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Reding the Bible in a week
On occasion the Holy Spirit, whose operations are mysterious no doubt, taps you on the shoulder. The tap is often a kind way of saying you need to do something different or correctly. This occurred when on a spiritual retreat. I wanted to try something different by reading through the whole Bible in one week. Right up from I got a tap on the shoulder that I was reading it wrong. Here are some things that stood out when going through the whole book.
You’re likely not the hero
We like to identify with the protagonist in the story, and not the mob. Chances are very good that we’d be like the mob. Reading through the Bible will break you and it will challenge whatever perspective of the Bible you hold. Rather than asking how people in the Bible could make the mistakes they make, ask yourself how you could make those same mistakes. Why? Because we do. The Bible was written to people like you in me. Different time and culture, but many of the same challenges.
Scope and Sequence
In reading through the Bible in a week, aim to see the big picture of what is going on. Speed read it. The win isn’t details, it’s the big picture. If something catches your attention, flag it to study later. In hitting the New Testament I suggest this order: Matthew, Hebrews, Galatians, Revelation, and then the rest in order. Coming fresh off the Old Testament, those books in the New Testament will make a TON more sense. But first, pray and tell God that you’re going to listen and keep you mouth shut. Bible reading is ultimately about listening to God. For me, the process took about 6-8 hours of 216ish pages a day.
Reading from beginning to end is interesting. Genesis carries a lot more weight than we realize, as do the first five books. God’s standard is perfection in every sense of that term. This is massive when suddenly in the New Testament Jesus touches people who were forbidden in the temple. The prophets will depress you. Even heroic moments ultimately become let downs. But before that lets you down, there are the writings. Those books show how things can be done. Psalms is a pain to read. Great content, but repetition of various phrases make it challenging reading. The Gospels are a breath of fresh air! The New Testament carries common themes from the Old, but Jesus gives TONS of up. Things move ahead.
Reading through the Gospel makes you VERY thankful for the Gospel. Without the Gospel we are very stuck. What is also amazing is how gracious and merciful God is throughout the entire Bible. The mean curmudgeon feeling we associate with God in the Old Testament isn’t there. God is truly the loving father who doesn’t give up on his family, even when his family abuses or takes advantage of him.
The key message from God nearly always been an old story of hundreds if not thousands of years old. We ask the question of why we should listen to a book that is 2,000 years old. But that comment could easily be made in Noah’s day, Abraham’s, Moses’, Davids, and Jesus’ day. But given this span of time, God’s Word became more and more fulfilled…literally.
You are loved
A repeated phrase throughout the Bible is God’s love endures forever. It is a major theme in the Bible. If God chose to orient himself with humanity through the lens of justice, we would not exist. Instead God chose the lens of grace and mercy. A BIG reason for the chaos we live in now is God wants you to be a part of his family. God willingly endures what he hates to get what he most loves, and that is you. God doesn’t give up on those he loves.
The bottom line:
Take the time to read through the whole Bible as fast as you can. It may seem intimidating, but it is very refreshing. While it will break you, scare you, it will also leave you feeling incredibly loved. Ultimately the Bible is about God revealing himself and being available to us all. Even when we try to run from him.
Why go to church?
This questions was raised recently and I thought I had blogged on it. I did, but never posted it. In today’s religious climate, much of what people can gain from going to church can be seemingly obtained from other avenues. What makes going to church unique is something that is critical for the church to rediscover.
Yeah but crowd
At this juncture someone is no doubt thinking we are the church, we don’t go to church. It is really both. I said often I need to leave a particular meeting and go to family time. That time, designated family, doesn’t mean that I’m not family when I’m apart from them. Quite the contrary, we set aside- make holy- special times for family. The same is true of church. Yes, we go to church.
Categories of Christians
Many of the non-church going Christians, or sporadic church goers fit into a few categories: naive, so-called spiritual, spiritual abuse survivors, and unspiritual. The naive suffer from a simple lack of theological development. So-called spiritual crowd border on either being heretics or idol worship of which sports is a major one. Spiritual abuse survivors stem from either over reacting to legalism of ‘if the doors are open you have to be there’ or they were traumatized to the level that a physical reaction to going to church is hard to overcome. Unspiritual are people who claim to be Christian, understand the importance of church, but choose to put other priorities over the church.
