To Hold a Baby Bird

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
~ 1 Thessalonians 2:7

This article originally appeared in the Baptists for Liberty newsletter, June/July 2017 edition.

John Feinstein published his 1996 book on professional golf under the title: A Good Walk Spoiled. The phrase probably wasn’t original with him, but it is a great description of the game played in otherwise idyllic settings. I’ve personally experienced the spoiling of a good walk, particularly in my younger days. I continually sought advice on how to improve and get strokes off my game, but to give you the rest of the story; I will just say I’m not a professional golfer today, nor any sort of golfer, really, since I never play.

Golf is much like a lot of things in that you have to start somewhere. It’s unavoidable. Assuming you have the clubs, tees, and enough balls to Johnny Appleseed the woods and lakes of the course, the game of golf begins with the grip. Before you can address the ball or begin a swing, you have to hold the club in some fashion and gripping it like a Louisville Slugger isn’t going to do. The first grip I learned was the Vardon grip, though I later changed to the interlocking grip, which I think was made famous by Jack Nicklaus. I don’t think the change made a lot of difference for me, but I felt like I had done something.

The grip has two parts—the arrangement of the fingers and the pressure. I often heard the analogy that one should grip the club like they were holding a baby bird—firm enough so that the bird could not escape your hand, but not so firm that you crush the bird. This finer point of the grip is lost on most amateurs who white-knuckle the club like they are trying to wring the neck of a disagreeable chicken. While the amateur’s grip may be beneficial for Sunday dinner at the farm, it’s no good for splitting a fairway or finding greens in regulation.

The golf game begins with the grip. Aside from the tense muscles and coiling of the torso to unleash a monster drive down the middle, there must be gentleness to hold the baby bird and not kill it. You need enough pressure to hold the club but not all the pressure you can muster. To play golf, you must strike the ball. In order to strike the ball, you have to grip the club. In order to grip the club for striking accuracy, you have to use the right amount of gentleness in your grip pressure. So my philosophy all comes out to this: golf begins with gentleness.

I realize the readers of this newsletter did not come here for tips on keeping their ball in the short grass. My point is that most amateurs see the game as one of brute strength. They think most of the drive off the tee and how much distance they can get. While a towering drive on a par 5 can give you hopes of an eagle, golf is much more about finesse and delicacy. Accuracy is more important than length. Being farther in the woods is undesirable. This is probably why most amateurs don’t make much progress.

I once played in a foursome with a gentleman in his seventies. I outhit him all day. I consistently drove farther, though he was in the fairway and I was in the rough or trees. He would land on the green while I was over it. He two-putted most of the time and I easily doubled his effort. At the end of the round, his stroke count was also in the seventies and I had made a century. Had we been playing cricket, I would have been bucked up making a century, but it is an open-face shame in golf. It’s the sort of thing that causes many to put down the clubs and take up gardening or bird watching. Obviously, he understood the touch of gentleness the game requires and I nearly came out of my shoes every time I swung.

The Theme of Gentleness

Gentleness is the theme of this edition and this article’s design is to see something of how that theme works out in the life of a church. A church, of course, is a body of baptized, believing disciples who have been organized and joined together for the purpose of doing Jesus’s work on the earth until the end of this age. A church is made up of some number of people holding common membership and assembling together in a location for worship, instruction, and business.

Anyone who has been a part of two or more people trying to work together understands that such an arrangement has challenges. Different levels of maturity, skill, understanding, temperament, schedule, expectation, patience, sensitivity, and personal preference give opportunities for all sorts of problems. Unfortunately, many pastors and church members deal with the problems that pop up like an exuberant twelve-year-old boy playing Whack-A-Mole at the arcade. Mallet firmly in the hand, they bounce back and forth waiting for the next talpid head with beady eyes to pop-up. Then they whack it.

In the life of the church, our grip should begin with gentleness. Though there are times when we must use sharpness and severity, we should overall be characterized by gentleness, or meekness. This is a theme in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth we call, Second Corinthians. In the general exhortation in the opening of the letter, Paul calls the church members to gentleness by reminding them of God’s comfort to us in tribulation, and having received comfort of God, Paul writes we are “able to comfort them which are in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The necessary inference is that they should comfort those among them who are in any trouble.

