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Archive for Bible Reading


How I Read the Bible

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During my years of pastoral ministry I committed to read the Bible through, cover to cover, every single year. And I did, without fail. I had always believed that any pastor worth their salt should do at least that much, given the responsibility of teaching and preaching the text each week. In many ways it was a self imposed legalism that I couldn’t break free from no matter how hard I tried.

Now that I’m no longer in the pastorate my thinking has shifted. I still read the Bible on a daily basis, but I read it more deliberately that before. Here’s the daily routine that I’ve settled in to over the last year.

First, I read for Worship. I begin my daily reading with one chapter from the Book of Psalms. I enjoy the language of Psalms and it helps me focus on God and align my heart with his. In this manner I read the Book of Psalms two times each year.

Second, I read for Wisdom, meaning I read one chapter of Proverbs each morning that corresponds with the calendar date. One the first day of the month, I read Proverbs one, and on the second day I read Proverbs two, and so on. I feel that the practical wisdom from Proverbs is helpful, and this practice enables me to read the Book of Proverbs 12 times each year. If I feel the need to switch it up, I’ll exchange Proverbs with Ecclesiastes, which is my favorite book of the Old Testament.

Third, I read for Witness. By that I mean that I read one or two chapters from the Old or New Testament that helps me see how the biblical cast of characters interact with God and one another. This year I’m focused on the New Testament, taking a deliberate walk through the narratives in such a way that focuses on the context of that day. The stories aren’t just stories. By and large they are about people(s) who are trying to apprehend God and apply their understanding of God to their everyday experiences. This deliberate approach permits me to focus on what people of the Bible did what they did and why they did it, it also helps me see myself in them and ask myself what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. This past year has yielded a new appreciation for Jesus and his interactions with the people of the secular world of the first century.

I’ll probably never read the Bible through cover to cover in a given year again. But hopefully I’ll read it faithfully in a more meaningful way than before. My questions today are different than they were a year ago. And I’m enjoying connecting with God as never before. There’s a wonderful freedom that comes in faith when you’re doing something for no other reason than because you simply want to.

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State of the Bible – 2021

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Here’s a new study from Barna research on how American’s view the Bible. Check it out here: https://www.barna.com/research/sotb-2021/. Are you surprised by anything in the report?

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Disrupting Thinking

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My wife is an elementary reading teacher, specializing in helping kids with reading comprehension, accuracy and fluency. She spends her days in small circles of children helping them improve what would arguably be the most important skill anyone could possess. Because of her dedication as a teacher she is always looking for ways to improve her craft so she can be on top of her game day in and day out. One of the resources she has shared with me is a book titled, Disrupting Thinking, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

Beers and Probst teach a three-fold technique for comprehension that I think is applicable to how we read and understand the Bible. Since many of us have a little more discretionary time on our hands due to COVID-19, I want to share what I think are the most transferrable concepts from this approach to reading.

First, begin with the book, which for my purposes is the Bible. When you read a passage ask these questions: Who is speaking? Who is the passage addressed to? What is this verse or these verses about? In other words, who is saying what to whom?

Next, move to your own thinking about the text. What surprised me about the verse(s)? What does the writer think I already know? What changed, challenged, or confused my thinking? What did I notice? This is your mental interaction with what you’ve read. But don’t stop there!

The final phase is to move the passage from your head to your heart. Here are two important questions: What did I learn about me from reading the text? And, How will this help me as a person of faith grow and mature?

To me, the approach is designed to create the discipline of moving the text on a page of the Bible to a cognitive interaction which results in personal action. Good books of all genres are transformative, and the most transformative book ever composed is sacred Scripture. The Bible is more than a compliation of stories, it is life giving. But it only gives life when it intersects with your faith being lived out on a daily basis. Next time you read a passage from the Bible, take a moment, and a pen and notebook for that matter, and walk through the process I’ve outlined. See if it makes a difference.

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I grew up in a day when there just weren’t a lot of options. My home of origin had three television stations, two grocery stores, and one Bible translation, the KJV. So naturally I cut my Bible reading teeth on a text written on the twelfth grade level. As time marched on, other translations began to emerge. The New KJV came along, smoothing out some of the archaic language while still honoring the spirit of the KJV. Then came the NASB (New American Standard), followed by the all time best selling NIV (New International Version) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Currently I’m reading the New Living Translation and am enjoying it very much.

As you know, today we have multiple versions of the Bible that are readily available. Even secular book store chain will carry a dozen or more options for those in the market for a new Bible. I’ve read each of the above mentioned versions cover to cover, and as I’ve read them have carried them into the pulpit and have used each of them in worship and preaching. I’m honored to share a few comments about how to select a Bible translation for you, the faithful reader of this blog.

