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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Are You a Pharisee?

Christians commonly view the Pharisees as a group of evil people who were completely opposed to God. After all, they questioned Jesus constantly and played a big role in the plot to have him crucified. As a result, none of us who call ourselves Christians want to be associated with them.

But after studying the Pharisees more in depth, it’s hard to ignore the shocking similarities between the first-century Pharisees and some Christians today. In this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at who the Pharisees were, sharing a little about my Pharisaical past, and sharing how Jesus has transformed my life.

Who Were the Pharisees?

I’m not quite sure how our understanding of the Pharisees was shaped, but somehow many of the people I’ve interacted with have a similar perspective of the Pharisees. Generally, we see them as a group of religious nuts who didn’t want anything to do with following God. They appear like nothing more than a washed up, pompous group of men who were Jesus’s arch nemeses throughout the three and a half years of his ministry.

However, this is a very lopsided, only minimally accurate picture of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were actually a very highly respected group of Jewish religious leaders who had a great amount of influence over the Jews[1] and who were known by their strict adherence to the Mosaic Law, the law which was given to the Jews by God.[2] The Pharisees knew the Old Testament like the back of their hands. Many of them had memorized the entirety of the first five books of the Bible. Additionally, they had memorized all the finite details of these laws which sought to further clarify its ambiguities (613 laws in total).

In addition to their vast knowledge of the scriptures, they made it a habitat to attend the temple or synagogue on a regular basis. They read the scriptures and prayed every day. They tithed (gave 10 percent) on all their income.[3] In accordance with the ritual purification process, they washed their hands before every meal.[4] Jesus even acknowledged their apparent mastery of self-righteous living.[5] The Pharisees did all these things because they thought that they would bring them closer to God; they thought the only way to be accepted by God was to obey every component of the law.

When Jesus came on the scene, he claimed to be God. Now, the Jews had experienced a long history of people claiming to be God, so the fact that Jesus claimed to be God wasn’t out of the ordinary. However, all the people who had come before Jesus weren’t actually God. So naturally, the Pharisees were very skeptical about whether Jesus was truly God. As highly respected Jewish leaders who saw it as their role to protect the people from heretics, they asked Jesus a lot of questions and observed his behaviors to determine whether he was a heretic or whether he was truly the Son of God. In the end, the majority of them concluded he was a heretic which led them to play a significant role in having him crucified.

Do We Have Pharisees in Our Midst Today?

Although Jesus and the other biblical writers were very clear that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s acceptance, it doesn’t seem to have stopped us from trying. I encounter people all the time who are trying to earn God’s acceptance. They believe they have to fix this or that about themselves before God will listen to them or act on their behalf. Or even that they have to regularly perform a certain set of rituals in order to earn salvation (or keep it).

I’m very familiar with the Pharisaical mentality because I used to be one. No, I never ran around in a long black robe dragging sinners out to the street to be stoned, but I believed that active sinners couldn’t receive salvation until they stopped sinning (my uneducated understanding of repentance). I spent many years “obeying all the rules” in an attempt to earn God’s acceptance. I went to church every Sunday, even when I was out of town. I read my Bible every day. I gave 10 percent (and most of the time more) of my income to my local church. I led a small group, joined the praise band, became the Treasurer, and became an elder at my church. And I even quit my full-time “secular” job to be on staff at my church (which came with a huge pay-cut). But that’s not all. In my personal life, I never cussed, smoked, drank alcohol, had extra-marital sex, or viewed pornography. On the outside, I was nothing short of a superstar Christian.

If God’s acceptance was something that could be earned, then certainly I would’ve earned it. But as I finally learned, God’s acceptance isn’t something that can be earned. Thankfully, God graciously decided to show me that I was nothing more than a whitewashed tomb which looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside was nothing more than lifeless bones.[6] Inside I was absolutely dead. And none of my good works or self-righteousness was worth anything; they were as worthless as a pile of poop.[7] What God showed me was that I couldn’t do anything to earn his acceptance. It was only by his grace, and not by my works, that he accepted me.

How Can We Be Zealous for Righteousness and Not Become a Pharisee?

