I’m just finishing my devotional Bible reading for the morning. It was salve for my soul.
I’ve studied the Bible academically. I’ve spent 18 years in seminary. I’ve read the critical attacks and the critical rebuttals. I’ve been taught Greek and Hebrew. Studying the Bible academically has only made me believe in its accuracy and reliability more…
But there is nothing like studying it devotionally. There is a reason it is the #1 best seller of all time. The Bible has transformed and is transforming the lives of billions of people – including mine.
Why? Because the Bible is God’s love letter to us. It shows us how glorious He is. It paints the beautiful picture of how God loves us enough to send His Son Jesus to rescue rebellious people like me. It shows us God’s perfect pursuit of imperfect people who don’t follow or understand Him.
In my reading today: “Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.” – John 20:8-9
As any love letter from a father, the Bible shows us the best way to live in response to His love – not to earn His love. And, in uncertain times, it tells us how our story, HIS story, the story, ends.
Devotional Bible reading is transformational because it is about our relationship with God through Jesus. As we read it prayerfully, we grow our relationship with Him. What an incredible privilege to listen to His divine and loving words to us.
I don’t love the Bible. I love the author of the Bible. I needed my devotional Bible reading this morning because I needed to hear from Him.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hear God speak to you? I can’t promise Christians that they will hear voices, but I can promise Christians that they can hear verses. We have God’s love letter to us. Tragically, only about 1/3 of Christians read the Bible regularly.
I want to invite you to read through the Bible with me this year by spending around 15 mins a day prayerfully listening to God’s Word. Join others in the “Read the Bible for Life 4+1 Plan” on the YouVersion mobile app or print a hard copy of the plan here www.firstmckinney.com/bible. In just a little over 300 days, we will read through the entire Bible and Psalms 2x.
Consider starting a spiritual journal so that you can be intentional to hear God speak to you. Prayerfully ask God to speak to you through His Word. As you read the Bible, note a verse or verses that stand out to you. Then pick one verse to write out and answer these (S.O.S.) questions in response:
(S)ay – God, what are You saying to me? Summarize what God is saying through the verse or passage in your own words. What does this say about you? What does it say about God?
(O)bey – God, how do You want me to obey? Is there a command to obey? Is there an example to follow? How can you apply this truth to your life today? Be specific. So many times, I have stopped with something like: “I need to love better.” Instead of listening to How God wants me to obey like: “I need to stop right now and send an encouraging text to…”
(S)hare – God, who do You want me to share this with? We are called to be Jesus’ witnesses not lawyers. A witness shares what they have seen and heard. Who can you share with what God is teaching you?
Here is my journal entry from this morning as an example:
2/3/20 – Give Me Wisdom
James 1:5 – “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
Say – If you don’t know what to do, you should request that God reveal it to you. He is a God that overflows onto us without holding back because of our sin. God will tell you what to do.
Obey – What a promise! I am wrestling with a leadership decision. I don’t know what to do. I’m going to ask God right now for him to reveal to me what He desires and spend time listening to His response… I am feeling like He is prompting me to pursue counsel from a pastor who has had to make this decision. God brought the name of a man I respect to mind.
Share – That man
After prayerfully listening to God and hearing Him direct me, I looked back to last year and noticed that God made this same verse jump off the page for me during the first day of my reading plan. I remember how God used it in my life over a two-day period when I was on a leadership retreat. His Word is alive and active! “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work) (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Will you join me? Let’s go! Set a time, a place and follow a plan to prayerfully ask God to speak to you through His Word this year.
This morning I rediscovered something in my study that blessed and challenged me. The source is debated, but most argue that this originated with a young African man. It was found among his papers after he was martyred for his Christian faith. Let it move you as you read.
“I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of Jesus. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
“My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
“I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.
“My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
“I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problems recognizing me – my banner will be clear!”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
For most of my life, I have believed that Bible study is critical for spiritual growth. However, I didn’t know how to get started. The thought of opening the Bible felt overwhelming to me and at times even felt boring. As a result, I missed out on the incredible blessing of hearing God speak directly into my life through the Scripture.
Today I am jumping into a new Bible reading plan with First McKinney. Last year I did the plan with four other men in our church. This year, that group of five (counting me) has multiplied into five groups of five or six guys. As we dive in again, I’m reflecting on what God is teaching me about how to be transformed through my time in His Word.
Schedule Bible Reading Into Your Day
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”- Mark 1:35
Years ago, a mentor taught me the importance of scheduling quiet times into my week. In order to have a successful personal Bible study, you should set a time, a place and a plan. Schedule your meeting with God before your day even starts. Look at your calendar a week at a time. Prioritize this meeting and honor it like you would a meeting with the most important person in your life.
