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Do-You-Read-Your-Bible-For-Fun-(opinion)

Do You Read Your Bible For Fun?

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

I spent the whole of November immersed in the countryside of Western Australia with my family. We brought no work along—no revision (for the kids), no prep, teaching or writing (for my husband and me).

At several of the Airbnb homes where we stayed, there was no phone signal, let alone Wi-Fi, only pristine beaches, forests and mountains. We were looking forward to resting from our school and work routines. And I wanted to read my Bible for fun.

What? I can hear you thinking, “Do the words ‘fun’ and ‘Bible’ even go together?”

Okay, I’ll admit that Bible reading probably isn’t Number One on most sane people’s “Fun” list. We do it, but it’s probably on a different list altogether—the “Things-That-Are-Good-For-Me-That-I-Don’t-Enjoy” list, along with cod liver oil supplements and visits to the dentist.

I’m no different, and the thought of Bible reading usually fills me with mixed feelings, ranging from mild reluctance to guilt and occasional dread.

But it strikes me that this is unfair to God. The other things on that list are understandably off-putting, involving degrees of physical discomfort in return for questionable benefits, whereas God’s Word costs me nothing and bestows infinite grace, comfort, wisdom and counsel. So, why don’t I crave it more?

Here are three reasons I can think of:

  1. I unintentionally treat the Bible as a spiritual clinic or dispensary. I search its pages when I have questions or needs, when I’m suffering, or when I want something. So, when life is fine by my standards, I lose the urge to read His Word.
  1. I treat reading God’s Word as a task. This could be in church, during Bible study prep, regular Quiet Time, or during an academic Bible course or seminar. Structure is by no means a bad thing, but if I start becoming merely dutiful, Bible reading can feel like just another task. Having ticked it off on my “to-do” list, I wouldn’t go back there just for fun, right? Not when there’s Netflix . . . which brings me to my next reason . . .
  1. There are plenty of distractions. That’s right, the instant gratification of non-urgent distractions such as my hobbies, my Spotify playlists, the Internet, and video games or other forms of entertainment, can make reading feel like hard work.

Maybe you can relate to these reasons or think of more. There are plenty of ways to counter the feelings and objects that take our time away from God, from better planning to implementing device-free hours at home, but let’s leave aside that half of the equation for now and focus on our motivation for Bible reading in the first place.

It’s probably not enough just to get rid of the obstacles to our reading. You see, on holiday I didn’t have the time pressure of duties and deadlines—I could take my time with my 12-month Bible reading plan, for instance, and not rush to prepare next Sunday’s kids’ Bible story or answer 10 questions for this Friday’s Bible study.

My usual technology-dependent distractions were also removed. But helpful as all of this was, it didn’t mean that I automatically hurried to open my Bible. After all, as in any kind of relationship, feeling bad or guilty might motivate me to read a few verses once in a while, but guilt doesn’t make for a lasting engagement. Even a neutral feeling won’t keep me returning to God’s Word. Put aside one distraction, and another rushes to take its place.

No, if I’m to enjoy God’s Word, shouldn’t I expect to find something enjoyable in it? In fact, the scriptures themselves tell us there is something wonderful about God’s Word that we can expect to see, feel and appreciate. Psalm 119 repeatedly emphasizes the psalmist’s enjoyment:

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

(Psalm 119:14-16, ESV, emphasis added)

The same sentiment can be found in verses 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 111, 143 and 174—you get the picture! This psalm was penned by a believer who recognized that the world around him was disappointing, treacherous and not as it should be, but that God’s Word was trustworthy, true and satisfying. And how much more so for us who are living after Old Testament times and can know Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promises!

Do you remember that amazing moment recorded for us in Luke 24, when Jesus appeared to His followers after His resurrection and helped them see Him in the scriptures?

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47, ESV)

Jesus showed them that He is the fulfillment of God’s Word—“the Word made flesh”, as John’s Gospel tells us.