I actually admire the passion Pharisees have for obeying the law.[8] All the commandments of the Bible give us practical examples of behaviors we will most likely exhibit when we are transformed into the image of Jesus. And Pharisees seek to attain perfection in living them out. But where they error is that instead of viewing Jesus as the means to get to God, they view the law as the means to get to him. It’s no wonder they have such motivation to live in obedience to the law.

Conversely, when we recognize that Jesus is the means to get to God, we are tempted to dispose of the law thinking it’s of no more use. After all, if we are saved by grace and not by works, then no matter what we do, our sins will be forgiven. Although it is true that Jesus paid for all our sins both past, present, and future, this mindset is not consistent with the mindset of the biblical writers. The biblical writers communicated their disgust with their sinfulness. They absolutely hated it. But they also recognized that they couldn’t do anything to fix it; they knew that God was the only one who could make that change in them.

This is the same mindset we are called to have. It is a mindset that is so in love with God and his ways that we want to be transformed into his image, but which recognizes that we’re not there yet and can’t do anything to get there. We’ve got to wait on God to do his work, and in the meantime, continue to hate the sin in us.

Although it may seem like this mindset isn’t much different from a Pharisaical mindset, it’s actually very different. The focus of the biblical mindset is on God and his work whereas the focus of the Pharisaical mindset is on us and our work. We don’t have to fix ourselves for God to accept us; God accepts us because he chooses to accept us and then does his work to fix us. Personally, this is very relieving, because I recognize that I can never fix myself enough to meet God’s standards.

Do you find yourself trying to earn God’s acceptance through self-righteousness? Do you think you have to do a bunch of “good works” in order for God to be glorified? Do you then try to impose all these same self-righteous standards on others? If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then you’ve got Pharisaical tendencies much like I did. The good news is that you don’t have to continue living there. Jesus can break those tendencies in you much like he did with me. Feel free to drop me a note on social media or via email with your thoughts or if you’d like to discuss this topic some more.

[1] Spotlight Ministries, “In What Ways Does a Knowledge of Intertestamental History and Literature Shed Light on the New Testament Gospels, which a Knowledge of the Old Testament Books Alone Could Not?”, 2003, accessed June 24, 2015,
[2] See Matthew 15:1-20, 23:23-28, and Philippians 3:4-6.
[3] See Matthew 23:23.
[4] See Matthew 15:1-2.
[5] See Matthew 5:20 and 23:25-28.
[6] See Matthew 23:27-28.
[7] See Philippians 3:8.
[8] See Romans 10:2.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Mental Disorder or Evil Heart Condition?

As I’m sure we’ve all heard by this point, a week ago, a teenager in Florida walked into his former high school and killed 17 people: 14 students and 3 faculty members.

When events like this occur, we all question why someone would do this. Why would someone decide to take the lives of lots of people? A common response to this question is that the person was mentally ill. This event was no different. According to the initial reports, the shooter has a history of mental illness. Is mental illness really what provokes people to kill other people? Or is something else going on that we’ve failed to consider because this something else is too hard for us to accept?

I’ll start by stating that I’m not claiming to know the answer to this question. I don’t know Nikolas Cruz any more than I know Donald Trump. So of course, I have no reason to believe I know what’s going on inside his head. Psychologists may test him as mentally ill.

But that’s not where I’m going with this article. Instead, I’d like to offer up another possible reason as to why Cruz killed 17 people that doesn’t have anything to do with mental illness. Rather, the solution I’m offering has everything to with what I call a “heart condition.” Let’s have a look.

A Social Science Experiment

In the 1970s, a group of social scientists from Stanford University conducted an experiment in an attempt to explain why prison conditions were such nasty places. They transformed the basement of a campus building into a make-shift prison and requested applications from civilians willing to participate in the experiment. Of the 75 applications they received, they chose 21 of the most “normal” people to participate. Then, they randomly selected some of the people to be prison guards and some to be prisoners. They sent the police to the houses of the prisoners, arrested them, indicted them with false charges, and placed them in the custody of the guards.

The first night, the guards woke up the prisoners at 2am to do push-ups, line up against the wall, and do other random tasks. The morning of the second day, the prisoners rebelled and the guards responded by stripping them, spraying them with fire extinguishers, and throwing the leader of the rebellion into solitary confinement. After 36 hours, one prisoner became hysterical and was released from the experiment. Four more had to be released shortly thereafter because of depression, crying, rage, or acute anxiety. The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but was cut short after six days.

