Three Bad Bible-Study Questions

February 20th, 2018 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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In many ways, the prevailing (and dramatic) shifts in western culture during the past few centuries all center on a single issue: truth—and how we learn it (if we can). To Christians, who worship the One who claimed to be Truth (John 14:6), these cultural shifts prove exceedingly relevant. If we are not mindful of our culture’s changing views of truth, we will imbibe the spirit of the age unwittingly. This is especially evident in how we pursue truth, specifically in our engagement with the (true) Word of God.


In order to illustrate (briefly) the major cultural shifts on truth, and to enjoin a particular approach to it (including our pursuit of truth in studying holy scripture), I would like to share three bad (but ever so common) Bible-study questions, and then a much better one.


Three Bad Questions

  1. What does the text mean? Now, I’m quite confident I’ll get some objection to this one, because we should absolutely be seeking to understand what the text actually means. In fact, I would suggest that discerning the authors’ (both human and divine) original intent is the primary goal of Bible study. My quibble with the way this question is framed springs from its lack of humility. I believe it represents the “modern” or “Enlightenment” view that human reason can apprehend truth absolutely; that is, applying some form of scientific method (a historical, grammatical approach to the words of scripture) will lead to absolute understanding of truth. However, given humanity’s finiteness, fallibility, and fallen nature (which has corrupted our good minds), I am not sure we possess this ability any longer. Our relationship with truth, as others have said before me, is asymptotic at best: we may get closer and closer to an absolute understanding, but will never quite reach it. This question lacks the requisite humility in human reasoning abilities.
  2. What does the text mean to you? At this point we’ve moved from modernity to post-modernity (or late-modernity, depending on your bent). This question addresses all my concerns with the last approach, but reacts so extremely against modernity’s hubris that it makes the opposite mistake. I am reminded of one of C.S. Lewis’ lovely quips (of which he has many): “For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left.” If modernity (wrongly) assumed we could have perfect knowledge, post-modernity (wrongly) assumes we can’t have any real (or objective) knowledge at all. As a result, this question relocates the center of interpretation from the object (the text) to the subject (the reader). Unsurprisingly, then, we are left with little more than a subjective impression. Authority now rests with the interpreter, not the text, which leads inevitably to a human-centered gospel, and a human-made god fashioned in each person’s own image. This is an incredibly dangerous approach.
  3. What do you think the text means? Committed not to fall off the horse on either side, this question has gotten us much closer to a helpful framework for Bible study than the last two. While rejecting modernity’s confidence in absolute knowledge, it also rejects post-modernity’s insistence that we can have no objective knowledge at all. And if our (hypothetical) Bible-study leader had no inflection when reading the question, I might even be tempted to accept it as is. However, if the emphasis falls on the wrong syllable (as in the italicized “you”), we’ve probably still succumbed to the postmodern temptation. My objection here is that the question, as inflected, suggests all interpretations are equally valid. You may think the text means x, while I maintain the text means y (never mind Sally, who had the audacity to suggest it means z). Whence now? How shall we decide which interpretation is best? If our pursuit of truth (and a true understanding of God’s Word) should be asymptotic—spiraling ever closer to the actual truth, as generations of Christ’s disciples grapple with the original languages, historical and literary context, et cetera—my opinion (or yours, for that matter) matters very little. But if we change the inflection just slightly, we might make some real progress.


And One Much Better Question

  1. What do you think the text means? Inflected thus, here is a question that combines subjective humility with objective It rejects modernity’s hubris, by reminding us that our take on the text just might be wrong still, and thus invites correction and improvement. But it also rejects post-modernity’s subjectivism by maintain a text-centered approach. It is, to borrow Kevin Vanhoozer’s lovely phrase, a “hermeneutics of humility and conviction.” It assumes that, while we might not be able to have absolute knowledge, we can still have adequate knowledge. The asymptote is real, and in humility and conviction we can draw nearer the axis of divine revelation together.

On Marriage, Intimacy, and Evangelism

November 18th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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2dQ7Qo8The elements in the title are meant to be a tad incongruous. While marriage and intimacy certainly belong together, what could they possibly have to do with evangelism?


