Zoom Out

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I’ve been reading the New Testament straight through every morning, and I’m at Revelation. Normally I do Old Testament/Psalms-Proverbs/New Testament, but for some reason awhile back I just went with the New. The best thing about going straight through is that there is an overview, a big picture, that comes into the mind. Errors in thought, or exaggerations of certain doctrines, are corrected. Holes are filled in. A digital audio editor I know, referring to the way we scrutinize details and then move to the big picture, calls this “zoom-in/zoom-out.”

Prayer beforehand is definitely required. The Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and requires that same Spirit to interpret its depths. Many theological problems arise when we try to figure things out on our own.

When I read the Gospels I touch the heart, soul, mind, and Spirit of Jesus. They put me in contact with the kind of person He is. I see what He likes, what He dislikes, what makes Him glad, or angry, or what makes Him weep. I see how He relies on the Father, and maintains communion with Him, going out early to pray. I see His consistency in loving others, His harsh words to the legalistic mindsets, His shepherd-heart that fights for the truth, in love, against all deceptions. I see how a real Man lives, and how a real Man dies and forgives. And I see how a true Man resurrects.

In reading Acts I see how that real Man begets spiritual children, sending the Holy Spirit. I see the outworking of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church, and the turmoil He generates when He comes into contact with this world system. He literally “turns the world upside down.”

In the letters of Paul, the Apostle who is for obvious reasons given the floor in much of the New Testament, I find the righteousness which is of God by faith. I see exactly what happened at the Cross – that I died, and was resurrected, because God put me in Christ there – not “positionally,” but actually. I see that I am a new creation, holy, that I am now in union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives in me by the Holy Spirit. In Paul I find the explanations of my identity in Christ – the how, why, what, when, and where of who I really am. And I find, as in Jesus, a holy disdain for self–righteousness, for merely living under the Law by our human effort, for trying to attain a sanctified life by our own human strength and wisdom. In the later parts of most of his letters I also find what a holy life looks like – showing love, hospitality, loving my wife as Christ loved the church, wives respecting husbands, being a diligent worker.

Through James, Peter, John, Jude, I find the prompts to avoiding being lazy and lax about holiness. 1John especially struck me this time through, that if we are not loving others we aren’t really walking in communion with God, and that the power to live above sin comes from abiding and resting in Christ. These epistle writers protect us from the distortions that can arise through misusing Paul’s letters, and vice-versa. Through them, we can make no mistake: A holy life, which is simply love-for-God-and-others in action, is required. The only way to get there is by reliant faith which expresses the righteousness which comes from God within us, flowing through the channel of reliance, trust, faith, abiding in Christ.

Reading the Word through in this way tears down false theological constructs in my mind and eliminates errors in my thinking. I see now how I used to linger in my favorite books or passages, ignoring or skimming over other passages in my immaturity. This is the source of my former theological construct of “Jesus died to pay my sin-debt so I could be forgiven” which left me with a past event (forgiveness through the Blood) and a future hope (when we go to be with Christ and have glorified bodies, etc.), and no power in the present moment.

This time through has proved to me once again that the Word is a many-layered document, endless in its applications to our daily life. It stirs up the Holy Spirit within us, and prompts us to commune with God, to exercise our faith-will, and through that to walk as Jesus walked.

I’ve just hit Revelation, which I’ve not read in awhile. As Ecclesiastes says, “Here is the conclusion of the matter…” Revelation protects us from feeling too much at home in this present world-system. I’m interested to see what effect it has on me this time through.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


15 Comments

  1. Julie

    When I read the first sentence, I got the impression that every morning you read through the whole New Testament! (I was thinking to myself, boy I’ve gotten plum lazy!)
    Good thoughts though!

  2. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I’m currently using a 2 year reading plan. It has readings from OT, Psalms and NT each morning and a reading from Proverbs and John at night. I’m only using the morning reading portion, but have used both in the past.

