God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Five Tips to Reading the Bible Through in a Year (and an announcement!)

A few years ago I decided to read the Bible through every odd-numbered year. Yesterday I explained why and gave my top five reasons you should read the Bible through in a year, too. Today I want to give you five tips to reading the Bible thorough in a year. Then I have a big announcement.

Tip 1: Read the Bible Through Email (or some way that comes to you every morning).

**Warning: I'm a digital native (born after 1980) and I love technology. Tip 1 will not work if you are someone who does not want to supplement your analog life with digital tools. But read on! You might decide to do it anyway.**

I'm not against paper Bibles (Those things made from dead trees with leather covers, remember? I've had two people ask me what a "paper Bible" is.). I have several paper Bibles and when I preach I read from a paper Bible. However, I do not pick up books to read every day. I have a closet full of paper books that I have not touched in 5-10 years (to my wife's vexation). I'll get around to reading them someday. How many emails do I have unread from 5-10 years ago? None. I read all of my important messages and deleted the rest. Every day. This is what I have learned about myself: if it doesn't come to me, I don't read it. I want to read the Bible through in a year. Unless it comes to me every day (through email) I don't do it.

Here's how to read the Bible though in a year via email:

Go to BibleinaYear.org and sign-up with your email address. There are other ways, simply Google it and you'll see a few other websites that send daily readings through email. But this how I have done it in the past. Keep reading and I'll show you how to choose the type of reading and the translation.

If you do not want to have it delivered to your email, you can go to One Year Bible Online, bookmark it and read it online there as well. Or you can print out a schedule if you're a Luddite.

If you are computer-savvy, here's another tip: If you have trouble reading slowly, highlight the text on the email, copy, go to Spreeder.com, paste the text, and press "spreed!" It will force your eyes to look at one word and will help you read 300+ words a minute. I don't know if I would ever be able to read the Bible in a year without it.


Tip 2: Read the Bible through Chronologically.

This is very important if you plan to understand the entire message of the Gospel (and get through the books of history and the Psalms). The Bible wasn't written chronologically—each book was written independently of the others (except the two books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, obviously). Because of this the books do not line up exactly. 1 Kings repeats much of 2 Samuel. 1-2 Chronicles repeats much of both books of Samuel and Kings. The Psalms were written from the time of Moses until the time of the prophets. Even the prophets make more sense when they are read in the correct time period. Do yourself a favor, read the Bible chronologically. It (literally) makes more sense.

This is another reason a paper Bible doesn't work for me. I don't like flipping through it looking for each passage, especially on days when I am reading from Kings, Chronicles and Psalms. Email systems have all of them laid out for you. It's really nice.


Tip 3: Read the Bible through using a New (to You) Translation, Preferably an Easier-to-Read Version

This one is tricky. Many people are completely attached to their favorite version (mine is the English Standard Version—ESV) and do not want to muddle their memorization of favorite verses by reading from another one. I understand that. I appreciate that. What I wish to encourage is this: reading the Bible in familiar translations will cause to you gloss over passages that could otherwise deepen your understanding of God's Word. It is great for deep reading because you are paying attention. With the daily grind of text (2-4 chapters a day, or 1,200-2,500 words a day), your brain will go to sleep and you will miss important truths. Keep your favorite translation, but read the Bible through once in another version.

Which version should you choose? Let me make a suggestion. An easy-to-read version like The Message. These are meant to be easy-flowing translations that help you read the Bible with ease. When you are reading 2-4 chapters a day, difficult vocabulary, archaic words, and non-standard sentence structure leads to frustration. Frustration leads to quitting. Quitting leads to not reading the Bible through in a year. Reading difficult translations like the King James Version, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, and to a certain degree the New King James Version may not be a great decision. I know, modern, easy-to-read translations may not sound like the Bible. But that's the point! Modern, easy-to-read versions want the Bible to come at you from a different angle. I will be reading The Message this year. I love the freshness it brings to familiar stories. In the past I have read The New American Standard Version (Updated) and the ESV. Either one would make an excellent read.


Tip 4: Read with a Purpose or a Question

I realize this often morphs into "read with an agenda," but I trust that you see the difference. I've tried the wide-eyed, clean-slate method and it doesn't work well. Without a purpose-driven plan, I come away with some interesting tidbits about the scripture but I never grasp one, solid truth that profoundly changes the way I see things. That is why I encourage you to read with one purpose or question in mind.

Let me give you one purpose or question to think of as you read:

How does this passage contribute to the Gospel: God is setting all things right?

This will be the question I ponder as I read the scripture during the entire year. Those at the Petaluma Church (AKA the Sonoma Mountain Parkway Church of Christ) where I preach will find this theme familiar. Once the lessons are on our website I'll post a link and let everyone see what I mean by the Gospel being "God is setting all things right."


Tip 5: Read with a Group

Finally, this is the one tip that is most crucial but most overlooked. If you wish to read the Bible through in a year, do it in a group, even if that group is one other person. The first year I read the Bible with my girlfriend, who became my wife during the year. We both made it. The second year I tried it alone and didn’t make it. I have found the simple fact of having someone else reading the Bible with you gives you motivation during those mornings you have 100 other things on your mind. Read different version and compare. Read the same, new version and complain about how it doesn't sound right to each other. Tell the others what you are learning. Hear what other read from God's word. Together.

