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Christian Living

December 11, 2014

God promises grace to battle sin and to overcome sin. We believe that God gives that kind of grace to his people. This is not something we deserve; it is not something he owes us, but he gives it anyway. It is undeserved, the overflow of his love for us.

And we long for that grace—the grace to put sin to death, the grace to bring righteousness to life, the grace to be who and what God calls us to be.

God gives that grace, but for some reason—his good reasons—it rarely comes in the form we would prefer. God gives it not in the form we want but in the form we need. We want God to zap away our sin, to instantly and permanently remove it. Those desires, those addictions, those idolatries—we want them to be lifted and to be gone that very moment. 

God could do this. He has the strength and the power. And occasionally he does do this, he removes the sin and the temptation to sin in an instant, and it never comes back with the same strength and the same force.

But more commonly God’s grace is not manifested in the instant obliteration of a sin. Instead, his grace is manifested in a newfound desire to destroy that sin. God does not zap away our sin, but gives us a new hatred for it and a new desire to do the hard work of battling it. He does not sovereignly remove it in a moment, but extends grace so we can battle it for a lifetime. He extends grace so we can see continuous, incremental success, knowing our weakness and crying out for his strength. He gives what we need, even if it isn’t quite what we want.

And this, too, is grace. This, too, is undeserved favor from a loving God. This, somehow, must be far better for us than the alternative. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

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December 03, 2014

It’s the easiest thing in the world to say: “Yes, I’ll pray about that.” And it’s the easiest thing to neglect. The list of all the things I’ve said I’d pray for but then forgotten about would stretch from here to next year. So I’ve started to say, “No, I won’t pray for you.” I am still not entirely comfortable with it, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

We recently had someone—a stranger—call the church to ask for prayer. She called out of the blue one morning, from a phone number far away. She said she was feeling sick and needed people to pray for her. Every day for the next six months. “Can I count on you to pray for me?”

For one of the first times in my life I felt total freedom. I said, “I am going to pray for you once, but I will not pray for you every day. I will not pray for you for six months.” I explained that I have my own church to care for, and that I need to pray for those people. I asked about her church and she told me where she attends. I recognized it as a good church, full of people who pray, and pastors who care. I explained that God expects her church to care for her, and her church to pray for her, and that calling all the churches in Toronto and asking them to heap up prayers for someone they don’t know may be little more than superstition.

I thought I got through to her. But a week later the phone rang again and it was the same woman. She had obviously forgotten to scratch the name of our church off her list. I reminded her of what I said last time and told her that I was not praying for her anymore. She hung up on me.

I once spent a couple of hours with a small group of people and a well-known pastor whose voice goes out on the radio and who has listeners around the world. He is a man of prayer, and one who battles against the easy “Pray for me!” He understands that some people think his prayers are especially powerful because he is a celebrity; he understands that some people have disobediently distanced themselves from the local church and are now looking for someone, anyone, to pray for them; he understands that some people are superstitious toward prayer. So he told how he learned to say “No.” Even better, he learned to say, “I will pray for you right now but then I expect you to go to your local church and ask them to pray for you.” He prays immediately and prays once, but no more.

I learned from him, and feel the freedom not to pray. I feel the freedom not to pray because I cannot pray for everyone and everything. God has given me spheres of responsibility and a finite amount of time. I have to use the best and the bulk of my time to care for those people who are closest to me—my family, my friends, my neighbors, my church. One of the ways I care for them is by praying for them. But since there is much more to my life than prayer, I have to use that prayer time well, giving it to those matters and those people I am most responsible for. And that is what I attempt to do—to pray earnestly and repeatedly for the people I am responsible for, and to allow others to pray for the people they are responsible for.

I am quite sure it is better this way. It gives me an opportunity to teach people about prayer, it gives me an opportunity to model prayer, and it keeps me from saying I will do what I will not and cannot do.

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November 24, 2014

I overheard an interesting discussion the other day. I was out-and-about and caught just a fragment of a discussion about money and the sheer joy of having it. I couldn’t eavesdrop for more than a few words, but that was enough to get my mind working. I thought about the way I use my money, and the way we, as Christians, use our money. And I want to ask you the question: When was the last time you just enjoyed your money?

It’s okay, you know. You are allowed to enjoy your money. Let’s think it through.

I firmly believe that every thing we have is actually God’s. We are not the owners of our money, but the stewards of God’s money. Most of us believe this and we try to live it. And there are many, many ways to faithfully steward God’s money.