Yes, I can go to the Bible to find wisdom and answers useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training myself and others in righteousness. But even more than that, what a gift I have been given, that in the Bible’s pages, both Old Testament and New, I can see Jesus and everything He’s done for those He has saved. To borrow a phrase from pastor and author John Piper, to pick up my Bible for fun is to expect to “see the beauty of Jesus in His word”.

Happily, during my holiday, I did pick up the Bible just for fun, and not only once but several times. Beach-combing, forest-walking and rock-climbing in peaceful surroundings helped me appreciate God’s creation more so than in the fast-paced city where I live, and I wanted to read about His works.

As I reflected on the many things and people I was grateful for, I also found myself thankful for everything that God has done in Jesus in their lives and mine. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins has been proclaimed to me and to you, and we continue to proclaim it to the world—how awesome is that?

Of course, holidays don’t last forever, so as I get into stride with 2017, I’d like to manage my duties and distractions so that I continue to pick up the Bible for fun. How about you? Do you find enjoyment in God’s Word? Why not try looking past the footnotes and cross-references, and simply enjoy the greatest story ever told—that of the Savior of the world, as revealed in the precious pages of your Bible?

letter-to-a-christian-misfit

Letter to a Christian Misfit

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

Hey there,

I saw you leave right after last Sunday’s service. You mumbled a polite excuse when some members invited you to stay for lunch, but I saw the tension and unease in your face.

You’ve often confided in me about how you feel worse in church than outside—more lonely, more misunderstood, more different than ever. Everyone in church already has his own group of friends, you said, or grew up there because of his parents, so they all know one another. You’re not from the same background and you feel like an outsider. They are nice to you but it feels so fake; every week, it’s the same “how-are-you” conversation—over-friendly and yet superficial. You get tired of it, and you don’t feel that anyone really knows you. You don’t feel that you belong, yet you worry that there’s something wrong with you for feeling this way.

You’re more comfortable when it’s just you and me. Why not simply drop the organized religion? you wonder. The preacher sometimes has an insightful message from the Bible, but you can just download the recording and listen to it on your own, you reason. So you’re thinking of giving church a miss from now on. After all, you’ve visited a string of different churches, but the experience is still the same. You’re just not the happy-clappy “church” type, you told me.

Would it surprise you to hear that I can relate to that? Back when I was living on your turf, my friends didn’t really understand who I was, and even the few people who shared my interests—the religious teachers and leaders—rejected me. Most of my life didn’t feel like the big Son-of-God deal it was supposed to be. So I just want you to know: I can empathize.

But what kept me going, when feelings and experiences could change day to day, was God’s unchanging plan and purpose. He made me King over everything (Ephesians 1:21). For more than 30 years I didn’t receive a king’s treatment, but that didn’t change the truth! God also assembled believers around me—that’s what church is.

Here, then, are two truths about church that I thought to share with you.

  1. I am the Head of the church; the church is my body.

The church is gathered around me, its Head. My death on the cross brings people back into a relationship with God (Colossians 1:18-22). People tend to think of a church as a building, institution or social organization to which they belong or not, by exercising their own will and choice. But the Bible describes how we fit together, using the picture of a body joined by me and to me, a single unit comprising many parts, “but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

You see, believing in me automatically makes you part of my body, the church. Denying it doesn’t change the fact. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15) Can you see how there is no doubt that you fit in, even if you don’t always feel it—a fact is a fact!

Maybe you think you made a mistake, then, choosing God. But the reality is that He first chose you. Your faith is no accident. Each believer has been handpicked by God to play a unique role among His people: “in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

 

  1. The church is God’s family.

The church is described as “God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). In other words, it’s a group living together as a single domestic unit—a family! You don’t get to pick your own family members in the same way that you might pick your friends, but God in His wisdom has designed the church in this way. Otherwise we would pick only those like us or those we like.

