Bible reading for 2014 – enjoy it!

It is the time of year when once again people resolve to read the Bible more consistently – often declaring they will read the Bible in one year.

Personally I think for many people reading in one year is very hard – reading in two years is far more realistic, at least the first time you do it.

With that in mind I was delighted to see this two year reading plan on the Gospel Coalition website (which includes some very useful catch up days)- it can be downloaded as a pdf or simply printed from the link above.

Another tool you might find useful is the website howlongdoesittaketoreadthebible.com – which gives you an idea of how long, depending  upon your reading speed, it will take you to read the Bible in one year (or other time period you specify. One of the beauties of that site is the link to a test which helps you to gauge your speed of reading

There are many different plans to help you get into regular Bible reading. This page on the Gospel Coalition site has many for you select from.

My personal advice is that whatever you decide in terms of Bible reading for 2014 you need to try to be consistent and disciplined in it. Be wise in what you aim for initially as after a few weeks you can  assess your performance and choose to read more or less. Although I usually read the whole Bible in a year this year i have decided upon a change and in my daily devotional times will only be reading the New Testament at a slower pace than usual.

Finally, and very importantly, I would encourage you to enjoy your reading. Reading your Bible is not about the amount you read but about meeting with the Living God as you read. Think, question, meditate and take time to enjoy the scenery as you travel through the scriptures.

What did your heart search for in 2013?

I suppose one of the easiest ways to take a snapshot of the world we live in is by seeing what people use the internet for, and within that what they search most for. (Please note I did say easiest not most accurate.)

It is tempting to pass comment on the lists, I shall not. However, I did wonder what my top 10 list would look like – and more importantly if I could somehow reach into my mind and heart, what would the list of what I thought of most look like.

Were I a man who compiled a list of New Years resolutions (I am not), I should find such a list helpful in helping me determine the course I need to set my heart and mind for in 2014.

This is the definitive list of the top Google searches for 2013, followed by those for events and people,

 

End of year review

Regular readers of this blog will know I have posted monthly questions aimed at helping you to asses how you are performing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let me stress this is not legalism, it is simply a way of looking in the mirror, helping you to be honest about your walk with God and with other believers.

We are now at the end of 2013 and many people will be encouraging you to examine and give thanks for the past 12 months. Additionally they will encourage you to look ahead, to set faith goals.

In order to help you I am posting (below) some comments made by Geoff Surratt about a growing disciple. My suggestion is that guided by each statement you take time to repent for the areas of failure in 2012, give thanks for the goodness and grace of God over that time.

Very importantly, prayerfully set faith goals for the coming months. Ask the holy Spirit to illumine some area where growth is neededMake sure these are realistic. For example, it is unlikely that you can go from praying for 5 minutes a day to 30 minutes a day within the week – so set growth stages over a period of one or two months, there is then a greater chance that you will be obedient to the change God has called you to.

I think there are six vital areas that point to a growing disciple:

  • Serving in a local church. Church attendance without service does not grow me as a disciple. To grow I have to serve generously with my time, talent and treasure.
  • Praying consistently. This is so obvious that it seems to get overlooked. A growing disciple follows Jesus’ pattern of consistent, heartfelt prayer.
  • Reading the Bible daily. Separate studies by the Willow Creek Association and Lifeway on discipleship came to the same conclusion; the single biggest factor in growing as a disciple is reading the Bible every day. It’s the magic pill of discipleship.
  • Engaging in biblical community. Discipleship throughout the Bible is always in context of community. Being in a small group does not guarantee discipleship, but not being in biblical community prevents it.
  • Actively involved in missional outreach. Biblical disciples engage in Kingdom transformation in their home, their community and their world.
  • Developing other disciples. Jesus final command was very clear, Go make disciples. Every growing disciple of Christ develops other disciples.

Tony Morgan on growing churches

Tony Morgan recently posted this list of 36 trends he saw in growing churches. Reading it many of the trends sound obvious, gloriously simple and biblical.

  1. Priority in pointing people to a relationship with Jesus
  2. Bible-centered teaching that addresses real life topics
  3. Empowering leadership cultures
  4. Big, clear vision for the future
  5. Intentional strategy to reach people outside the faith
  6. Artists released to leverage their creative gifts
  7. Focused discipleship strategy with clearly-defined next steps
  8. Staff-driven leadership with lay leader advice and accountability
  9. Welcoming, friendly environment for first-time guests
  10. Healthy systems around core next steps
  11. Unity
  12. Disciplines to plan for the future
  13. Willingness to change
  14. Simplicity rather than complexity in ministry programming
  15. Ability to capture and share stories of life change
  16. Disdain for mediocrity
  17. Path for new believers to take their first steps
  18. Distinctives from other churches
  19. Written and well-executed communications strategy
  20. Children’s environments and programming that attracts young families
  21. Routinely say “no” to initiatives that would divert focus
  22. Generosity is valued and modeled
  23. Balance doing ministry and maintaining healthy souls
  24. Volunteers empowered to lead and use their gifts
  25. Strong senior leadership teams
  26. Grace prevails allowing people to come as they are
  27. Appropriate conflict and biblical conflict resolution
  28. Culture that encourages people to invite their friends
  29. Clear next steps at the conclusion of every message
  30. An aversion to religion and religious people
  31. Intentional focus to encourage healthy marriages and relationships
  32. Missions and evangelism aren’t programs–it’s a lifestyle
  33. Metrics to measure impact
  34. Expect the ministry to reproduce itself through multi-site and/or church planting
  35. Boundaries are established to protect corporate and individual integrity
  36. Execute on their plans

Time to encourage your pastor

Too few Christians work hard at encouraging their pastor. If you have said (or thought?) the things on this list provided by Thom Rainer then possibly you aren’t encouraging enough.