    There is a quote on the cover of this plan by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones that affirms your thoughts here:

    “Nothing has helped me more than to survey the rolling landscape of Scripture, and to grasp its underlying and recurring themes.”

    It is a great discipline to keep and over time it just becomes a natural part of the day. For me, missing this time is like missing a good meal. Like any meal, as Ron has noted, give thanks before digging in. 🙂 The Word, as the writer of Hebrews says, is “living and active”, so if we forget to pray the Spirit will still be burrowing into our hearts, its just more filling when we fully engage in the process.

    I know time in the Word can be a struggle. So, if you are looking for a place to start there are many good plans and study Bibles out there. The Bible Gateway has some good ones online here: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/readingplans/

    The plan I use is available online here: http://www.perimeter.org/PDF/bible_reading_plan_2yrs.pdf

    One of the guys I am in a small group with gives this plan out when he travels. He will be reading his Bible on a flight and someone will ask about it. He talks about this plan and gives them a copy if they are interested. I found this to be a creative way to share Christ — i.e. my brother is eating some Bread and is prepared to share it with anyone who may be hungry.

  3. Joshua Keel

    Thanks, Ron. Your thoughts always resonate strongly with me. I remember a while back when you were writing about sanctification and justification in Romans. I think that may well have been the beginning of a work God did in my life this summer.

    He brought me from a flawed understanding of grace, faith and the Gospel into the realization that I will be free from the entanglements of sin here on Earth only when I come before him in humility, recognizing that there is no good thing in me and that I have no power to overcome sin, and ask him to empower me daily through faith to overcome sin.

    Also, I’m learning to rest in grace. The completely finished work of Christ on my behalf once and for all overcame my sin. I don’t need to wallow in my guilt any longer or brutalize myself when I sin in the same way over and over again. God *always* sees me through the blood of Christ, no matter what my sin. I can always rest in his open arms. He never holds my sin against me. I no longer have to trust in my own strength of will to overcome the power of sin. I now know that’s completely impossible. God alone by grace through faith can overcome my sin. My job is to trust absolutely.

  4. Mike

    Ron, I would be interested in your opinion/beleifs/knowledge of which parts of Revelation are literal and which are figurative. I need to read it again as well but I have been thinking about this lately. It’d be cool if you would share what you find out in Revelation.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Joshua,

    Whenever there’s a little bit of “I will be like the Most High” in our attitude, we won’t be able to access the power we have in Christ. The two attitudes are mutually exclusive. “No man can serve two masters.” It’s one or the other, every moment. Fortunately our Father knows exactly how to break us down to the point where we really get it, and can finally say with Jesus (and mean it), “I can do nothing of myself” and “It’s Christ in me who does the works.”

    Holiness is required – the Bible writers all say that. For a Christian to be consistently sinning was to them an anomaly, something that required church discipline. But that early Church was schooled in identity, especially Paul’s people, and so they knew better. Paul’s attitude toward the Corinthians and the Galatians says as much. “Are you people out of your minds?! What is going on with you?” He’s shocked, frustrated, angry, at both their sensual sin and their hearkening back to the sin of legalism – which tells me that those things aren’t supposed to be the norm.

    But how we live a holy life – that’s the question that bamboozles many in the present. Humility (“I’m just a cup”) and faith (“I’m full of the Wine of Spirit”) are the turning point. Until we rest and rejoice and faithe in what God has done, we’ll continually be hit by the devil – and so he wins the battles (but not the war, which he’s already lost) because we put our faith in our own non-existent human power to be good.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    I tend to read in the morning with no set amount of chapters or time (a basic amount of time, anywhere from a half hour to adding an hour to that). If I feel interested in pressing on, I do, or if I suddenly want to look up a Greek word and study the roots of it I do so. I don’t really follow a plan except going through OT/Psalms-Prov/NT each morning, though as I said I’ve been focusing on the NT exclusively for quite a few weeks. What started me was just simply fascination with reading about Jesus in the Gospels, and once I got going I couldn’t stop.

