Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life


Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Kodak T-Max 400

Things I wish Christians would stop saying: “The Bible is our instruction manual”


What do I do now?

We all say this more than once in our lives, at times when we seem to have no options or when all the things we know to do aren’t working. At these times, many of us naturally seek counsel, coaching, or advice.

Those of us who are Christians also turn to God through prayer and Bible meditation. It’s wise even in good times to seek ongoing guidance from the creator of our universe.

But once in a while, I’ll hear a Christian say that the Bible is life’s instruction manual. And I wince. Because it’s really not.

ReaderI used to write instruction manuals for a living. Manuals are about teaching skills and accomplishing tasks. For example, I once wrote a manual for a device that telephone companies used to collect network telemetry. I included a schematic diagram, a line drawing of the device’s front panel with all the controls called out, and paragraphs detailing every configuration option. Technicians used this manual to install and configure the device, and to troubleshoot it when it misbehaved. My manual was factual, comprehensive, detailed, and complete. It covered every situation.

I’ve also written piles of step-by-step instructions. Here are some I whipped up just for this post, about how to save a document as a PDF in Microsoft Word:

  1. Open the File menu and choose Save As. The Save As window opens.
  2. If the window does not show the location where you want to save the PDF, in the pane at left, click the location to use. Then in the folder list at right, click the folder to use.
  3. Type a name for the document in the File Name box.
  4. Click the arrow at the end of the Save As Type box and choose PDF.
  5. Click Save.

Notice how specific these instructions are. If you follow them to the letter, you will have your PDF.

The Bible, in contrast, offers neither step-by-step instructions nor specific configuration and troubleshooting information for life. There are two primary reasons, the least of which is that life, with all its richness and complexity, can’t be boiled down in this way.

The bigger reason is that the Bible is really about revealing the nature of God through his relationship with his people, and about telling the story of his people.

The Bible can, absolutely can, help guide your life. But rather than turning to page 207 and following the five steps you find there, you must rather keep reading the Bible throughout your life, studying what you find there in the context of culture and history in the times it was written, discussing what you read with others who are farther along this path than you, and meditating and praying over what you’ve studied. If you do this, you will gain insight into what it means to be a Christian and the kind of life God wants you to live. You then apply this insight every day, adjusting and adapting as you go, all the while continuing to study, discuss, and pray.

Opening the Bible expecting specific guidance on a specific topic can lead to misapplying God’s word. Some Scriptures are bluntly unambiguous: don’t murder, don’t sleep around on your spouse.

Others only seem crystal clear. Here’s one: Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (NASB) Do you want to make more money? Do you want to find a loving partner and get married? Do you want to win the big game? Then let yourself be strengthened by God and you can have it! Or, at least that’s how it is sometimes interpreted.

But if you study this verse in its context, you learn some startling things. Paul wrote this book from prison — he was living in oppression. Now consider the verses that lead up to this famous verse:

11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (NASB)

Paul isn’t saying that God will help him achieve all of his dreams. He’s saying that no matter what difficulties come, God can help him through them. The message is that God can help us push through when life hands us loss and defeat.

Study, discussion, prayer, application. Repeat, repeat, repeat, all your life. God’s word will surely change you, as rushing water slowly shapes rock. You will come to know God, you will come to know the people who have followed him throughout history, and you will see how God loves even the most imperfect people, including you.

“Things I wish Christians would stop saying” is an occasional series. You’ll find other posts in this series here, here, and here.


My muse
Olympus Stylus
Kodak Plus-X (expired, cold-stored)

Another Konica Autoreflex T3


Some old film cameras are so inexpensive that when one breaks, you don’t fix it — you buy another one.

My Konica Autoreflex T3’s light meter was dead on arrival. I shot it anyway, using a handheld meter — and then the photos I got back blew me away. See some of them here. The 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR lens that came with my T3 was outstanding. I knew I’d want to shoot that lens again. I also knew I would prefer a working meter, so I bought a second Autoreflex T3 body, fully working this time, for just $23 shipped.

Konica Autoreflex T3

The T3 is typical of early-1970s SLRs in that it is sturdy and heavy. But its shutter-priority autoexposure made it distinctly atypical. Other manufacturers were starting to build that feature into their SLRs at that time, but it was far from common. Yet Konica had offered it in its Autoreflex line since 1966.