What Jesus couldn’t explain
In John 3, Jesus describes the workings of the Holy Spirit as a mystery. We know that he works, and we see fruit of his working, but not even Jesus could explain it. The Father and the Son send the Helper for our benefit. There is a critical function going to church fulfills in our relationship to God. Specifically the working of the Spirit. The Spirit’s mysterious work incorporates the Scriptures, our spirit, and the Spirit’s work in other believers, as we gather. Much of North American Christianity has a too individualistic view of the Spirit when it is clearly a corporate issue. We- the church- are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Danger, danger, danger
Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the church family, there is a dangerous element if treated too casually. Warnings against putting out the Spirit’s fire, grieving the Holy Spirit, or lying to the Holy Spirit in worship is connected to church gatherings. Being dismissive of the Spirit in worship can, has, and does cause death or maladies. As Jesus died once for all sin, that does not mean we can do what we want. We can grieve God to the point where he sends us home.
The tension with church is this: Not going to church is a sin, but having to go to church every time the door is open is a sin of legalism. Discernment is the key. That said the sin isn’t so much in performance of church going as it is in priority. The purpose of going to church is building up other believers. It is to serve your church family. That simply cannot happen well with sporadic or non-attendance. Failure in this grieves God, much as failing to make family a priority grieves parents.
Think garden not weeds
Weeds grow organically, great, and everywhere. Gardens are organized, take time, and require nurturing. The church is a garden and not a bed of weeds. This no doubt ticks off the organic church or spiritual crowd. Organization, logic, programing is not the antithesis of spirituality, it is actually the expression of it! Order and filling are key aspects to a biblical worldview. Such is about nurturing like that of artistic expression, not the coldness of manufactured products.
You cannot be a Christian, spiritual, or have a great relationship with God, and write off the church. This grieves the Holy Spirit. Jesus died for the church. God the Father gave the church to his Son. Part of “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” is in relationship to the church. John says that if we say we love God, but hate our brother, we are a liar and the truth is not in us. Much church bashing or neglect demonstrates a lack of love for God. Answer this, how would you feel is someone consistently dissed you, neglected you, and at the same time said they loved you?
So why go to church?
Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that is expressed in a family we call church. For the Christian to neglect church is a sin. There are a variety of reasons to have that sin struggle, but it is not legalistic to say one needs to be engaged in church. Church, like all families, is not about what you get but about what you give to the relationship.
The great divorce: Belief from action
Ask a dumb question and you’re bound to get a bad answer. In the vast online discussion on living for Christ one such questions is rampant. What is more important: theology or how we live? Let me be frank, it’s a dumb question. Why? We act (live) based on what we believe (theology).
God to Joshua
God tells Joshua that he MUST be absorbed with the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible). Why? That Joshua may be careful to do all that is written in it. The result is success. God did not distinguish between action and belief, He called for both. Right actions flow from right thinking. God designed us as theological & philosophical beings. Theology and philosophy are intensely pragmatic because it’s the source of our actions.
Paul to Timothy
A key theme Paul wrote to Timothy was to guard both ministry (living) and doctrine (theology). This theme echoes the idea that God instructed Joshua. Either bad theology or bad living will undercut our mission of making disciples. This is a tension in life that is best left in place. Resolving this tension, which is too often done, creates a bigger mess. Poor Christian living is often a result of bad theology.
The other words of Christ in red…
Jesus makes this point as well. In the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor Jesus upholds the value of upholding correct theology and living. Jesus calls out the error in either direction and praises success in either direction. While incorrect, people often value the words of Christ in red as more important than the other Holy Spirit (who is also God) parts of the Bible. Hilariously, people often forget the red words in Revelation. Jesus will judge our actions and doctrine.
This divorce hurts our kids
When we focus on belief vs action we lose the ESSENTIAL third rail of proclamation. God wants to be known and made known. The belief vs action debate is inherently self-focused. God upholds correct theology and correct living because He wants us to make Him known. It’s time to hang up the “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words.” God wants us to use words. Bad theology and bad living will undercut our sharing that message. Our focus should be on our spiritual children and grand children.
God the Father has a plan. Part of that plan is making Himself known to us. Life is not about us. God leads for His own name’s sake! God gave us the Bible (special revelation) so He could be KNOWN (theology). God the Son acted as a servant to point people to the Father. (He also did a lot of theology.) In communion this aspect of servanthood is demonstrated as we take the bread that symbolizes Jesus’ body which is for us. Becoming like Jesus is fundamentally servanthood (action). God the Spirit empowers God’s plan and living like Christ. The Spirit is our third rail. Acts 1:8 points this out. The Spirit leads us to not just live well, but to make God known (proclamation).
The bottom line:
We act based on what we believe. This drives us to share with others who God is by the power of the Spirit. Being like Jesus involves correct theology AND correct living for upholding our message of a risen savior. Don’t get stuck with the dumb question of belief vs living. Ask this question: Is my theology and life such that I can boldly proclaim the excellencies of Him who came as a servant, died innocently for our sin, rose victoriously on the third day and will soon return as King to make all things new?
