Thursday, December 31, 2009

7 Tips for Reading the Bible in a Year

'Tis the season for new year's resolutions, and many of us will resolve to read the Bible all the way through this year. It's easier said than done; there are lots of ways to lose the momentum and lose your committment. But it's really not that hard; 15-20 minutes a day will get you there.

You can do it. Here are a few thoughts to help you along on this venture:

1. Skim the hard parts.
Different things require and warrant different levels of reading. You do not read the tv guide with the same degree of care you do a textbook. You do not need to read the "begats" with the same diligence you give to the epistles right now. Ditto with the law and the more difficult prophecies. You'll want to come back to them another time, but for now if what you're reading is just terribly boring, skim it. The key here is don't lose your momentum, which will happen if you dread picking up your Bible.

2. Read the introductions.
Proverbs should be read very differently than Ezekiel or Romans. If your Bible has book introductions, they will probably give you some tips on how to do that. If yours doesn't, they're available online. Or you could get a book to help — maybe a Bible handbook or How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

3. Read meaningful chunks.
Every book in the Bible has a point. Many are designed to make a particular case. If you read a paragraph at a time of a book, you won't be able to piece that case together, and it won't make sense to you. Try to read at least a couple of chapters of any given book at a time, maybe more.

4. Read manageable chunks.
But if you try to read too much at one time, you may find have trouble processing what you've read. Reading the Bible is not just about getting through the Bible; it's about getting the Bible into you. Reading too much at a time can make that difficult.

5. Designate a catch up day.
Sooner or later you'll have a day or two when you barely have time to go to the restroom much less read something. Plan for that. Make one day — a week, a month, whatever — a catch up day. Pick a day when you have a little more leisure time and plan to read a little extra if necessary to stay on your schedule.

6. Make a habit of this.
Though bad days will happen, they'll be fewer if you get accustomed to reading at a certain time in a certain place. It can actually become automatic — that is, you can find yourself reaching for your Bible the minute you sit down, whether you intended to read or not. Choose a time and place when you'll have the fewest interruptions to read every day.

7. Don't make a habit of this.
Honestly, reading the Bible in a year's not the best way to read it. This will give you a broad view of the Bible, and that's important, but it's a terrible way to get a deep view which is critical for growth. So if you do it, do it this year and plan on doing something else thereafter.

Related articles:
5 Questions to Help Your Devotions
How to be a Self-Feeder
Reflections on Leviticus
Bible Study Links

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Post-Christmas Test

"My brethren, we are apt to think of Christ's first coming as a thing past and gone; and so, in one sense, it is. Eighteen centuries and a half have passed since His visible coming, and yet He is with us now. He came to be with His people for all time. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The Incarnation is a perpetuated fact; and the various relations of different souls to the Incarnate Christ which we study in the Gospels, are repeated in every generation of Christians. Peter, Thomas, Magdalen, Paul — ay, Judas too, — they are all with us: the names, the outer guise, is changed; the spiritual history is substantially the same. The conditions of the great problem of the relation of souls to Jesus Christ do not vary materially from age to age. He, our Lord, is unchangeable; and human nature, both on its bad and its better sides, is what it has been.

"Let us, then, try to reflect that the words of Simeon are still true, and that they suggest a grave question for every one of us. Christ is set for the rising and fall of many. Religion does not save us by the mere fact of our being brought into intimate contact with it. ...

"What is the case with each one of us? May we humbly hope that with the progress of time we have been more and more drawn towards the Person of our Lord? Or are we conscious of a weakened desire to live near Him and for Him; of a secret dislike of prayer and spiritual reading, which are sure to become intolerable burdens if they should cease to occasion true delight? Have we conquered enemies who once were formidable; or have we fallen back under the power of enemies who, we have flattered ourselves, were conquered once for all?

"Are our motives simpler, clearer, more uniform; or are they at best turbid and composite — a strange mixture of heavenly impulses and earthly resolves — a moral compromise at our very heart, in which the influences which come from below are steadily but surely getting the better of those which come from heaven? In short, are we falling or rising in the atmosphere of souls? ... We must sooner or later look the greatest of all our responsibilities in the face; our responsibility for having known whatever we individually have known of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the talent of talents for which the Great Householder will call us most strictly to account.

"Christ is set for the fall or rising of each single human being in this Cathedral; but His Will is that we all should rise. Let us not baulk His gracious purpose. Rather, while yet we may, let us cling, by faith and love and sincere repentance, to His Pierced Hands; that we may have a part in the first Resurrection, and, by His grace in the second beyond it."

