What I’ve Learned Thus Far: Halfway Through My Bible Reading Plan

img_1587I challenged myself at the beginning of the year, much like I always do, to read through the Bible  within the year. For someone looking at vocational ministry in their future (Lord willing, of course), I figured this would be a worthwhile endeavor. I’ll be completely honest here, this is not the first time I have set out to accomplish this goal. I have tried to do this nearly three or four time before and have found myself behind within the first couple of months…ok, maybe weeks…or was it days? In falling so far behind, it became discouraging. So discouraging in fact, I just gave up. This year, I fully expected it to be similar. My title says otherwise. Yes, I have made it halfway through the year and as a result, read halfway through the Bible. I am not using this post to pat myself on the back or show just how holy I am (trust me, I’m nowhere near most if not all the people who will read this post). This post instead is a couple of things I have learned in reading the Bible for half of the year.

1. Reading the Bible daily is not as hard as I thought. 

The bible reading plan I use requires me to read one section from the Gospels, one section from the New Testament, a psalm/proverb, and a passage from the Old Testament. Upon reading this, you may find yourself struggling to imagine yourself reading that much in one sitting. The great thing is that you don’t have to. While it is ideal for me to sit down and read all of my reading plan in one sitting, I sometimes find myself reading part of it in the morning and the rest of it in the evening. This has made it much easier to digest all of it. The plan I use is on the YouVersion Bible app which makes it easy to go from passage to passage without flipping through your physical Bible to do it. I have also printed out a copy of it and placed it at my desk at work as a reminder of the passages I need to read that day. Each day on the app and on the printed copy have a box which is checked off after reading the assigned passages for each day. This, as a person who likes to see progress, is an encouragement to me as I read the passage and then check off the boxes as I go. All of this has made it much easier for me to be in the Word daily rather than sporadically throughout the week.

I should also mention that the YouVerson app has streaks (much like Snapchat) which record the number of days in a row you have been reading in the app. Again, this helps me to stay motivated and “keep the streak.”

2. Reading the Bible daily is more difficult that I thought. 

Yes, this sounds like a contradiction from the point I just made. In a way, it certainly is. While I have found myself successfully completed half of the year of my Bible reading plan, I have discovered what things in my life often get in the way of reading the Bible. I can tell you that while I have enjoy spending time in God’s Word, there are often things I would rather do. There have been nights in which I have been up late reading my passages for the day because I didn’t use the free time I had during the day to do it. I have discovered, through this process, just how much time I spend on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram when I could be reading my passages for the day. I do not use all the time I have as I should. I do not spend enough time focusing/meditating on God’s Word. It is a work of God’s grace that I have made it this far. God has given me the time I need to be in His Word. I simply need to use the time He has given me well.

3. The Bible does not have to always be studied deeply to experience intimacy with God.

Before all the Reformed people jump all over me for making this point, let me first clarify. As a seminarian, I value my deep study of doctrine (I am currently studying Union with Christ). I am a strong believer in reading deeply and focusing on specific passages, verses, etc. and mining the depths that they contain. But, through this half a year, I have gathered valuable insight and a greater love for Christ simply by reading through His Word. There are times in which I have read and reread a passage several times because it was so meaningful, but I have discovered the God’s deep faithfulness in preserving a line of David among the evil kings in 2 Kings. I have admired the emotion shown in psalms I have never read before. I have reread passages in the Gospels I never understood and now understand them. All of this is not because I have spent extensive time looking at the Greek and Hebrew, but because God has revealed in in reading His Word daily.

4. The Bible is completely about Christ’s work of redemption.

There is far too much to explain here, but I will try to do my best in brief fashion. I have been taught that the above point is true. I believed this truth when I heard it back in my sophomore year of college. As I have read half the narrative of the Bible, I can surely say that I have experienced for myself. The fall in Genesis points to a Savior who will come and make all things new. The sacrificial system described in Leviticus points to the need of a Perfect Sacrifice who will come and cleanse humanity of their sins. The Gospels are filled with the work of Christ which culminates in the His death on a cross and his resurrection. The epistles point to the completed work of Christ and how, therefore, we should live because of His completed work. All of Scripture points to Christ. Look for it!

