Bible Reading Traps


This may seem like a strange follow-up to my last post encouraging you to follow an annual Bible reading plan in 2016.  But if you go charging into an annual Bible reading plan without a little warning, there’s an excellent chance you’ll fall into at least one of the following traps:

Trap #1: Accomplishing, Not Connecting

The more achievement oriented you are, the more likely you’ll plunge headlong into this trap.  It’s the trap that develops when reaching your daily reading goal becomes far more important than connecting with the God who breathed the Scripture to life.  It’s so easy to turn Bible reading into a box you check rather than an encounter with God.  The goal isn’t to get your eyes over the page, it’s to get the Word into your heart.  As my friend J.D. Greear often says, “the verse must become a voice.”

If a Bible reading plan ensures that you are constantly sitting under the voice of Your Creator, it’s a win.  But if it’s nothing more than an obligation, it’s setting the stage for an even more dangerous trap.

Trap #2: Earning, Not Receiving

This is the most dangerous trap because it’s the one that causes us to forget the gospel.  Somehow our self-righteous, achievement oriented flesh starts to believe God should reward us for our new commitment to reading the Bible.  I’m not talking about the rewards of knowing Christ more, gaining wisdom and increased reverence for God.  I’m talking about the line of thinking that goes, “God, I’ve been so good about reading the Bible that You really need to help me get that promotion.”  Or fill in your own ending.  This way of thinking turns God into an emotionally insecure author who you can manipulate simply by paying attention to his book.

If a Bible reading plan ensures that you are constantly dazzled by the story of God’s grace, then it’s a win.  But if it’s just your attempt to put God in your debt, it’ll only frustrate you and cause your heart to grow colder.

Trap #3:  Reading, Not Doing

Reading the Bible is wonderful.  Obeying it is even better.  That’s what James is driving at when he writes, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.“(James 1:21)  It’s not just about reading to increase our knowledge.  It’s about increased knowledge producing increased affection which produces increased mission.  If all of your reading isn’t leading to any doing, you’re perpetuating a fraud on yourself.

If a Bible reading plan ensures that you are systematically examining your heart to bring it into alignment with the character of Jesus, it’s a win.  If it’s just about helping you have a few more verses at your disposal for theological arguments, then you’re missing the whole point.

Friends, I really believe in the power of organized Bible reading plans.  I still want you to pick a plan and a partner today or tomorrow.  Just go into it aware of the traps.  If you avoid them, you’ll have a life shaping 2016.

2016 Bible Reading Plan


This time last year, I decided to do something I’ve never done before: select a Bible reading plan and commit to it for the entire year.

I’m honestly not sure if that’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to admit as a pastor!  In my own defense, finding time to read the Bible daily has been part of my life for years – I’ve just always rebelled against a structured plan.  I usually read through a book verse by verse and when I finish one book, I jump to another.  That approach has worked fine, but I felt like I was missing something.  So, I decided to follow a read through the Bible in a year plan.  And I loved it!  The structure forced me to explore some books I hadn’t read in a while.  And the discipline it brought helped me stay on track.  I enjoyed it so much that I’m doing another plan this year (The Robert Murray M’Cheyne Calendar).

Are you willing to commit to something similar in 2016?  I honestly believe it’s one of the most important decisions you can make and one that will reap huge rewards in your life!

If you’re in, here’s what you need to do between now and Friday:

  1.  Select a plan.  There are so many to choose from and the YouVersion app and website has most of the major ones.
  2. Select a partner.  Just like working out, you’re going to be more faithful if you have a partner who can provide you some accountability.  Whether it’s your spouse, life group or a close friend, let them know the plan you’ve selected and ask them to hold you accountable.

God’s Word is a limitless treasure.  The more we’re in it, the more we love it.  The more it’s in our hearts and minds, the more we become like Jesus.  So, for your good and God’s glory, make 2016 the year where you get into Scripture like never before!


Replenished Through Stillness


Stillness is one of the rarest and most valuable commodities in our frenzied world.  That’s especially true this time of year.  As wonderful as Christmas is and as much as there is joy in all of the travel, family, preparation and celebration, stillness is rare.  Maybe we’re able to steal a few minutes alone by the tree before the house wakes up or on a walk through the neighborhood.  But most of the time we’re going, talking, doing.

Our souls need stillness.  To be with God.  To reflect.  To thank.  To pray.  To breathe.

So, we’re not gathering as a church tomorrow morning.  Yes, many of us are out of town anyway.  But it’s also about finding stillness in the midst of a busy time of year.  

As strange as it sounds to say, I pray tomorrow morning is a gift to you.  I pray you’re able to rest, to take it all in, to enjoy an extra cup of coffee or a long run.  Get alone with Jesus.  Take a nap.  Do whatever you need for your soul to be replenished.

The Certain Hope Of Christmas


Christmas isn’t a desperate search for hope in the hype.  It’s a joyous celebration of the certain hope we have in Jesus.  As we head into the holiday, I pray we can all keep that simple truth in the center of our hearts.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the desperate search for hope that plagues our culture this time of year.  Stress, crazy family and an extra drink at the end of the night just seem to be part of the holiday equation for so many of us.  Add into that the search for perfect gifts, delicious meals, immaculate homes and non-materialistic kids.  No wonder we’re exhausted.  And disappointed.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of it.  But they’ll never be able to hold the weight of our hopes.

All the good things we enjoy this time of year are designed to point us to the One from whom all good things flow.  Christmas is simple.  Jesus was born that we might have life.  He left the glory of heaven for the indignity of a feeding trough so that we would know our God is not repulsed by the messes of our life.  The angels sang. The shepherds worshipped.  Mary pondered.  And all of history was forever changed.

