Why I Decided to Stop Reading the Bible Every Year

fasting1When I was a teenager, I began the practice of daily Bible reading. My pattern was to read a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening in order to bookend my day with the thoughts of God.  Using this method allowed me to finish the Word approximately every two years. But this changed four years ago after I downloaded a Bible app to my phone. Excited with all of the functionality and options for studying that it allowed me to do, I chose to begin a new Bible reading plan, one that would allow me to read through the entire text in a single year. This meant that I would be reading four or five chapters a day from the Bible.

Admittedly, ego drove this decision more than devotion or fervency for God. I wanted to be able to say, at least to myself, that I had read through the Bible “x” number of times in my life. Something about the number made me feel good about my walk with God. In hindsight, though, this gory self-righteousness led me down a path that was neither spiritual nor helpful for my Christian life. Thus, I have decided it is time to stop reading the Bible every year. Below are my top 10 reasons why:

 

  1. The Bible is to be absorbed, not raced through like a NASCAR race
  2. The Bible is made for man and is best understood in small doses in order to understand its application to life, but reading through it in a year only provides a large 30,000 foot overview.
  3. The Bible is designed to reveal God but, as with all things, speed blurs perception.
  4. If I only have 20-30 minutes each morning to read my Bible, I will get more out of it by examining how this passage connects to others or meditating on a manageable bite size piece, rather than reading 4 chapters and having no time for meditation or study.
  5. The Bible is not only to be meditated upon but also applied. I cannot apply a lesson I have not taken the time to learn. Most likely the only lessons that I am “hearing” when I read through the Bible in a year are the ones I remember the Lord teaching me from the past, not new ones that challenge me.
  6. Reading it through in a year can be more about successfully accomplishing a goal than becoming closer to or more like the LORD.  If my life is to be lived in such a way so that others may see the perfections of God publicly displayed through me, then I must take the time to understand how to exalt the LORD with all of who I am. To learn how, as John the Baptist said, I must become less so that He becomes more.
  7. As Chaucer once said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This year I began to realize that I was reading the Bible much like a movie I have seen a hundred times, anticipating the memorable or favorite scenes, but not enjoying it. Such an exercise feels like a duty, not a relationship with the text or the Creator who wrote it.
  8. It taps into my sinful nature much more easily than I anticipated: perfectionism masquerading as holiness, self-righteousness obscuring shame, self-blame and feelings of failure when I miss days that I should have read, as well as pride in doing the safe and private task of reading instead of the dangerous task of actively serving others with the power that God provides.
  9. The Bible is to be a starting point, not an ending point, for Christian living. It points us towards God and holy living. Making our calling and election sure is more than an intellectual agreement with a specific set of teachings. It is also a daily behavior that confirms that we are Christ’s and that He is ours. That the two have become one. The choice to love God is not one we make only at a singular point in time. Rather, it is one that we continue to make throughout our lives, sometimes even several times a day, so that we may know the joy of continually turning towards each other, even when our beloved makes no sense or hurts us. In other words, it is embracing the vulnerability of love in order to gain the intimacy of relationship.
  10. Aside from the incarnation, the Bible is God’s most vulnerable expression of who He is. It is the place where He bares His heart, communicates His desires, shares the joys and sorrows of His past, explains His frustrations, and voices His profound yearning for a deeper relationship. But if I am trying to get through four or five chapters before I start my day, I will often hear His mouth, but miss the message of His heart.

 

What am I going to do instead? I think I will go backward in order to move forwards. Get out my pen, annotate the text, and really try to see how all the parts connect to each other. A chapter or two each day. As they say in the South, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Loving is Exalting

in_loving_memoryIn 1989, I began my sophomore year at Baylor University. My best friend, Kevin, had been hired to be a resident assistant (RA) in the dorms that year and had left our shared state of South Carolina a few weeks prior to attend RA camp and receive his training for the job. I soon followed, arriving at school a week before classes began, so that I could settle into my dorm room early and hang out with my friend.