Now What?

I’m currently in the second half of my Bible reading plan. I’m in some unfamiliar territory in the Old Testament or at least, less familiar territory (I mean, who reads 1 & 2 Chronicles for devotionals). My ultimate hope is that I can finish well and complete my reading plan. I can attest to the good that reading through the Bible has had on my life. I have discovered things I have never noticed in reading some of these passages again. I have started to understand passages I did not understand the first couple of time I had read them. Most importantly, each day of reading gives me the potential to become more like Christ. It gives me a better understanding of who I am and Who God is. It gives me a better understanding of my need to repent of my sin. It gives me a love for God’s Word and for Christ. It is a daily acknowledgement that I need Christ.

Bible Reading Plan: The Discipleship Journal Reading Plan

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Online Reading Plan

 

Are We Too Cynical?

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It caught me off guard. I was sitting with a student I have been discipling for nearly 4 years now. We were catching up with each other over a bowl of chips and salsa which sat before us. Our interchange began with some fairly general questions about my job, his future endeavors, and what we had missed in the last months since meeting. As we were talking over whether or not a lawn business or college would make a better career, he pauses and says, “You are the most sarcastic person I know.” I wasn’t surprised. Generally, I see comments like these as complements. I tend to be rather sarcastic and enjoy the witty banter that often follows. I then pushed further, saying, “Well, I am sarcastic, but at least I’m not cynical about it.” I waited for him to agree with me. Unfortunately, the words I heard out of his mouth did not echo what I imagined him saying in my head. “Well” he said, “Actually, much of what you say can tend to be quite cynical.” This was a comment I could not ignore.

Sarcasm, cynicism, and pessimism are not unique to me or my generation (Note: I’ll use these words somewhat interchangeably although I am aware of the nuances with each of these words).  These are all ultimately heart issues which have been within the human race since the beginning of time. It is certainly not something that we find to be simply a generational trend, but a multi-generational trend. But where have these attitudes, which I would argue has turned mainly into cynicism, come from? Why do I see in my own language and attitudes, a sense that I am far more pessimistic than previous generations? Why am I seeing this in others while those older than us speak words which are far more positive and encouraging? More importantly, how do I and others actually live out and speak with the joy we are supposed to have as people who have been saved from sin and death?

Why Are we So Pessimistic/Cynical? 

I stated above that pessimism, cynicism, and sarcasm are heart issues. While they can be linked to outside circumstances, these outside circumstances are not the reason for our cynicism or pessimism. Nevertheless, here some reasons I see as to why we are so pessimistic/cynical:

First, Millennials and beyond will never quite live with the same financial wealth of our parents. If you want evidence of this, you can simply google search the topic. When you do, you will find that Millennials, in particular, make less now than their parents did when they were the same age. The economy is not what it once was. Many children of the Boomers will never quite live with the same comforts financially that their parents had or that they had growing up. In a world with an ever increasing cost of living, Millennials and I-Gen’s find themselves asking themselves how they can possibly pay the cost to live while paying of student loans as well.  I see this constantly on Facebook where people complain that the cost of living is higher than what a minimum wage job pays.  I see this in my own life with student loans. Some will argue that spending on hobbies has also increased. While I believe this is true and that many Millennials and (I believe the data says otherwise for I-Gen’s) spend beyond their means, student debt and cost of living have certainly made it easier for these generations to be quite cynical and more pessimistic  about their future.

Second, smart phones and social media have created a comparison culture. Nothing makes you pessimistic quite like comparison. In a day where we can see instant updates and pictures of the house our friends just bought or the vacation they are currently on, it is easy to become cynical of them. It is easy to ask the all-too common questions of why you can’t afford a house or can’t afford a vacation. It is easy to be discontent with where you are which often turns into jealousy which turns into a cynical attitude. Recent studies have shown that more time on a smart phone and social media is linked to unhappiness as well as depression. With the amount of time Millennials and I-Gen spend on their phones, it is not difficult to see why they are so unhappy. Instead of living our own lives, we are constantly comparing our lives with others on social media. We associate other’s lives with what they post rather than what they actually are. We start to believe that the pictures posted of the “perfect moments” describe their lives at all times. This, of course, is not the case. There are hardships, disappointments and challenges in their lives just like our own. Our lives are more similar than they are different even though our social media pages may say otherwise. The comparisons we make with others only cause us to question why we have not been given the same things they have.

