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Archive for September, 2014

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Hearing the voice of God in the Word of God – the Bible – can become, if we’re not careful, like having a cuckoo clock, living in the flight path of an airport, or living next to train tracks.

Let me explain. The initial sounds of a cuckoo clock – the rhythmic tick-tocking and the regularly-scheduled “announcements” of the wooden bird – can run the gamet from quaint and interesting all the way to annoying and irritating. The constant scream of jets taking off or landing close to where you live can be either comforting or maddening. The constant rumble of trains, which can be heard with all of your windows closed and doors shut, is an interruption and at the same time soothing. What cannot be denied is that what we notice, and can’t help but noticing, at the start slowly becomes imperceptible. You never think that it will happen, but you find yourself sleeping through the night never once being awakened or even bothered by the sound of the cuckoo clock, plane, or train.

What happened? We got used to hearing those sounds and began to tune them out. The little wooden bird is still chirping; the plane’s engines still roar; and the train still sounds it’s whistle and rumbles and rattles down the tracks; but we simply don’t hear it anymore.

The same thing can happen to us as we hear God speaking to us from His Word. We hear sermons, attend Bible studies, read and study the Scriptures on our own, listen to podcasts, take part in Sunday School classes, attend conferences, and have dozens of other “intake points” for God’s Word, but gradually and almost imperceptibly we simply don’t hear it anymore. The author of the book of Hebrews said, “Concerning him (Melchizedek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).

It may be that we’ve heard the Word of God preached and taught (or even read it) so many times that it goes in one ear and out the other, never managing to stick to the Velcro of our heart – our mind, affections, and will. It’s incumbent upon us to guard against this – the cuckoo clock syndrome – with everything we have. Pray that God would give you the wisdom to recognize it and the strength to avoid it as you live coram Deo (before His face).

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on John 20:30-31. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: John wrote his Gospel in order that we might believe in the real Jesus and have real life through Him.

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(This is the third of three posts on How To Read the Bible.)

In this short series, we’ve looked at how to read the Bible superficially and how to read it for familiarity, based loosely on Mortimer Adler’s book called How To Read A Book. There are different ways to read a book and there are different ways to read the Bible – the Book of books.

Reading the Bible for mastery is precisely what it sounds like – reading in order to master its contents. When we master a subject (whether it be Civil War history, another language, gardening, sports trivia, computer code, or Lithuanian literature), we know it. We know it well and we’re able to share that knowledge with others.

When we make it our aim to know the Bible, or at least one of the books of the Bible, like that, we’ve mastered it. We know it well and can share it with others. This is the most intense level of the three. Reading the Bible in order to master it is more difficult and time-consuming than reading it for superficiality or familiarity. Reading the Bible for mastery is reading with a laser beam, not with high-beams.

There are two keys to mastering the Bible – reading repetitively and reading carefully.

In order to master the Bible, we have to read it. Then read it again. And again. And again. Repeatedly read the Bible, in other words. One of the best ways to put this into practice is to read one book of the Bible over and over again. James Gray recommends reading a particular book of the Bible – in one sitting – until you’ve mastered it. John Mac Arthur has modified Gray’s method by saying that a book of the Bible should be read every day for thirty days. John Mitchell, founder of Multnomah University, recommended reading a book straight through fifty times in order to master it. If you have a case of “sticker shock,” it’s understandable, but the book of First Peter can be read through in no more than twenty minutes (it’s only five chapters long). Reading the same book over and over again gives you a familiarity, and ultimately mastery, that you won’t get if you read it in small sections or single verses at a time.

The first step to implementing this is to choose a book that lends itself to being read in a single sitting. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First John, Ruth, Jonah, First Thessalonians, or Galatians. Longer books can read in the same way, either in one sitting (the Gospel of John takes approximately 90 minutes to read), or broken up into smaller chunks (John 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-21 for example). The second step is simple – read it over and over again. Read it repeatedly.

In order to master the Bible, we have to read it carefully. When you read the Bible, pay careful attention to it. This might involve taking notes and writing out your reflections, thoughts, and questions. You might make an outline of the book you’re reading and studying. Look for the purpose of the book and then it’s structure. Find the flow of thought and logical argument of the book. Ask questions such as who wrote it, to whom was it written, and what were the circumstances of the writing? What does the book teach about God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, salvation, the church, or the end times. Make sure to  think about how you can apply what you’re studying, too.

If you read repetitively and carefully, you’ll master the contents of the Bible.

There are two things we need to remember: we can master the contents of the Bible, but the ultimate goal is for the Bible to master us; and the point isn’t to become a Bible trivia expert, but rather to know the true and the living God.

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