We serve as faithful stewards when we live within our means. We serve as faithful stewards when we save for the days to come. We serve as faithful stewards when we focus on paying down debt. We serve as faithful stewards when we pay our bills and when we expend effort in attempting to reduce our bills. We serve as faithful stewards when we avoid all those deep-debt, high-interest, I-need-more-stuff ways to live. We serve as faithful stewards when we give generously to the Lord’s work, or help a friend in need. Ultimately, we serve as faithful stewards when we live with an awareness that money is a terrible god but a beautiful means of serving God.

Along the way we can develop a very formal and professional relationship with money, where money becomes little more than a tool. Every dollar has a job—paying the bills and paying down the mortgage, and saving for retirement, and supporting the missionaries. Every dollar has a job, but not many of those jobs are fun. We use our money dutifully, but rarely have fun with it.

There are so many good things we can do with our money. But I think one of the good things we may be prone to miss along the way is just plain enjoying it.

When was the last time you gave each of your kids $20 and set them free in the toy store or book store? When was the last time you enjoyed a truly relaxing vacation? When was the last time you went to the specialty store and bought some amazing crackers and cheese? When was the last time you sat and savored a slightly-too-expensive but almost-too-delicious cup of coffee? When was the last time you bought a new book just because? When was the last time you bought an extravagent bouquet of flowers for your wife? When was the last time you allowed yourself to really enjoy your money?

It is good to exercise self-control with your money, and good to put it to good work. But it is good to enjoy it too. Because money is more than a tool; it is also a means of pleasure.

And here’s the neat thing: The better you manage your money as God’s money, the greater your enjoyment of these little pleasures. When all you want to do with your money is seek indulgence, it will deliver ever-diminishing pleasures. But when you faithfully steward it, those small pleasures are far richer and far sweeter.

So use your money, and use it wisely, and use it for God’s glory. But don’t forget to enjoy it as well.

Image credit: Shutterstock

November 21, 2014

You are not “running late.” You are rude. You are inconsiderate. You need to change. Greg Savage’s frustration with other people’s tardiness boiled over into an amusing rant that he posted online, and that was subsequently read by hundreds of thousands.

10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted – while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice?

And an arrangement to meet someone for a business meeting at a coffee shop at 3 pm, more often than not means at 3.10 you get a text saying ‘I am five minutes away’ which inevitably means 10 minutes, and so you wait for 15 or 20 minutes, kicking your heels in frustration.

Like most epic and enjoyable rants, we can all identify with the heart of the issue. Most of us feel some of his angst, because most of us have been kept waiting by someone who pulls in late too often and who apologizes too seldom. Somehow lateness has become culturally acceptable, excused away by busyness or traffic or the other trappings of our frantic lives. Savage says, “I consider serial lateness a character flaw which I take into account when working out who to promote, who to hire and who to count amongst my real friends.” In his view it is that important.

In many ways I am inclined to agree with Savage. I can very easily see a link between promptness and character, where people of mature character tend to be the ones who show up on time, or even a few minutes early. Here in North America we could probably lobby to make it the missing fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, promptness, kindness, gentleness… But there is always one nagging little thought in the back of my mind: Jesus was late. Or was he just on time? He certainly looked late. In John 11 he is summoned to rush to the side of his friend Lazarus. But he dawdled and arrived not 20 minutes late, but 2 whole days late. By that time Lazarus was not only in the grave, but getting pretty ripe in there. His friends were disappointed in him, assuming that he didn’t properly understand the situation, or that he didn’t properly prioritize it. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

But Jesus had been waylaid for the best of reasons—he was deeply in touch with God’s will and knew that God had something he meant to do and something he meant to prove in this situation. Where a human perspective made Jesus look like a failure, from a divine perspective he was the greatest success. We can see the same in the Psalms where David seems to assume that God is late or too busy with other things, too busy or too distracted to reply to David in his agony. We can see it in the cries of God’s people under oppression, as God seems so slow to turn his face toward them. Sometimes even the Divine looks late when we look at Him from our so-human and so-limited perspective.

And this is just my fear when we demand promptness and assume that tardiness indicates a character flaw. There is so much we don’t see. There are many people who love to do good to others, and they allow that doing good to others to take precendence over their schedules. My temptation is just the opposite, to refuse to do good because I don’t want to be late. In fact, just last night I dreamed about witnessing an accident but driving away so I wouldn’t be late for an elders’ meeting.