Following the experiment, one prisoner said, “I realize now that no matter how together I thought I was inside my head, my prisoner behavior was often less under my control that I realized.”[1]

Based on their behaviors, it would appear that both the prison guards and prisoners were mentally ill. They were doing things we wouldn’t expect normal people to do. But prior to this experiment, they all checked out as being quite normal on psychological tests. What happened? Did they become mentally ill overnight? Or was there something else going on inside these people; maybe something that had been masked for many years, but quickly manifested itself when they found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

Seeing Our True Selves

Most of us live pretty comfortable, secure lives. Most days, we don’t wonder whether we’re going to have food on the table or a place to sleep for the night. For the most part, we don’t worry about where our next paycheck is coming from or whether our spouse is going to come home after work. Many people who live in first-world countries feel comfortable and secure. As a result, they feel fairly satisfied and act like normal, civil people.

But what would happen if those comforts and securities were taken away? What would happen if we took someone who previously had all his basic needs met and threw him out on the street, or took him to a prison? Would he continue being the normal, civil person everyone thought he was? Or would he quickly become a person with whom even he would be terrified to cross paths?

This social science experiment demonstrated that normal, civil people could quickly become totally different people when those needs were no longer being met. I have witnessed this same phenomenon in my own life. When I feel hungry or tired, I can become a jerk. I become more impatient, more demanding, and less concerned about other people. Sometimes all I seem to be able to think about is getting my own needs met.

I’ve also witnessed this same behavior in other people. I’ve witnessed coworkers who are quite civil and fun to work with turn into total jerks who don’t care whether they hurt me or anyone else when they’re on the ice (playing hockey). I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being thrown under the bus by my friends when they feel backed into a corner. I’ve been on the receiving end of some very hurtful comments from my friends when they’re stressed out. We’ve all been on both the giving and receiving end of these experiences. Are these merely slip-ups that happen from time to time or are these responses giving us a glimpse into the true conditions of our hearts?

Honestly, I hate when I become a jerk to other people. I hate being impatient, demanding, and less concerned about my coworkers, friends, and family. I wish I didn’t respond that way when my needs weren’t being met. But no matter how hard I try to cover it up, I can’t. When I feel under pressure, my heart condition continues to show its ugly head through my horrific behaviors.

At this point you may conclude that I sound like nothing more than a normal human being, but what Nikolas Cruz did was far beyond the realm of something a normal person would do. Is it really? Throughout history and in other parts of the world today, people have and continue to kill each other over seemingly trivial matters. Heck, if you count the biblical records as historically accurate, you can see that humans were already killing each other by the second generation.[2]

Furthermore, let’s face it: Most of us have, at some point in our lives, wished that a specific person would die. We probably didn’t dwell on it at length nor did we act upon it, but the fact that it even crossed our minds demonstrates how evil our hearts really are. It’s not the devil who places those thoughts in there; it’s our evil hearts. If every thought we’ve ever had was laid out on the table in front of us, we’d all be declared mentally ill. Would you be willing to share every thought you’ve ever had? How about every thought you’ve had in the last week? I don’t know anyone who believes they have such pure thoughts that they’d be willing to share them with the rest of the world.
Is Nikolas Cruz mentally ill? There’s a pretty good chance that psychologists will deem him mentally ill. But I’m even more certain that if he was standing before the judgment throne of God, he would be deemed to have an evil heart condition. In my opinion, an evil heart condition is much more of a threat to society than mental illness. Someone who is mentally ill can be fairly-well contained in a mental institution. But there aren’t enough mental institutions to house everyone with an evil heart condition, let alone people to run them. This entire planet is one huge mental institution run by inmates. Do you see the paradox in which we find ourselves?

Yes, There’s Hope!

With all this apparent negativity, you may be wondering whether there’s any hope for us. Is there any way for our evil heart conditions to change? I think there’s certainly hope for me, you, and Nikolas Cruz. I’m not saying I’m all the way there and based on what I see, I’m not going to arrive at a place where I’m all the way there in this life, but I have been fortunate enough to experience some heart change. How, you ask? I don’t completely know. But here’s what I do know.

