You Can Still Make A Plan

The turn of the year is a naturally great opportunity to set some new goals and resolutions. I hope things are going well for you as the first week of this new year wraps up. 

One of the most important commitments I believe any Christian can make is reading his or her bible. I know it’s easy to be overwhelmed by this. Questions abound. “What plan should I pick?” Which version of the bible should I use?” “Should I use digital or print? Study bible or not?” “What if I miss a day?” “When do I have time?” These are all reasonable questions we need to think through when planning to read the bible. My hope is that you’ll take the time to do so. More than that, I hope you’ll take the time to prioritize and put a plan into action that enables you to read your bible. These are not simply words. This book is a treasure. The Psalmist says about God’s word: "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11).  

It is not too late to start reading through your bible this year, but you must make a plan. Without a plan, your reading will be sporadic at best. So whether you want to read through the whole bible or not, you need to plan for it.

Here are some plans I recommend. 
M’cheyne one-year plan: This is one of the most common one year plans out there. It was put together with the intent that two chapters would be read in the morning, and two at night for family devotions. This was a great way for husband and father to lead his home in the ways of the Lord. And it still is. This plan takes you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. 

M’cheyne/navigator combined plan: This is probably my favorite one-year plan. It was introduced to me by my friend Adam Sinnett. The beauty of this plan is that it gives you the ability to catch up on days you’ve missed by requiring you to read only 25 days out of the month. This plan just helps relieve the pressure when you miss a day because you know you don’t need to feel overwhelmed by a catch up day. You can find this plan here.  

Professor Horner 8-month plan: If you’re in to reading a little bit more at a time, then this is obviously the plan for you. Another one of my favorites, Professor Horner’s plan is meant to take you through the whole bible in a rather quick period of time. You’ll read about ten chapters a day–one chapter from each genre of the bible in both the Old and New testament. The intent with this plan is to read quickly and just consume the bible as much as possible. This is the plan I’m starting off with this year because I haven’t done it in a while. So far, I’m loving it! 

ESV Study Bible plan: This is a basic one-year plan. I did it once. Nothing fancy. Just read your bible every day. 

Read Scripture App: This one is new to me and I haven’t worked through it yet. However, I’ve looked through it and I’m excited to give it a try once I complete the plan I’ve already started. This plan will take you through the bible in just under one year, and it’s purpose is to help you read the bible while understanding the big picture story of the bible along the way. The app includes great illustrations and really helpful videos throughout the process that will help bible reading beginners, and intrigue bible reading experts. The other thing about this plan/app is that it reads like a book in that there are no chapter and verse references. Just text on a screen. Finally, it just looks really nice. 

YouVersion App: This is the big daddy of all bible reading apps. You can find just about any plan you want right here. That being said, it’s also easy to get overwhelmed and wonder which plan you should start working through. I’m using this app to keep track of two plans–the plan I’m working through personally, and the one I’m working through with my family. (We are reading together through the New Testament this year). The other thing about this app that I like is you can couple your bible reading with a number of devotionals that the plan provides. There’s a great assortment of topics you can focus on with these. 

Digital or not?
Just a brief word on digital bible reading or not. Really, it’s up to you. It seems I try to use my iPad every year for my bible reading but I feel lack I’m never able to absorb anything. There’s just something about reading on a screen that prevents me from actually connecting with anything I read. Furthermore, I find reading on a device to be distracting. It never fails that some notification gets pushed your way as you’re trying to read. It’s also too easy to have a think of something else and jump on google to find the answer to your thought, only to never return to you bible reading again for the day. So I like to read with a non-digital bible, and I keep track of my progress with a bible app (currently YouVersion). But this is certainly an area where everyone differs. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Just read the bible. 

Before I wrap this up, be reminded of one very important thing: Reading the bible doesn’t save you. It never has and it never will. Sure, you may have been saved or will be saved through God’s Words, but your and my salvation is based solely on the grace of God in the finished work of Jesus. So if you read your bible today, tomorrow, and every day this year, great! If you don’t, that’s okay too. Regardless of whether you read the bible or not, God’s love for you is based on what Christ has done, not what you and I do or don’t do. It is this good news that motivates us to read the words that God has given to us. When you hear of a love like this, don’t you want to know more about it? And if you do, then read your bible. 
 