— H. P. Liddon, from Results of Christ's First Coming

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Think She Knows

My six-year-old daughter asked me if Santa Claus is real.

I think it was a visiting cousin that prompted this. Talk about putting you on defense.

I've never really supported the whole Santa Claus bit, but my wife — and my mother — wanted to do it. And a number of people pointed that telling her all along there was no Santa would cause problems among her classmates. So I put up with it.

But I don't really like the Santa bit for two reasons. One, I don't like giving credit for what my hard-earned money buys to someone else, especially someone ficticious.

But more than that, I don't want her to wonder if she should add God to the list of imaginary people we told her about. True, my outgrowing Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy didn't cause me to wonder about God, but it still strikes me as asking for trouble.

So I've been very non-committal about the whole thing from the beginning.

And when she asked me if Santa Claus is real, I told her, "Santa Claus is a game we play that makes Christmas more fun."

"Like the Tooth Fairy?"



Yeah, I think she knows.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: Greatest Stories of the Bible

This is another one of those books I don't quite know what to do with.

The Greatest Stories of the Bible (NKJ) is most of the narrative portions of the Bible stripped out and displayed in a storybook kind of format — e.g., each story is a "chapter" in the book. It contains most of the narratives plus a few extracts from the epistles (which are, frankly, out of place) but no law, no prophets, and few genealogies. It's a very pretty tome, but it's just the text of the New King James Version. The text is well displayed with large fonts and large margins, but there are no illustrations unlike most other "Bible storybooks" I've seen.

So who's this marketed toward? It's not really a child's book without any illustrations (not to mention the use of the NKJ). For adults or older children, you can skip from one narrative to another in your Bible if you want.

So why buy it?

Well, if you want to read the Bible as a narrative, this could be a good book for you. And there's great benefit in looking at the narrative of the Bible, in seeing the big picture of the story from the Garden to the cross to the New Earth.

So here's my dilemma: I would never have bought this book. (Thankfully, I got it for free -- review copy.) But it's not terrible.

If, for whatever reason, you want a book like this -- a Bible storybook, or a narrative-only Bible -- this would be a decent choice. But I'll just stick with a regular Bible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 10 Modern Christmas Songs

...according to my opinion, of course, but since I have impeccable taste, I think my judgement is sound :)

I gravitate toward songs that don't over idealize the Christmas events and that talk about the whole picture — not just the manger but the mission. It should go without saying that if a song only says "Christ" when followed by "mas," that's not a Christmas song. "Holiday" music is nice, but I want my Christmas music double-barreled, full-throttled, ACLU-heart-stoppingly religious.

Now without further ado, here's the Top 10:

(If you enjoy these songs, you might consider buying some. These folks take a financial risk by allowing their work to be on YouTube.)

#10 Strange Way to Save the World by 4Him
Poor Joseph finally gets a little attention as he reflects on the wonder of the events unfolding around him.

Buy on Amazon

#9 Sing Mary Sing by Jennifer Knapp
Mary already gets a lot of attention, but Jennifer Knapp rocks.

Buy on Amazon

#8 Christ is Come by Big Daddy Weave
A beautiful reflection on who this baby is and why He came.

Buy on Amazon

#7 Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice
Meditating on the wonder of the Incarnation and looking forward to the cross as only Chris Rice can. Sorry no video, just audio (will launch new window).

Buy on Amazon

#6 How Many Kings by Downhere
"How many fathers gave up their sons for me?" A knot in the throat equals a spot on the list.

Buy on Amazon

#5 This Baby by Steven Curtis Chapman
A quick tour from the manger to the cross with realism (and a video that has nothing to do with the song).

Buy on Amazon

#4 Adoration by Newsboys
And sometimes words just fail...

Buy on Amazon

#3 Mary Did You Know by Spoken
Just about everyone's covered Mark Lowry's modern classic, but I like Spoken's rock version.

Buy on Amazon

#2 Here With Us by Joy Williams
Words fail again. Just listen.

Buy on Amazon

#1 Our God is With Us by Steven Curtis Chapman
There are lots of great songs about Christmas, but this one reminds us why Christmas changes lives today. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video, but I've excerpted the first verse and linked to audio (will open in new window) of the song.

