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The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Daily Bible Reading

My Favorite Bible Reading Methods

It’s the start of a new year, which is generally the time that many people begin their goal of reading through the Bible in a year. This is, of course, a worthwhile goal, but it is one I have mixed feelings about in the sense that frequently, people get behind in their reading plans and because they feel like they can’t catch up, give up instead. This is wrong-headed, I think, since the real point of Bible reading plans is to cultivate the regular practice of reading Scripture rather than finishing the whole Bible in 365 days.

At the same time, reading through the entire Bible is a very worthwhile goal, and it always amazes me when I hear of people who have been Christians for years and years but have never read the Bible from cover to cover (if you are reading this and fit into that category, I am not trying to make you feel guilty or ashamed, just keep reading). Simply put, if you don’t read the entire Bible, you tend to miss out on some important and recurring ideas.

For the last several years I have read through the Bible using different plans and methods, and for those who might be interested in reading through the Bible in 2018 (it’s not too late to start!), I thought it might be helpful to share of the different methods that I have enjoyed and what I liked about them:

  • The Daily Bible: This Bible attempts to place the books of the Bible in chronological order, and divides it into 365 readings to make it easy to know exactly how much you need to read per day. It also includes helpful introductory material to each book.
  • The Message: This is a simple “method”—I just read through the Message one year. This is not a common translation for me, which meant that I was constantly reading passages in new language, which led to new reflections and new insights. I’m sure some editions now come with Bible reading plans, or you can simply divide the 1189 chapters in the Bible (or the total page numbers in the edition you are using) into 365 portions.
  • ESV Journaling Bible: The ESV is the primary translation I use, and I really liked being able to write a lot of notes and reflections as I read through in the journaling space. Also, I really liked the reading plan that came along with it, which included a daily selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Psalms.
  • The Listener’s Bible: Two years ago, I did my Bible “reading” in the car by listening to audio CDs that were recorded by Max McLean. Not only did this allow me to make the most of time in which I was otherwise unproductive, it also allowed me to hear Scripture instead of read it, which is the same way that the original audiences would have been exposed to it. Bonus feature: your road rage tends to decrease when you drive around listening to God’s word.
  • ReadScripture App: Last year, I used the Bible Project’s free ReadScripture app on my iPhone (also available on Android), and absolutely loved it. Having everything on your phone is incredibly handy, the Bible Project videos that introduce each biblical book are incredible, and the emphasis on the Bible as one unified story that points to Jesus is very helpful.
  • Bibliotheca: This year, I am using Bibliotheca for my Bible reading. This approach is novel for a couple of reasons. First, everything about Bibliotheca has been carefully designed to enhance the reading experience: from removing the verse and chapter numbers, to the craftsmanship of the books themselves, to even the specially-designed font. Second, Bibliotheca uses an updated version of the incredibly literal American Standard Version. So far, I have not loved the stilted style of this translation, but the novelty of it and some of the word choices it uses has caught my attention several times and has helped me to see things in a new light (similar to what I said about the Message above, except from the opposite perspective).
  • Whole Books at a Time: This process is described here and is my tentative plan for next year. This is not truly a daily Bible reading plan, as you basically set aside one large block of time per week to read entire books in one sitting, but I can certainly see great potential value in reading the individual books as unified wholes.

If you are currently trying to read through the Bible this year, I applaud you on your goal, and maybe one of these methods will be helpful to you. But remember, more important than completing the entire Bible in an arbitrary amount of time is establishing the practice of regularly spending time in God’s word and seeking the transformation that comes from doing so.

The Seamless Story of Scripture

Seamless Story of ScriptureA lot of times, the distinctions between the Old and New Testaments are exaggerated and caricatured. People talk about “the God of the Old Testament” versus “the God of the New Testament.” They will (mistakenly) emphasize that the Old Testament is all about law while the New Testament is all about grace. They may even argue that we don’t even need the Old Testament, because as Christians, we live under a different age. I have written about some of these problems before.

