…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14
My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
Psalm 45:1 (NIV)
the pen of a skilful writer …. for the king
When drafting a Christian message,
how can it be clear, understandable, inspiring
to the audience ?
At respected newspaper companies, a reporter’s draft
is checked & edited by an editor through an iterative process,
it goes out to the public.
Also, usually, there’s a style guide that’s followed.
The gurus of user-friendly software at Apple
also have a style guide by which all iPhone apps have to adhere to (click here),
so that apps, …though powerful, are also intuitive & simple to use.
All apps are carefully reviewed by Apple, before they are published on their App Store.
Such style guides help ensure consistent quality,
readability, ease of use,
Let’s pause for a moment, … and listen to two chefs share their thoughts about teaching home cooks thru their cookbooks:
“In writing cookbooks, one must pay attention to details.
It must be written for people of different educational backgrounds
not to be understood only by the author.
Every recipe has to be actually made and tasted
Readers cannot ask when they do not understand because
each one has a different level of basic knowledge of cooking.
I would like people to cook Thai food, and there is no other way to do this than to write cookbooks,
using simple language most people can read and understand …
It is my intention for everyone to be able to use this book to make Thai food quickly
while still retaining the good taste and flavor.”
— Srisamorn Kongpun — Classic Thai Food
“My philosophy about cooking is to share what I know.
I don’t believe in keeping recipes secret. If my bosses hadn’t taught me what I know, I wouldn’t be where I am today
so I am happy to share these recipes with the world.”
— Ueli Bachofner — Island, Paradise Cuisine
… the joy of sharing with others our passion,
discipling new experiences with others
sincere, honest, accessible, … clear,
… user-friendly, … useful, … replicable anywhere
On another cooking note, writing a cookbook for home cooks with a limited kitchen/pantry and probably limited time, … is different to writing to prepare chefs for professional careers ( … get my drift? ). Similarly, in writing children’s books.
Be clear of our audience, … know our audience we’re reaching out to.
Live in their world. See things thru their eyes.
Eg. A chef can see whether something’s cooked by experience. Little details like these, needs to be explained to home cooks of the how?, why?, etc.
In Christian writing, sharing, teaching, what’s a desired outcome?
27 God wanted his people throughout the world
to know the glorious riches of this mystery
—which is Christ living in you, giving you the hope of glory.
28 We spread the message about Christ (the focus)
as we instruct and teach everyone
with all the wisdom there is.
We want to present everyone as mature Christian people. (the desired outcome)
29 I work hard and struggle to do this while
his mighty power works in me. (with God’s help)
Colossians 1:27-29 (NOG)
(people throughout the world to know – Thank God ! Anyone of us through internet tools can help make this possible. 🙂 )
“The teacher has not taught
until the student has learned.”
— Howard Hendricks
Honestly, this takes a disciplined effort,
as, what’s obvious to one,
may not be so obvious to another.
Also, it involves understanding the subject matter well ourselves,
such that its distilled/explained in simple, memorable forms, and patiently explained clearly;
and the humility to admit there’re still things we have yet to understand and master.
A great example of memorable simplicity — Jesus’ one-liners in the Gospels.
eg “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. ” John 8:7 (KJV)
Thus, some process, or a guide, checklist will help.
What follows is a humble attempt to develop, and adhere to some principles that will hopefully help in the creation of clearer messages through iterative editing for this blog;
which may be adapted for other forms of Christian writing, speaking.
There are four sections in this post:
In Spirit & in Truth
We hope at the end we’ll hear our Savior say
“well written, … good and faithful servant” 🙂
Keeping with the spirit of Christian messages,
But when a person speaks what God has revealed,
he speaks to people
to help them grow,
to encourage them, and
to comfort them.
1 Corinthians 14:3 (NOG)
… we try to persuade others …
… we try to help other people to understand …
… we try to help people accept the truth
1 Corinthians 5:11 (NIV, NIRV, NCV)
Respect the audience. Be empathetic.
Compassionately guide them by the hand,
gently lift them up,
highlight salient details in the landscape for them to appreciate and marvel.
Pause for them to catch their breath.
Its natural to share or write about
what you care about
what truly matters to you
with passion and enthusiasm to touch others:
and it shows, … and others can feel it.
