The Bible as a Building

Last night our Connect group met to eat cake and read James together, a combination I can highly recommend. It was great…reading just a few verses together brought so many new insights to the very same texts that I’ve been reading on my own for almost 6 months now. Love hearing other people’s take on a text.

Speaking of reading the Bible, here are a few lines I wrote in my notes the other day whilst studying Scripture alongside Alastair Campbell’s book The Story We Live By…. They’re loosely taken from the introductory chapter.

The Bible is like a huge and beautiful old historic building, full of treasures and surprises. To visit a building like that only once would be to miss out on much of the detail, and to visit it alone, without a tour guide more familiar with the history, context, features and anecdotes attached to it would be to solely scratch the surface and miss out on the deeper insights and discoveries to be made.

Could this mean the Bible is always best read in community? Why/why not?


So, we’re almost 3 weeks into Twenty Eleven and I’m starting to find some rhythm again after a couple of weeks away in Sweden holidaying and now a couple more back in the job. Every December for about the last 10 years I’ve tried to get some downtime and put together an outline for the coming year. Not so much a New Years resolutions thing, but more focal points and overall direction for the next few years, coupled with (and formed out of) a time of reflection on the past year or so.

This year I was able to get away to a monastery in Leicestershire for some prayer and solitude, as well as catching some lone time whilst away over Christmas. When comparing notes with previous years, not so much has changed, but a number of things have definitely been clarified and solidified.

Here’s a few of my renewed hopes/aims/plans…

  1. 1 day a week complete rest and sabbath
  2. 1 day a month personal retreat
  3. 1 long weekend a quarter personal retreat
  4. continue studying and memorising the book of James
  5. continue studying the book of Luke
  6. daily morning devotions
  7. morning study 2 days a week
  8. morning exercise 3 days a week
  9. 1 evening away date a month (a little trickier now with a kid)
  10. 3 evening home dates a month (when we eat well & keep the evening free!)
  11. begin formal evening study: theology/church history/mission/ministry
  12. create more often: art, writing & a little music…but mostly art & writing

I also plan to read far fewer books (apart from course literature for my studies) than usual years, but to re-read and process a few books in particular, attempting to work through and apply them more effectively to my life.

These are:

  1. Rework – Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
  2. Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission – Darrin Patrick
  3. The Art of Possibility – Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander
  4. Leaders Who Last – Dave Kraft

I also hope to more successfully line up my primary priorities, so they’re actually visible in my diary and my wallet.

These are:

  1. Christian
  2. Husband
  3. Father
  4. Leader/Worker/Employee

…in that order.

It’s a great feeling to know where you’re headed and what you’re aiming for. Sure there’ll be hurdles and diversions, but I know what I’m aiming at, and that makes for a satisfied mind.

Here’s to a new(ish) year!

Velvet Elvis, the Bible and Community

Ok, last Velvet Elvis post and then I’ll stop. This time on community.

Community is obviously a cool Christian word nowadays, and we’ve probably all heard, read and witnessed a whole range of takes on the concept, but I thought Bell had some new insights, particularly in relationship to community and the Bible.

“The Bible is a communal book. It came from people writing in communities, and it was often written to communities. Remember that the printing press wasn’t invented until the 1400s. Prior to that, very few if any people had their own copies of the Bible. In Jesus’ day, an entire village could probably afford only one copy of the Scriptures, if that. Reading the Bible alone was unheard of, if people could even read. For most of church history, people heard the Bible read aloud in a room full of people. You heard it, discussed it, studied it, argued about it, and made decisions about it as a group, a community. Most of the ‘yous’ in the Bible are plural… You saw yourselves and those around you as taking part in a huge discussion that has gone on for thousands of years.”

“Contrast this communal way of reading and discussing and learning with our Western, highly individualised culture. In many Christian settings, people are even encouraged to read the Bible alone, which is a new idea in church history. A great idea, and a life-changing discipline, but a new idea. And think of pastors. Many pastors study alone all week, stand alone in front of the church and talk about the Bible, and then receive mail and phone calls from individuals who agree or don’t agree with what they said. This works for a lot of communities, but isn’t the only way.”

“In Jesus’ world, it was assumed that you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself.”

“Community, community, community. Together, with others, wrestling and searching and engaging the Bible as a group of people hungry to know God in order to follow God. Perhaps this is why the Bible can be confusing for some the first time they read it. I don’t think any of the writers of the Bible ever intended people to read their letters alone.”

My Latest Project

It’s been way too long since I had the paints and canvases out, and with a bit of down time at home over the last couple of weeks I’ve finally started on my series for our living room wall. It’s only half way and there’ll be a fourth piece to join the three pictured, as well as some layers of paint and pen over the top, but I thought I’d post a part one pic and see what people think. I’ll post close ups of each with more detail and taken on a real camera once I’m done, but you get the idea.


Velvet Elvis, Truth and College

I wasn’t planning to turn this into a series, but with so many thought-provoking statements in the book, I figured I might as well throw up a few more, if only as a means of processing them myself.

These ones are about college and culture…using the analogy of a young adult moving from the comfort and familiarity of family, friends and a home church to a college or university in another city, where they know no-one and have little support structure. At New Generation, we see this all the time, and Bell’s take on some of the solution (of which I’ve only posted a couple of pieces…guess you’ll have to read the book for the rest) is interesting…

“Do you know anybody who grew up in a religious environment, maybe even a Christian one, and walked away from faith/church/God when they turned eighteen and went away to college?

