Thoughts on Reading your Bible

biblereadingJanuary always feels like a good time to start reading your bible again. There is something about the freshness of the 1st of January that brings about the urge to open up those thin wisps of paper (or turn on your bible) and begin reading it. There are lots of different types of plans and methods on how to read it, and lots of ideas on how to keep to that discipline.

There are several people in my church starting to use a plan that Phil Moore has been using and tweeting about. It is quite a nice one with 3 sections to read each day.

I personally use the one that Ron Frost uses and who inspired me to read up to 10 chapters of the bible a day, from Genesis to Revelation to capture the story of the bible in bigger chunks. I have to admit I adapt this to do what I can, some days I read 10 chapters but some days I find myself reading less (especially if they are long chapters!!).

Any method you use is good, find one that suits you. Whether reading in bigger chunks is better or moving from one chapter to another from different parts of the bible, than that’s great too. I have been doing the bigger chunks bible reading for the last couple of years and I have found it helpful and enjoyable.

But as you begin to start your bible reading, I just have a few things for you to think about:

1. Why are you reading your bible? This may seem like an odd question. I mean as Christians its obvious that this is what we do. We read this old-looking book and try to make sense of it, right? I think if you are approaching your bible reading simply out of a sense of “This is what I have to do“. Then you will find yourself giving up at the end of february, bored and disheartened! Instead our desire to read the bible must come from a desire to know Jesus more. Every time we pick up that book, it isn’t out of fear or guilt, but out of curiosity and a desire to seek and know our wonderful saviour.

2. You are not the Hero in the bible…Jesus is the Hero. From Genesis to Revelation. It is all about him. Too often we think we are primarily the main characters, that we are King David, Boaz, Job and that the Psalms are about us, that we are the center of the parables. And although they will teach us much about ourselves, we should not think first about how we are to be like them. Instead we are to ask “What does this teach me about Jesus?” “How is Jesus like David, Boaz, Job? and how is He better…?” This will put your bible reading into perspective.

3. Ask questions and underline...Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are lots of stories and hard bits in the bible and it’s ok to ask questions! Underline bits you like and also the tough bits, the bits that are hard to understand. Find someone to talk to about those bits or read commentaries.

4. Read in Community… For some reason we have made bible reading mostly into an individual activity. Yet this would never be the case over 2000 years ago where communities would gather together to listen to bible readings. They didn’t have their own individual bibles! Reading scripture together or at least discussing what we have been reading is a brilliant way to keep accountable, to share what we are learning and to build up the church in encouragement. So my question to you is: Who will you read the bible with this year?

5. Guilt-Free bible reading…

During the year you will find yourself missing a day or two of your bible reading plan, which will no doubt bring about a lot of guilt. The reason you and I feel guilty when we miss reading our bible or indeed find out that a week goes by and I haven’t turned a page in my bible, is because we secretly think that the Father is more pleased with us when we read the bible and he is very angry when we don’t. This is a lie. A lie that plagues us. A lie that seeps in and destroys us and it comes down to thinking that our standing with God is based on what we do rather than what Jesus has done.

Guilt free bible reading is about knowing and loving Jesus more with the help of the Holy Spirit by reading about him on the pages of the bible which has been given to us as a gift. If you feel guilty for missing a bible reading then your joy in reading the bible will diminish quickly and your motivation may be skewed into thinking the Father loves you more if you keep up with your bible reading. It all comes down to that first question, why are you reading your bible?

Here are some blog posts that I have written on this subject:

Feasting on the Bible Part 1 and Part 2

A Story Repeated

Stuck in the mud with Jeremiah

Thanks for reading and enjoy reading and finding out more about Jesus this year!

Stuck In the Mud with Jeremiah

JeremiahOver the last couple of years I have been reading the bible as I would a novel. Just reading chapter after chapter, starting from Genesis and finishing in Revelation. Which means I get to see the bigger picture and that helps me as an “N” in Myers Briggs. It has been rather enjoyable and I have noticed different things each time I read the bible.

But what I have found, is that every time I get to Jeremiah, I get stuck.

Stuck in the mud with Jeremiah.

I often feel like reading the bible should be like leaping through a meadow, or swirling around like Maria in The sound of Music. I should be a Gazelle in bible reading. But in certain books, like Jeremiah, I feel like I am wading through mud face down. Its hard reading! It’s heavy.

I mean the Spirit is the one helping us read the bible and revealing our wonderful saviour to us – so reading the bible shouldn’t be hard, right?. Often I can feel so guilty when I find it hard. Like if I get to a bit of scripture and think, “this is really hard and glum” I feel like a failure.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you felt like you aren’t reading the bible right? That Jeremiah and Lamentations should be a breeze to read? But instead you bash your head against the wall.

