Sanctification & Growth
It’s times like this — when we turn our calendars to a new year — that many of us think about making changes in our lives. Some people join a gym. Some people sign up for weight management. Many make New Year’s Resolutions that are broken as quickly as they were made.
But what if you wanted real change — change that was more real than changing what you eat and how much you weigh? God’s Word is that kind of change agent! Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is living and effectual, and is sharper than a two-edged sword, able to divide to the deepest parts of us … even to our desires and motivations.
This year our church is embarking on reading through one of two Bible Reading Plans. One Reading Plan will take us through the New Testament by reading one chapter a day, five days a week. It’ll take about five minutes each day.
The other Bible Reading Plan will take us through the entire Bible, reading about three to four chapters a day, six days a week, and will take about a half-hour each day.
Why not join us in reading through the Bible in 2018? It just may change your life! Let me know if you’re going to join with us. I’d love to encourage you along the way!
My family and I have watched ABC’s The Middle since it began its first season. Because we’re normally occupied with other things on Wednesday Nights, we set our DVR and watched it later. This Fall, for its ninth and final season, The Middle was moved to Tuesday Nights; we still DVR the show to watch later. And I may keep this week’s episode for posterity’s sake. Yes, it was that good!
If you’ve never watched The Middle, you have missed out on some funny programming. ABC’s description of the show is, “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes—but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” Thus, it’s called “The Middle”.
In the December 12th episode (Episode 10, The Christmas Miracle), Axl, the recent college graduate and oldest child in the family tells his mother that we won’t be going to church with the family on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t see a valid reason for going. As Axl’s family members learn of his disinterest, they express their thoughts of why they go to church. Mike, Axl’s dad says that he’s not one to ask; he’s not very sure of his own faith commitment. His mother, Frankie, searches for her reasons, and settles on the subjective, pleasant feelings she gets when she goes to church. After Axl’s sister, Sue can’t fathom the idea that someone in her family could possibly struggle with their faith.
Many of us experienced a kind of “crisis of belief”, normally around the time Axl does. We wonder what’s the point of maintaining our family’s faith traditions. I see this as a very healthy thing because if we are going to grow in our faith (2Peter 3:18), we must “own” it for ourselves. The faith of our dad, mom, and grandparents is insufficient for eternity, as well as for right now. It’s in these “crisis of belief” times we think that church and the Bible are boring. We don’t see the point of continuing in the Christian faith because we don’t see how it has made a difference in anyone’s life. We don’t see church, faith, the Bible as being… relevant.
Over the past couple of weeks, many of our members have talked about how our adult children – whom we faithfully took to church every Sunday, and tried to instill the value of going – don’t attend church anymore. We invite them, but they seem to have other commitments with their kids’ soccer games, going out to the deer lease, or just sleeping in. Each Sunday, on our way to church, we drive past many homes with all the cars in the driveway. Axl Heck’s feelings are voiced by many former church-attenders and never-attenders alike.
A couple of weeks ago I said that people don’t go to church because they don’t see any reason to go. They see the whole “church thing” as boring. They don’t understand anything in the Bible (assuming they ever pick up… and assuming they have a translation they can understand). They think the church is full of hypocrites. They don’t like the music. They think that everybody’s beliefs are equally valid. They think that all religions basically teach the same thing. They feel they were dragged to church as children and have no interest now that they can make their own decisions, they decide to not go. They think all we ever talk about is money.
Yes, I think “relevance” is the right word for the times. “They” don’t see the relevance. And if we’re honest, we don’t see the relevance either!
Several of our members – who have been believers for decades – have recently told me that 2017 marks the first time they have ever read the entire New Testament. One told me that he’s never read the entire Old Testament, and for most of his Christian life, he has memorized very few verses of the Bible. From other conversations I have had, I can sadly say that his experience is typical of many of our members – and it’s typical of most people who call themselves, “Christians”!
Whether or not we want to admit it, based on our priorities as we live them out, we don’t see the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, fellowshipping with other Believers, and evangelism/discipleship as being relevant! At all! Sure, we can say we do, but we really don’t. I say these things, not to judge, but to simply state the facts.
Whether or not we realize it, Axl Heck’s question is our question. Why go to church? Why read my Bible? What differences do any of these things make in the early Twenty-first Century?
These are good questions. Questions that I look forward to following up on in the coming days.
At the end of this month, our church members will complete a plan for reading through the New Testament. We will also finish out the year having learned twelve Bible passages. Some of our members have never attempted these tasks, and fewer have succeeded. I have tried and failed many times in my 36 years of growing as a Christian. But more times than not, when I have used a Bible reading plan, I have completed my goals.
How about you? Have you ever tried to read through the Bible? How about just the New Testament? It’s very straightforward. To read through the entire Bible, you’ll need to read five chapters each day, counting a few “off” days each month, just in case you fall behind and need to catch up. To read through the New Testament, you will only have to read one chapter per day, five days per week. And it will only take about five minutes a day! Surely that’s an attainable goal for anyone! Even if you are a very slow reader, there are smartphone apps (see below) and websites that will read the Bible for you – out loud. Most of us spend more than five minutes each day driving or taking care of personal needs. That’s more than five minutes a day that can be redeemed for your walk with God.
