…. 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 ….
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.
For example, here’s the style guide for the Economist (click here).
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,
What’s a desired outcome of writing, sharing, teaching?
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 as we instruct and teach everyone with all the wisdom there is. We want to present everyone as mature Christian people.
29 I work hard and struggle to do this while
his mighty power works in me.
Colossians 1:27, 28 (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 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 simplicity — Jesus’ one-liners in the Gospels.
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.
In Spirit & in Truth
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 …
1 Corinthians 5:11 (NIV, NIRV)
Respect the audience.
Compassionately guide them by the hand,
gently lift them up,
highlight salient details in the landscape for them to appreciate,
pause for them to catch their breath.
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)
(By the way, this post arose from a discussion on how to clearly share the Bible to a group of new believers with limited English, and no Judeo-Christian background, that will be unambiguous to them.)
Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Colossians 4:4 (NIV)
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 described in the parable of the sower and the seed.
We should endeavor to share the true seed — the Word of God.
And hopefully, their response will be 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. (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 dishonor anyone?
Does it sound condescending?
If possible, avoid ‘need to‘, ‘have to‘, etc
try ‘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)
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 so that 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?
Verify, confirm, check?
Is it orderly presented in a logical flow of thoughts?
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 English, … or there’s jargon, or too technical?
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 the audience relate to the illustration?
Can they link the illustration to the message?
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
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?
Is there some Bible word that needs to be explained or defined first, from the Bible?
Does this word used in the Bible have a different meaning from the worldly use of the word? Eg, wisdom, love
When preparing a message to a cross-cultural audience:
Are we using language idioms, figures of speech, puns, homonyms, 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?
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 children, … remember to be simple.
Children love stories, action, charming characters … imagination, playful.
Just a note on using illustrations,
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?
Any Bible passage is 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 many 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?
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 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?
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 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.
An example from the Bible helps demonstrate the point.
At least 60% of the Bible is in story form.
Be honest, .. authentic.
If possible, try to avoid ‘you‘,
try phrasing with ‘we‘, or ‘us‘.
If possible, write as though its spoken one-on-one with someone in love, conversationally.
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.
“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
“Be a good steward of your gifts.”
— Jane Kenyon
“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 applies in our everyday lives.
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
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