Before Paul was deep in the letter, he pressed this application on the Corinthians in a specific case. A “punishment” was imposed on a “man” by the “many” (2 Corinthians 2:6). The word for punishment, epitimia, means a penalty. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It was in common use, a word referring to a legal penalty imposed for some infraction against the city/state. It was a punishment for an infringement by one of his own rights of citizenship. The word used for many, pleionon, means the more part, or the greater number. It was used as we would say, majority. It is clear Paul was talking about a man who had been a member of the church who had discipline enacted on him by the church. Some suppose this was the man from 1 Corinthians 5, but that is not certain.

Paul said the punishment was “sufficient,” which meant the discipline had accomplished the purpose of bringing the man to repentance. Paul urged gentleness toward him so they would not increase his sorrow by their severity (2 Corinthians 2:7). He wrote they should “forgive … comfort … confirm … love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8). This is consistent with how he instructed the church at Galatia that they were to restore a repentant one “in a spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).

Paul’s Gentle Example

Paul particularly taught ministers were to be marked by gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25; Titus 3:2). He also modeled gentleness in his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He likewise taught and modeled it to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 6:3-6, 10-11; 7:9). Paul was deliberate in his gentleness. It was his preferred manner (2 Corinthians 13:10). He could be severe when he believed he needed to be (2 Corinthians 13:2).

Paul was criticized in Corinth because of his gentleness. As is often the case, it was mistaken for weakness and he was put down because of it (2 Corinthians 10:1, 9-10). Paul could be so bold as to be gentle because he had confidence in the work of the Spirit in the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:15; 2:3; 7:16; 8:22; 10:2). He could speak to them the word of God in humility and meekness and have patience for the Spirit’s work. He set an example all ministers and church members should follow because we have confidence in the Spirit (Colossians 3:12-17; Ephesians 4:32).

Hold that Bird

Birds innumerable have met their end in the hands of many church members. Honest questions can be met with immediately hostile answers. The weak can be pushed down rather than helped. Like the Corinthians, we can be in danger of overloading sorrow on a repentant one. Sure, severity is needed at times, but remember it takes wisdom to use severity well. We should also remember that the true wisdom that comes from above is “pure … peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17-18). May we manifest good “works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). Don’t kill the bird. Start with gentleness. Be guided by wisdom.

Reading the Whole Bible

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. ~ Romans 15:4

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. ~ Romans 15:4

Have you ever read the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation?

If you haven’t approached the reading of all the Bible with an intentional plan and regular effort, then you probably haven’t read the whole Bible. I’ve seen some surveys in the last few years that report a little less than two-thirds of evangelical Christians have read the whole Bible at least once in their life.

For several years now I have been encouraging people to read the Bible through every year using some sort of plan for daily reading. At an average reading speed, it takes about 70 hours to read the whole bible. 70 hours works out to about 10-15 minutes per day in a year’s time. All that averages to around three or more chapters a day of reading to read the whole Bible in a year. The point here is that reading the whole Bible in a year’s time is very doable.

For the last several years I have also been surprised by the objections to the aforementioned reading. Honestly, it baffles me how anyone could be opposed to reading the Bible, but there it is. I want to deal with the most common objections I have heard, but first let’s ask: Should a Christian read the whole Bible? The Bible is typically printed in a little over one thousand pages. One thousand pages? How many one thousand page books have you ever read? I have heard that about 70% of adults in America read one book per year. If you’re only reading one book per year, I doubt it’s a thousand page tome.

Yes, Christians should read the whole Bible. No, there is not a command: Thou shalt read the whole Bible. Consider just a couple of verses about the Scripture.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
– 2 Timothy 3:16

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
– Proverbs 30:5

If all scripture is inspired and profitable, then we should get around to reading all scripture at some point. If every word of God is pure, then we should get around to reading every word of God at some point. If God bothered to give us one thousand pages of words that are for our instruction and good, then we should bother to read them all.