Little Moments

Last night, our Gospel Community gathered, and we concluded our discussion with this: it isn't up to us to save the world.

That might sound like a no brainer way to conclude a discussion. We're certainly well aware of this reality. We know that Jesus is the world's only hope for saving the world, but this doesn't stop us from thinking that we need to figure out some way–some really big way–to save it ourselves. 

The question that sparked this mind-blowing conclusion was, how can we display generosity in a practical way that begins to influence and change our city with the gospel? After a few moments of silent thinking, a few answers were given, and then finally the golden answer, "We don't need to figure it out right now."

Little Moments

Our tendency in life is to think we need to do something big, and that we need to do something big right now. It's a "go big or go home" mentality that, more times than not, leads to nothing getting done. But this isn't the way Jesus intended for his disciples to function.

Jesus wants us to be aware of the little moments. 

When the disciples were arguing about what it means to be great, he tells his disciples that greatness is defined by service, and not just service, but serving little children (Mark 9:37). Jesus's point is that serving those who are easily and quickly overlooked is a big deal in the economy of his kingdom. 

In another instance, Jesus says:

'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

In other words, Jesus is saying that his Kingdom is about intentionally slowing down and serving in the seemingly insignificant and often unnoticed little moments of life.

Today, as you seek to be generous with your time, talents, gifts and possessions, ask God to help you notice the little things that lead to little moments that end up having a big impact for the kingdom.     

Learning To Trust In The God Of All Comfort

A couple nights ago, the Times News held a community forum about the CSI Refugee Program. I thought it was well done, very informative, and helpful. There's been a lot of really poor and false information circulating (you can't believe everything you read on the internet you know), so the wealth of well resourced information was a breath of fresh air.

As I've reflected on the event with family, friends, and church family, the one thing that continues to stand out is people's desire for comfort and safety. Repeatedly, people are presenting their  concerns about the "safety of our citizens." (Never mind the safety of the rest of humanity across the globe!) What's more, is that people aren't only requesting safety, but they're requesting a 100% guarantee on that safety. And then the logic that follows is, "if the government can't 100% guarantee safety from terrorists disguised as refugees, then why let them in?"

I don't know about you, but I've never felt that my safety is guaranteed. Never.

At any moment my life, or the life of someone in my family, could be thrown into perilous danger that I will have no power to protect them from. This doesn't mean that I'm not proactive in providing safety where I can (my house has locks, and my car has airbags), but at the end of the day, there is no guarantee. Not in this life anyways. 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who omforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; emphasis mine). 

Paul is saying that our comfort is not, and cannot, be found anywhere in this world. In this world we will face affliction (Paul lists a few in 2 Corinthians 11), and our only hope of getting through that is if our comfort is found in the God of all comfort.

This guarantee of comfort is not for all though. It's only for those whose eternal hope is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul says, "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Corinthians 1:5). Jesus left perfect comfort and endured the ultimate form of suffering on the cross. Not only was this through his physical death, but also in his separation from the Father. It's this reality that enabled Paul (and Christians throughout the centuries) to love all humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation regardless of personal danger to ones own self. It's this truth that continues to motivate followers of Jesus to do the same today. 

My comfort and safety is not based on the level of security I'm provided by my government, the locks on my door, or the airbags in my care, but on the reality of the finished work of Jesus which truly does give me a 100% safety guarantee!

I believe the Department of Homeland Security is doing what they can to keep Americans safe. Are they going to do this perfectly? No. But we should never hold them to a standard that only Jesus can fulfill.     

 

Do You Need Help?

Jesus said, "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7)

We are most comfortable when we feel like we are in control. In order to be in control, we have to be able to control life circumstances around us. For the most part, we can do this quite easily. We have a general routine we stick to that helps us to know the rhythm of our days, and often, this rhythm goes mostly uninterrupted. Sure, there might be a few glitches here and there, but nothing we can't get back under control. 

