big, improbable ideas

This week I read a statistic that troubled me. On the YouVersion app, which populates different Bible reading plans and similar resources, a reading plan covering the theme of “justice” in the Bible has a 70% user completion rate.

The problem? It’s only a three-day plan.

That is, only 70% of people who sign up for a reading plan that will take three days can actually follow through on those three days.

It’s not surprising. We all know that our attention spans are shrinking, our lives are getting busier, and longform content is becoming less and less popular. We’d rather get the one-minute summary video with an eye-catching slideshow than take in the full depth and breadth of a topic. But it is still troubling.

One of the biggest projects I’ve created through this blog so far is a plan to read through the Bible in 180 days. If 30% of people won’t follow through for three days, how many will still be in it at the end of 180? One percent? Less?

Part of me fears that my vision is too big. It’s too much to expect of people, to read through the whole Bible. It takes too long. They don’t want to do it. They’re too busy. They’re too distracted. It’s one of those lovely, big ideas that I should probably pass off as improbable, if not impossible.

And I know that IT IS a hard task. I myself took this year off from Bible180, because it’s a big investment of time, energy, and brainspace to read through the whole Bible in such a concentrated amount of time. But whether you try to read the Bible in seven days, 180 days, or 365 days - it’s still going to be a really big book that requires really big commitment. We can’t distill it down to a one-minute video and still capture the beauty and complexity of who God is and what He has done.

And I know this, too: There are people that have completed Bible180 from beginning to end. Some of them within the 180-day timeframe, some of them taking a bit longer, but they’ve done it. I know who they are. They’ve shared with me how it has impacted them. Even the ones who made it to Deuteronomy, or to Jeremiah, or to the end of the Old Testament - they experienced transformation, too.

There is a pressure to make things easier. Faster. More bite-size, accessible, watered down. There are plenty of voices telling me I have too many big, improbable ideas - that nobody wants to do that much work.

But I contend that some of us are hungry to put in the work.

Some of us are hungry for the dense, nutritious meat of the Word. Some of us - probably more of us than anyone realizes - have been on a diluted diet for far too long, and we long to know God in His richness. His depth.

Maybe it isn’t about whether I can keep 500 people on task to read through the Bible that matters. Maybe it’s about whether the five or ten or twenty of them that were truly starving get fed.

The Bible school that I attended in Florida attracts one, maybe two dozen students every year. Not the hundreds or thousands that other institutions can boast. But the ones that uproot their lives to spend their days marinating in the fullness of the Bible, the ones that put dollars and hours behind their desire to learn from its every page whether they ever reap a tangible return on the investment or not - these are just one example of the truly hungry. And when the truly hungry seek after what can truly satisfy, they will be filled - even as their appetites are whetted for more.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6

We’re all in different places in our walks with Jesus. Some of us need the milk-based diet - we are babies and we need someone else to hold the spoon. Some of us have been stuck on milk for a bit too long, but haven’t yet identified our real need for something different. Some of us have long outgrown the liquid diet and our souls are crying out for more substantial nutrition - and the skills to feed ourselves - to fuel our growth.

There’s a good place for cutting things up into bite-size pieces. But to the fear that I have too many big, improbable ideas that “no one” will ever want to partake in, I say that’s not true. Because I am someone, and I am starving, and I know that I am not the only one.

Are you one of the hungry ones? I’d love to hear about your experience with the Bible and what you feel is missing from your current spiritual “diet.” Leave me a comment below!

(The photos in this post were taken on a recent hike to McCall Point, Columbia River Gorge.)

who do you say that I am?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible - and one I’ve written about several times before - is the disciple Peter’s confession of the Christ in Matthew 16.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19

I think this story has especially hit home for me in the last year or two, because wherever I go and whatever I do, I seem to hear echoes of the same question: “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a query that inevitably becomes louder and more urgent when life grows darker and more uncertain, because the answer holds the key to everything - literally. As A.W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Why is that? Because how we define our God, how we identify Him, will inevitably define and identify us.

It was only when Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” that Jesus replied, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”

Peter’s whole identity hinged on how he identified his Lord, right down to his future calling, his spiritual power, his brazen courage, and his eternal hope.

How we see God is an inextricable part of our identities. Are we going to be people of fear who see God as angry and vindictive? People of shame who see God as distant and judgmental? Or people of faith who know that God is, for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend, truly compassionate toward every facet of our being and lovingly sovereign over even the minute details of our lives?

