First Day Back

The first day back is a momentous occasion. It’s a time when we reflect on our break, reminisce on our past engagement, and often apologize for our absence. Whether it’s coming back to work after a much-deserved vacation, returning to church after football season (come on), or jumping back onto your blog after a year (*raises hand), the first day back offers both a fresh start and a reminder that there is no such thing.

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The Every Day Bible

edbA few years ago, I began a journey through the bible that forever altered my view of scripture. I had always held the bible in high esteem, but this adventure caused me to dig into it in a completely different way I ever had before.

The premise was simple. Every day for a year, I would read several chapters of the bible, then I would blog my thoughts and response to what I read. This wasn’t an in-depth study or a theological thesis. This was a daily reflection – sometimes pretty raw and unprocessed – on the words of scripture as I read them that day.

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The Thing About Passion

Image by Shawn Rossi

I hear it all the time. I even say it sometimes. “I’m just not passionate about that.” It’s a phrase typically uttered when somebody is quitting a role they’ve been serving in or when they are declining to take on a new responsibility. It’s a fancy (perhaps more acceptable) way of saying “I just don’t want to do that.” The expected response is, “Well, you should do what you are passionate about.”

That’s crap. That’s Dr. Phil stuff, not God stuff. Sure, passion has a part to play in our lives and I am a firm believer in investing in what God has wired you for, given you passion for and called you to do. But here’s the thing – God hasn’t given you passion for tasks. Yet, usually, when someone bemoans their lack of passion for something, it is task-oriented.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re a fisherman. You love to fish. You’re passionate about fishing. But does your passion extend to every task involved with fishing? Do you love buying fuel for the boat and bait for the hook? Do you relish cleaning out the cooler after a long day on the water? Are you pumped every time you have to put new tires on the trailer, more duct tape on the seats or when you slice your hand trying to remove a hook? Are those your best moments? Are you passionate about them?

Within anything we do, even the things we’re most passionate about, there are tasks that are unpleasant. There are tasks we do simply because they must be done, not because they give us the warm fuzzies. We know this. And yet, when it comes to certain tasks – particularly ones that have to do with serving God or other people – we so easily glide into the “I’m not passionate about that,” excuse.

As a pastor, I have to do a lot of things every day that I’m not passionate about. I talk to people I would rather not talk to. I fix things I would rather not fix. I answer questions I would rather not answer. Like anything worth doing, there is much about this vocation that is difficult and draining. Sometimes I want to quit. Sometimes, it would be easy to say, “I’m just not passionate about this.”

The problem is, I am. I am passionate about this. “This” (which I’m passionate about) is God and his church. I’m passionate about my God – who he is and what his plan is for me, for my city and for the world. I’m passionate about leading in a healthy, growing church community, rich in diversity, who invites and welcomes anyone and everyone into our family and the family of Jesus. I’m passionate about representing Jesus to the world in a way that truly reflects him, rather than reflecting the political or social agenda of a select few. I’m passionate about seeing others come into and grow in their relationship with Jesus.

And so, I do tasks that I’m not passionate about. I get up at 5 a.m. on Sunday mornings. I buy creamer for coffee, locks for trailers and toner for printers. I wrestle with service formats, communication pieces and website copy. I have meeting after meeting after meeting about budgets and finance and I pray fervently that God will supernaturally provide the resources needed to do the work he has called us to.

I’m not passionate about the tasks, but I’m passionate about the end goal – about God and his church. And in his church, there are a lot of tasks to be done – tasks which are not glamorous and which don’t elicit a whole lot of passion. In fact, I’ve never known anyone who was passionate about running a cable, setting up a curtain or hanging a sign. I’ve never watched anyone leap for joy at the thought of aligning a video projector, making coffee or setting out chairs. I do, however, know people who are passionate about the end goal. And these people will do whatever it takes to create a church environment where people from all walks of life can come and worship God together.

Jesus was passionate about God and his church, too. He was so passionate, in fact, that he endured the tasks of being arrested, beaten and hung on a cross to die. Those things came with the territory. They were part of the job. Was he passionate about them? No. He prayed that he could get out of those tasks. But he was passionate about God’s will – about the plan that had been put into place before the creation of the world. And it was that passion which caused Jesus to take those selfless steps to Calvary.

