Apr 142014
 

medium_6317803326I love talking about Jesus with people. I love talking about (and writing about) my faith. I love learning about and teaching the Bible. But bring up the subject of Christian apologetics and I will crawl under a table. Ick. In the past, I’ve not devoted too much attention to learning to defend my faith through the systematic use of facts. As a result I’ve been awkward with my apologetics -either altogether avoiding them or arguing unabashedly.

Over the years I’ve witnessed “apologetics dialogues” where the presenters seemed prideful, pushy, and brash. They seemed to preach in-your-face sermons of “Believe this because I’m right and you’re wrong” that left unconvinced listeners feeling ignored, dismissed, and foolish. Not my idea of loving evangelism or gentle conversion. Not that I haven’t ever been too pushy, but usually I tend to pass on the whole “offering proof” side of things.

Over this past weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended an apologetics conference led by one of my pastors. Hearing men and women I have relationships with, speak about the validity and defendability of the Bible in a loving way, was attractive. I realized, apologetics can be a valuable tool in a believer’s toolbox and workers can use them with wisdom and love.

Through the course of the conference, I learned about the ramifications of a godless world, how fine-tuned the universe is, and about the reliability of the gospels. And though I cannot regurgitate the Kalam Cosmological Argument or everything theists and non-thesits agree and disagree about, I want to share with you some of my favorite take-aways from the final session and my favorite session, led by John Hopper:

Apologetics is a component of evangelism. 

I’ve generally ignored this component altogether. I’ve relied exclusively on the Spirit’s work to the degree that I’ve been lazy in learning legitimate factual evidence that could benefit someone’s struggling soul. If I take the time to develop authentic and trusting relationships with unbelievers and pray for their conversion and salvation, it would help if I could also answer some of their questions about the Bible’s legitimacy. When used by the power the Holy Spirit, apologetics may be the tool God uses to break down walls of disbelief that have been keeping a sinner from the cross.

Ask questions. 

When you are engaged in a faith conversation with someone, asking a lot of questions helps. Listen to their answers. Understand where they are coming from so you can understand where you believe differently and can offer them Christ’s hope. As you ask questions, pray for the Holy Spirit to help you answer. Pray He would reveal their doubts and grant Biblical insight leading them to faith. Asking questions may expose they’re standing on weaker ground than they realized. Instead, offer them the firm footing of the Gospel.

Build one Brick at a time. 

Conversations aren’t a high school debate tournament. We aren’t declaring a winner and loser at the end. Realize the Lord is using your spiritual conversations as individual bricks in the wall. He is building a foundation and you aren’t responsible for building the whole thing by yourself, or all in one conversation. Faithfully build one brick at a time.

Swallow, please.

I loved this point. We need to give people a chance to swallow information. We are not asking them to believe in a far away star, a theory that makes no difference to them, or a fictional character. We’re asking them to believe in something and someone who will change the course of their life and relationships. Who changes their eternity. Give them a chance to process this reality and a chance for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart.

We aren’t the change-agents. 

My biggest gag-reflex to apologetics comes from the idea that I could be responsible for changing someone’s mind or heart. No factual information, burden of proof, or fine-tuned argument will open blind eyes or soften the hardest heart. Heart work is God’s work. My pastor, John Hopper said it like this: “We are not mind-changers. We are truth-pointers.” I think each of us would do well to remember our place in the transformation.

No substitute for practice. 

It’s not easy to have difficult dialogues with people who disagree with you. It’s not easy to be prepared for difficult questions you don’t know the answer to. But, we can get better if we practice. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to go and share the gospel of salvation with the lost and dying world. And most of the time, we’re just going to have to live through the awkwardness until we get comfortable.

Put to use what you have.

This is probably the biggest hill I’m climbing. As an all-or-nothing gal I tend to shy away from things I’m uncomfortable with or think I won’t do well at. The truth is, I have Biblical knowledge. I know Christ and have received salvation. I can start there. Before I’ve read up and learned how to answer more scientific questions or debate about other religions, I do have enough to start the conversation.

In conclusion:

  1. Be engaged as a listener.
  2. Believe apologetics can be effective.
  3. Assume people have questions, but they don’t feel comfortable bringing them up.
  4. Work hard to make the discussion a safe place.
  5. Keep the conversation friendly in tone.
  6. Keep your own emotions in check.
  7. Ask questions.