The list is meant to be both humorous and serious. And I bet almost every pastor has heard all of these in the course of a ministry. Enjoy. But do not repeat (at least to your pastor).

  1. I wish I had a job like yours, where I would work only one day a week.
  2. What do you do with all the free time you have?
  3. Can I have a couple of minutes before you preach?
  4. I love you pastor, but _______________________________ (fill in the blank).
  5. I like your preaching, pastor, but I really like ____________________________ (fill in the blank with television or podcast preacher).
  6. Can your wife play piano?
  7. Your kids shouldn’t behave that way. After all, they are pastor’s kids.
  8. Your low salary is good for you. It keeps you humble and dependent on the Lord.
  9. I bet you don’t spend any time preparing your sermons.
  10. Pastor ________________ (predecessor pastor) didn’t do it that way.
  11. You don’t have a real degree. You went to seminary.
  12. How much longer do you think you’ll be at our church?
  13. Did I wake you up pastor? It’s only 1:00 am.
  14. Did you hear what they are saying about you?

Tendulkar renounces wealth, gives all to the poor

CTStudd1Following on from yesterday’s post on the blessing of not having money I wanted to remind you of the example of CT Studd.

Studd came from a rich family, was very successful in the world’s sight (he studied at Cambridge University and was an England cricketer playing in the 1882 Ashes series) – a modern parallel here in India might be the recently retired Sachin Tendulkar. (Apologies to all you indian cricket fans, you don’t need to worry as Sachin has not renounced his wealth.)

It has been suggested that the modern equivalent of the fortune given away by Studd was about £2.3 million (2.3 crore rupees). One website records the way Studd handled his inheritance from his fathers estate,

It was while in China that C.T. reached the age (25 years old) in which according to his father’s will he was to inherit a large sum of money. Through reading God’s Word and much prayer, C.T. felt led to give his entire fortune to Christ! “This was not a fool’s plunge on his part. It was his public testimony before God and man that he believed God’s Word to be the surest thing on earth, and that the hundred fold interest which God has promised in this life, not to speak of the next, is an actual reality for those who believe it and act on it.”

Before knowing the exact amount of his inheritance, C.T. sent £5000 to Mr. Moody, another £5000 to George Müller (£4000 to be used on missionary work and £1000 among the orphans); as well as £15,000 pounds to support other worthy ministries. In a few months, he was able to discover the exact amount of his inheritance and he gave some additional thousands away, leaving about £3400 pounds in his possession.

Three years after arriving in China, C.T. married a young Irish missionary from Ulster named Priscilla Livingstone Stewart. Just before the wedding he presented his bride with the remaining money from his inheritance. She, not to be outdone, said, “Charlie, what did the Lord tell the rich young man to do?” “Sell all.” “Well then, we will start clear with the Lord at our wedding.” And they proceeded to give the rest of the money away for the Lord’s work.

Examples such as that offered by Studd need to be celebrated in a day when Christians around the world are being encouraged that getting more, not giving more, is the sign of God’s blessing.

Finally, I was surprised to see CT Studd cited as the author of the famous “Only one life it will soon be past” poem,

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

— extra stanza —

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”

God blesses you by making sure you don't have lots of money

No one has ever walked up to me and congratulated me on not owning a house or a car or on not having a large savings account in the bank. In fact much preaching today suggests that we should be getting rich, God wants to bless you and the sign of that is that you have money, the more you have, the more God loves has blessed you!

In reading James 1 I can’t help but think the majority of preaching and teaching about blessing and money seems be contrary to the Bible.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,  and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (ESV)

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. (NIV)

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing. (Msg)

It is clear that the humble circumstances indicate a lack of money – the direct comparison is with the rich. The problem is that such “wisdom” is antipathetic to the ways of our day. Why? Let me suggest a few reasons that not being rich is in fact God exalting you.

  • Having money is a test from God. It is clear that money provides a source of many great temptations in our lives – and Paul wisely tells Timothy that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. We can rejoice that God has not allowed us to be tested in this way -for many have, and have failed abysmally.
  • God is not impressed by money – or by material possessions – but men are (very easily). Who do you want to impress God, who is looking at your heart – or men, who are looking at your goods?
  • Having little money makes us more reliant upon God. When you have money in the bank, a house that is your own (though in fact it belongs to God not you), income to pay bills and go on holidays etc. then you find you need to pray less, you seek God less, you become more independent. God blesses you by ensuring you have to look to him, remember that praying, in and of itself, is a blessing.

The world has manipulated Christmas, has changed distorted the message. Christmas is about the gift of God, rejoicing in his goodness, and importantly knowing hope for the future – the king has come, and is coming. Fix your eyes on him and your sight shall be good.