God has been asking me: “Who do you say that I am?” I thought I had answered this question before, but in reality I was still answering the first question - “Who do people say that I am?”

People say You are Yahweh, the perfectly loving and perfectly holy God of Israel and King of the universe. That’s what I’ve always learned, that’s what I read in the Bible, that’s what I was told in Bible school.

“But who do you say that I am?”

I wish that my answer to this question was always as confident as the other - even when I’m lost in worry and fear, or even when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow. But many times it isn’t (and clearly, if we keep reading in the Gospels, neither was Peter’s).

I may not achieve a perfect, unfailing faith in this life, but there is one place I know that I can turn when my answer to this question is shaky or, God forbid, untrue. And that is to the Word of God where He has chosen to reveal who He is - where He has painted a picture of His character using the vivid colors of His beautiful attributes.

I believe that the Bible is the story of who God is. That’s why I value it so much, and why I am still hungry to read it after six years of nonstop study. I am hungry for the true answer to this all-important question - the answer that never fails, even when I do.

How we see God is an inextricable part of our identities. Are we going to be people of fear who see God as angry and vindictive? People of shame who see God as distant and judgmental? Or people of faith who know that God is, for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend, truly compassionate toward every facet of our being and lovingly sovereign over even the minute details of our lives?

Who do YOU say that He is?

Maybe God is asking you this question too. Maybe you don’t know your answer. If that’s the case, I’d love to have you join me in reading through the Bible in 2019. It’s a 180-day challenge that will guide you from Genesis to Revelation with a focus on who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. You can sign up easily below, or learn more by clicking here.

how to study the Bible (step one)

I think I know you.

You know it's important that you spend time in the Bible. And you know that you want to - you have the desire to know and understand God's Word, to abide in it with day by day consistency, to study it for yourself.

But life hits you the moment you get out of bed in the morning, and somehow it just doesn't get done, or maybe you sit down with your Bible open and all the great intentions of the world just to discover that you have no idea where to begin.

And believe me, you're not alone.

I have gone to Bible school, earned a certificate in Biblical Studies, taught the Bible to others, and studied the Bible on my own for the past five years since - and it still happens to me.

There are still so many days when I have every intention of studying and learning and hearing from God, only to find that it slips out of priority when regular life hits. Or days when I find myself sprawled in bed with my Bible, flipping aimlessly through the pages overwhelmed by the sheer size of it, wondering where on earth I should start.

The first step:

This week, I've been pouring my spare hours into organizing the systems that I personally use to study the Bible and its different genres of literature on my own. These are the systems that I fall back on almost automatically when I'm reading, the steps I take to make sure I'm understanding and not just skimming a lot of words. And even though each system is different depending on which book of the Bible I happen to be reading, they all have one thing in common: the first step.

Every single one of my Bible study techniques starts like this:

Step One: Start at the beginning.

The very beginning.

The "in the beginning" beginning.

The study of every single book of the Bible should begin with your understanding of the whole story of the Bible.

You can't hope to interpret Exodus accurately if you don't know where the story started. You can't begin to understand the teachings of Christ in the Gospels if you don't have a grasp of the long history of Israel in the Old Testament. You will be lost (and probably afraid or depressed) in Revelation if you aren't aware of the epic spiritual saga that has preceded it.

There's a reason I had barely hit the ground in Florida to start Bible school before we spent a solid week reading the Bible from cover to cover. (Yes, one week.) You simply can't start an in-depth study of the Scriptures any other way.

The Bible is a story.

It's not a moral handbook, a self-help guide, or a church rulebook.

It's a story - the incredible story of who God is and what He has done.

And you don't read a story by skipping around from chapter to chapter, cherry-picking here and underlining there. You start at the beginning and read it as a whole. And then you can dive deep.

So if you've never read it like that, that's where I encourage you to begin.

There are a lot of plans and tools out there. You can do the one-year plan, the chronological plan, or just sit down and start. I prefer the Bible180 plan that I've done a couple of times now, because it moves quickly enough that Genesis is still pretty fresh in my mind by the time I hit Revelation - and because it helps SO much to know that there are others doing it alongside me!

Join us

I'm starting Bible180 again this coming January. If you do want to know the Bible, if you want to feel comfortable studying it on your own (and a lot deeper than "what stands out to me? how do I feel about this?"), this is where I recommend that you begin - with a clearly outlined daily reading plan and a little bit of accountability. :)

(And if I can survive reading it in a week, then you can definitely handle 180 days!)