The first thing you’ll want to know about Bible translations is the philosophical difference in how the version is interpreted. All authentic translations are taken from the Hebrew and Greek texts. (The difference between a translation and a paraphrase is that a translation comes from the ancient text while a paraphrase is a reiteration of the English text.) Some translations interpret the text “word for word.” In this approach, the goal is to convey the most precise interpretation of each individual word in the manuscript. Examples of word for word translations are the KJV, NKJV, and the NASB.

The other approach is to interpret the text “thought for thought.” The idea here is to value to concept to make sure that the main idea of the passage is conveyed clearly. Obviously one can get each individual word correct yet still fail to communicate the broader point being made by the verse(s). Examples of this would be the NIV, TNIV, and the NLT.

Think of the difference this way: word for word sees and values the individual trees while the thought for thought sees and values the forest. I don’t know that there is really a right or wrong in this. It’s simply a matter of preference and what the reader is really wanting out of the study experience.

The second tip I would offer is to remember that every translation is an interpretation. Valid translations are conducted by a committee of scholars who are well versed in biblical languages, theology, church history, and pastoral ministry. Each committee brings their education and their experience to the table. Take, for example one of the more popular new translations, the ESV. It is unapologetically reformed in its theology. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you know it going to check out. On the other hand you have the NLT, which is distinctly evangelical in its theology. Again, its not about right or wrong. I’m simply trying to make the point that you need to be aware that Bible translations are not neutral. Each possesses a theological bent. In fact, you can discern a lot about the theology of a church simply based on the translation that the pastor uses for preaching.

So how do you determine the theological bent of a translation? The easiest way is to thumb through the introductory pages of the translation and see who served on the translation team. Who are they? Where do they teach? A little cyphering at this point will tell you much about how certain passages will be handled, especially in the Pauline epistles.

Third, don’t rely on familiar passages to help you make a decision. Even the most contemporary translations will refrain from tampering greatly with commonly known sections such as Psalm 23, John 3:16, or the Lord’s Prayer. If you want to see how the translation really works, you’ll need to select a passage that is important to you and do the direct comparison accordingly. Visiting a free site such as www.bibletab.com will allow you to do direct parallel comparisons to get a feel for how the translation team handled important passages.

Finally, follow the money. At the end of the day, it’s about cash. The most popular translations may not be the best translations. They may simply have invested the most marketing dollars. Translations live and die based on sales, not scholarship. So whatever you do, don’t make your decision based on what the sales statistics report. Pick what speaks to you.

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Scripture and the Authority of God

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This book came recommended to me by one of our members at Ashworth Road. Jason had finished the first edition, published under the title, The Last Word, and encouraged me to pick it up. Scripture and the Authority of God is the 2nd edition of that original title by N.T. Wright.

Scripture and the Authority of God is not a book about hermeneutics, but rather Wright’s suggestion as to how we should approach reading the Bible in our modern culture. Certainly the Bible is a hot button among evangelicals today, who often resort to using the Bible for the purpose of proof texting their own traditions and values. While many concur that the Bible is an authoritative document, opinions vary as to what kind of authority that conveys. What are the limits or extents of that authority? And what role does the Holy Spirit play in relationship to this authority? With those concerns in hand, Wright presents a balanced approach to the challenge.

Wright devotes the first chapters of the book to a historical survey of how the Scriptures have been handled since the Old Testament. The author reminds the reader that not all generations through history have treated the Scriptures the way we presently treat them. Does the manner in which the Bible has been read in history inform us in any way as to how we should read the Bible today? That, in part, is Wright’s point.

So what purpose does the Bible serve in history and our present day? According to Wright, to understand the purpose of the Scripture we have to think macro and not micro. The Bible was written to bear the gospel of Jesus and to serve as the missional document of the Church. The story of the Bible is chiefly the account of God’s involvement in human history and His redemptive plan that is unveiled through Jesus Christ. As the church emerges in the first century, she becomes the standard bearer, proclaiming the gospel to the farthest reaches of the world. We live to day as a continuance of the plot that was inaugurated through the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost.

How then shall we read the Bible? Wright proposes five ways that will assist and empower us to read the Bible in today’s culture. The list is provided as follows:

1. A totally contextual reading of Scripture.
Meaning, we must renew our commitment to understanding the words of Scripture in their proper contexts, including the verses, chapters, and books of the Bible, and past that into the historical and cultural settings. The words of the Bible meant something then as well as now.

2. A liturgical grounded reading of Scripture.
In other words, Scripture must be read in community. In the first century, public reading of Scripture may have been the only way that people heard the Scripture. Bible reading was not primarily an individual exercise. First and foremost came community. With this being said, Wright presents a powerful argument for the systematic reading of the Bible in corporate worship today.

3. A privately studied reading of Scripture.
While the primary hearing of Scripture may be conducted through the worship of the people, private reading and study is to be encouraged. Private Bible reading is both the privilege and responsibility of each Christian.