The Child of Christmas would go on to live a perfect life.  He showed us all how it’s meant to be done.  And then, knowing that we could never do it on our own, He died in our place that all of our sins could be forgiven.  He killed death by dying on a cross and ushered in unfathomable hope through an empty tomb.

He’s the One our souls need.  He’s the One we were made to know.

Don’t let the hype blind you to the Christ.  Rejoice, oh weary world.  Your Savior has come.  His name is Jesus.  And He’s all you need for a Merry Christmas.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Wonderful Time To Invite.jpg

This really is the most wonderful time of the year…especially for inviting people to church!  Now before you groan and write this post off as one more example of a pastor trying to hype a Christmas service as a chance to draw a crowd, hear me out.

I honestly believe there are four main things that hold us back from inviting people to church with us:

  1. Lack of relationships with non-Christians.
  2. Lack of confidence in the gospel.
  3. Fear of rejection.
  4. Fear they won’t like it if they come.

Admittedly, Christmas doesn’t help with the first one – if you don’t know anyone to invite, it’s going to be hard to invite!  But if that’s really the case, I think it’s time to seriously examine how you’re living.  What changes do you need to make in 2016 to develop some level of relationship with people outside the church?  Those changes need to become a high priority in the New Year.

But when it comes to #3 and #4, Christmas is a huge help.  This is the time of year (even more than Easter) when people are most willing to go to church.  People won’t perceive your invitation as you trying to force Jesus down their throats.  They’ll see it as you inviting them into your holiday traditions and caring about their holiday experience.  In terms of #4, Christmas is also your best friend – they’re going to be familiar with a lot of the music (that’s why we’re only doing Christmas carols this Sunday and Christmas Eve) and the basic plot of the sermon.  Even people from other faith traditions will know what they’re in for – some carols and the story of a Baby born to save the world (if your pastor preaches on the dietary laws in Leviticus, it’s time for a new church!!).

Oh, by the way, the gospel is beautiful enough to handle all of the confidence you place in it!  Remember Paul’s words, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.“(Romans:1:16)  God is constantly drawing people to Himself with the wonderfully simply message of “Jesus in my place.”  The amazing thing is that He wants to use us in that appeal!

So, Restoration City, bring some folks with you this Sunday!  And, if you’re in town on Christmas Eve, do it again on Thursday!  You’ll be amazed how open people might be to your invitation.  The good news of Christmas is a Savior who was born for all men.  Let’s do our part in making sure people hear this wonderful message during this incredible season.

Sex: Physically & Spiritually Naked


God designed sex to be the most powerful bond between two people – the two become one flesh.  That oneness requires the most explicit form of vulnerability we’re capable of as humans.  It requires us to expose our most intimate parts to the sight, touch and experience of another. It’s the most provocative form of vulnerability – here I am, all of me, even the parts I keep covered in any and every other situation. See me, know me, accept me, enjoy me, protect me, delight in me, love me.

But we so often do with our bodies what we’re unwilling to do with our souls. It’s easier to take your pants off than to let your guard down. It’s easier to be physically naked than emotionally naked – to show someone the most intimate parts of our souls (our fears, our dreams, our hurts, our real selves). So we settle for sex instead of intimacy. We settle for an orgasm instead of love.

I think that’s the allure and lie of pornography. It’s less about physical gratification and more about the desperate search to feel some kind of connection, some level of intimacy and some form of relating.  We want the thrill of vulnerability without any risk on our end.  We get to see someone else’s nakedness with no reciprocal vulnerability needed. I risk nothing but get to see everything. And that’s the lie.  Real vulnerability is a two way street of trust, not a cheap show of lust.

The challenge for our culture is to stop using physical vulnerability as an excuse to avoid spiritual, emotional and relational vulnerability. Don’t use your body to numb your soul’s desires.  You were made for the intimacy that only comes when you find the courage to be honest about who you really are, the courage to talk about that person with someone else, the courage to be rejected, ignored, loved or cherished for who you really are.

By the way, the best sex is the wrapped in the blanket of spiritual vulnerability and lifelong commitment. When our bodies become an expression of our souls, something powerful happens.  That’s how God designed it to work – soul connection first, physical connection second.   It’s when our bodies become a substitute for our souls that we get ourselves in trouble.

Gratitude For Grown Ups

Grateful For Hard Things

I’m slowly learning to think differently about gratitude.

When I was a kid, I was grateful for all of the good things in my life. Gratitude was my response to unexpected trips to the beach, staying up late or going out to eat. I had a lot to be grateful for as a kid and thankfulness came pretty easily. But as I got older, life started to get harder. Carefree summer days were replaced with summer jobs. School got harder, there was pressure to get into college and there was pressure to pay for college. All of the sudden, the world seemed to offer me less and demanded more from me.

I needed to rethink gratitude. So, I figured out how to become grateful in spite of hard things. I decided I wanted to be a glass half full kind of a guy and focus on the good things happening in my life. So, I would deal with break-ups, financial uncertainty and rouge friends. I was determined not to let the pain of life take away my gratitude for the good things in life.

The older I get and the longer I walk with Jesus, the more I’m learning to be grateful for hard things. I’m figuring out the road to the best things in life requires risk, sacrifice, suffering and faith. It’s the hard things that become the best things. That’s the story of 2015 for our family – Aidan’s birth, the church’s growth and fresh insights into marriage, family and Jesus. None of them came easy. All of them required stretching, believing and sacrificing more than I wanted. But they are so worth it.

I don’t know that I’m fully there yet – I still get pretty frustrated when things don’t go my way. But I’m learning what grown-up gratitude looks like.

It’s not just thankfulness for the good things.

It’s not even thankfulness in spite of hard things.

It’s thankfulness for the hard things.

Now the trick is remembering that the next time life gets hard.