Directly after Christmas last year, I set off to attempt something that I have only done once in 30 years of knowing Jesus... Read the Bible before Easter (essentially, in 90 days). There isn't anything mystical in accomplishing this, though, it really isn't any small feat. As much as I have, in the past, encouraged people to read whole books of the Bible in one sitting, especially their favorite book, I wouldn't recommend reading the whole thing as someone's normal mode of interacting with Scripture. However, doing it every once every five years or so would prove fruitful!
Don't get me wrong... It takes about the first week and a half to start really seeing and enjoying the benefits of such a commitment. For reference, it is roughly 13 chapters a day; which, for me, is about an hour's worth of reading. Again, not a small effort. When we take in large swaths of scripture, we make connections that aren't normally made. People, places, allegorical imagery all come to light that most people generally miss when only reading a chapter or two at a time.
The point of this post is really to encourage myself, and those who feel like they might want to do something like this with some hints and tidbits that might help you push through and complete the effort. Will attach several lists below that will correlate with some of my points. Consider the following when attempting to read the entire Bible in 90 days.
1) Get a list that works for you. I great resource I stumbled on was biblereadingplangenerator.com There you are able to customize your list pretty well. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel here. Plenty of lists are readily accessible on the internet. What I do encourage you to do, is to make the list your own. I, personally, always copy the list into Word and edit it a bit to make sense to me. One of those ways is to add or subtract 1 chapter to or from a day when the beginning or ending of a book is dangling within the list. This way my mind feels some sort of accomplishment knowing that I read the entirety of the book and didn't just leave a chapter for tomorrow just because a list told me to.
2) Be graceful with yourself. Life happens and you'll miss a day or two. Try and make up for it somehow, rather than beating yourself up over it. AND be comfortable with making things up at some point in the 90 days, rather than the next day. Some readings are simply shorter than others. Maybe use an audio Bible to make up for lost time in the car, read on your lunch break, etc. Just keep track of where you are and where you should be. Over time, catching up a day or two isn't at all that difficult and insurmountable as it may seem at first. Just commit during these 3 months that when you have some extra free time, you'll be willing to spend 30 mins of it doing some extra reading... And bingo bango bongo, you've caught up.
3) Read in a way that makes the most sense for you. Familiar versions, audio Bibles, multiple times of reading in a day. This last is my personal favorite. I sit down willing to commit at least a half an hour in the morning while all is still relatively still. Then in the early evening, I have committed to spend another 30 minutes. 7 weeks in, I am surprised at how often I have simply found myself pushing through to the 45 morning minute mark to wrap up for the day. OR how about setting an alarm on your phone to chime every hour and you spend the minute or two reading 1 chapter at the top of every hour. Be creative. You might surprise yourself with what you come up with.
4) Try to talk a buddy into doing it with you. Accountability is always a good motivator.
5) My biggest piece of advice I really just happened onto. I suggested to the small group that has been reading with me since Christmas, that we should start in the New Testament instead of the Old since we were in the Christmas season. Everyone thought this was a good idea and we proceeded. This was a game changer for me! You may have heard that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Reading this much Bible is equivalent to exercise and we all know how easy it is to develop THAT habit. When one starts reading the Bible in 90 days and begins at Genesis, that real tentative time (the 14-21 day mark) you will be in Leviticus and Numbers. Lots of lists and who begat who's, etc. Very repetitive, and frankly it can be sort of dry. Personally, I struggle reading through this section of Scripture. The mind tricks us into believing that there are all sorts of reasons to stop. CONVERSELY, if you start in the New Testament, you will finish reading Revelation as that third week ends and push on to the Old Testament. By the time you hit that same place in Numbers, you are roughly 2 months in and staring down having read half of the Bible! I wasn't about to give up all that time and effort at that point and pushed through. My guess is that maybe the same would be true for you. Seriously, GAME. CHANGER.
I hope you choose to invest your time in reading the Word. If reading the whole thing seems a little much to you, try reading just the New Testament or the Old Testament in 90 days. I've attached those lists too. They are also ordered Chronologically rather than Canonically to help me get a better sense for when things take place, but remember... Make the list your own.
I didn't mention it before, but there is another benefit that I find in reading scripture this way. Along with forcing a certain sense of regularity and consistency in my schedule, it does the same for my spiritual walk as well. And that should be the aim of any time spent with the Lord. Being more consistently in step with the Spirit.