And yet. The more I think about this, the more I realise that it shouldn’t be easy and unemotional to read.

The bible is full of emotional, hard stories! Twists and turns, wars with defeats and victories. Hero’s rising up and leading a nation. A love story between a prostitute and a gracious King.

And so when we come to bits we find hard it is because it is often reflecting what is happening in the story. I think the Spirit is bringing the story alive and we cant help but feel the emotions of the story.

Think about the story of Jeremiah. Is it a happy story? I don’t think so, not for most of it. Gods people in Exile, disobeying God, not listening to the prophets but instead listening to the false prophets. Poor Jeremiah, being thrown in prison, having to say hard words to hard hearts and no one is listening. He was banging his head against the wall! So many times the Lord speaks judgement over them.

stuckinmudWhen I read Jeremiah, I often feel a sense of despair. The Lord is angry, the people are so disobedient and no one is listening to the one man who is making any sense. Head. Wall. etc. And yet also there are specks of hope and light – we yearn and cling to them!

Think about the Kings earlier in the OT… one King does great and loves the Lord… then about 10 Kings after him do evil in the sight of the Lord and ruin everything.

Doesn’t that make you yearn for the True King to appear? Someone to make it better? So we yearn and ache when reading this and we rejoice when we see a glimpse of the true king.

I have to ask myself – since when do we read Scripture in a cold manner? Thinking of it just as simple facts and bits of knowledge to learn. My understanding is, that all of scripture shows us Christ and what he is like, pointing to Him. And so when we read those hard stories, the Spirit helps us to see the depth and weight of emotion in them. Perhaps he shows us what the Lord felt at those times and what the people felt.

When Gods people turn away – how do you think the Lord feels? And how do the people feel? And the prophets?

When you read the sacrifices in Leviticus, its right for us to think – this is hard, this tough to read. Because they point to the blood of Christ, the weight of sin on his shoulders – those lambs and doves would never carry that.

When we read lamentations, should we not mourn and weep? Lamentations is about lamenting! To be sad!

I think when we read scripture lets not be afraid to weep, mourn, feel the weight of whats being said, yearn for Christ, laugh with joy, be filled with compassion or just feel like you are walking in mud.

If you feel the heaviness of what you are reading, then don’t assume you are reading it wrong, perhaps the Spirit is revealing something of Christ to you. But don’t give up, don’t be stuck in the mud with Jeremiah forever because a true redeemer, a true king, a true lover and a true rescuer is coming. Keep going!

**Photo: By TomFrost (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)

A Story Repeated

Reading a book at the beachHuman beings are story tellers. We all love stories. Its seems that christians have been telling the same story for over 2000 years. Over and over again, every Sunday, every midweek meeting and every evangelistic event.

It is the story of salvation, of bloodshed and sacrifice. The story of love, light and darkness. The story of a loving Father and his Son through the Spirit saving  the people who is the bride and the adopted son.

It is a story we repeat over and over again. Which means sometimes we think we know it. We mutter that we have heard it all before. We think we know this story and so we want talk about something else. We ask, do we have to listen to the Gospel AGAIN at church?

I firmly believe the answer to that is: Yes. Even if you don’t realise it, your heart and my heart needs to hear this story again. We need this story repeated again and again.

The funny thing is, this story is older than 2000 years. This is a story that is embedded in the Old testament. The story of liberation and salvation. The story of darkness and light, of sacrifice and blood. The story of Exodus. That story where God freed his people from slavery and led them into the promise land.

As I read through my bible I have noticed something. We are told the same story over and over again in the OT. God is constantly telling his people the same story of the Exodus…

“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.” Lev 11v45…

Here are some other examples although there are lots more:

Deuteronomy 20:1, Leviticus 25:38 , Amos 2:10 ,Psalm 81:10 ,Jeremiah 2:6 ,2 Kings 17:7

This story is repeated over and over again. At first I thought – they know this! I know this! Stop repeating it. But then it struck me. They are a forgetful people. They forget who God is, they forget what God has done and they go after idols and think those idols saved them.

So the Lord in his patience and grace repeats the story again. This is who I am, this is what I did, this is the story – I saved you, I freed you, you are my people, I love you, blood was shed for you. No other god or thing can do that.

The story of the Exodus in the OT was pointing to the Cross and its this story we share now. And it struck me that I am the same. I forget this story.

I am like the Israelites who need to be told again and again and again who God is, where salvation comes from and what God has done and will do.

When I forget this story I go after idols and say to them, “these are my salvation and they will help me in time of need“, which is rubbish. I need to hear the Gospel again. When I tempted to rely on anything other than Jesus, I need to hear the Gospel again. When I tempted to worry or complain, I need to hear the Gospel again. And so forth.

