Some Good News to Color Your Day

Political divisions. Racial tensions. A pandemic that didn’t even blink when we hit the new year. Throw that on top of all the “what else’s” in life–the toddler who won’t sleep through the night, the job offer that didn’t come through, the news that the cancer is back–and you may sit back and wonder (as I have, more than once lately): Is there any good news in the world?

Actually…yes.

And chances are, all we have to do is roll over to find it.

I’m talking about the Bible, of course. Whether you have an old-fashioned print version on your nightstand or you prefer some newfangled app on your phone, the Good News is there every morning, ready to color your world. And if you find yourself reaching for God’s Word more now than you used to, you’re not alone. In the pandemic’s early days, Bible sales spiked; more recently, a Bible study podcast took over Apple’s top slot, beating out shows by perennial giants like NPR and The New York Times.

It’s as if we know, almost instinctively, that the biggest threat to our peace or our sense of security isn’t the “out there” stuff in the headlines but the “in here” way that we process it. We long for a voice that transcends the noise of the world and speaks to our soul, a voice that (Isaiah 30:21) is ever behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Coffee and Bible are good news

We know we need God.

That’s the (small “g”) good news.

The bad news is that, according to some researchers, actual engagement with Scripture–as in, the percentage of people who read the (capital “g”) Good News every day–is on the decline. John Farquhar Plake, the American Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence (how’s that for a cool-sounding job?), links the drop in Bible reading to church closures and the ill-effects of our quarantine time. “When relational church engagement goes up,” Plake says, “so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”

We like our Scripture, it seems, served with a hug or a smile. No wonder the Bible tells us not to give up meeting together.

So what do we do, since hugging is out and our smiles remain tucked in our masks?

We press in. We tune our ears to that voice. We scour the Scriptures to find the good news every day.

We press in: Fifteen minutes a day

This past week, Tony Dungy and Benjamin Watson addressed the weariness we’re all facing and challenged Christians to read the whole Bible, cover-to-cover, this year–a tough-sounding job that, they say, actually takes only about fifteen minutes a day.

I’m all for this plan. I believe Psalm 112 when it says that those who delight in God’s Word will “have no fear of bad news.” I’ve personally experienced the Psalm 1 feeling of being planted by streams of water, allowing the Bible to produce fruit in my life instead of leaving me withered and dry.

Again, I like Dungy’s plan. But having had some Bible-in-a-Year years that felt like flossing my teeth (which my dentist will tell you I don’t do all that well) and some where it felt like sailing with the wind, I’d like to offer a few strategies for success, should you decide to try this at home.

First, start with prayer. Nobody is born knowing the Bible or wanting to read it, but God works in us, Scripture says, giving us the eagerness and the power to do it. As we open our Bibles, we can ask God to shape our desires, using prayers like the one I shared this month on my Instagram stories: “May I take great delight in your law, meditating on it day and night so whatever I do will prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Psalm 1:1-3 prayer to love the good news

Next, make a plan. Type “Bible Reading Plans” into your Google search bar and you get more than 80 million (!) results. Two of my favorites, if you just want to cut to the chase, are the Bible in One Year plan that comes with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you can get the readings via email or on the app) and the NIV One-Year Bible, which has the whole book pre-divided, with excerpts from the Old and New Testaments every day.

(And pssst on the plan. If you miss a day–or a week–don’t beat yourself up. Treat it like flossing and get back in the game.)

Finally, get some help. Invite a friend to do your plan with you and talk through your insights together. Get a study tool like Max Anders’ bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. And (most important) count on the Holy Spirit, our Helper, to do the job he does best: Teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus said.

Max Anders book 30 Days to Understanding Your Bible

As you read, remember that the goal isn’t so much to get to know the written word as it is to encounter the Living Word, to read the book to discover the Author. And it never gets old.

As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”

Good news, indeed.

Girl reading Scripture with Charles Spurgeon quote

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Reach Down from On High

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”

If you’re using the Bible in One Year (a free reading app that comes with commentary; click here to get it), you read about David’s distress – and God’s incredible deliverance – in Psalm 18 this week. God hears David’s cry and, after an earth-shaking display of majesty and power, he reaches down – “all the way from sky to sea.”(MSG)

he reached down from on high and took hold of me...

If you find yourself in David’s place (pursued by foes, feeling overwhelmed and entangled, or just needing to know that your Daddy is there, and that he hears you), take heart. “He rescued me,” David says, “because he delighted in me.” I like how the Message translation puts that line:  “I stood there saved – surprised to be loved!”

God delights in you.

God delights in you! And he is ready to save.

So…ask for his help. Call on him. Make Psalm 18:16 your prayer, knowing that you (and your children, if you’re praying this prayer for them) are never out of God’s reach:

Heavenly Father,

Reach down from on high and take hold of me; draw me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)

Amen.

 

 

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Something you want, something you need…

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

When I heard this little nugget of Christmas gift-giving wisdom from my friend Natalie (her mother-in-law likes to hit all four categories), I liked it. And I decided to use it as a bar against which I could measure the stocking stuffers I’d found for the men in my life.

Something you want? Golf balls and surf wax. Check.

Something you need? Razors and (because airport security has all of ours) pocket knives. Check.

Something to wear? Socks and boxer shorts. Because Christmas. Check.

Something to read? The Surfer’s Journal. And (because I am trying to drum up family interest in a visit to the Holy Land) a magazine featuring the spectacular vineyards of Israel. Check and check.

