Christian Living

How I read the Bible

It took me a long time to figure out a Bible reading methodology that fit me. I’ve failed at a lot of them.

  • A chapter a day keeps Adam’s Bible away
  • Read it in a year means Adam won’t read it for a year
  • Study it topical means Adam treats it like a tropical disease
  • Skip around means Adam just skips it
  • Read it in a group means Adam skips his group

You get the idea.

But I have found something that works for me. Something that I enjoy and gives me life.

It doesn’t have a name and it’s not really a technique. It’s kind of a half lectio divina on slow pills. Here’s how it works.

  1. I allow myself to dwell in a passage for a while, sometimes weeks. And by passage I don’t mean a chapter… it’s usually a paragraph or a thought from the author. (1-3 paragraphs at most) I’ll fester in this passage until it sticks in my ribs and I do something about it that I actually move on. It might be a few days and it might be a month.
  2. Read it fast. Read it slow. Stare at it. Write it out. Pretty much, I keep this passage on my mind. Maybe I’ll open my Bible and read it or maybe I’ll read it in 15 different versions on Biblegateway. Sometimes I’ll print it out and stick somewhere where I’ll see it all the time. And sometimes I copy it by hand in my journal.
  3. What 1 word pops out as the most important? As I get to know the passage, typically a phrase or even a word will pop out. God illuminates this to me. When I studied Bible study methods in college I hated that they tried to make this a science. Sometimes the most important part of a passage is not the main idea of the paragraph. Sometimes it the tense of a verb. Or the personal pronouns. I find that when I do this its like putting a roast in the slow cooker. It takes time to really become important.
  4. Ask God to reveal this to me in my life. Mantra-ize it. It FREAKS evangelicals out to see that word, mantra. All I mean by that is that I make that one word/phrase important. When it pops into my head it calls me to action or helps me see the world through the lens of that passage. I’ve found it so amazing how many times God reveals that phrase to me in my day. It’s like illumination on steroids.
God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.

This is what works for me. Have you found a way of reading the Bible that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.

Dig this post? Let’s make it a regular thing. Subscribe via RSS or my free daily email

youth ministry

Blessed are the nobodies

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Luke 10:21

Jesus gave the ordinary extraordinary power as he prepared them to do his work. A massive decentralization of power. (Even the demons submitted to their authority, v. 17)

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Luke 10:27

Jesus didn’t say to love everyone the same. He said to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s not as crazy as it sounds if you think about it.

  • Jesus took power away from the somebodies.
  • Jesus took position away from well-positioned.
  • Jesus took hospitality serious and dropped bombs on those who didn’t.
  • Jesus removed barriers to getting involved in the messiest of ministry.
  • Jesus weeded through the fans to find the followers by raising the bar, not lowering it.
  • Jesus used priests and levites as the butts of his jokes.

These were the observations and learnings of my high school small group last night. Reading the Bible, out loud, and in community… it’s pretty powerful. 

This post isn’t a commercial for Community Bible Experience, but if you want to try it… CBEmini is a free 9-day taste of CBE walking your small groups through Luke-Acts.

youth ministry

Unleashing a Feeding Frenzy

Photo by Iggy via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last night, we dropped a bucket of chum in the tank and ran away.

Back in December we introduced Inductive Bible Study at our winter retreat. It wasn’t anything fancy– in fact I thought it was a little cerebral for a retreat. (This coming from a guy who did a high school retreat based on the spiritual disciplines of Richard Foster!) We broke up into groups, each team given a part of a parable, we tore into it, and came back together a little later to share what we’d learned.

Sparks flew.

In my group a key moment happened when we were studying the parable of the sower. One of the guys in my group had been a little frustrated… “Why did Jesus teach in riddles like this? Why didn’t he just tell them what he wanted them to know. This is so confusing” Another person in the group looked at another part of the parable and said, “I think it’s like rap music. Jesus was speaking to people who understood the words like he did, but people who didn’t get, he wasn’t talking to them.” (Maybe Kanye and Jesus really do have something in common?)

