Reading Scripture

New Year & New Habits

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of a brand new year, and many of us have new hopes and new habits that we are ready to set in motion starting tomorrow. Personally, I’m making a commitment to eat less sugar, own less stuff, use less screen-time, get more sleep and embrace more silence — I’m going to try and devote the first hour of every day to silence, psalm reading and prayer (#OwnHourOne).

Whatever your goals, we all know that there are things in our lives that we need to alter or do better, and the New Year often gives us the spark of motivation that we need to actually implement these things.

That being said, one of the most life-changing (and life-giving) habits that I have developed over the last few years is the habit of following a Bible Reading Plan that helps me read through the whole Bible in a year. Now, this is a new habit that took me several years to develop so I don’t want to give off the impression that its easy.

Like the popular resolution of going to the gym more, many Bible reading plans start out with great enthusiasm but end up bogged down and eventually abandoned a few months later. Some of you may have experienced this several times before and have just decided that Bible reading plans aren’t your thing. If that’s the case, I want to urge you to give it one more shot and join me in the plan that I’ll be doing this year.

THE PLAN

This plan takes you through the entire Bible in one year and is divided into weekly readings instead of daily readings in order to encourage you to take time to read larger chunks of the Bible instead of smaller individual portions. We believe that this approach will help us better understand the context of what we read and help us grasp the one big unified story that the Bible is telling.

(If you prefer a daily format, I have also spread this plan out into a daily format that keeps you in sync with the weekly format too. You can view the daily reading format here.)

Here are some of the highlights of the reading plan that we’ve put together and some advice on how to best develop this new habit over the upcoming year…

THE HEBREW BIBLE

We have organized the books of the Old Testament (OT) in the three-fold order found in the Hebrew Bible — the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Jesus actually references this three-fold order when he tells his disciples that, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44)

The OT was the Bible of Jesus and his first followers so we hope that this plan gives you a fresh perspective and a new hunger to read and love the OT.

THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING

We have organized the books of the New Testament (NT) in a way that takes continuity and chronology into consideration. We have rearranged Paul’s letters to better fit the order in which they were actually written, and John’s Gospel has been placed towards the end since it was one of the last NT books written.

We have titled these books, The Apostles’ Teaching, because collectively they provide us with the overall content of what Luke says the first followers were learning when he says that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (Acts 2:42)

PSALM OF PRAYER

We have organized the Psalms to be spread out over the course of the entire year. The psalms for each week are listed for you to include in your regular times of prayer.

To pray the psalms, take time to read through the psalm 2-3 times and try to understand its original significance and how it is still relevant today (and to you personally). Then simply use some of the key verses in the psalm and pray — using these verses to say anything that comes to mind.

We highly recommend using Timothy Keller’s book, The Songs of Jesus, to help you go through the Psalms.

VIDEOS

The team at The Bible Project has done an excellent job creating short animated videos that correspond with each book and major themes of the bible. As you begin each book of the bible, we encourage you to watch the short video on their website about that book’s message and design which helps you know what to look for as you read.

HOW TO USE THIS PLAN

We recommend that you ask one or more friends to do this plan with you. Have each person read on their own and write insights in their journal. Then have everyone meet to discuss what they learned.

The following four questions can be used as a guide for what to write in your journals and for what to discuss when you meet. Pick a particular passage that got your attention while you were reading and then answer these four questions:

  1. What can we praise or thank God for from this particular reading?

  2. What is the original author trying to communicate to his original audience?

  3. What timeless and transcendent truth does this passage teach all readers?

  4. How is this relevant to my own life and how is the Spirit leading me to respond?

You can view these reading plans on our website or under the resources section of the UPI Grow App. There is also a Scripture tab on the App that provides a daily scripture reading with an audio option that keeps you in sync with the plan.

The PDF for each plan has also been formatted in a way that allows you to print out the plan on a single sheet of paper that you can then fold in half and simply place right inside your Bible.