- Time – When are you most alert?
- Place– Where will you be distraction free?
- Plan– What will you do?
Choose a Reading Plan
Blessed is the man… whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, And on His Law he meditates day and night. – Psalm 1:1-2
Maybe you are like me and have tried to start in Genesis and read the Bible straight through. Multiple times I found myself getting bogged down after a few weeks. It was my incredible wife, Rebecca, that showed me how a Bible reading plan (we used the One Year Bible for many years) helps to engage different parts of scripture and keep each day’s reading dynamic. One year we did a chronological plan. You can look for all kinds of plans online and through the outstanding free Bible app, You Version. This year I will be doing the Read the Bible For Life 4 + 1 plan and focusing on the New Testament and Psalms.
If you are a new believer, consider reading John and Romans first. These books will give you a good picture of the climax of all of the scripture: Jesus.
Set goals. Seek accountability. If you are consistent in your personal Bible study, you will see your time move from a duty to a delight. You Version is a great tool to do your Bible reading with others.
Meditate on God’s Word
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
Consider starting a spiritual journal so that you can see God direct your life. Begin your time in prayer. Ask God to speak to you through His Word. As you read the Bible, note a verse or verses that stand out to you. Then pick one verse to write out and ask and answer these questions in response:
- What is God saying to me? Summarize what God is saying through the verse or passage in your own words. What does this say about you? What does it say about God?
- How will I obey? Is there a command to obey? Is there an example to follow? How can you apply this truth to your life today? Be specific. So many times I have stopped with something like: “I need to love better.” Instead of listening to How God wants me to obey like: “I need to stop right now and send an encouraging text to…”
- Who will I tell? We are called to be Jesus’ witnesses not lawyer. A witness shares what they have seen and heard. Who can you share with what God is teaching you?
Title the journal entry, date it and create a contents page in your journal so you can quickly reference what God has been teaching you during your personal Bible studies.
- 2/18 – Wisdom Promised
- James1:5“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”
- What is God saying to me?:(My own words) Are you desperate for God’s guidance? Request it from the benevolent King… and He is going to dump it on your life.
- How will I obey?: (Be specific) I’m driving to my parent’s camp to do future planning for the ministry I lead. I will block 30 minutes in my drive to just ask God to give me wisdom… How awesome that He promises that “he will give it to me!”
- Who will I tell?: My parents
Obedience Matures and Motivates
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22
The Bible is the Word of God, but the power of God is not released in our lives until we apply it! When we apply the Bible through the power of the Holy Spirit, it becomes a life-transforming book. Nothing is more exciting than seeing the God of the universe actively leading our actions. Nothing is more difficult and discouraging than reading the Bible when we are not applying it.
Note: You must be saved through faith in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit in order to understand and apply the Bible. Obedience follows faith. If you have questions about how to follow Jesus by grace through faith, click here.
30 Days to Understanding the Bible(by Max Anders) Understand in a basic way how the Bible is put together. Awesome foundation for everyone’s personal Bible study.
Living By the Book(by Howard Hendricks) Gives an inductive approach to studying scripture along with unique procedures for observation that will lead to rich time with Jesus in His Word.
Bible Reading Plans and Websites:
One Year Bible: http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com: Print this plan and keep it in your Bible as you read with PCBC in 2013.
YouVersion.com: Many diverse reading plan options that can also be pulled up on your smart phone or tablet.
ESV Bible Reading Plans: http://www.esv.org/resources/reading-plans-devotions/. Find a plan that fits you. Easy to print out these plans to keep in your Bible.
Project345.com: Basic reading plan through the New Testament that takes approximately three minutes and 45 seconds each day for a year.
First McKinney seeks to base our teaching on God’s Word. Join a Connect Group and dive into scripture with other believers.
At times I get asked for book recommendations. This morning I did some copying and pasting to put together a list of ten books for a friend in our church and I thought it could be helpful to share.
- The One Year Bible in Hardcopy or through You Version – I had been having personal quiet times since the age of 9 and had been in seminary for several years when I got married. However, I had never read through the Bible. Rebecca was using this when we got married and I joined her. It gave me a plan that changed my quiet time. Now, through using it and other very similar reading plans, I have read through the Bible 8 times. I’m working on number 9.
- A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie – This book has been my parents and my own favorite prayer book. The older version has rich language. It guides my heart to pray on a deeper level.