It's been 4 weeks since that New Year's Resolution of yours to get more out of your time in the Bible. Like most, you've probably already let this promise to yourself, and to God, drop by the wayside. Let me spur you on! You can make more of your time with God. Let His word richly encapsulate your heart and mind. Pick those efforts back up and be self-disciplined (after all, it is a spiritual fruit). That's the difficult part about spiritually based resolutions, often times it is actually 2 resolutions in 1~ whatever it is that you are wanting to develop into your life AND developing the self-discipline to do it. Remember, our strength comes from the Lord. Take heart! Don't quit; don't give in! Be victorious for His glory!
And at the risk of writing something we have all heard 100 times and we already know, spending time in the word of God shouldn't be something we need to psych ourselves up to do. It should just be a given. Yes, we all can do better at it (even you and I). That is where the thrust of my point comes from this morning. Sometimes we set the bar too low. With no real challenge, we grow bored or inconvenienced by the whole thing. When we set an unrealistically easy goal of "Reading the Bible more," we are really only admitting to ourselves that we aren't doing that which we know we need to do, rather than digging in deep for something more. When we expect more from our time with God, the Holy Spirit is able to develop our character much more than we could have ever imagined.
By now you may have hit the "boring parts" of the Old Testament and that's why you gave up on reading through the Bible this year, or your quiet time has dissolved into just praying (if you have a time alone with God at all). But was "finally reading through the Bible" really the reason you set out to read through it in the first place? Wasn't the real impetus more about getting closer with God and having a deeper understanding who He is? Sure, some portion of your desire maybe had something to do with finally cracking the gold leaf edging on some portions of scripture you've never opened before, but hopefully that was merely secondary... an added bonus of time spent with the Lord. Push through! Pick it back up and focus on who He is. Confess the trappings of old that still ensnare your frail humanity today. Figure out the unique connections that point to Jesus throughout all of scripture.
Personally, I am trying harder this year to memorize verses of the Bible. It's been one of those things that I merely dabble in and each year my efforts seem to fall short of my original intentions, which only serves to highlight my own idleness. Hopefully this year, God will grant me the self-discipline to see things through.
May He do the same for you in all the ways that you want to honor Him this year.
Who is Jesus to you? This is life’s most fundamental question; one who’s answer should dictate your decisions and actions.
But I want to be crystal clear. Acknowledging Jesus does not equate to having faith in Him. When confronted by someone who asks you about Christianity and you respond that you “believe” in Jesus but that response is simply some knee jerk reaction to some long forgotten childhood upbringing and not a byproduct of having “a daily walk” with Him, you are just acknowledging Him. If you simply ask others to pray for this person you know or that situation you are aware of, but your life bears no fruit of actually believing that He can make a difference in YOUR life, then you are simply acknowledging Him. It’s the spiritual equivalent to the “nod of acknowledgement” done by high-school boys walking up and down the hallway. And this is a dangerous place to be. You need to prepare yourself.
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
**See also Rev. 3:14-22
Many might respond by saying that this statement is based in fear, and God is love and love drives out fear; a sentiment derived from 1 John 4:18. And you would be correct, though misguided and I would say you’ve missed the larger point John was making. Even simply reading the rest of the verses around it (and the small book as a whole), you would see that this love is in the context of abiding in Christ- a faithful trusting, a leaning your entire being on and in Him day to day. At this point you should also continue reading the first few verses of 1 John 5 and come to grips with the correlation of those who love Him are those who follow His commandments.
The “fear” some are trying so hard to dismiss easily is the same sort of thing that we can think about in a marriage. Saying I love Carla doesn’t give me the opportunity to sin or live unfaithfully day-to-day. If I say I love my wife and cheat on her, sleep around with other women, go behind her back and flirt with everyone, and I don’t have any fear… I would be a fool. That’s an extreme example, but the same applies if I were to tone it down some. If I say I love my wife but when we meet someone new, I introduce her by saying, “Oh! Her? Oh she’s just my wife,” and I have no fear… Again, I’m a fool. A certain fear of only acknowledgement rather than being devoted to my wife helps remind me of what love looks like, what abiding looks like.
Acknowledging Jesus is not confession. It isn’t commitment. It isn’t submitting to His Lordship in your life. It certainly isn’t a faith that saves. Come ask me questions about how to turn the corner in your spiritual life and gain fervor for having an actual relationship with the One True God. Admit that you are a sinner. Believe that God sent Jesus to pay for your sins. Commit your life to Him. Whether you see this as the Easiest Hard Decision you’ll ever have to make or the Hardest Easy Decision you’ll ever have to make, make today be the day you answer life’s most fundamental question.
