A Holy Habit

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In the midst of all your plans to eat healthier, workout more, quit smoking, start saving, etc., can I encourage you to make another plan in 2016?

You should read through the Bible this year.

I’m supposed to say that, I know. I’m a student pastor on staff at a church that pays me to teach the Bible. If I don’t encourage you to read your Bible through this year, am I really even a pastor? (Some might argue that student pastors aren’t really even “pastors” anyway, but I digress.)

Let me write to you for a minute from outside of the pastoral perspective–or at least the best I can. I grew up in church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, repeat. As a result, I heard a lot of the Bible growing up. I knew the familiar flannel graph stories. I blushed as I would skim through Song of Solomon. I snickered at the use of the word “ass” in the King James Version (especially in 2 Peter 2:16, if you’re taking notes). Despite the fact that I was pretty familiar with the Bible, I never read through it until I was in seminary (which probably made me unqualified for seminary).

So in 2011 I picked up a copy of the One Year Bible and committed myself to reading through it. I read and I read and I read. And I got behind–like, way behind. I think I was actually 17 days behind at one point. But I made those days up over the course of a few weeks, and on December 31, 2011 I read the final passages from the book of Revelation. Done.

I didn’t understand a lot of it. Truth be told, I still don’t understand the majority of it. I did learn a lot, but nothing completely life-altering at the time. God didn’t part the clouds and commend me with a “well done, good and faithful servant!” But there was an interesting side-effect of reading through the Bible that year: it became a habit.

For the last 4+ years, I’ve had a fairly consistent habit of reading the Bible daily. On the days where I don’t make time to read, something feels out of place. Please don’t read that as a boasting of sorts. I still have “out of place” days. And sometimes even the days I do read I do so through the grogginess of an early morning funk or with a “check-Bible-reading-off-my-to-do-list” mentality, neither of which are particularly helpful. But through the grogginess and the struggles, I try to read. It’s habitual.

That’s why I think you should read through the Bible this year. Not because I suspect you’ll experience a completely life-changing truth–though you very well may. Not because you’ll learn much that you didn’t know–though you probably will. Not even because it’s what “good Christians” are supposed to do. I think you should read through the Bible this year to form a habit of reading the Bible daily.

You can find an endless number of reading plans on the YouVersion app or a quick internet search will provide you with ample plans to choose from. If it’s easier, just pick up the One Year Bible, set it on your nightstand or coffee table like I did and read the passages that correspond with each day.

In a season when we’re all contemplating dropping a bad habit, let’s fill the void with a good one–one that has some eternal weight significance (poor word choice around the New Year). One that I really believe will transform us “from one degree of glory to another” one daily reading at a time.

2015: Good Reads

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Way back in January I made a pact with myself to aim for quality rather than quantity when it came to the books I would read in 2015. I should have done that several years ago. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of my three favorite reads from 2015.

(Note: this list is not exclusive to books released in 2015.)

The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

christianministryThis might be the most practical and relevant book on ministry that I’ve read to date—what’s impressive is that it was published in 1830. Just goes to show you that there really is nothing new under the sun. It was also refreshing to read a book on ministry/leadership that couldn’t possibly push any sort of modern agenda.

The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler

minglingofsoulsConfession: I may have a slight man-crush on Matt Chandler. However, I think I can relatively objectively say this is a special book. What makes Mingling of Souls great is that it biblically addresses the full spectrum of love—from initial attraction all the way to the well-worn marriage–where as most books on “love” simply begin on the wedding day.

On Writing by Stephen King

onwritingI’ve heard several writers recommend this book on various podcasts, so when I found it for about $3 in a used book store, it was a no-brainer. This wannabe writer couldn’t put it down. King’s biography combined with his practical tips for writing make this a must read for anyone that wants to be a writer someday. (Warning: book contains some “flavorful” language.)

The Uneasiness of Independence Day

There’s something about Independence Day that makes me slightly uneasy. Before you dismiss me and mumble something like, “If you don’t like it here, then go somewhere else,” let me ease your aggression and tell you that it has very little to do with America herself.

It goes without saying that the United States of America is an incredible place to live. I am aware that I get to experience the freedom and liberty that billions around the world long for. I’m grateful for that. Furthermore, I don’t quite know how to properly express my gratitude for the men, women, and families that have sacrificed so much for us to enjoy such liberties. This freedom that so many of us experience daily is most certainly an act of God’s grace.

With that in mind, let me try to express my uneasiness.

This weekend, church-goers all around the country will gather for worship. My discomfort lies in the concern that many of us will be worshiping the wrong thing.

As I’ve read or heard somewhere before, worship is attributing ultimate worth to something or someone. This weekend, the church should gather to exalt and attribute ultimate worth to Christ; however, many will likely gather this weekend to exalt and attribute ultimate worth to America. The cross and Christ crucified will take a backseat to Ol’ Glory.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. I believe that being a citizen of the United States of America is one of those gifts. And I believe that God the Father delights in seeing His children celebrate the gifts He’s given them. All I’m saying is let’s be careful about celebrating the gift more than the Giver.

So by all means, let’s celebrate our freedoms and liberties in our gatherings this weekend, but let’s reserve our actual worship for that which is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3)—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What I’ve Learned in Three Years of Ministry

This weekend marks my third year in full-time vocational ministry. Fully acknowledging that I’m still a ministry newbie, here’s a few things I’ve learned thus far:

Nothing prepares you for ministry.

In seminary I learned about finding Jesus in the Old Testament. I learned about church history and how denominations were established. I learned about multiple methods for crafting a sermon. What I did not learn in seminary was how time consuming ministry can be for a family. I did not learn what to say to a student whose parents had kicked them out of the house. I did not learn what to do when you get a call on your day off informing you that a parent had committed suicide. I’m not dismissing seminary—I gained valuable knowledge during my formal ministry training, but having a seminary degree doesn’t mean you’re prepared for ministry (like I naively thought it would).

People > Programs

I’m still figuring this out. It’s my biggest struggle in ministry. I am naturally drawn to content, creativity, methodologies, mission statements, systems, etc. I think it’s a mixture of a semi-creative mind and a business school background, though I’m not completely sure. To be certain, I think those things are really important—content matters, our creativity is a reflection of God’s creativity, systems are necessary—but those things are secondary. Jesus didn’t die for a teaching series, slick visual graphics, or the aesthetics of a building—Jesus died for people. I am constantly having to ask God to reorient my focus to the people He loves and died for.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Despite the ups, the downs, the complaints, the frustrations, the wins, the losses, the mistakes, the feelings of inadequacy, the early mornings and the late nights, I can’t imagine doing anything other than ministry. My hope and prayer is that by God’s grace I’ll have a long and fruitful tenure in full-time vocational ministry. I can’t imagine doing anything else.