This issue has been an important one in my church. Toronto is the most culturally diverse city in the world, which makes the churches multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-everything else. I would say that nearly half of our church is from a West African or South American background, and both continents regard time differently from the way we do. I might be tempted to regard this only as weakness, but there are strengths as well. While I arrive on time but alone, my African friends might arrive thirty minutes late, but in a socially-engaged crowd. While I might be tempted to rush right back out of church to get home, to get lunch, to get a nap, to get geared up for the evening service, my African friends might dawdle at the church and socialize for hours until the next service begins. The issue that may frustrate us also masks genuine strengths. Will those strengths diminish as promptness increases? Is it worth the cost? Some of the most thoughtful people I know, are also the most consistently late people I know. They show their thoughtfulness in other ways—ways that sometimes make them late.

I do not mean to defend lateness. I still believe promptness is an application of Jesus’ simple command that we are to let our yes be yes and our no be no. If you say you will arrive at 10, arrive at 10, not 11. Like Savage, I believe the deeper issue is with people who plan to be late, who think so highly of themselves that they don’t even attempt to get there on time anymore, and who don’t care a bit for how this inconveniences others.

So by all means, let’s plan to be on time, and let’s live orderly lives. But let’s be slow to stand in judgment of those who show up at a time we deem inappropriate. If nothing else, let’s know people for their many strengths and not only that one weakeness that most frustrates us.

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 24, 2014

He wanted to follow Jesus. He wanted to be close to Jesus. He wanted to live a life of radical obedience. But Jesus told him to stay, not to go. Do not follow me.

The man had been oppressed by demons, driven out of his mind and driven out of polite society. He had lived in the tombs, living with the dead, crying out, cutting himself, bleeding, naked, insane.

Then Jesus had come, and with a word released him. He was free.

“As [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him…” (Mark 5:18-19a).

The man’s desire was pure. Please, Lord, let me go with you. Let me learn from you. Let me stay near you.

But Jesus had a better plan. Stay. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (19b).” You may not come. You must stay.

Why? Because there could be no better missionary to his own town and to his own people. They knew what he had been and who he had been, and they, of all people could see the transformation. That undeniable transformation declared the power of God.

This man had encountered Jesus in a life-changing way. So Jesus told him to stay. Stay where you are, find your friends and neighbors, and tell them what the Lord has done for you.

Christian, God has appointed you to be his missionary right where you are. There is no one better suited to the task. “Go home to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your colleagues, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 20, 2014

Every pastor encounters people who have given up, or are tempted to give up, meeting together with God’s people. At any given time just about every church has some people who are in danger of drifting away, and no longer participating in the life of the church. To do so is to directly disobey Hebrews 10:24-25 which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage warns us not to neglect local church fellowship and participation, and also hints at the reasons we may do so.

Here are two reasons you may be tempted to neglect meeting together with God’s people.

You Forget What You Bring

Hebrews 10:25 warns Christians against leaving local church fellowship, and the verse immediately prior gives the reason. As Christians, we all equally bear the responsibility to stir up one another to love and good works. We are to provoke one another to act in love and we are to provoke one another to promote good works. And the simple fact is that we cannot do these things if we are not together.

In the background of the book of Hebrews is the New Testament teaching that we, as Christians, are like a body—Christ’s body. In Romans 12 Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” In some way God looks upon Christians just like we look upon the many parts of one body—many parts, but one person. In some way God looks upon the local church as many parts but one body. Paul explains the same theme in 1 Corinthians and in both of these passages he draws the same application—that just as each part of the body has an important function, each Christian has an important gift. Just as each part of the body makes the body function well and as a whole, each Christian’s gift is meant to make the church function well and as a whole. There are no superfluous body parts, and there are no superfluous Christians.

When you are tempted to disassociate from the local church, whether permanently or semi-permanently or even for a lazy Sunday where you just can’t be bothered, you have forgotten what you bring to the people of your church. You have neglected to understand or believe that you, yes you!, are a crucial part of the body of Christ. You have a gift to bring, and the church is only complete when you bring it and use it.

God has made you part of the body, and the body needs you to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny them the gifts he has given you—gifts that bring him glory when you use them for the good of others.

You Forget What You Need

If it is true that God has gifted you to be a part of the whole, there is an important implication: God has gifted them as well. You are incomplete without your church. God has not so gifted you of all people that you can thrive and grow without the gifts he has given to others. You are part of the body, but only a small and singular part of it. Unless you can imagine your thumb striking off on its own and building a life for itself, or unless you can imagine your appendix seceding from the body and thriving, you shouldn’t imagine yourself leaving local church fellowship.