My husband said it this way: “At the end of the day, belief is a spiritual matter not an intellectual matter. We aren’t going to argue someone into faith. But, reasoning with someone in love, can lower people’s defenses and knock down walls that may lead a person to see more clearly.”

What’s your experience with apologetics? Positive or negative? Where are you on the scale of avoiding altogether to arguing unabashedly? How is God calling you to adjust your own position?

photo credit: nicola.albertini via photopin cc

Apr 112014
 

trillia-about-960x1438One of my greatest pleasures in this writing world is having the privilege of relationships with other writers. When they write the book, I pray for them. When they release the book, I rejoice with them and celebrate. But most obviously, I read their books and learn from their wisdom. 

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to my sweet friend Trillia Newbell and her new book: 

United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity

Trillia Newbell has lived life in a way I haven’t; as a black woman. No matter how hard I try to empathize, I haven’t lived in her skin and faced the same challenges and trials. With grace and kindness, this book offers me the chance to see through her eyes and peek into experiences, thoughts, and hurts – ones I might not naturally bump into in my own daily life. Trillia’s life and her love for Jesus equips her to write passionately and wisely on what she calls “God’s Vision for Diversity.”

I haven’t devoted much thought to diversity over the years and I’m probably more ignorant than knowledgable on many racial issues. If it wasn’t for a friend writing a book, I probably would not have sought out a book about ethnic diversity on my own. But I’m just the person Trillia is probably aiming for; the people who don’t know they could benefit from a conversation about unity in the church. She hits the nail on the head when she assesses one problem many may relate to:

“…more often than not, we choose apathy before we aggressively seek to learn about others (p. 133).”

United prompts Gospel-dependent believers to consider their ways in regard to how they relate to those who are different: “Could it be that you are partial to those who are just like you? Could it be partiality that hinders your pursuit of diversity (pg. 108)?” How we answer these questions could indicate problems deeper than apathy and ignorance. She writes:

“We cannot live redemptive lives and hate our neighbor. Diversity in relationships not only shows unity to the world but also builds in our own hearts love for others. It is the same love that Christ has for all people.” (pg. 63)

Reading this book helped me realize my own apathy often stands in the way of loving others. It encouraged me to seek sensitivity and intentionality with those who are different from me. It helped me to recognize my need for a heightened awareness of the ongoing struggles and challenges of my diverse brothers and sisters around me and encouraged me to embrace a working theology of ethnic diversity in the church. Trillia puts it this way:

“Diversity is worth having because diversity is about people, and people are worth fighting for. If God is mindful of man, shouldn’t we be ()?” (pg. 135)

united-book-cover_t-newbell

Trillia goes above and beyond to make the Gospel message clear and it’s application tangible. She reminds readers the Gospel has broken down the dividing walls of hostility between sinners and their Holy, Righteous God. Because of this good news, we should live lives that reflect such unity. By pursuing relationships with people of every race we break down the walls still standing in our own lives. Using examples from her own life, she offers potential relational hang-ups and possible solutions for heading in the right direction.

This book isn’t a history lesson seeking to fill you in on America’s past. It also isn’t a diatribe, shaming people like me who simply haven’t put much though into diversity. This book is a peek into a young woman’s personal struggle to understand her identity as a black woman, a sinner saved by grace, and a Church member seeking her sanctification and God’s glory within the body of Christ. Trillia’s learned the Good News should impact how we view and pursue diversity in our lives and our churches and she calls us to learn too.

Pick up your copy of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, today!

**WIN A COPY**

Today through Sunday night, you can enter to win a copy of the book by commenting below with your name. I’ll pick a winner Monday morning!

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (ESV)

Mar 262014
 

Scriptural HD Wide

It’s been sixty days since I took up the challenge to read the whole Bible in 90 days. And so far, soooooo good. By grace, I’m right on track: 2/3 of the Bible in 60 days!

