John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul

John of the Cross understood something of spiritual growth. “At a certain point in the spiritual journey,” writes John, “God will draw a person from the beginning stage to a more advanced stage. At this stage the person will begin to engage in religious exercises and grow deeper in the spiritual life” (1). The means, according to John, is the ‘dark night of the soul.’ This dark night is that time when, “those persons lose all the pleasure in that they once experienced in their devotional life” (2).

Seeing God as a mother caring for her little one, John compares the new believer to the babe suckling and feasting on its mother’s milk. “But there will come a time,” he writes, “when God will bid them to grow deeper” (3). As difficult as it may be, the dark night is the means of growth.

The Christian will experience a dry season in his or her devotion with God. Dry may even be an understatement for those who completely seem to lose any closeness with God. God withdraws himself for a season. However, the risk of living a life free of the dark night is grave. John identifies seven spiritual sins that manifest themselves in the devotion of the believer because of immaturity and a lack of the dark night season. Pride, greed, luxury, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth in devotion creep in and lead to death. A survey across Christendom confirms the very presence of these seven sins and may actually cause the Christian to welcome the dark night of the soul, the Christian who deeply desires to grow closer to Christ and mature in his or her journey. “No soul will grow deep in the spiritual life,” argues John, “unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night” (4).

1.  Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 33.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4.  Ibid., 37.

* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.
** Photo used in this post is in the public domain. 

The Cost of Nondiscipleship

There is a grave problem in the church today and it seemly slipped in under the cover of apathy. The problem is nondiscipleship. “The disciple” according to Dallas Willard, “is one who, intent upon becoming Christlike and so dwelling in his ‘faith and practice,’ systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end”(1).  The nondisciple then is one who desires to be gathered with the Church without accepting the cost of discipleship. He or she desires association without following Jesus, leaving the clutches of the world, or being set apart in such a way that it surely might be “obvious to every thoughtful person around us, as well as to ourselves”(2).

How did this happen? How can it be that the American church today is so full of nondisciples? “For at least several decades,” contends Willard, “the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship” (3).

The expense of this great lethargy is severe. “Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it cost exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10)”(4). In light of such nondiscipline, the answer is clear—rearrange your affairs to follow Jesus with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength as his disciple, being formed into his likeness.

1. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 7.
2. Ibid., 16.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 16.

* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.

David Platt on Local Church Membership

March 10, 2015.

Church membership is a sticky thing in our overly-individualistic society.  'Sticky' might even be too soft a word.  'Hot' could be a better word.  'Controversial' is another one.   Polarizing.  Offensive.  Idol-smashing.  Abrasive to our pride.  These are words that may describe attitudes toward membership in the local church; but these are not the feelings of every believer.  In all my time as a pastor I've never seen a new believer freak out over membership.  It's the opposite in fact.

The leadership at Redeeming Life Church is exploring a form of membership called covenant membership.  Names are somewhat arbitrary here, but we want to enter into a covenant with one another as a local extension of the Church, to be the Church and to make Christ known.

We're a church plant just getting started and church plants initially have a tendency of attracting jaded Christians who have been hurt by other congregations.  As a defense, pride runs high.  I've found that membership--dare I say, even commitment to a local body of believers--can be a tremendous struggle for these Christians who come with a little more baggage than others.  (Just mentioning the idea of a commitment in a sermon once earned me a barrage of emails about how membership is heretical and pastors who would even dare consider such a thing are abusing the flock.)

From the very early days of meeting as a study in my home, we've always known we'd have some form of covenant membership.  We know it's important, jadedness, hurt, and baggage aside.  Recently, I have been discussing how we might go about this with a group of our committed folks at Redeeming Life.  I've been studying this topic from the Bible.  I read a 9Marks book on the topic. And I've been praying.  (Thankfully, our team of committed brothers and sisters have absolutely no issues with entering into a simple covenant to be committed to one another as a local church.)

In addition, I've run across a video featuring David Platt.  Platt is speaking on local church membership and I've found it rather helpful.  It's short and worth a look.