So, you’re not passionate about “that”? Maybe you need to redefine your “that”. God has given you an incredible opportunity to play a small role in his grand plan for the world, for your city and for the people who walk through the doors of your church. Get passionate about that and you’ll have the motivation to do whatever it takes.

Daily Bible Reading – From Fantasy to Reality

For Lack of Discipline

I’m not a very disciplined person. I don’t exercise regularly (though I have a desire to). I don’t eat nutritionally unless my wife forces me to. I’ve never been one of those early-riser people who can “get so much accomplished” before the rest of the world wakes up. Nope, that’s not me and, to a certain extent, I’ve learned to be OK with that.

A few years back, as I was beating myself up for not being disciplined enough, some words from a friend, coupled with what I believe were words from God, helped to change my perspective and get me on a track to being a fruitful human being again. You see, what I realized was that my definition of discipline was one that I had adopted from “disciplined” people. In other words, people who were not wired like I am had developed a system that worked for them and I thought that was the only way it could be done.

That’s where I was with the whole idea of daily Bible reading. Now, let me say that I don’t think that following Jesus means that you are required to read the Bible every day. Let me also say that I highly recommend it! But for a guy who sleeps as late as possible each morning and is typically pretty brain-dead by the end of the day, when was I supposed to have my “quiet time?”

Enter YouVersion.com – or more specifically, their Bible App for mobile phones. At first glance, the Bible App is nothing special. It’s a Bible on your phone. But this app enabled me to take my desire for daily Bible reading from fantasy to reality. How? By allowing me to insert my “quiet time” into my spare time.

Suddenly, any time I was waiting for someone before a meeting, standing in line, or taking a…um…break, I could break out my trusty Bible and read. For a guy like me, this was an incredible gift! No longer did I have to dedicate a certain time of day for study. I could read the Bible any time I wanted, anywhere I wanted.

What About the “Want To?”

I can guess what you’re thinking. “Any time I wanted,” indicates that I actually wanted to read the Bible. I know that’s a big hurdle for a lot of people. However, if you are in any way a competitive person, have I got great news for you. The Bible App brings out the competitive nature in us crazy human beings. In this case, I was competing with myself (a worthy competitor), nd I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to go all-in. My very first Bible reading plan on the Bible App was Bible in 90 Days. Yes, that’s right, the whole Bible – all 1,189 chapters of it – in 90 days. It was the P90X of Scripture reading. I chose this plan because I reasoned that I could do anything for 90 days, even if I hated it.

Funny thing is, I didn’t hate it, even though it was incredibly hard. The thing that kept me going – that brought out that competitive nature in me and encouraged me to read 10-15 chapters a day – was the progress tracker that YouVersion has created. In a glance, you can see where you are in your reading plan and, if you get behind, where you should be. Additionally, if you get too far behind, you’ll get an email from the nice YouVersion system encouraging you to get back on track. It’s like having a personal trainer for your daily devotions.

That encouragement, combined with my competitive drive provided the spark for my “want to.” The richness of Scripture provided the fuel. Reading the Bible so quickly reminded me how it all really ties together. Suddenly, the arc of the grand narrative – a story about God and his people – was illuminated for me like never before. I began to thirst for the Bible.

The Next Steps

After completing my Bible in 90 Days reading, I decided that I might as well keep up the pace. I didn’t want to go all the way back to Genesis, so instead, I jumped into New Thru 30, my second reading plan, which took me through the entire New Testament in 30 days on about the same pace as its 90 day, whole Bible cousin.

After completing New Thru 30, I decided to slow down my reading, so as to absorb a little more of the micro, rather than just the macro. My next reading plan was the Canonical plan, which takes you through the Bible in a year. After doing the Bible in 90 Days and New Thru 30, reading 3 or 4 chapters a day seemed like a piece of cake. So, naturally, I decided to challenge myself again. That’s how the Bible in a Year Blog got started. Each day, having read the reading for the day from the Canonical reading plan, I would write several hundred words about that day’s reading.

A year later, I was finished. Over 180,000 words written about the roughly 775,000 words of Scripture. Needless to say, my words pack a lot less punch than those in the Bible. But it was a great exercise – this time fueled by the fact that I knew every day that I had people reading along with me. These same people would come to my blog to see what I had to say about that we read that day. I couldn’t let them down! And so I read and I wrote.

