3 Reasons to Use a Bible Reading Plan for 2016

Have you thought about your new years resolutions? For the Christian, no better goal exists than to plan to regularly intake God's word. The consumption of God's word is essential for any believer who wishes to grow in godliness (and every believer will!) If you fail to shape your life by God's inspired word, spiritual growth is impossible. Paul's words to Timothy still ring true today, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16, ESV). So I want to encourage you to consider using a Bible Reading plan for 2016. If you've never used one, they can provide many benefits and it will help you grow in your knowledge and understanding of God's word this year. Here are three benefits in using a Bible reading plan. 0e3903491_1418914301_blog-bible-reading-helps-for-the-new-year

1. Bible Reading Plans Provides Built in Accountability

A Bible reading plan helps keep you accountable to your Bible reading by letting you know when you've fallen behind. It helps you stay accountable to yourself and possibly to others. Doing a Bible reading plan with your family or with some members of your church can help provide group accountability to the discipline of Scripture reading.

However, one word of caution. Do not let guilt plague you when you miss a few days. It happens to everyone at times, and when you fall behind don't succumb to discouragement and give up. Rather, think of each day as a new day, catch up if possible, but if not it is not a big deal. The goal is not to check off a box or complete a plan, but to develop and maintain the habit of regular scripture intake. Forgive yourself when you fail, pick up your Bible, and begin anew.

2. Bible Reading Plans Track Your Progress

When you are utilizing a Bible reading plan you will be amazed at how much Scripture you can work through. When you have a written game plan for your Bible reading, you can look back over the progress you've made. Are you a little bogged down in your reading of Ezekiel? Look back on your plan and remind yourself of God and his faithfulness who got you to this point.

3. Bible Reading Plans Diversify Your Bible Reading

The Bible is God's word, yet there are always personal favorite passages. Perhaps its the Gospel of John or Paul's letters or the Proverbs. All of God's word is good and profitable. Yet, we must seek to engage with ALL of God's word not just our favorite passages. A Bible reading plan forces you to diversify your Bible reading as you pick up the book of Lamentations or Leviticus. You need to encounter the full counsel of God's word, and a Bible reading plan will keep you from only studying your "hobby" passages.

[Tweet "A Bible reading plan forces you to diversify your reading."]

Bible Reading Plans Are Easier than Ever

It is easier than ever to find a Bible reading plan. With the advent of Bible smartphone apps you can manage your Bible reading plan on your phone. In addition, you can find a plethora of different types of plans just with a simple google search. However, here are a few tips as you find the right plan for you.

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew. If you are new to the spiritual discipline of Bible intake, don't start off with a plan that takes you through the whole Bible in 3 months. Rather, pick a plan that involves reading 1-3 chapters a day.
  • Find a plan that takes you through the whole Bible. You can read the whole Bible with just a few chapters each day. Many plans will take you through the whole Bible atleast once.
  • Keep it Simple. Your plan doesn't need to be complicated. One time I tried a Bible reading plan that involved reading 10 chapters from 10 different places in the Bible. Needless to say the complexity and scale of the plan didn't bode well. I switched to a simpler one after a few weeks.
  • Remember, the goal is spiritual formation not puffed-up information. The goal is not to simply get through the plan, but the plan exists to help daily conform you to God's word. As a result, pray and ask the Lord for help in finding the right Bible reading plan for you and begin each day in prayer asking for God to reveal more of himself each time you pick up your Bible.

As you prepare for 2016, I hope you will consider a Bible reading plan, and that your Scripture reading for 2016 would propel you (with the Spirit's help) to incredible spiritual growth.

Ligonier just posted a great comprehensive post for Bible Reading plans for 2016 with PDF copies for print. You can check them out here

Not Your Typical Manger Scene

When December arrives trees go up, decorations are strung, and gifts are purchased to celebrate the Christmas season. We go to party after party, eating cookie after cookie, to celebrate with our co-workers and friends. The busyness of Christmas hums along and it often isn’t until this week, the week of Christmas that things begin to slow down a bit. As kids get out of school, the Christmas parties complete, and the shopping list checked-off, now we can truly reflect on what makes Christmas so absolutely astonishing—the incarnation of God. christmas-jesus-pictures-hhmj99kf

The Mystery of the Incarnation

When we look to the Gospel we are astonished by its beauty and mystery. Yet, perhaps the most mysterious things is what actually happens on that first Christmas. God became a man. The Great I Am permanently wedded himself to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. The son entered into his creation and was born in the most humblest yet extraordinary of circumstances.