Kanye ain't Jesus, but Jesus taught like KanyeWhen our leadership group met a couple weeks later, the students told the adults… “We don’t want you to lecture us. Instead, teach us how to study the Bible on our own.

Collectively, our  heads tilted 10 degrees to the right. We didn’t see that coming.

Last night my task was pretty simple. Get the students thinking like investigative reports. Questions, questions, questions. Ask the text lots of questions. And get them to grasp that in Luke 1, Luke was setting out to do the same thing we were asking them to do. “Put the story in order so it makes sense.

I created an object lesson where each student received a sealed envelope, each envelope containing a fragment of a vaguely familiar story, and they had to piece it together, chronologically, in three minutes. They were frustrated, some gave up, and in the end they didn’t quite get it in the right order.

They saw that putting a vaguely familiar story together in chronological order was a nightmare unless  you took the time to carefully examine every fragment.

After we read the worst rendering of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in history I gave them the background information they’d need to understand why the Gospel of Luke was written. Theopholis, either a new believer or an investigator of Christ, had likely hired Luke, a believer and doctor, to go back and document what actually had happened. He’d find witnesses and put together the story to document an orderly account of Jesus’ life. (Luke 1:3) There were all sorts of fragments, little letters, floating around. But someone had to put all the pieces together so that the story would stand up to histories glare.

From there it got noisy as students went into their groups.

Group time was disorderly. It was messy. Loud. All over the place. Markers coloring. Pens circling. And the group leaders had to poke and prod to move things along.

But students were asking questions of the passage. Good questions.

  • Why did Gabriel pick Mary?
  • Who was this Zechariah guy? And why was it important that Gabriel made him not speak?
  • Even though Mary was scared, why did she consider it an honor to become pregnant with Jesus?
  • Why did Luke mention that Joseph was a descendent of King David?

At the end, when we shared what we learned, I think students were left with more questions about Luke 1 than answers. And that’s a very good thing.

I closed our time by asking them what this passage had to do with them. Those dots had not quite gotten connected… and that’s OK.

A process

As we cleaned up… the leaders were exhausted. I could see it on their faces. What have we gotten ourselves into? We really had to work hard to keep it together. But I was left with a few thoughts of encouragement.

  • We aren’t after quiet compliance. To change this community we need students who investigate God’s Word for themselves, ask hard questions, and put it to work.
  • It’s OK if it is messy and loud. Being quiet doesn’t mean they are engaged any more than being loud means they are disengaged. And finding the right answer isn’t as important as learning how to look for the right answer.
  • It’s OK to ask more questions than provide answers. Leaders have a desire to wrap everything up in a neat little bow. But that’s not how Jesus taught. He got the crowd thinking and then sent them home.
  • Teaching critical thinking skills takes time. In truth, today’s educational system isn’t designed to teach critical thinking skills. It teaches to regurgitate facts more than to comprehend them. Retraining the brain takes time.
  • We’re teaching a life skill that can transform our church. Imagine what would happen if our pews were filled with people who self-fed God’s Word in community? Imagine how that would change our Sunday morning worship services? The focus would step away from teaching and move towards celebration.

Messy. Exhausting. Intriguing. Fascinating. Thrilling. Scary.

These are words I’d use to describe unleashing a feeding frenzy of God’s Word on our students last night.

And I like it.

Church Leadership

Titus 1 & 1 Timothy 3: Six Things the Bible doesn’t say

Here are the two most often quoted passages from the New Testament about the qualifications of a pastor.

Titus 1:5-9 [Brackets, mine]

The reason I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders [some translations use the word leader] in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 [Brackets mine]

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer [elder, pastor, overseer are basically the same word] desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

6 things that Paul doesn’t say that American church culture often says are qualifications to be considered a pastor.