Jesus, a man who some believed was God and even more believe was a good teacher, claimed that he could and would change the hearts of his people to be like his heart.[3] What does his heart look like? It is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, humble, faithful, forgiving, self-controlled, and compassionate, just to name a few things. No matter how hard I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to cause my heart to look like this. But thankfully, I’ve experienced the work of Jesus in my heart as he slowly changes it to look like this. I’ll be totally honest: the progress isn’t nearly as fast as I’d like it to be. I wish he would completely transform me right now and be done with it. But that’s apparently not the way he’s chosen to work.

Does that mean I won’t have evil thoughts anymore or not be a jerk to the people I love and care about? When I’m completely transformed into his image…yes! But since I’m not there yet, I continue to have evil thoughts and continue to be a jerk sometimes. I really wish I wasn’t. I hate that part of myself. But I’ve tried and tried to change it on my own and only experienced minimal success, which I’ve come to realize was nothing more than preplanning my behaviors based on given scenarios. Seeing as I am incapable of actually changing my heart, my trust is now in him to do it.

What does that mean for my life? It means I will experience lots and lots of fiery trials. Jesus works like a silversmith: He continues the cycle of sticking me in the fire, pulling me out, and then scraping off the impurities until he sees a crystal clear reflection of himself. This is the way he changes our hearts. I’m currently in the midst of a big fiery trial which is very painful, but I have hope that he knows what he’s doing and that I’ll come out on the other side looking more like him.

I want the same for you. As a matter of fact, I want to see Jesus transform the hearts of every single person on the planet, including the heart of Nikolas Cruz.

Simply declaring criminals as mentally ill and locking them up for the rest of their lives isn’t going to fix the mass shooting problem. Even putting more regulations on who can and can’t buy certain guns isn’t going to fix the problem. Some of these measures may curtail these behaviors a little bit, but the problem is still going to exist because we’re not dealing with what I believe to really be the (no pun intended) heart of the issue. Me, you, and every other person on this planet needs a complete heart transformation. This is the only way we’re going to be able to experience a world with no more mass shootings.

What are your thoughts? Do you think people kill other people because of an evil heart condition? What about your heart condition? Is it evil too or do you have a good heart? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002), 152-58.
[2] See Genesis 4:1-16.
[3] See John 15:1-8, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and Romans 8:28-30.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Who Would You Choose to Be Your Pastor?

Imagine you’re on the team at your church that is responsible to hire a new Senior Pastor. Your team has met many times to get all your ducks in a row. You’ve reviewed the elder/pastor qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. You’ve discussed what type of pastor you think would be best for your congregation. And you’ve discussed the amount of money you plan to offer him. So you create the job posting, post it on a few websites, and wait for responses.

Your First Response

A couple days later, you receive your first response. It’s from an Iraqi named Abraham. So you begin to scan his résumé. The first thing you see is that he claims God has spoken to him on multiple occasions. On one such occasion, God called him to move from Iraq to Israel because God had promised him land there. On another occasion, God had promised him a son by his elderly wife, Sarah. And on another occasion, God called him to sacrifice this son. In all three cases, Abraham believed God would do what he promised to do.

As you continue reading, you see that the rest of his résumé isn’t quite so flattering. On one occasion, he moved to Egypt and told a fib that his wife was his sister because he was afraid the Egyptians would kill him to get to her. Apparently he didn’t learn his lesson on this matter because he did the same thing again when he was back in Israel. As you continue reading, you see another red flag: he has multiple wives. Not only was Sarah his wife, but he also married her servant, Hagar, and had a concubine, Keturah. Remember that “belief” Abraham had in God about which you already read? Well, you find out that when God promised Abraham a son and things weren’t working right with Sarah, he married Hagar in order to have a son with her thinking this might be the son of the promise.

Based on his résumé, would you choose Abraham to be your next Senior Pastor?

Your Second Response

A few more days pass and you receive another résumé, this time from a Middle Easterner named Isaac. So you begin taking a look at his résumé. The first thing you notice is that his résumé is much smaller than Abraham’s résumé, which means there’s probably a lot stuff hidden in his life. As you begin scanning it, you see that like Abraham, Isaac claims to have spoken directly with God. But this appears to be the only mention of God in his résumé. How deep do you really think his relationship is with God?