During Kevin’s off hours, we attended movies, ate together, stayed up late talking, and began the gradual transition to playing racquetball (due to Kevin’s disdain at barely losing in tennis to me most days). The campus was relatively quiet that week, and when Sunday rolled around we stood at the back of the church’s sanctuary, hopelessly looking for a familiar face to sit with. Eventually, Kevin spotted two girls across the sanctuary that he had met at RA camp and suggested we sit with them. I agreed and we walked over. Kevin entered the row first, placing me at one end of the four of us. I later found out that this was a strategic move so that he could sit by the girl he wanted to. But it created a slight awkwardness, so that when I was introduced to the cute brunette at the opposite end, I had to lean forward to casually wave at the woman who would become my wife. Continue reading

A Competition of Names

I am standing in a big bookstore, usually some large chain, like a Barnes and Noble, hovering around the periphery of the bestseller shelves. Customers come and go, but then one person catches my eye. She reaches over and pulls a title off the shelf, examines the cover art, and then opens the book.  Unlike the people who have come before her, she takes her time, beginning with the copyright page, the table of contents, the dedication, and then the first few pages of what she is holding. For a moment, she stands there, slowly turning the pages, until finally, with her eyes remaining in the book, her feet direct her to a nearby La-Z-Boy, and she sits down. The aura of sacredness surrounds her as she allows the words to draw her into a new reality. I feel guilty as I casually approach. Continue reading

Perfection

Ok. It’s been waaaay too long since I posted something. I am not trying to be neglectful of my blog. In fact, I have been working on a post for the last four weeks that I thought would be easy to write. Maybe you know the feeling. You see a truth you had never seen before and ideas for a post fly around the brain like unfettered popcorn.

But when you see sit down to write, the article will not develop. You attack it from as many angles as you can: humorous, honest, theological, apologetic, casual…. None of them work. You want the world to know what you have discovered. You want it to change their lives as much as it is changing yours. So, in your zeal, you break the cardinal rule of writing and share your truth verbally with people. Surprisingly, this works. You find that you can articulate the truth out loud, but when you sit down to write again…nothing comes. For a while, you consider making the post a vlog. Not an original idea, but perhaps it will allow you to at least share what you wanted to say.

Then you realize you have no idea how to post that to WordPress. So, you go back to writing.

Still, the article frustrates you like continually buffering wifi signal. You almost give up but decide that it’s a matter of principle now. You are going to figure this post out if it kills you.

You feel guilty that you haven’t posted anything in a month, and begin to wonder if you can use any of your past writings to cover the gap while you continue to work. Then you run across an old devotional that you had written for your church half a decade ago. It’s short but poignant. It speaks to only one of the issues holding you back with the original article, but it is worth sharing, nonetheless.

So, consider this my apology for being so quiet lately. I hope you like the devotional below as much as I enjoyed writing it years ago.

I’ll be back later with the other article. I cannot give up. I will not lose.

Enjoy:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

 

When God becomes the ruler by which we measure our perfection, our entire perspective changes.  We suddenly realize that all of our rationalizations for good behavior have failed us, and our efforts to succeed without God are useless.  Our sinful self condemned us to God’s judgment, and it cannot, on its own, rescue us from judgment.  There must be a death to self that occurs.  We need the life of Christ to inhabit us so that we may become like Him.  Unless we submit ourselves to God by sacrificing our lives for God we will never succeed in our striving to be like God.

Lessons from Proverbs 10

Throughout scripture we are told to pursue wisdom and to ask for it. But Proverbs 10 goes a little deeper and gives us a comparison/contrast between the person who is wise and the one who is foolish.

Wisdom/Righteousness

Foolishness/Wickedness

Brings joy to the Father Brings grief to Mother
Delivers from death Ill-gotten treasures are of no value
God does not let go hungry God thwarts their cravings
Diligent yields wealth Laziness yields poverty
Gathers crops at proper time Sleeps during the harvest (disgraceful)
Blessings crown their head Violence overwhelms their mouth
Their memory is a blessing The name will rot
Accepts commands Comes to ruin
Walks securely due to integrity Takes crooked paths and is found out, causes grief
Mouth is a fountain of life Violence overwhelms their mouth
Love covers over all wrongs Hatred stirs up dissensions
Discerning Lacks judgment
Stores up knowledge Mouth invites ruin
Wages bring them life Income brings them punishment
Heeds discipline and shows the way to life Ignores correction and leads others astray
Holds his tongue Conceals his hatred, lying lips, spreads slander, uses lots of words
Tongue is choice silver Heart is of little value
Lips nourish many  Die for lack of judgment
Delights in wisdom Finds pleasure in evil conduct
Given what he desires Overtaken by what he dreads
Stands firm forever Swept away by the storm
Fears the Lord, long life Years cut short
Their prospect is joy Their hope comes to nothing
The way of the Lord is a refuge The way of the Lord is a ruin
Will never be uprooted Will not remain in the land
Mouth brings forth wisdom Perverse tongue will be cut out
Lips know what is fitting Mouth knows only what is perverse

Now, instead of asking yourself which column best describes you, ask God to reveal to you the true state of your heart and how you may develop and display His wisdom in your life.