The story being repeated is one of the most gracious things the Lord does for us, because if He didn’t we would be lost and going after cheap substitutes that lead to death.

Let’s never be someone who says “I have heard it all before”, but rather be someone who says “I need to hear this again!”.

So then, lets keep sharing that story over and over again to each other, to the world and in the pulpit. Let’s never get tired of this story because it is a beautiful story and our hearts need to hear of the wonderful salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ every day.

**Photo: By Simon Cocks (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)

Winning Hearts for Christ

heartbeatI woke up this morning with a cold heart. Post mission week blues. I couldn’t bring myself to do much and so I put on some talks because a friend (Emily) said I should listen to this guy John Hindley. After listening to two of the talks I found my heart warmed again as he spoke about Christ. He not only reminded my of the love of Christ but that Christ is The Truth and sin is a result of not loving Jesus.

So if you are feeling weary, cold, distant and rubbish. Come and listen to these talks. Just listen and allow your heart to be won to Christ again.

Winning hearts to Christ Part 1a and 1b

Part 2 – The truth is a person

Part 3 – Preaching to the heart

Part 4 – Beauty wins the heart

Collection of Webs (26)

Here are some great blog posts on the internet at the moment:

Death to January – Blog post by Emma Scrivener: “A time of fresh starts, resolutions and beginnings.  But how do you make them, when you’re in the same body, with the same mind, the same relationships, the same job (or lack of), and same struggles? This month it’s harder to trot out the same excuses.”

Is the bible a book about God? – Written by Dan Hames: The Bible is specifically a book about the Son of God. So long as we say that the Bible is a book about ‘God’ in the abstract, and not fighting hard for the centrality of Christ to the Bible, we’re depriving him of his rightful place, and ourselves of vital spiritual sustenance.

Welcome to the Crazy Church Family – by Bryony Young: “I have come to the conclusion that my Church is simply a glorious ruin. Glorious because we aim to glorify God and a ruin because we are still a work in progress.”

Boots – by Tanya Marlow: “Most days I am actually okay about being ill; I kind of accept it and get on with life. It doesn’t feature much in my thinking. Today is not one of those days.”

Three is the Loveliest number – Article by Mike Reeves: “For the health of the church and our faith, we must be proud of who our God is. And since the Trinity is no mere theological icing resting atop our God—since the living God is Trinity—we must be resolutely and thoroughly Trinitarian in all our ways and thoughts.”

Feasting on the Bible Part 2

In the last post we looked at why we don’t read the bible and hopefully you saw that some of the ways we view the bible are not helpful. But once we realise that we are not at the center of the bible and we read it because we want to know more of Christ, how then do we go about reading the bible?

May I share with you some ideas that have helped me? Remember this is in a realm of no guilt, we read for the pleasure of feasting on the word because it points to our beautiful saviour, not because we feel like we are reading it to please God.

Firstly I would start reading this wonderful article that turned my bible reading on its head.

There are two things that astounded me:

1. You can just read the bible, like a novel.

2. You can read in community

When I first heard that this guy read the bible like a novel I did ask myself – “Are you allowed to do that?” I mean this is scripture, holy words – can I just read it like Lord of the Rings? Shouldn’t I be studying every sentence and its context and implications on my life? I think this is where the guilt seeps in – I know of a scripture meditation technique where they would take a couple of verses and just meditate on it and wait for the Holy Spirit tell you what it means in your life. So I was in a group doing this and I waited… and I waited… and I waited… and well when it came to my turn to share my thoughts, I found that this just wasn’t working because I didn’t have anything. (Actually just made something up… which I wouldn’t recommend). But again I find this founded on the idea of scripture is all about *me*… and it’s not. So when I started just reading scripture, reading through the chapters from Genesis to Revelation like a novel,  I found that I was enjoying the story, things were starting to piece together, I learnt more about who Jesus was and I felt no pressure to try and draw something out of it. And there is nothing that says we can’t read the bible like a novel, we arn’t being dis-respectful at all. That doesn’t mean we don’t do bible studies, because we do and its good to do – there are times when I get to a point in my bible reading where I don’t understand something and I will stop and dig deeper. But for our “quiet time”, for our enjoyment to know more of Christ we can just sit and read about him and how he interacts with his people.

The second thing is that you can read the bible in community. There is an idea that our bible reading is private and “my time” with God. But what if we could share what we are reading with some other people and encourage them and be encouraged by them. In the article it describes how Ron does this – he chooses reading partners, they go away and read through a book in the bible and come back and chat about what they have been reading. Reading in community means accountability, sharing what we are learning, encouragement and also sharing our struggles and questions! I am sold on this idea. So myself and the lovely Emily are reading the bible together. We have date for when we are going to Skype each other and chat through what we have been reading. I am looking forward to it. I am looking forward to sharing Jesus with her and for her to share Jesus with me… it’s going to be good.