Boring testimonies are best
I’m not sure who said “We celebrate boring testimonies.” I do thing we should. Really, boring testimonies are best. Why? Well, three things:
Boring testimonies focus us on God
The best testimonies are when people just share what God is teaching them. Nothing major, just little insights in the day. Or, how someone grew normal according to God’s plan. (Such testimonies are rarer and could almost be considered exceptional.) Too often a person gets in the way of God in exceptional stories. God is the hero.
Boring testimonies celebrate the normal
I think we forget how much God wants us to have a NORMAL life. Ok, us preachers tend to over play the radical and the exceptional, but let’s look at reality: God’s design was for us to live a normal life. Sin messed that up! We lost the art of enjoying the simple life. We worship excess pleasure or excess sacrifice. One of the key reasons we’re to pray for leaders and all people is so we can live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Boring testimonies celebrate faithfulness
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:23
Brick buildings are cool
People often look at old brick buildings with fondness. The key to such buildings is how they were built a brick at a time with an eye toward the cornerstone. A brick alone isn’t something to write home about. (Well, unless you’re making bricks without straw and cry out to heaven. It’s been known to happen.) But, placed together brings become a magnificent work of art.
The bottom line:
We need to celebrate the normal, the faithfulness. Greatness is built on the foundation of steady, consistent and dare I say boring faithfulness. Let’s enjoy the simple life in peace and godliness. Hand me another brick and tell me your story.
Prayer Mentoring: Facebook
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. ~Phil. 1:8-11
The super cool thing about facebook and twitter and Google+ (for the 2 people out there that use it) is prayer. Not in terms of seeing prayer requests but in terms of remembering.
Tip #1 pray through your friends
Use you “friends” list as a prayer list. Pray for you you can and pick up where you left off. Imagine what Paul’s prayer life would be like had facebook been around then? If you haven’t connect with someone in awhile or you know that they’re going through a hard time send them a private message that you’re praying for them.
Tip #2 don’t gossip
Facebook is another avenue for gossip and being a busy body. Don’t gossip. Instead, treating facebook as a reminder to pray for people you know in some way keeps a vertical perspective on our horizontal relationships.
Tip #3 pray right away
If a person puts a prayer request done pray right away and then say prayed. Often we say we’ll pray and then forget to. Pray right away. As others post it’ll remind you to pray again if God leads you too. Don’t wait. Just pray.
Tip#4 facebook isn’t real, face to face is
Nothing can replace REAL human contact. Sometimes rather than post a message, pick up the phone, talk and set a time to meet face to face. Facebook isn’t a replacement for community and praying in person. A helpful tool, yes, but not a replacement.
A weird thing about facebook is it gives a small glimpse into the life of God. Imagine being bombarded with everything! Remember God is judge and you’re not. Said another way: God is God and you’re not. That said, if all the joys, annoyances, etc blow you mind sometimes, it’s nothing compared to what God goes through. And, he still hears and cares for us.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD! ~Psalm 104:31-35
We forget God in the business of life. A key aspect to prayer is to take time to stop and remember who God is. Psalm 104 describes elegantly the glory of God.
Attending The Gospel Coalition meeting we were reminded to take time to reflect in who God is. Take time to be alone with God, you really do have the time for it. And, being in Christ, you need it.
Creation and God
There is a direct link between God and creation. Psalm 104 describes the active involvement God in creation at present, not one who started things and left. In the final discussion between God and Job, God pointed to creation to answer Job’s questions. Creation reminds us of God’s presence and leads us to humility.
Spiritual discipline of silence/solitude
The best description of the silence I heard was this:
God on the schedule and nothing else.
Read Psalm 104
Open your Bible and read through Psalm 104. Reflect on the character and glory of God as you read through it. Here is what’s awesome- the Psalmist calls him ‘my God.’ The God who created and sustains creation is the same God who has a plan for your life.
Plan times when it’s just God. Do not let the business of life crowd out God. Even if you’re busy doing ministry, church things, being with family, and helping your community, you can forget God. Business is the vaccine against relational intimacy. Take the time to remember God. After all, in Christ you’re family.
Prayer Mentoring: Endurance
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. ~Psalm 69
Waiting on God is the hardest task of the Christian. In the wait you struggle with profound emotions, the pain of the situation, and sometimes unbearable anxiety. Often times we lose sight on how to even prayer. Often this isn’t a lack of being spiritual but being mentally tired. Here is how to pray for endurance!
Search the Psalms!
Search and find a Psalm that speaks to your soul. The subtitle I give to the book of Psalms is ‘Be Real.’ The Psalms are loaded with emotion, and being real with God. We think we fail spiritually when we don’t tell God the way it is. Psalms helps us get over that and gives us the freedom to truly voice what’s on our heart. Dig in and find a Psalm.
Pray it back!