In this way neglecting to meet with God’s people is a sign of overwhelming and outrageous pride. You have somehow determined either that the gifts God has given others are of no real consequence to you, or you have determined that you are so gifted that you can happily survive without. The reality, of course, is that God has made Christians to thrive and survive only in community. Lone Christians are dead Christians.

God has made you part of a body, and you need the rest of that body to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny yourself the gifts he has given them—gifts that bring him glory when they use them for your good.

In those times where it just seems to hard to be part of a local church, and in those times where neglecting the church seems so attractive, you are forgetting what you bring and what you need. Of course you’ve also neglected to consider how badly you need the preaching of God’s Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and the witnessing of baptisms and the other beautifully ordinary means of grace that God dispenses through his gathered church. But first you’ve forgotten that you are part of a body—a body you need, and a body that needs you.

October 13, 2014

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of young adults from several churches across our city. I chose to speak about how any Christian (not only young adults) can make a church better and stronger. Here are some of the things I came up with: 7 things your church needs from you.

Your church needs you to…

…Be Humble

There is no character quality more important than humility. While humility does not come naturally to any of us, it can be learned, because here’s the thing: Humility isn’t a feeling or an attitude—it’s action. If you want to learn humility, you need to act humble. Here are 3 quick tips on becoming humble:

  • Find mature Christians who exemplify humility and spend time around them. Learn from them and learn to be like them.
  • Volunteer for the lowliest of tasks. Don’t ask to be in the public eye when you serve, but be content to stay in the back. Find joy in doing the lowliest jobs and do them when and where only Jesus will see.
  • Get to know Jesus. It was Jesus who said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12). And it was Jesus who humbled himself the deepest and was exalted the highest.

…Prioritize Church

Every church has people who make the public gatherings of the church a low priority. These are the people who only come to church when it is convenient and who use any excuse to miss a day or miss a service. Every church desperately needs people who will make the public gatherings a top priority. Today is the day to begin elevating the importance of church in your life.

Let me give you two reasons:

  • First, you need your church. God made you part of your church for your good. You cannot do life on your own. You aren’t strong enough, you aren’t wise enough, you aren’t mature enough, you aren’t godly enough. Without the beautifully ordinary means of grace you encounter in the church, you won’t make it. Without the support of your brothers and sisters, you won’t make it.
  • Second, your church needs you. God made you part of your church for the good of others. 1 Peter 4 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” God has gifted you to be part of your church, and those gifts are to be used for the good of other people. So prioritize church as an expression of generosity toward others.

…Consider Giving God a Day

Why don’t you considering setting aside an entire day of the week and dedicating it to the Lord in a special way? We believe that the Old Testament law has been fulfilled in Christ, though there is some disagreement among Christians about the implications. But even if you believe that the Sabbath command is no longer binding on us, there is still value in learning from it.

It completely changes Sunday when you give the entire day to the Lord and his people. Now you’re not having to decide whether to take that class or join that club that meets Sunday afternoon. You’re not skipping church during exam time because you’ve got studying to do. You’re not leaving early to get home before the football game starts. Instead, you’re leaving behind all the cares of life, and even many of the joys of life, and dedicating an entire day to worship, to fellowship, and to serving others.

…Live Like a Christian All Week Long

It is easy enough to be a Christian at church, but then you get home. But then you go to work. But then you go to school. And then you’re surrounded by people acting ungodly, and even worse, you’re left along with your own thoughts and your own desires. Yet your church needs you to live like a Christian all week long.

Each of us faces different challenges and different temptations. But one key to living like a Christian all week long is spending time in Word and prayer every day. Make this a priority no matter how busy you are and no matter how crazy life seems. Make this something you do no matter how badly you’ve sinned and how little you feel like doing it. Pray day-by-day not only for yourself, but for your church. Take that membership directly and pray through it from A to Z, and then start over. Make your devotional life something you do not just for the good of yourself, but for the good of others.

September 26, 2014

One of the fascinating abilities we have in this digital world is quantifying our lives in new ways. Today, more than ever, we can assemble an amazing amount of data about ourselves. I have a fascination with data and measurement, so often find myself turning to such tools to learn about my life in the hope that what I learn will allow me to live better. 

