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When I first kicked around the idea for the The Disciple’s Napkin, the most amount of feedback I received had to do with the 5 minutes of Bible intake that I had proposed. Am I saying 5 minutes just to fit with the template of 5…4…3…2…1? Perhaps.

I chose a short amount of time for the following three reasons.

  1. This may be a starting point for several people.
  2. Bible intake is intended not merely for information but for transformation. There is enough truth to transform your life in five minutes of meaningful Bible intake. The problem is that we take in God’s Word, and sometimes so much, that we forget it and fail to apply it to our lives. I have heard men like John Piper say that often times it is a word or phrase alone in God’s Word that changes a person’s life. I have found that to be true in my own life as well.
  3. Bible intake is not only for our transformation but also transfer. You take what you receive from God’s Word, and as a faithful steward, look for ways to share that with others. Five minutes provides you opportunity to look for one simple truth from God’s Word to share with others in your life.

Of course, you may one to spend 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes of Bible intake on a daily basis. That is great! I hope the DMN (disciple-making napkin) leads to that and more. But as I expressed in my original post, my goal is to present a vision for disciple-making that is accessible to every single Christian, and I think this approach suits that purpose.

So what do I mean by Bible intake? Here are some examples of 5 minute Bible intakes.

  1. Read one chapter in the Gospels (and make it your goal to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John over the course of 6 months).
  2. Read one Psalm and day and make it the substance of your prayers.
  3. Find one verse that ministers to your soul and seek to put it to memory. Make a memory moleskine of daily verses that you take with you to meditate on throughout the day.
  4. Read one paragraph from the letters of the Apostle Paul.

Do you have other suggestions for Bible intake? I would love to hear them!

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Eat this bookA couple weeks ago, I argued that a gospel-driven church will have gospel-centered expectations when it comes to the Word. It is not enough that the preacher’s sermon is Christ-centered. The congregation should be trained to be, too. That entails not only expectations but also application, which is what I want to address in this post.

Before I explain the difference between morality-based application and gospel-centered application, let me briefly mention substitutes for application in general. If we are not careful, we can allow substitutes that fall short of actual application of the Word. One of them is meeting a knowledge quotient. You can come for the purpose of intellectual satisfaction (new insights, profound interpretation, etc) and still not have the Word applied to your life. In this case, we are creating smarter sinners and not transformed saints. Another substitute is emotional experiences. You can have your heart-strings pulled and not have your heart transformed by truth. Mountain top experiences only mean you have to come back down to level ground at some time. Another substitute is sentimentalism. This is close to emotional experiences, but it is different in that the message “works” only if it fits in your sensibilities or self-imposed template.

Having mentioned substitutes, perhaps the greatest enemy of gospel-centered application of the Word is moralism. It is answering the “What?” question while completely ignoring the “Why?” question. It is going to the “How?” question with too many assumptions about the “Who?” question. Moralism leads to man-centered “rededication” as opposed to gospel-centered repentance and faith. One is driven on the performance of man; the other is driven upon the performance of Jesus. Just so that we can see the difference and highlight gospel-centered application, consider the following:

Continue Reading…

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Gospel-Centered Expectations

Tim Brister —  December 29, 2012 — 6 Comments

Danger-ExpectationThe nature of your expectations will have direct impact on your receptivity of future grace.

The preaching of the gospel is a powerful means of grace for the Christian, but is that your expectation? What is the nature of your expectations every time you hear the Word of God preached? A gospel-centered church will have a congregation full of gospel-centered expectations every time the Word of God is proclaimed. The commentary (and lifestyle) post-preaching will evidence the nature of expectations, whether they are God-honoring or not.

When it comes to the preaching of God’s Word (or gospel) . . .

» If you expect to come away with intellectual insights, you will find something to satisfy knowledge cravings.

» If you expect the preacher will say something debatable, you will find something to blog about.

» If you expect to judge the quality of the preacher’s message, you will find something he said wrong or could have said differently.

» If you expect to have a to do list for moral improvement, you will find opportunity for behavioral modification to try harder and do better.


» If you expect life transformation, you will discover the Spirit exposing sin and fostering greater desire for repentance.

» If you expect to become like Jesus, you will be granted fresh eyes of faith to behold Jesus.

