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.

Leaning In – The Positive Power of Opposition

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about opposition. The genesis of this thought process came last week. I had given a passionate talk on Sunday about stepping up our game and really being all-in on loving our city. I was fired up. I know some other people were fired up. The idea of setting aside our personal agendas and pursuing God’s desires for our neighbors was one that we were ready to walk out.

But a funny thing happens sometimes when you decide to go all-in for God. You somehow find yourself in someone else’s cross-hairs. You see, God does protect us, but there is a very real enemy who wants to see us fail. The closer we get to God’s heart and plans, the more that enemy wants us to fail. Remember, this is the same guy who tried to get Jesus to base jump without a parachute just as he was beginning his public ministry.

In the days following my passionate plea to go all-in for God, I was hit left and right by unexpected problems. They weren’t life-altering problems. They were, in many ways, just everyday junk that all happened to hit me at the same time. They were mostly financial in nature – that is, they would cost me money I didn’t have.

One day, as all that junk mounted, I just kind of shut down. I completely ceased to be productive. I don’t even know if I was consciously thinking of anything. What happened next, though, got me thinking differently about my situation. You see, in the midst of my blank, mindless stare, I realized that I was coming up against opposition. This wasn’t just about bad stuff happening to me. I was being assaulted – an aggressive attempt to shut down what God had fired up in me. And when confronted with that reality, something in me rose up.

Suddenly, I no longer had a desire to shut down or to run from these issues. On the contrary, I was defiant! I wasn’t going to let the garbage of life drag me down. I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of what God had called me to. I was going to fight! And I was going to win! Come what may, I was going to push through this opposition and keep moving in the direction God had pointed me. I wasn’t going to back down. I was going to lean in!

Opposition has a way of causing us to do that, doesn’t it? The fastest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t. That’s why reverse psychology works – the more I try to keep you from doing something (or fraudulently appear to keep you from doing it) the more you want to do it. You lean in to opposition.

And that’s just what I did last week when faced with opposition and, in many ways, that opposition shrank when I leaned into it. Sure, it got a piece of me. My wallet is little lighter (and my disdain for certain companies and professions a little stronger) but there was no way it was going to keep me down. The opposition was fierce. It is fierce. But in the end, I’m going to lean into it and I’m going to break through.

You see, in my eyes, that’s what opposition is for. It is not there to stop us. It is there to strengthen us. When we lean in instead of running away, we will get through it. When we push and reach and scratch and claw our way through, we will get to where we’re headed. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Items of worth always come at a price. But when it comes to God’s kingdom, whatever price I pay is and always will be a bargain.

So, if you’re faced with opposition – especially opposition to the thing you know God desires of you – lean in. You might be surprised at how much stronger you are when you break through to the other side.

Nobody Goes…to the Hall of Fame

In four decades of voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, only once before has this happened. Out of the field of 37 candidates eligible for the Hall of Fame this year, the association selected exactly zero. That’s right, none. Not Bonds, Clemens or Sosa. Not Biggio, Piazza or Bagwell. Nobody.

This is somewhat understandable. After all, it’s pretty common for a player to not make the Hall on their first try and this particular class was tainted by a steroid scandal that put a dark cloud over baseball and over some of it’s greatest stars of the last 20 years.

But there’s something more going on here. At the end of the day, these writers have failed to agree on what really makes someone a great baseball player. In a game where statistics are everything and where writers like to make mention of how many hits a player has on Tuesdays in June in the rain, these writers are unable to quantify greatness.

It’s a tough thing to do, when you really think about it. Cal Ripken, Jr., a first-ballot inductee in 2007, had an incredible streak of 2,532 straight starts, but consistency alone doesn’t mean you’re a great player. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hit over 30 home runs in 15 seasons, but homers alone won’t do it either (just ask Bonds and Sosa).

What makes a great baseball player, it seems, is some combination of consistency, skill, gamesmanship and character – the last of which has been the downfall of baseball greats like Joe Jackson and Pet Rose.

In life, too, our greatness is defined by our character. Accomplishments in business, art or other endeavors only get us so far. If you’re a scoundrel, people know it. If you’re selfish, they resent you, if you are cruel, they despise you. Climbing your way to the top by stepping on the throats of others doesn’t make you great.

Jesus actually had a definition of greatness that he shared with his closest followers. If you want to be great, he said, become a servant. If you want to be important, humble yourself. But far from suggesting that you should not try to be great, Jesus suggested that this was truly the path to greatness. In other words, the most selfish thing you can do is to be selfless.

This is just another one of Jesus’ sometimes confusing teachings which, if you really examine it closely, makes incredible sense. If we live in a self-serving world, then the best way to get people to like you is to do something that feeds their self-serving personality. Serve the person whose admiration you desire and that admiration is almost sure to come. Try to one-up them and they will spend their time trying to defeat you – to squash you like a bug.

Perhaps next year’s Hall of Fame candidates will take Jesus’ words to heart. Perhaps they’ll go up to Cooperstown and polish the brass railings at the hall. A little humility in baseball might be appreciated.

Holy Spirit – The Missing Piece of God

Last week, my friend Weldon was speaking at church and he said something that I have been thinking about ever since. Weldon was recalling a conversation that he and his wife Angelina had with a 90 year old woman named Elizabeth. The conversation was wide-ranging, but the bit that caught my attention was something that Elizabeth said to them.