Third, our worldview is filled with pessimism and our media reflects this. Have you watched the news lately? Read the latest headline? We are coming off of a week in which two celebrities who seemed to have their lives put together committed suicide. Within the last couple of months we’ve seen headlines which include several more instances of individuals being accused of sexual misconduct which spurred the #metoo movement inside and outside the church. Politics divide the country more than at any other time in the nation’s history.  Law enforcement, who should be protecting all people, have been accused and found guilty of crimes which were unspeakable. Not surprisingly, due to these events, people are cynical of Hollywood, government and any other authority. In our eyes, the world does not seem to be getting any better but much worse. More and more, it looks as if people only do anything for their own pleasure, no matter how diabolical that act may be. Any good that may be done in this world is overshadowed by evil. Millennials and I-Gen’s have caught on to this as streams of news hits their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. The result is less trust of others and less hope for the future.

So…Now What?

Is it biblical to have an attitude of pessimism and cynicism? The answer is a resounding no. People who have the hope of the Gospel understand that their life if more than what is lived on this earth. Christians have a future hope which is far greater than the trials and tribulations they will face here. The suffering Christians will face or feel like they are facing because of their economic situation, the sorrow experienced in this life or the grind of day-to-day living in a fallen world “is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).  How can we possibly live a life of pessimism when we compare it to what we will one day receive?

If we understand the Gospel and its effects on our daily lives, we know we have been called to something more. Christians have been called to a life that is separate from the attitudes and the actions we see in this world. They are called to be a holy people who desire to live out the Gospel in their daily lives. They understand that they have been called to be salt and light in a culture that is in constant decay and in darkness (Matt. 5:13-16). Our attitudes and our words must be different because we are different people. We are ambassadors, not of a Kingdom which evokes sorrow, but of a Kingdom which one day promises no more tears or sorrow (Rev. 21:4). We have a Savior who has given us life to the full (Jn. 10:10b). This is worth celebrating. It is worth living our lives filled with joy. We can wholeheartedly live joyful lives because we know Who is in control. We know we serve the One who holds everything together (Col. 1:17).

What About Sarcasm?

I realize I’ve spent no space on the issue of sarcasm. Here is my brief take on it (maybe I’ll post more on the subject later). I’m sure some older and much wiser saints may disagree with me and at some point I may disagree with younger, less mature self. I am under the opinion that sarcasm can be used well if it is used sparingly. While I understand that it can and is often used for the belittling of others, it can also be used in a self-deflating way. This is the best way I have seen sarcasm used. While the Bible uses sarcasm, I am hesitant to promote either Paul’s use of it in 1 Corinthian 4:8 or Elijah’s use of it in 1 Kings 18:27 as reasons to use it because I know my heart. I know that I have a tendency to use sarcasm to promote myself and how funny I can be rather than using it to deflate my ego. I know I can use sarcasm to poke fun at institutions and authority when I should simply keep my mouth shut and be in prayer for them. There are good uses of sarcasm, but if I’m honest, I rarely use sarcasm as I should. My sarcasm can easily become cynicism and pessimism. As a Christ follower, I am looking to honor him in my words and at this point in my life the way to do that is to use it sparingly. Perhaps your heart is better than mine and your sarcasm never has a cynical bent to it. As for me, I know myself well enough to know that I must refrain from using it far more than I currently do.

 

 

To Those Who Have Left…

img_1535All I have are questions. I don’t expect any answers. I can’t imagine the pain that you went through to make these decisions. I know it was a struggle.

But I do have questions for those who have left…

When did you decide that it was no longer worth it? That what you believed wasn’t real? That what you believed wasn’t worth pursuing?