» If you expect to be used in the service of the kingdom, you will find the Word empowering and enabling you to bear fruit disproportionate to your abilities.

» If you expect to meet with God, you will find God will not pass you by without glimpses of His glory and grace.

The question is . . . what are you expecting whenever you come under the authority and power of God’s living and active, faith-engendering, sin-exposing, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered Word?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. – Jesus

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Over the past several weeks, it has been encouraging to connect with many of you on the subject of sentence-diagramming. In the past three days, there have been over 500 downloads of the 18-page PDF compilation of the posts in this mini-series. Toward the end (see end of part 5), I shared two desires: (a) to explain why this is important to disciple-making and how to work it out as a weekly rhythm (see part 6), and (b) to show the importance of sentence diagramming for faithful biblical interpretation, which I hope to explain here.

Rightly dividing the word of truth begins with becoming a good “seer” but it does not end there. We need to incorporate what we see in understanding the meaning of  the text. I have argued that sentence diagramming serves like training wheels for studying the text, and when assimilating other disciples of prayer and meditation, becomes a powerful means of being immersed in the undercurrent of God’s Word. But once you have done your homework, it’s time to apply it to interpreting the text.

Granted, a lot of what you see will immediately trigger interpretive meaning, but it is advantageous not to jump the gun without assimilating all of what you see in the text. For the purpose of interpretation, I would like to simply suggest four primary sources for determining meaning in a text. There numerous secondary sources available to us, and while I believe they are helpful, I am afraid that oftentimes they supplant the primary sources.

For instance, I am not totally opposed to study Bibles, but one of the main beefs I have with them is that the student of God’s Word will be regularly tempted to become a second-hander when it comes to Scripture.  So he comes to a text he doesn’t quite understand…what does he do? Jump below the line and see what someone else says to give it meaning. What happens here is that meaning is conclusive from reading what is below the line (commentary) rather than what is above the line (Scripture). And quite frankly, sometimes people have a hard time making the distinction between what is above or below the line (inspired text vs. fallible interpretation).

My hope is that sentence diagramming will be a tool to keep God’s people from being a second-hander when it comes to Scripture. There’s nothing like getting in God’s Word for yourself. You cannot become a disciple-maker when you do not labor as a learner. Invest your time and energy is knowing God through His Word, and let me encourage you to do so with these primary sources in mind:

1. Committed in Prayer – we should begin with prayer, asking God to guide us and lead us in His Word, to open our eyes, and cause us to be committed to the Bible alone for truth,

2.  Dependence upon the Spirit – though we have minds to think and understand meaning and concepts, we are sinners whose minds have been corrupted by sin. We acknowledge our dependence on the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, gives us the mind of Christ, and illumines to us the very Word He has inspired.

3. Submission to the Word – we need to bring our thoughts and ideas under the authority of God’s Word. One of the most practical ways of doing this is letting Scripture interpret Scripture. By doing this, we are saying, “When I don’t understand what the text is saying, I am going to submit to God’s Word and let it have the first (and final) say rather than jumping to whatever opinions I may come up with.” In other words, a high view of Scripture does not only pertain to your view of the Bible, but also your use of the Bible.

4. Participation with the Saints – our study of Scripture is not to be practiced in isolation. So much of what we can learn and understand comes when the Spirit works through one another to reveal truth and understanding of the text. We also have our ideas and meaning brought before other believers who can sharpen, encourage, or challenge in the process.

Instead of secondary sources like commentaries, study Bibles, or other reference works, I encourage you to reference prayer, the Spirit, the Word, and the Body of Christ. I will be the first to admit that I don’t employ these primary sources as means of knowing God’s Word like I should!  Let us not take short cuts and miss the joy and jewel that is in cherishing God’s Word for the change it brings to our lives!

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Well, I’m finished with the mini-series on sentence diagramming, and I’m grateful for all the feedback and interest this series has generated. Several of you have asked for a compilation and a downloadable PDF of the series, and I’m happy to provide that for you. Here’s the recap:

Part 1: Overview
Part 2: Set Up
Part 3: Propositions
Part 4: Labels
Part 5: Connections
Part 6: Assimilation

These posts together result in an 18-page PDF document which can be downloaded here.