One of scripture’s most common metaphors for our life in Christ, our relationship with God, is that of marriage. For example, the prophets routinely refer to Israel’s running after foreign gods as spiritual adultery. And at the close of the grand redemption narrative, we witness the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the church. I want to explore some of the possible implications of that metaphor for our lives, especially pertaining to our intimacy with Christ and our lifestyle of evangelism.


One occasionally hears of a married couple who maintain separate bank accounts or something similar, but these are the exception to a well-established norm. By and large, those who are married understand thoroughly what it means to live an integrated life, because they have had to integrate another person—their spouse—into the whole of their lives.


I have been married for a little over eleven years now. I can assure you that little happens of any substance that I do not share with my wife, whether that means recounting stories from the day, discussing an upcoming decision, or soliciting much-needed advice. I bring my wife into every aspect of my life because of the union we share, because I want to cultivate—not hinder—the intimacy I know with her. I cannot imagine spending some time with her in the morning and evening, and then living the rest of my time in isolation from, and without regard to, her. If nothing else, she wouldn’t stand for it! I don’t have the “marriage” part of my life, and then the “other” part of my life, and the twain shall never meet. To critique one of my favorite characters in all of television, there should be no such division between Relationship George and Independent George: there should only be Integrated George.


Now, the intimacy I should know with Jesus is even greater than the intimacy I know with my wife, for one simple reason: my wife dwells alongside me, whereas he dwells within me through his Spirit. I could, if I wanted, hide from my wife; but I have no such luxury when it comes to my Lord (cf. Psalm 139:7-10).


Here’s the crucial point: if the intimacy is greater, so should the integration be! I fear that too often I can compartmentalize my life, spending the requisite time with Jesus in the morning and evening, but then pushing him out of mind during the rest of the day. (And I’m in vocational ministry: God help me if I were in a different vocation!) Instead, I should bring him into every aspect of my life, not simply rehearsing the day’s events in conversation before dinner (as I do with my wife), but in ongoing, lively, transformative conversation throughout the day. He is my all in all, and should be in all that I do. What a difference in my day it would make were I to turn to him unceasingly, crying out inwardly, “Yours alone! Your will be done!” Would to God it were so.


But what about evangelism? Where does this fit in to the discussion before us?


Let me ask you this, if you are married: how long into a conversation can you go without referencing your spouse? Some conversations might never get there, if, for instance, you are having a technical discussion about a work-related project. But other conversations along more informal lines move steadily in that direction, I find. It is unlikely that anyone could ask me how my weekend was without my mentioning my wife, to take just one clear example.


Nor do I have to strain to fit her into my conversation. I am not looking for potential segues into awkward inquiries about my interlocutor’s marital status. She just comes up because she is so much a part of my life. She features in so many answers to so many questions because I have tried to integrate my life and she is a key component.


In fact, only one component is more central: my relationship with Jesus. He is the integrating substance even. What did I do this weekend? I gathered with a group of men and women committed to following him so that we might encourage one another and exalt him. How do I get through tough, exhausting days? By trusting that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. What did I think of the movie? I thought it diagnosed humanity’s wretched selfishness and desperate longing for joy perfectly, but missed the cure. Why am I not angrier about getting passed over for the promotion? Because I find meaning in him, not in my work. How’s it going? Not so well, because I’ve shot my mouth off again; but thank God it doesn’t depend on my good deeds, or else I’d be in a world of trouble.


If I am living my life in Christ, by his Spirit, my conversation will turn naturally to my relationship with him because my life is centered on him. I will be able to answer few questions without reference to him because my whole life refers to him. By the grace of God, these unforced, honest answers will lead to further discussion wherein I can share the whole of the gospel with a person ready to hear it, a person who knows this really is the focal point and wellspring of my life.

Devotional: “Cut It Out” (Mark 9:42-50)

August 2nd, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Mark concludes this series of short stories by giving us a collection of Jesus’ sayings about the cost of discipleship. He begins by warning those who cause immature believers to “stumble”—that is, fall away from the faith—in very strong language. It would be better for them to die a painful, public death than face the wrath of God in the age to come.