Sometimes, however, life circumstances take a turn for the worst (that's at least how we see it). All this means is that we feel out of control. Life has suddenly become "out of our hands," and all we want to do is get it back. 

The reality of this control is only a facade. If we face reality, not a single one of us knows what the next moment brings, and although we're accustomed to life feeling safe, in the blink of an eye it can feel anything but. It never really has been in our hands though.

When Jesus spoke those words to his disciples, "It is to your advantage that I go away," they must have been shocked. How on earth could it be an advantage for Jesus to go away? This is the Messiah, the King of all Kings to rule and reign this world, it can't be a good thing for him to go. But it is. Jesus tells us that in his leaving he doesn't leave us alone, but leaves us with the Holy Spirit, the Helper. The question that needs asking is: do I live a life that needs help?

Jesus' followers are made to live a life that needs help. The call to make disciples of all nations is far too grand to accomplish in our own strength. We, the Church, followers of Jesus, need help. I've become convinced in my heart and mind (and it's okay if your not), that if I'm living a life that feels safe and under control, then perhaps I'm not really living up to what Jesus has called me to.

The reality of truly following Jesus means that I'm going to need help. It is to our advantage that Jesus ascended into heaven. He will one day return, but in the mean time, are you following him with the Helper that he has given?  

Community Killers

I recently finished reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's one of the best books on the topic of community I've ever read. In the first chapter, Bonhoeffer deals with the expectations that we have of the Christian community and how many of those expectations are false––his main point being that we too often expect too much out of the Christian community. Bonhoeffer keeps it simple saying that, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” In other words, what creates and sustains Christian community is the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Our commonality is that we've been saved by him and are kept by him.

Bonhoeffer goes on to say that our idea of Christian community is often nothing but a "wish dream." That is, we have grand ideas of what it's supposed to look like, but these ideas are not mentioned in the bible, and are often nowhere near reality.

Listen carefully to what Bonhoeffer says about these "wish dreams" and how they are actually community killers:

“One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood.”
“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” (Emphasis mine).

Community is hard. Any time you get more than one sinner in the same spacial dimension for any extended period of time, there is going to be tension. Being a member of Christ's Church doesn't change this. The very real reality of the Church (both local and universal) is that she is messy. The church is filled with sinners, some who have been saved by grace, and some who still haven't. Hypocrisy, difficulty, brokenness, and more should be expected. In light of this, we need to remember that sanctification is complete for none of us, therefore, Christian community will be perfect for none of us. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: are we killing the Christian community by our idealistic wish dreams? Are we killing what God has graciously brought together in Christ––the church––because we're expecting what we will only get in eternity? 

Rather than imposing our "wish dreams" upon the Christian community, Bonhoeffer's exhortation to his readers is that we would give thanks. The community of the church is not something we should ever take for granted––though we often do. Today, instead of complaining about how your church community is not how you have dreamed it up to be, give thanks and rejoice that you yourself are a messy part of this beautiful and messy church community for whom Christ died!

       

The Value Of The Church Gathered

Author's Note: This post was originally written for and posted to the Taproot Church Twin Falls website.

In Taproot Church, we gather every Sunday morning to worship Jesus, sit under the preaching of God's word, and be equipped for the work of ministry in everyday life. 

We also gather in Gospel Communities (GC's). GC's are small groups of people, joined by the gospel, pursuing the renewal and redemption of their community together for the purpose of being discipled and making disciples of Jesus.

The Sunday Gathering and Gospel Communities are invaluable pieces to the ministry and mission of Taproot Church. These are two of the primary ways in which we're able to press into the reason for our existence, which is to know Jesus and make him known.

Below are some reasons why we value these gatherings the way we do.

1. It's biblical. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." The early church valued the gathering of the saints to the point that correction was necessary if there was a neglecting of it. It was in the context of the church gathered that people were encouraged in the midst of all that is difficult in this life. 