Whenever I ask this question in a group of people, almost every hand goes up. Let me suggest why. Imagine what happens when a young woman is raised in a Christian setting but hasn’t been taught that all things are hers and then goes to a university where she’s exposed to all sorts of new ideas and views and perspectives. She takes classes in psychology and anthropology and biology and world history, and her professors are people who have devoted themselves to their particular fields of study. Is it possible that in the course of lecturing on their field of interest, her professors will from time to time say things that are true? Of course. Truth is available to everyone.”

“Paul affirms truth wherever he finds it. But he takes it further in the book of Acts. He is speaking at a place called Mars Hill and trying to explain to a group of people who believe in hundreds of thousands of gods that there is really only one God who made everything and everybody… He quotes their own poets. And their poets don’t even believe in the God he’s talking about. They were talking about some other god and how we are all offspring of that god, and Paul takes their statement and makes it about his God. Amazing.”

“The writers of the Bible are communicating in language their world will understand. They are using the symbols and pictures and images of the culture they are speaking to.”

…are we sometimes setting our young people up for failure by presenting them an either/or approach to faith and science, spirit and intellect, Christ and culture? …and is the Acts 17 approach a better way for young people in our day?

Short But Sweet

Click the pic to watch Brueggemann talk on loving God and neighbour.

Velvet Elvis and the Christian Label

I figured I may as well throw out a few more quotes from Bell’s book while I’m at it…this time on the Christian label. The sacred vs. secular paradigm really isn’t anywhere near as prominent as it used to be, thankfully, and I think we’re seeing a steady decrease in categorisation and labelling and a refreshed interest in the not-so-new idea of holistic faith and living with discernment in the world without being of it, rather than retreating altogether and creating a second-rate subculture. This is good news! For more on this see Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture or Kary Oberbrunner’s The Fine Line, but first, the Velvet Elvis quotes…

“Something can be labelled ‘Christian’ and not be true or good… This happens in all sorts of areas. It is possible for music to be labelled Christian and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled cliches. That ‘Christian’ band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name because they aren’t a great band. It is possible for a movie to be a ‘Christian’ movie and to be a terrible movie. It may actually desecrate the art form in its quality and storytelling and craft. Just because it is a Christian book by a Cristian author in a Christian bookstore doesn’t mean it’s all true or good or beautiful. A Christian political group puts me in an awkward position: What if I disagree with them? Am I less of a Christian? What if I am convinced the ‘Christian’ thing to do is vote the exact opposite?”

“Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.”

NZ Billboard

Took this photo in New Zealand a few years ago, and still reckon it’s probably the best faith-related billboard I’ve seen. Especially like the fact that someone’s spent the money and still opted out of putting a logo on there. Nice.

Velvet Elvis and The Kingdom of God

I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis on the Kindle app and recently noticed when flicking through the chapters that I’ve highlighted almost as much text as I’ve left alone. In my opinion, the book is THAT good. I’m fully aware it’s been out for about 5 years now, but having spent time thinking about and speaking on the Kingdom of God recently, I’ve been mulling over some of Bell’s thoughts. I particularly like his approach to what God’s kingdom actually looks like here and now, and his take on the fly-me-away-to-a-faraway-land vs. help-me-engage-with-the-world-the-way-Jesus-would-here-and-now (I made these up, so don’t blame them on him!) paradigms.

Here’s a few quotes I liked:

“For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? but how do I bring heaven here? The question wasn’t, how do I get in there? but how do I get there here?”

“The goal here isn’t simply to NOT sin. Our purpose is to increase the shalom in this world, which is why approaches to the Christian faith that deal solely with not sinning always fail. They aim at the wrong thing. It is not about what you don’t do. The point is becoming more and more the kind of people God had in mind when we were first created.”

“The goal isn’t to bring everyone’s work into the church; the goal is for the church to be these unique kinds of people who are transforming the places they live and work and play because they understand the whole earth is filled with the kavod of God.”

“This is why it is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it’s sacred. You are there; God is there. The difference is our awareness.”

“What’s disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they’re all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all, our energies. Jesus told us to.”

“The goal isn’t escaping this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to. And God is remaking us into the kind of people who can do this kind of work.”

Jesus Conference in Estonia

Last month I had the privilege of being part of an event in Tartu, Estonia called Jesus Conference. It was the first time I’d been to the country in almost 6 years, and it was pretty amazing to see how much has happened since I was there last…not least the fact they have free wi-fi everywhere from the local shopping mall to the airport to the night bus between Tartu and Tallinn! The highlight of the trip though was getting to meet our Team over there and plan and conspire together!

Over the course of the weekend I had 3 sessions in the Bible school, an afternoon session with the youth, the evening meeting on Saturday night and the Sunday morning service in the local church. The turnout was amazing, and it was great to see so many young people involved in everything from production to worship to on-stage interpretation. Saturday night was definitely the highlight for me…seeing so many young people respond to the challenge to live out the Kingdom of God in their schools and be light and hope to their friends and classmates. There’s nothing better, and everyone in the building really felt like something happened and the night was a significant one, which was especially encouraging for the Team over there who’ve been working hard for years to see young people engage with the New Generation model and the schools of Estonia changed for the better.

All in all it was an amazing trip, and good to be back in this great nation. To see a brief TV interview we did click on the picture above (if you don’t like what I’m saying, at least the subtitles are a laugh!).

To check out New Generation Estonia’s website, click here.