    It’s also beneficial to any parents to make sure we spend time reading the Word to our kids. I’ve been making sure I do it every night with them last thing before prayers and lights out so they go to sleep thinking on it. In the frenetic pace of modern life it’s often easy to let that slip by, but I’m already seeing a harvest in the way my kids think.

  7. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I’m with you bro. The reading is just part of the process. In addition to that, though not daily, but often, I have a study/reflective time in the Word. That involves all manner of zooming in and zooming out–to stay with the theme here.

    I’ve done that with the kids for years. Andrew Peterson spoke about picture Bibles in his concert on Saturday (he used it in the context of “what if there was a church that only used the picture Bible?” — a funny thought to be sure). That reminded me of when they were wee little and we’d read Bible stories in that way. As they’ve gotten older we’ve had the zoom in/zoom out sort of reading. A very helpful tool for us has been the Church or Liturgical calendar. Walking through the seasons of Advent and Lent in particular have been some awesome family devotional time. This is my favorite resource for learning about the traditions associated with the church calendar (somehting I did not grow up with) http://www.cresourcei.org/chyear.html

    I’m spending a good bit of time this year with the Apostle John – reading his Gospel (Michael Card’s translation in “The Parable of Joy”) and the book of Revelation. Mike asked about Revelation in his post.

    Mike,

    The commentary recommended to me on Revelation is called “More Than Conquerors” by William Hendriksen. It is a commentary in form, but it is a great devotional read as well. I now come to Revelation with awe and wonder reveling in the majesty of our King. Before, it was more a glazed over ‘What was that all about?” kind of feeling.

    My pastor did a whole series on the book of Revelation several years ago. He started off the series by recommending the above commentary and also giving the following 10 keys for “unlocking” what can be for most of us a mysterious book:

    1. The book of Revelation consists of seven parallel sections which span the time from the first coming to the second coming of Christ.

    2. The first three sections (Chapters 1-11) reveal the conflict between the Church and the world with the persecuted Church being avenged, protected and victorious.

    3. The last four sections (Chapters 12-22) reveal the same events but viewed from a “backstage perspective” with the dragon (Satan) warring against Christ and His Church who remain victorious.

    4. Symbolic pictures are used throughout the book to convey deeper realities than mere words can describe. Details that pertain to these pictures should always be interpreted in harmony with the central thought; focusing on the prominent idea never on the details themselves. Great interpretive error takes place when these pictures or symbols are taken to be literal (e.g. winged creatures = helicopters; mark of the beast = UPC Symbol).

    5. The various symbols used (seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, etc.) do not refer to specific singular events in history, but rather to human conduct and Divine dealings operating throughout the history of the church. (e.g. a particular person being noted as “The Anti-Christ”)

    6. The Revelation is rooted in contemporaneous events and circumstances and therefore (as with all books of the Bible) must be interpreted in light of the conditions prevailing when the book was written. As Fee and Stuart say in How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth, “the text cannot say what it never said.”

    7. The Revelation is rooted in the Scriptures and must be interpreted in light of the entire book (Old Testament and New Testament). We must harmonize it with the rest of the Scriptures.

    8. The Last Days are to be viewed at the resurrection and accession of Christ with only one future coming of Christ and that taking place at the same time as the rapture and final judgment.

    9. The Millennium is to be understood as a period of time between the resurrection, ascension and seating of Christ on His throne and the return of Christ at the end of the world.

    10. The Tribulation is not to be viewed as a future seven year period inclusive of the emergence of an individual satanically empowered – the Anti-Christ.

    Now, this not THE way to view book, just a way to view the book, there are other ways to interpret it. There are points noted above which people would disagree completely on. However, the goal for us should be to interpret it in light of the whole of Scripture. The zoom in and zoom out process that Ron is brining up in this post.