Now, I’m not saying that you only need to spend five minutes a day working on your walk with God. Imagine only spending five minutes a day with your spouse or children; that’s hardly enough time to deepen that relationship. But if you need a shot of adrenaline to boost your walk with God, spending about five minutes in His Word might just fit the bill.
So why should you read through the Bible or the New Testament?
I think the more appropriate question is, “Why should you read any part of the Bible?”
It comes down to the nature of the Bible itself. If the Bible is a written record of God’s actions and His desires for His people, why would we not want (and need!) to read, study, and memorize it?
Someone wisely said that the most controversial — and the most radical — verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1 which tells us that God created everything out of nothing. Why would anyone say this statement is controversial and radical? Because if God created it, He owns it. He knows what’s best for it. He sets the rules over how it should run. And He has requirements for how people (also, whom He created) should live.
If you think the Bible is just a bunch of dos and don’ts, you haven’t read much of the Bible!
Sure, there are lots of dos and don’ts, but they are made in the context of a relationship between God and His people. And the purpose of those dos and don’ts is to show us that we can’t live up to God’s standards! The purpose of all those dos and don’ts is to draw us to the gracious and merciful forgiveness of God and the gracious power to please God!
The Word of God is alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword with the surgical precision of a laser, cutting to the depths of who we are and it’s able to even reveal our deepest desires. (Hebrews 4:12)
God intends for us to grow in our relationship with Him (1Peter 3:18). Do you want to grow? If you do, then you must spend time in God’s Word, letting it wash over you, letting it cut into the depths of your soul, and letting it mold you and shape you to look more like Jesus.
But please don’t approach reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible like you used to do when your parents told you, “Eat your vegetables, because they’re good for you.” Yes, reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible is good for you, but as you spend time reading, studying, and memorizing parts of the Bible, you’ll find that God’s Word is more desirable than gold – than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb. In addition, we can be warned by what we read, and in keeping God’s Word, there is an abundant reward. (Psalm 19:10–11)
So I started this blog post talking about the importance of having a plan to help you read through the Bible, or the New Testament. How about some tools? I’m glad you asked!
At the end of last year, I wrote a small book (you may download it here) that I gave to our church members in hopes of encouraging them to read and memorize the Bible together in 2017. Although there are many Bible Reading plans available, the plan I recommended is one that I have personally used in the past. The 5x5x5 New Testament Reading Plan comes from Discipleship Journal. If you’re interested in reading through both the Old and New Testaments, I highly recommend George Guthrie’s Reading God’s Story: One Year Chronological Bible Reading Plan. I think the greatest feature of Guthrie’s plan is that it assigns the readings in a roughly chronological format. For example, when you’re reading about King David, the readings will include Psalms that David wrote. Print one of these plans and start on January 1, 2018.
Or…. Use the Bible App. The Bible App is fantastic in that it tracks your daily readings and lets you choose from any number of translations of the Bible. It offers lots of reading plans to choose from, including the Discipleship Journal’s New Testament plan and Guthrie’s Chronological plan. To get to these plans, just sign up for a free account at Bible.com, then choose the 5x5x5 plan or the Chronological plan.
Not only can the Bible App present you with the readings for that day, the Bible App will even read it aloud for you! You connect with friends and encourage each other to stay up-to-date. You can connect your social media accounts and post Bible verses on Facebook and Twitter.
On a side note, the Bible App is one of the most popular Apps (as I type this, the Bible App has been downloaded almost 300 million … yes, 300 MILLION times!) and it’s available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, on the web … well, you get the idea! If you have a computer, smartphone, tablet or similar device, the Bible App can help you accomplish your goals of reading the Bible.
I mentioned that the Bible App offers many Bible translations. If you have a favorite translation, why not try something different this year? If you’re used to reading from the King James Version, New American Standard, or English Standard Version, try something new in 2018 like the New Living Translation or The Message for your Bible reading; you may be surprised at what you see that you’ve never seen before!
So how about it? Will you accept the challenge of reading through the Entire Bible or the New Testament in 2018? If so, please let me know, so I can pray for you. If you’re a pastor and you’re encouraging your people to read through the Bible or the New Testament, I’d love to hear about that, too!
A friend posted a video on Facebook yesterday showing John Piper’s recommendations regarding using a contemporary English translation of the Bible. As the video played, captions appeared (with many misspellings), attempting to rebut Piper’s comments in real-time. I am not providing a link to the video simply because it isn’t worth glorifying by linking to it.
Below is my response to my friend and to her Facebook friends. It is a long post. On this website, I will welcome comments for a few days, but I will only post comments if they are respectful of everyone involved in the debate.
Regarding the person/persons who added the captions… their knowledge of the CENTRAL issue at hand is no more accurate than the spelling in their captions! (There are other peripheral issues regarding the KJV, but I am withholding my remarks because they aren’t the CENTRAL issue at hand and I don’t want anyone to get distracted from the CENTRAL issue).
