Why Read the Bible Every Day Even When You Don’t Understand It?

 “I have put Scripture at the top for fairly obvious reasons, which are there in Jesus’s teachings and elsewhere in the writings of the early Christians. The practice of reading Scripture, studying Scripture, acting Scripture, singing Scripture — generally soaking oneself in Scripture as an individual and the community — has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character.

“It is important to stress at this point (lest the whole scheme collapse into triviality) that this has only secondarily to do with the fact that Scripture gives particular instructions on particular topics. That is important, of course, but it is far more important that the sheer activity of reading Scripture, in the conscious desire to be shaped and formed within the purposes of God, is itself an act of faith, hope, and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome. To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did (6:10). no matter where our exile may have taken us.

“It is, in particular, a way of locating ourselves as actors within an ongoing drama. No matter how many smaller stories there may be within Scripture, and how many million edifying stories there may be outside it, the overall drama of Scripture, as it stands, forms a single plot whose many twists and turns nonetheless converge remarkably on a main theme, which is the reconciliation of heaven and earth as God the Creator deals with all that frustrates his purpose for his world and, through his Son and his Spirit, creates a new people through whom his purpose — filling the world with his glory — is it last to be realized. To be formed by this capital-S story is to be formed as a Christian. To take the thousand, and ten thousand, decisions to open the Bible today and read more of the story, even if we can’t yet join it all up in our own heads, is to take the next small step toward being the sort of person who, by second nature, will think, pray, act, and even feel in the way appropriate for someone charged with taking that narrative forward.

“We are not yet, after all, at the end of the drama. Bible readers … will find themselves drawn in as “characters” on stage. Yes that may well mean “playing a part,” and all the old charges of hypocrisy that cluster around the practices of virtue will come rumbling in here as well. But the more you know the play, the less you will be “playing a part” and the more you will simply be yourself. Sooner or later, you’ll be acting naturally. Second nature. That’s how virtue works.

“Of course, within the Bible there are all kinds of far more specific passages which shape and direct the life of faith, hope, and love, and which the Spirit can and does use to stir up God’s people to produce fruit. Almost every paragraph of the four gospels will have this effect, if read, pondered, and prayed through slowly and carefully. Likewise, the Psalms will open up the heart and mind of anyone who reads, sings, or prays them with any attention; they will form and reform that heart and mind in a way which, though by no means always comfortable, is always formative of Christian character. Even the genealogies, best read today at a run, can provide a powerful sense of the ongoing purposes of God, with generation after generation living by faith and hope before the next major point in the divine purpose unfolds, like a long-awaited late-blooming orchid. Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day — in other words large quantities at a time — while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop, like a fine wine (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on it’s own). But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming; not just in the sense that the more you do it the more you are likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form the habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And the “your” here is primarily plural, however important the singular as well.

“This isn’t to say there aren’t hard bits in the Bible — both passages that are difficult to understand and passages that we understand only too well but find shocking or disturbing … Avoid the easy solution to these: that these bits weren’t “inspired,” or that the whole Bible is wicked nonsense, or that Jesus simply abolished the bits we disapprove of. Live with tensions. Goodness knows there are plenty of similar tensions in our own lives, our own world. Let the troubling words jangle against one another. Take the opportunity to practice some patience (there may yet be more meaning here than I can see at the moment) and humility (God may well have things to say through this for which I’m not yet ready). In fact, humility is one of the key lessons which comes from reading the Bible over many years; there are some bits we find easy and other bits we find hard, but not everybody agrees as to which is which.

“Some people, it seems, are temperamentally suited to a particular book or type of book which others find opaque. John’s gospel is like that: some acclaim it as the very summit of the Scriptures, while others, though appreciating some of its great strengths, find it awkward and puzzling. Some people find that with St. Paul as well. Perhaps — and this is where humility comes in — it might just be the case that Scripture is so arranged that in order to grow toward a full genuine humanness, toward the well-rounded virtue of being a royal priesthood, we have to grow into Scripture, like a young boy inheriting his older brothers clothes and flopping around in them while he gradually fills out and grows up. Perhaps it’s a measure of our own maturity when parts of Scripture that we found odd or even repellent suddenly come up in a new light; when people who naturally embrace Paul come to love John as well, and vice versa; when people soaked in Revelation suddenly warm to Acts, and vice versa. Perhaps it’s another sign of maturity when our sense that Scripture is made up of some bits we know and love and other bits we tolerate while waiting for our favorites to come around once more, is suddenly overtaken by a sense of the whole thing — wide, multicolored, and unspeakably powerful. We had, perhaps, been wandering around in light mist, visiting favorite villages and hamlets, and then, as the mist gradually cleared, we discovered that everything we had loved was enhanced as it was glimpsed within a massive landscape, previously unsuspected, full of hills and valleys and unimagined glory” (N.T. Wright, After You Believe, pp. 261-264).