The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.
kind words make people want to learn more.
pleasant words are persuasive
Proverbs 16:21 (NIV, NIRV, NLT)
If we’re going to take the time and effort to write something … or cook something
to bless others … serving others we love,
wouldn’t we want to make it the absolute best,
that we possibly can?
go the extra mile with a smile?
By the way, this post arose from a discussion on how to share the Bible to a group of new believers with limited English, with no Judeo-Christian background; such that its clear and unambiguous to them.
“Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and be saved from your sins,” or something like that,
has meaning and power and relevance
only if the congregation has some notion of what,
sin is, or being saved is, or who Jesus is, or what accepting him involves.
— Frederick Buechner
The psalmist wrote:
5 O Lord, you alone are my hope.
I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood.
6 Yes, you have been with me from birth;
from my mother’s womb you have cared for me.
No wonder I am always praising you!
15 I will tell everyone about your righteousness.
All day long I will proclaim your saving power, ….
17 O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood,
and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do.
18 … Let me proclaim your power to this new generation,
your mighty miracles to all who come after me.
Psalm 71:6, 15, 17, 18 (NLT)
you taught me,
… I tell others
Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Colossians 4:4 (NIV)
It all begins with prayer to God
to enable us to express His thoughts to others clearly,
through the Holy Spirit.
As we pause to listen,
listen to His Word,
praying that the Holy Spirit willl give us understanding,
with words, phrases, paragraphs that sing,
… & expressed with clarity and simplicity
in a memorable and life changing way.
His word, His thoughts has to speak,
minister and change me first.
Convinced & convicted by His Word, through His Spirit.
Thus, writing overflows from prayer.
As we write, … we’re praying,
My heart is stirred by a noble theme
Christian writing is about matters of the heart,
from the heart of God.
as I recite my verses for the king
Unlike speaking or preaching,
when one is writing, … there is no audience,
except an audience of, … One, … the Lord Himself.
Whether a speaker or a writer, our goal is to proclaim it clearly.
This we have 100% control, … and is our responsibility.
How the listener or reader responds,
is between them and God,
as highlighted in the parable of the sower and the seed.
We should endeavor to share the true seed — the Word of God, … as clearly as we can.
And hopefully, lead our listeners to focus on Jesus and His Word.
Write to bless someone in their walk with the Lord.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just,
whatever things are pure,
whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report,
if there is any virtue
and if there is anything praiseworthy
—meditate on these things. (Write, blog on such things !)
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
14:21 And whatever you do,
whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:17 (NIV)
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize.
When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said.
But everything that is done
must strengthen all of you.
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NLT)
Therefore encourage one another
and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB)
So then faith comes by hearing,
and hearing by the word of God.
Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
To sum up, all of you be harmonious,
sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted,
and humble in spirit;
1 Peter 3:8 (NASB)
Is it true?
Is it trustworthy?
Or, is it anecdotal ?
Is it about rules, methods, steps, special prayers/confessions, … or a dynamic personal relationship with Jesus?
Is it expressed in a Christlike way?
Does it honor God?
Does it reveal the Lord? Does it point others to the Lord?
What’s the purpose?
Does it encourage, edify, build up others, .. strengthen others?
Does it draw others to love Jesus more,
and fall in love with His Word?
Does it inspire faith & confidence in the Lord, … or fear, anxiety ?
Does it bring harmony, unity with fellow followers of Jesus?
Does it dis-honor anyone?
Does it sound condescending?
If possible, avoid ‘need to‘, ‘have to‘, etc
try using ‘love to‘ 🙂
Is it expressed in love & grace, in compassion?
Is it with a humble attitude of service?
4 Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
Is there something fresh, re-freshing that can be said about the passage?
How can the words and phrases in the Bible come alive in the everyday lives of our readers/listeners? Can they relate with what’s being said?
In sharing truth:
are there possible un-answered questions, lingering doubts, logical gaps, contradictions that we or our audience may have while reading/listening to our sharing?
Are there passages that contradict, or seemingly contradict, or add to what we’re sharing?
Are these addressed in our sharing?
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky
— Frederick M. Lehman (1917)
3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,
I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
4 so that you may know the certainty of the things
you have been taught.
Luke 1:3,4 (NIV)
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God,
making it clear and giving the meaning
the people understood what was being read.