Say Again?

 

 

wp-1451862879467.jpeg

I don’t know if you’re like me or not, but sometimes when I read the Bible I skim across the words. At other times, I have to back up my eyes and make sure I read that right while a brief inner dialogue ensues.

“Moses approached the thick darkness where God was”?

Ummmm. Say again? God was…where?

In the darkness.

Ok. Wait…just, stop. That can’t be right.

Why not?

Well, um…BECAUSE!

Oh, that’s brilliant.

No. I mean, God is a god of light. He came to shine light in the darkness. He is the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He even encourages us to shine our light in the darkness to be more like Him.

So?

Sooooo, what’s He doing in the darkness?

The thick darkness.

The what?

The thick darkness. The verse says God was in the thick darkness.

No, it doesn’t.

Yes. It does. Go back and read it again.

…Well, I’ll be….

WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE!

Ahem. Sorry. Well, what the…I mean, how in the … Ummm, what’s God doing in the thick darkness? That just makes no sense.

Sure it does. You remember Psalm 139, don’t you?

The one about being fearfully and wonderfully made?

Yes, but not that part. Above that. Go read that real quick.

Ok. Hold on …. “Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.”

You get it now?

Um, I think so. But let’s just say I need to talk this one out loud.

(Geez, you’re dense)

HEY! I can still hear you, you know!

Oh. Sorry. Look, it’s all there, especially in verse 11 and 12. Read those again.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.” …Yeah. So?

Sooo, God is a God of the light AND the darkness. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see that darkness is not dark to God….

OH! I see it! And the darkness is as light when I am with God! HE is the God of my good AND my bad. He is the light no matter where He is, even when the darkness covers me and my life is full of nothing but night!

So, where is God?

In the thick darkness. He is there if I lose my job, or my family, or go bankrupt, or am despised by everyone. No matter how dark it gets, God is there.

That’s right. And you know what’s really cool about this verse?

What’s that?

God was waiting for Moses in the thick darkness. Before Moses ever entered, God was already there.

Um. Wait. What?…Can you say that again?

From Supernovas to Snails: The Lack of Superfluousness in God

Why did God create?  What is the purpose of breathing out the stars (Psalm 33:6) or shaping the form of man with His hands (Gen. 2:7)?  When one considers the variety of species, people groups, cultures, languages, astronomical phenomena, and the breadth of the universe, it would seem as if God went a little overboard in creation.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Nehemiah

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah” (Nehemiah 1:1)

Have you ever noticed that in the Bible there are no last names?  Instead they refer to themselves by the father that they belong to.  This identification set them apart from other people and signified many things about who they were, including social strata and character (“Oh! You’re his kid).  The significance of this truth was never made more clear to me than when my youngest son was playing pee-wee football. For years he had wanted to play this sport, so when he got old enough, we signed him up. At first it was flag football. Then, a year later, it was tackle. That meant he dressed out in full pads for games and practices and belied the image of an athlete, though it was easily apparent he was not one.

This fact did not bother me, though, because I saw what a good teammate my son could be. He was always the kid encouraging his peers, telling them they’ll do better next time, providing optimism in the midst of disappointment. He liked to make people laugh, if he could, and he enjoyed having fun. However, when it was game time, “fun” sometimes included playing on the sidelines with a friend, instead of standing next to the coach, as he had been repeatedly instructed to do, so that he could be sent into the game at a moments notice.

As a result of “goofing off” during game time, his coaches often became upset they could not find him when they needed a sub. This often resulted in the refrain, “HOWELL!” (no response from my kid) “HOWELL!” (still no response as he is deep in make believe). Then something inaudible from the coach to an assistant as they sent in a different player and the assistant went and gently guided my son to the coach.

