist who writes as someone who as discovered hidden treasure. By studying this song I hoped to find clues that would lead me into a similar experience.

Many people dismiss the bible as boring and irrelevant. The psalmist however, even though he only saw a fraction of what is there for us to discover now, was inspired to write 176 verses about it; 8 for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In God’s word he finds truth, comfort, direction, protection, blessing and salvation.

I can relate to the Psalmists verboseness. The more I read in the bible the more I seem to have to say about it so inevitably I ended up with too much material for the night. I thought therefore that it would be a good idea to blog my notes.

I had three points which I will blog over the next few weeks. First I will look at the Psalmist’s heart, next his head and finally his hands.

You can change the laws of Physics! (UEA Holy Spirit Part 4)

One final thing that I wanted to share with the excellent guys at UEA CU when I went there yesterday was that we are encouraged to ask for the Holy Spirit. Not only is it nonsensical to imagine that the Holy Spirit comes quietly and secretly upon a person (as you read the accounts in Acts you almost have to put your fingers over your ears it was so noisy!)  it is also unhelpful to think we just get on with things until God so desires to pour out his Sprit on us. Now he might – he certainly did on Cornelius’ household but in most other cases people had an expectation built and hands laid on them. You may remember Jesus talking about asking and seeking and knocking. Well you may not know that he was talking about the Holy Spirit. The climactic application of his teaching on asking, seeking and knocking was this:

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

Over the last few months my expectation has been soaring. I have decided to take God at his word and believe what he says and go with the expectation his word builds in me. When I take breaks off its amazing how much faith God’s word builds. Blow it, I’m almost 40. I want the rest of my life to count. If there is power available then I’m going to ask for it. “More lord More!” Isn’t just a nice charismatic think to say. It’s the cry of a heart who desperately needs more of God.

Starship Enterprise

I am reminded of the Starship Enterprise battling it out with a Klingon battle cruiser. Their shields are almost gone and they are seconds away form being blown to smithereens. Captain Kirk desperately calls down to Scottie in the engine room for more power. Scottie replies as he always does “I can ney do it cap’n shes gan’ flat oot already!”. But of course there is always more power and somehow Scottie does the impossible, there is a surge of power and the Enterprise wins another battle. I want to be like Captain Kirk, knowing there has to be more power, calling out for it, and winning yet another battle for God. Unlike Scottie God is saying to us “Ask me for more, there is more power! Heal the sick, raise the dead!”.  He can and does “change the laws of physics!”. “More Lord, More!”

We are all special people with a special task! (UEA Holy Spirit part 3)

Sampson wielding a donkey's jawbone

On the day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke about the Holy Spirit coming upon people they where not talking about something unheard of. The Spirit had come on David, Saul, Balaam, Sampson, Othniel, Jephthah, Gideon, Moses, Amasai chief of the Thirty, Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest, Joshua, Elisha, Elijah and probably some more I’ve missed out (I think there are a couple of guys that built the temple who had Gods Sprit on them). These were special people with special tasks. They won victories in battle, prophesied, lead, blew trumpets, ripped lions apart, killed hundreds with a donkeys jaw bone, healed people, and did all sorts of amazing miracles.

If someone if offering the Holy Spirit to people who know their Old testaments then they had better be aware of the expectations they are raising. But could it be true? The Spirit poured out on everyone? Yes! The prophets looked forward to this day. Joel, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel. And Jesus spoke a lot about it too. It turns out that now we are all special people with a special task, to boldly take the gospel where it has not gone before. That could be next door or half way round the globe. It can’t be done in the way God wants it to be done without the Holy Sprit. The Christian life is to be lived with power and the batteries come with the gift of forgiveness.

Batteries not included (UEA Holy Spirit part 2)

Do you remember how disappointing it was as a child on Christmas day when you unwrapped a toy only to discover that it needed batteries. Your parents had obviously not read those all important words on the back of the box “batteries not included”. Doh! Your present looks good, it was very kindly given, but it just isn’t going to be much fun until it can do all the things it was deigned to do. (Recently I’ve had that experience as a parent and had to frantically search the house in the hope of finding half a dozen AA batteries for various newly unwrapped presents.)

Well the gospel is a present that comes with “batteries included” and that was the title of my talk to the UEA CU. I spoke on Acts 2:38,39

repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – all who call on the name of the Lord” Acts 2:38,39

My point was that that sometimes we truncate the gospel. We give people the present without the power. Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t enough that they knew him, that they believed in him, that they had seen him rise from the dead. If they were to take the gospel out to the ends of the earth they would need to be filled with/baptised with/receive (the terms are used interchangeably) the Holy Sprit.

It’s the same with us but now we don’t have to wait. The disciples told the crowd that what had just been given to them could be theirs as well. The Holy Spirit is available to all God’s people. We repent, we get forgiven, we put our trust in Jesus (initially in the way he told us to by being baptised) and then we get the power we need to live our lives for him.

Fond memories (UEA, Holy Spirit talk part 1)

Yesterday evening I went to the UEA to speak at the CU. It was so good to be back there again after all these years and it brought back some great memories. Three years spent researching, designing and programming computer graphics effects for fire and explosions. Cool! It was great to have so much time and freedom to pursue my interests but that wasn’t the best thing about being at the UEA nor was it memories of late nights hunched in front of a computer screen that filled my mind. You see, towards the end of my time at the UEA I became a Christian.

I was invited by a really great guy in my lab to an event in the CU mission’s week and to cut a long story short, at the end of the talk I put my hand up and said “yes I want to trust in Jesus Christ”. No single decision has changed my life as much as that one and yet after I had given my life to Christ I felt no different. The next morning I kind of wished I’d not been so hasty (although I had been looking into it for over 7 years). A friend came round and we dumped a load of unhelpful stuff I had accumulated in a nearby skip. In the days that followed I began to experience a change form the inside out. Changes of desires and joy and peace. A little while later I was baptised in water and then a short time after that I was filled with the Holy Spirit (it wasn’t all as simple as it sounds but I’ll leave that for another time). And here I was again, wanting so much to encourage these guys and serve them as best I could. And they had given me a great passage to do just that. Acts chapter 2!

Acts 2 is a key chapter in an amazing book. It is I believe one of the most important chapters in the whole bible, second of course to the ones about Jesus’ death and resurrection but of unique significance to us and God’s purposes in the world. If it wasn’t for the events described in this chapter, mission would have misfired, I would not have heard the gospel, I would not have been saved and I dread to think what life would have been like.