I have had to put some thought into the consequences of a quantified life and whether it can help me be a sanctified Christian. I am convicted that if these tools are used well, they can be very helpful. Today I will give you a glimpse of some of these tools and how I use them. Before I do that, though, let me be clear: I do not use all these tools all the time. In most cases I find that committing to the tools for a defined period of time allows me to get valuable snapshots of my life. I will use some of these tools for a few weeks, and then put them aside for a couple of months. But just those brief snapshots give me data that helps me live a deliberate and self-controlled life.

Habits

Habit ListAs human beings, we are creatures of habits, and every Christian is responsible to develop good habits and patterns. There are many apps that allow you to track your habits, and the one I have found most effective is Habit List. Habit List allows you to input a list of habits you would like to measure. You can input daily tasks (read my Bible), weekly tasks (update the family budget) or even tasks you would like to do three times per week, or only on Wednesday and Friday. At the end of your day you can open the app and check-off those tasks you successfully completed. It is an ideal way to track how often you actually read your Bible and pray, how often you do family devotions, how often you exercise, and so on. Another interesting option is Reporter which asks you defined questions at random times, as well as defined questions at the beginning and end of the day; if you set it up with the right questions, you can learn all kinds of interesting things about yourself (Are you listening to music right now? Are you alone or with people right now? How much energy do you have right now? How would you rate your use of time today?)

Fitness

If there is any area of life Christians tend to neglect, I think it must be the area of fitness; we care for our souls and minds, but too often neglect our bodies. Wearable fitness trackers represent a new and growing category of devices that mean to measure and motivate physical activity. They primarily track data such as the number of steps you take during the course of a day, though they can also track metrics like how much high-intensity movement you had during your day. Many of them also track your sleep habits, provided you wear it through the night. These devices are ideal for tracking your physical exercise and motivating fitness; it may be that your life is even more static than you thought it was. (Examples: Fitbit, Jawbone UP 24) If you prefer not to use a device, there are many apps that allow you to manually input the details of your exercise and activities (Example: RunKeeper). Also, most up-to-date mobile phones offer many of the basic functions such as tracking your steps.

Diet

UP CoffeeI said that if there is any area of life Christians tend to neglect, it is the area of physical fitness, but diet would have to be a close (and closely-related) second. Speaking personally, I have very little interest in tracking every calorie that I consume, but have found it very valuable to track my eating in bursts—two weeks every few months, perhaps. For a short period of time I’ll try to figure out the basic nutritional information for everything I eat, and input into an app. This gives me a snapshot of my eating habits and allows me to consider whether I am eating too much, too little (Ha!), or the wrong kinds of things. My Fitness Pal is a good option here, though if you use any of the devices or apps I listed under Fitness, they may have this functionality as well. UP Coffee is a great option for tracking your caffeine and ensuring you are de-caffeinated by the time you go to bed. If you have committed to drinking more water (and who hasn’t at one time or another) try Waterlogged.

Sleep

Many of the fitness trackers listed above offer sleep tracking—based on your movement at night, they will offer a basic measure of the quality of your sleep, as well as the time you went to sleep, the time you woke up, and the number of times you were awake in the night. As an added benefit, many of them offer a vibrating alarm function that will wake you, but not your spouse. There are other sleep-tracking apps such as Sleep Cycle that require you to leave your mobile phone on your mattress (you slide it under the fitted sheet); they offer surprisingly accurate metrics on your sleep. There are even dedicated devices you can wear at night that serve as sleep-trackers and alarms. As someone who struggles to sleep, I have often turned to this kind of information to try to help determine how I can sleep more and better.

Time

Measuring time well is an important component to using time well. As Christians, we know that the Lord expects us to faithfully steward the time given to us and today there are many excellent apps that can help. Some are entirely manual while others use some degree of automation. The one I use most is Toggl. Every couple of months I will use Toggl for two or three weeks and carefully track my time (sometimes every waking minutes and sometimes only my work-related time). This helps me understand where my time is going and whether I am giving adequate attention to each of my areas of responsibility. Another helpful category is apps that track what you do online and then present a list of the sites you visited and how much time you spent at each; or they present a list of the programs you have used and how much time you used each of them. The truth can hurt. Try RescueTime if you need help here.

Finances

Mint AppIf we are responsible to steward our bodies, minds and time, the same is true of our money. There are hundreds of great apps that can help you track where your money comes from and where it goes. The most popular is Mint, a free and beautifully-put-together service from Intuit. That said, You Need a Budget is still, in my estimation, the best and most complete option, especially if you want to carefully budget your money.