Three common objections to reading the Bible in a year

Out of a sense of fairness, which comports with my mountain-bred roots, no one I’ve talked with has actually objected to reading the Bible at all, only to reading the whole Bible in a year by a plan. I’ve heard various reasons expressed variously, but I’ve collected them here into the three most common.

  1. I don’t have enough time. I broke it down earlier that this can be done in about 10-15 minutes per day. With the mobile devices we have today, we can always have the Bible with us making it even easier to find this time. Besides, if you seriously don’t have 10-15 minutes in a day to read the Bible, your’re seriously overbooked and cardiac arrest is in your near future. I understand that everyone is busy. I have seven children. The oldest is starting college next week and the youngest isn’t yet two-years-old. I have my own business where I regularly work 50+ hours a week, which at times can be significantly higher. I pastor a church and regularly preach three messages a week. Despite all that, I am currently reading through the Bible in a year. I could go on, but the point is that we are all busy. I don’t think I’m special or any busier than anybody else. If you seriously do not have 10-15 minutes a day to read the Bible, then your priorities are out of order.
  2. I think it’s better to read just a verse or two and get something out of them than to read three chapters and get nothing out of it. I question how you could read three chapters of the Bible and get nothing out of it, but I do have two main answers to this objection. First, reading and studying are not the same things. I think this objections confuses the difference between the two. I’m not suggesting that you should read the Bible in a year and not study the Bible. I am suggesting you do both. They are not the same thing. I live by the idea that you should read broadly and study deeply.

    Second, does the reading of a verse or two to get something out of them result in reading the whole Bible? Using that approach, how many times have you read the whole Bible? You don’t have to answer out loud. Without an intentional plan and consistent effort over time, most of us will not read the whole Bible. I set out many times to read the whole Bible, but I never accomplished it without a reading plan and a daily commitment.

    Besides these, did Paul write a whole letter and send it to a church with the intention that they would read the letter or just a sentence or two every now and then? Obviously, the letter was intended to be read start to finish. There is no other way to grasp the context and, therefore, the meaning of the letter.

  3. I don’t think it would be right to read the Bible out of a sense of obligation rather than desire. The objection is that reading the Bible by a plan results in you reading out of obligation to check off the day’s duty rather than reading because you want to. I’ve never experienced that myself. I’ve never experienced reading the Bible grudgingly out of obligation. I’ve found the more I read the Bible by plan daily, the more I want to do it.

    Let’s assume you have a spouse and afore posited spouse has a birthday, which you must admit is extremely plausible. Let’s also assume that your recall of said annual events is not impeccable, which you must also admit is plausible. So, in order not to be the heel of the century, you mark your beloved’s birthday on a calendar so that you’re amply prepared on the appropriate day to shower your beloved with attention and jovial celebration. A wise thing to do and a free marital tip. Is it better to mark the date in advance and plan to remember the birthday, or to only celebrate that day when you happen to remember it at the right time? Did the fact that you planned beforehand to remember mean that you acted sheerly out of obligation in whatever affections you directed to your spouse on the day of?

    One way to look at planned reading is obligation and another way to look at it is discipline. I have my suspicions that this is the real heart of most objections. We are not very disciplined and chafe at the thought of discipline. The Bible does teach that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:6-8; 1 Corinthians 9:23-27). In every good thing we endeavor to do, we must wrestle against the flesh that opposes us (Romans 7:14-25; James 4:13-17). Finally, as long as we are in this flesh, we are not sanctified enough to only and always want to do good. If you’re waiting to read the Bible until you feel like it, you won’t read it much.

Benefits to reading the Bible in a year

If you read the whole Bible regularly, you will be benefited. You will grow in grace and knowledge. You will be better prepared to hear sermons well and get more out of them. You will be better able to fight and overcome sin by taking heed to the Word and hiding it in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Your mind will be renewed through the Word (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 1:17-18; Colossians 3:10, 15-16). You will be better prepared to speak a word in season to edify, encourage, and comfort the afflicted. If you think about, what could possibly be beneficial about not knowing more of the Bible?

Maybe there is another reason why we’re not reading the Bible every year

The thought of obligation, duty, and discipline is so odious to us. While I understand the substance of that objection, I ask: What is the alternative? Seriously, what is the alternative to a disciplined approach to reading the Bible. The alternative to discipline is a picture that looks alarmingly similar to the picture of the sluggard in Proverbs.