Seasons of a Leader's Life by Jeff Iorg

 Iorg, Jeff. Seasons of a Leader's Life: Learning, Leading, and Leaving Your Legacy. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing, 2013.
In his book, Seasons of a Leader's Life, Dr. Jeff Iorg sets out to examine three seasons of leadership through the lens of the Apostle Peter.  In the Gospels we see Peter as a learner.  In the books of Acts he's a leader.  And by the time we read the two Epistles from Peter, he's leaving his legacy.

Iorg, a proven leader, has planted a successful church, served as the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, and is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Some of his other books include Live Like a Missionary, The Painful Side of Leadership, The Character of Leadership, Is God Calling Me?, The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church, and Unscripted.

In the opening pages of Seasons of a Leader's Life, Iorg writes, "This book surveys the overarching story of Peter's ministry in Scripture, and examines leadership principles underlying the biblical narrative of Peter's life" (5).  But this book is not the definitive leadership 'how-to.' A few paragraphs later he says, "This book is organized to help you think through leadership issues; it is not intended to be a step-by-step formula for your life.  The book is also organized to stimulate further consideration of each topic" (5).   Here's a video of Iorg discussing Season of a Leader's Life with Ed Stetzer:

Jeff Iorg has hit a homerun with this book.  I loved it and have recommend it to countless leaders and soon-to-be leaders. 

The chapters are short and easy.  The content is serious but peppered with stories and illustrations that make the book fun to read.  And at any point if it seems Iorg is off, he has provided the Scripture so the reader can open his or her Bible and personally examine Peter's life.

"Hopefully," writes Iorg, "this book will be an ideal resource for mentoring groups, reading groups, self-directed leadership development groups, staff improvement exercises, classroom readings, and organizational development for emerging leaders" (6).  I believe Iorg is correct.  I encouraged members of my church staff as well as some lay leaders in the congregation to pick up this book.  My intention was to allow them to move through it how they saw fit. (It's always nice to see how staff members address book recommendations from the boss!)  One staffer grabbed hold of the book and it really seemed to be helpful to him.  (He has since applied to go to seminary.)  An intern (from a seminary where Iorg is not the president) thumbed through the book and read chapters occasionally as he had time.  I suspect it will help him has he thinks through the material and eventually enters the leadership phase of his ministry.  A few of our lay leaders also found the book extremely helpful.  It has prompted some really good conversations with quite a few leaders and future leaders.

I personally loved this book.  I found it informative and extremely helpful in shaping my thinking about my own leadership.  It also helped me realize that leadership comes in seasons.  I've entered the season of the leader but my staff are in the learner season.  Those mentoring me are entering the legacy leaving season.  Understanding these seasons has greatly helped me relate to those in different seasons.

I highly recommend this book to anybody thinking about leading, presently in leadership, or trying to understand how to leave a lasting impact as he or she exits leadership.

In addition, Salty Believer Unscripted has conducted two interviews with Jeff Irog in a series on church planting and this book comes up in that conversation.
-- An Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio-- Another Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio

*I am a doctoral candidate at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary where Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president; however, I initiated this interview.  In addition, I have no material connection to this book, financial or otherwise. 

Is Christianity Easy or Hard?

C. S. Lewis asks a deeply significant question: “Is Christianity hard or easy?” (1). The answer, from his book Mere Christianity, argues for both. “You have noticed, I expect,” writes Lewis, “that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes very easy. He says, ‘Take up your Cross’—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.” (2).

This fascinating paradox is only an enigma if one attempts to hold on to the natural self. As Lewis contends, we are to give up our own life, desires, and temptation to hold something back for ourselves, and give it all to Christ, which will cause Christ to indwell our souls. And when we are no longer our own, the question of hard or easy easy is no longer a question at all. The complexity and strain of Christianity no longer matters. Hard and easy are measures that fail to report on the reality of Christianity. We no longer labor toward morality. No more do we seek to do good, but to be Christ-like. “It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soak right through,” says Lewis (3). No, Christianity is not a question of hard or easy, but a question of deeply inside or only a thin outside covering.

1. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 7.
2. Ibid. 8.
3. Ibid. 9.

* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman

Leeman, Jonathan.  Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus. Wheaton, Ill:  Crossway 2012.  
Church membership is, sadly, a controversial matter in the American Church.  People will leave churches at the very mention of the word, "membership."  Arguments on this topic can get really hot.  On the other side, there are also Christians that are so apathetic to the topic they've chosen to know nothing about it and ignore or rewrite anything in the Bible that might simply hint at membership.  Most Christians are sandwiched between these two extremes and that is who Jonathan Leeman seeks in his book, Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus.

Church Membership is a small book--only 132 small pages--in the 9Marks series, Building Healthy Churches.    This series include titles such as Evangelism by Mark Stiles, Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne, Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman, and Expositional Preaching by David Helm.

Leeman sets the parameters of his audience, writing, "I'm not writing [this book] primarily for the person who is skeptical of church membership, though, if that's you, it might prove helpful, too.  I'm aiming for the average church goer, church member, and church leader who have been going along with the crowd on this topic" (18).  His intention, it seems, is to provide something of an introduction rather than an argument for church membership; however, his introduction does do a nice job arguing in favor of membership.

"My primary purpose," writes Leeman, "is to show you what church membership is, because it's not what you think it is" (18).  In what follows, Leeman walks his readers through a survey of the New Testament, offering all the spots that hit at or explicitly point to membership within both the universal Body of Christ as well as in the local church.  He also offers a great deal of logical progression through the topic, doing well to keep the Bible in view (most of the time).

Church Membership is an easy, quick read, but it will not appeal to everybody.  For those already determined that membership in a specific local church is a prerequisite and necessary for salvation, this book will not likely persuade one away from heresy.  Likewise, the person who has already predetermined that membership in a local church is akin to abusive of the flock will reject Leeman's biblical survey and call him anamatha. However, for those in the middle, who reside within Leeman's intended audience, this book should be both informative and helpful.

I found it helpful and well written.  It probably could have made the same points in half as many pages, but I understand, publishers don't like to print 75 page booklets as much as they prefer to print 132 page books.  

If membership is a topic on which you could use more information, I recommend this little book.   

*I have no connection to this book, material or otherwise. 

Stop Saying 'What Would it Look Like'

If you've viewed any ministry video lately--especially those made by college ministries, church plants, or urban churches--you've likely heard someone on the video say something like, "We wanted to explore what it would look like to . . . "  It's time we stop saying that line and start saying something else.

Here's what happens. A group of people get together and have an idea.  They feel a need.  Maybe God calls them to do something.  Or maybe whatever they put in that blank is just the new, cool, trendy thing to say.

I've heard things like. . .

"We want to explore what it would look like to be the Church in the inner-city." 
"We set out to understand what it would really look like to love people like God loves people."  
"We started meeting to discover what it would look like to help these prostitute mothers." 

Here's the problem.  The statement is a non-committal.  It's too safe and many people hide behind it, especially young people.  It is more of call to form a committee and talk then any kind of real action.  When the group finally discovers what it does look like, the members still reserve the option to back out, sometimes even before they get started.  The statement lacks action and risk.

I don't believe God calls us to know what something looks like.  That's just a curious study or endless discussions over coffee.  Abraham wasn't called to know what it would look like to leave his land and go, he was just told to go.  Barnabas didn't explore what it would look like to find a church body in Antioch and help disciple them, he just found what he found and then when and got Paul.  God calls us to be something, do something, or pray for something, and after we've done that, we'll know what it looks like.  We don't need to worry too much in the meantime if we're going to be faithful. And chances are good that what it looks like is not anything we ever would have understood at the start of the thing.  You'll know what it looks like when you get there, but you have get moving in that direction to get started.

So maybe a better thing to say is, "What is it going to take for us to . . . " or "what's the next step we need to take?"  Or even better, just simplify.
"We want to be the Church in the inner-city"
"We want to love people like God loves people."
"We are helping these prostitute mothers."  
It's really okay to figure how how it will look when you get there, so go ahead and take a step of faith and get moving. Take a risk.  See what happens.  It will be worth it.