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy,
because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
Nehemiah 8:7,8,12 (NIV)
Is it carefully investigated?
Verified, .. confirmed, .. checked?
Is it orderly presented in a logical flow of thoughts?
Why not, … follow the structure/framework & points presented by the original author of the book, in context ?
Why did the author presented it in this manner?
Why were these highlighted?
This will certainly help others navigate the landscape of the Bible better,
and to love reading the Bible themselves.
Are there any gaps of understanding from one thought to another?
Are thoughts linked together, … or scattered?
Is each new section introduced, … before diving into the details?
If musical instruments—flutes, say, or harps
—aren’t played so that each note is distinct and in tune,
how will anyone
be able to catch the melody
and enjoy the music?
If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished,
will anyone show up for the battle
1 Conrinthians 14:7,8 (MSG)
Is it clear?
In simple everyday English ?
… or there’s jargon, Christianese, theological conceptual terminology (eg. redemption, justification, sanctification, etc)
.. is it too technical/academic?
Is there terminology or ‘catch-phrases’ or spiritual langauge used?
(eg missional, radical, missions, evangelical, transformational, soak, burden, hyper-grace, slain, etc)
Are there words used, … that is seldom or hardly used in normal conversations, … that need explaining?
Is it understandable, … or is it ambiguous, vague, uncertain, complex, convoluted, confusing?
Is the meaning of a term or concept clearly defined and explained,
using Bible passages ?
Can a Bible story or parable be used to explain or illustrate this truth?
Stories and parables carve out memorable mental pictures in the listeners’ minds, that remain with them long after they heard it.
(more than 50% of the Bible is in story or narrative form)
Previous post — Why Jesus taught in parables? (click here)
Can the audience relate to the images, illustration, example, personal story?
Can they link the images, illustration, example, personal story to the message?
If a real-life person is mentioned in an illustration:
.. is the event true?
.. have they been quoted accurately?
.. is the quote truly attributed to so-and-so?
.. or is this just a figment of our imagination?
.. Accurate — truthful, factual ?
use search engines to confirm original source reference of story account
.. have they been mis-represented in any way?
.. are they presented negatively or positively?
.. if negatively, do we really have to use them as an illustration?
Any exaggeration, … or embellishment (from the original),
… or magnifying one aspect only ?
Is the context clear, or needs to be framed first?
Does the reader know where we’re going ?
Have any details been over-simplified or assumed?
Have some assumptions been made about the reader’s background or understanding?
“The teacher has not taught
until the student has learned.”
— Howard Hendricks
Is there a better word or phrase we can use, to precisely convey meaning?
Does the word or phrase express the right tone and nuance?
Can the word or phrase be mis-interpreted with other meanings or connotations (eg its use in popular culutre, slang, etc)?
Are we clear of the meaning of a particular word, idiom, phrase we’ve used?
If a list of ideas is given, … sometimes readers/listeners wonder whether the list is ordered in a certain way.
On a side note,
when preparing a message to someone without any Judeo-Christian background,
… are there some Bible customs, history, customs, symbols and typology that needs to be explained first?
eg. who is Abraham, who is Moses, … who is Jesus?
Is there some Bible word that needs to be explained or defined first, from the Bible?
eg. repent, justified, sanctified, sin, etc
Does this word used in the Bible have a different meaning from the worldly use of the word? Eg, wisdom, love, etc
When preparing a message to a cross-cultural audience:
Are we using language idioms, figures of speech, puns, homonyms (words with more than one meaning depending on the context),
local humor, play of words, local sports (eg baseball, cricket), local politics, etc?
Are these clear to the audience what it means?
Can the audience relate to the illustration, example, personal story?
Does the illustration need some background information to help the listeners to understand?
Can they link the illustration to the message you are conveying?
If working with an interpreter/translator, … can this be translated clearly to be understood by listener?
(Sometimes, a word-for-word translation may result in a nonsensical phrase to the audience, and may turn a serious statement into a joke.)
For some verses, there may be some differences between different language translations of the Bible (not every word in the original Greek/Hebrew has a translatable equivalent in the native language ). Sometimes, grammar, sentence structure & punctuations are different, which may influence its interpretation (eg. some languages do not have plural forms of the same word, like in English). Thus, its wise to check with the translator with his translation.