2. It reflects God. The God of the bible is Triune. This means that he has existed in perfect community for all eternity. Being his image bearers, we long for this kind of community, but sin has distorted it. Now, instead of enjoying the presence of God and others, we would rather hide (Genesis 1:8). In the finished work of Jesus, the type of community we see in God is restored to his church, and we reflect that to the world. "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

3. Discipleship. The commission of Jesus to his disciples is to make disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Discipleship is the process of learning how to follow Jesus. This does not happen alone. It also doesn't happen in the context of a one and a half hour service on Sunday mornings (though this is vital). Discipleship is the process of a lifetime and it's greatest value comes when we are gathered with others who are learning how to follow Jesus along with us. It's in the context of the gathered saints where our weaknesses and sins are revealed, and it's in these gatherings where we are most likely to be pointed to Jesus. Proverbs says, "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgement" (Proverbs 18:1). Living life in this type of community is often not easy, but it's always worth it.

4. Equipping and maturity. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, saying, "And God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood" (Ephesians 4:11-13). Paul is not talking about offices in the church, but gifting. In other words, there are those in the church who still operate in this APEST model of gifting, and they've been given these gifts for the equipping of the saints. (We'll talk more about APEST another time). Furthermore, the hope in this is that the saints would reach maturity in Christ, that is, that all followers of Jesus would know Jesus more fully, and realize their value in the gathering of the church. If left to a small group of people or one "dynamic" preaching pastor, the local church is sure to never see real maturity. This isn't always the case, but often it is. We are equipped and we mature when we gather and are equipped through the gifting of many. 

5. Whole body ministry. The church is referred to as a body (1 Corinthians 12), which requires all parts in order to function well. Often, there are several parts of the body which are neglected or not used at all, but when the church places value in the gathering of the church, the whole body is included in ministry. This is why our Sunday gatherings are not referred to as services. The goal of the Sunday morning gathering is not simply to serve you, but to serve you by equipping you, helping you to see that you are a vital part of the ministry of the church. You are then equipped to go out and serve not only in the local church, but in your city, neighborhood, workplace, schools, etc. In this, you are doing the work of ministry in your everyday life.

6. To be sent. When saints are equipped, saints are sure to be sent. This is a difficult but beautiful part of being the church. The work we do is in hopes that more would come to know, follow Jesus, and be gathered with Jesus' Church. This happens as people are sent.

7. Worship. The final thing I want to say about the gathering of the church is that it's an act of worship to King Jesus. He paid the price for our sins on the cross, rose victoriously from the grave, and is alive and well, ruling and reigning at the right hand of God today! All this is for the church. Jesus loves his church. We are his bride, and no matter how messed up we tend to be, he sees us as perfect, beautiful, and holy! When we gather, we do so because of the love and finished work of Jesus. 

Christ is all!

Thinking About What You Say

Every human being carries on his or her person an extremely useful and powerful tool. Or depending on how it's used, a very potent, piercingly sharp and potentially deadly weapon.

It's the tongue.

The Scriptures are filled with nuggets of wisdom about this seemingly unstoppable force. Here's a little snippet.

  • James 3:6-7 - How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 
  • Proverbs 15:1 - A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
  • Proverbs 16:21 - The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. 
  • Proverbs 17:27 - Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
  • Proverbs 18:6-7 - A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.
  • Proverbs 18:13 - If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. 

There are of course many more, but you get the idea. The words we say have potential to bring great harm or great comfort. With the tongue you can set a forest on fire, or you can douse flames of destruction. 

So the wisdom we gain from scripture is simply this: We need to think before we speak! We need to consider the reality that God gave us two ears and only one mouth (James 1:19). Consider that we might not have all the details and opening our mouth may only make us look like a fool. Consider that freedom of speech doesn't always mean we should speak freely. And maybe most importantly, consider others as higher than ourself (Philippians 2:3). Oh how much damage would be prevented if we would only consider others before ourselves.

Praise be to God that Jesus never uttered an imperfect word. He did this in our place. In light of the finished work and words of Jesus, think about what you say. It might just save you from your ruin.