Salve for my Soul

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.

Prayerfully Listening to God’s Word

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.

Fellowship of the Unashamed

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.

The autumn colors in the valley provide striking contrast to the The Great White Throne in Zion National Park, Utah.

“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

What God is teaching me about my personal time in His Word

“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.

Example:

  • 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.

 Resources

Recommended Books:

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.

Going Further

First McKinney seeks to base our teaching on God’s Word.  Join a Connect Group and dive into scripture with other believers.

Did not our hearts burn?

Luke 24:32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”

What is God saying to me? Two disciples spend the afternoon on the road to Emmaus with the unrecognized Jesus. At dinner Jesus reveals himself to them by blessing and breaking the bread and then vanishes. As they reflect on their lesson from Scripture with Jesus, they share how their hearts were kindled. Literally, their emotions were on fire.

How will I obey? I am wary of emotionalism. However, like the 80’s worship song “Light the Fire” expresses, there is nothing that compares to the passion that God can give (specifically here through seeing Jesus in Scripture). I often go to my marriage, my job, my hobbies, my kids, sports, exercise, etc. to excite and satisfy my heart. Today, I am going to pray “Lord, light the fire in my heart again” and then go to Scripture for the kindling.

Who will I tell? Clint

Finding Freedom Through Forgiveness.

Psalms 32:1–2 “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

b-texwldflwrs_20_e_sm

What is God saying to me? I have two people in my life who have recently shared the burden of guilt they are shouldering. I am reminded of the many times I have sinned and battled shame. Psalms 32:3-4 describes that feeling: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

How will I obey? Confession… Psalms 32:5 David tells us how he found freedom: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Who will I tell? The two people in my life who have recently shared with me the guilt they are shouldering.

Why A Bible Reading Plan Will Change Your Year.

I had been a Christian for 18 years. I had grown up in a home that showed me how to have a personal Bible study, attended Bible teaching churches, gone to a Christian university and was most of my way through my Masters in Divinity… and I had never read the Bible cover to cover. Yep, I had tried many times and gotten bogged down in Leviticus or in better years in the 2 Chronicles range. I loved Jesus and loved the Bible, but could not figure out how to get through it.

Bible Reading Plan

In 2005, I was engaged to Rebecca and had been watching as she used The One Year Bible as her devotional book. I liked that her devotional was not someone’s interpretation of scripture but was scripture itself. She shared with me how it divided the Bible into 15 minute a day sections of OT, NT, Psalms and Proverbs. In a year you would read through the entire bible once and Psalms and Proverbs twice.

I decided to try it. I loved it. I read through the Bible in a year… and have done it every year since.

My second year through it, I had a mentor, Jim Leggett, encourage me to take a nugget each day and journal on it using the SOAP format. S – Scripture (one verse) O – Observation (what does it say) A – Application (how can I live it out) and P – Prayer. This was HUGE. I was now seeing the Word of God direct my life.

A few years ago, I tweaked the above journaling format to my church‘s three questions. Each day I still watch for a verse that jumps out to me. I write the verse down and then I ask: What is God saying to me? How will I obey? Who will I tell?

I cannot overstate the impact it has had on my life. I can now say that I have read through the Bible, cover to cover, ten times. But just saying I have done it is not the benefit. It is watching God direct my life through His Word. It is incredible to look back at my journals and see how my Bible Reading has guided me. Daily, God is speaking into my life and showing me how I can follow Jesus.

Several years ago a friend of mine was touring Israel. He asked his Jewish tour guide if he believed in a historical Jesus. The man answered: “Yes.” He then asked if he believed if Jesus was the Messiah. The man answered: “No.” My friend then followed by asking how he could believe in Jesus but not that Jesus was the Messiah. The tour guide answered with words that I have never forgotten. He said: “If Jesus was a true Rabbi, his followers would live like him. I have never seen a Christian that is living like Jesus.”

We are called to follow Jesus everyday. That is what it means to be disciples. How do you know the way Jesus wants you to live? You know because He tells you through His Word. I want to invite you to follow Jesus everyday by starting a Bible Reading plan.

Last year I tried a new plan, the Chronological Bible. It was good, but the first nine months were more difficult because they were all Old Testament. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Old Testament, but holding all New Testament reading until the end was hard at times.

I invited many yesterday at our church to join us in reading through The One Year Bible in 2017. I’ve been encouraged to see so many jump in already. Some are reading with me on You Version – The Bible App. The One Year Bible is one of You Version’s free reading plans. You can highlight verses and make notes that friends can see. You can pick it up at any time during the day. You can even have the app read you your plan as you drive to work or workout.

Are you trying to live like Jesus? Have you struggled to read through the Bible. I want to challenge you to start a Bible reading plan and begin to ask yourself these three questions everyday: What is God saying to you? How will you obey? Who will you tell?

If you do, it will change your year… your life… and your eternity.