Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Beauty of Things and David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop

Sometimes, the instrinic beauty of a thing hits you suddenly and pleasantly.

Like when, acting on a tip-off, you take a shotcut through Mandai, windows down, cruising past orchid farms, savouring the quietness, the fresh air and the dense mature secondary forests surrounding the water catchment areas, then putting on Modest Mouse's "Good News For People Who Love Bad News" and a mix CD of songs about the Good News.
Kayaking Collage (2)
Or when, on a lazy sunny Sunday morning, you paddle out under the deep blue sky and scattered fluffy clouds, splashing water about to cool yourself, alternately bantering and having serious discussions about the future, basking in the warm glow of good Christian friendship (or perhaps that was the sizzle of the sun burning through the sunblock ;-)), accompanied by birds and cicadas calling out from among the trees.
Project Timothy Workshop
Or when, on Monday night, David Jackman opens up the Bible. David was formerly the Director of the Cornhill Training Course and is currently spending some time in Singapore on sabbathical from his job as the President of Proclamation Trust. So Project Timothy's got him to run a series of workshops over a month, teaching people how to read the Bible for themselves.

This is a summary:

Why Study God's Word in the Bible?
In short, God speaks to us directly through his Word in the Bible, therefore we should read and study it for ourselves.

Firstly, the Bible is God's chosen method of speaking to us. We do not dictate how God speaks to us. We do not say we want God to speak to us in a certain way or at a certain time of our choosing. So let's say we went to Buckingham Palace and we met the Queen and she invited us in for some tea. It is the Queen that has to stoop to us commoners to speak to us. She has to come down to our level. And she talks to us when she wants to and in the method she chooses. Then why should we think that we are able to saunter into the presence of the almighty God himself and demand that he speaks to us on our terms?

Secondly, God speaks to us through events. But not in the events themselves but in the explanation that brings about revelation.

Events + Explanation = Revelation

Have a look at 2 Peter 1:16-21. Here, people were under intense persecution for being Christian, and Peter is writing to the church and those who wanted to know whether what they believed was true. Peter says that they were eyewitnesses:
  • there was an Event (in this case, the Transfiguration, we can read about it in the Gospels);
  • but the Event requires an Explanation to become Revelation. We need someone to explain to us what this Event means and this Explanation is given by God who is reliable.
Let's say that two people who don't know anything about Christianity (perhaps they were in a culture that was unreached by the gospel) and they are abroad in a foreign land and they come upon a church; one of those churches with a huge cross upfront and a statue of Jesus hanging on it. One chap points it out to the other and says,"I've heard that that is Christianity." But that cross with Jesus hanging on it isn't Christianity but a symbol of Christianity. They need someone to explain to them who the man is, why he is hanging on the cross, why he had to hang on the cross, what happened after and whether we too have to hang on the cross.

If there is an Event but no Explanation, we will not be able to understand it. If there is an Explanation but no Event, then it would just be a case of wishful thinking.

Aim of God's Word
In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, we see that the aim of the Scriptures (Paul was referring to the Old Testament scriptures in his time, but we can now include the New Testament scriptures too) is to bring us to trust in Jesus so that we are saved. Jesus is both king and rescuer so if you put your faith in him, you will be saved.

The terms "breath" and "word" come from the same word "pneuma", life. If there is no breath, no life, there are no words. Scripture brings us to be Christians and teaches, instructs, corrects and puts us on the right course. So if we want to be a man or woman of God who is equipped for every good work, we must know the Bible. That is the way God will equip us. There is no Plan B. There is no other way.

Difficulties in Listening to God in His Word
But we have difficulty listening to God in the Bible. We are used to print (word on paper) being under our control, rather than us being under its control. Yes, we need to use our skills of analysis when reading the Bible but we must also submit to it as God's word.

In Eugene Peterson (he wrote "The Message" too)'s book, "Working the Angles", he said that we have to learn to listen to God. We are used to going in and out of a book wherever we want to, and don't regard it as a conversation.

Let's take an English couple at the breakfast table. The husband is sitting across from the person he loves most in the whole world and the wife is sitting across from the person she loves most in the whole world. The wife is talking to the husband and the husband is eating his breakfast. Beside him, tucked under his plate, he's also got the newspaper...and...oh...it's open at the sports page...hmmm...oh dear...look at last night's game...that was terrible what... Then he realises that his wife (the person he loves most in the entire world) has been talking to him for some time, pouring out her heart to him and he has been nodding away and now she's asked him a question. He doesn't know what it is because he wasn't really listening, but there's a great question mark hanging in the air...