In fact, there isn’t one specific “church”-type Christian. Sure, there are stereotypes, but look closer and you’ll see that believers come from all walks and stages of life. If you feel out of place, it’s usually because even church isn’t perfect yet, and sometimes Christians still disappoint or hurt one another.

I’ll tell you a secret: almost everyone has felt out of place in church at some time or other, even the preacher (yes, he told me). But you don’t have to be like anyone else, or conform to anything, except me. You can be yourself—the person saved by me, because I saved you for me and my family. God put the church together so that every unique member has something to offer to others.

Outside the church, the world treats each person according to worldly standards, celebrating the rich, strong, beautiful and successful, and despising the rest. But the church is the family that God gives Christians, to live by His standards instead of the world’s and to care for one another without bias. “God has put the body together . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).

It’s hard to genuinely care for one another without even being there, isn’t it? You have a role to play, in getting to know others and letting them get to know you. Sure, these things take time, but you’ve got until I return, right?

Because you believe in me, you belong in my body and God’s family, and nothing is ever going to change that. So won’t you let the truth encourage you regardless of how you’ve been feeling or when others fail you? With a shared faith in me, you just might discover that you have more in common with them than might be obvious at first glance. Why not go back to church next week, and the week after, and often, and start getting to know the family I handpicked for you?

 

Your Lord, Savior and friend,

Jesus

Confessions-of-a-Christian-Life-Hacker

Confessions of a Christian Life Hacker

Written By Karen Kwek, Singapore

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

I watch, impressed, as a friend tears open a bag of crisps, tucks in the bottom corners of the packet and keeps rolling the sides under until he’s created an instant snack bowl from nothing but the original packaging—ingenious! My husband, our family’s resident tech support, has not only networked all our wireless gadgets together but also united all our entertainment subscriptions under the rule of the one ring—I mean, the one remote control. Ah, life just got that much easier!

I’m a huge fan of life hacks—creative problem-solving systems and shortcuts that increase productivity. Such time-saving strategies used to be part of the practical knowledge passed down from parent to child, trainer to apprentice, in any discipline, but, as you might have guessed, we have the computer industry to thank for reinventing an old concept and making it go viral.

In 2004, tech journalist Danny O’Brien studied the work processes of highly productive computer technologists (popularly called “hackers”). He found that what they had in common were certain tricks that greatly simplified their programming tasks. The term “life hacks” was born, and expanded to describe any workaround, tip or trick that helps us get more things done faster, better and often more economically. Today, the Internet and media-sharing platforms such as YouTube have made life hacks accessible to almost anyone, anywhere.

And who doesn’t love a good life hack?

From keyboard shortcuts for our software, to clever ways to peel and slice fruit, to holidaying on a shoestring budget, here’s why I love ‘em:

  1. Life hacks free me up to work less . . . and live more. I spend less time slogging away at the hard stuff, so I have more time to kick back and enjoy the results.
  1. I feel clever when I solve a problem in a fraction of the time or cost that it normally takes, and without having to call in the specialists. In fact, almost anyone can become an “expert” just by checking out “How To” articles and videos on the Internet.
  1. Like everyone else, I’m hardwired for instant gratification. Human beings want things, and we want them now. Getting what we want now makes us feel good, whereas waiting is hard for us because it creates stress and worry. Advertising companies and marketers constantly exploit this fact of human psychology, for example through their taglines (“Hurry while stocks last!”) or by providing on-demand services.

These reasons strongly appeal to us because modern society is spoilt for choice by an increasing array of options, products and services. With so many things vying for our attention and money, the modern consumer is a king accustomed to the quick and easy solution. We’ve developed a “fix-it” mindset. Have you noticed, for instance, how hung up we are on seeing results—fast?