After seeing this occur for more than one game, I said to him after a game one day, “Let me ask you a question, son. What does it say on the back of your jersey?”

“Howell,” he said.

“That’s right,” I acknowledged. “That means that each time you step out there on that field you are representing me and your mother. People recognize you as our kid. And your behavior says what kind of parents we are. When people hear you being yelled for by the coach and you don’t respond, people hear your name, but they look over at us. Now, I know you’re a good kid. All I want you to do is show people how good a kid you are by doing what the coach says.”

I am not sure if he got this lesson, or even if he remembers this talk. But later, as I reflected on this discipline of my son, I remembered that as a Christian I, too, am a child of God. You are a child of God. But we must all be careful.  Questions about our character, goals, choices, or values are not about us.  They are about how well our Father has fathered us.  If our life is indistinguishable from the non-Christians’, then we reflect a Father who has taught us to compromise with the neighboring pagans.  But if our actions reflect the teaching and wisdom of Christ, if others can listen to your words and recognize the voice of God, then you will not only be set apart as a member of a distinguishable family, but you will also demonstrate the perfection and holiness of  God – our Father.

It is not enough to be a good teammate of the other Christians around you. It is not enough to have fun and enjoy looking like a strong and able Christian. It is not enough to enjoy the joy of fellowship or worshiping God. Who knows? Maybe, if we are paying attention, standing beside the coach to be used at a moment’s notice, we will hear the coach calling for us and get into the game.

Beyond Suffering or Sin: Pt. 2

I wanted to follow up on my last post with a few additional thoughts. I’m going to put these in bullet points as much as possible, since I am recovering from a minor knee surgery. I hope these condensed thoughts make sense.

  • People who operate from a perspective of reducing suffering can often be easily identified. Their main argument to justify their behaviors is “It’s not hurting anyone, so what’s wrong with it?” We see this argument in many arenas today, from justifying telling white lies to more controversial topics, like abortion, homosexuality, and legalizing marijuana.
  • Those who use the “It’s not hurting anyone” argument seem to operate from a morality that excuses their behavior as long as they do not negatively impact someone else; however, this conveniently denies the negative impact they are having on themselves.
  • Morality, by definition, is acting in accord with a set of principles that distinguish between right and wrong. To state that the highest moral is to “not hurt anyone” creates a false and flimsy morality. It is false because it relies not on an objective standard of what right and wrong is but on the subjective interpretation of your fellow human being regarding whether or not they were hurt, in some way, by your words or actions. It is flimsy because in order for the morality to stand, the statement “I’m not hurting anyone” must be categorically true. In other words, the moral choice can only be supported if everyone is free from harm. But if even one person is harmed, then this system of thought falls in upon itself.
  • This implosion is the expected conclusion of a morality that begins and ends with a creature that has both good and bad within it. Self-destruction is the natural result of a system at war with itself.
  • This self-destructive nature of man is precisely what the people who are trying to move beyond sin acknowledge. That we are a doomed system and any hope for survival must come from eradicating the darkness within us, rather than redefining the darkness so that majority opinion suggests we are not hurting anyone. Such redefinitions only reinforce the delusion that sin does not exist and allows the self-destructive nature to continue.
  • To eradicate the darkness within us, we must receive help outside of ourselves from a source who: 1) is perfect (it does no good to receive help from another self-destructing being) and 2) can provide more than a modified behavior plan. Rather, this perfect being must literally be able to change our nature to be like their perfect nature and provide a system of living that allows us to make clear, objective choices between right and wrong, so that we do not relapse into darkness while it remains around us in our lives. In other words, a morality that is not about removing suffering but about removing sin. A clear delineation between right and wrong that is both true and strong.
  • This is what Jesus offers any person. Not the freedom from suffering, but the freedom within it. Because He has substituted Himself to take the penalty for your wrongs, so that you do not have to endure it, you receive a new, sinless nature. To protect you against the darkness around you He provides a new way of living to maintain and strengthen this nature, and allows you to be a beacon to others, so that they can go beyond sin as well. Both of these gifts, the new nature and the new morality, allow you to live within suffering freely, no longer a slave to it or to the trap of trying to escape it.
  • Which do you desire? To go beyond suffering or beyond sin?