    We can use commentators for help but we should be tackling the Word ourselves first and consulting the experts last. This is one book of the Bible where I was grateful for scholarly input! I think if you spend some time reading and reflecting on Revelation and consult a good commentary or three when you are stuck, I don’t think you will get hung up on literal vs. symbolic. You will likely get caught up in worship of our King.

    I think that was the Apostle’s intent, I know it is the effect the book has on me now. 🙂

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    I’ve read the Bible and Bible storybooks to my kids since they were little but it hasn’t always been a daily principle to read it to them. But I’ve now been making it a solid principle – barring any unforeseen circumstances, that’s what we do every night. And it’s amazing what the diligence of it produces.

    I’ve not read Revelation for a long time, so I don’t have a lot to say on it. I’m looking forward to digging in. I remember Chuck Missler saying that there are hundreds of references to the OT in Revelation – he suggests for beginning students to start at Revelation, since it will take them through many books in the OT (and NT, I imagine).

  9. becky

    I’ve been using a One Year Bible for a few years now. Yes, the same one. Obviously, I don’t read everything that is set out for each day. 🙂 I like to go slowly and really let things sink in.

    I have been amazed by how many unplanned parallels there are between the OT, NT, Psalms and Proverbs readings for each day. It reinforces the truths that God’s character does not change, and that He was, is, and always will be chasing after our hearts, not our religious behavior.

    Like you, Ron, I often get caught up in a particular story or thought and skip the other things for a while, then go back to pick them up again. The system is not the main thing, it’s just a tool that gives me a direction.

  10. Peter B

    Ron, thank you (as always) for taking time to share a mature perspective on this. So often I find myself giving the leftovers of my day to Scripture reading, and I wonder why I doubt. Not that God himself can be hindered by my interference, but I certainly can.

    Also, thank you for the parenting encouragement. We recently made the transition from Bible storybook to actual Bible with our six-year-old — the Children’s ESV which has enough illustrations to keep her coming back — and I can’t tell you what a change it wreaks in me when I’m reading, not just silently to myself, but to my little one to whom I desperately want to communicate the love and truth and power of the Gospel. We’re coming to the end of Luke, and I’m wondering where to go next; any recommendations? I’m thinking 1 Samuel or maybe Genesis, since the sequential narratives are much more likely to engage very young children… but I’d be happy to hear suggestions from anyone who’s been there.

  11. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Peter,

    I definitely do better during the day with a morning reading and prayer. It centers me on Reality. Now, of course, like anything this can easily be turned into a dry religious exercise. But I’m finding that, for whatever reason, my ability to read, comprehend, and imagine is increasing. This happens in Bible reading, and also I’m reading MacDonald’s Sir Gibbie, and it’s really happening as I’m reading. In this past year or two I’ve had some old thought patterns shaken off by God, and now the real me is beginning to show more – the Me God created me to be. I’m experiencing the Now moment more and with more depth, and so my reading gets better.

    If during Bible reading, as in one’s prayers, one’s mind wanders or thoughts keep popping in, make that immediately the subject of prayer. “Lord, focus my mind on You, on the text, on the Spirit behind the text. Block out any static of the enemy” and things of that sort.

    I read the Proverbs to my kids a lot. Also, my son is always saying, “Read me an adventure story,” and where I do I always point out where the person is trusting God – or not. I remember a few years ago when I first read David and Goliath, where David audaciously cuts off Goliath’s head. My kids were both shocked and kind of thrilled that he was such a warrior, being so young, and I’m sure they were fascinated by a head being cut off.

    I skip around from story to story; right now we’re going through Joseph, with some selective on-the-spot editing by Dad due to the rated R nature of the story. It pays to use one’s brain. There are things in the Bible which are too much for young kids – concepts of sexuality especially (the story of Judah and Tamar comes to mind…). I leave those out for now.

  12. Peter B

    *ahem* Yes, I kind of assumed I wouldn’t be delving into Judah and Tamar, Dinah, or the whole Leviticus 20 area. I do wonder how to get through that part of Joseph’s story without totally leaving things out, but that’s for another day.