There has also been some requests by folks willing to give this a try.  If there is enough interest, then perhaps we can pick a text, work through it together, and provide a way everyone can share the fruit of their study. If that’s you, then let me know in the comments.

Lastly, for those who asked about supplemental resources, there are some books on biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and Greek syntax that have sections or chapters devoted to this kind of study, but I’m not sure the technical nature would be more profitable (I’ve tried to simplify the process as much as I could here so that anyone, regardless of their previous experience, could have a starting point accessible to them). In any case, if you would like for some resources, I will be happy to point you to some I have come across in my studies.

Hope the PDF will be a resource for disciple-making and intentional investments in others with the Word of God. The purpose of this series was to that end, and I’m grateful to hear how already that it is being used for that very purpose!

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[Part 1] Overview
[Part 2] Set Up
[Part 3] Marking Propositions
[Part 4] Labeling
[Part 5] Connections

The past five posts in this mini-series is intended to give very simple, practical steps to diagramming a text to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. A disciple needs to be skilled in all three aspects of Bible study: observation, interpretation, and application. This mini-series focuses on the first aspect of observation, with the intention of equipping disciples of becoming better “seers” of the text.

The question I want to answer in this post is how to implement this kind of studied approach to Scripture in the disciple-making process. Can any Christian do this? Does this require too much time to feasibly incorporate this in the life of a disciple of Jesus? This looks important for pastors or teachers, but is it really important for every disciple of Jesus to put into practice?

A disciple is a follower or learner. It is true that our learning incorporates all of life (behavior, attitude, practices, relationships, worldview, etc.), but it is certainly not less than learning Scripture. In fact, I don’t believe the other aspects of learning are capable of becoming normative apart from learning Scripture well. The reason for this is because Scripture, rightly understood, will apply to all of the other areas of learning how to be a Christian. In other words, Scripture is not just a manual of Christian truth, but it is also a means of life transformation.

My recommendation for incorporating this method as a regular rhythm of Bible intake is to begin with a small book of the Bible. If your Bible breaks down passages in paragraphs, use those paragraphs as the building blocks of your sentence diagramming. In order to not overwhelm your study, simply take one paragraph at a time, meaning you will likely only do 1-2 paragraphs each week. That may not sound like much, but when you incorporate biblical mediation, prayer, and even memorization, you will have a saturation of Scripture over a sustained period of time that will be with you for good.

Here is how I recommend employing sentence diagramming over the course of a week and in context of disciple-making:

Day 1: Determine the text you plan on studying, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in your study
Day 2: Set up your document for diagramming (or journal if you don’t use a computer) (see part 2)
Day 3: Determine propositions, coordinate and subordinate clauses (see part 3)
Day 4: Label/classify the clauses and propositions (see part 4)
Day 5: Make connections and mark observations (see part 5)
Day 6: Meditate on the text, assimilating observations
Day 7: Meet with discipler to share insights of what you learned with one another

Each day, you should expect to spend roughly 20-30 minutes doing the work. As with anything, the more you do it, the more natural it will come and the more quickly you will make observations/connections. Remember, the end goal is not to have a well-marked up text properly diagrammed. The goal is to transition to interpreting what you have seen and drive the meaning of the text to shape the meaning of our lives (application). Could it be that our lives are not being shaped by God’s Word to the degree they ought? Could it be our lack of life transformation is due to lack of truly understanding Scripture? Could our lack of understanding Scripture be due to a lack of properly handling and seeing what God has made known to us in His Word?

If I can be of any more practical help to any of you in this process, let me know. I am a learner, too. We’re in this together. 🙂 And what I desire, as explained in my original tweet, is that disciples of Jesus would be better equipped to handle God’s Word. Those who know God best (through His Word) are most adequately equipped to speak well of Him to others. The more you see and hear, the more you will have to speak to others. May God open our eyes and ears, and loose our tongues to speak much of Him!

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Well, kind of. Actually, Piper’s talking about bible arcing, which is really close to what I’ve been talking about this week. Arching is a bit more technical but seeks to accomplish the same goal. In this short video, Piper talks about the dramatic impact of learning how to study the Bible in this way. Think back over the past thirty years and the books, sermons, and articles written by Piper, and then think how instrumental such an approach to studying the Bible has impacted his thinking and working through the text of Scripture.