Furthermore, as you continue reading, you begin finding some dirt on Isaac. First, he consummated his marriage with Rebekah before he had even gotten a chance to get to know her. Second, he pulled the same stunt as Abraham one time by lying to a king saying that his wife, Rebekah, was his sister. Third, although his two oldest sons were twins, his choice of which son would be heir of the promise God made to him was different than the one God chose.

Based on his résumé, would you choose Isaac to be your next Senior Pastor?

Your Third Response

Before your posting expires, you receive one final response from another Middle Easterner named Jacob. Having not been super impressed with the first two applicants, you were hoping maybe Jacob would be a better candidate. So you began looking at his résumé. To start with, you see that Jacob claims to have met with God face to face and that during this encounter, God changed his name to Israel. That’s pretty significant! Then you see that Jacob is a hard worker and a good shepherd. All great qualities to have for a pastor!

But then as you continue reading, you find that Jacob has more dirt on his record than the other two combined. When Jacob was a teenager, he tricked his twin brother into selling him his birthright as the oldest child. A few years later, he deceived his ailing father by pretending to be his brother so that he would receive the best blessing. Because his brother was angry with him, he went to live with his uncle’s family in Syria who worship a different set of gods than Jacob. On the way there he tried to bargain with God.

When he arrived at his uncle’s place, he fell in love with his cousin, Rachel, and asked for her hand in marriage. He and his uncle made an agreement for Jacob to marry Rachel, but his uncle deceived him by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead. A week later, Jacob also married Rachel. After Leah was bearing children but Rachel wasn’t, Rachel gave Jacob her servant as his wife. When she bore children, Leah also gave Jacob her servant as his wife, meaning Jacob has four wives.

After living with his uncle’s family for a while, Jacob decided to go back home to Palestine. So he packed up his family and stuff and left his uncle’s family without saying “Goodbye.” On his way out the door, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, meaning that she doesn’t worship the same God as Jacob.

Jacob has twelve wild sons with his four wives. His oldest son slept with Leah’s servant, the one who was Jacob’s wife. His second two sons killed every male in a local city all by themselves when their sister was raped by the prince of the city. His fourth son slept with his own daughter-in-law thinking she was a prostitute and had twins by her. And some of his sons sold his favorite son to a band of traders who sold him as a servant in Egypt.

Based on his résumé, would you choose Jacob to be your next Senior Pastor?

Meeting with Your Team

Prior to meeting with the rest of the team, you decide to do a quick evaluation of the applicants. What do you think about Abraham? He does appear to have a lot of faith. What do you think about Isaac? He has the least amount of dirt on his résumé. Or what do you think about Jacob? He is the father of an entire nation. Would you choose to proceed forward with interviewing any of these guys for the open Senior Pastor position?

Now that your team is together, they read together the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. After deliberating for a little while, they conclude that they can’t justify interviewing any of these candidates because they all fail the tests. None of them are above reproach. Two of them have multiple wives. None of them are really all that respectable. Two of them are unable to keep their children submissive. There’s little evidence of faith in one of them. Only one of them seems to know more than a couple attributes of God, making them disqualified to teach. And none of them are thought of well by outsiders, hence the reason why they must’ve lied so much about their wives. Time to go back to the drawing board!

God’s Perspective

Based on their résumés, I don’t know a single church in this country who would entertain the idea of hiring one of these three men to be their Senior Pastor. All three of them led pretty messed up lives.

Yet, these are the men who God associates himself with throughout the Bible; he claims to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham is cited over and over again as a role model for faith. Jacob is cited over and over again as the father of the nation of Israel. And his twelve sons are cited over and over again as the twelve tribes of Israel.

I recognize that these three men were never in the running for a pastoral role at a church to shepherd the flock, so you could say that I’m not comparing apples to apples. You’re right, I’m not comparing apples to apples, but for a different reason.

Which currently presiding Senior Pastor is ever going to have his story told in the Bible for all generations of people to read? Not a single pastor living today is going to have his story told for generations and generations. But people have been hearing the stories of these three guys for about 3,500 years. They were shepherds in their own ways while they were living and continue on as shepherds even though they’re no longer on the earth. Yet, God chose these three guys to be the fathers of his people.

What’s the Application for Us?