But, of course, we usually don’t need anyone else’s help to stumble. We are pretty good at causing ourselves to stumble, gratifying—as we so often do—the flesh instead of the Spirit. So Jesus gets even stronger in his words to us about us.


Is there anything in your life causing you to sin? Then cut it out. Literally. If your eyes cause you to sin, gouge them out—because it would be better to be blind and reconciled to God than sighted and damned. If your hand causes you to sin, amputate it—because it would be better to be maimed and reconciled to God than whole and damned. If you are wounded, and the wound turns gangrene, you must amputate the diseased member or die. Is it any different with our sin? This is not hypothetical. I’m not sure this is even meant to be exaggeration. We need to attack the sin in our lives ruthlessly. And that will mean making some serious cuts.


We need to act proportionately radical to the degree of sin in our lives. Consider, for example, two men whom Jesus encounters who have succumbed to the sin of greed. Zacchaeus meets Jesus and voluntarily divests himself of his wealth. He knows what a serious issue it is in his life, so he elects to cut out half his income by giving it to those in need. Sin was serious, so he takes a serious step.


But now consider the rich young ruler. His sin runs deeper, so Jesus calls him to make a truly radical amputation: to get rid of all his possessions. Will it cripple him for life? Yes, absolutely. But it will also free him to live true life in fellowship with the Father. He is unwilling, and goes to damnation instead—a damnation Jesus describes all too clearly in this passage (cf. verse 48).


But what about us? Is there a sin that threatens to destroy? Lust? Greed? Pride? Bitterness? Selfishness? Envy? Anger? Jesus’ words show us precisely what needs to be done.


Will it be easy? Of course not. Jesus never intended it to be. As he says, “Everyone will be salted with fire” (verse 49). Referring to Leviticus 2:13, Jesus teaches that we are to offer ourselves to God like a sacrifice. Every sacrifice was sprinkled with salt, and then consumed totally by the fire. That is what our lives should be: a total, irrevocable offering to God.


If we have been salted with fire—if we have given ourselves totally to God—then we will be “salty” disciples, so to speak. Our character will reflect the sacrifice we have made. We will be the savor of God in an unsavory world—speaking truth in grace (cf. Colossians 4:6), adding wisdom and integrity, preserving and ministering in his name.


Do you want to be great? Then cut it out. Whatever it is that keeps you from living wholly for him, a purified and purifying substance in a corrupted world.


Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. What sin threatens to destroy your life? What steps do you need to take to cut it out before it kills you—body and soul? Are you taking wimpy, easy steps to put a bandage on the problem? Or are you going to take ruthless, uncompromising steps to amputate the issue, even at great cost to yourself? Let someone know what steps you plan to take.
  2. Are you a “salty” disciple? When people are around you, do they “taste and see that the Lord is good” by your witness? Or have you lost your saltiness through compromise and complacency? Offer yourself to God as a total, irrevocable sacrifice.

Devotional: “Learn to Share” (Mark 9:38-41)

August 2nd, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The disciples have not learned yesterday’s lesson. Still overrun by a desire for status and recognition, they turn to jealousy, rivalry, and sectarianism. When one of them spots a rival disciple casting out a demon in Jesus’ name, he quickly turns tattle-tale.


The immaturity of the moment is palpable. First, remember that the disciples have just had a rather publicly unsuccessful bout with exorcism (cf. Mark 9:14-29). So John seems to be saying, “Make him stop doing what we’re unable to do.” It smacks of jealousy. Second, and much more frightening, is the way John describes the issue: “We told him to stop because he was not following us” (verse 38). The overweening pride and unadulterated audacity of this claim! Who cares if this man isn’t following John! or Peter! or any of the other disciples! John’s pride has got the better of him. He should have said, “He wasn’t following you,” but then . . . that might not be true.


After all, Jesus says, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (verses 39-40). The man is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, we should remember, and his success proves the genuineness of his commitment (read about the sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-16 to see what happens to those who aren’t genuinely committed to Christ when trying to cast out demons in his name). He cannot possibly be an enemy of Christ.