Having covered all the key bases, I was ready for Christmas morning. Still, though, something was missing. I hadn’t yet found the perfect “one-size-fits-all” gift, the annual follow-up to presents like The Posture Brace of 2013 (which was advertised as being “virtually invisible” under clothing but wasn’t, but which, looking back, had the unexpected upside of checking two boxes, since it was both something you wear and something you need).

I gave it some thought. And some prayer. And I finally came up with what I thought was a terrific gift idea:

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Rick Warren’s Bible Study MethodsRick Warren (the guy who gave us The Purpose Driven Life) knows that Bible study can be tricky. We don’t do it, he says, because we don’t really know how (nobody ever taught us), we’re not motivated (we haven’t yet experienced the joy of discovery), or maybe because we are just plain lazy (ouch). Warren’s goal is to get us over all three of these hurdles and help us find an approach to Bible reading that works – specifically and personally – for us. To that end, he offers 12 different methods we can try, along with step-by-step instructions for each.

Twelve different ways to study the Bible? I figured at least one of ’em would appeal to my guys.

Now before you go telling me that they would have rather had more golf balls, consider the categories. This gift was something that they could read. And need (because who among us couldn’t use a little professional help when it comes to Bible study?). They couldn’t wear the book, obviously, but since one of our favorite uncles starts most of his mornings by looking at his wife and saying, “Tell me what I want to do,” I figured that maybe I could tell Robbie, Geoff, Charlie, and Robbie Jr. what they really wanted in their stocking.

Read, need, and want. Three out of four. Brilliant.

And, just to be sure that the fellas appreciated what a good gift this was, I tweaked the wrapping. Any old Santa can give you a razor. But a book designed to help you grow in your understanding of Scripture?

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Anyhow.

Truth be told, God gave me the book, too. Which is to say, I bought a copy for myself. Because this is the time of year when I always do two things:

First, I stop eating the Christmas cookies. (They are mostly gone, anyway, but come December 30 I start making a somewhat focused effort not to eat them. At least not until lunch.)

And second, I make a Bible reading plan. (I’ve written about this one before; click here to see last year’s ideas.) I figure that if I want to get to know God better (and I do), then I can’t just rely on my heart. I need to engage my head. I want to get to know God through the Bible, digging deep to unearth its riches – and letting them transform me. I want to get to the end of the year and say, “I grew. I got to know God better. I fell even more in love with him.

“I was changed.”

Do my guys want that too? I don’t know; I pray that they do.

I pray that all of us do. And if you’ve got your own favorite reading plans or study methods, I’d love to hear about them. Why not post a comment for others who might want to try what you like? There is not, obviously, any “right” way to read scripture; the key is mainly to grow in our faith, to fall deeper in love with our Heavenly Father, and to be equipped for whatever he has in store.

Because there’s a whole new year out there, just waiting for us to unwrap it.

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All About That Plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

I used to write books for a financial brainiac named Ron Blue, and that was one of his money management maxims. He was talking about things like spending and investment strategies, but his counsel applies to pretty much every area of our lives. We make fitness plans, business plans, even dinner plans – all because we know, either instinctively or cuz some trainer or consultant told us, that having a purpose and a strategy are keys to accomplishing any goal.

The same can be said for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t “just happen.” We know that, of course (and plenty of us approach the new year with a fresh resolve to go to church, pray more consistently, or read our Bibles), but without a clearly defined plan, our best intentions can fizzle.

At least that’s how it works for me.

Last week, I wrote about light. If you’ve already got a plan to light up your life in 2016, you don’t need to keep reading. But if you’re looking for a strategy – something to keep you moving forward, all year long – here are four of my favorite ways to add the Bible (the best kind of light!) to your schedule:

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The Bible in One Year. This free Bible reading app from Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you may know Nicky as the guy who launched the wildly popular Alpha course) shows up in your in-box every morning, with three different passages to read and insightful commentary to help you process and understand them. Click here to subscribe.

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The One-Year Chronological Bible. I’ve mentioned this one before (it was the one-size-fits-all family gift a couple of years ago and a significantly better choice than the posture braces that showed up under the tree in 2013). It has all the same words you’ll find in a normal Bible, but the readings are arranged in the order in which the events actually happened. There are several versions available; click here to order the one I am giving Charlie, since he is new to the fam and acted sad when he heard he’d missed out on getting a copy. But don’t tell.

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The Two-Year Bible Reading Plan. I like this one because “Two-Year.” As in, it takes two years, so the readings come in shorter chunks. Plus, they give you periodic “catch-up” days, which are much-needed mulligans for people like me. Pro: This is a free download. Potential Con: There are no notes or commentary, so if that’s high on your list, you may want to purchase the accompanying Guided Tour book. Click here to get the free printable PDF of the Two-Year Plan.

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The Songs of Jesus. New this year from Tim Keller, this beautiful devotional takes you through an entire year in the psalms, which were originally worship songs in ancient Israel. In addition to shaping how we understand and relate to God, Keller says that the psalms “anticipate and train you for every possible spiritual, social and emotional condition – they show you what the dangers are, what you should keep in mind, what your attitude should be, how to talk to God about it, and how to get from God the help that you need.” Alrighty then. Click here to order your copy.

Okay, so we have just over two weeks to order, download, or do whatever we have to do to put our plan in place. Which is good news. Because sometimes even the best laid plans need a little, ah, tweaking…

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Yeah. Buddy the Elf is gonna be pretty sad when he gets home from work.

 

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