Having considered that, check out this video.

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[Part 1] Overview | [Part 2] Set Up | [Part 3] Marking Propositions | [Part 4] Labeling

As for sentence diagramming, we have come to what I would consider the final part as “seers” (observation) of the text. After the relationship of propositions have been made (Part 4), I follow up with marking connections, emphasis, and key words in a text. There are several things specifically I’m looking for here:

  • Things emphasized in the text
  • Things repeated in the text
  • Things related in the text (connections)
  • Things set in comparison or contrast in the text (like/unlike)
  • Things connected sequentially or in the flow of logic
Going back to our sample text in 1 John 1, here is how I marked up the text (note: I used an iPad app to do this digitally for blogging purposes, but I normally print out the sheet at step 4 and do step 5 with pen and highlighters).

As you can see, I tried to put some of the observations together below the line. As for the markings and the aforementioned bullet points….

  • Things emphasized – fellowship with God, Jesus as “life”, God as “light”, sin as darkness/deception
  • Things repeated – what was seen, heard, touched; light/darkness, sin/lying
  • Things related – the word of life-eternal life-that which was from the beginning; what was manifested to us-we proclaimed to you; light-truth; darkness-deception; confession-cleaning-communion
  • Things set in comparison/contrast – light v. darkness; truth v. deception; saying v. doing; cleansed from all sin v. saying have no sin; two ways to live (deception or repentance)
  • Things in sequence/logical flow – ears, ears, and hands leads to mouth (experience leads to proclamation); vertical fellowship with God is grounds of horizontal fellowship with others; fellowship with God is conditioned upon a life a repentance and faith, rather than performance-based self-righteousness; God is the standard, the means, and the goal of our fellowship with one another (triperspectivally speaking); his word in us will reveal our real self-knowledge as sinners which leads to a life of confession and repentance which leads to walking in the light which leads to blood-bought fellowship of redeemed sinners called to be saints

There’s more that I point out in my markings than what I just bulleted, and if you have some time, take a look at them. Perhaps you see some things I did not see in the text. I tried to use different colors and markings in order to separate the things I saw, along with lines to help show the connections in the thought flow.

Now that this has been done, where do we go from here? I’d like to do a few things: (1) I’d like to show how this can be worked out as a regularly rhythm of disciple-making by taking normal Bible intake disciplines and incorporating them here; (2) I’d like to show how helpful this level of engaging the text is for understanding the meaning of the text (biblical interpretation). As I said earlier, the better “seer” you are of the text, the better interpreter you will be. The goal is not to have a well-marked up text; the goal is to have a thoroughly transformed life by applying the truth of God’s Word to every facet of our existence. I don’t think that goal is possible with a superficial reading of Scripture. Sentence diagramming and thought flow examination gives us training wheels for better study of Scripture, employing other disciplines of Bible intake (meditation) and other means of grace (prayer, community, etc.) in the process.

In my next post, I will try to show how this process can become a normal pattern of bible intake and can be done with others so that those you disciple can have a stronger grasp of Scripture.

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[Part 1] Overview | [Part 2] Set Up | [Part 3] Marking Propositions

So far, we have set up the diagramming template (part 2) and marked propositions along with coordinate and subordinate clauses. In this post, I simply want to explain the relationship between the clauses with regard to the propositions. Again, we are not diagramming grammar (words); rather, we are diagramming concepts/idea (propositions), so the key is not so much how words relate to one another as how propositions relate to one another.

Let me say from the outset that beginners in sentence diagramming may find this step of labeling propositions over their head. Let me encourage you to not give up or bypass this step entirely. You may need to work yourself into learning these labels and how to classify clauses, and no one becomes experienced in doing this overnight. So as a word of caution and exhortation, let me say I recognize this may be a sticking point for some. My hope is that you would press on and benefit from the massaging these labels in your thinking because, over time, they will become natural in your thinking whether you are diagramming a text or simply reading it devotionally.

There are basically ten different types of propositions. I first learned of these propositions from Dr. Jonathan Pennington while in seminary, who also employed Richard Young’s Intermediate New Testament Greek book. Here are the ten labels/classifications for clauses/propositions.