Jesus here proclaims a certain broad-minded inclusiveness that the church has often forgotten. We like to exclude others from our “inner ring” to remind ourselves how much more important, smarter, better, richer, etc. we are than others. Church is not usually an exception unfortunately. It is interesting to note that infighting, quarrels, rivalries, and factions usually develop when a church stops reaching out. Once we become more concerned about our belonging to the group, rather than helping others to belong as well, we turn into the worst of our schoolyard selves. “You can’t play with us. You don’t belong to this group. Go find someone else.”


This is not the attitude of Christ. Do you want to be great? Then learn to share. Share the good news of Christ indiscriminately. Share the community of Christ with all who will come. And maybe even share a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus with someone in need (verse 41).


Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. Can you recall a time when you displayed an attitude similar to John’s in this story? How did you try to exclude someone? Why do you think you did it—that is, what particular brand of selfishness motivated your behavior? Has this been a recurring sin in your life? Is it a sin you have ever brought into the church? Do you need to repent of this sin and confess it to someone else? If so, do it.
  2. In what ways has the church—local or universal—tended towards exclusivity instead of a biblical inclusivity? (Make sure you distinguish between inclusiveness and relativism. After all, Jesus does say elsewhere, “Whoever is not with me is against me”!) How can you help us become more lovingly inclusive?
  3. Are there people with whom you need to share more? Does this include the lost? How will you share the gospel with them? Does this include the many suffering under systemic poverty globally? How will you bring them a “cup of cold water” in the name of Jesus?

Devotional: “Act Like a Child” (Mark 9:30-37)

July 31st, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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This story opens with Jesus predicting his brutal death for a second time. The disciples are either unwilling or unable to understand what he means by this. They expect a conquering military king, so his death makes little sense to them. But they are afraid to ask him anymore about it—probably because they are scared to hear the answer he might give. They prefer their uncomprehending delusions.


As they continue on their way to Capernaum, they do not keep silent—even if they won’t ask Jesus about the cross. Instead they fall to arguing about which of the disciples is the greatest. Presumably this quarrel arises because three have seemed to be favored by Jesus (Peter, James and John), and so might have a claim to greatness, and the others have failed to cast out a demon in the meantime, and so might be disparaged as less than great.


Whatever the cause of this schoolyard squabble, we cannot miss the absurd incongruity of the moment. Jesus has just said he is going to die an ignominious death for the sake of his people—the fullest expression of self-sacrificing love the world will ever know; his disciples respond by playing spiritual King of the Hill. A more striking contrast in attitudes about self I cannot fathom.


Rather than rebuke them sharply, Jesus gives them an object lesson. One of the most profound kingdom reversals—when Jesus takes an upside-down world and flips it right-side up—concerns greatness. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (verse 35). That is true greatness—the greatness of the Servant King. To illustrate his point, he takes a child in his arms—a child accorded no status in that cultural context. In fact, in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), the word for child and servant were the same. Effectively, Jesus says, “You must become like this little child, who owns neither status nor significance in the eyes of the world, whose very name means servant.” This is what we embrace when we embrace the call of Christ.


As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” One of the weightiest deaths we die in following Christ is to our own status-seeking. Do you want to be great like Jesus? Then act like a child. Make yourself nothing, the servant of all.


Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. In what ways do you still seek status and recognition? How will you put these desires to death in the Spirit for the sake of Christ?
  2. Would those closest to you think of you as one who loves to serve or one who loves to be served? How will you pursue a lifestyle of service towards others?
  3. Think of at least one practical way you can humble yourself and serve someone else (anonymously, ideally) each day for the rest of the week.

Devotional: Mark 9:14-29

July 30th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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When Jesus, Peter, James and John return to the rest of the group, they find the other disciples arguing with a large crowd. Seeing Jesus, the crowd hurries to him, and he questions them about the argument.