Help Push Back Lostness in Salt Lake City


Church planting is hard work.  It takes grit and spit and a little elbow grease.  It demands resources and thick skin. And above all, it depends upon the mercy and grace of God, so we pray. I am leading a church plant in Salt Lake City and in a lot of ways it feels like we've got a little baby on our hands--a little baby church that's just been birthed.

My wife recently gave birth to our daughter.  Some wonderful church friends threw her a baby shower; but before the shower, Lisa and I went to Target and shot things we needed for the baby with a laser gun to add it to a registry.  I listed some Bose noise-cancelling headphones but nobody ponied up the $300 for those and my wife teased me relentlessly. (True story.)   The nice thing about registering is we were able to get the things the baby needed most from those who truly wanted to help us.  It has been a huge blessing.

I often feel like Redeeming Life Church, a little baby church plant, needs a registry blaster to mark out what we need most.  We need a church plant shower.  In fact, when we move our Sunday service out of the building of our sending church and into the northwest quadrant of the Salt Lake valley, we should have a shower.  Or maybe if you'll let me mix my metaphors, we'll have a church plant house warming party.

But in the meantime, we could still really use your help.  Here's how individuals and churches can help us see the lift off of a local Christian church in the Rose Park area.  (I realize you might only be here to read the blog and could actually be annoyed by my plug for help. If so, please notice how commercial free this website typically is.  This is important enough for Redeeming Life Church that I thought I would post a rare request here.)

We are working hard to share the gospel and make disciples.  We want to gather these disciples into a church and all of this takes resources.  We need supplies for our church services.  We want to give out printed materials and Bibles.  And we spend a lot of time across the table with people in our homes, coffee shops, and restaurants.

1.  First and foremost, we need prayer.  We need lots of prayer because the truth is there is no way we could do this without God's hand in it all.  Please pray for us, boldly and often.  And please pray for the people of Salt Lake.

2.  Next, we have some bills to pay and could certainly use some financial help.  Many among our little baby congregation are faithfully giving but we need some help getting started because we're still small.  We don't want to be on "welfare" for long, but we could use a boost to get us going.  If you'd like to help us financially, you can find info on how to help here.

3.  If you like to support missionaries, please consider supporting Brett and Nicole Ricley.  They are serving with Redeeming Life Church as self-supported missionaries trying to push back lostness in a place where less than 3% of the population is Christian.  (Just a hint, that's Salt Lake City).  This family is huge blessing to me and Redeeming Life and we greatly appreciate all those who help support them to make their mission possible. You can learn more about that and support the Ricley's here.

4.  Another way you can help us is by sending us copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible.  We give this book to children and their parents because it is a fantastic gospel message that shows how all of the Bible points to Jesus.  We'd like to give these out like candy because we believe The Jesus Storybook Bible will have an impact with families who don't yet know Jesus.

5.  Finally, we meet with lots of people and could also use gift cards to places like Starbucks, Subway, Wal-Mart (for supplies and groceries for hosting in our homes), Chick-Fil-A, McDonalds, Denny's, Beans & Brews, Jimmy Johns, Apollo Burger, and other similar places that have a place for us to sit and use for meeting places.  In a way, these gift cards not only help us show hospitality to those we meet with, it helps pay the rent for the "office space" where we hope to share Jesus.

You can send your support and materials to:
Redeeming Life Church
2780 East 3900 South
Salt Lake, Utah 84124
Thank you for all of your prayers and encouragement!

May God bless you,

Some Great Wisdom on Church Planting

How did the church you attend (that is, if you attend church) get started? Who did the hard work to get it going?  Who was there in the early season of your local congregation?

Getting a local congregation going is often called church planting.  It sounds strange, but as Dave Nelson points out, "every church that exists had to start at some point."

