Archive for

February, 2014


11 ways the Bible is like the Tube


London Underground is a major part of British culture – so I was bound to write a silly analogy post at some point! As there are 11 lines, here are 11 ways in which the Bible is like the Tube.


Photo: Elliott Brown, re-used under CC license

1. Some stations have better accessibility than others. Some have more stairs than others to struggle up and down – especially if you’re carrying luggage. But just because you struggled at one point does not mean you cannot take the Tube as a whole! And stations are slowly being made accessible – be on the lookout for study guides!

2. Some stations are less used, and less famous than others. Nearly everybody knows of Monument, far fewer will know of Roding Valley. This does not mean that Roding Valley is useless – or even that it is generally less useful than Monument. To the person who lives or works in the vicinity of Roding Valley, on the contrary, it will be the most useful station.

3. It is the cause for far more anger and resentment than it deserves (link contains rude language) – because we tend to forget the times it’s been useful every time that it seems to make us stumble.

4. It is deeply embedded in the culture of all, even those who do not use it – and in ways that promote self-sacrifice too.

5. Its users make up a very cosmopolitan, and extremely friendly communitywhich has its own codes and jokes, which might be lost on non-users.

6. There are interconnections. Many of them. So a map – or instructions – can be helpful to navigate it at first, but you soon get so used to it you don’t even look at the map.

7. Some lines are really, extremely short (I’m looking at you, Waterloo & City). Others are so long that people have argued they should be considered as separate lines.

8. You can try to move about in the real, above-ground world without using the Tube, but chances are you’ll get lost, especially in those parts you’re not too familiar to! So if you want to find yourself again, best seek a Tube station!

9. Equally, there is no point simply sticking to the Tube, or just going around in circles and leaving the network at the exact same station. Taking the Tube is supposed to move you from one point to another.

10. Individual stations have their own organisation and feel – some of them are even decorated according to a theme (for instance, Baker Street has Sherlock Holmes) – which does not detract from their overall unity, or from their belonging to a single structure.

11. There is some debate as to whether the Overground line should be considered part of the Underground network or not. Now, nobody tries to argue that the Overground is the same as the Underground; it’s just a question of whether they should stand side by side on underground maps or not.


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Helping others is good. There’s no doubt about that! Whether it is by providing a friendly ear, or hosting a small group, providing tea, leading heretics away from coffee – it is always a positive action.

Repeating these actions with the same people is a way to foster a community, but also to respond to a local need – spiritual or physical. In such cases, structure and regularity is not only good, it is also necessary: it is only in such a way that the people you serve (and those you’re serving with) can build a pattern, and in turn, trust.

Even when the promise of regularity is not explicit, it is there. Even when you warn people it isn’t going to be regular, one repeat occurrence is enough to make that promise on your behalf. For instance, I gave my students the opportunity to improve their grade by completing their test at home on two occasions; and ever since, they have been expecting this second chance at every occasion – despite my initial warnings that it wouldn’t happen!

People come to depend on you and on your action. Which means that, if you stop doing it, you might make things worse for some.


Photo by Edward Betts, in the public domain

In the case of Christian ministry, this is hugely important on two accounts:

1. The need you’re filling is potentially the most important need to fill. We’re not talking about a small monetary income, about a chocolate fix, or even about a tea fix (although the latter is extremely important, too). We tend to be talking about one or more of three vital things:

  • love for the unloved
  • food for the hungry
  • good news for those who haven’t received them

Imagine being on the receiving end of the ministry you’re involved in; and to find that, this week, you won’t get the opportunity to be fed – spiritually, physically, or affectionately. Or at least, not in the safe environment you’ve grown used to, and where you feel you can be yourself, warts and all. You probably wouldn’t have the strength to search elsewhere for a while – and your need would go unmet.

2. When you’re not reliable in your actions, you’re pointing to a God who can’t be relied upon. (tweet this) This is visibly the case if you’re involved in an evangelistic action. But in non-evangelistic actions, it is the case too, as long as people know you as a Christian, and thereby as someone who should imitate Christ.

So reliability is key. Which means that before going for a large undertaking, you should be sure you can keep it up – or that others will be ready to jump in to do so; and that you definitely should think twice before messing with your schedule.

How the Lord’s prayer is more than one line long

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“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven”

Matthew 6:10

This line of the Lord’s prayer is generally taken one of two ways:

  • it can be discarded as an introduction, much in the same way that the introductory verses to the Epistles are often left alone. That attitude is likely to lead to a “vending machine” approach to prayer.
  • it can be signposted all over our prayers: “we ask for this, but only if that’s in your plans”. When we do so, we are hedging our bets, and refusing to believe in the power of our prayer, or even that it would be accepted without that addendum.


The second attitude leads to another issue, however: it restricts what we pray for. I have been to many prayer meetings where all the prayers were either for specific people to come to Christ or for conditions in which people can come to Christ. Something like this:

“Dear Lord, help my brother to just, Lord, get back on his feet and, Lord, just have the strength to keep on sharing your word, Father, Amen”.