It seems the disciples had attempted an exorcism in Jesus’ absence, and it hadn’t gone too well. While this probably should have driven everyone present to prayer, instead it leads to pettiness, factionalism, and childish bickering. What causes the argument? Most likely, in the eyes of the crowd—and especially the religious leaders—the failure of the disciples reflects poorly on the Master. He must not be much of a man or a teacher if his disciples can’t manage something as basic as an exorcism. Reeling with shame and indignation, the disciples push back, and the argument erupts.


In all this, the victim has been forgotten. So the father reminds them.


His heartbreaking account of his son’s affliction reminds us of the enemy’s ultimate aims: to destroy humanity. He knows he cannot defeat the Father, so he attacks God’s children, the apple of his eye, simply to wound and offend.


Jesus recognizes that the issue is a lack of faith (verse 19). He has the boy brought to him, and asks the boy’s father a few questions. The father replies, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (verse 22).


Jesus is unimpressed by the conditional language. If? This is the Son of God! And those of who have gone with Mark to the Mount of Transfiguration have heard it directly from God the Father! But the boy’s father has only seen the failure of Jesus’ disciples, and he is left with very human doubt.


His reply to Jesus’ gentle rebuke captures the heart of discipleship as well as any one sentence can: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (verse 24). The trouble with our faith so often is that we worry about the subject when we should focus on the object. It is not our faith that matters, but our faith in Christ that matters. And he is sufficient for every circumstance, trial, and temptation. He is more than enough.


That was the problem the disciples had, why they couldn’t cast the demon out. They were trying it in their own power—testing to see if they had enough faith—rather than humbly depending on the object of their faith, remembering that he has enough power.


When the disciples timidly seek an explanation for their failure, Jesus reminds them of this point exactly: “This kind can come out only by prayer” (verse 29). Prayer is the surest expression of faith, dependence even; it is the complete absence of self-reliance. “I know I cannot do this on my own, so I must seek the help of another. If this is going to happen, it will happen only in humble submission to the Father.”


In other words, “I do believe; only help me overcome my unbelief.”


Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. What doubts do you have? Do they center on God’s existence, goodness, presence, or love? Will you pray in humble submission, like the boy’s father, that God will help you overcome your unbelief?
  2. Do you tend towards self-reliance or humble dependence? How do you know? What action steps will you take to overcome self-reliance in the areas of your life where you know you are “going it alone” as the disciples tried? How will you cultivate an attitude of humble dependence?
  3. Evaluate your prayer life. If people were to listen to all of your prayers, would they think you believe in God and trust that only he can bring about change? Or would they think—probably because of an absence of prayers about different subjects—that you are depending on yourself? What changes do you need to make in your prayer life? Will you make them?

Devotional: Mark 9:2-13

July 30th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The story of the Transfiguration thunders with all the awe and wonder of Mount Sinai. Just as Moses and three companions climbed the mount to witness a vision of divine glory, just as God himself speaks—just as the whole event takes place “after six days” even! (Exodus 24:1-16)—so now Jesus and his three followers climb to a brief interlude of glory.


When they reach the top of the mount, Jesus is transfigured. He is not just another Moses, and this is not just another Sinai. He is more than that. The vision of divine glory that Peter, James and John behold is not of God the Father, but God the Son—come in the flesh.


As Peter, James and John adjust to the dazzling light, they notice Elijah and Moses speaking with Jesus. Why do they come? Not, as many have thought before, to represent the Law and the Prophets (as a non-writing prophet, Elijah would be a strange choice in that regard). Given the conversation that follows about Elijah in verses 12-13, and the context of the passage as a whole, the focus seems to be on the eschatological hope of the messianic age. The disciples remember that Elijah must return before the Messiah can come. And every pious Jew longed for the appearance of the “Prophet like Moses” prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. As harbingers of this blessed hope, the disciples should have embraced their coming as a sign that Jesus is indeed the Messiah!


But they just don’t seem ready for it yet. Peter asks to build three shelters, probably as a clumsy way of signaling a sense of occasion. He wants the moment to continue—wouldn’t we all want it to?—and so he offers a modest proposal to do just that. The problem, though, is, “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (verse 6). Incomprehension leads to fear, and, as is so often the case in Peter’s life, fear leads to impulsive speech.