There is an “instant” version of almost everything, from coffee to messaging to credit approval. Biotechnology is figuring out faster and faster ways to grow plants and animals so we can get them onto our dinner plates sooner. Even news and advice are packaged to convey maximum information at a glance—how often have you seen titles like “5 Steps to Getting Rich” or “7 Secrets of Successful People”? Forget having to learn through hands-on experience or read a whole how-to guide or article to get the essential tips—we’ve even life-hacked life hacking.

Or have we?

Are there Christian life hacks?

It’s tempting to view not just our work tasks but all of life through “fix-it” lenses. As technology writer and creator of the term “life hacks”, Danny O’Brien, observes, “[F]or most people . . . modern life is just this incredibly complex problem amenable to no good obvious solution. But we can peck around the edges of it; we can make little shortcuts . . .  So the idea of life hacks is just really appealing, because it’s an expression of this huge hope that you can actually hack life in this way, that you might make it a bit more bearable without having to swallow or understand the whole thing.”

Subconsciously, many people feel this way about life. Perhaps through our quick fixes we hope to control whatever we can, so that the whole messy business of life doesn’t unravel and overwhelm us. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for getting things done well, and shorter queues at the bank (well, shorter queues anywhere!) But is life really just a complex problem? Are quick fixes our best bet? As I thought about my love for shortcuts and my quest for clever solutions, it occurred to me that the Bible presents a different perspective on life.

Life is not a problem; it’s a relationship

The great wise King Solomon spent his lifetime studying the world and despite his wisdom, concluded that it was unfathomable. “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17)

Solomon understood that quick fixes weren’t the answer—he’d already tried them all! From knowledge to pleasure, from hard work to progress and wealth, nothing satisfied his quest for life’s meaning. Until he recognized that God is Maker of us all, and judge, and our lives therefore bear a connection to, a relationship with God. “Remember your Creator,” Solomon concluded, “in the days of your youth . . . Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1; 13)

Left to our natural selves, however, we humans cannot please God, because we ignore or disobey Him and rightly deserve His punishment. Yet the good news is that God has restored our relationship with Him through the work of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to save us. The Christian life is this restored relationship, true and everlasting. And because it’s a relationship, there are no shortcuts.

In fact, we face difficulties for a reason— God has plans to develop our character through adversity. As the apostle Paul wrote, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) We are told to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7), trusting him to act in his good time. But for instant gratification addicts, waiting is hard!

Indeed, being Jesus’ faithful disciple takes patience and effort on our part—no mantras; no easy workarounds.

I’ve discovered how unhelpful my “fix-it” mentality can be for my relationship with God. How often I’ve mistaken the thanks I mumble to God before meals, or my desperate ramblings before falling asleep, for a healthy, sustained prayer life and an attitude of humble dependence on Him. How often I’ve substituted the hasty reading of a random comforting verse of Scripture for an in-depth study of a Bible passage, thinking that I’ve read God’s Word all the same. How often I’ve read His Word but failed to put any of it into practice. How often I’ve come away after a church service, feeling that I’ve earned the right to do things my way because my one or two hours of “worship” are done. When I fall prey to these and other “Christian life hacks”, I ironically end up neglecting my relationship with God and failing to enjoy His presence in my life.

The Divine Life Hacker

Having observed that there are no shortcuts in the Christian life, however, I do want to leave you with this thought: if a life hack is something that saves us a lot of trouble and frustration, then surely Jesus’ rescue of us was the ultimate example! His death has taken away the sins of many, once and for all—a literal lifesaver. Furthermore, in Christ we find all the wisdom and power of God, everything we need for eternal life with Him.

This means that His Word also equips believers for life in the here and now, so we would do well to pay attention to Scripture, for it’s the Lord who gives wisdom and guards the ways of his faithful ones (Proverbs 2:6-11). He doesn’t promise easy workarounds, but his wisdom and insight can protect us from painful mistakes—“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”.

I’m still going to visit my favorite websites for handy tips and tricks, and learn to use Google like a boss, but now that I think about it, wise ol’ King Solomon was on to probably the greatest life hack of all.