  1. You have to be a leadership expert, a proven leader with years of experience, a reader of books on leadership, aspiring to be a leader, and a regular at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and/or somehow tangentially related to John Maxwell.
  2. You have to be an employee of the church. The same passage describes the biblical qualifications for a pastor as they do positions the American church almost never considers staff-level. (Elder, overseer)
  3. Aspiring to be a well-known preacher. “Able to teach” is a pretty low standard. I am fully “able to run” but you won’t catch me out there doing it too often.
  4. Be in possession of an Masters in Divinity from a denominationally approved seminary prior to seeking ordination. That said, education was a high priority in the early church. You couldn’t even be baptized or label yourself a Christian until you’d gone through about a one year process of intense discipleship. (Prior to baptism, new believers were called catechumen.)
  5. Be a great manager of programs and projects. Since the early church was organized around the idea of family, you didn’t need to take classes in organizational leadership to understand the dynamics of a family.
  6. You have to be an amazing self-promoter of both the church and your “personal brand.” Paul didn’t have a blog, Twitter, or Facebook. And yet he somehow managed to be spur on the most powerful viral message of all time.
Christian Living

The Bible, Made Personal

Photo by Dave Gilbert via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Perhaps my greatest period of rapid growth in my relationship with Jesus came when I was just 17 years old.

Each day I worked verse by verse through the pastoral epistles. I journaled questions like, “What is Paul saying?” “Who was this written to?” and “What is God saying to me through Paul?

One habit that began then which has carried on to this day is to personalize Scripture.

Where it’s appropriate, I always read my name into a passage. For some reason that just makes things more real for me. It helps me realize that I’m not reading a historical document meant purely for those people at that time. By adding myself to it I see that the Holy Spirit intended much of the Bible to be recorded and miraculously transmitted through the hands of scribes for generations… for me!

Ephesians 2:9-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:9-10: (for me)

Adam, for it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that you can’t boast. For you are God’s workmanship, Adam– created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do.

When I personalize Scripture with the understanding that God meant it for me (and believers forever) I find the Holy Spirit’s of illuminating to run much deeper. I internalize it so much deeper and faster.

This little method I started as a 17 year old helps me know that the Bible isn’t just truth, it is truth for me.

Church Leadership

Pastors Most Powerful Answer

New pastors quickly learn that ministry life is full of big questions.

Questions that make you feel very small and insignificant. Questions that make God feel massively huge and almost out of reach. Questions that are so loaded and full of pain that they prime tears just to get the words out. Questions that have layers and layers of answers.

Questions in which the answers will define a persons walk with Jesus for years to come.

In those moments it is tempting to rattle off a pat answer. Or the denominations party line. Or what the board would rule as the right answer. Or something you read in a book. Or what you think the person wants to hear. Or a mechanical theological opinion.

My encouragement is that often times, the best first answer is simply… I don’t know.

Why did my dad die?

I don’t know.

Why did God chose me to get this disease?

I don’t know.

Was I born gay?

I don’t know.

Why did God allow my parents to divorce?

I don’t know.

Why can’t I have children and all my friends can?

I don’t know.

Why can’t the Cubs win the World Series or Brett Favre stay retired?

I don’t know.

Why did I lose my job?

I don’t know.

Why does God answer some people’s prayers but not mine?

I don’t know.

The list never ends. It gets longer and deeper every day.

Why say “I don’t know?

I’ve found that when someone comes to me with a big question like that they really do need to know the answer to that question. But my responsibility, and what is ultimately helpful for them, isn’t to give them “my answer.

I’ve found it most helpful in those situations to comfort, console, reaffirm, and point them to Jesus as the author, answer, and hope for those big questions.

With those questions I always point them to Scripture. I always make time to pray with them. I always follow-up later. I always affirm where the Bible is clear on a topic and where it isn’t. I always look in their eyes and say, “I do know this, that God always shows up. He always loves you. His ways aren’t always meant to be known by you.