10 Classifications for Clauses/Propositions

1. Temporal – Describes the time or occasion when the proposition will occur. A temporal clause answers the question “when?” || Key Words: when, while

2. Manner/Means – Describes the means or the manner in which the proposition is carried out. || Key Words: by, through

3. Grounds – Describes the cause, reason, or grounds for the proposition or action.|| Key Words: because, since, for

4. Inference –  Describes the logical conclusion or result that comes from a previous proposition. || Key Words: therefore, thus, consequently

5. Purpose – Describes the purpose for a proposition or action. They answer the question “why?” || Key Words: to, in order that, so that

6. Result – Describes result/outcome of the proposition. || Key Words: so that, with the result that

7. Condition & Corollary – This is a paired set of labels that should be used together. Together a pair of condition-corollary phrases describes a potential condition for the proposition or action to occur. These will very often appear in the form of an “if . . . then” clause, though not always. || Key Words: “If…then”

8. Concessive – Describes a circumstance in spite of the proposition or action. || Key Words: though, although, yet, but

9. Content – A content clause gives another proposition that describes or qualifies a preceding one. || Key Words: that, lest

10. Description/Explanation – A classification for clauses not easily definable with other categories but modifies a proposition with additional information (either by describing or explaining the proposition).

Now let’s go back to 1 John 1 again. In the first image, I showed the text simply copy, pasted, and formatted in a word document. The section image shows how I broke down the text in propositions, Now in the image below, I show the relationship between the propositions with the above classifications. Note: P=proposition | C=coordinate clause | S=subordinate clause.

In this passage, there’s a lot of similarity between propositions. In other words, there’s a rhythm of sorts in the thought flow of the text. As I mentioned in my original post, the goal is to make disciples greater “seers” of God’s Word. The better you “observe” the text, the better you should be able to interpret the meaning of the text. Ultimately, faithfulness in understanding God’s Word becomes fertile ground for life transformation and provides multiple action points for applying truth to others based on what has been revealed in Scripture.

The next step I take in sentence diagramming is marking up the document in order to illuminate observations. Once those observations are visibly marked, I conclude my observations by summarizing what I have seen from the text and move to interpretation (determining the meaning of the text). This step will come in my next post.

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[Part 1] Overview | [Part 2] Set Up

Continuing in this mini-series on sentence diagramming, I want to keep the focus on two things: (a) make it as simple and understandable as possible and (b) explain why this is important to the disciple-making process. There are more technical ways for breaking down texts of Scripture, but I will leave that for your Greek syntax and exegesis class in seminary. 🙂 The goal behind this mini-series is to help disciple makers employ a very practical method for training believers to handle Scripture, consequently bringing greater confidence and consistency in applying it to their lives.

In the previous post, I explained the basic set up for sentence diagramming. In this post, I want to explain propositions and their relationship to one another. Remember, a proposition is simply a phrase that makes an assertion or point, and a verse may have several propositions therein. Coordinate clauses are propositions of equal importance. Subordinate clauses are propositions that modify or explain the lead proposition. Knowing the difference between the two will determine how you diagram a sentence and learn the thought flow of the text. To be clear, we are not seeking to diagram the grammar of the text (relationship between words); rather, we are diagramming the concepts/ideas in the text (relationship between propositions).

Once the document is set up (see part 2), the fun begins.

  1. Start with putting the main clause/proposition in the upper left hand corner of your document/paper.
  2. Indent all subordinate clauses.
  3. Line up all coordinate clauses.
  4. Connect related main clauses.
  5. Finally, explain the relation between clauses/propositions.

One point should be made here. You are going to have to make subjective calls on whether propositions or subordinate or coordinate clauses. The important thing is that you are consistent throughout your diagramming and focus on the flow of the text (there is no inerrant or perfect sentence diagramming!). The benefit of using a word processor is that you can make changes rather easy in the diagramming process.  Once the propositions are diagrammed by coordinate and subordinate clauses, the next step is to determine the relationship between them.

Before we jump to learning the various types of coordinate and subordinate clauses, let’s revisit 1 John 1 from my last post and update the sentence diagramming. What you will see is how I determined coordinate and subordinate clauses.

So that I don’t unload everything all at once, part 4 will focus on explaining the relationship between clauses now that we have the idea/thought flow diagrammed.

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