The Bible is not like a newspaper. The newspaper is quickly outdated and should be used to wrap yesterday's rubbish. But the Bible is the eternal word of God. We are not to zoom in and out of it whenever we want. We should not try to do something to the Bible. The Bible should be something to us. Therefore we are to listening to God by reading the text carefully and by praying for God through his Holy Spirit to help us understand what he wants us to take out of it.

We must be skilled hearers and passionate listeners of God. This takes time. Eugene Peterson said that if we're not puzzled half the time, we're not listening properly. That's encouraging isn't it? And of course there should be a problem. Afterall, it's the infinite God that is speaking to us!

Context
Every text belongs to its context: in the verse, in the book and then in the whole Bible. No verse floats down from heaven like a scrap of paper, as if you walk along and oh! there's 1 Corinthians 12:7 on the floor! If we don't look at text in its context, people can make it say whatever they want. (Isn't that what your friends always said in university?) In fact, did you know that the Bible also says there is no God? That's right! Right there in Psalm 53:1, it says "There is no God". But look at the verse in context and what it actually says is: "The fool says in his heart,"There is no God"."

And we must also be aware of the context because God spoke in precise terms to particular people in their own contexts.

All Books of the Bible
Every one of the 66 books of the Bible matters, because each of them has something unique to teach us. (And also, you are going to meet the authors one day in heaven and you wouldn't want Obadiah coming up to you and asking,"So how did you like my little book then?")

Main Purpose of the Book
Peter was writing to people in Asia (which is not the same region as what is known as Asia today but rather Asia Minor; Turkey), the provinces of the Roman Empire where they were living as despised minorities, as Christians. We see that he is writing to encourage them. This is the main purpose of the letter. The main purpose is like a washing line, and the verses and passages are like the articles of clothing from your wardrobe: the washing line ties it all together.

Or the main purpose of a book is like the melodic line in a symphony or another piece of music. It is the tune. So we must first ask ourselves, when we read a book: what is the melodic line/the tune of this book?

In the epistles, the main purpose is usually stated at the beginning and at the end.

Look at Romans. Romans 1:1-6 and Romans 16:25-27 talk about the same thing. They talk about the gospel and what it is about. Jesus is at the heart of the gospel and this is proved by his incarnation and resurrection. If the beginning and the end of the letter say the same thing, then that's probably the main tune and there is a high chance that what is between those two ends is merely elaboration rather than something totally different.

Look now at the Gospels. Luke 24:26-27. Here, Jesus appears to two disciples who are walking to Emmaus. He explains to them the events that have happened (remember how events mean nothing until they are explained). He tells them that he, Jesus, is the interpretation of Scripture; he is the key to unlocking Scripture. In Luke 24:44-45, we see that Jesus is how the whole Scripture (or the whole Old Testament (the New Testament hadn't been written obviously) which is what the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms means) fits together and is fulfilled in.

In John's Gospel, John helpfully tells us the main purpose for writing in John 20:30-31:"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name". He didn't write down everything that Jesus did, but he chose to record only some of them, for this purpose. And the purpose is to give the reader evidence, so that you will believe. Evidence leads you to faith which then leads you to eternal life. When Christians believe, we are acting on evidence. (Unlike what people think, faith is not knowing something to be false but hoping that it is true anyway. Christianity overshadows even the world's greatest intellect. And when people become Christian, their brains aren't dead. Their minds and their whole life becomes alive!)

If that is the main purpose of the Gospel of John, let's look at a passage: John 2:1-12; the wedding at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. Now John did not write this so that pastors in the 21st century would have something to preach at weddings about how if you invite Jesus into your marriage, he will turn your water into wine! No! He wrote this so that you would have evidence to believe and in having faith, you will have eternal life.

Best Bible Study Aide/Aid
The best bible study aid that you can buy is...an empty notebook. Not any commentary, just a notebook. Take a notebook, read one of the New Testament letters (nothing too difficult at first). And write your own notes on the letter. What you may at first think is the main point may change as you go along, but that's okay, because you will be getting to know the book better.

1 Peter 1
The art of listening requires us to stop and think. Look at 1 Peter 1:1: "to those who are elect exiles". The elect are God's chosen people. The exiles are aliens in the world. But why does Peter put those two words together, "alien exiles"? It challenges us how we look at ourselves. Do we see ourselves as scattered people alien lifeforms (probably from the Jurassic Age)? Or do we see ourselves as citizens of heaven and children of God, known by God and love by him?