With all that said, I hope all of you have great success in implementing your personal goals for the upcoming year, and I do hope that you will devote yourself to developing the new habit of regular Bible reading. I hope this plan is helpful to you, and I hope that you find yourself more interested in the Bible and more fascinated by the story that it’s telling than you have ever been before.

P.S. If you would like to read along with me or if you’d like to start a reading group but have some questions about it, then please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and let me know!

What is the Bible Trying To Do?

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The week after Thanksgiving has become the most refreshing week of the year for Tanner and I. That’s because this is the time every year that we attend PAO’s Increase Conference. This event provides a place for professional athletes to gather together and to learn from gifted speakers and teachers concerning how our Christian faith should be impacting our relationships, finances and careers.

This year, David Platt and Ben Stuart were the main speakers, and the main message that seemed to keep coming out of every session was the necessity of reading your Bible. Platt reminded us on his first night that we need to “soak in Scripture like your life depends on it because it does, and we need to spread the message to others like their life depends on it because they do.”

That being said, I was recently asked to write four short devotionals for Sports Spectrum Magazine, and based on my time at the conference, I decided to write on why the Bible is so important and what the Bible is actually trying to do.

WHAT IS THE BIBLE TRYING TO DO?

Everyone is trying to find salvation. They may not use that term, but everyone has some sense that they need something that will finally make them feel fulfilled, satisfied and accepted. Some people try to find fulfillment from their relationships with friends, family, children or spouse. Some people try to find satisfaction from a certain level of success, income or social status. And some people try to find acceptance from certain social groups, causes or religion.

Everyone is trying to find salvation, but unfortunately many of us end up looking in places that cannot truly deliver what our heart desires. This is one reason why the Bible declares that the good news of what God has done through Christ is the only thing that truly possesses the power for salvation. Because it is in the good news of the biblical story that we can discover who we were intended to be, why we feel like something is missing, what we need to fill that void and why we can have hope that one day everything will be made right.

It’s unfortunate that many people are missing out on experiencing this power of salvation because of their misconception or misunderstanding of what the Bible actually is. Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible is not a religious manual that tells you how to live your life differently; it is an epic story that tells you to look at what God has done in human history that should change your life drastically.

The Bible is a collection of ancient writings written over a period of 1500 years by many different authors in different locations who even spoke different languages, and yet from cover to cover it manages to tell one unified story. This one story is the epic story about the Creator rescuing his creation through the Christ. And remarkably, this story continues to be just as relevant in making sense of our lives today as it did in the ancient world in which it was originally written.

The Bible offers its own answers to some of our biggest and most basic questions concerning life. Who are we? Why are we here? What’s wrong with the world? And what’s the solution?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT US?

The Bible tells us that God created humanity in his own image. This means that God gave all of humanity the incredible gift and privilege of ruling his world on his behalf as his special representatives. Many people need to rediscover who we are and what it means to be human.

To be a human being is so much more than to be a mammal who has gained incredible mental capacities through a random selection of natural processes. As creatures made in God’s image, we will only find fulfillment by growing in a relationship with our Creator and by caring for his creation according to his commands.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT LIFE?

The epic story of the Bible begins with God creating a good world full of unlimited potential, and then God appointing humans as his special partners to rule his world on his behalf. But God also gave humanity a free choice regarding this partnership and how they were going to carry out the mission that he had given them.

Would humans use this privilege for the common good and for the glory of God or would they use it for selfish gain and their own glory instead?

Tragically, we only get to the third page of the Bible before we see humanity deciding to disobey God and desiring self-rule instead of representative rule. Humanity turns away from God’s ultimate authority and decides to define what is good and evil for themselves. And this is a rebellion that we all continue to participate in on some level because we all continue to make decisions that contribute to this world of broken relationships, conflict and injustice. 