I feel like reading this quickly has helped me establish mile-markers in my understanding of the Bible’s chronology. Previously, it’s as though my brain had filed each Bible story on a separate sheet of paper, tossed them up in the air and filed them however they landed. When I went back to my brain to retrieve certain stories (i.e. God calling Samuel, David’s anointing, or the Fall of Jerusalem), I had a hard time understanding where they were supposed to fit in. Reading through chronologically and quickly enough to recall what I’ve just read has helped me to clean out my brain’s filing cabinet and re-file the information in the proper order.

Understanding of God

I loved reading the Psalms in chronological order. I learned more about David’s emotions and how he turned to the Lord in joy and suffering. I enjoyed placing the more commonly known Psalms in their context and understanding why they were written. Watching God sustain David as he poured out his heart, reminded me of how good it is for me to pour out everything to the Lord. He wants to comfort me and is faithful to do so.

Saturating myself with stories of multiple bad kings (and a few good ones), wicked disobedience, idolatry, and God’s judgment on sin, I am reminded of how bad people have always been. I often hear people talk about how “bad” things are becoming and how people are more depraved than they used to be. The only thing new about these modern lamentations is the voices. The sin and depravity are the same old song from the days of the prophets. And just as God was faithful then, we know He is faithful still. Reading these Old Testament accounts of fallen kingdoms reminds me of God’s sovereign control and faithfulness to His people – amidst wicked leaders, the falling of nations, and political unrest.

Reading the prophets words to these wicked people interspersed through the historical accounts of Kings and Chronicles helped me to see how God never abandoned the people. Even in their sin, God was calling for them to return and repent. He reminded the people of His faithfulness in the past and assured them of His coming deliverance. God wants to cultivate my faith by both reminding me of his past faithfulness (throughout scripture and in my own life) and His coming faithfulness of bringing me home eternally.

Challenges

This set of thirty has been a little harder than the first thirty. First and Second Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, Psalms and Proverbs, and flipping between the prophets is very interesting, but I’m realizing how much less familiar I am with this portion of scripture. While my unfamiliarity makes me want to learn more, the quick-paced track doesn’t allow me to sit and soak it in and study more in-depth. At least now I know what I should go back and study once I’m done with the 90 days!

When I say this chunk has been harder, I also mean physically. I’ve been tired, the kids have been on spring break, we’ve had birthday celebrations sprinkled in, distractions abound. There are days I open the Bible and am fighting to keep my eyes open. Other days I haven’t been able to read at all and then have had to double up the next day. I want you to know this, because I don’t want you to have a rosy picture of how easy this is. Re-reading annoys me. Missing days puts me behind and makes me work harder later. But, I don’t want my eyes to simply glaze over and miss the meaning of the words. So, re-reading or playing catch-up is a reality sometimes. There you have it.

The Longing

I have never longed so much for the New Testament. Sixty days of brokenness, sin, repentance, wicked disobedience, and the cycle of sin and sacrifice will make you long for the Redeemer. I’ve never seen so clearly my propensity toward sin and my need for lasting atonement. The Old Testament sets you up to understand your sin and need. I need Jesus and I can’t wait to meet him in scripture when He steps on the scene in my reading plan just ten days from now. For now, I appreciate the longing.

The Prayer

Would you pray for my final thirty days? Pray for me to grasp more of who God is through my reading. Pray I would retain His Word as I read quickly. Pray I would continue to see fruit from immersing myself in Truth.

How’s your Bible reading going? Are you ready to read and need prayer? I’d love to lift you up!

Mar 182014
 

Consider yours ways graphicConsider your ways. Think about them. Think about your ways throughout your days, your weeks, your years. Why do you do what you do, when you do what you do? Perhaps you’re like me and the mere question stirs up guilt, shame, or nervousness over what you aren’t doing? Or, maybe it stirs up pride in what you are legalistically boasting in.

Over the past few weeks our Sunday morning Bible fellowship has been studying the book of Haggai and it’s really shaken me up. The book of Haggai takes place after the  people of God returned from their exile in Babylon and almost twenty years later God’s temple still remains in ruins. Apparently, the people decided repairing and restoring the temple wasn’t that important: “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD ().”