For English readers, we are blessed with translations in contemporary English (in recent times), and these versions are understandable by everyday people. However, in some cultures, the translation of the Bible may have been done quite a while back, using a form of classical language (eg. King James Version) with words and idioms that may not be clear to contemporary audiences, everyday folk.
For children, … remember to be simple.
Children love stories, action, charming characters … imagination, playful.
Just a note on using illustrations (not from the Bible):
Does it sound contrived?
Can the audience identify with the characters?
Was the situation over-simplified from what is reality?
Have some technical assumptions been made?
(Apologies, there’s much more to say about communicating clearly with all these groups of people.)
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17:11 (NIV)
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:
Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me
in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Luke 24:44 (NIV)
All Scripture is God-breathed
and is useful for
teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
the servant of God
may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
15 Study and do your best
to present yourself to God approved,
a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed,
accurately handling and skillfully teaching
the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 (AMP)
… For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Revelation 19″10 (NIV)
My heart is stirred by a noble theme …
Is it anchored on the Bible ?
What Bible passages support this?
Have personal assumptions or personal bias been made of the Bible passage?
Does it glorify, honor and testify of Jesus ?
… A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses
Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV)
Is it anecdotal?
Are there 2 to 3 passages of scripture that confirm this teaching?
What other Bible passages support this thought?
How does this Bible passage explain or support the point one is making?
Is there a clearer passage that one can use?
Are there any Bible passage misquoted or mis-read or mis-interpreted?
Is the interpretation of a Bible passage consistent with its original context of the original hearers?
Or is the scriptures interpreted through modern contemporary eyes, or interpreted out of context?
Is the Bible used to explain the Bible?
For example, in 1 Peter, Peter either directly quotes or paraphrases quite a number of
Old Testament verses in his epistle.
Brothers and sisters, I have applied this to Apollos and myself for your sake.
You should learn from us not to go beyond what is written in Scripture.
Then you won’t arrogantly place one of us in opposition to the other.
1 Corinthians 4:6 (NOG)
Have some extra-biblical teaching or practice been added,
that’s not consistent with the Bible?
Have we read too much into the text? Or added our contemporary thoughts to what’s not said in the text?
Have hypothetical scenarios been added into the Bible story?
For teaching messages:
Was the Bible the inspiration of the message?
Is the Bible central to the message,
and referenced in the message?
Was the Bible used to justify one’s opinion, point of view?
Are others opinions/views expressed as well, for balance?
Did the message first began with an application or conclusion in mind?
did the message began from the Bible passage in context?
Inspired from one’s regular time reading of the Bible
or was it ‘cut & paste’ from somewhere?
Was time spent to meditate on the scriptures, and seeking the Holy Spirit to guide us into His truth?
“You cannot impart what you do not possess.”
— Howard Hendricks
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations …
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
Matthew 28:19,20 (NIV)
The Word of God.
all that Jesus commanded.
Is this message based on other peoples’ opinions, literature survey,
or inspired and referenced from God’s word?
Have other views of this scripture verse or passage been contemplated (if the meaning is not so clear) ?
“A question posed by a Jewish friend in the advertising business …
She asks, “Why is it that from Christians,
we hear almost nothing
We hear about a lot of things from you guys,
but almost nothing
about this Jesus”
– Source: Bob Briner, Deadly Detours, Zondervan 1996, pg 89
Some further points to consider,
Does it sound intellectual, academic?
Use the clearest English Bible translation that is instantly understandable.
If possible, highlight passages from both Old and New Testaments.
Using an example from the Bible helps demonstrate truth in a real context.
At least 50% of the Bible is in story form.
15 But speaking the truth
let us grow
in every way
into Him who is the head
Ephesians 4:15 (HCSB)
Be honest, .. authentic.
If possible, try to avoid ‘you‘,
try phrasing with ‘we‘, or ‘us‘.
If words like “many“, “a lot“, “most”, “hundreds, thousands”, etc
are used in sweeping broad generalizations,
please support with evidence-based data; … and not just from one data point, or source.
If possible, write as though its spoken one-on-one with someone conversationally, in a loving way.
Speak with passion, enthusiasm.
Speak in the language of the common people.
Short sentences are clearer.