Many of you, by now, have heard my humbling story from my time doing some disaster relief in Nepal. It centers on how everyone does everything in flip flops. Walking up a mountain for 4 hours with 40-60 pounds strapped to your head and back, well then... You should be wearing flip flops. Clearing broken glass, building rubble, and debris? Clearly flip flops are your footwear of choice. It's not that there aren't shoes there; most choose the simplicity of a thin piece of rubber between two toes and under their feet to get things done.
I equate this to how we Christians, here in America, tend to tackle any problem. We tend to throw money at an issue and/or claim that we "need" this bit of equipment or that essential training before we can do something of value for the Kingdom of God. In all actuality, most of this is just encumbrance, things that get in the way of the Spirit doing something amazing in your midst. All we really need is a pair of spiritual flip flops.
The real trick is figuring out what those things are that the Holy Spirit has gifted us with. They are going to be different for everyone and certainly won't look the same from one person to the next. Over the past few weeks, I've been trying to think about what two "flip-flops" I wear. How has God uniquely knit me for His service? First, there is the desire to serve people at their point of need. Coming to the rescue, helping them in times of trouble, being side by side in ministry that may not necessarily be my own. Secondly, would be the desire to share the gospel/disciple through friendship. Meeting people and engaging them with the Word and how it can impact their lives.
If you had to strip away everything you think you "need" for ministry, what would you be left with? What, other than a relationship with the Almighty, Provider, Counselor, <insert descriptor here>, would you say is the core of who you are and how you operate in ministry if nothing else gets in the way? Is it time for you to lay some things aside in an effort to become unencumbered and allow the purity of the gospel to shine through in your ministry and your life?
Fencing is one of those sports that you quickly realize where you are "on the food chain." You either get crushed by the person you're fencing (or you're the one doing the crushing) or you hold your own and come away with either a close win or loss. It's also one of those sports where it is easy to get into the rut of fencing the same people over and over. This sort of unchallenging engagement doesn't force you to learn anything new which only perpetuates where you are on that food chain. On the other hand, when you have bouts consistently against people who are better than you (who might crush you), that's when innovation is sparked, something clicks, and you can start to hold your own at a higher level of fencing.
Timothy had one of those moments last night. Trying to take himself seriously, he stepped out onto the fencing strip against several opponents. Two of them he clearly outclassed, but then he faced off the person at the club who is by far the best fencer in his age bracket. She's been fencing for 5 years and several of those with private lessons from a world renown coach, she's rated far above Tim, she's fenced all over the country and (if I'm not mistaken) some international tournaments as well with many medals and trophies to show for it. Though Timothy is notably regarded as ridiculously good for his 9 months of three-hours-a-week experience, she really should have devoured him AND his saber for dinner and then called for seconds.
But something clicked and Tim was able to show how much untapped potential he has. In the end, the score had Tim losing the bout 11-15, BUT there were easily 3 points that his blade missed her by a hair's breadth and she in turn only hit him with that same hair's breadth; and there was a point or two that could have gone either way. There were also more than a handful of times where other people in the crowd watching hooped, hollered, and OOoohhh!!-ed right along with me (I even jumped out of my seat a time or two) as Tim scored some fantastic points. After the bout, this gal who never really gave Timothy the time of day, started smiling and talking with him with a new found respect for him and his abilities. The score may have indicated that he lost, but he came away the winner last night.
Spiritually speaking, how have you dipped into your untapped potential lately? Have you challenged yourself in some regard or has complacency and dusty routine dictated your lack of growth? The Bible is very clear that the Holy Spirit grants us particular spiritual gifts. But what we do with them is clearly up to us. It's sort of like Timothy and his fencing. Sure, I can get him the gear he needs and drive him to the club. He can even go through the motions of doing warm ups and fencing people. But it is only when we decide to take on a real challenge that the power of the potential within us... the Holy Spirit, will shine through. What in your spiritual life needs to happen for you to take the next step in living out a maximal faith?
Romans 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
In early December, I had the opportunity to work for Samaritan's Purse and Operation Christmas Child (OCC), an organization that delivers shoeboxes full of toys and necessities to children in need of hope around the world. Many of you are familiar with those red cardboard shoe boxes and have been donating for several years. I helped out at one of the nine "Processing Centers" around the country. These Centers are the next step after the collection centers receive your boxes. Once there, each of the 8.5 million shoeboxes will be inspected before they are shipped overseas. With the experience I gained working at the Processing Center in Maryland, I wanted to give you a little bit of insight and some suggestions about how to pack your shoebox for next year.