About that time, the word of the LORD came by the hand of his prophet, Haggai:

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.” ()

The knife of conviction twists as I think about how often I waste time on longing after, pursuing, building, and dwelling in my own version of “paneled houses”- all those objects of my affection that don’t really matter in the scheme of eternity – how I look when I walk out the door, the trendiness of my house’s decor, how many friends “liked” my status on Facebook today, or how many loads of laundry I tackled. Like God’s people in the days of Haggai, I often find myself sowing much and harvesting little, drinking but never having my fill, earning wages to “put them into a bag with holes (1:6).”

The Lord’s strong admonition through Haggai, is “Consider your ways.”

In those days, God called the people to rebuild His temple so that He may take pleasure in it and be glorified (1:8). As they work, He calls the people to be strong (2:4) and to work knowing He is with them according to the covenant He made with them (2:3-5). He reminds them to “Fear not,” for He will “fill this house with glory (2:5-7).”

Every day when I consider my ways, I face the reality of my own sin and the laws I’ve broken and neglected. But every day, unlike Haggai and the Israelite people He prophesied to, I have the privilege of standing in the beautiful grace I’ve received through Christ.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

My desire to pursue holiness, to glorify the Lord in my earthly body, and to see the world come to the saving knowledge of Christ, requires me to regularly “consider my ways” and to keep a focused eye on eternity. But the grace I receive in Christ allows me to work diligently with a humble heart, knowing it is Christ who is accomplishing His purposes in and through me.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Consider your ways today. What do you need to ask the Lord to help you prioritize for Him to be glorified and His name be known?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” (ESV)

Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (ESV)

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (ESV)

Mar 052014
 
john.schultz / Foter / CC BY-SA

Most days I wake up already feeling unsuccessful. Before I stir from underneath the covers and plant my feet on the floor, I’m midway through reciting my list of things I’m overwhelmed by or probably won’t get to today. Laundry, healthy-eating, writing, parenting well, you name it and I’m probably thinking about what a lousy job I’m doing at it.

I would love for every single day to be filled with a perfectly pleased and cared for family, eating healthy home-cooked meals inside a clean and orderly home, all while I maintain a healthy body, nourished friendships, and a thriving writing ministry. My head is spinning just typing all those things out, but yet I start out each and every day with a to-do list longer than anyone is capable of conquering; falsely assuming if I can just order the tasks the right way and manage my time strategically then I could knock everything out.

Even on a day where I hopped out of bed when the alarm went off, dove right into the day’s Bible reading, fixed somebody breakfast, got people dressed for the day, cleaned out my bedroom and my bedroom and bathroom closets, I still had a mile-long list of things I didn’t accomplish. I didn’t finish the laundry, put away all the kitchen dishes, or spend any time writing. Instead of going to bed feeling productive, I fell asleep disappointed in myself for the things I didn’t get to.

Last week, I admitted this struggle to a friend. She suggested something so simple and yet embarrassingly revolutionary. She advised me to start my day with a simple prayer asking the Lord to “order my day” and then for to ask God to help me to accept what He’s ordained. I felt foolish for not realizing my obviousness need for such a prayer. I’m used to the knowledge God ordains my day in the bigger things like a sick kid or cancelled plans. But, often I don’t ask the Lord to rule over the menial tasks that make up my domain – laundry, dishes, bills, and other chores. I act as though I am the master of these areas and get to work on them without even asking God for wisdom.

So here’s what I’m learning:

My plans for my day, aren’t necessarily God’s plans for my day.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that stands.”

Waking up already feeling overwhelmed is an indicator that I’m attempting to be my own boss. (I admit I am a control freak who God is constantly taming.) If I use anxiousness as an indicator, it will remind me to submit what I want to accomplish to the Lord and know he will provide and make a way for me to get to what needs to be done. What I want may or may not be on His agenda. When things don’t play out my way, I need not be so flabbergasted. Actively committing my day to the Lord’s purposes and asking Him to direct me to the things I need to give attention to (be they glamorous playdates or meet-ups with friends or unglamorous things like toilet scrubbing…) will help me to focus on faithfulness instead of franticness.

I need to ditch the guilt and shame.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

God does not love and accept me based on my household merits. Thank you, Jesus. Spending the day burdened by guilt and shame over what I have not accomplished is an indicator that I’m living tied to the law – attempting to earn my righteousness through the work of my own hands. Instead, guilt and shame over my own insufficiency should lead me to gratitude for the sufficiency of Christ and all He accomplished on my behalf! God isn’t disappointed in my mounds of clean laundry or shaking His head in the heavens over my reheated leftovers. He loves me and accepts me even at the end of the day when I’m still in my pajamas.