Consider how demeaning it was for the eternal God to become a man. God has existed as trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit for all of eternity. But yet, in order to save us, God became one of us. Immanuel is his name. God decided to step into his creation. He stooped down from the glory heaven and entered into the earth as a man. At Jesus’ incarnation, the transcendent God becomes the immanent God. He becomes one of us.

Yet, the transcendent, majestic God of the universe stepped from the splendor of heaven and put on flesh and dwelt among us. Perhaps the greatest mystery in the whole Bible is the incarnation of Christ! Who could of imagined that God would do such a thing? To put on humanity would seem to be beneath him, but yet the God of love came to serve us by becoming one of us.

It Was Not a Silent Night

We tend to romanticize that first Christmas. Our manager scenes in our homes are quaint and clean. The reality of that night was different than the picture in our heads. Jesus came in a filthy stable, littered with the stench of animal excrement, and the rumbling noise of a barn. The arrival of Jesus wasn’t spectacular, but of lowliest proportions. That’s exactly what made it so extraordinary, God arrived into his creation not on a throne made of gold but a manager made of wood. The Christ-child came in the most unsanitary of conditions. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”[1. Isaiah 53:2, ESV]

On Andrew Peterson’s incredible Christmas Album Behold the Lamb of God there is a beautiful track called Labor of Love the opening verse goes like this:

It was not a silent night

There was blood on the ground

You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night

On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean

And the cobblestones were cold

And little Mary full of grace

With the tears upon her face

Had no mother’s hand to hold

But yet, this was the way Jesus came to save. He came not as an entitled king, but the humblest of servants. Jesus did not come for the elite, he came for the nobodies, the rejects, and the failures. God, filled with empathy for his creation, identifies with us and becomes one of us. Immanuel is his name.

Remember, that Christ humbled himself in this way and took a form of a servant, for you and for me. By far the greatest gift we’ve ever received was the gift of God that first Christmas morning. It was the gift of himself. Do you know him? Have you experienced his love? Have you accepted him or have you rejected him? He suffered for you. He was lowly for you. He serves you. Glory in such truths as we worship the Christ child this Christmas.

You are Too Rich to be a Scrooge

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. At least, that’s how the song goes. As I’m getting older, it seems like Christmas keeps coming around faster and faster. The Scrooge in within me sometimes utters, “Bah Humbug, Christmas again?” Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has become a classic story at Christmas time. It has been adapted many times to film. Towards the beginning of the story, Scrooge has a conversation with his nephew. His nephew comes into his office and says Merry Christmas! Scrooge responds, “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” His nephew joyfully responds, “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Too-Rich-to-be-a-Scrooge-Post-Image

As Christians, we are too rich not to be merry this time of year. Though we might not have earthly wealth, we have been blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavenly places. We have been lavished with the riches of God’s grace. Because, for those in Christ, we understand the true significance and the true wonder of Christmas: the light of the world has come and that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Jesus not only enters into the darkness, but he overcomes the darkness! He slays our enemy. He rescues us from destruction. He absolves the darkness. How does Jesus overcome the darkness? Here are four ways Jesus overcomes the darkness.

1. He overcomes through his life as he is unstained by the darkness.

Every potential hero that emerges in the Old Testament falls victim to the darkness. No matter how much good they do, there are always horrible failures. From Abraham to Moses to David, no one is righteous, no not one. Yet, Jesus, the son of God, enters as the light of the world and he is unstained by the darkness. He does not succumb to temptation, but rather he overcomes it. Though tempted in ever way as we are, he is without sin. Where we all fail to meet the demands of God’s righteous law, Jesus fulfilled it. He fulfilled it not only through outward obedience, but through the internal motivations of his heart. He is holy, undefiled by sin. Where the first Adam fell to temptation in the garden of Eden, the new and better Adam in the Garden of Gethsemane crushed the serpent and overcome temptation. Jesus, the good son and the true Israel, obeyed where others failed. Throughout his life Jesus was unstained by the darkness.

2. He overcomes through his death as he is swallowed up by the darkness.

The perfect son of God was sent into this world as the light of the world, to die in the place of sinners. At the cross Jesus was swallowed up by the darkness, though he remains light. It was there on the cross that the full penalty for sin was poured out on Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). So Jesus paid the penalty for our rebellion. He paid the price for our ransom. By his stripes we are healed. Matthew tells us in his Gospel that at the time of Jesus’ death darkness covered the whole land, indicating God’s judgment on his son as he bore the punishment for sin. Jesus overcame as he willingly laid down his life and was engulfed in the darkness of the cross—which is the great display of human sin and God’s judgment of it.