  • The sluggard is indecisive and will not get started to work though he may talk about it (Proverbs 6:9; 26:14).
  • The sluggard makes excuses or rationalizes his inactivity and lack of accomplishment (Proverbs 20:4; 22:13; 26:16).
  • The sluggard puts responsibility off until later (Proverbs 6:10).
  • The sluggard does not plan ahead and suffers for it (Proverbs 6:8).
  • The sluggard has no self-discipline but must have an overseer to make him do something (Proverbs 6:7).
  • The sluggard does not have a hard-work ethic (Proverbs 6:8).
  • The sluggard does not have the follow-through to finish what he does start (Proverbs 12:27; 19:24; 26:15).

More could be said, but I will leave you with a serious question. Do you really have a good reason not to read the whole Bible, or is it just an excuse for laziness? Let each of us examine our own heart before the Lord.

Through the Glass

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: ~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire:
~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Sometimes we need a shift in perspective.

Every preacher worth his salt, and probably many who aren’t, get asked questions frequently. One common question is in the form: Is it wrong to do X? People are not usually asking this in contemplation of murdering their neighbor or stealing his car. They ask, Is it wrong to play the lottery? Is it wrong to watch that movie? Is it wrong to listen to this music?

The questions are seldom of some theological import or about some passage they have been wrestling with to understand. They are usually not all that serious. The older I get, the more I esteem the wisdom of George Washington. He was not highly educated and had a keen sense of it. However, he was continually sought after for advice. Though he wrote some seventeen thousand letters in his lifetime, he seldom gave advice. He said that he had come to see that those who most sought advice least wanted it. Insightful.

I have found that many who ask the is-it-wrong questions are those who are going to do or continue to do what they’re doing regardless of anything you might have to say or show them from God’s Word. They just want a quick justification or affirmation. At best, they wait for your mouth to stop moving so they can say, “Yeah, but…”

A Better Question

Perhaps there is a better approach when dealing with more difficult questions. There is something to be said about circumstances. There is something to be said about strong and weak consciences. There is certainly something to be said about moderation, but maybe we should consider something else first.

One of the results of maturing in Christ is growing in discernment between things that are good and things that are evil (Hebrews 5:13-14). If you want to ask if something is wrong to do, let me first ask you some questions about your growth in wisdom.

  1. How committed are you to the regular reading and studying of God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; 119:9; Acts 17:11)?
  2. Are you in a sound church under the sound preaching and teaching of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; Hebrews 10:25)?
  3. Are you praying regularly for wisdom and seeking it tenaciously (James 1:5; Proverbs 2:1-5)?
  4. Do you have wise, godly companions who edify and encourage you in a good way (Hebrews 10:25; Proverbs 13:20)?
  5. Do you receive correction and instruction when it is given (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9)?

If you answer, No, to any of those questions, then asking if it’s wrong to wear a certain article of clothing or go to some event is the wrong question. You’re starting at the wrong place. If you’re not using any of the means of growing in wisdom that God has instructed and provided for us, then you’re probably not going to receive good counsel when it is given. You’re also ill-equipped to discern between good and bad counsel.

A better question to ask in this regard is the question of expediency. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Expedient means helpful or beneficial. He wrote this in the context of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. As he reasons through it, you can see it’s more complicated than yes or no. If you are interested in this verse in more depth, you can go to a past article I wrote about it here.

Rather than asking if something is wrong, you should ask if it’s expedient. Is it helpful, beneficial? How is doing this going to affect my closeness to God? There are things that stir our thoughts and affections for God and there are things that stunt them or kill them cold. How something affects you is a question that others can’t really answer for you, unless you’re walking with wise friends who know you and see you over time. Then they can help, but they still don’t know fully what is going on within.

Solomon taught that the relentless pursuit of entertainment is folly (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). Everything in life doesn’t have to be a sermon to be beneficial but you do have to have wisdom to have the good kind of enjoyment of the things of earth (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7; Proverbs 5:15-19).

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