Uncle Mike’s Never Fail Bible Reading Plan

For over eleven years, I was the teaching pastor of Kairos, a Tuesday night worship service for young adults at Brentwood Baptist Church. A lot of the young adults who came to Kairos were coming to their first experience of church and worship. Some of my favorite stories of my ministry come from these Tuesday nights.

And some of those stories include helping these young adults get over their fear of reading the Bible. Most of them didn’t have a Bible. Their parents had given them one when they were children, but that Bible was either back at home or long since lost. The first challenge was getting them a Bible.

So, here’s the first step in my NEVER FAIL READING plan: GET A BIBLE. Get a real Bible. You know, a real Bible with real paper pages that’s held together by leather or cloth binding. I know, you can get any number of Bible software packages and Bible apps, and these are fine; however, they can be overwhelming and distracting to beginners.

Just get a Bible—any Bible you’re comfortable with. I know scholars and theologians will argue over the best and most accurate translations, but for most of us, any of the usual translations will be fine. If it starts with Genesis and ends with Revelation, you can’t go wrong. Find one you are comfortable with and let it be your Bible.

Now, find a place and a time that will work for you most every day. No one time is going to perfect for all seven days of the week, but find a time and place—the same time and same place—where you can show up, and your body knows you’re about to start studying the Bible. We are creatures of habit, and by establishing that this is the place and time you study the Bible, your mind will prepare for studying when you begin to walk to your favorite chair. (For me, it’s my favorite chair. Your favorite place may be someplace else.)

Just find whatever place and time works for you and start showing up. That’s all. Now, here’s the good news: you’ve done better than most people by simply showing up. Most people INTEND to study their Bibles, but they never get to the place of even starting. You have shown yourself to be exceptional simply by showing up.

Now, for the hard part. Read the Bible. I want to remind you that we’re not going to read the whole Bible today. In fact, we probably won’t read the whole Bible this week. We’re going to be reading the Bible in one way or another for the rest of our lives. We’ll eventually get through it, but we’re in no rush. Some things, like a fine meal, need to be savored. Reading the Bible isn’t so much an effort to push through the text as it is a meal to be savored and experienced.

So, where do you start? Start with gospel of Mark. Mark was the first gospel written, and it’s a good way to understand the ministry and teachings of Jesus. Almost half of Mark (chapters 11-16) is about the last week of His earthly ministry. When you finish reading Mark, read it again. We only comprehend about 20% of the text the first time we read it. Read Mark until you almost know it from memory.

Read slowly. Remember we’re learning a life-long practice, not sprinting to the end of the book. When you come across a story or a verse that makes you stop and think, then stop reading and write in your journal. I’m old school on journaling, so use a paper journal and a good pen to write out your thoughts. There is something about writing longhand that engages your brain in a different way than typing things out on your computer. And if you’re worried about not having anything to say, don’t worry. Something happens when your pen hits the paper. You’ll find yourself writing things you hadn’t thought about in years. There’s a reason keeping a journal has been a highly regarded spiritual discipline for generations. The soul has a way of revealing itself in writing.

Write until you’re done. That may be 30 minutes or it may be five minutes. I’m really not interested in how long you stay in your Bible reading time. I’m more concerned with a) building a daily habit of Bible study and b) getting the Word off the pages of the Bible and into your head.

Here’s the thing about studying the Bible. Once you read the passage or story a couple of times, it stays with you. You’ll find yourself thinking about the passage while you wait on an elevator or while you’re stuck in traffic. You’ll find yourself retelling the passage to your friends during a casual conversation. In short, the Bible will become part of your life.

And that’s the whole point.

When you finish with Mark, read Matthew and Luke. Read them the same way—slowly. Then, read John. The reason you read John last is because he’s the poet of the group. He is concerned with showing what everything means. He doesn’t really care about history, so to fit his purpose or to show some important insight, he’ll purposely tell things out of order. For instance, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus cleansed the Temple on the first day of Holy Week. In John, it’s one of the first things Jesus does.

Why? Because, for John, the whole point of Jesus coming was to break down the barriers that keep us from God. John seems to be telling us that if we want to know anything about Jesus, then we need to view the entire ministry of Jesus through the lens of the Temple cleansing.

Don’t get hung up on how much you read or how fast you read. Focus on reading deeply. Christ has promised when we open His word, He’ll meet us in the pages of Scripture. How awesome to know when we open the Bible, we open the Bible in the presence of its Author. The conversations that follow promise to be life changing.

Every Day Judgment

When I was growing up, we were sure Jesus was coming back just any day. We poured over Revelation in our churches looking for signs of His return. We used calculations and sometimes even bizarre mathematic calculations to try to find out who might be the dreaded Antichrist. You’d be surprised how many people had names whose letters, when swapped out for numbers, added up to—you guessed it—666.

“You’d better be ready,” our preachers warned us, “Jesus is coming back to judge the world.” As you can imagine, that kind of anticipation exhausted our imaginations, and we went back to talking about how Jesus can help you live in the moment.

Then, I found out something. Jesus comes every day. His presence may not be announced with blaring trumpets or the splitting of the skies, but He comes just the same.

He may come and bring peace and reassurance during a tough moment of prayer.

He may come and invite me to join Him in loving a broken, confused, and lost friend.