I have challenged everyone at the Petaluma Church to read the Bible through in a year with me. To help with this, every Sunday's sermon will come from either that week's readings or readings in the past. We are going to make it through the entire Bible together. It's the most ambitious preaching schedule I have ever attempted or have heard another preacher attempt. I'm sure we can make it, but I don't know if we'll enjoy it. Come visit us and see.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Five Reasons to Read the Bible Through in 2013

As you may have noticed, the blog has gone silent for a quarter. This was partly because I became burned-out with Romans and needed a break (I am also finishing a year+ in-depth study in our Sunday evening Bible study) and because I was not getting the kind of engagement on the blog as I had hoped. That needs a lot of retooling on my part.

But I have not been completely idle.

Every odd-numbered year I resolve to read the Bible through in a year. Why every odd-numbered year? Because I wanted to make sure I had a good balance of big-picture and in-depth Bible study in my life. 2013 is an odd-numbered year. This year, I want you to read through the Bible with me.

So today I give my top five reasons to read through the Bible in 2013. Tomorrow I have an exciting announcement that will either force me to become a regular blogger or teach me to never write a post again.


Reason 1: See the Bible as a Whole Story

I grew up in a church that was notorious for "verse-ism." What is verse-ism? It's when you take single verses (or a few) to stand for large ideas in scriptures. Want an example? Explain how a person is to be saved. Most people will give one of two answers. They will either tell what their church says without adding verses or they will rattle off verses to go along with those points, for example: Hear – Romans 10:17, Believe – Hebrews 11:6, Repent – Acts 17:30, Confess – Romans 10:10, Baptism – Acts 2:38. The issue isn't correctness or how verses/steps should be added or subtracted. The problem is that this type of Bible reading flattens scripture down to just a few shallow verses and leaves out large swaths of deep scripture. This is why the biggest problem I see in churches is the inability to see beyond the small passage of the day and why many daily Bible readings turn me off. They give you one or two verses without any kind of larger-picture view of how this fits into the entire scripture—or as I like to say it, “verse-ism”. This type of shallow reading leads to shallow knowledge of the Bible and eventually to shallow spirituality.

Reading through the entire scripture will help you put the entire Bible into perspective and give you a leg-up in both understanding God’s story and understanding our place in it. You will see how the Old Testament and New Testament are not at odds with each other. You will no longer see God "maturing" but God showing humans their inability to enact the Gospel on Earth alone. You will see God’s true plan for Israel, how they never lived up to this purpose, and how the church has fallen into the same traps. You will see why Jesus had to come and reset the covenant. You will understand why Jesus dying on the cross was essential for the Gospel to be completed. This is something you cannot get from one verse a day.


Reason 2: God Speaks to You Through the Bible

The second problem I have found in churches is the simple lack of reading the scripture at all. God's Word has become the plaything of the theologian, property of the pastor, and tool for the schemer. It's become the biology book for non-biology majors: they keep it with them in class because the teacher forces them to but they wouldn't be caught dead reading it outside of class. It's cool to say, "Yeah, I'm a Christian, but I don't read the Bible. It's just not me."

If we are dedicated to become disciples of Jesus, the Messiah, we must read God’s Word. It’s God speaking to us! How can we have a relationship with someone if we only speak to them? By reading His Word every day you gain a greater appreciation for what God does for us and how he loves us. By reading the Bible through in a year you develop a habit of God’s Word speaking to you every day.


Reason 3: Learn how Messed-up Bible Characters Really Were

I never grew up thinking Abraham, Moses, David, or anyone from the Old Testament was like me. I thought of them as fabled characters of old who were saintly followers of God who never wavered. Boy was I wrong.

Trust me, before you finish reading Genesis you will gain a greater appreciation for God’s patience and learn why he loves Christians even though we mess things up more often than we don’t. These people were not angels walking around in people’s clothing. They were dysfunctional families living dysfunctional lives. God loved them because they were still pointed toward His Gospel, even if they didn’t' act it out every time. Your life is no different. But if we do not read the Bible through, we only see these people how preachers want us to see them. And preachers don't like messy stories.


Reason 4: Gain Comfort and Wisdom from Others

The problem is the same as Reason 3. If the people from the Old Testament and New Testament are not the same as I, what could I possibly gain from reading about their lives?

Once you understand Reason 3 from reading the Bible, your life’s problems seem less and less foreign to God and his comfort for others can be your comfort. His wisdom for others becomes His wisdom for you. By reading the Bible through in a year you are able to soothe your pains in a personal way that no preacher or Bible study group would ever be able to. This will help you have something to bring to others when they ask why anyone should become disciples of Jesus, the Messiah.


Reason 5: Gain a Greater Appreciation for the Bible as God’s Word for Us Today

Journalists for Newsweek, Time, and many other news outlets try to portray the Bible as an archaic relic of the past that no one reads because it's just too far removed from reality and unfit for enlightened minds. I don't blame anyone for falling on their side and not wanting to read the Bible—it's all we hear. However, I do not wish to let others define my relationship to God, so why would I want them to define my position toward His Word? Also, even if they were correct in their opinions, I would not want defend my lack of Bible knowledge because someone else told me it wasn't worth reading (like you aren't going to stop reading Newsweek, Time, etc. because I said not to).

I guarantee you, if you read the scripture in a year you will come away with an appreciation for God’s Word that no conspiracy theory or news journalist can shake. The Law of Moses becomes pragmatic and understandable beyond the one or two laws we read from people who want to discredit the Bible. Your appreciation of God's Word should come exclusively from your own personal readings of scripture, not someone else convincing you. Personal reflections stay with you for life. The Bible is the guide book for me, not because my parents believe it to be their guidebook (though they do) but because every time I read through the Bible I come away with the understanding that God truly is the creator of the universe and that He earnestly wants the world to be set right through his perfect law of liberty.