She said that she found it so interesting that people don’t talk about the Holy Spirit more today. After all, she said, the people who spent 24/7 with Jesus for three years, sitting under his teaching and watching his example, still didn’t get it. They failed to grasp any true understanding of the Kingdom of God and, ultimately, deserted Jesus in his time of need. They didn’t really get it until after he had died, risen, ascended to heaven and then sent the Holy Spirit to empower them.

You see, spending time with Jesus was life-changing, but it took the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to pull the puzzle together, cause it to make sense and propel these world-changers forward with the good news of the Kingdom of God. I wonder, like Elizabeth, how it is that we have failed to understand this Biblical message. How is it that we try to understand our God while missing the crucial “Holy Spirit piece.”

So often we tell ourselves that if someone just knows enough, that they will “get it.” We’re determined that if others see a good life example – a mentor or a coach – that the switch will go on and they will change the way they live their life. We’re convinced that getting to know Jesus is enough. And then, we are disappointed when, in our own life and the lives of others, we don’t see that play out.

The truth is, knowing Jesus is enough, but only if we know all of him. The God that we worship exists, sometimes confusingly, in three “persons” – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Most of us recognize the Father part. Our earliest thoughts of God are probably mentally tied to our image either of our human father or of an idealized version of what a father should be. The Son, Jesus, is easy to grasp, too, in that there is much written about his life to which we can relate. But what about the third person of God, the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the fact that we don’t even have a great analogy to describe the Holy Spirit – something like “Father” or “Son” that helps us understand this facet of God – is indication enough that we don’t really “get it.” But however you may think of the Holy Spirit, the words of that 90 year old woman ring true – they are true, straight from the Bible! Jesus’ closest followers were completely lost, disillusioned and confused until they were visited by the Holy Spirit. And yet, so often, we leave the Holy Spirit (33% of God) out of our life, out of our discussions and out of our understanding of God.

This year, let me encourage you to think about the Holy Spirit. If need be, set aside any notions you have of who the Holy Spirit is or does, especially if you have negative associations with the words “Holy Spirit.” Rather, pray that God will bring clarity to your idea of just who the Holy Spirit is and what the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is all about. Then, if you have the guts, pray directly to the Holy Spirit and ask to receive that power and presence.

If Jesus’ closest friends, allies and confidants required a visitation from the Holy Spirit before they could get it, why would we expect anything else for ourselves and our friends? In 2013, I pray that you and I will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to “get” things that we never “got” before, to see things we never saw before and to do things we’ve never done before. If we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, then, without a doubt, the best is yet to come!

Les Misérables and The Kingdom of God

les-mis-posterWith a classic story by Victor Hugo, music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil respectively, direction by Tom Hooper and a star-studded cast headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried, the film version of Les Misérables is a blockbuster hit that is being hailed as a masterpiece by critics and audiences alike.

I saw the film and I have to say that I agree, although there were some shortcomings. Now, first, I must warn you that I was a musical theater guy in high school and college and even spent some time in theatre conservatory (you know it’s serious when the word is spelled t-h-e-a-t-r-e), so I know the story and music of “Les Mis” like the back of my hand. This, of course, serves to both inform and bias my opinion of the film. With that confession, here is my quick take before getting to the heart of this post.

The story is as compelling as ever (more on that momentarily) and the music brilliant as always. The direction and cinematography are well-done and add depth and intimacy to the story that simply can’t be captured on stage. The cast is hit-and-miss, with Hathaway being surprisingly good, Jackman holding his own, but not great, and Seyfried sounding OK, but a little like a modern-day fluttery Cinderella. Then there’s Russell Crowe – far out-classed by his co-stars and outmatched by the vocal score, the guy just isn’t up to the task. It’s not just bad. It’s really bad – embarrassingly bad.

The standouts are some of the unknowns of the film. Little Isabelle Allen as young Cosette, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Natalya Angel Wallace as the grown-up Éponine all shine in their roles as do Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers. Eddie Redmayne as Marius is ho-hum.les_miserables_hathaway

With all of that taken into consideration, what I walked away from the film with was this: the story of Les Misérables is a story of redemption and forgiveness. It is a story of a cynical man being undeservedly forgiven and living the rest of his life trying to reconcile himself to that forgiveness. A single act, carried out without hesitation by a priest, pivots Jean Valjean’s life and opens up something in him that can never be resealed.

This, to me, is the story of the Kingdom of God. A single act of forgiveness that brings redemption to us all and (if recognized for what it truly is) affects us to our core for the rest of our existence. If we understand the forgiveness we’ve received, then we can give forgiveness when it seems the least warranted. If we understand the death from which we were spared, then we can spare others who deserve a similar fate. If we understand the brokenness of our own humanity, then we can see more clearly the humanity of even the most broken people.

les-miserables-openThe story of Les Misérables is the story of us. We are the miserable ones who, without the redemptive person of Jesus are “standing in our graves” here on earth. He rescues us – from prison, from the gutter, from being orphaned and, ultimately, from death. He died as one accused so that we could make a clean getaway.

If you venture out to see Les Misérables in the coming days, consider for yourself just how much forgiveness one man had to offer in order for you to live the life you’re living. Then, resolve to offer the same forgiveness to others that you have received for yourself.

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