But my first response is almost always, “I don’t know.”

The temptation

I bring this up because it is incredibly easy to pretend to have all the answers. As if, a seminary degree is permission to have all the answers. It makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel like you know what you are talking about. It feels good when people come to you with big questions.

But the role of a pastor is not to be the Bible Answer Man or to just to give the hard, cold facts. (There is a place for that, for sure. But an initial meeting isn’t it.) More often, our job to point people wandering the desert in their pain, sorrow, and longing to the Grace Giver. To the only answer to life’s hard questions. To remind them that no matter what, Jesus thought they were worth dying for.

Church Leadership youth ministry

The Bible is Useful

Recently we took a survey of Youth Specialties customers. The results of one particular question completely shocked me. Here it is:

When I was looking through the initial survey results I turned around to Tic, and said… “Wanna know why so many youth groups are struggling to keep students for the long haul? There’s the problem, right there.

Of our sample of 600 youth leaders 76.8% of them teach mostly topically?

The words of Paul echoed in my head:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

But apparently many youth workers don’t believe this is true. They believe that topics are more important than Scripture!

Let’s review:

  • All topics are not God-breathed.
  • All topics aren’t useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
  • All topics are not equipping the man of God for every good work.

But God’s word is!

Look at it another way– Most youth workers are getting in the way of this.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15

Don’t even give me the parent comeback. “It’s a parents role to teach their kid the Scriptures.” That’s a joke. Youth workers aren’t paid to babysit, are they? Certainly, parents have a role in teaching their children. But, as a person called and equipped to teach and reach middle and high schoolers doesn’t teach the Bible– what kind of example is  that?

Don’t give me the “all the kids in my youth group know the Bible” comeback either. If all you are reaching are kids who were born and raised in the church than you’ve lost sight of what youth ministry is all about in the first place! I would argue that if you aren’t reaching teenagers for Christ than you aren’t likely doing discipleship while going anyway.

Here’s what I am saying.

  • Get back to your first love.
  • Teaching the Bible is more useful than teaching purely topically.
  • Teaching the Bible is taking students to the primary source.
  • Teaching the Bible is equipping your students for every good work.
  • Teaching the Bible is long-sighted and strategic.
  • Teaching the Bible is teaching a man to fish instead of giving a man a fish.
  • Get back to your first love.
  • If you want to change a persons’ life, you need to get them in God’s word.
Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

So, you want to be great?

“I aspire greatness with my life.”

When I say that, almost universally people’s head will cock just a little bit to the side. American society, especially American Christian society, is so self-deprecating that you almost never hear a grown man say that.

The truth is I am shocked how few people aspire greatness with their lives. If you don’t read anything else in this post, read this… “God wants you to aspire to greatness!

I believe aspiring to greatness is completely biblical. Check out how Jesus responds to his disciples. When his disciples ask him  he doesn’t shut them down. He simply tells them how to be great in the Kingdom! “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Mathew 18:1) “”What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33b-34)

In fact, Jesus makes it clear in his response that there is a path to greatness in this life!

Aspiring greatness is good and important. The church needs more men and women aspiring greatness.

Jesus doesn’t shut it down. Greatness isn’t bad. The thing is… Jesus cares most about how you aspire to greatness.

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Matthew 9:35)

Jesus makes it clear. The path to greatness is paved in child-like faith and servanthood. These are just two examples I’ve pulled from the Gospel narrative. There are lots and lots more!

See, I’m stupid enough to believe that Jesus was telling the truth! Not only can I aspire  greatness in my life, I should aspire to greatness. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Here’s the thing that shocks me. Most people get this wrong. I read a lot of church leadership blogs and I follow the ministries of a lot of “famous” preachers in the country. People who are labeled by the evangelical community as “great.” And the shocking truth is that a lot of leaders labeled as “great” are feeding people a lot of lies.

