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Can You Finish Strong?

Earlier this week, Pastor Mark, his cousin Todd, Andrew and I all went to an event called “Pins for Pastors”. It was a day of bowling and fellowship that was sponsored by a national broadcasting company.

But I have to be honest: I am a terrible bowler. When I bowl (which is not very often), my score is usually around a 90. During the Pins for Pastors event this week, I started out with a few good frames, but I quickly slid back into my usual results. Towards the end, I was knocking down only one pin at a time or throwing a complete gutter ball.

We bowled three full games and by the time the final frame came around, I just wanted it to be over. But I also wanted to give it my best effort, even though at the end, it wouldn’t really make a difference.

So I relaxed, addressed the lane, stepped forward, and swung the ball.

Strike.

And again.

Strike.

And again.

Strike.

I was in shock; I had never bowled three strikes in a row in my entire life.

I was very lucky in that last frame, but putting my luck aside, those three strikes helped me realize something: it did matter how I finished the game. We can always finish strong, no matter what has happened in the past. The end is so important because how we reach the finish line, in many ways, is the part that counts.

We can finish strong in a marriage that has not been everything it could have been.

We can finish strong in relationships that have been neglected.

We can finish strong in a job or a ministry that has not reached its full potential.

We can finish strong in faith even though we have been distant from God.

We can finish strong in a life that has not been fully lived.

We can finish strong.

5 Ways to Go Deeper in the Bible

Last week, we explored 4 Suggestions to Start Reading the Bible Today. But if you have been a regular Bible reader for awhile now, you might be looking to reach the next level. Or perhaps your Bible time has become dry and you would like to find new enthusiasm for the Bible. Here are five ways to help you dive deeper into the Bible.

First, try a different translation. I know of one person who reads the entire Bible each year, but changes translations each year so it doesn’t feel as repetitive and dry. As I wrote last week, don’t let the fear of using the “wrong” translation keep you stuck in a rut. Many people prefer one translation, and there is nothing wrong with that, but a new translation can help you to actually read the text, and not just skim over familiar passages and stories. Different translations can make old favorites seem fresh and new.

Even if you read a translation you dislike or disagree with, it can help reignite your passion for the Bible. I was listening to an audio version of the Message some years ago and I remember thinking “did that really happen?” about a particular section. Later that day, I checked a more familiar translation and sure enough, the event did happen but the Message had a different way of describing it. Not only did I hear the Bible differently, but it led me to do more research and piqued my interest.

Second, bathe your Bible reading in prayer. The Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds to understand the Bible. Reading the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like cleaning without using soap. Reading the Bible without prayer misses the point of reading the Bible; all you will get is knowledge, but not wisdom or faith. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Bible and transform you.

Third, read a whole chapter at a time. I know I suggested this in my previous post, but I believe it is so important I wanted to mention it again. If you are already reading at least a chapter in one sitting, then try for multiple chapters; you could even read a whole book in one sitting!

I am not trying to torture you, I promise. My goal here is to get you thinking in terms of chapters (or whole books) instead of individual verses. Reading large sections of the Bible at one time clarifies the connections between events or ideas. The Book of Judges is a great example. Even though there are individual times of redemption and rescue for Israel in Judges, the overall trajectory and theme of the book is that Israel is sliding deeper and deeper into sin. They have some victories, but over time, they are getting much worse. The book of Romans is another great example; each chapter builds on the previous until Paul caps his argument by calling his readers to be living sacrifices.

Fourth, do character studies instead of word studies. Word studies are very valuable and worthwhile, but if you would like to try something new, study a single character in the Bible. The Gospels are essentially character studies of Jesus; the book of 1 Samuel is a character study of Saul and David.

Minor characters might be the easiest to start with, since they have less material written about them. You could try Jonah, Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8), Joseph (the father of Jesus), Adam or Eve to begin a character study. Larger studies might include Moses, Job, Abraham, or Joshua. You could also try characters you might not be familiar with like the OT kings Josiah or Hezekiah.

Finally, share your experience with others. We live and learn in a community. Talk about what you are reading and how it is affecting you with a friend. Join a small group or Bible study that interests you where you can share thoughts and ideas from your reading time. You could write a blog about all the insights you gain from reading Scripture. You could also share on Facebook, but remember: many people are already posting Bible verses, so make sure yours stand out by describing how the Bible is shaping your mind, heart, and life. Your posts are less likely to get lost in the shuffle and you open the door for some great conversations.

4 Suggestions to Start Reading the Bible Today

How is your New Year’s Resolution going? I commented to my Sunday morning class that I think eating less and reading the Bible more probably lead the list of things Christians want to do better in the new year. Hopefully you are still motivated and committed to whatever goals you set for yourself in 2015. If not, remember you are definitely in good company! Most people abandon their goals for the new year by the end of January.

If you want to read more of the Bible in 2015, let me offer a few suggestions to help make that goal easier to reach. Today I will be offering some suggestions for beginners (those who do not read the Bible on a regular basis). Next week I will offer some suggestions for those who do read the Bible regularly, but who want to reach the next level or refresh and revitalize their reading time.

First, pick a translation that is appealing to you; don’t feel like you have to slug through a translation you don’t enjoy. Don’t worry about getting the most literally accurate Bible; your first goal is just to get reading. Here is a link to the 10 most popular translations (based on dollars and number of Bibles sold). Many new readers have enjoyed the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and I have found both very easy to read. Biblegateway.com provides a wealth of different translations you can try for free before needing to purchase a new Bible.

Second, pick a genre that is appealing to you. Genre means the type of literature you are reading. Many well-intentioned people start in Genesis, hit the long genealogies (so and so begat so and so), and lose interest. Find a place that is appealing to you. Unless you love reading legal documents, you probably don’t want to start with Leviticus.

If you enjoy poetry, start with the Psalms or Proverbs. If you enjoy history or just love stories, start with 1 and 2 Samuel, Nehemiah, or the early part of Exodus; you could also try any of the Gospels or Acts. If you enjoy theology, try Romans or 1 and 2 Corinthians. If you want practical advice on Christian living, start with Ephesians, James, or 1 John.

Third, make sure to find a time that works for you. I have discovered if I don’t do my Bible reading before I get ready for work, it will almost certainly not get done. As I am resting after my early morning exercise, I read Scripture and pray. A friend of mine does his reading as part of his evening routine. You could take a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break at work and read the Bible. Whatever works for you… as long as it actually works for you.

Finally, read a whole chapter at a time. You might have to work up to this, but there are very real benefits to reading a whole chapter in a sitting. Granted, some of the chapters are pretty long, but most of them can be completed in 10 minutes or less.

The benefit is you will begin to see the Bible as a collection of chapters instead of just a collection of verses. Even if the chapter is divided into different sections, each chapter is a coherent thought, idea, or story. The surrounding context (the chapter) is critical to understanding each verse and to understanding each book as a whole. Reading whole chapters in one sitting will train your mind to remember Scripture by chapters rather than cherry picked verses.

I hope this is helpful! What suggestions would you add for people wanting to read more of the Bible?