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.

You’re Not a Volunteer if You’re Called

If you ask any minister on any church staff to name the most frustrating part of the job, they’ll all say the same thing: “Working with volunteers.” The weekly routine of making sure people who agree to be somewhere are actually there and are doing what they promised they would do is the grind that frustrates most ministers to the point of looking for other ways to make a living.

If you talk with church members, they’re frustrated about the same thing. Church members are tired of being hounded by staff who need preschool workers, group leaders, teachers, ushers, and the list goes on and on. Church members are tired of being manipulated, guilt tripped, and emotionally bullied into jobs and places of service they aren’t gifted for and passionate about.

There has to be a better way—for everybody. I think there is.

Now, before I get too far down the road here, let’s be honest. Church is more like a family than a corporation. We don’t hire someone for everything that needs to be done in the church. We can’t. As a family, all of us have chores. All of us have tasks we may not enjoy, but we know we have to do for the good of the family. Sometimes we all pitch in to accomplish the work that’s before us.

Now, back to my original point.

Every church, like every person, is unique. Churches have unique callings and opportunities just like people. Christ, in His sovereignty, will bring people to a particular church who have the gifts and passions to accomplish the unique mission of that church. Church leadership should be aware of the gifts within their membership so they can better see how God is leading their church to engage in their mission.

Jesus calls us to a relationship with Him. We don’t initiate the conversation. Jesus comes to us. He calls us to Himself, and He calls us to the work. All of us have spiritual gifts to be used in the mission of the church. These gifts are ours to steward. We’re called to develop and employ our gifts for the greater good of Christ’s kingdom.

That means Christ created us and redeemed us to be somewhere and do something for Him, His church, and His kingdom. We don’t volunteer for anything. We obey. If we’re gifted to work with children, we don’t wait for the minister to call. We report for duty.

If we have the gift of teaching, we study, prepare, and present ourselves for service. We don’t wait to be found. We have a duty to engage. We were created with a purpose, and when we know that purpose, we are Spirit-empowered to accomplish that purpose.

When I first started in ministry, I got pretty good at getting people to “volunteer.” I would persuade, manipulate, guilt trip—whatever I had to do. I could get the positions filled.

But I’ve changed my mind. Too many people got burned out and were frustrated by being in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing.

Now, I talk to people about their gifts, and from there we try to find a place where those gifts can be used. People who use their gifts find the joy of being where Jesus wants them to be and doing what Jesus wants them to do. This brings an energy all its own.

I don’t think the church needs any more volunteers. I believe we need people who are called by Jesus to serve His church and kingdom. We need people who are obedient to that call.

That’s the church I want to pastor—a fellowship of the called, not simply a gathering of volunteers.

A Multi-Lingual Marriage

Several years ago, marriage therapist John Gray wrote a book titled, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. He tried to explain the difficulties and challenges of marriage by pointing out that men and women come from different planets. Women are from the planet Venus which is named after the goddess of love, and men are from Mars which is named after the god of war. According to Gray, if you understand this basic difference, you have a fighting chance of making your marriage work.

My problem with Gray’s thesis is this: he assumes men and women are from the same universe. Mars and Venus, after all, are in the same galaxy and in the same universe. Physics on Mars works the same way as it does on Venus. This hasn’t been my experience at all. What works in Jeannie’s world doesn’t work in my world at all. We’re not only on different planets, we’re not even in the same universe!

Jeannie is very different than me. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I love all of her differences! I will say, however, it took me a long time to understand just HOW different she is from me. She looks at the world differently than I do. She uses words differently than I do. She uses silences differently than I do. I finally understood Jeannie has her own language, and if I was going to be a good husband, I had to learn to speak her language. I had to learn to speak “Jeannie-ese.”

Couples complain that the other person doesn’t talk to them. A wife will say her husband never talks to her. When I confront the husband about being non-verbal, he’s usually shocked. He’ll tell me he talks to his wife all of the time. She just doesn’t listen.

The truth is he does talk to her. The problem is he’s talking to her in HIS language. She doesn’t understand his language. (Funny, any guy would understand exactly what the husband was saying.) If she’s going to learn to talk to him, the wife is going to have to learn his language. (Yes, grunts count as entire words.)

And if he’s going to understand his wife, he’s going to have to learn to speak her language. (Sometimes, she’ll say, “OK, that’s fine” when it isn’t. A well-trained marriage linguist will recognize the difference.)

Husbands, if you love your wife, learn to speak her language. Sure, she needs to learn your language, but understand that anytime someone wants to speak something deeply important, they always go to their heart language. So, if you really want to know what matters to her, you’ll need to speak her language.

And wives, when he wants to say something important, he’ll speak in his language. Make sure you know what he’s saying.

Learn his language. Learn her language. Every marriage is multi-lingual.