- Living by the Book by Howard Hendrix – I had applied for and was planning to get my MBA when a friend invited me to audit a class. This was the text for the class. It was so exciting for me that it switch the direction of my life. For the first time I felt like I didn’t need someone to teach me the Bible. I could open it myself and the Spirit of God would speak into my life. I decided to drop the MBA idea and pursue seminary instead.
- Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp – By nature I default towards trying to control actions instead of talking to my children about the motivations behind the actions that prompt real change in their lives. This book was huge for me. It also pushes me to see the way that God disciplines me.
- You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan – This is different than most books out there on marriage. It focuses on how to live for eternity in and through your relationship. “People accuse me of going overboard in preparing for my first ten million years of eternity. In my opinion, people go overboard in worrying about their last ten years on earth… Because I’m crazy about Liza, I want her to have a great life. But more than that, I want her to have a great eternity… I want her to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem – I know, the title will through you off if you aren’t into reading academic stuff, but this book is phenomenal. When people ask theological questions, I will often, unapologetically, copy several pages and send it their way…. and tell them that they need this incredible resource.
- Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas – Most powerful biography I have read. Metaxas does a great job telling this true story in a more intense way than most fiction authors tell a fantastical story. I couldn’t put it down.
- Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson – Living by the Book (on this list) is why I went to seminary. Biblical Preaching is why I am a preacher. I didn’t think I would ever work in a church because I feared the act of communicating and felt I didn’t have that many good ideas. This book helped me to see that preaching is not coming up with your own ideas but learning how to expose the ideas that The Author of the Bible has given us already.
- Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper – This shorter version of Piper’s longer “Desiring God” floored me in college. I grew up feeling that Christians had to hold back the desires that are naturally part of our life. Piper showed me that those desires are God given and can only be met in God. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Christian hedonism is beautiful and at the root of the Gospel.
- Church Unique by Will Mancini – I have used this book to help guide the process of identifying and defining existing church’s DNA. In addition, it has helped our leadership teams to set mission, vision, values and strategy at both Park Cities and First McKinney.
- Expository Exultation by John Piper – This is my bonus add… Piper is rocking my world again. The second half of this book has pushed me so hard that I often find myself going back to reread pages and paragraphs over and over. The beauty and power of God’s word and the purpose of Glorifying Himself through His Word has brought me to tears on many occasions over the last month.
What about you? Have you read any of the above? Is there a book that you have purchased copies of that you hand out like candy? When someone asks you what book they should read, what is the first one you point them to?
This morning, we heard the tragic news that a McKinney North High School student died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the school. As a pastor in our city, I wanted to help. I drove to the neighboring high school, McKinney Boyd, where they were taking the students to reunite with their parents.
There, I had the chance to watch the response of the outstanding counselors from our school district. I asked them to help me to understand how I can help people respond to tragedy. I want to take some of what they shared and add to it some of what I have learned through the years as a camp director, church staffer and pastor.
No one knows all the answers in a tragic situation so many will not start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to start. Be direct about your intentions: “I want to help you process what happened today.” As Jay Adams points out in Competent to Counsel, If you are a Christian, you are empowered to counsel by the Holy Spirit, The Counselor.
A basic question is all it takes. Something like “Where were you when you heard the news?” Then be ready to follow the direction that they take the conversation. If they are not conversive, you don’t need to be forceful. Just be present.
If they are able to talk, continue to encourage them to process their emotions. “How did it make you feel?” “What makes you angry?” “What makes you sad?” The more they can verbalize, the more healing they will experience.
You don’t know all the answers. Your goal is not to give them all the answers. That said, if you are a believer, the Bible gives us hope in tragedy. One of my favorite passages for a tough time is Romans 8:18-39. Here, Paul talks about the brokenness of our world… and the hope we have in JESUS.
At one point, my mom was in the hospital for over a month. A man visited her room and said the words: “I can’t help you personally, but I know someone who can. Can I take you to Him in prayer?” She has never forgotten those words. Be like the four friends that took the lame man to Jesus in Luke 12. Bring the person and the names of those involved in the tragedy to Jesus.
Give it Time
We do not give space in our culture for grief. This Sunday, I will be preaching through the Beatitudes in which Jesus says the radical words: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This makes no sense in our world. It could loosely be translated as: “Happy are the unhappy.” We need to give time for grief. When Nehemiah heard the tragic news that Jerusalem had been destroyed, he wrote: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days…” (emphasis mine).
If you are reading this article, Please stop right now and pray for the family and friends of the one who took his life today and for all those who are processing this tragedy. PRAY!