Christianity 201

April 19, 2015

Spiritual Snobbery

When I gave this blog its name, all those years ago, I was thinking in terms of something that would go beyond the surface, move past the superficial. The tag line “Digging a Little Deeper” expressed itself in having deep quotations or worship songs with rich lyrics. I prided myself in telling people that we offered something that went beyond those devotionals.

A few years in however, and the trademark style emerged that you see today.

First, there is always an anchor scripture verse or passage, highlighted in green because it’s God’s Word that has life; not anything any of us has to say.

Second, we try to run about five or six paragraphs, as opposed to those devotionals that only have two or three paragraphs.

But there’s also a third hallmark of this blog that perhaps isn’t so obvious: I have always eschewed stories and illustrations. We never start out with cute stories about children or puppies, hobby interests like photography or gardening, or sports illustrations from rock climbing or running marathons. Again, not like those devotionals.

Do you hear the pride talking?

I’ve always been impressed by pastors who simply jump right into the text. (Note: This includes speakers who preach topically and those who use the exegetical method.) We’ve had the opportunity to visit a couple of megachurches where the message just starts to roar through the auditorium like a freight train. It is good use of peoples’ time, though often you don’t get to know the heart or background of the pastor. (This does solve the problem of churches being personality-driven, however.)

But as I was getting ready to post today’s article I was very convicted about these verses:

And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,
Mark 4:2

and

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Matthew 13:34

Jesus took the familiar sights and sounds that people could relate to and incorporated them into his teaching. I do need to qualify here that the parables in the Gospel accounts are much more than just illustration or analogy, however. There was a certain richness and even mystery to them sometimes that went beyond the 1:1 correspondence a modern preacher’s story might contain. Often His parables could be processed on several different levels at once. At the website GotQuestions.org they deal with this aspect and include this passage:

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:10-17).

So… I am repenting of spiritual snobbery today. Who knows that I haven’t tossed out some good devotional material over the past few years because of wanting to quickly jump into exposition of the text?

If the methodology was good enough for Jesus, it ought to be employed by us. And as the passage above reminds us, you can be “digging a little deeper” in a parable just as much as you can from formal, doctrinal teaching.

 

We have a C201-related bonus item for you today, if you’re interested. At Thinking Out Loud, I explained a little bit of why I cite different translations to accomplish different purposes.  Click to read How and Why I Use Different Bible Translations.


March 8, 2014

Your Writing Talent is On Loan From God

Before we begin today, I also want you to be sure to read an article about the devotional process itself. In it, Erik Raymond suggests we often do what he calls Dental Chair Devotions; a kind of rinse-and-spit process where the goal is to get finished and head out toward doing something else.


Today, I want to continue a thought that was raised in the introduction to yesterday’s piece. A longer version appeared this morning at Thinking Out Loud.

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the same concept? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

The whole premise of Christianity 201, is that we search the internet for sources of daily Bible exposition and discussion. Unlike the Wednesday Link List at Thinking Out Loud, where some people click and some people just read the list, I think it’s important that these devotional meditations get seen in full, and statistics bear out the reality that most people don’t click through.

Most of the bloggers are thrilled that their work is being recognized. C201 doesn’t have quite the readership of Thinking Out Loud, but it possibly represents ten times as much as some of the writers see on their own pages. We get notes of appreciation, and a handful of readers also thank us regularly for putting them onto reading a particular writer.

So this week when, for the second time in about 1,450 posts someone strenuously objected to their material being reproduced in full — don’t look for it, it’s been removed — I started thinking about the whole intellectual property issue in the light of Jesus’ teachings.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself. Yes, I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that in the fragile financial state of someone who currently has no other sources of income, as our business does not pay us a regular salary.

I also thought it was interesting that the person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

… I really think when that writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really wasn’t theirs to begin with.

Freely received…freely given…help yourselves.

Go Deeper: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.


Irony: The copyright symbol used today was already in my computer before I worried about such things…

September 19, 2011

The Discipline of Devotional Writing

A couple of days ago I raised the possibility that some of you reading this might like to consider doing devotional or Bible study writing yourselves.  At the time I suggested starting a blog and attempting to get into writing something daily, and added that this is a wonderful spiritual discipline, that I would pursue now even if nobody showed up to read it.

Today, I want to help some of you make this a practical step.  Of the many devotional books and booklets published, the Upper Room Devotional is unique in that it accepts submissions from readers around the world.  Here are a few of their guidelines which are worth reading no matter what your approach to Bible study time:

Objectives for writers:

  1. Study the Bible and listen for how it connects to your daily life. Then include those insights in a meditation to help others connect scripture with their life.
  2. Study less-well-known parts of the Bible for insights that you can share with our readers. We get more meditations based on the New Testament than on Old Testament/Hebrew scripture. Since we try to balance New Testament and Old Testament readings and quoted verses, basing meditations on Old Testament books of Law and prophecy puts writers in a smaller pool of writers. However, we receive many more meditations based on the Book of Psalms than we could ever use.
  3. Write about current events and what constitutes Christian response to them.
  4. Write in a conversational way, as if you are talking to a friend. Don”t try to be literary or eloquent. Just be yourself. We want real people to talk to other real people about what it means to live their faith in specific situations.

