Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Going Deep

Bible and coffee
As the new year approaches, you're probably starting to think about what Bible reading plan you'll use next year. There are lots to choose from, but most come at the subject from one perspective: breadth. Most have you read the Bible in a year; some have you reading the NT twice in a year. If that's what you want to do, more power to you.

We can approach the Bible differently, though. Having a broad familiarity with the Bible is good. So is having a depth of knowledge. It's good to get into the Bible; it's better to get the Bible into you. So if you've read through the Bible more than a couple of times, perhaps it'd be a good year to slow down. Way down.

Bible-in-a-year plans abound, but basically if you average three chapters a day you'll get through the Bible in about a year. What if you, instead, read one chapter three times? Don't just read the chapter but ask it questions and spend time reflecting on what you learn. Yes, that means it would take you three years to read through the Bible. But you'd probably know it better.

Other approaches: John MacArthur talks about reading a book every day for thirty days (breaking up longer books into sections that are treated the same way). With this approach, it'll take several years to read through the Bible.

Maybe thirty times through is more than you've got the patience for; how about five times? Reading a short book, for example Ephesians, through in one sitting every day for a week will help you see the whole message of the book and how the parts connect.

Don't be afraid to read commentaries, either. Going slowly through a book with a commentary in hand, written by someone who's spent years studying that book, can be very illuminating.

I think my approach in the coming year — the next few, actually — will be to read a book through a couple of times and then go a chapter at a time (maybe less). I'll read the passage once to get the big picture then go through it again asking questions of the text and meditating and praying on the answers.

What questions? These have been endlessly useful:
  • What is the main message of this passage?
  • What does this tell me about God?
  • What does this tell me about human nature?
  • Is there anything here I need to know, stop doing, change, or start doing?
There are other questions you might ask, of course (see below), but these are easily applied to any passage and easy to remember.

But whatever approach you take, I hope you'll make a plan to be in the Bible regularly in the coming year. The world is constantly trying to conform us to itself. Either we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, or we will be conformed to the world. There are no other options.

Other questions:
The 5 W’s & H in Bible Study
7 Arrows of Bible Reading

The New Testament Out of Order
7 Tips for Reading the Bible in a Year

Image via Pixabay

Monday, December 20, 2021

Celebrating Christmas Beside Xmas

A traditional X-mas gnome?
CS Lewis has a cute little essay called “Xmas and Christmas” that pretends to be a description by Herodotus of antics on the island of Niatirb.

He describes the “Exmas Rush” as the fifty days of preparation for the holiday Exmas when people scramble about buying cards and gifts the recipients don’t want and the giver can’t afford to give. In the end “the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary ... so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb.”

But some celebrate a different holiday, “Crissmas”. A religious feast centered around “a fair woman with a new-born Child”. The few who celebrate this holiday behave very differently than those who celebrate the other day.

The writer assures us the claim that Exmas and Crissmas are the same holiday “is not credible” because “it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.”

This fun little essay presents a healthy way to look at the commercialization of Christmas. The world hasn’t ruined Christmas, for they were never celebrating it. They have their own feast day, which happens to coincide with ours — just as Christmas and Hanukkah might. They even have their own songs. As Christianity Today recently reported, the most-played Christmas hits “celebrate love, snow, and chestnuts before getting around to Christ.”

And though Exmas and the Rush can “distract the minds even of the few from sacred things,” they don’t have to.

So let the worldlings have their holiday. Do your best to step back from theirs and focus on ours. Let them worship family or capitalism or whatever it is they get on about.

We’ll focus on “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Image via Pixabay. Incidentally, I had to go to page 5 before I found an actual religious image when I searched for "Christmas".

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Humiliation of Christ

When believers pass away, you’ll often hear someone say, “Even if they could come back, they wouldn’t.” Who would? How traumatic would it be to leave heaven and come to earth?

Christ knows.

In his great high priestly prayer, he said, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Before the incarnation, God the Son existed in perfect loving union with his Father and the Spirit, worshiped by angels, and free from the trials of a mortal existence. Then he who
“was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7 NRSV).

One day, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain” him (1Kings 8:27); the next he is neatly tucked into Mary’s womb with room to spare. One day he hears angels call him “holy, holy, holy” (Is 6:3); the next he literally cannot hear, for he has no ears. The one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalms 50:10) chose to become the child of a poor couple in a poor land ruled by an empire that put very little value on human life.

The infinite became finite. The Almighty became an embryo. The Judge was willing to be treated unjustly. All because the Eternal chose to die.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was amazing, but let us not lose sight of the fact that it was the last in a long line of sacrifices that he made. For us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021


What was it like waiting for the Messiah to come?

God had promised to fix things from the very beginning (Gen 3:15). God made similar promises to Abraham (Gen 12:2-3), to Moses (Deut 18:15), to David (2Sam 7:16), and again and again through the prophets to Israel. Messiah will come and bring healing and justice. He will bring righteousness and knowledge of God. He will free the oppressed and give sight to the blind. He will cause the nations to follow the God of Abraham. For over a thousand years, Israel heard these promises and waited. And waited.

What was it like for the faithful, wondering for generations when this would all take place?

It was just like it is for us today as the faithful wonder when Christ will return to finish what he started.

Let the celebration of Christ’s first advent remind you of his second. This is a busy time of year, but try to stop and focus on what we’re waiting for.

We’re not waiting on a baby this time. We’re waiting for a King. We look for the day when every knee will bow. He will cause wars to cease. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will die. Earth will be healed. We will be free from even the presence of sin. And we will see the face of our Savior.

God fulfilled his promises once. He will do so again. Christ is coming.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Image via Pixabay