He may come confronting me about a deeply held private sin. You know the ones. “They aren’t hurting anyone but me…” “No one knows this but me…” You know, those last private sins we hold onto…like the Oreos stuffed back in the cupboard behind everything else.

Jesus may want to talk about why I’m so slow being obedient in a particular area of my life.

I guess there are lots of reasons that would prompt Jesus to be near His children, not the least of which is we’re lonely a lot of the time. There’s something about our world that makes us feel all by ourselves even when we’re in a crowd.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned about Jesus’ coming:

  1. Learn to expect His presence. Jesus promised He wouldn’t leave us alone, and that means Jesus is close even when we can’t see Him. Why can’t we see Him? There are a lot of reasons. We get distracted. We get impatient and then give up. The biggest reason is that we haven’t trained our eyes to look for Him. Our eyes are really good at seeing what we tell them to see. Most of us have never told our eyes to look for Jesus.
  2. Learn not to be afraid of His presence. I know that sounds odd, but a lot of us are afraid of Jesus. We’re scared Jesus is going to punish us for our latest failure or condemn us for being the losers we are, but nothing could be further from the truth. His unfailing love drives Jesus to us. Even His judgment is spoken in mercy. Whenever He confronts us, it’s for our own good—for our own lives. Grace is the reason He’s coming.
  3. Learn to savor the moment. Most of us live too fast. We’re moving from this task to that one, from this meeting to that one, and when Jesus does show up, we don’t have any space or time for Him. Learn to slow down when Jesus is near. There’s a reason He’s close. Be sure you don’t miss it.

There are a hundred more things I could write, but you get the picture. Yes, one day the trumpet will sound, and skies will split open, and Christ will return in triumph. Until then, He comes quietly, but He comes. Be ready when He does.

Mind the Gap

A few weeks ago, we told the story of Barnabas going to Tarsus to find Saul (who would later become Paul) and bring him back to Antioch to teach. We’re told that for a year Paul and Barnabas taught the new disciples in Antioch.

While telling this story, I mentioned that within this story is an important lesson for those of us who follow Christ. Let’s remember Paul’s story. In Acts 9, we have the conversion story of Paul. We have a few short stories of Paul preaching and then, in fear for his life, Paul disappears. In Galatians, Paul tells us that he spent some time in the Arabian deserts studying and trying to understand what the appearance of Jesus meant to him and his new calling in the world.

In the conversion story, Paul is called to be a missionary to the Gentiles. Paul, however, doesn’t begin that ministry until chapter 11. There was some length of time-probably a long length of time-between the calling of Paul and the beginning of his ministry. There was a gap. When Paul was called to the ministry, for whatever reason, he wasn’t yet ready to engage in that ministry.

There were some things Jesus still had to do in Paul’s life. Or, there were some things Christ still had to do in the world for Paul’s preaching to be most effective. So, Paul stayed in Tarsus.

A lot of us have found ourselves in similar situations. Some of us are there now. We’ve been called to a ministry or mission, but for some reason we’re having a difficult time engaging in that ministry. Most of the time, the gap between being called to the ministry and doing that ministry is a time of preparation. Sometimes, it’s a matter of Kingdom timing. We have to remember God is working on every side of the equation. Most of the time, however, time is needed to develop the skills, knowledge, and aptitudes to do the ministry and do it well.

So, if you find yourself in this situation, most likely there is still something that needs to be addressed in your life before the ministry begins. Do a little self-inventory. Is there some character issue that would limit your effectiveness? Is there a skill you need to develop further? Is there some area of knowledge you need to develop or expand?

The gap between being called to a ministry and engaging in that ministry is a gift. Jesus gives us the time we need to do our best for Him. Don’t waste it. Don’t rush through it. Get ready.

The time will come when you won’t have time to get ready. You’ll have to be ready.

Only a Handful of Things Really Matter

In my role as pastor, I have the privilege of walking with people during their last days. I say “privilege” because most of the time it is a profound privilege to share the journey with someone as they prepare to die. Sure, there is the usual grief, sadness, anger, and deep sense of loss. There is the frustration of having wasted so much time on things that don’t matter.

And then, if time allows, there’s a turning point. A moment when the person says, “OK, the cards have been dealt. I only have so much time. I’m not going to waste a minute of it.” This part of the journey is always surprising to me. Within a matter of minutes, the person will have whittled the focus of their lives down to a handful of things. “Here are the things that matter,” they will say, “and I’m not wasting my life doing anything else.”

And they don’t. They’ll stop watching TV to engage in conversations with friends. They’ll seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness. They don’t want anything blocking their joy in their last few days. They’ll talk more about joy and less about money. They’ll stop surfing the web and not be bothered if their emails pile up. They know what matters and that’s all they’re going to do.

The funny thing is, what matters then is the only thing that matters now. Yet, few of us have the courage to live focused only on those things that matter. We get distracted by the noise of the world. We get turned around in a culture that demands we keep up with everything everywhere. But in the end, none of that matters.

And there’s no pain like the pain of realizing you’ve wasted your life on things that don’t matter.

So, what would you change today if the doctor said you only had a year to live? Go ahead and change them now. Sooner or later, the doctor will tell you that, and you’ll save time by already having your list done.