And we are only just getting started—the era of quantification is really only beginning. I am convinced that many of these tools, when used wisely, can benefit us and motivate obedience to God.

Let me say just a word about the dangers of these apps. I think the primary danger is that, unless we guard ourselves, we may eventually use data legalistically. We may eventually begin to think that our standing before God is based on the right measurements; we may take refuge in our habits instead of in our Savior. This is one of the reasons that I tend to use these apps sporadically rather than consistently. I do not want to be conformed to the image of an app, but to the image of Jesus Christ. I value the tools only so far as they are driving me to the cross.

Do you ever use apps or devices like these ones? How do they help or hinder your Christian life?

Measurement image credit: Shutterstock

September 07, 2014

Today I’d like to do a little “faith hacking”—to find and share one of those practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life. As I read, as I listen to sermons, as I speak to people, I am always looking for insights on how other Christians live out their faith in practical ways, and today I want to tell you about one great suggestion for improving the way you meditate on Scripture.

If you are like me, you find meditation a difficult practice. You like the idea of it, but find the reality difficult to carry out. In my mind, “meditation” seems like an ethereal term, one that contains a good idea but without any clear structure. I struggle with it.

In his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Donald Whitney says, “When meditating on a verse of Scripture, it’s usually much easier to answer specific questions about it than to think about the text without any guidance or direction at all.” Which, I think, pretty much explains my frustration. He describes meditating on Philippians 4:8 and realizing that the verse offers helpful directions for the kinds of things he could meditate on for any passage in the whole Bible.

Philippians 4:8, which you’ve probably memorized at one time or another, says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Whitney studied the verse for a time, and came up with a list of questions that can be helpful for meditating on nearly anything in your life, but especially Scripture. Here they are:

  • What is true about this, or what truth does it exemplify?
  • What is honorable about this?
  • What is right about this?
  • What is pure about this, or how does it exemplify purity?
  • What is lovely about this?
  • What is admirable, commendable, or reputation-strengthening about this?
  • What is excellent about this (in other words, excepts others of this kind)?
  • What is praiseworthy about this?

And there you have it—8 questions that can help guide your meditation.

Do you have other questions to guide your meditation? How do you make sure you are not only reading Scripture, but also pondering and applying it?

September 01, 2014

Labor Day seems like a great opportunity to do a little “faith hacking”—to find and share some of those practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life. As I read, as I listen to sermons, as I speak to people, I am always looking for insights on how other Christians live out their faith in practical ways, and today I want to tell you about just one way I have found to read the Bible with others. It is called “The Swedish Method” and is explained in an old issue of Matthias Media’s magazine The Briefing.

As Christians we are constantly in God’s Word, constantly attempting to increase our knowledge of God’s Word and our submission to it. We read the Bible in our times of private worship, and public worship, but many of us also read the Bible one-on-one or with small groups. There are many different ways to read the Bible—many different methods, plans, and techniques, each suitable for a different purpose. The Swedish Method is one super-simple way to read the Bible with others, and may be especially effective for reading with small groups of teens or with individual new Christians. One of the advantages is that it requires few resources and little planning, but can still be very rewarding. Here is how it works.

Begin by praying, asking God to speak through his word. Then read a short Bible passage aloud (10-15 verses is ideal). Instruct each person to go back over the passage on their own while being on the lookout for three things:

Swedish Method

Give about 10 minutes for people to do that, and then begin three rounds of questioning.

In the first round, get each reader to share one of their ‘light bulbs’ with the group. Spend some time discussing these, if your group is keen; it’s always interesting to discover what has impacted different members.

In the second round, ask them to share one of their questions raised by the passage. Often it is best to invite the person who raises the question to propose an approach to answering it, and generally encourage that person towards further investigation. Alternatively, any member of the group can respond to the question, provided the answer appears in the passage under consideration or in a previous section of the book that your group has already covered.

In the third round, ask each person in your group to share one of their applications as it applies to their own life. Then, to conclude, pray: invite people to lead in prayer as they please; no-one should feel pressured to pray. Invite a suitable person to close the time of prayer.

And that is all there is to it. The philosophy “behind this style of Bible reading is to promote good observation of the text, group participation and self-guided discovery. Each person has the opportunity to discover for themselves what God says.” That sounds good to me! What it is meant to be done with oversight, the purpose is to help people learn to approach and interpret God’s Word on their own.

Read: The Swedish Method at The Briefing (which contains a helpful examination of both the strengths and weaknesses of this method). Here is a template they provide which may prove useful.

Swedish Method Template

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