I could cite many people throughout the Bible who God chose not only to belong to him, but to lead his people, who wouldn’t have met the “qualifications” for elders/pastors. Look at Moses. Look at David. Look at Paul. None of them met all the criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, yet he chose them anyway.

God doesn’t choose people to be his followers based upon their merits. If he did, none of us would qualify. Even the Pharisees who dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” weren’t righteous enough for God to choose them. As a matter of fact, Jesus passed right over them when he chose twelve men to be his disciples.

God saw Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as righteous because God imputed that righteousness to them which he was able to do because of Jesus’s death on the cross, not because of anything they did to earn it. In the same way, God sees all of his chosen people today as righteous, not because of anything they did to earn it, but because Jesus’s righteousness is imputed to them. It doesn’t matter how bad your résumé is; God can still choose you and make you righteous.

I’m challenging us to rethink what Paul intended when he wrote 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Did he really intend for us to only allow people whose lives look like the ideal person mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to be pastors/elders? Or did he intend something else? How do we marry these two ideologies, one which shows that God chooses whomever he wants regardless of their qualifications and one which appears to indicate that we should only choose people who meet a certain set of qualifications?

I welcome additional discussion around this topic.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Why I Read the Bible Every Day

For the past seventeen years, I’ve read at least a chapter of the Bible, and most of the time two or more chapters, every single day. In that time, I’ve been able to read it cover to cover more than a dozen times (I lost count a long time ago). What is so significant about this huge book that would cause me to read it over and over again? Do I think I’m gaining brownie points with God for my dutiful commitment to reading it? Do I think it offers me guidance for my life? Or do I like reading so much that I devour any and every book I can find?

I don't read it for any of these reasons. Reading the Bible doesn't earn me any favor with God. At times, I do find that it offers me guidance for my life, but that’s definitely not one of the top reasons I read it. And although it may seem to others that I like to read, reading is not really one of my hobbies; I’d much rather spend my time doing something active than sitting in a chair reading a book.

So why do I choose to set aside a chunk of time every day to read the Bible? I can think of three main reasons which I'll unpack in this article.

It’s the Word of God

Have you ever thought to yourself or maybe even said out loud, “I wish God would speak to me”? I’ve had those same thoughts many times. Sometimes I wish he’d speak to me like he did to Abraham, Moses, Elijah, or one of the other Old Testament prophets. After all, isn’t God a personal God who desires to have a relationship with us? Yet, my prayer times seemed like nothing more than me doing all the talking and him doing all the listening. I’d even pause sometimes waiting for a response…but I’d hear absolutely nothing.

Although God doesn’t choose to speak to me or you audibly, he has chosen to leave us with everything he wants to communicate to us; he’s given us his Word via the Bible. In order to hear from God, I read the Bible. If I want to hear him audibly, I read it out loud…haha just joking! The Bible is God’s revelation about himself to us, both his character and his actions. Since I love God more than anyone or anything else, I read the Bible in order to get to know who he is and read about some of the ways he’s brought glory to his name throughout history.

It Focuses Me on God and His Glory

Maybe you’re much better at this than I am, but for some reason, I have a really hard time staying focused. I’ll be focused on something and then…SQUIRREL! I get distracted pretty easily. Of course I have a desire to worship God all day, but it doesn’t seem to take much for me to get distracted from that focus. When I first started reading the Bible every day, I would read it at night before I went to bed. In the past year, I’ve changed my reading time to the morning because I’ve noticed that the refocus every morning is much more helpful to my highly distracted mind.

As a normal human who tends to lose my peripheral vision and only see what’s going on in my own little world, the daily refocus on God enables me to recognize the bigger picture of who God is, what he is doing in the world around us, and see that it all serves to bring him glory. I seem to forget that all the time. For some reason, I wake up every morning thinking that my purpose is to bring myself glory. But it’s not. My purpose is to bring God glory. And apparently I need to be reminded of that every day. When I read the Bible, it’s hard to miss this point because it shows up on seemingly every single page. It’s literally everywhere!

It Satisfies My Soul

I’ve written quite a few articles which focus on God satisfying us completely in a way that no one and nothing else can do. Reading the Bible is the primary means through which I get a chance to experience his all-satisfying power.