Church planting is hard work.  I can speak with some limited experience; however, as a guy trying to plant a church, I would love the opportunity to sit down at a coffee shop with a handful of guys who've done it and chat.  Then I realized I have a podcast called Salty Believer Unscripted.  So, I reached out to some guys and set it up.

I suspect guys trying to plant churches might be interested in hearing from those who've paved the way before them; but even missionally minded congregants could benefit.  Advancing the gospel in America is hard work.  Maybe God is calling you to join the effort to plant a church but you really have no idea what that means.  Maybe you're a church planter looking for some wisdom from others.  Or maybe you've never even hear the term church planting.  If any of these are the case, check out what these planters have to say.

Church Planting
-- What is Church Planting? audio
-- An Interview with Dr. Rich Johnstone audio
-- An Interview with Stephen Bruker audio
-- An Interview with Mike Littleton audio
-- An Interview with Kyle Costello audio
-- An Interview with Dave Nelson audio
-- An Interview with Bryan Catherman audio
-- An Interview with Dr. J.D. Payne audio
-- Another Interview with Dr. J.D. Payne audio
-- An Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio
-- Another Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio
-- An Interview with Danny Braga audio

And if you feel like you could help out a church plant in any way, please don't hesitate to contact me.  You can help us at Redeeming Life Church or I'll be happy to find a plant for you to serve along side.

Evangelism Conference 2015

On February 6th and 7th, some great brothers and sisters are gathering to discuss the importance of evangelism.  Terry Rials, Dave Earley, Randy McWhorter, Joel Southerland, and others will help equip and train those of us in Utah who desperately need to engage in more evangelism.

This is a free conference provided by the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Conference and hosted by Mountain View Baptist Church.  You don't want to miss it.

The conference begins at 1pm on Friday and runs into the evening.  It will pick up again for a Saturday morning session starting at 8am.  (If you can't get off work early on Friday, you can still pick it up at 6pm and catch Dave Earley and some of the session.)  If you'd like to attend, please register here.

Childcare is available for children 5 and under.

I'm thrilled about this conference.  In part because God is greatly working on me in the area of evangelism; but more so, because I know and love a couple of these great speakers.  Dr. Dave Earley was the professor of three of my classes in seminary at Liberty.  They were great courses because of Dave's experience, passion, and expertise.  He's also the author of a book I absolutely love called, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High Impact Leaders.  In addition, Dave left Lynchburg to plant a church in Las Vegas and it seems to be doing amazing things for God's Kingdom in Sin City.  Dr. Randy McWhorter was also one of my professors of a leadership seminar in my Doctor of Ministry studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's also very passionate, wise, and a great instructor.

Early Mark Manuscript Closer to Validation


On May 22, 2012 I published a post on this website about the potential of a First Century manuscript fragment of the Book of Mark.  (You can find that post here).  Now it seems that we are getting closer to validating that find.  These things take peer-review and that takes lots of time, but posted an article with more details about this discovery.  (You can find that article here.)

It turns out that the manuscript pages of the book of Mark were used as something like a paper mache (or more appropriately a papyri mache) Egyptian mask.  The mask, like the one pictured in this post, was much like the more popular gold masks only for those of a lower income.  Even then, papyri was expensive so it made sense to use recycle papyri.  It's just going to be painted anyway, right?  Dr. Craig Evans has reported that he has found numerous documents contained in the recycled papyri in these masks, including business documents, classical greek works, and this very special manuscript of Mark.

Why is this a big deal?

Here's why.  It's a document of Mark that's much closer to the original.  Critical scholars will often argue that the Gospels were written hundreds of years after the event.  This manuscript disputes those claims.  It's also fascinating where it was found.  It would seem that in order for the document to turn up in Egypt, it had to have been copied from another source (or the original) sometime earlier.

This is a remarkable find and will likely shake up the academic world as this makes its way through peer review.  Keep your eyes open and on the lookout for more information to come.

*The mask pictured in this post is an Egyptian funerary mask located in a museum in Vienna, Austria. The photo is in the public domain.