Books I Read in 2014

  1. 7 Ways to Be Her Hero by Doug Fields
  2. 99 Thoughts on Jesus-Centered Living by Rick Lawrence (Read as a family)
  3. After You Believe by N.T. Wright
  4. All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis
  5. An Honest Look at a Mysterious Journey by John and Joanna Stumbo
  6. Bold Parents, Positive Teens by Karen Dockrey
  7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  8. Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald P. Mcneill and Douglas A. Morrison
  9. Creating An Intimate Marriage by Jim Burns
  10. Culture of Honor by Danny Silk
  11. Edgar Allen Poe’s Complete Poetical Works
  12. Everyday I Pray for My Teenager by Eastman Curtis
  13. Francis and Edith Schaeffer
  14. God Space by Doug Pollock
  15. Holiness, Truth and the Presence of God by Francis Frangipane
  16. How to Hit a Curve Ball, Grill the Perfect Steak, and Become a Real Man by Stephen James and David Thomas
  17. How to Introduce Your Jewish Friends to the Messiah by Chosen People Ministries
  18. It’s Friday But Sunday’s Comin’ by Tony Campolo
  19. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  20. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  21. People Raising by William P. Dillon
  22. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  23. Poems by Emily Dickenson, Series 2
  24. Prone to Love by Jason Clark
  25. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  26. Running With The Giants by John Maxwell
  27. She Said Yes by Misty Bernall
  28. Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright
  29. Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne
  30. Stories That Feed Your Soul by Tony Campolo
  31. The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God by William B. Miller
  32. The Case for Faith for Kids by Lee Strobel (Read with my daughter)
  33. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  34. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  35. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
  36. The Will to Climb by Ed Viesturs
  37. Vertical Leap by Bill Rieser
  38. Why Nobody Goes to Church Anymore by Thom and Joani Schultz
  39. Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society by Len Kageler
  40. Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World by Brock Morgan

“You Were Once A Sperm”

cartoon-sperm-smiling-illustration-open-mouth-smile-44597421OK, I am reading a great little book by Tony Campolo called Stories That Feed Your Soul. You should get it. Yesterday I shared one of his stories. Today, I must share just one more. Then, you’re on your own to get the book. So good! Be encouraged today.

“When speaking to young people, I always enjoy telling them, ‘Do you realize you were once a sperm? That’s right. You were once a sperm, and you were one of five million sperm all together in a group. Do you remember? All of you lined up at the starting line and at the end of a long, long tunnel, there was one egg. There was a race, and you won! Stop to think about that. The odds were five million to one and you came through. Your victory makes an Olympic gold medal look like nothing by comparison! You came through! You’re a winner! You are here by divine appointment. You are no accident. Think about that. If your mother had had a headache that night, you wouldn’t even exist. You are a very special person!

– Tony Campolo

Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

51KjG3d-XpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently read Brock Morgan’s book Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World. In the book Brock discusses the major shifts we have experienced in our culture over the past couple of decades and how that has affected the students we work with in youth ministry. Because the world is a different place, by necessity, how we relate to and minister to students must change. Many of the ways we did ministry just a decade ago are no longer effective, and the expectations we had of students and our programs are no longer valid. But rather than sit back and miss the good ole’ days of youth ministry, Brock offers us a fresh perspective and a hopeful way forward.

One of the things that stood out to me in the book was the recognition that there seems to be a sad increase in the number of youth workers being fired these days. While there are certainly very legitimate reasons that some are released, more often than not, it is due to the perceived inability of the youth leader to get large numbers of students to come out to their programs. Morgan makes the astute observation that many of the senior pastors and supervisors in the church today were either youth workers or students themselves in the 80s and 90s when it seemed that all one had to do was offer pizza and some messy, crazy games, and kids from all over the community would come out to youth ministry programs en mass. In that era, success was defined in terms of numbers. What many overseers and decision makers today often fail to recognize is that those days are long over.

