- I have rarely spent more time in God’s Word. Determination not to get sucked into the Netflix binge vortex, led me to open the Bible on a daily basis.
COVID-19 has changed our world for the worse and for the better. On the plus side, I have rarely spent more time in God’s Word than I have in 2020. Enforced lockdown, the challenges of ministry to people in isolation, and determination not to get sucked into the Netflix binge vortex, led me to open the Bible on a daily basis and to record short Bible bites on many sections of Scripture. These have usually been 5 to 10 minute simple expositions, working through books of the Bible, recorded in my study, and uploaded to You Tube. Along with weekly preaching at church, this has fed my soul and deepened my confidence in Jesus.
As I’ve opened God’s Word, I have also been blessed by having a few conversation partners with me. Various commentaries have blessed me with insights and ideas. I don’t always refer to them, but they have been a helpful companion on many occasions. Let me share the books I have been reading and the partners who have helped me.
Our church began and is finishing the year with Mark’s Gospel. We have enjoyed being confronted by Jesus, seeing his resolution to do his Father’s will, and discovering his self-aware fulfilment of God’s promises. My main conversation partner has been Peter Bolt, whose books, Jesus’ Defeat of Death: Persuading Mark’s Early Readers and The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, have both stimulated me to read the text more closely and with regard to the context. The coherence of Mark’s account has become more obvious to me. Researching the many quotes and allusions from books like Isaiah, Psalms, Daniel, and Zechariah has unveiled the rich texture of God’s sovereign plans and purposes.
The pandemic gave pause for many to reflect on the meaning of life. Early on I recorded a talk based on Ecclesiastes 7:2 at the local cemetery and posted it to Facebook. The response encouraged me to go back and work through the whole of Ecclesiastes, posting 38 short talks on the search for meaning. For the most part my conversation partner was the daily news. Simply looking around me gave me so much that resonated and was revealed by the words of the Teacher. I did enjoy re-reading the Bible Speaks Today commentary by Derek Kidner called A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance, which was the first commentary I ever bought in 1981.
The letter of James seemed to offer a New Testament equivalent to Ecclesiastes, and so I embarked on a month of daily expositions from James. Working deeply and regularly in James reinforced my convictions about the coherence of this often-maligned letter. My conversation partners throughout this journey were Sam Allberry’s James for You and John Dickson’s James: The Wisdom of the Brother of Jesus. These two commentaries overlapped and complemented each other well and I recommend reading them side by side.
Our church spent the whole of term 2 digging deeply into this one amazing chapter of the Bible. We discovered so much about the true nature of worship as the only fitting response to the gospel of Jesus. My conversation partners were largely our congregation and especially our home group. We would keep going over the first two verses, with people committing them to memory, and sometimes music, and exploring how the gospel transforms our being and doing. Occasionally, I dipped into David Peterson’s Commentary on Romans and Christopher Ash’s Romans 8-16 For You.
I spent a number of weeks producing short talks on Philippians. A couple of my friends had become Christians and Philippians seemed a good place to ground them in the basics of the faith. My main conversation partner was my Greek text, something I have let slide over a number of years. A couple of brief commentaries were also appreciated, including Don Carson’s Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians and William Taylor’s Partnership: Philippians.
The Psalms have always been something of a lucky dip for me. I will dip into them to fill blank preaching slots, read occasionally for comfort or encouragement, or trace down New Testament quotations and allusions. This year I decided to start at the beginning and work forward. It has been revolutionary and so enlightening. I’ve discovered there is a logic and order to the Psalms. However, my biggest aha experience has been reading them as Psalms of the Messiah. I am indebted to my conversation partner, Christopher Ash, for so much of this insight. His books, Psalms for You and Teaching Psalms Volumes One and Two, have given me confidence to read and preach the Psalms as Christian Scripture. I have also been encouraged by Dale Ralph Davis and his books, The Way of the Righteous in the Much of Life: Psalms 1-12 and Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13-24.
My time of lockdown led me to reassess my suitability for ministry and encourage others around me to do the same. I’ve spent time mentoring, coaching and supervising men in different ministries this year and Titus has reminded us that character trumps competency every time. Titus reveals how the gospel of Jesus transforms us. My conversation partner with these talks was Tim Chester’s Titus for You.
In recent times people have been reminded of their weakness and mortality, and so have churches. We’ve limped along and our false securities have been brutally exposed as failures. 2 Corinthians gave our congregation comfort in the storm. My conversation partner through this series was Gary Millar’s commentary, 2 Corinthians for You. Our home groups used Gary’s Bible study booklet, 2 Corinthians: The Gospel in All of Life to explore our understanding and application further each week. We were also grateful to Gary who preached via video on a few occasions when I was unwell.
Matthew is a big Gospel, and I have only worked through seven chapters in my Bible Bites series. But it is cluttered with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered by all who will go slowly enough to find them. My conversation partners have included Douglas O’Donnell’s Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth and Frederick Dale Bruner’s Matthew: Volume 1 The Christbook Matthew 1-12.
My wife has encouraged me to record a series of Bible Bites to complement a family Advent resource by Barbara Reaoch called A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas. I’ve only just started, but I’m enjoying it so far!
Dave’s Bible Bites can be viewed at https://youtube.com/c/davemcdonaldbiblebites