So Another speaks. Out of the mountain-covering cloud—the cloud of divine glory that covered the Tabernacle and Temple in days of old—God is heard to speak. After hundreds of years of silence and seeming absence, God has manifested himself in glory and direct communication. This is a new level of divine revelation.


What does God speak? “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Jesus is the Prophet like Moses, and deserves our full attention. But he is more than that. He is the beloved Son of God. In the light of this new information, Peter’s proposal to build shelters for all three dignified men seems even more out of place, for Moses and Elijah are naught but willing servants of the Son of God, Jesus, to whom all glory is due!


And just like that, it is over. “Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus” (verse 8). Why was it so short? It was only ever meant to be a glimpse of future glory—not the path. The disciples—and we with them!—prefer a discipleship path of easy glory. But Mark reminds us that this is not the Way the Master followed. If we are to follow him to glory, the path will lead us up another mount, the hill of Calvary.


Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. As you reflect honestly on your thoughts, words, and deeds, do you find any areas of your life where you put others (people, things, ideas, etc.) on an equal plane with Jesus? That is, do you have any of Peter in you, desiring to build three shelters to three equal dignitaries, instead of offering your undivided, single-minded allegiance to Jesus alone?
  2. What words of Jesus do you need to “listen to” at this point in your life? Where are you neglecting his words because of their implications for your life? What steps will you take to hear and obey them? Will you consider memorizing some of them as part of this process?
  3. Is your discipleship one of easy glory? Or is it a cross-centered discipleship? Have you compromised your faith at any point to avoid the suffering that Jesus has called us to? (E.g., have you kept from sharing the faith because you fear the rejection that might come?)

Spending Time with God

January 2nd, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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This is my annual New Year’s post about establishing the discipline of devotion. I hope it encourages you to new depths of intimacy with him this and every year!


Nothing is more essential to experiencing the riches of God’s grace than our regular time with him in prayer and study. However, disciplining yourself to spend time with God can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you on your way.


  1. Set a specific time—ideally the same time every day. I believe there is real wisdom in setting aside the first part of your day for this time of intimacy with God. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the Scriptures seem to commend the practice of rising early to meet with the Lord.
  2. Choose a specific place—again, ideally the same place every day. Having a place set aside will help you to stay focused in your time.
  3. Start with a small amount of time (ten or fifteen minutes) and slowly work your way up as you become more disciplined. I would even suggest setting a timer if you are just beginning—perhaps five minutes for reading the Word and five minutes for prayer.
  4. Ask God to give you the discipline and persistence you will need.
  5. Keep the purpose—to grow closer to God and in godliness—in your mind always. Just as practicing scales on a piano takes on new significance when you hear the sonata you hope to play someday, so picturing the relationship you hope to have with God will give meaning to these times. This shouldn’t be mere ritual.


The two essential components of your time with God are prayer and time in the Word. There are many other fruitful disciplines, of course, such as fasting, solitude and silence, and meditation. But to begin, focus on these two essential disciplines. Here are some suggestions for these two activities.



  1. Keep a prayer journal so that you maintain focus in prayer. You are far less likely to let your thoughts wander if you are writing as you pray. Keeping a prayer journal also gives you a record of God’s faithfulness in hearing and answering prayer.
  2. Keep prayer lists so that you know what to pray for. You should pray for your family, friends, self, school or work, church, country, and leaders regularly. Keeping a list of individuals in each category will give you focus. You will soon find you have more to pray for than time in which to pray! (You might also consider praying for a different “category” each day of the week: family on Monday, friends on Tuesday, political leaders on Wednesday, etc.)
  3. Pray through Scripture to ensure you are praying God’s will and learning from the example of prayer warriors in God’s Word.
  4. Take time to listen to God. Make sure the conversation isn’t a one-way street. Include a time of silence in which God can speak to you.