His strength is my strength.

“…according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

When my eyes open each morning, I want to be filled with the knowledge of Christ and the overwhelming fact that He is my strength. My resolve and spastic strivings for perfection will never be enough to earn my own righteousness. I rely on Christ and His sacrifice on my behalf to rescue me from death. I can also rely on His strength to rescue me from my own anxiousness, guilt, and shame over an unconquerable to-do list. Today, I’m asking the Lord once again to fill my day with His strength to live by faith; accomplishing His purposes for His glory and resting solely in His fullness.

21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (ESV)

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (ESV)

16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (ESV)

Feb 202014
 

Scriptural HD Wide

Yesterday morning, I completed my first thirty days of my 90 day plan to read through the Bible. If you missed what made me do this – you can click here and read the original post. With thirty days under my belt, I have officially read one third of the Bible. In 30 days. This is faster than I’ve ever read before and I must admit it’s shocked me how easy it’s been. I am in love with this method.

Reading quickly through Genesis gave me a more succinct understanding of the stories and how they fit together. I understood the family trees and the history timeline more clearly. I remembered the names of the lands they were moving in and out of and which families had come from which places, because I’d just read it. Watching God’s promise to Abraham unfold as I read quickly, helped me to clearly see God’s faithfulness.

Because I’m reading chronologically, Job is inserted in the middle of Genesis. This was different for me. But, it helped me to understand how early on Job trusted and loved God. Reading the many words of Job’s “friends” challenged me to think about the type of counsel I offer to my friends when they’re suffering. The Lord’s kindness to Job in the end of the book was comforting.

Exodus reminded me of God’s faithfulness to His plans – both for His people and for His glory. It reminded me about my propensity toward complaining and forgetfulness. Reading these old, well-known stories still brings new life and reminds me the Word of God is living and active and still has good to accomplish in my soul, even when when stories are familiar.

I love Leviticus. Hopefully one day I will actually write and teach a study on this book. Again, reading it all together underscored for me God’s utter holiness. He is set apart. Fully different from us. I can’t imagine how many things in those days called for sacrifice. Acne? Mold in your house? The list goes on. No one is left out. We would all be in constant states of sacrificing for our uncleanliness. And the process of sacrificing…sheesh. Gather this animal, slaughter it that way, do this with the blood. It’s a process. A brutal, awful, disgusting, messy process. And through Christ, we no longer have to make atonement for every single sin, every day. Do we fully grasp what this means? I know I rarely do.

As I head into days 30 – 60, the chronological plan begins to bounce a little more between books. I’m flipping a lot from 1 Samuel to Psalms, back to Chronicles, back to Psalms, and then back again to 2 Samuel. While I am experiencing a little Scriptural whiplash, it makes so much more sense to see these stories all at the same time. It’s like reading Mark’s account of a story and then flipping to the same story in Luke. It has also helped to see the historical context of why David was writing his laments or begging for God’s help in avoiding enemies when I’d just read about him being pursued by Saul. Really, it’s making the story so clear!

There is so much more I could say about what I loved about Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth – but honestly, I would rather get back to reading than to type it up right now. But know that they were all as equally enjoyable. Reading through them makes me want to go back when I’m done and spend more time camping out in the text and learning even more.

Personally, I am enjoying being in the Word more than ever. I look forward to finding time to hop in. I’m realizing ways that work for me (listening to the audio while reading along) and ways that don’t (reading when I’m tired while being in bed). It’s helped me to establish rhythms and patterns. It has made my time in the Word a special place for me to commune with my Father. I love it. Did I already say that?

Would you pray for me as I head into the next thirty days? Pray for God to sustain me and keep me? If you picked up the challenge to read more scripture, know I’m praying for you too! I’d love to hear how you’re doing. If you’re just reading about this crazy challenge, it’s not too late to join in the fun. You don’t have to read like me, just read more than you were reading. Make a commitment and ask God to help you.

Here’s to the next thirty days! Wahoo!