Konica Autoreflex T3

The T3 is mechanical except for the light meter. The camera takes two PX675 mercury batteries, which have long been banned. I substituted two SR44 silver-oxide batteries, which are the same size. The SR44s have slightly higher voltage, which theoretically could lead to misexposures. But I got great exposures. Perhaps it’s because I shot Fujicolor 200, which has wide exposure latitude.

This. Oh my, this. This is why I wanted a fully working T3. That 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR is just sublime. Just look at the color and detail. The bokeh is like an impressionist painting.

Spent tulip

I shot most of the roll around the yard as spring flowers bloomed. Here are my Lily of the Valley. A fellow from Germany who follows me on Flickr commented that in German, these are called Maiglöckchen — little May bells. Perfect!

Lily of the Valley

This lens and film love, love, love red. These are peonies working on opening. The buds are always covered with tiny ants.

Potential peonies

I was less impressed with how purple was rendered. My grape hyacinths are more vivid than this.

Grape hyacinths

So are the petunias I keep in a planter on the corner of my front stoop. In real life, these are dark purple, almost black. At least this dusky purple is interesting.

Purple petunias

But the warm colors I got when shooting this doomed ash tree in my back yard pretty much make up for the inaccurate purples.

Doomed ash

I shot most of the roll at close range. There was just so much early-spring detail to focus on! Just to show that this lens does all right at a distance, here’s some construction equipment.

Rented cat

And here’s the front of my house, from about the same time I learned that all of my ash trees were dying. I’ve since had all 21 of those trees removed.

My humble home

To see more photographs, check out my Konica Autoreflex T3 gallery.

I’m putting the Autoreflex T3 into rotation — I will use it again. Its 50mm f/1.7 lens begs to be brought up close to a subject, set nearly wide open for shallow depth of field. I’ll bet it would go to town with some Ektar or some Velvia 50.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

Recommended reading


Happy Independence Day! Here are this week’s best blog posts, chosen by me:

I like to be 100% prepared before I make a move. But sometimes an opportunity comes and goes while I’m preparing. Seth Godin uses a great game-show metaphor to help people like me get past this: sometimes you have to press the buzzer before you know the answer. Read Buzzer management

Pastor Jim Somerville went on a short vacation last week off the grid. When he came back, the massacre happened at the South Carolina church, Obamacare had been upheld, and gay marriage was legal nationwide. I like his thoughts on all of this, which were his sermon that Sunday. Read In Light of Recent Events

David Lacy considers our society’s bias toward grouping people by age, and how those age groupings become broader the older one gets. To wit: he is in a seniors group with people who were once his students when he taught elementary school. Read  Homogeneity

Once again, Matt Appling has something useful to say, this time about patriotism on this 4th of July. His post reminds me of what Pogo famously said: we have met the enemy, and he is us. Read Why Americans Love Their Country and Hate Each Other

Flags Flying Furiously

You probably wouldn’t do the things you say you’d do if only you had more time


The tiger lilies and the phlox in my front garden always bloom last. Their annual emergence is my sure sign summer is here.

solstice_tiger_lily solstice_phlox

The days on either side of solstice are my favorite time of year. The days last so long, with 15 hours of glorious daylight. It’s usually temperate in Indiana, with highs in the 70s or 80s. The trees are fully leaved, young bunnies hop all around the neighborhood, and the flowers just keep coming. It’s so easy to feel happy as spring fades into summer.

And thanks to unexpectedly working only part-time right now, I’m getting to enjoy these days like I haven’t since I was a boy. The time I have! The things I can do that I keep saying I want to!

Except that I’m not really doing them. I started a couple long-neglected yard chores but they remain unfinished. Except for a few long walks and one good bike ride, I really haven’t launched that fitness regimen I’ve long talked about. I haven’t finally cleaned and reorganized my garage. I haven’t given more time to the church or to the nonprofit I help run.

What I’m finding is that everything I normally do has expanded to fill most of the extra time — I’m taking things slower. With the rest of the time, I’m sleeping in a little and I’m stopping more often to breathe the air and look at my flowers.

There are two reasons, I think. First, I think I don’t really want to do those things. They’re just things I think I ought to be doing, and I blame lack of time for not doing them. I think we tend to naturally prioritize the things we want to do, within the time available to us. It turns out that sleeping and enjoying a little idle time were actually next on my must-do list.

But second, my life was too busy before. I frequently burn the candle at both ends. Working only part time has let me ease up. It feels like a vacation. I’d like to keep some of this when I eventually return to full-time work.

Does this resonate with you? What do you say you want to do if you had more time? What do you think you’d actually do with that time?


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