At the National Youth Worker’s Convention I attended last week, Dr. Kara Powell noted: “When I was a youth leader in the 80s and 90s, parents would call and ask us to have more activities for their students. Now when parents call, it is to apologize that their students can’t come because of they’re too busy.” In the book, Morgan does not suggest that counting is unimportant or that we should just resign ourselves to running programs no one will come to. Rather, he challenges us to change what we are counting. Success in today’s youth ministry should be measured much less in terms of attendance at our events, and much more in terms of individual care, how often we are getting out of our offices and connecting with students one-on-one or on campus, how we are encouraging and helping students become authentic members of the larger church body, how we are getting students involved in compassion and justice, how we are investing in families … These are things that matter and have lasting impact in students’ lives.

He also calls on youth workers to remember that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that as people on the front lines contending for the hearts of a generation, we need to be doing battle on our knees in prayer, and we need to be living in purity. Whenever there have been significant moves of God throughout history, the leaders were people devoted to passionate, faith-filled prayer and right, God-honoring living. Youth leaders must remain faithful to their primary calling of ministering before the Lord. Our ministry to students must overflow from our intimacy with the Father.

I highly recommend this book. I am looking forward to having Brock speak to our entire youth leadership team, and perhaps even our entire church leadership team. I believe he has a word for the church in our generation.

People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Funds

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There have been many times when I have considered working for a ministry that would require me to raise funds in order to support my family and the ministry. At this point I have not ended up going down those roads, but perhaps one day the Lord will call us on such a journey. The scariest thought when considering such a venture is whether or not one will be able to raise a sufficient amount to care for one’s family and work. Then, the intimidation of asking people to give to such a cause.

A number of years ago I was having lunch with a very dear friend of mine who had been working in a para-church organization for nearly 40 years, always operating the ministry and personally living off of the financial generosity of others. He was and is an incredible man of faith. I once asked him, “Isn’t it difficult to ask people for money?” I will never forget his response. “I am a terrible fund raiser,” he said. “I don’t ask people for money. I am a friend raiser.” He went on to explain that if one simply asks for money, it’s shallow and, in some respects, easy. But it is also ineffective. The key, he said, was to invite people into relationship, and in the context of relationship, as people got to know him, he was able to share his vision and people were able to sense his passion and commitment. Once they witnessed those things, many would jump at the opportunity to invest in the kingdom work he was doing. He was a great friend raiser.

I recently finished reading People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Funds by William P. Dillon. As I was reading I was thinking about my friend. Many of the principles in the book were the very things my friend had shared with me. I appreciated the author’s candor as well as his very practical advice based on decades of raising funds for worthy causes. I will say that, although his point was well made, and I don’t really have any alternatives, I personally wrestle with some of the realities of fund raising that seem very sales-y. Although he stresses that it’s about friendship not funds, at times some of his strategies felt less friendship-oriented and more like people were objects for use. He makes it clear that this is not the case, but it can feel that way. When you are building relationships with people with at least a hope that they will give money to you and your cause, perhaps there is just no way around it, but it would be hard for me to do some of the things suggested and not feel like I was using people. I also noted that some of the attention given to large-donors could easily slip into favoritism. Large donors do deserve special thanks, in a way, but those who give $10 a month as a sacrifice are doing no less than those who can easily give $10,000. Again, that author really stresses that this is the Lord’s work, these are the Lord’s people, and these are the Lord’s funds, but it could be a bit tricky.

I would recommend this book to any and all who are in the position of needing to raise support for their ministries. There are many great tips and pieces of practical advice from a man who has spent a majority of his life building relationships with people and inviting them to invest in the work of ministry with their finances.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Wisdom from Robert Frost for the Young and Old

I read this great poem by Richard Frost called “What Fifty Said” yesterday. Both young and old can learn from each other.

When I was young my teachers were the old.
I gave up fire for form till I was cold.
I suffered like a metal being cast.
I went to school to age to learn the past.

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Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I go to school to youth to learn the future.

teen-senior-smartphone-young-man-teaching-elderly-woman-to-use-31053128

Prone to Love – Book Review

Prone_to_Love_FRONT-COVER-WebMy college roommate Jason Clark has done it again. Through humorous storytelling he draws us into spiritual insight and understanding in his new book Prone to Love. Jason is passionate about understanding God’s original design and helping people live within their intended relationship with God. In the book he explores the nature God and His character as loving Father, and seeks to help us understand our identity in light of the revelation of who God is. When we truly grasp the nature of our heavenly Father we will not live as children trying to sneak out of the house in pursuit of other things we think will fulfill us, but will rather be drawn more and more into the depths of His love and a deep desire to live to bring Him pleasure. We will find ourselves prone to love Him with our all.

I highly recommend you pick this book up and give it a read. It has the potential to transform your view of God, yourself, and how you live your life.

I received this book for my honest opinion and review.

Check out my thoughts on Jason’s first book Surrendered and Untamed here.