The Word

  1. If you haven’t already, try a yearly Bible-reading plan. For some suggested plans and other information, see “Reading through the Bible.”
  2. Reading through the Bible in a year can be difficult. If you fall far behind, start over at the current date and try again. Remember which days you missed, and try to read them when you have extra time. But always being behind can lead to discouragement and ultimately giving up. Don’t quit! Pick up on the right day and press on.
  3. Read the Bible with a pen in hand. That is, don’t settle for just reading the Word; study it.
  4. When doing study, start with the “then and there”questions: what did this passage mean in its original context? A good study Bible will help you enormously in this regard.
    • Who are the people in this passage?
    • What is happening in this passage?
    • Where and when is this passage taking place?
    • What is the main idea of this passage?
    • Look at key words, structure, emphasis, repetition, tone, genre, and the relationship between ideas (such as cause and effect, questions and answers, etc.).
  5. Then ask the “here and now” questions: what does this passage mean for me today?
    • Do I need to change my thoughts, words, or actions in light of this passage?
    • Is there truth I need to accept, where before I had clung to a lie?
    • Are there promises to believe? warnings to heed? examples to follow?
    • How should this passage change my relationship with God and/or others?


Meeting with God every day is an expression of our love for him and our desire to know him more. We do not meet with him because we should; we meet with him because we long to. He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68); in his hands alone are found pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Start today—and enjoy the richness of fellowship with the Almighty God.

Reading through the Bible

January 1st, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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This is my annual New Year’s post about reading through the Bible in a year. I hope you will choose to discipline yourself and discover the riches of God’s Word in this way again this year!


As the new year rolls in, we would be wise to plan for the coming year. We accomplish few things of lasting value without having planned for them in advance. This is true for our spiritual journey. Now, at the start of the year, is the time to plan for how we will encounter God in his Word for the next twelve months. Below are several excellent Bible-reading plans available to download from different ministries. Before getting to them, though, I want to discuss why a yearly Bible-reading plan is a wise idea.


Why Read through the Bible in a Year?

Reading through the whole of Scripture regularly is an absolute necessity of the Christian life. I can think of at least three reasons why we should undertake this endeavor every year.


  1. We are to receive strength for each day. Just as our bodies need food every day, so our souls need the nourishment of God’s Word. In the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And yet, doesn’t he say elsewhere, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)? The bread we should hunger for most is the Word of God, of which we must daily partake.
  2. We are to delight ourselves in his Word. A yearly Bible-reading plan is not a chore to be checked off our to-do lists, but an expression of our desire for intimacy with God. We long to hear his voice, as a wife longs for conversation with her husband. The psalmist expresses it thus: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119: 15-16). Is this the cry of your heart?
  3. We are to understand the whole counsel of God. It is imperative that we know the whole of God’s Word thoroughly. Too often we settle for a few scattered verses known well and applied willy-nilly to every circumstance. This has dangerous consequences. I know of no heresy—ancient or modern—that does not spring from a right understanding of part of God’s Word only. Most moral error stems from the same neglect. The writer to the Hebrews felt this frustration with his wayward flock: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (5:11-12). To know God’s Word fully ensures that we know all that he has to say on any given subject, and can rightly apply it to whatever vicissitudes we face.


The Dangers and Surpassing Benefits of a Bible-Reading Plan

Of course, this is not to say that Bible-reading plans do not come with pitfalls. The Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne listed some in a letter to his congregation, before giving his reading plan (included below). These dangers include mere formality, in which reading becomes a lifeless duty; self-righteousness, when we impress ourselves with our outward piety; overhasty reading, when we read to finish reading and not to encounter God; and having the plan become a burden rather than a joy. And yet, M’Cheyne felt the benefits outweighed the potential dangers, which we might guard against. I agree.


What are the benefits? First, a Bible-reading plan guarantees that we read the entire Bible over the course of a year (or two). Without a plan in place, this is unlikely to happen. As few of us remember what Nahum has to say, though all of us would agree we should, we must ensure we read systematically through Scripture. Second, a guided tour of the Bible keeps us from having to choose what to read each day. If left to our own devices, we would likely choose beloved passages only (neglecting the whole counsel of God) or a shorter portion than is necessary. How often do we sit thumbing through the pages of our Bibles, waiting for some inspiration to stop us in our tracks? A Bible-reading plan provides the direction we need. Third, especially among families or groups of friends who are following the same plan, we enjoy greater spiritual conversation, as we are all equipped to discuss the same passages that day.