Armchair Pastoring is not Pastoring

I was a teenager and my first car needed new spark plug wires.  My father--an experienced mechanic--attempted to provide me with some guidance.  "Don't take all the wires off at the same time;" he warned me, "Take one wire off and replace it before moving on to the next one."  But when I looked at the new wires for my car his guidance seemed a bit silly.  They were each a different length so it seemed obvious to me which wire would run to each plug.  Dealing with one wire at a time seemed like a hassle because the wires were clipped together and the old wires were getting in the way of the new wires.  So I went against my father's sound advice and took all the old wires off at the same time and tossed them aside.

At this point any mechanic reading this knows exactly what I did wrong.   The mechanic knows what obviously I didn't.

Each wire was a different length--that much was simple enough.  But what I didn't know is which wire needed to go on which post of the distributor cap (pictured above).  It turns out the location is critical because there is a part that spins inside and sends a perfectly timed charge to the correct wire so the plug that needs to fire has spark.  Without getting this right, the car won't run.  Yet I had no idea which wire went where.  My arrogance bested me.  I didn't know what a distributor cap was, let alone what it does and how it works.  I made a great deal of assumptions about my abilities as well as my father's experience based on my brief observation of a package of blue wires.

Had I heeded my father's advice, I would have removed only one wire from the distributor cap, knowing exactly which wire went where.  Instead, I invited a learning lesson from the school of hard knox.  Clearly, I had not known better.  Obviously, I could have saved myself a great deal of heartache if I had only humbled myself and listened to my father.  He had done this before, maybe many times.  And he understood how the distributor cap functioned.  (Once I had a better understanding of the full function of these motor parts, maybe I could have been in a place to determine if I could effectively deviate from his way; but not before I had a better understanding.)

As I am now serving as the lead pastor of a new church plant (Redeeming Life Church),  I see that I may have acted like the young boy with car troubles.  I served on staff under older, wiser pastors.  In my previous ministry roles, I would be like that guy sitting in the armchair telling the quarterback how to do his job better.  I would observe something and assume I understood all the details.  Now that I am elbow-deep in engine grease, I see that maybe I didn't have a full understanding of the situation.  Maybe my armchair perspective of my pastor's leadership was missing a great deal of information.

How many times did I think to myself, "If I were doing this, I would. . . "?  Not having the perspective of my pastor, I didn't really see the best course of action.  (I often wonder how the armchair quarterback would feel if he had a few 350lb linemen coming after him.  Would he act the same way the quarterback did?  Probably.) Being afforded that perspective now, I am starting to see why my pastors did the things they did, in the way they did them.  "Oh. . ."  I find myself saying fairly often.  Like a young dad feeling like he needs to call his own father and apologize, I often feel I need to say, "I'm sorry" to the wise pastors who have gotten me to this place.   Being out on the field is different that directing from the armchair; I see that now.

Fortunately, these older, wiser pastors are still helping me with my journey.  I can still go to them often and ask questions.  And having a little better perspective, hopefully I won't pull all the wires off the distributor cap too often.  For that, I'm thankful.

*Photo by Taran Rampersad is registered under a Creative Commons License.  

Reading All of Your Bible in 2015

It's that time of year when people resolve to read the Bible, which is great.  It's also the time when One-Year-Bibles go on sale.

Reading more of God's Word or reading the entirety of the Bible for the first time is is a good resolution.  We should have a desire to read and know the Bible, especially considering that it's God's message to us.  Want to know God better?  One good place to start is in his Word.  But for those not too familiar with the Bible, this is a huge task.

Many people who are new to the Bible will start in Genesis and read page by page until they reach the end of Revelation.  This is a canonical reading, meaning that the Bible is read in the order of the arranged books of the cannon.  Reading this way is certainly not bad, but it can be confusing for someone who doesn't know the story of the Bible in chronological order.