Admittedly, the trait is a bit forced. But these prayers sound to me like we’re trying to justify to God why he should listen to our prayers, because after all it’s in his benefit. Hardly the sign of a contrite heart. Worse, if it is done as part of corporate prayer, it can be a case of holier-than-thou prayeritis: “I don’t know about you, but I‘ve got the advancement of the Kingdom as my number one priority, so that’s all I’m going to pray for”. Hardly appropriate, especially given the context in which the Lord’s prayer was given to us.

But of course, corporate prayer develops its own culture. So individuals can hardly be blamed for such prayers if they are the norm. Equally, though, this highlights another issue with placing our prayers firmly within God’s will: it will stop others from praying for health, peace, or other things which appear unrelated with holy purposes.

It’s like a child who, having worked out that their parents wanted good education for him, would only ever ask for textbooks, and when fancying a bit of chocolate, would say “Please can I have some chocolate so I have magnesium to help my study”, or not say it at all. Ridiculous.

Naturally, aligning our own wills with God’s is a good thing to do. Discerning, and wanting His purpose is good – there is no doubt about that. And there is good reason to pray for people to come to faith – but no good reason for such prayers to be the only prayers said in meetings, or even for them to dominate them.

Ultimately, this line of the Lord’s prayer as a framing statement, a way to express our submission to our heavenly Father. As such, it tints every subsequent prayer – and rightly so. But not in terms of what we pray for – rather, in terms of the attitude with which we approach the throne.

So help your brothers and sisters to realise that everything can be prayed for. Next time, deliberately pray for things which aren’t directly related to people coming to Christ.

Going off on a tangent


It’s happened to me many a time: I pick up on something said in a sermon, and that opens up a whole new track of thought which may well be unrelated to the sermon. Today, someone mentioned to me that they had to force their attention back onto the sermon. It’s natural to feel that tinge of guilt. After all, you came to church for the service, and part of that service is the sermon, so you really should listen to it attentively, shouldn’t you?


Photo: Wikimedia user Cmglee, reused under CC License

If you’ve ever felt that guilt, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

Is the sermon the only way, or the best way you can find out about God?

This is a serious theological question. Sermons are useful; this much should be true (or else there’s little point in listening to them altogether). Still, if there are other ways in which God talks to you – if you believe that the Holy Spirit is still inspiring you (and not simply whoever is preaching), then why should you dismiss tangents? After all, it might well be that your attention is drawn to a specific point of the sermon through His inspiration. Struggling to focus back onto the sermon is then denying this power!

Are all the members of the congregation meant to receive the exact same experience?

We are all different in the way we understand, or at least relate to some truths spoken in sermons. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that dismissing parts of the sermon as “not for me” is right, or justified. But when something speaks to you and you start connecting dots, that’s when you’re properly hearing the sermon. Refusing to do so on the basis that you might miss out on the next bit is playing it safe. Because, when you think about it, you’re not giving what you hear space to affect you.

Is the sermon addressing your mind, or is it directed at your heart and soul too?

I don’t know about you, but my mind can follow a sermon more easily than my heart can grasp its implications. This is also true for going off on a tangent, mind you – as my mind will make leaps and bounds that sometimes even defy basic logic. Still, when I go on a tangent, it is usually because something that was said resonated within my heart and soul.

So if you see the sermon as feeding you holistically, I reckon following the tangents isn’t that bad a thing to do. But then, you might see a sermon as something that’s only meant to feed the head – or as an exercise where structure and curricula that span many weeks matter more than how the sermon transforms you.

Is it even possible to hold on to everything?

Sermons are fast. Very fast. The traditional structure is three points; but that’s generally for 15 minute sermons – 45 minute talks are usually replete with sub-points. That means going through three (or more) deep issues in under 5 minutes each. Now that’s a very quick pace, so I shouldn’t worry if I missed some part of it. Better to hold on to one thing well than to fill your pockets with tons of crumbs. (yay for mixed metaphors!)

Now, that being said, there are some practical considerations to take into account, too:

Will you use what is discussed in the sermon for further discussion (for instance, in small groups?) 

If so, then it might be crucial that you can recall what is being said – especially if you’re meant to lead such discussion. But in most cases, there are ways to catch up.

Is there a way for you to listen back to the sermon later?

Most churches now provide either transcripts of sermons or audio recordings on their website. So you can always catch up on what you missed because you went off on a tangent. And even if they don’t, why not simply ask the preacher for their notes?

What are your thoughts drifting towards?

I don’t mean this post to be an all-encompassing excuse to allow my thoughts to drift towards my lesson-planning, or towards my grocery shopping. My thoughts do sometimes jump to these mundane tasks – but it is easy to see that such thoughts are completely unrelated to what was said in the first place. Maybe in such cases, it’s worth focusing back on the sermon!