Increasingly though, as I study more and more, I am struck by just how well the two testaments of God’s Word—Old and New—fit together. This year for my daily Bible reading, instead of reading, I have actually been listening to Scripture, specifically to Max McLean’s reading of the ESV while I drive around in my car. This is the first time that I have attempted to make it through the entire Bible by listening to it, and it has been interesting, and has brought out certain elements of the text that I had missed before. One example of this occurred just yesterday, as I was driving in the car and the recordings transitioned from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New.

The end of Malachi reads:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

(Malachi 4.5-6)

Transitioning into Matthew, you get the genealogy and birth story of Jesus, and then we get this:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

(Matthew 3.1-6 )

I have long known that John the Baptist was the “second Elijah” prophesied about in the Old Testament, who would prepare people for Jesus to come, and I think I knew that Malachi contained such a prophecy (in addition to Isaiah, etc.), but the unity of these two books was never emphasized to me as much as it was yesterday, when I heard both of these passages back-to-back in one short car ride. Matthew picks up where Malachi left off: with the coming of God’s representative who would prepare people for the coming of God Himself in the flesh.

This might be a really obvious example that you have noticed before, but for me, it is a reminder of a great truth: Scripture is not comprised of two disjointed halves, but is instead a seamless whole—a well-woven story crafted by God’s Spirit, relating God’s creation of the world and His quest to redeem and reconcile that creation.

Reaching Your Spiritual Potential: Read Your Bible!

Spiritual Potential

This is the third post in an ongoing series (which I have neglected for a few weeks). See Part 1 and Part 2.

Bible Study in the Bible

Probably I don’t need to go into great detail about Bible study being a biblical idea, but briefly:

  • We know that Jesus had great command of Scripture.
  • He amazed the crowds, scribes, and religious leaders with His teaching  (even at a young age).
  • His beautiful Sermon on the Mount interacted significantly with the Law of Moses.
  • When He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He answered every temptation with Scripture.

Elsewhere in the Bible, we see an emphasis on the importance of studying, meditating upon, and teaching God’s Word:

  • Deuteronomy 11.18-23: “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.”
  • Joshua 1.8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
  • Psalm 119.105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
  • Acts 17.10-12: The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”
  • 2 Timothy 2.15: “Be diligent (KJV: study) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
  • 2 Timothy 3.16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

There are a lot of other passages we could look at, but I think these give the idea: the Bible presents itself as a book of teaching that needs to be read, studied, and obeyed by the people of God.

Clueless Christians

I think perhaps that the greatest problem in American Christianity today is that Christians claim to live their lives according to the teachings of a book that, frankly, they know very little about!*

I truly believe that a lot of the division that exists in Christianity and a lot of the false teaching that abounds would be taken care of if people would simply spend more time reading God’s Word.

This is absolutely true in the Christian world as a whole and I believe it is also true within the fellowship of Churches of Christ. In classes I teach and in biblical discussions I have, I am firmly convinced that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians are pretty ignorant when it comes to what the Bible actually teaches.

And if you know your history about the fellowship of Churches of Christ, that is both ironic and sad. Churches of Christ have direct historical ties to the American Restoration Movement, which occurred in the early 1800s in the United States when several men, independently and simultaneously, decided that they wanted nothing more and nothing less than to be members of the Church purchased by the blood of Christ and established by His apostles in the first century.

Men like Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell didn’t want to be called Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists anymore; they just wanted to be known as Christians. These men didn’t want to have anything to do with manmade creeds or traditions; they wanted their beliefs and practices to be determined by the teachings of Scripture. They didn’t want people following them; they wanted people to follow Christ.

So, examining Scripture, these men came to the conclusion that local congregations should be organized under Elderships, that worship to God should consist of a cappella singing, that the Lord’s Supper should be observed every Sunday, and that baptism involves being immersed in water for the remission of sins. If you attend a church of Christ, that should all sound pretty familiar to you.

As I said earlier, the lack of biblical knowledge that we have today is ironic, because, in Churches of Christ, our big thing, our defining characteristic is supposed to be that we make every effort possible to be the New Testament Church, and to live our lives according to the teachings of the Bible. But how can we hope to do that if so many of us know so little about what the Bible actually teaches?

The simple truth is that there’s no way that we can become mature Christians and reach our spiritual potential if we are ignorant of the teachings of Scripture!