Instead of living and doing things God’s way, human beings have chosen to try and rule this world our own way, and the consequences have spread to every aspect of our lives. We have lost the fullness of life that we were created to experience, and in a way we are now living subhuman lives in a world that we ourselves have corrupted. This is why we often feel so lost in our own skin, and why we instinctively feel that life in this world ought to be different.

HOW DOES THE BIBLE OFFER US HOPE?

Human beings were created to live in a relationship with God and to rule the world on behalf of God, but we chose to rebel against God and began to ruin everything. We have stained the image of God and violated our partnership with God, and we continue to feel and experience the consequences. We are not who we should be, and we feel it. We are at home, but it doesn’t feel like home and we know it. Fortunately for us, the story didn’t end there.

Throughout the Bible, we see over and over again, God’s plan to rescue humanity from its rebellion, to reconcile humanity back into a right relationship with its Creator and to restore humanity back into being what we were originally created to be. And as we see this rescue plan unfold, it reaches its climax in the person and work of Christ. God restores his rule by sending his Son and graciously restores us back into a position of partnership with God by paying the price of our rebellion on the cross.

The penalty for our disobedience and sin is death and eternal separation from God, but in his grace and mercy God has provided forgiveness for our sin through the substitutionary death of Jesus — who paid the penalty that we deserve. God has offered eternal life for everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord, and he has given us assurance of all these things by raising Jesus from the dead.

The good news of the Bible is that you can be forgiven by God for your sin and receive the gift of eternal life. All you have to do is embrace Jesus — confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God has in fact raised him from the dead. Turn away from just living life your way and turn back to the God who created you and loves you and wants to give you the life that you were intended to experience. You see, it’s in this epic story that we discover the salvation our hearts truly desire.

This story ends with the promise that one day Christ will return and God will gather his people from all over the world and the whole earth will experience a full and final restoration that will give us a new reality for all eternity. And it is only in this new life with Christ and our Creator that true fulfillment, satisfaction and acceptance will ever be found.

So let’s read our Bibles and rejoice in the good news that it’s trying to tell us. Let’s soak it in like our lives depend on it and share this story with others as if their lives depended on it too. I’m heading out of the country this week for that very purpose. I look forward to updating all of you on that trip, and I also have a Bible Reading Plan for 2019 that I will share in the couple weeks.

Church: A Life of Learning Together

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The first groups of Jesus followers devoted themselves to core habits that helped strengthen their unity as a group and their allegiance to Jesus. These are core habits that have been carried on throughout the history of the church and are the essential elements that make up a healthy group of Jesus followers. These habits are summed up in this one simple sentence: 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

The first of these core habits mentioned in the verse above is devotion to the apostles’ teaching. The first followers of Jesus were committed to a life of learning together from the teaching that was being passed around by the appointed apostles.

So, what were the apostles actually teaching?

They were teaching followers of Jesus how to observe all that Jesus commanded and how the Jesus movement fit into the grand story of what God had been doing since the beginning of human history. This means that followers of Jesus were learning a new way of life and a new way of thinking about their place in this world.

One of the most fundamental questions that the human mind is constantly trying to answer is, “Who am I and why am I here?” Fortunately, the Scriptures provide us with a convincing and encouraging answer to these questions, but unfortunately, many followers of Jesus in the game find themselves still searching for these answers through their athletic talent instead of the apostles’ teaching.

Many of us are still in need of a new way of thinking about our place in this world. We still need to have our minds renewed by the regular reading and study of Scripture. This will mean more than a morning quiet time or a daily devotional. If we want this new way of life and thinking then like the first followers before us, we need to rediscover the core habit of devoting ourselves to a life of learning and studying together as a group of Jesus followers. 

 

Where's Your Bible?

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In the eighteenth year of King Josiah’s reign in Judah, he initiates a project to renovate and repair the temple of the Lord. In the midst of this project, we are given a glimpse into the reality of how far the nation had fallen as we are told that the high priest "found the Book of the Law" during renovations to the temple in Jerusalem.