As 2012 became 2013, the Bible in a Year Blog got mothballed. It’s still there if you want to read it, but I had reached the end of yet another journey. So, what to do? I decided once again to slow down – to take in the words I was reading more deeply. For me, this meant slowing to a snail’s pace. I am now on the Read Through The New Testament plan, which takes me on a thoughtful journey through the New Testament over the course of a year.

I am supplementing my daily reading with additional reading from N.T. Wright’s wonderful “…for Everyone” series. [Amazon]. The series is available on Kindle, which works for me for the above-mentioned reasons, and serves as a great thought-provoking, but not too in-depth daily devotional. A month in and I’m still in Matthew, but I’m loving every minute of it.

A New Reality

Having reached this point in my journey, with daily Bible reading as a reality for me, I look back on myself just a couple of years ago. I was depressed about the fact that I wasn’t reading the Bible regularly. To do so seemed like an impossible task – a fantasy. If I had tried to get up early and read even one chapter a day, I would have probably given up after a couple of weeks. But through the use of a tool that was made for people wired like me, combined with a 90 day, intense personal challenge that kick-started my journey, I was able to take the idea of daily Bible reading from fantasy to reality.

I am thankful every day for the words I read in the Bible. Through my reading, I am encouraged, challenged, educated and healed. No other book could do that. No other discipline could do that. I’ve learned to see the Bible not as an instruction book or a text book, but as a true gift of life – Jesus, the Word of God, captured in print. It is my sincere prayer that you will be encouraged to embark on a similar journey. It may look different for you (remember, my greatest mistake was thinking I had to do it like others had done it), but I know you can make daily Bible reading a reality for you, too.

What’s Next?

2012 was a great year for this blog! This time last year, I launched the Bible in a Year journey and for 365 days blogged my questions, thoughts and occasional insights as I read through the Bible. Over 180,000 words later, that journey is complete and yet, there is always something beyond the horizon. So, what’s next for this blog? What’s next for me? What is the plan for 2013?

Keep On Reading

First, I plan to keep on reading. As I mentioned in my last BIAY post, I am on an interesting trajectory in my Bible reading. First, I read through the Bible in 90 days, then the New Testament in 30 days, then the Bible in a Year with blog writing. For 2013, I’m slowing down even more. This year’s reading plan will be devoted entirely to the New Testament. Reading about a chapter a day (sometimes more, sometimes less) I will spend more time in prayer and contemplation about the words I’m reading. I will seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit, fresh insights from the words I read and I’m sure I’ll get plenty of reminders about things I already know.

This year’s reading plan will be much more personal than last year’s. I won’t be blogging my journey or asking others to join me (although you may, of course, if you want). This year is going to be more about spending time with the Scripture and the God of the Scripture – slowing my pace enough to allow more room for the Holy Spirit to speak through the life found in those words.

So, I’ll keep on reading and I want to encourage you to keep on reading, too!

Keep On Blogging…Differently

One thing I learned very quickly on my BIAY journey is that when you’re blogging 500ish words every single day, there is little time or brain space left to blog about anything else. At least, that was the case for me. Over the course of 2012, there were so many thoughts and ideas that I had, so many things I wanted to say, but at the end of the day, my brain and fingers could never seem to connect to get it in writing.

This year will be different. I still plan to blog regularly, but not every single day and not always about the Bible or even about “spiritual stuff” (although my thoughts regularly come back to spiritual matters). I will blog about current events, about my life, about random stuff on my mind and, yes, sometimes I’ll probably blog about something I read in the Bible. If you want to know what I’m writing about, I guess you’ll just have to keep coming back!

A New Feature

One thing I have committed myself to this year (I really can’t help it) is a new feature on the blog that I’m calling “TED Talk Tuesday.” For those who aren’t familiar with TED Talks, you can visit TED.com for more info, but basically, these are short talks from some of the brightest, most innovative and/or most interesting people in the world. The topics they cover span a wide range of issues and disciplines, but they are almost always challenging. They challenge the things we do, the ways we think and the way we think about the things we do.

These talks are always challenging and inspiring for me and I think they might be for you, too. So, each Tuesday, I will feature one TED Talk video and make some comments about it. My hope is that you will get as much out of these talks as I do.

A Great Year

Honestly, I don’t really know what 2013 holds for me or for this blog, but I can say this: It won’t be boring. It won’t be dull. I’ll write things you agree with and things you disagree with. I’ll write about things you find interesting and things you don’t. There will be big announcements (trust me on this) and stories of the mundane. But whatever happens, it will be a great year.

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