In 1:3-9, we are praise God because he has given us new birth. Let's draw a flow diagram of what is happening in verses. [Draws diagram with verses in hilariously abbreviated form.] We praise God, then, because of what he has done: he has given us new birth with a view to our salvation and our future.

In 1:6, Peter says "in this...". What is "this"? It must be the salvation he was talking about in the last verse. So we replace "this" with "salvation" and "in salvation you rejoice, though now for a little while...you have been grieved with many trials". The question in our minds is how are we to rejoice when we are grieved with many trials? Do we put on a fake smile and say through our teeth,"Oh I am very well, thank you"?

No, it is not pretend joy. And 1:7-9 tells us why not. It is not "Oh goody! Here are the trials!" but what the trials are good for: they test our faith (which is extremely valuable), they prove whether our faith is real and genuine and our faith also grows stronger through the testing like gold that is refined. And all this results in praise and glory and honour when Jesus returns.

It prompts you to love Jesus even if you do not see him. Your joy depends on who you put your faith in, not on seeing (afterall, all you see now is trials and suffering). But it is not a pie in the sky when you die by and by. The proof is this: that while you depend on him, you are receiving your salvation (although when Jesus comes again, you will receive your salvation in full). And while you are depending on him through your trials and suffering, it is God who is keeping you and strengthening you and deepening your faith.

We are all miracles of God's grace that we are still persevering in faith in him through all our difficulties (and all Christians have difficulties, even if they aren't life-or-death).

So we're not into lucky dip bible study. But we come to a deep understanding of the text and pray it into our lives, so that it becomes part of the texture of our lives.

Now put yourselves into the shoes of the people who first heard this letter. They were being persecuted, they were jailed or in the courts, their property was being confiscated and they worried for their children. They never knew when they themselves would be carted off by the Romans, because they refused to participate in all the rituals that were required in the superstitious Roman Empire.

Think what a great cost it must have been for them.

Now think what a great encouragement this letter would have been. They are not an alien lifeform, and there is not just this life. This suffering will just be for a little while but when Christ comes, they will be ready and prepared. What a motivation to keep trusting!

Summarise
Now let's summarise this passage in one sentence: Believers rejoice for their certain future inheritance for which their present trials are preparing them.

(The test of whether your hearers, whether in a service or at bible study, understands what you have just said is to ask them to summarise in a sentence what they thought was the main point. If they say,"Ooohh....hmmmm....ummmm...I'm sure he was very sincere!...ummmm...could it have been...perhaps...it was about God?!" then you'll know you haven't been clear!)

Question and Answer Time
Someone asked if he could use this method for his Quiet Time. David replied that he highly encouraged it but it was unlikely that it could fit in at the beginning of the day. So he suggested being self-indulgent and putting aside an hour a week to work on a passage. But then, we'd probably get so much out of it, we'd want more.

Someone else asked if this method could be applied to all books of the Bible. David replied that the method of looking at the structure of the book and finding the main purpose, could. But the method of drawing out a flowchart was only for highly concentrated chunks of teaching, which are mainly found in the New Testament letters. If we tried it with the Old Testament, we'd probably need a huge roll of paper!

Afterwards
Wonderful stuff. This, we said afterwards, chatting and laughing with recently-made friends, is the beauty of studying the bible and the beauty of Christian fellowship.

************
I. The Beauty of Things and David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop
II. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop II: Digging Deeper for the Meaning
III. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop III: Sharpening the Application
IV. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part I)
V. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part II)

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3 Comments:

At March 15, 2006 9:17 pm , Anonymous meefed said...

thanks for summary shadow. great for those who missed David's workshop like me :)(first time a PT talk is full-housed!)

 
At March 16, 2006 1:13 am , Blogger The Hedonese said...

Great stuffs here! I have heard David Jackman before at the Klang Valley Bible Conference in KL...

Good expositor, I like this part

Event + explanation = Revelation

Revelation is both personal and propositional/....

 
At July 04, 2006 1:13 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Eugene Peterson!
I read the Message sometimes and think to myself: This guy really gets it!! The gospel is really as simple as he explains it!

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. Its all free for download on my site. Anyway, I just thought that I would share.

Thanks,
-Sean
________________________
www.SeanDietrich.com
"All my music is free."

 

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