They also list some possible subjects through the list of categories they use to sort submissions:

  • Spiritual Disciplines
  • Forgiveness
  • Relationships
  • Evangelism/Witness
  • Nature/Animals
  • Personhood/Uniqueness
  • Trust and Obedience
  • Biblical Story Retold
  • Christian Action
  • Family
  • Healing/Illness/Death
  • Struggle/Growth through Hard Times
  • Personal Relationship with Christ
  • Catholicity of Faith
  • God’s Love/Grace/Praise

Because of their world-wide distribution, Upper Room places a value on avoiding divisiveness:

“….Our title page describes the magazine as “International, Interracial, Interdenominational.” We seek to build on what we have in common as Christian believers, not on the points of doctrine that divide us, and we welcome diverse perspectives. We believe that our diversity is one of our riches within the family of God, and we seek to reflect that diversity in our publications. “

Another page deals with how to begin:

You begin in your own relationship with God. Christians believe God speaks to us and guides us as we study the Bible and pray. Good meditations are closely tied to scripture and show how it has shed light on a specific situation. Good meditations make the message of the Bible come alive.

Good devotional writing is first of all authentic. It connects real events of daily life with the ongoing activity of God. It comes across as the direct, honest statement of personal faith in Christ and how that faith grows. It is one believer sharing with another an insight or struggle about what it means to live faithfully.

Second, good devotional writing uses sensory details — what color it was, how high it bounced, what it smelled like. The more sensory details the writing includes, the better. Though the events of daily life may seem mundane, actually they provide the richest store of sensory details. And when we connect God’s activity to common things, each encounter with them can serve as a reminder of God’s work.

Finally, good devotional writing is exploratory. It searches and considers and asks questions. It examines the faith without knowing in advance what all the answers will be. It is open to God’s continuing self-revelation through scripture, people, and events. Good writing chronicles growth and change, seeing God behind both.

I should add here that many people reading a devotional with a name like Christianity 201 would find the end product that appears daily at Upper Room somewhat light.  However, the point I want to make today is that there is an entirely different dynamic involved when you are writing.  There are people with graduate degrees in theology or Christian education who write curriculum for toddlers and preschoolers.  Their work at the end of the day may convey the simple message that “God is Love,” but most of us never see the behind-the-scenes effort that went into painstakingly mapping out the entire lesson.

BTW, if this propels some of you to actually submit something to Upper Room, let us know if you get published.  Also remember that you are welcome to submit things here at C201; we don’t have a page of guildelines, but reading through past entries will give you an idea of the style and substance sought.

March 31, 2011

On Christian Growth, Devotion, and the Deeper Life

The title of this piece sounds like it would be written by one of the giants of the faith, but I’m afraid you’re just stuck with me today.


Today marks the end of twelve months of Christianity 201.  The tag line for this blog, “Digging a Little Deeper,” doesn’t actually show on the screen for some reason.  (I’ve tried to fix it twice.)  There are days when this has been more of a devotional reading blog, and days when I have tried to truly dig a little deeper into scriptures.

Each day has been an adventure.

I started this with the goal of posting my thoughts later in the day; usually around 6:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time.  I mention that only because most devotional bloggers put things up in the morning, which is considered the “more spiritual” time of day to do Bible study or meditation.  But there are always people browsing search engines later in the day — and also at WordPress — and I wanted to offer some tagged posts that might catch their attention when things are less busy in the Christian blogosphere.

I’ll admit some days the posts have been rather random.

The adventure has consisted in the discovery of the wealth of good reading online.  By using search terms like “holiness,” “discipleship,” or even words like “temptation;” I’ve discovered bloggers who have enriched my own spiritual growth.

Of course, in the discovery, I’ve also had to check their previous writings to make sure I wasn’t directing those I considered my readers to something that might be doctrinally questionable. It is a responsibility.

So the process can be exhausting.

I started Christianity 201 because my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, was achieving great success numerically, but often got bogged down in the news of the day.  Its top posts have concerned disgraced televangelists, controversial authors, Christian musicians, or the goings on in a big glass church on the west coast.  Informative and insightful, but probably more “wood, hay and stubble” in the greater scheme of things.

Christianity 201 was created to be more “gold, silver and precious stones.”  More timeless.  More lasting.  (A good place to pause and ask yourself, “Which type of material characterizes my own spiritual output?”)

Of course, people would rather read the funny stuff, or go searching for the interesting pictures.  So T. O. L. has days where it reaches 1,000 readers — not bad for a Christian blog from Canada — and my book trade blog reaches around 120 daily; while C201’s peak days are usually around 40.

That keeps me humble.

I need that.

The adventure has often been exhausting.   I’m not sure that I will try in the second year to force myself to have something fresh every single day.  But submissions and suggestions are always gratefully received.

So keep reading.

Keep digging a little deeper.

You’ll never exhaust the depth and riches of God’s Word.

~Paul Wilkinson.