A thought about reading the bible: how do you get to the meaning?

Have you ever thought about the different factors at play when you trying to understand the bible? It’s actually quite interesting. Perhaps you are reading a passage from John chapter 4. Here is Jesus, talking to a woman at a well, but what does it all mean? There are many different approaches people might take in answering this question (please forgive the boring colorless diagrams, one learns to love them I promise).

Reading 1Most people would agree (I hope) that John 4 is describing an event, and that the event has some amount of meaning (see above). A simple approach would be to assume that the meaning is somehow obvious and that we can just understand it at face value (Jesus was thirsty and saw an opportunity to combine a drink with a tutorial on conversational evangelism -duh). This is naïve, of course, because the full meaning of the event is dependent upon the historical and cultural context. For instance, if we don’t know eastern culture, will we appreciate the significance of a man speaking to a woman, or a rabbi speaking to a sinner? If we don’t know Israel’s history, will we feel the shock of a Jew speaking to a Samaritan, or the Messiah ministering outside the nation? Clearly not. So once we have obtained our Masters degree in ancient history, our process of interpretation might look something like this.

Reading 2This is better, but there are still other more subtle barriers to understanding. Firstly, we cannot assume that we have direct access to the event.

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A thought about certainty: is it the enemy of wisdom?

What is your idea of wisdom? Socrates said that the more he learned, the more he realized that he didn’t know anything. People call that Socratic wisdom, throwing off “childish” certainty and embracing uncertainty. Is that your view of a wise person, someone who has more questions than answers? Or do you see a wise person as someone who has all the answers, someone who has figured life out completely? If so, then wisdom brings certainty right? The other day I was reading about the difference between biblical faith and “certainty-faith” and the author said a thought-provoking thing: “Sometimes certainty is the enemy of wisdom”. That got me thinking – what am I certain about that I shouldn’t be, and what am I uncertain about that I shouldn’t be? Think about that. It affects how you relate with God, with people and with yourself.

between-suspicion-and-certaintyThere are many possible reasons why we would be inclined towards a black and white view of the world, or a more grey and ambiguous view. To some, this has its origins in our biology. For example, some people’s brain chemistry might make them more predisposed to fuzzy, intuitive concepts while others gravitate towards more concrete analytical ones. This makes me wonder about our natural preferences for different ideologies and theologies. Of course, much of this may be expanded from our biology to our psychology, because our personalities have been formed along different lines due to our environment and experiences. Continue reading

When (last) were you filled with the Spirit?

Many of us have had someone ask us before; “When were you filled with the Spirit?”, but have you ever been asked “When LAST were you filled with the Spirit?”? Paul would have:

Ephesians 5:18-21
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Levra in a previous post. It reminded me that it is one thing to RECEIVE the Spirit for the first time and another thing to REMAIN filled by Him daily as Paul pleads here. Unfortunately, besides “read your bible and pray every day”, PRACTICAL teaching on how to be continuously filled with the Spirit after conversion is not common in my circles. Yet it seems that Paul spent much energy prioritizing this very issue with his young converts. My feeling is that many of the things which we need and desire as Christians are not in us but in Him – not default privileges but rather dependent upon whether or not we are filled with His Spirit. Do you agree?

I would love for you to share your experiences in this regard to encourage each other. What has God taught you about how to remain in the Spirit in real life? In a very practical sense, what has worked and what has not? Looking forward to sharing…

Conversations on morality: what about emotions?

There are times when I experience toxic emotions that can lead to sinful behavior. In the past, I used to battle distinguishing the emotion from the behavior, which meant that in an effort to avoid bad behavior I ended up avoiding bad emotions. I guess that having bad emotions made me feel like a bad person, and so I began to strive to be an ’emotionally’ good person. On the positive side, I think I learned good self control, which is a fruit of the Spirit after all. I wanted to obey God’s commands to rejoice, to be patient, to not be anxious. In some ways it worked. I didn’t allow myself to entertain or indulge unhealthy emotions. On the negative side, by moralizing my emotions I actually closed the curtains on the window to my soul. I treated bad emotions like sinful choices, and forgot that there was something under them. So in some ways I lost touch with myself. Lately I find that I am becoming more ‘real’ instead of ‘right’ with my toxic emotions, and I feel more authentic. Yet there is this nagging feeling that it might not always be a good choice.

ARE emotions choices? Are they moral in God’s sight? Or are they merely like the lights on a car’s dashboard that He designed to let me know what’s going on under the bonnet? What is the balance between being real and being right?

A thought about discipleship: push and pull

My wife studies educational theory. One interesting fact I have been able to grasp from our conversations about it is that there are two basic views on how to educate people. These two views both involve the link between learning and development. The first view is that a person’s learning pulls their development along, while the other view claims that a persons development pushes their learning along. These two theories have complicated names and explanations so I just call them ‘pull’ and ‘push’ learning. Pull education is about teaching people something to help them grow, whereas push education is about waiting for people to grow before teaching them.

push and pull

Push and pull learning are quite fascinating when you think about the practical implications. Take the school system for example. Should the curriculum be designed to stretch students beyond their capacity so that they can learn faster than if they were not challenged? Or should it be tailored to their natural mental development? There is a lot of debate about how much we can shape the internal growth of children through external influences, and how much we can’t. I can relate to this push and pull dynamic in my personal development. There have been times when new desires, drives and capacities have developed spontaneously in me which have ‘pushed’ me into new explorations and learning that I wouldn’t have had a desire for before. But there have also been other experiences and exposures due to my environment which have inspired (pulled?) me towards growing in an area that I would have never have desired if left to myself.

All this makes me wonder: how does this apply to Christian growth and discipleship? Continue reading

From a Christian perspective…

Something that I have heard quite a few people say recently (one way or another) is:

“From a Christian perspective… What should us believers do in _______ situation?”

I have had numerous conversations like this before: should missionaries flee persecution or embrace it? Should a Christian husband use violence to defend his family or country? Is it wrong for a believer to invest in a company on the stock exchange that might be doing business unethically? I am sure you know some as well – those grey areas that we want help with. What is interesting about such discussions is that they rarely produce a satisfactory answer. Continue reading

Dominion with a painted face

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My head is covered in a garden of unruly curls. Sometimes they fall in ringlets around my face and sometimes they turn into a cloud of frizz which gives me a natural halo – haha. Due to the unpredictability of the portable garden on top of my head, I recently found myself prowling the children’s aisle in a local shop looking for some aids to tame it. As I stood in front of an array of pink clips, butterfly Alice-bands and leopard-print scrunchies, I spied my heart’s desire sitting quite out of view on the lowest shelf – small, clear crocodile clips that would train my curls to form flowing tresses through rain or shine. I was excited! And yet, these discrete “gardeners” got my thinking… thinking about dominion, man’s dominion, and whether it would be right to say that I was exercising dominion over my hair.

Now, to give you a bit of context: Continue reading