Use meaningful examples, illustrations.
Jesus spoke in parables, and Jesus lived the example.
Borrowing a line from Mary Poppins,
“a spoonful of wit with humor helps the message go down”
Harness the reader’s imagination, curiosity, wonder.
Are there songs, drama, multimedia clips that may enhance understanding?
Stay objective with the facts. Report fully … and fairly.
“Make things as simple as possible,
but not simpler.”
— Albert Einstein
“The most complicated skill is to be simple.”
― Dejan Stojanovic
“Every big idea that works is marked by simplicity.
You can understand it when you hear it,
and you can explain it to people”
— Peggy Noonan
In Spirit and in Truth
19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances.
21 But examine everything carefully;
hold fast to that which is good;
22 abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NASB)
… take the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17 (NLT)
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing;
the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
John 6:63 (NASB)
That which is born of the flesh is flesh,
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:6 (NASB)
or Holy Spirit inspired?
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason ,
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted
and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
— Martin Luther, 1521
God’s word is to be lived out.
(honestly, this is a really tough one)
With the Holy Spirit’s help,
have we lived out this Truth,
that we’re about to share ?
A disciple is not above his teacher,
but everyone who is perfectly trained
will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:40 (NKJV)
Then you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.
John 8:32 (NIV)
God’s word is life-changing,
… liberating us to confidently walk with Jesus into His purposes by faith.
“Only a disciple
can make a disciple. “
— A.W. Tozer
“You teach what you know,
but you reproduce what you are.
The goal is not to make you a smarter sinner
but to make you like the Savior.”
– Howard Hendricks
Inspiring quotes on writing:
“Write to express, not to impress”
— Mervin Block
“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”
— Sholem Asch
“When something can be read
has gone into its writing. “
— Enrique Jardiel Poncela
“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others
what’s burning inside you.
And we edit to let
the fire show through the smoke.”
— Arthur Polotnik
“Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut out a word, cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
— George Orwell
“To cut and tighten sentences is the secret of mastery.”
— Dejan Stojanovic
“The two most engaging powers of an author are to
make new things familiar
familiar things new.”
— Samuel Johnson
“As a writer you should not judge.
You should understand.”
— Ernest Hemingway
“The best style is the style you don’t notice.”
“Truth that is naked is the most beautiful,
and the simpler its expression
the deeper is the impression it makes.”
“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word,
to make you hear,
to make you feel
— it is, before all,
to make you see.”
— Joseph Conrad
“The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is … to help man endure by lifting his heart.”
— William Faulkner
“The artist is the person who makes life more interesting or beautiful,
more understandable or mysterious,
or probably, in the best sense,
— George Bellows
“Great art changes you”
— Sister Wendy Beckett
“…. things that make the people who read them
a little more passionate …
.. a little more alive,
a little wiser, a little more beautiful,
a little more open and understanding,
in short, a little more human.
I believe that those are the best things
that books can make happen to people,
and we could all make a list of the particular books
that have made them happen to us.”
— Frederick Buechner
“I want to be able to make you
laugh, cry, think, get angry,
but not hate.”
— Peter FitzSimons
“Be a good steward of your gifts.”
— Jane Kenyon
“Writing is defined as a conversation with no one
and yet with everyone.
The written word endures,
the spoken word disappears”
— Neil Postman
“… the simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld
“No amount of skillful invention can replace
the essential element of imagination.”
― Edward Hopper
“An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience
all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.”
— Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize Physics
“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery,
it would not seem so wonderful at all.”
― Michelangelo Buonarroti
“The more I learn,
the more I realize
how much I don’t know.”
― Albert Einstein
As writers or communicators, our goal is to be thorough, clear, concise, unambiguous,
… anointed, and heart moving, … sharing God and His purposes,… and how God’s word is so amazing, inspiring, encouraging, … and how God’s word applies in our everyday lives, … as we set our eyes on Jesus.
Paul said, in his farewell speech to the believers in Ephesus,
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
… I have not held back from telling you the purpose of God in all its dimensions.
I’ve done my best for you,
given you my all,
held back nothing
of God’s will for you.
Acts 20:27 (NIV, Voice, MSG)
by 林弟兄, bro Lim
December 15, 2016
Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
Creative Commons License