Pray the Psalm you found back to God. Make it your prayer, your Psalm, your plea. When you’re exhausted from having to endure, rest on God’s Word to guide your prayer life. This isn’t vain repetition. It’s allowing the Spirit to work through you. The Bible is our greatest resource in enduring life’s challenges.
Even in being real, the Psalms often end with praise and acknowledging who God is- even when they didn’t feel that way. Part of being real is remembering that God is God and we’re not. There are challenges we wish no one to go through, and yet through such valleys there is an aspect of God’s Glory that shines through. You don’t ever wish to go through the trial again, but you can’t help but marvel at the glimpses of God’s goodness that you see. A key to praying for endurance is worship.
You’re not alone…
Too often we think that our trials are unique to us. In some ways they are. Remember, though, that facing trials is nothing new. Trials are only new to you. The Bible is full of stories of people who’ve been there. Jesus, our great high priest, has been there too. You’re not alone.
Pray for endurance
Step 1) Find a Psalm.
Step 2) Pray it back to God.
Step 3) Make the Psalm yours.
Step 4) Worship God!
Step 5) Remember you’re not alone.
Prayer Mentoring: The majesty of casual prayer
The majesty of a solid prayer life is hidden in being casual. For some you’re thinking cool, others sacrilege. We think being casual isn’t godly because we view prayer as religious exercise not communication within a relationship. Prayer at it’s central core is communication with an all powerful God who is not just separate from creation, but also intricately involved in creation.
Casual as godly
Deep down in the recesses of our soul we struggle with the idea that a relationship with God is completely free. We think that there is still something we must do to merit our salvation. This is why preaching he Gospel to ourselves is important. Jesus died once for all sin. This concept that we struggle with in our soul shows up in how we prayer. We think that if we pray using the language and idioms of our day that we’re sacrilegious, undeserving of a relationship with God. Casual is godly because religiosity doesn’t save.
Godly as casual
Deep down in the recesses of our soul we struggle with the idea that God loves us as we are. So, in our prayer we mention God’s name… a lot. Some pray in what is thought of as King James English. A person’s godliness is often marked by the casualness of their prayer. Why? John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. The Bible tells us to boldly approach the throne of Grace. Godliness as casual means we understand who we are in Christ and the security we have in Christ.
By now some may be having a pious heart attack. Let me get a spiritual AED for you. Humility, faith and servanthood are the keys to a dynamic prayer life, not the radiance (or what some think is radiant) of our prayers! Religious leaders of Jesus’ day pontificate in their prayers. Humble people approached God simply. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day worried about “purity.” Servant minded people sought to help their friends see Jesus. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day put him on a cross. A faith filled criminal understood who Jesus was.
Casual is not flippant
People who pray casually take serious grace and their relationship with God. It’s not a matter of being flippant, arrogant, or any other ‘ant’ word one can think of. What is central to such prayers is a relationship with a real God who loves us. Now, in fairness, some people are just brilliantly eloquent and classy in how they talk, and it shows up in their prayers. That’s awesome. Why? Because they’re approaching God in the way that he artistically designed them. If you’re a farmer then pray like a farmer. A poet, then pray like a poet.
Prayer Mentoring: Speak Normal
Jesus said you are on Earth and your Father is in heaven, so let your words be few. Too often we measure a successful prayer life on length of time and not quality of what is said. Don’t be super spiritual when you pray. Be simple, real and authentic. Sometimes this will cause short prayers, other times your prayers will last a long time. Here are some tips on speaking normal.
Drop the King James talk
First, most people don’t understand the grammatical rules of the King James english to being with. While similar to our English, it’s not the same. If you don’t talk to your friend or spouse that way, there is no passage in Scripture that says we need a special language for prayer. God communicated his words in plain understandable language of the day.
Lordly Lordly prayers
It’s ok to use pronouns. Here is what I mean, talk to your friend or spouse and use their full name and titles before and after each sentence. If that seems really strange do you, you’re not alone. I often see people get uncomfortable or even think they don’t know how to pray because they don’t say all of God’s names in just about every sentence. Address God, and then use pronouns. Again, talk as you would to any friend.
Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is not repeating a mantra. There are times we may repeat a phrase like the Psalmist did. ‘His love endures for ever.’ Again, this is something often over done. Is it ok to ask God about one thing in multiple prayers? YES! There’s even a word for that- it’s called petition, and Jesus encourages it.
Clarity of speech, humility of heart
The goal of praying should be clarity of what you say and humility of your heart. Often verbose prayers are about outward appearances and not a heartfelt talks with a living God. Speak plainly. If you don’t know how or what to say, talk through it as you would any friend. Prayer isn’t impressing God, it’s living life deeply with God.
The bottom line:
Talk to God like you would a friend. Prayer is not a religious game. Prayer is a conversation between you and a living God.