When I wake up every morning, I’m hungry. So the first thing I do is eat two large bowls of cereal for breakfast. After my stomach is full, I feel ready to go for the day. In the same way, reading the Bible fills up my spiritual stomach every morning. After reading the Bible, I feel refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of the day. As one of the biblical writers once wrote, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”[1]

Strategies to Get You Started

I’ve heard lots of people express an interest in reading the Bible more regularly, but for one reason or another, they don’t do it. Maybe the thought of reading a thousand-page book is too overwhelming. Maybe they don’t know where to start. Maybe they struggle to understand what it’s saying. I can relate with all those struggles because I’ve experienced them too. If you have a desire to read the Bible but feel like one of these barriers is standing in your way, I want to help you overcome that barrier. Therefore, I’m going to address each of these three barriers and provide some strategies for overcoming them.

It’s Overwhelming

Is the thought of reading a thousand-page book overwhelming to you? It can definitely be a daunting task to the person who doesn’t make a hobby out of reading War and Peace or Les Miserables. No one can read the entire Bible in a day. Personally, I find it helpful to break it down into smaller, manageable chunks. For me, these chunks are chapters. If you haven’t regularly read the Bible before, maybe a great place to start would be to read a chapter a day. As you continue reading every day, you may find that after you’ve finished your chapter, you want to keep reading the next chapter and the one after that. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t take that long to read a chapter. Bible chapters don’t take nearly as long to read as chapters in a normal book. It typically only takes me about 5 to 10 minutes to read a Bible chapter. If reading the Bible seems overwhelming, I have two words of encouragement for you. First, break the Bible down into chunks that are manageable for you to tackle rather than trying to do what’s most manageable for your spiritual giant friend who’s been reading the Bible every day for thirty years. Second, read every single day at the same time of the day rather than trying to do it whenever you have free time because more than likely, you’ll find that your free time will get eaten up with other things that seem much more important at the time.

Where to Start

Do you struggle knowing where to start? I’m a fairly logical person, so when I started reading the Bible, the most logical place to start seemed to be the beginning of Genesis and then I continued reading until I reached the end of Revelation. Over the years, I’ve tried different reading orders such as reading the New Testament first and then reading the Old Testament, reading one chapter from each of the Old and New Testament, and reading the Bible in chronological order. All of these variations have worked and have been helpful to my understanding of it, but the simplest solution I’ve found is to read it straight from Genesis to Revelation. Why do I suggest reading the whole Bible and not just the New Testament? Because the whole Bible is important and applicable to our understanding of who God is. There will be parts you won’t understand the first, second, and third time you read them. Even after reading it more than a dozen times, there are still parts I don’t understand. But over time as the Holy Spirit continues to open our spiritual eyes to understanding what’s in there and as we become more familiar with the grand narrative being told throughout the Bible, we’ll began to understand the previously non-understandable parts more and more.

It’s Hard to Understand

Does it seem like the Bible is hard to understand? It is. It’s not always as straightforward as we’d like it to be. Some parts of it are pretty cryptic and other parts are just flat out impossible to understand unless we understand the cultural context behind it. A good place to start might be to read a version of the Bible that’s easier to understand such as the New Living Translation or The Message. My hesitation with these translations is that there’s a lot interpretation done on the part of the translators which may or may not be theologically accurate. However, these translations phrase the wording in such a way that it’s much easier to understand. I’ve read the whole Bible using the New King James Version, The Message, NIV, and ESV, but the version I now read almost solely is the ESV because I think is pretty easy to follow, yet holds fairly true to the original languages and sentence structures used by the biblical writers, leaving less room for interpretation on the part of the translators. Another helpful resource available to us are Bible commentaries. These resources provide a lot of the context behind the writings and connect passages scattered throughout the Bible to one another. The one I would highly recommend is John MacArthur’s commentary. Another one which seems to be pretty theologically sound is the Crossway ESV Study Bible. Whatever resource(s) you decide to use, I would encourage you try one and stick to it for at least a few months. If you’re serious about trying to make sense of it, I’m pretty sure you’ll get a lot out of it.

Do you read the Bible every day? If so, why? If you want to start reading the Bible every day but haven't done it yet, what barriers are standing in your way? I’d love to walk alongside you to overcome these barriers, so feel free to share in the comments section below, on social media, or by dropping me an email. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

[1] Psalm 119:103.