Why I Set Up A Christmas Tree Every year

Why I Set Up A Christmas Tree Every year

Written By Karen Kwek, Singapore

I’m fussy when it comes to Christmas trees. I like mine a certain way—no less than six feet (1.8m) tall, boughs filled out with green needly foliage, handmade ornaments, and twinkling (not flashing!) lights.

Never mind that I live in a tropical country and it’s an artificial tree. Never mind that as “tree fashion” goes, mine is a humble affair of mismatched decorations with sentimental value, not a color-coordinated glamour fir. Never mind that in about a month’s time I’ll have to pack everything away in boxes again, where it will remain untouched for the next 11 months. It’s all worthwhile because for my family, nothing says, “Here comes Christmas!” quite like putting up our tree.

Where do traditions like this come from? Before Christianity, people were already bringing evergreen branches into their homes during winter, to remind them of the coming spring. The decorated tree as we know it seems to have originated some 400 years ago in Germany, when Christians adopted it as a symbol of the everlasting life that Jesus brings. Traditions develop as a way of remembering and retelling important news or events. Christian traditions have developed alongside—sometimes replacing, sometimes transforming—non-Christian customs and rites. Whether we realize it or not, what we do at Christmas nowadays is probably a unique blend of our culture and the habits we’ve grown up with.

For someone in England, for instance, a traditional Christmas Day dinner usually begins around mid-afternoon and includes roast turkey or goose with stuffing, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, hot tasty gravy, mulled wine, and mince pies or Christmas pudding (are you hungry yet?). In many parts of the United States, wintry scenes of fresh snowfall are more picturesque than any greeting card, and neighborhoods show off festive yard decor featuring reindeer or snowmen. One of my West Coast friends bakes fudge and Christmas cookies every year as gifts. In Australia, where December is a summer month, people love Carols by Candlelight, an annual outdoor carol concert that has taken place in major Australian cities across the country for the past 70-plus years. The outdoors is so popular with Aussies that my Sydney friend’s Christmas dinner is a seafood barbecue—on the beach!

So, if there isn’t one definitive way of celebrating Christmas, what makes it really Christmas for you? There was a time when I celebrated the season like the world does, as just another festival with its own stories and characters like Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, another occasion for gift-giving and partying, and another excuse for warm fuzzy songs and decadent food.

But Christmas is so much more. The word itself is derived from “Christ’s mass”, that is, the feast day commemorating the birth of the Christ or Messiah, a title for God’s Chosen King. This title signifies that God has given Jesus authority over everything, to bring back to Him a world that doesn’t know Him or doesn’t accept His rule. The result of turning our backs on God is separation from Him forever. But God sent Jesus into the world to take that punishment in our place—a baby born to die—so that we can live. At the heart of Christmas, then, is the great news of friendship, a living relationship, with God Himself! “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . .” (1 Timothy 1:15).

The real message of Christmas isn’t in any of our traditions per se, and so, merely observing traditions doesn’t make us Christian. No, Christians are people who have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus. Even wonderful Christian traditions like carol services, Advent calendars and nativity plays can become empty shells of activity if we fail to grow and delight in our friendship with God.

On the other hand, if what we do expresses a healthy relationship with God, over time such practices can come to symbolize much more—that’s when a meaningful tradition is born. My Christmas tree and the act of setting it up, for example, has come to represent togetherness. Each handmade ornament came from an Advent devotion activity, and the tree has graced countless gatherings where we shared our food and our faith with friends and family.

Would it still be Christmas without the tree? You bet! In my heart it’s Christmas all year round. But because I can choose how to celebrate 25 December (or 7 January if you live in a country where the church is Eastern Orthodox), I’ll pick my traditions with care, and own them. What about you? What are your Christmas traditions? Which ones best create the opportunities to remember, share Jesus with others, and pass on the good news of joy?