Yes, the Biblical writers DID IN FACT use the common language of the day (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) to record what God said — in the common language at the time.
(Note: An additional note to my original Facebook response:
Example: Moses didn’t record the Exodus in Egyptian Hieroglyphics (even though, growing up in Pharoah’s house, he would have been very capable of doing so]. Instead, he recorded the Exodus of God’s people in the language that they would understand.)
The reason William Tyndale was burned at the stake (in 1536), and one of the many reasons Martin Luther was in so much hot water: attempting to get the Word of God *back* into the hands of normal, everyday people so they could understand it in the common language of the day.
The very fact that the KJV was even translated in the first place (1611) was to GET THE WORD OF GOD INTO THE COMMON LANGUAGE OF THE DAY!
The KJV was not the first English translation. As far as I can tell, many of the previous (partial eg, Psalms, the Gospels) English translations were translated from the Latin Vulgate (which itself was translated from the original languages in order to GET THE WORD OF GOD INTO THE COMMON LANGUAGE OF THE DAY.
The KJV was a revision to Tyndale’s works (published from 1494–1536) and Bishops Bible (1568 which was revised in 1572; the 1602 edition of the Bishop’s Bible was prescribed as the base text for the King James Version.
The translators of the KJV recognized the limitations of their work and acknowledged that as language changes, English translations would need to be updated accordingly.
The bottom line: The KJV-Only proponents are not consistent in their argument for the legitimacy of KJV-Only.
As I have told people in churches where I have served, if you normally speak (fluently) only in 17th Century Elizabethan English, by all means, use the KJV! Otherwise, use a good modern-day translation in your first language, which for most of us is mid-to-late 20th to early 21st Century English.
The CENTRAL issue at hand is “How does God speak? How did He originally intend to speak?” When God breathed out His Word (2Tim 3:16), He did so in the language of the hearers in their contemporary dialect. And if they had God’s Word in their contemporary language, so should we.
We need to have the most understandable translation of the Bible in our native language so we can<br />
1) understand it,
2) study it,
3) meditate on it, and
4) apply it to your daily life. (2Tim 3:17)
So, what’s your take on this issue? Do you believe the King James translation (translated in 1611) is the only legitimate for Christians today? If so, please state your case.
This article was published by DesiringGod in December 2014. I present it in its entirety.
Whether you feel like a beginner, or the grizzled old veteran, one of the most important things you can do is regularly read the Bible for yourself.
It is a remarkable thing that we have Bibles we can read personally, whenever we want. For most of the church history, and still today in many places in the world, Christians have not had their own personal copies of the Bible. They had to gather to hear someone read it to them. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) was all they had for Bible time.
But now, with printed Bibles and electronic options galore, we have priceless access to God’s very words to us, words that we are so tragically tempted to take lightly. Reading your own copy of the Bible daily is not a law that every believer must abide; most Christians have not had this option. But daily Bible reading is an extraordinary means of God’s grace. Why miss this bounty and blessing?
The Whole Thing?
“All Scripture,” says 2 Timothy 3:16, “is breathed out by God and profitable.” It is the whole Bible, says Sinclair Ferguson, which was given to make whole Christians. Everything in Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is for the good of the church. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
But not every text functions to build our faith in the same way, and has the same effect for every one of God’s children in the new covenant. It is a wonderful thing to read all the way through the Bible. It is something that pastors and teachers in the church should strongly consider doing on an annual basis, to let all the Scriptural data pass before their eyes for continually informing their public theological claims. But this is not a yoke to be set on every Christian every year. Though it would be a good thing for every Christian to try at some point, or at least to have some multi-year plan in place to eventually get you through the whole Bible in some cycle.
For those considering the journey, you may be surprised how doable it is. It takes about 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover.
That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. (Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29)
Maybe now is your time to try it. Here are some of our favorites:
Discipleship Journal is our most beloved, and most used, over the years at Desiring God. There are four daily readings, but only 25 days each month — which leaves some margin for missing here and there when life gets busy. John Piper says, “Few things discourage us more from reading the Bible through in a year than falling behind. This plan gives five catch up days every month. This is absolutely golden!”
M’Cheyne is the classic plan, designed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813–1843), the beloved Scottish minister who died before his thirtieth birthday. The plan has readings for every day of the year and will take you once through the Old Testament and twice through the Psalms and the New Testament.
The Kingdom gives proportionate weight to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and one for the New. The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, with one reading coming from each portion per day. Only 25 readings are slated per month and can be started at any time of the year.
For Shirkers and Slackers is for those who’ve tried other plans and stalled out again and again. This plan assigns certain genres to certain days of the week and breaks biblical books into sections you can read in one sitting — so without reading everyday, you can still make measurable headway. Pace yourself well and do some extra reading, and you might even finish in less than a year.
Or if the whole thing in a year seems out of your reach, try taking up a plan and working through it at your own pace, even if it takes you several years. It will give you a specific place to go next when you open the Bible, instead of just opening to some random text, and in time it will give you confidence that you’ve traversed the whole terrain of Scripture and at least glimpsed briefly God’s full written revelation to us.