Most Bibles are arranged and bound like a big bookshelf.  One entire section is for the books of the Old Testament and one section is for books of the New Testament.  Bound together within the Old Testament section, you have five books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  Then you find 12 books of history (Joshua through Esther), followed by the poetry or artistic books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon).  The five books of the major prophets open the section on the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel), followed by the 12 books of the minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

In the New Testament section opens with the four gospels (Matthew Mark, Luke, and John) which all cover the earthly ministry of Jesus but from different perspectives.  Acts is the only book in the New Testament history section, followed by nine of Paul's letters to the churches (Romans through 2 Thessalonians).  Paul also wrote letters to individuals and they get a section (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).  Then there are nine general letters to the churches (Hebrews through Revelation).

If you're wanting to follow the historical timeline of God's redemptive history and get a good grasp of the biblical story, then you will actually do better to read in chronological order.  This will mean you'll be in the books of history, artistic books, and the prophets at the same time as you move through the Old Testament.  As you read Jonah for example, you'll have a better understanding of the context.  You'll know that the kingdom was divided, who the kings where, what political problems were playing out, and who the Ninevites were.  The narrative will be rich and far more informative.  In addition, this will make your reading more enjoyable.  The same will be true of the New Testament.

If you've never read the Bible in chronological order, I highly recommend it.  You can download an easy chronological reading plan here.

Another way to read is with a devotional plan.  These tend to have some reading in the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament.  There are many of these plans out there or you can simply put a bookmark in each section.  You don't even need to start at the beginning.  Pick the books and start there.  Read 3 or 4 chapters from the Old Testament, a psalm, and a chapter or two from the New Testament.  The amazing thing about this kind of reading plan is how interconnected the Bible is and how much God will use each reading from these three sections to speak into your life.

Or maybe if you've already read the Bible cover to cover or in chronological order, you can jettison the idea of reading your entire Bible in a year and start reading smaller sections or single books more deeply.  For example, you could read one book of the Bible over and over again for a couple months.  Or read Titus or one of the minor prophets every day for a month.  Or you could read a book with a commentary reading book club, which I also highly recommend.  (Here's more on that.)

No matter how you read, getting into God's Word is a good thing.  If you've resolved to reading more of the Bible this year, I can't help but believe it will be good for you.  Stick to it.  Enjoy it.  Savor it.  It's not about getting a task done in a year; but rather, hearing from God.

* Photo by user, Ryk Neethling is registered under a Creative Commons License.
** Much of this post was taken from a previous post that published January 7, 2014.

Why Do We Think of Him as a Baby on His Birthday?

The next time you have a birthday for someone at work, put up pictures of that person when he or she was a baby.  See how it goes over?

Why do we always portray Jesus as a little baby on Christmas?  Is it simply because we're celebrating his birthday?  We don't do this with Martin Luther King Jr. or any of the US Presidents?  I don't imagine my wive as a baby when I celebrate her birthday.  I don't even really do that for my kids and I knew them as babies.  Yet that's exactly what we do with Jesus.  Why?

I think it might be because there's something much more amazing about this unique baby.  For everyone else on earth, being born is just what we do.  We are conceived by a father and mother.  We grow and eventually leave the womb to enter the world.  That's how God planned it.  And while that is spectacular, it doesn't make us spectacular.

Jesus on the other hand, existed before time was created.  He's God.  And to enter the world, he was conceived in the womb of a virgin.  That's already so miraculous and spectacular that millions around the globe refuse to believe it.  But that's not even the part that's difficult to believe.  What's really amazing is that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, all-present God would enter the reality of his creation in the form of a baby.  That while he would not share in sin, he would share in humanity.  That is amazing and I believe that is what we should celebrate at Christmas.

It's not a little baby born into poverty and unusual circumstances that gives us cause to celebrate.  No, it's that the King of Kings would humble himself so much to come in the form of a baby to an unlikely couple, in unlikely circumstances.  And that little baby Jesus, the God-Man, would do so much more even than that because of his great love for us.  We should declare the amazing wonder that God would walk among us in the flesh.

So when you look at that little infant Jesus in your nativity set, don't forget that we are celebrating something so much more than a little baby's birthday when we truly celebrate Christmas.  This year, let's honor the King of Kings.

Merry Christmas!

* Photo by Vickie McCarty comes from