When did you stop believing in the satisfaction you once found in God and start believing the lies this world tells you?

When did you decide that finding satisfaction in what you wanted to do was far more satisfying than what God wanted?

When did retreat from the life you had once lived seem like a better option than the life you live now?

Was any of it ever something real to you? The hours spent worshiping? The moments spend in His Word? The time spent working together for the Gospel? The time spent in prayer?

Was living a life for Christ ever something that brought you joy? Was it a burden on you soul to live this way? Did it not bring you satisfaction?

Are you far happier now than where you were?

Who do you now run to when you are in pain? When you feel shame? When you fell helpless?

Do you ever feel like the part of you life lived for God was ever a mistake? Like it wasn’t worth it? Like it was a waste of time?

How has this affected the relationships you may have once had with those who still follow Christ?

Do you find yourself ever wanting to pursue the Person you claimed to follow? Or is a distant memory? Is it a fading late? Is it something you wish you could forget?

What is truth? If it is not in Christ, then where is it found? If God’s Word does not provide the answers to life, then where do we find them?

Can you honestly look at the brokenness in this world and think we can find the answers amidst this chaos?

Do you think God mad at you? Will He take you back?

Do you think God will have you?

Do you think God loves you?

Do you think Christ died for your sin?

Do you find yourself asking these questions?

 

He will have you.

He still loves you.

He died for your sin.

He is still pursuing.

Even when you are not.

He is faithful.

He is closer than you believe…

You’re not too far…

 

 

 

What Seminary Has Taught Me (About Myself)

img_1508I never thought I would be in seminary. I definitely never thought I would be in seminary as long as I have been. I’m in my fourth year and potentially have a year and a half more. I’m not sure it this is the common route, but it is the path I’ve taken while being a husband, a father, and working full time. In these past three years, seminary has taught me quite a few things I did not know about theology, the Bible, church history and a whole slew of other subjects.

While learning about the subjects listed above have been benificial to my growth as a theologian and one day (Lord willing) will be beneficial to me as a pastor, seminary has benefited me as an individual as well. I certainly have benefited spiritually from my time in seminary due to increased time in the scriptures and reading those who have gone before me as they wrestled with the cultural issues of their days. But I have also learned about myself in the process. Here are a couple of things I have learned about myself in my three years in seminary.

I’m Not As Smart As I Think I Am

I was bound to learn this at some point in my life and to some degree, I have. Seminary has only quickened the process. Without trying to sound too braggy, I came into seminary with a decent amount of theological knowledge. I attended a Baptist school for my undergrad earning a degree in Christian Ministry and a minor in Bibilical Studies. I had previous theological training under my belt when entering seminary. I attended a church that was very strong in its doctrine. I assumed I was in a great place to, if not glide through my classes, at least pass them with ease. I discovered in my first semester this was not the case. I took a classload of nine credit hours which I found difficult to complete (some of which was due to my laziness). I found myself struggling in classes I had taken in my undergrad. I interacted with students on message boards who clearly had a much greater grasp of the material than I did. I came to the realization that perhaps I was not the theological genius I thought I was. As I’ve continued in seminary, I have only found this to be more true. By no means do I believe that I am biblically illiterate, but I certainly find myself knowing less and less and honestly, thats a good thing. It propels me to a greater pursuit of knowledge for personal sanctification and growth.

I Am Limited

As I mentioned above, I am married, a father, and work full time. My time is limited. When I started seminary, my wife and I had only been married for a little over six months, I was working a full time job which gave me afternoons off after one pm, and had very little obligations otherwise. Perhaps that is why I was so adament on taking three classes my first semester in seminary. I was six months removed from a life where I was a single man in my early twenties with a lot of time on my hands. One word comes to mind: Foolish. I admit that I was over my head with the three classes I took my first semester. I found that I had less time than I thought I had. My grades were abysmal  first semester and second semester…they weren’t any better. I ended up dropping to two classes after a year in seminary. I found that this was a much easier pace for me as I tried be a husband and work full time. Now that my wife and I have added a baby into the mix, time I can devote towards school continues to dwindle. Luckily, the course load has been manageable and I have enough wisdom to know when I am over my head.