Feb 112014
 
Sara Björk / Foter / CC BY

Have you ever had a friend come to you with a difficult trial or a massive burden? Her news shifts everything in her life. She’s experiencing hurt and loss. Grief. She’s come to you for the solace of friendship and the support you can provide? Do you feel ill-equipped? I often do.

Walking through major trials with friends is hard.  Whether the season of hardship is due to circumstances outside the friend’s control or even if it’s a product of her own sinful rebellion, there are no Cliff’s Notes to prepare you for how to handle the crisis. How I choose to respond in trial can be either helpful or hurtful.

The Fixer

At different periods of my life I have failed miserably to provide what friends needed from me. Instead of a listening ear, I spoke. Instead of comfort, I provided advice. Instead of looking to the Lord, I frantically searched my own catalog of “wisdom” and offered empty counsel. Sometimes my counsel was received, and thankfully it wasn’t completely terrible. But either way, it wasn’t sufficient to heal and to mend the brokenness.

When pieces of a friend’s life crumble down, my instinct is to gather – to pick up the pieces and glue it back together. I want to fix it. But I am not the fixer 

The words I outwardly speak to the grieving friend, should point them to the cross, not to their own restorative powers or mine. We are not the healers and neither are they. The ultimate repair we trust to the Lord; The Fixer, the Healer, The One who is capable of heart change.

Our Responsibility

My own feelings of deep, surrogate grief or sorrow on their behalf,  aren’t necessarily a cue to advise. Instead, such empathy should remind me to run in prayer to Jesus on their behalf. Feeling their brokenness, leads me to intercede for the broken. Feeling their sorrow, leads me to intercede for the sorrowful. God’s gift of empathy compels me to petition the thrown of grace on my friend’s behalf, interceding when their words run dry.

As time passes my job is to continue to point my friend back toward hope; shining light on Christ’s promise to redeem all things for the good of those who love Him. Reminding her even in grief, sorrow, brokenness, and sin, God is producing an eternal weight of glory. No trial is too difficult, to messy, too broken, or too hopeless for the Lord to redeem.

Caring and providing for friends reflects the comfort of Christ, but the ultimate healing comfort is the Lord’s.

Lead suffering friends to Jesus, not to yourself or your own wisdom.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.””

 

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (ESV)

Feb 062014
 

Scriptural HD Wide

At the beginning of the year I committed to do something that seems a little ridiculous, even to me.I guess it’s sort of an experiment. We’ll see how it goes.

It all started when I read an article on The Gospel Coalition about how often believers are encouraged to read through the Bible s-l-o-w-l-y. However, for those of us who are readers and read long books or great works of fiction (Christian non-fiction is my chosen pleasure!) we may be cheating ourselves. The author points out that if we can sit down and read through tons of pages from other books, we can also sit down and read the entire Bible. Each January, he reads the Bible cover to cover until he’s done. He even eliminates all other reading until he’s done.

My Goal

Last year, in addition to my personal Bible reading, I set a personal goal to read at least twenty books (again, mostly non-fiction) and I succeeded. This year, what if I could put all my energies into reading the Word?! I’m not typically an uber-disciplined reader or a glutton for punishment, but the idea of reading Scripture on hyperdrive intrigued me!

So here is my crazy goal. I am attempting to read through the entire Bible in 90 days. Yes, call me nuts…my husband did. (Which may have only served to fuel the fire.) I started the last week of January and read ahead a little bit to pad in some grace days just in case. I’m currently on day 16 of 90.

My Method

plan

Previously when I’ve read the Bible cover to cover, I did so with a plan that had me jumping back and forth from Old Testament to New Testament to the Psalms every day. While I enjoyed being in each place, it felt a little disjointed. It was hard to get the feel for each book, observe the literary style, and major themes when taking a month or more to get through one book. (*Confession* I completed a one-year plan in two years.)

This time I’m reading chronologically. I’m using the ESV chronological reading plan. It’s a one-year reading plan that I’m adapting by reading four “days” at a time. It sounds like a lot, but so far I’ve been able to complete them almost every day in about an hour.