So why don’t you give it a go?

Start in Genesis and read as many chapters as you want a day… its not a race, there is not set amount of chapters you should read. Just read what you can and what you want to read and underline what you have noticed, what you find interesting, what you find difficult, what you have found exciting!

Then find a friend or two and ask them to do the same and set a date for when you meet/Skype together and share what you have been learning, underlining, struggling with. Pray together and then set a date for the next time you will do this again. It doesn’t matter if one of you is in the middle of Genesis and the other is ahead in Numbers… it doesn’t matter. It all about knowing Jesus more.

I have to say that I have done this read through a couple of times and each time I see something new and see something more of the big picture. The reason why I want to share these things with you is because I really struggled with reading my bible and there are hundreds of techniques but the most simplest technique of “just read it” really helped me understand who the bible is about, why I would want to read it and why I have no need to feel rubbish when I don’t.

I hope this helps and encourages you too.

Feasting on the Bible Part 1

Do you feel guilty when you think about reading the bible? When someone asks you – “so hows your bible reading going?” – what do you say? Do you feel guilt and shame rise up in you because you know you haven’t read it for weeks, maybe months? I wonder why that is? What compels you to read it in the first place and what stops you? Who makes you feel guilty when you don’t? Who told you that you should and what reason did they give?

Dan Hames has written a great article on three reasons why you don’t read your bible, here it is in a nutshell:

1. You don’t have time

2. You think the bible is about you

3. You think your bible reading is for God’s benefit

The first one doesn’t really count. Honestly it doesnt. If you have time for TV, facebook, looking at blogs, going out, shopping etc then you have time to read your bible – we make room for what we want to do. Having no time is not an excuse – let’s be honest here, you just don’t want to read. And let me be honest, there are times I don’t want to read it either because I find it boring, irrelevant and a waste of time. Yeh I am being honest. Why do I think those things? Because of the other two points that Dan Hames has mentioned. Its boring and irrelevant because I think the bible is about me and when I open it and if I don’t see me there then I think its boring and out-dated, in fact it gives me no sort of guide on what I should do today and what type of job I should get. It doesn’t give me any horoscope type predictions on my life – what happens if mars meets venus at a coffee shop and spills latte over the red carpet, what does that mean!! Tell me: Where am I in this story?!

Dear God,

In this bible you gave us, you are missing the main character – me! please change this so that I can read more about me in this story… Ok? thanks….  Amen.

Well here is the thing, we arn’t the center of this story. From Genesis to Revelation its all about the Fathers son – its all about Jesus. He is the focus of the story. Yes the Old Testament is about Jesus and it brings me joy to tell you that when you read the OT you can see Jesus in the scriptures and it’s not just about morals and strange laws. Why not open your bible and pray that you would see Jesus in what you are reading. It’s not a “where’s Wally”, it’s a  story  about the chosen seed, offspring, saviour, deliverer, redeemer, husband, king, and lover… the thread of the OT is woven from Jesus, with Jesus and to Jesus.

Where do you feature you may ask? Well if you are going to appear anywhere your character is the rebel, prostitute, outcast, foreigner, grumbler, sinner, disobedient one. Yeh you don’t start out that great. But that’s you and me. But look what happens to those people when they trust in their champion and saviour – they are brought to new life, they are saved, they winners with their champion because he has won it for them. This story isn’t about me, it’s about Jesus. Lets take our eyes off ourself and onto him. Lets see him in scripture and I tell you that you will delight in scripture much more – because the bible isn’t a great “how to guide” and it was never meant to be, we are meant to read it so that we may see more of Jesus who reveals His Father to us. That is wonderful.

And so reading your bible isn’t for God’s benefit. Really it isn’t. It’s for your benefit – to feed you, point you to Jesus and warm your hearts. God isn’t keeping tabs on your bible reading. If you are reading it because you think you have to or God will be displeased with you, then you will only read it out of guilt. As Dan Hames says:

“”In this context the Bible is given to us as a gift to feast on, rather than a project to complete before judgment day.  We will find we go to it to savour and enjoy, and when we miss a day we might feel hunger pangs, but we could never feel guilt, fear, or condemnation. “

Come and feast on the wonderful banquet that is on the table in front of you. Come, taste and see. Come and see Jesus and find that he is wonderfully fulfilling, warming our cold hearts. Thats what I need every day.

Part 2 will be about how we can read the bible.