We believe that the Bible is a special book because it is God-breathed; it’s the only book that we have that came from God! What could be a more important use of your time than devoting yourself to the reading and study of such a book?

Unfortunately, somehow we’ve developed the idea that it’s the Church’s job to teach us all the Bible we need to know. Certainly part of the Church’s job is to teach Christians, but if the only exposure to the Bible you’re getting is at Church, it’s just not enough! At the congregation where I work, we have roughly 80 minutes of Bible class time per week. Add to that another 60 minutes of sermon time per week and then do the math, and it comes out to about 120 hours, or 5 days of biblical instruction per year. That, on it’s own is not nearly enough, and that assumes that you never miss a single class or sermon!

What all this means is that if we’re going to grow to become mature Christians and reach our spiritual potential, it is going to require that we read and study the Bible outside of church.

I realize that what I’m saying doesn’t apply to everyone who is reading this; there are some who have studied the Bible for decades, and who continue to make Bible reading a part of their daily lives. But for many of us, there is a lot of room for improvement.

I read the Bible a lot, but it had been several years since I had systematically read the entire Bible through in one year. I decided to do that this year, and have been astounded by the results: so often I will be reading something else or talking to someone about a biblical topic, and I’ll think to myself, “I just read that the other day!” It has been a tremendous blessing to see different parts of my life interconnected and woven together in the shadow of the Word of God.

Let me encourage you: make a commitment today to be a person whose life is characterized by a dedication to the reading and study of Scripture. Your spiritual growth and potential depends on it.

Read your Bibles!

*I say “perhaps” because sometimes I think that the greatest problem in American Christianity is the way that we spend our money. But maybe there’s no real disagreement here: if we actually read our Bibles and listened to what Jesus said about money, it might take care of that problem too.

Product Review: ESV Single Column Journaling Bible

Just before Christmas, I became aware of Crossway’s ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, and added it to my wish list at the last minute. I received it from my in-laws, and I’m glad I did! I find it to be ideal for daily Bible reading.

In the first place, I like how sturdy it is. If you’re going to use a Bible for daily reading, it is likely to get treated fairly rough—moved around a lot, opened and closed frequently, shoved in and out of bags. I like that this Bible is hardback and has rounded corners which are less likely to get blunted or bent. Also, an elastic strap helps keep the Bible shut, which lessens the likelihood of pages getting bent or the covers being moved in a way that places shearing stress on the binding.

bible

Outside of the Bible, showing the hardback cover and elastic closing strap.

Another thing about this Bible I really appreciate is the single column reading format. Having multiple columns might be good for fitting a lot of text in a limited space, but it is less pleasing to the eye and, at least for me, more difficult to read.

bible inside

Inside of the Bible with the single column format.

This is a journaling Bible, and my favorite characteristic of it is the space for writing notes off to the side. A lot of Bibles (at least, if they are single column) provide space on the side where you can take notes. What I prefer about this Bible is that lines are provided to help keep your notes neat (for someone like me with borderline obsessive tendencies, this is a good thing), and the paper is thicker than normal Bible paper, which means you can use a variety of pens and not have to worry about them bleeding through. Currently, the Sharpie pen is my favorite, and even it doesn’t bleed through to a significant degree despite the fact that it is basically a fine-tipped marker (see the picture below).

In addition to the notes I keep as I go through my daily readings, I am also using this Bible to keep basic notes of the sermons I listed to during worship this year. I am really enjoying it so far.

notes

Here you can see some of my notes from Genesis 5-6.

Finally, the back of the Bible, though very limited on “helps” (it is, after all, a journaling Bible, not a study Bible), contains an excellent One Year Bible Reading Plan that I am using this year. I often get bogged down with Bible reading plans that just start at Genesis and slavishly plug away through the entire Bible. With this plan, every day I have a reading from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament (see below for an idea). This provides more variety in the daily readings, which is nice, and to me, helps maintain a “big picture” focus on Scripture as I go through specific verses and chapters.

reading plan

A sampling of the Bible reading plan in the back.

All in all, I love this product, and would recommend it highly. Currently, I have no significant criticisms at all.

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