  • There are a lot of church leaders out there who think that they can make themselves great by creating structures and organizations which ultimately serve them. I’m just going to say it… you see this most in the baptistic tradition church planting and megachurch movement. The polity lifts up organizational leaders as great.
  • There are others who believe that being a talented preacher makes them great. Trust me, this doesn’t happen to me. But you can see it happen over and over again as a new preacher emerges and everyone wants to listen to them. Next thing you know, that person’s head gets about 10 times its original size and they start to believe that their speaking ability makes them great by default.
  • What is doubly shocking is just how unapproachable some “great leaders” are. You couldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole. In some cases, their staff can’t even touch them with a 10 foot pole! They are off limits. They have body guards. You can’t make an appointment to meet them. You’ll never get to have them in your home. You can’t email them a question. You can’t leave a message on their voice mail. You might not even be able to leave a comment on their blog! Some of the “great leaders” that we lift up today in evangelicalism simply believe they are better than you and me.

They may be great organizational leaders, they may be great preachers, but they aren’t better leaders than you can be if you just obey Jesus’ path to greatness. Honestly, some of those “great leaders” often jerks who twist scripture to elevate themselves above you and me. A man who does fancy stuff just to draw a crowd but twists Scripture to make others serve him isn’t a great Christian leader, he is a false prophet! People who veil great preaching as a way to push book sales or seminar registrations or big offerings aren’t great preachers… they are fancy talkers. The Gospels and pastoral epistles are full of advice on how to treat fancy talkers and hypocritical false prophet jerks.

You think I’m rude for calling them names? That’s nothing compared to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23. Hypocrites. Blind guides. Fools. Greedy. Self-indulgant. Snakes. Brood of vipers.

You want to be great? Jesus makes this perfectly clear, all you have to do is serve the needs of others.

The first disciples, Paul, and  the early church all turned the religious community of the day upside down... they were great leaders even though the had no right to become great leaders. They ruffled the feathers of “the religious” by showing the God could turn “just anyone” into a great leader. It wasn’t Levites or even Bible scholars who turned the world on its head, it was ordinary people serving their way to greatness.

It is upside down to aspire greatness by serving. And it angers me to see the evangelical religious community lift up people as great when, in fact, they are old-style leaders and not servant leaders. When I hear stuff like, “You need to be born to a good family to be a great leader.” Or “You need to be a part of a big-fancy megachurch if you want to be successful in ministry.” That stuff is clearly not from God. It is completely devoid of fact. And yet I watch as people lay their loyalty/money/attention at these people’s feet while ignoring the truly great God has probably put right in their local church already.

You want to know if a church leader is a great person? Watch him/her. Is he serving others day-by-day or are others serving him? Greatness comes meekly. It comes to those who serve. Jerks and false prophets… They are not great leaders in God’s eyes. Again, the New Testament makes it perfectly clear how to deal with them.

Back to you.

You want to be great? Serve the needs of others. Have faith that is so child-like you are called immature for zealously obeying the Bible.

Church Leadership

Should pastors be formally educated?

It’s becoming increasingly popular in large churches for pastoral staff positions to be filled with people trained in business skills and not ministry skills. (i.e. They’ve got the title “pastor” and all the perks that go with it, without going to Bible College or Seminary.)

Let me know what you think about that trend. Vote in the poll below and leave a comment with your thoughts.

I’m just going to state my opinion up front. I think its a dangerous and scary trend. Particularly with some of these church structures where “pastors” are only accountable to an elder board… made of largely of successful business people who didn’t go to seminary! I think this trend is a reason we’re seeing so much open and proud heresy preached.

Church Leadership

John Piper on the Radical Results of Being a World Changer

Dang. Pastor John should spike his Bible at the end of this. I needed to hear this today. I pray you do as well. Let’s reject the ways of this world and go another, more impossible direction.

Who’s in?

HT to Travis