What does it say about the people as a whole when their high priest stumbles upon the very book that he is supposed to be obeying and teaching to the people? 

Were there no other copies of God's Law on hand?

And if this was the only copy, how had it been treated so carelessly as to have been misplaced?

It is fairly clear from the narrative account that the content and instruction found in God's Law were new to the high priest and King Josiah. Again, this is a strong testament to how far from God's Word God’s people had fallen. 

Now, King Josiah was the great-grandson of King Hezekiah who had led the nation in a great reformation just a few generations before. Therefore, many might find it difficult to understand how a nation could fall into such a depth of biblical ignorance in such a short amount of time.

How could a nation go from the fruits of reformation to the utter forgetfulness of God’s Word in just a few generations?

However, the history of our own nation testifies to how quickly a people can become ignorant of the truth of God’s Word. We live in an era of unprecedented biblical illiteracy and ignorance among the church in this nation. The truth of the matter is that God’s people have proven over and over again that they are never more than a generation or two away from careless abandonment of God’s Word and casual apathy towards essential Christian doctrine. 

As horrible as it may seem to hear how the nation of Judah had carelessly neglected the Word of God, how much greater is our neglect in an age where the full revelation of God’s Word is readily available and always just one-click away?      

In the words of Matthew Henry,

“The abundance of Bibles we possess aggravates our national sins; for what greater contempt of God can we show, than to refuse to read his word when put into our hands, or, reading it, not to believe and obey it?” 

As we read Josiah's response to the rediscovery of God's Word, we see that despite already receiving the prophetic news that God was going to bring certain disaster upon the nation for their idolatry and wickedness, Josiah still continues in his duty as a servant of God to spur reformation and revival throughout the land over which he still has an influence. This leads us to draw three big observations and some applications for our own time from this account of Josiah — the reforming King of Judah.

Josiah walked and talked obedience to God despite the inevitable outcome.

Josiah was told that God’s judgment against the nation for its idolatry and wickedness could not be prevented, but Josiah didn’t use that as an excuse to remain complacent concerning his role and responsibilities in reforming the nation. The ship may have been sinking, but Josiah was determined to uphold his duties on board as long as the ship was still above water. It is not of any profit whatsoever to worry about what the future holds; it is simply our duty and responsibility to daily trust God and obey His Word. No matter what the future holds for our nation, faithfulness is our duty right now. We need to be asking ourselves, "What is my specific responsibility in working for reformation and revival among my own sphere of influence? 

Josiah purified the land of its contamination with idols.

In order to seek restoration for the people’s relationship with God, Josiah swept the nation clean of the various things that had led them astray. What are the idols that we have erected in our own lives that are contaminating our relationship with our God? What gets in the way of our wholehearted worship of God alone? Is it our career? Is it our favorite sports team or hobby? Is it our favorite television show? Is it our spouse? Is it our children? Is it the opinions of others? Is it our own image, status and popularity? Many of us need to undertake a massive purification in our own lives in order to get back to wholehearted worship of the only One we should be worshipping. 

Josiah re-instituted the Passover celebration which had been neglected and forgotten.

When we fail to acknowledge what God has so graciously accomplished for us in the past, we set ourselves up for forgetting Him in the future. Josiah’s commitment and faithfulness to God led him to do something that even David and Hezekiah didn’t institute during their lifetime and reigns over the nation. Remembering, recalling and retelling the grace and greatness of our God fans the flame of revival and lays the only foundation on which reformation can firmly stand. What routines and disciplines have we instituted in our own lives to help us remain focused on the faithfulness and promises of God? 

As we read about the rediscovery of “the Book of the Law”, may we ask ourselves the obvious question: 

“Where are our Bibles?”

Do we have them front and center teaching, correcting, training and shaping our lives on a daily basis? Or do we continually find them forgotten, neglected and in need of rediscovery? Josiah and the people of Judah provide us with a valuable lesson from human history — the condition of a man's Bible is a testament to the condition of a man's heart.