Not all shoeboxes are created equal
Now that the honeymoon phase of a new school year is over with and birthdays have come and gone, we here in the Ritz household are gearing up for get-togethers, eating too much, celebrating Christmas, and making the most of our days off. One thing we are looking forward to at Thanksgiving is volunteering at a collection center for Operation Christmas Child (an annual charity that collects shoeboxes full of gifts from people and gets them into the hands of children in third world countries across the globe). And Tim has decided that he would make a sincere effort to give more than receive this year for Christmas and is starting to generate a list of things he would like to do for people, even the strangers we live next-door to in the apartment complex. This year, more so than in years past, the Holy Spirit seems to have set it in our hearts collectively as a family to seek out and bless those around us and those in need.
May I encourage you (and your family) to go beyond any typical charitable giving and put in some face-time with those you seek to bless this year? There are people everywhere that could use some interaction with you besides just getting an email or taking your money. Friends, coworkers, neighbors, people you see on a regular basis that know your name (but you still haven't learned theirs), shut-ins, homeless shelters, prisoners, depressed folks down the hall, people grieving, wealthy people who don't have anyone close to them, those who struggle with sin, people who have all the reasons in the world to be frustrated (maybe even frustrated with God), people who are doing fine but could use another kind word of Truth and a hug, that person you haven't talked with in forever because that one time y'all had a disagreement that got a little more than heated, etc. You know who I'm talking about... yeah, that person who just came to mind. Go and BE the blessing along with whatever sweet token you intend to bless them with. May we all be His hands and feet this holiday season.
Last summer, my son was introduced to the sport of fencing. He had a great time and learned a bunch. It was one of the first things that he tried that made him realize he still had a lot to learn. This summer he was able to get into a once a week class which helped to round out his beginner skills. He enjoyed it so much we decided to enroll him in a week long camp at the same facility which started while his weekly class was wrapping up. All this fencing has only fueled his desire to learn and do more. By this point in time, he had even decided which weapon he enjoyed most and wanted to concentrate more on. As he has progressed through the camp, his coach has taken an interest in Tim and he thinks Tim could go far in the sport. It's one of those opportunities that Carla and I can't let slip by. We talked it over as a family and Tim recognized the need for discipline to continue in a sport that will require quite a bit of finagling by the family as a whole to maintain (schedule-wise and financially). He understands that some weeks will simply require more effort than others because his emotions won't always be consistent. That certain weeks, he will simply need to power through when things aren't going so well. With summer ending and school about to start up, things will only get more congested in terms of time, but in the end, we all think it will be worth it for him to pursue what God is doing in this tightly knit circle of the fencing community.
Disciplines are great things for us to work on as Christians, frankly because (like fencing) there are so many. One of the books I like to recommend to people is Donald S. Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. This short book is a wonderful treasure trove of ways we can stretch our faith for the purpose of developing Godliness in our lives. Obviously, things like Bible intake and prayer are in there- and these chapters aren't some simple overview of age old traditions, but rather they help to make us really see and understand why we are doing these things and why we should be doing these things. There are also other disciplines that Whitney explores such as journaling, fasting, and one especially poignant for this day and age- silence and solitude (written back in 1991: two or three years before the internet became popular and roughly 10 years before cell phones started landing in everyone's pocket). The book itself isn't very long and reading it would definitely come under the heading of one of the disciplines he lists- Learning for the Purposes of Godliness. No matter where you are in your walk with the Lord, I suggest you take a look at this fantastic book.
And as you look at your own schedule for the upcoming fall season no matter what stage of life you are in, may you too endeavor to not just add some new thing or hobby or sport into your routine, but also a commitment to a more spiritually disciplined life.
**PS. On a lighthearted note, raising a son always comes with the reminders to "not hit others", at least in the early years. Carla and I do find it odd that we have gotten to the place now with Tim entering fencing where we are OK with sticking a sabre in our son's hand and telling him to go out and hit another kid in the head/torso with it. Not only that, but we find ourselves sitting next to the parents of the aforementioned kid and we can both talk, laugh, smile, and cheer as their child does the same to Tim.