4. A reading of Scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship.
Wright views scholarship as “a great gift of God to the church, aiding it in its task of going ever deeper into the meaning of Scripture and so being refreshed and energized for the tasks to which we are called in and for the world (134-135).”

5. A reading of Scripture taught by the church’s accredited leaders.
Years ago the pastoral leaders of congregations had “studies,” whereas today they have “offices.” This significant shift over the past four decades has impacted the church. Wright recognizes that pastoral leaders have to deal with the management and operation of congregational ministry, however, the preaching and teaching of Scripture remains the heart of ministry.

Scripture and the Authority of God is a simple, yet helpful treatment of how to read the Bible in the 21st century. I recommend this book to you, especially if you’re weary of petty arguments about biblical interpretation over things that, by and large, just don’t matter.

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How to Pray Scripture

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I’ve always been impressed with those who have the ability to incorporate the Bible into their prayers. It not only makes the prayers seem more genuine, it creates a sense of authority.  I would characterize those who pray the Scriptures as ones who have walked with God for a measure of time…the kind of persons who really desire to know God’s will and do God’s will. There’s something about reflecting back to God what He has already said that makes one feel more in tune with God when praying.

So how do you go about it? It’s not that hard, but before you start experimenting with it, let me give a few suggestions to think about that may help guide your first steps. Praying the Scripture back to God should be a reflexive part of your pilgrimage, but you have to start somewhere, right?

First, I would recommend that you prioritize the word of God in your devotional time. While there are many wonderful resources available to supplement your Bible reading, there is no substitute for the Bible itself. I think its good practice to pray with your Bible open, and to pray as you read the Bible. As you read the Bible, ask God to speak to you from what you are reading. If something strikes you, consider it a signal to stop and pray.

Next, analyze what the verse is actually saying. I believe God speaks to us today through the Bible, but that affirmation is not an encouragement to run willy nilly through the Bible to find some proof text that aligns with your will.  So be thoughtful about what the verse is saying and what it is saying specifically to you. Let me use a simple illustration. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory.” What does it say? At face value, it says that God is committed to meeting my needs and that He has the abundant resources to meet my needs. It does not say that God is committed to meeting all of my wants. Transportation is a need. A $60,000 SUV, on the other hand, may be a want. Analyzing the verse keeps you from putting words in God’s mouth.

If you believe that God is speaking to you through the verse, personalize and verbalize it. Back to our example from Philippians 4. Suppose you do have a need for transportation. You might pray something like this: “God, you are committed to meeting the needs of your people, and today you are the God who meets all of my needs according to your riches in glory…and today I bring you my need for reliable transportation.” That sounds a little better than the typical litany of demands we toss in God’s direction when we want something.

Prioritize. Analyze. Personalize. Verbalize. Why not give it a shot? The value of praying Scripture is that it will draw your heart closer to God and God will use it to align your will with his will.

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On Sunday our church completed a summer activity called The 90 Day New Testament Challenge. It was actually pretty simple. I asked our congregation to read through the entire New Testament over the course of 90 days beginning June 1. I believed that this would be an important piece of our summer strategy, given that we committed our Wednesday nights to serving our community though an initiative called “The Summer of Love.” To encourage our people to stay with the task, we developed a blogsite, www.nt90.com, to give people a chance to read entries, find a reading plan, sign up for daily text message reminders, and to post comments. So what was the take away from this promotion? What did we learn from our shared experience? Here are a few things that I learned and hope that others learned as well.

First, the New Testament is a primarily missional document and should be read with that in mind. For example, the Book of Acts has no ending. The story just stops, as if to assume that the second and third generations of believers would continue to walk in the same path. As we read the New Testament, we were able to understand the mission of the Kingdom past and make associations with the mission of Kingdom present. Like those whose “sentness” has been documented in the grand story of the New Testament, we too have been “sent” into the world to be the presence of Christ.

Second, there is a unique power that comes when the people of God are immersed in Scripture together. I enjoyed every conversation that I had with others who were taking the journey. Bible reading is intensified when it is a shared experience.

Third, the people of God are informed and encouraged by the ancient story. We were able to identify with many of the experiences we discovered in our reading. We felt things, saw things, and shared in things that Jesus and the apostles felt, saw, and shared.

Finally, the mission of Jesus is sustained and energized by the written word. Scripture reading provided spiritual sustenance for the unique mission we undertook this summer with The Summer of Love. To intentionally engage our community this summer apart from the steady ready of Scripture would be the equivalent of an athlete going to the game with an empty stomach. In John 4, Jesus told his disciples, “I have a kind of food that you know nothing about.”

At the beginning of our challenge, I pointed out that it takes 28 days to create a habit, whether good or bad. My prayer is that the completion of the challenge will not be an end to an accomplishment, but rather serve as the initial steps of a lifelong discipline of daily Bible reading.

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