I learned I am also limited in my ability. I have been known to try to do too much at one time. Seminary has, in the past three years, brought me to my limit several times. Due to the amount of time I have as well as my personaly strengths/weaknesses, I now know better what things I should start on earlier. I cannot read a 400 page book in a matter of hours in one sitting.  Instead, I have to read sporadically and for no more than an hour and a half. I can craft a well-written paper in an hour if need be. I can’t watch hour after hour of lectures, but I can understand them over several hours separated by time in between them. All of this has helped me understand how I learn and what I am capable of. It has given me a fresh perspective on my limits when it comes to ability and how I can improve.

I Enjoy Learning

While school for another year and half is something I desire due to the cost and the time, one thing I am looking forward to is what I will learn. I’ve heard it said that if you are a pastor who does not enjoy learning, you are in the wrong profession. To me, learning means growth. It means advancement. I find joy in learning. This does not mean that I enjoy everything I learn about. I don’t particularly care about the Lapsarianism and the thought process of God ordering Creation, Fall, Election, etc. While that is interesting to other people, I don’t quite share their enthusiasm for the subject. I find myself much more attracted to how our theology is applicable to the world we live in today. Luckily, seminary is the place for learning all of these things much, much more. Seminary has taught me how to seek out these opportunities. Whether it be a book, an article, a podcast or a sermon, an opportunity to learn should not be wasted but should be pursued to be used to our advantage. Take please in asking questions and learning because the rest of life is filled with “learning moments.”

Some Things are More Important

I’ve been told a story by a friend of mine that one of his seminary professors told him. “This professor,” said my friend, ” had a student who came into seminary with a wife and child. He was a very intelligent student, but had to work hard to earn his grades in seminary. He studied and studied and worked his way through seminary with nearly perfect grades. Unfortunately, his studying and extra work he put into seminary was at the expense of his family. While he graduated with straight A’s and Honors, his wife divorced him and took the child with her.” The point: Sometimes it’s a sin to get A’s. Seminary is time consuming. Anyone who has endured the rigors of studying/reading for classes can tell you that. What is often not said is how engrossed one can get into studying for a degree that they forget what is most important. I’ve learned over the past several years that getting the A’s in classes are great, but if they come at the expense of my marriage or at the expense of time I could spend with my son then my priorities are in the incorrect order. Time spend with my family should always take precedence over school work. Yes, the study of God’s Word is important, but it does not take the place of the people in my life that I am called to love.

I Have a Long Way to Go

A professor of mine once told the class that the more we grew in sanctification/holiness, the more we would understand just how sinful and wicked we are. The same is true for development of other, non-spiritual traits as well. i can assuredly say that I am not as holy as I think I am. I am not as far along in my sanctification as I think I am. I am more sinful than I think I am. I can also say with full assurance that I am not as wise as I think I am. I am not as good of a communicator as I think I am. I am not as good of a writer as I think I am. I am not as emotionally intelligent as I think I am. All of these things have become more apparent through the work I’ve done through seminary. Comparison is not something we should live our life based upon, but sometimes it is helpful to watch faithful saints; what they write and what they say and how they act, so we can better understand where we are currently. This is both discouraging and encouraging. It is discouraging because it means I have a false image of myself, probably because I am marred by sin. It is encouraging because it means I have more learning and more growing to do which involves the excitement which only comes from a journey.

Where I Go From Here

What I have loved about seminary the most is not the interaction with the students, the teachers, or the time spent reading. While all these things have been wonderful, my favorite thing about seminary is the fact that God has used something like seminary to change me and change my heart. He has molded me by it. He has used it to change me into the person He wants me to be. There are many more things I have learned from seminary which I have not written here and in the next year and a half there will most likely be more things I will learn about myself. Thankfully, God is taking the broken vessel I am and using seminary to grow me and stretch me. Without seminary and God’s use of it in my life, who knows how different my life would be. Thanks be to God that His plans are so much wiser than my own.