Some Excellent Plans

We are all different, and every year we will find ourselves in different places. Choose a plan that works for you—and that you believe you can handle for the coming year. Here are some excellent plans to consider.


  1. Discipleship Journal’s 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan: For those who are just beginning, this plan will take you through the New Testament only—in just five minutes, five days a week. A helpful tool (even if you are doing another plan) is the 5 Ways to Dig Deeper, ensuring that your reading is neither too hasty nor mindless.
  2. Discipleship Journal’s Bible Reading Plan: My personal preference, this plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year, starting in four different places. The Old Testament readings tend to be longer, allowing you to spend more time in meditation on the shorter New Testament passages. For those who might fall behind, this plan rather helpfully has readings on only twenty-five days each month.
  3. The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Plan: Following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan—once through the Old Testamenttwice through the New Testament and Psalms each year, starting in four places—this plan also includes a wonderful, short devotional by D.A. Carson on the day’s readings. I highly recommend this plan, especially for veteran readers.
  4. Heart Light’s Daily Light Reading Plan—New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs: Another shorter plan, this will guide you through the New Testament during the week, with readings in Psalms and Proverbson the weekend. An excellent starter plan.
  5. Heart Light’s Straight through the Bible Reading Plan: This plan takes you through the whole of the Bible in canonical order—Genesis to Revelation. While it has drawbacks—such as reading through laws and genealogies all at once—there is tremendous benefit to seeing the plan of God’s redemption unfold in history.
  6. ESV’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan: An interesting approach, perfect for those who have been through the Bible a few times already, this plan takes you through Scripture chronologically rather than canonically. In other words, the prophets, psalms, letters, etc. are inserted at the correct moment into the narrative flow of God’s redemptive history.


Whatever plan you choose, I hope and pray it will be a great blessing to you, as you devote yourself to knowing God—and his Word—more completely this coming year.

On Sin and Quiet Times

July 26th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I have always noticed that the surest remedy to creeping sin in my life is to come into God’s presence regularly in prayer and the study of his Word. A colleague and friend used to joke that when we miss our daily quiet times, God notices the first day, I notice the second day, and by the third day everyone notices. There is a lot of truth in that. Whatever the sin—dishonesty, fear, lust, discontentment—it diminishes in the splendor of his holiness, but grows in his absence. These are rare plants that thrive in the dark. In his light, however, new fruit quickly grows to take its place, the fruit of a sanctified life.


Of course, our time with God does not function like a magic charm warding off evil. It is not as though this is simply a superstitious ritual that gives us power against sin. Instead, we lose our taste for sin in his presence. It takes just a short while kneeling before him, hearing his voice, seeing his beauty, before we find our thirst slaked at his “river of delights” (Psalm 34:8). “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace,” as the old chorus has it.


The real problem comes when we attack our sin when we are not spending regular time in the presence of his majesty. When we are cut off from the Vine and out of step with the Spirit, sin produces guilt rather than conviction, repentance, and transformation. When we do not hear the Spirit’s voice, we listen to Satan’s instead—and he is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). He whispers menacingly to us that we are not good enough, that God will not love us unless we change. And here is his great trick. If Satan can get us to pursue holiness in our own strength—to fight sin in the flesh until our knuckles are white, our spirits frail, and our hearts hardened with pride—then he will have separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Satan has no problem with our growing in “holiness,” so long as it comes about through unholy means: legalistic, temporary, human efforts. When we forget God’s grace, we doubt his love. Then we try to earn his love, rather than basking in it, growing resentful, bitter, discouraged, and fearful when our legalistic efforts fail. This produces a cycle of guilt, despair, striving (in the flesh), pride, and failure.


Grace overcomes the whole of the cycle and each component part. To remember grace and see real, lasting, Spirit-worked change, we must come and rest in his loving presence. Every day.