During my last read-through of the Bible, I wrote in the margins of Crossway’s ESV Journaling Bible I also underlined way too much. This time, I’m venturing out and taking notes in a separate notebook on each book of the Bible. Sometimes I jot down notes about which stories are where, a few observations, key verses I’d love to memorize later, and any personal thoughts on the passage. So far, I’m enjoying this method and my Bible is certainly more readable without my additional scribble-scrabble graffiti.

On days when I’m feeling a little distracted or sleepy, I’m also trying something new. YouVersion has a free app that will read the Bible to you in whatever translation you set up. I click play on my phone and follow along in my Bible and I find it much easier to stay engaged with the text!

My Experience

So far, I love this challenge. Who knows if I’ll pull it off in my allotted time, but I love that it gives me something to aim for. I feel the pressure of remembering every day to read. I am enjoying re-reading stories in context of their books of the Bible instead of in fragmented pieces. And, I’m thrilled to experience the historical context for the first time!

I am so thankful that my righteousness isn’t based on my Bible reading. I don’t have to read four pages a day, read every day, or finish in a certain time period to earn God’s forgiveness. Christ died for me, in my sin, Bible reading or no Bible reading. But being in God’s word reminds me of God’s faithfulness, Christ’s sacrifice, and the grace I’ve received. I would wither without it.

I haven’t always had a passion for God’s word though*. I remember begging the Lord to change my heart because reading His Word felt boring. I knew I should love it, I just didn’t. Mercifully, through prayer and the continued discipline of showing up to read, God softened my heart and created a longing in my heart.

Join Me!

scratch out

Don’t get freaked out by my plan. Pick one that works for you. In the past, I’ve scratched out the month titles of reading plans so they don’t shame me if I miss days or months! Read the Bible in big chunks, small chunks, fast or slow. Just read it. Be in the Word. Learn about who God is and all the promises He has made and kept. You won’t regret it. (Let me know if you’re picking up a plan and I’ll pray for you!)

 

Over the next 90 days, I’ll check-in from time to time with a post on specific books of the Bible I’ve finished (and feel like writing about). I hope you’ll stick around for the series: “Scriptural Hyperdrive.”

*For more of my story on how I began to love scripture, you can click here and read about my “Couch Potato Coma.” 

 

Update: 30 Day Check-in & 60 Day Check-in

Jan 212014
 
Lynn Kelley Author / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Having my fourth baby sent me over the edge in regard to dishwashing. Around the time of number four’s birth, we converted from our wedding gift, pretty, place settings to paper plates. The Carlson family began killing the planet, one plate at a time, one meal at a time. Every dish I didn’t have to wash was worth the pennies paid. The energy I expended making the meal, didn’t leave a reserve to also wash the dishes we ate off of. So, I resorted to the cheap disposable option and only felt a minor amount of shame and embarrassment.

Now the baby is almost three and it really is time to get my act together and wash more dishes than I toss. Finding the discipline and self-control to resume what once was a completely normal habit, has been hard. But alas, paper plates don’t grow on trees…oh wait. Never-mind. The point is, it’s time to transition back to real plates. Do the work, save the dollar and the planet. Enough with my love of disposability.

There are other areas of my life though, outside the kitchen, tempting me to laziness and waste. If I’m not careful, friendships can get tossed out.

Say something hurtful? I’ll just avoid you from now on.

Spending too much time with a different friend? I guess I’ll move along too.

We had a disagreement? I’ll assume you don’t want to be close friends anymore.

Over the years, I have observed myself and others walk away from countless relationships, disposing of friendships as if they weren’t worth the work. The relationship gets sticky or hurtful and one or both decide it is easier to move along than to stick it out. The temptation is to toss out the old, head back to the proverbial friend-store, and try again, hoping for the best. Inevitably, you’re shopping in the same store of sinners and the next friend happens to come with faults too.

Worthy Work

God never intended me to view relationships as disposable. Of course people move, leave churches or schools, and come in and out of our lives for various reasons. But regularly or casually shifting from friend to friend over petty annoyances, misunderstandings, or relational slip-ups, isn’t the goal, folks.

The goal of friendship is much deeper than simple girls‘ nights out. More than book clubs or play groups. They’re about more than making you feel included or cheering you up. Inside the body of Christ, friendship offers an opportunity to learn to bear with one another the way Christ bears with us () – even in our sin; loving even when it’s hard (). Friendships challenge us in Christ-likeness by calling us to care more about God’s glory than we do about getting our way.