***PSS. Tim came home from camp today and told me how fencing is the safest sport there is. I neglected to tell him that yesterday his coach related a story to me of how he and one of his students once both drew blood at the same time while they were warming up for a competition. SHHHhhhh! Don't tell him.
Over the years, there have been several things that have stuck in my mind from the pages of God's word. One of them is the word fervent. It is used several places in the NASB translation, and I am always blessed when I see it used in the lives of people.
It's a concept I think we can always use a little more of in our lives. The intended idea of fervent in the Greek is one of stretching out to a maximum limit and an intention that is without ceasing. The ultimate example of this can be found in Luke 22:44, "And being in agony He (Jesus) was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground." Let me ask you... when was the last time any of us prayed so fervently that we even perspired, let alone sweat so profusely that it dripped to the ground like blood running off our heads?!?
Fervent comes up only a few other places in the New Testament and one of them is in my favorite passage in the Bible: Romans 12:9-21. Verse 11 says, "not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;" The thought here is to be continually seeking to serve God from a place of perpetual/constant growth in the spirit. And let us not forget that the context for this verse is serving others in love.
Which brings me to my last reference today. 1 Peter 1:22, " Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of a seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (verse 23 added for emphasis)" Love is one of our greatest assets and we should desire to use it maximally in every facet of our day.
May we be a people who seek to live out our fervent spiritual life - seeking ways to live it out maximally, rather than figuring out what the minimum is that we could get away with and still be considered righteous. May we be a people who stretch out and fervently love others as Jesus did on the cross.
Grace, Opportunity, Dignity
It’s that time of year again. Those days where you reflect on New Year’s resolutions that you’ve already long forgotten. Maybe you simply shrug your shoulders at some. Maybe you actually feel a little disappointed in yourself. Some probably even warrant laughing at yourself, “How could you possibly be so silly as to think you could…” On the other hand, some aren’t (or shouldn’t) be cast off so easily.
Many Christians resolve to read their Bibles more. Many only follow through for a short time, and then “life” gets in the way, or at least that’s the excuse we use. But I would contend that this spiritual discipline is one that should be hard pressed for. Be sacrifical with your time. Make the effort to actually move forward and read God’s Word.
Allow me to issue you a challenge. At the date of this post (February 3rd) there are 76 days until Easter and there are 27 books in the New Testament. Try reading the entire New Testament before Easter Sunday. This might be a change for many of you who may only read 3 or 4 chapters during the occasional sitting. Coincidentally, there are 260 chapters in the New Testament making for a daily regimen of 3.5 chapters a day for the next 76 days, but that’s not what I’m suggesting in this post. Read on faithful reader…
My challenge to you is to read whole books of the New Testament in a single sitting. I understand this flies in the face of many Bible study advocates and I can already hear their laments, “How much will you be missing if you read that much at one sitting?” And my rebuttal is two fold. While certainly, this isn’t how you would always want to study the Word, 1) I would argue that most people, who aren’t especially apt to read more than 3 or 4 chapters a day, when they actually sit down long enough for some quiet time, can hardly remember what happened in chapter 2 of a book like Acts, and how it may or may not impact the events they read in chapter 28 a week and a half later. This leads me to my second fold… 2) Reading whole books in one sitting can illuminate familiar material in new ways. Books, that we’ve studied in the past with small groups or through some sermon series that took months, take on a whole new light and perspective when we can read them beginning to end (as they were intended to be read). Themes and important points come to the surface that may have eluded us, even through prior meticulous study.
I hope to encourage you to actually follow through with this, but I do have some closing tips/suggestions/whatevers to make your time not only easier to manage, but also help it be more than just checking off a box.
A) Read in a version that is easy to read, but that isn’t your "normal" version. This way it forces you to actually read what is there and the language itself will be new. I would suggest the NIV or ESV. If you already use both of those, try the NASB.
B) I know I am talking about reading whole books in one sitting, but longer books are long. Don’t feel bad about splitting up the reading some, but don’t take longer than 3 sittings with any one particular book.
C) As good as a study of reading one gospel after another can be, this probably isn’t the time for that challenge. My suggestion would be to read a gospel and then read 3 or 4 other books before going on to another gospel, just so you don’t feel like you’ve read the same thing over and over.
D) Take the extra time to think of the answers to these following questions on a grand scale (Maybe meditate on them throughout your day)
Try reading Colossians followed by Philemon today. How are they related? Hint: it has to do with the people. How does a better understanding of Colossians inform how you read Philemon?
Serving through love and laughter is a great way to live.