    Focus is a huge deficiency for me, and so I find myself drifting off while praying for clarity; I guess it’s one of those things that serves as a heavy reminder of my need for transformation.

  13. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Peter,

    Regarding Joseph, my daughter (8) asked me, “What did she want him to do?” And I said, “Well, she wanted him to spend time with her as if she was her husband, and he knew that wasn’t right. And then she grabbed his coat as he ran away and then lied, saying he tried to hurt her.”

    Regarding focus – when we ask God, He’ll give it. What we have to do is get our minds and hearts around actual Reality. The reality is that this earthly paradigm is our one chance to believe while not seeing. Once we go through the gate of death, or Jesus’ return, that chance is gone forever. Also, every person we see, as Lewis said, will one day be either a god- or goddess-like being, radiant with splendor, or a horror beyond imagining. Read Rev 21, the Great White Throne judgment, and imagine it being our neighbor, or even our dad or our son.

    The enchanting smoke and mirrors of this world, and the devil’s performance-based paradigm, lulls us to sleep like the witch was trying to do with Puddleglum, Rilian, and the children.

    From Screwtape:
    ‘Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.’

    Prayer and Bible reading focus us on Reality – they take us away from the continual “stream of immediate sense experiences,” and get us in contact with the Real World. God wants us more and more to live from that World, from the Place where we see others as God sees them, where we are thinking with God’s thoughts, where we are “not willing that any should perish” and where we see the end from the beginning and “call the things that are not as though they are.” This construct, this seen world, is the one chance we have in all eternity to walk in the Spirit when we don’t see Him – to walk totally by faith. Over there, faith will be sight. And I wonder if our tears that He will wipe away will be tears over lost opportunity, over wasted time, over lost people.

    I also find it crucial to do my main Bible time in the morning. Night time is too sleepy. Morning focuses me and charges me up for the day. Jesus often got up before it was light and prayed, and David wrote, “O God, thou [art] my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is…” That’s the deadness of this world’s paradigm. It holds nothing but broken cisterns – it cannot feed or water us truly; only a deep and abiding relationship with God can do that.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m the furthest thing from legalistic that I’ve ever been. I don’t believe Bible reading in the morning has to be done. But just as “all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial,” so we can go without daily Bible reading, or not really dig in, and still be saved. But it’s not beneficial to us to lack in that department. If we ask God to give us a desire for His Word, and a deep relationship with Him, we will be glad on that Day when He has done wonderful things in our lives, changed the lives of others through us, and we hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful one.” That will be worth anything we have to pay now.

  14. Tony Heringer

    Ron/Peter,

    Two thoughts spring to mind here first…

    Proverbs 3:13-15 says

    Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
    the man who gains understanding,
    for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
    She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.

    Getting into the Word is like a treasure hunt. Like Ron, those morning times are key for my day — its hard for me to read anything in the evening (This was the funny part about reading to the kids when they were little, they’d wake me up — “Come on dad finish the story!” :-). ) The longer I live, the more I come at that time of prayer, reading, meditation, etc. with the thrill of the hunt.

    However other times, its coming to the Lord asking for “the want to want to” — i.e. Lord, I know I need this today, but I don’t want to be here. Give me the desire and like some of my physical exercise (I run and lately I don’t like it), this particular spiritual exercise usually is some of my most profitable time.

    Which reminds me of Paul’s encouragment in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27:

    “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

    With the Olympics just past we witnessed people like Micheal Phelps who trained relentlessly for years to earn temporal glory. Here Paul is calling us to consider this same type of pursuit spiritually for eternal glory. The word that jumps out to me is competes. The Greek word here is agonizomai the root of which is translated agony. That’s what this time can be at times, but it is certainly worth its weight in gold and I’m not talking medals. 🙂

    Keep fighting the good fight my brothers!

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