Friendship assumes there will be relational muck, but strives to work through it; persevering in love for the glory of God. Friendship means apologizing, sometimes more than once (). Friendship means confessing hurt feelings; refusing to evade emotional disconnect because you know everything you stuff will eventually re-surface. It means listening to a friends’ words, assuming the best of their heart. It means seeking peace and reconciliation; doing uncomfortable work for the sake of healing. You aren’t called to love the process of making peace, you are called to do the work of seeking peace and pursuing it ().

Because He First Loved Us

Mathias Klang / Foter.com / CC BY

Over the years the Lord has healed me the most through repentance, restoring relationships I destroyed and assumed I’d never see heal. Women I hid from in the halls of church, are now friends. Relational restoration blossoms sweet fruits of love, joy, and peace that you will never taste if you are too busy burying the brokenness.

Christ made himself a friend to me, while I was yet in sin (). Offering His perfection for my imperfection, He sacrificed His life so I could receive God’s forgiveness. Because I’ve been forgiven, I should be quick to ask for and offer forgiveness within friendships (). God delights to reconcile. Fight for your relationships and battle to show love. Be fierce with your forgiveness. God the Father was fierce with His.

Maintaining friendships with sinful people is hard work. It’s way harder than keeping up with dishes in a house with six people eating three meals a day. But persevering in trials, misunderstandings, and hurts, and pursuing peace with friends is a worthy endeavor. Seeking to be more like Christ always is. It’s those friends who are stick around through thick and thin. They will keep your kids, wash your dishes, and fold your laundry when you’re in a place of need. When friendships get hard and you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they require, take a break from doing dishes. Heck, use disposable plates, I won’t judge you. But don’t throw away your friendships.

15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (ESV)

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (ESV)

13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (ESV)

14 Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. (ESV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (ESV)

10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, (ESV)

Jan 082014
 
seyed mostafa zamani / Foter.com / CC BY

Some mornings, writing comes easily. Other days, I stare at a blank screen and scrounge for words and it is painful. And then sometimes it’s not painful, but it’s also not fruitful. It’s just plain dry. When it’s on a computer screen, I can shrug my shoulders and heave a sigh of annoyance and walk away with only the guilt of another day of blank-blog syndrome.

This phenomenon transfers into my real life, too. Some mornings I get up early, fighting the good fight to remain in the Word, and I earnestly read and look for wisdom. But then, some days I leave feeling like nothing’s been written on the pages of my life. I close my Bible and have no since of awe as I re-enter the world outside my bedroom door. I head into the day feeling exactly like I did when I went to bed the night before. When I don’t  feel refreshed or feel equipped, I can forget that I am being sustained and being carried along even in the days I don’t feel it.

The past few months have been a season of deep drought for me. A disappointment here and another one there and drumming up cheerfulness has been downright difficult. Thankfulness, has come only through thoughtfulness; pondering all the ways God is faithful even when I’m hurting or sorrowful. And though ultimate joy in my salvation and my Savior is there, it’s buried deep inside. It’s hardest to feel the joy in the times of drought.

This round of deep drought is not the first, and sadly it won’t be the last. I’ve lived long enough to experience a few highs and lows of life and know they’re cyclical. One thing has been different this time around. This time, for the first time, I’ve been mercifully aware that my feelings of barrenness, don’t dictate God’s nearness and continued work on my behalf.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

This period of waiting to once again feel the Lord’s refreshing renewal has been the sweetest because I know it will come again. And until it does, I remind myself it is “through returning and rest” I will be saved; “In quietness and in trust” will I find my strength (). My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is my strength and my portion forever (). Feelings are not your peace, Christ is.

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of the commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

If you are starting out this year on the same page as me, barren or in draught, don’t despair. Don’t think God has forgotten you or left you alone. He has not. Rest, rest, rest. Return to Him even when you don’t see immediate fruit of change. Even when you don’t feel His renewal. He is there and His understanding is unsearchable.

You may be tired, but He is not. Until He renews your strength, wait for Him in quietness and trust.

 

 

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (ESV)

15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, (ESV)

26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (ESV)

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (ESV)

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