It's so worth your time:
One of us is cryin' as our hopes and dreams are led away in chains,
And we're left all alone;
One of us is dyin' as our love is slowly lowered in the grave,
Oh and we're left on our own.
But for all of us who journey through the dark abyss of loneliness
There comes a great announcement - we are never alone -
For the maker of each heart that breaks, the giver of each breath we take
Has come to earth and given hope it's birth.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel.
He's come to save us, Emmanuel.
And we will never face life alone
Now that God has made Himself known,
As Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel.
Buy on Amazon

OK, I'm sure I'm missed your favorite. Please share the name and a link if you have one. And if you think my choices are just nuts, feel free to tell me so :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Full Disclosure

The FTC has decided bloggers must disclose any paid endorsements and freebies that are reviewed or promoted on their sites.

So here's my disclosure:

I'm a bibliophile. I love books for books' sake. Some people relax by walking in a garden; I walk through a bookstore (not that I don't like gardens, too).

I love old books and new books. I love serious books and funny books. I love big books, small books, weird books, and dry books. I love fiction and non, politics, theology, science, and history.

I have over a thousand books in my house. In one room of my house.

When I get a little money, I buy books. But I've got two mortgages, two cars, and two kids — girls, actually, meaning I'm looking at a future of dance lessons, prom dresses, and weddings besides the usual braces and such.

So if I can get free books, I do. I've got a Visa with Amazon rewards. And I gladly accept free books to do reviews.

That doesn't mean my reviews aren't honest. They are. In fact, there's one company that probably won't let me have any more review copies. They might prefer I didn't even buy their books.

But just in case, when reviewing such a free book, I'll let you know in the post. And if I ever get paid to do a review, you'll probably know from the giddy giggling.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Spirit

In a year when so many people are struggling, so much fear and pain, it can be hard to feel that "Christmas spirit."

But that may be because the traditional Christmas spirit is based on an atmosphere of family, gifts, food, and decorations. When money is tight, all of those things can be hard to come by.

The "meaning of Christmas" is no more about family than about gifts. It is about God becoming a man to free the burdened and oppressed:
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. ...
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end." (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

When we gather, God willing, with our families we should be thankful first of all for a God who "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant" for our sakes. That sentiment, that spirit, does not rely on our circumstances.

You may also be interested in:
God in a Manger
The Lamb of God
The Peasant Prince

Monday, December 7, 2009

Confusing the Lost?

"Several churches in Boise, Idaho are offering to pay people's parking tickets in an effort to demonstrate God's grace. ...

On December 12, organizers plan to gather in front of Boise City Hall and offer to pay off up to $10,000 in delinquent parking tickets.

...[T]he purpose of the giveaway is to help people understand that although they've made mistakes, forgiveness is available."
I'm all for creative methods to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. In this case, though, I wonder if they're communicating the wrong message. Specifically, I wonder if they will accidentally perpetuate some bad theology.

One way in which people frequently misunderstand — and attack — the Christian message is to portray it as a vengeful God venting His wrath on an innocent, uninvolved third party. This may make Jesus look very gracious, but it makes God look petty and cruel.

The divinity of Jesus makes this all work -- God doesn't punish a third party; God takes the punishment on Himself in human form.

But that distinction is often missed. And this program, where an uninvolved third party shows up to pay the debt owed the government, seems to facilitate that.

Am I making too much of this, or are they making a mistake here?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Schizophrenia on Evolution

Proponents of naturalistic evolution like having evolution in their biology but not in their sociology.

Though they believe we are all simply advanced animals and that morality, if it exists at all, is simply a genetic predisposition toward mutually beneficial cooperation, they don't like it when people act on that position. (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that most scientists aren't built for a truly dog-eat-dog world.)

A recent Time interview illustrates their problem:
"TIME: You believe that Darwin should continue to be taught in schools. But how can we teach Darwin and also teach that humans are somehow exceptional in the natural world?

DS: I think we have to decide what status we are going to give to the human race. Most of the world's religions hold that human life is sacred and special in some way. In teaching our common descent with animals, we also have to examine what is special about human beings, and why they deserve to be treated differently and granted certain rights."
Unfortunately naturalistic evolution does not leave us with the option of having something special about human beings. We shouldn't get different treatment or rights, and to claim the contrary, we're told, is "speciesist."

If Dawkins et al are right, the Columbine killers were right; there's no difference between killing a human and a cow.

Does that mean Dawkins et al are wrong? No. Naturalistic evolution can be totally true while leading to this horrible conclusion.

But, hey, maybe there really is a good reason to believe in Darwinism and in the sanctity of human life.

But perhaps we should demand that they stop teaching evolution until they can give students a convincing explanation.

Related: Defining Evolution: Getting Terms Right