3. Jesus overcomes through his resurrection as he defeats the darkness.

The glory of the light of the world is that he did not stay dead. Though he was swallowed by the darkness, he was not defeated by it. Rather, on the third day he rose again in victory in resurrected new life. The suffering servant overcame and our great enemy was defeated. The lamb of God who was slain rose as the victorious lion of Judah. Yes, he died, but he rose again! The grand plan of God fixes the broken world through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

4. Jesus overcomes through his return as he achieves victory over the darkness.

Just as the light of the world entered into the world the first time as a baby born in Bethlehem, so too will the resurrected Jesus return at the end of days. He has put the fatal blow on sin and death, but will one-day return to establish his kingdom on the earth, defeating the powers of darkness once and for all. The consummation of his kingdom is coming. This is so important because the significance of the first advent can only be understood in light of the second. Jesus’ first coming is so important, because it points us to his final coming. The King will return for his throne. The husband will come back for his bride. The light will remove the darkness.

You’re Rich Enough to be Merry

Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? Even now as we sit in the sorrows of our suffering, isn’t our hope in Christ? Even now as we may groan in pain, our hope is in the light of the world who will return in victory over the darkness! Yes, darkness may surround us now, but the victory is already one. The light of the world has come and defeated sin and death, and he will come again. The significance of the first advent can only be understood in light of the second. This Christmas, you may be wondering is God fixing this broken world? The answer is yes—look at Bethlehem. Look at the God of light who became one of us to rescue us. The baby boy Jesus is the crucified son of God. The crucified son of God is the resurrected King. The resurrected King is the rider on the white horse who brings about the victory of the God!

So I’m not sure if you are in the Christmas spirit or not. Perhaps today you feel a bit like Scrooge inquiring, “What have you to be merry about, your poor enough, your suffering enough, you’re in pain enough, your hurting enough?” If you are a Christian this morning, I would simply reply back to you the same way Scrooge’s nephew replied to him, “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” For, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it.”

Two Ways to Roar the Flame of Your Sizzling Heart

The human heart is a strange creation. Its beautiful yet so greatly distorted from the Fall from the creators intentions. How much of our emotions, feelings, and affections have been twisted due to sin? Within my own heart the struggle for holy motivation can be a perplexing struggle.  Like Paul in Romans 7, what I continually wish I would do I have no desire for. Though I rationally understand I should seek the things of God, my heart almost buckles in confused anxiety at the task. The roaring furnace of affections for Jesus seem to diminish to a cooling ember. The longer I live as a human being and the longer I live as a Christian, I find myself convinced of my own depravity. The more I grow in holiness the more I'm also aware of my own sinfulness. I'm convinced that I must desire God and long for him, but how can I force myself when I don't? Isn't that the bondage of ritualistic legalism? Can I conjure up desire for God when I feel apathetic towards him? Is the Christian life a continual struggle for desire?

I believe Jonathan Edwards was right when he argued that "true religion consists in great part in holy affections". Within my person the affections are what fuels my thoughts, actions, and motives. My affections are what propels me.  Because of my own sinfulness, left apart from Christ my sinful heart leads me to destruction, but thanks be to God that I'm given new affections alongside a regenerated heart!

Though I possess these new affections, as I've been born again, the old affections come up time and again. Regularly I find my desires for the things of this world creep into attempt to overtake my desire for Christ.  The fight for the Christian life is within – between the old man and the new.  To die to self is the great calling of every Christian, and it is a calling only able to be achieved by divine grace.

So what are we to do when the old affections seem to suffocated the new? How do we wage ware against the old man? Let me share with you two primary ways.

1. Get on Your Knees in Prayer

First, we must get on our knees.  Because our new affections for Christ come from a heart regenerated by the Spirit, we must pray for revival within our own hearts.  We must fall on our face and cry out for divine mercies anew.  Though we desire him not, we must call out to the one we hope to desire.  And he is faithful to help his poor children have hearts which long for him. The hungry poverty-stricken sinner is filled with the righteousness of holy affections a fresh.  Yet, prayer is the means God has ordained to give them to us, because the prayer of desperate and pleading faith glorifies God as we express our dependency.  God gives grace to the humble. Those who come to him empty-handed as beggars will quickly find their hearts revived yet again by divine grace.

2. Kindle Your Heart with the Scriptures

Second, we should kindle our hearts with the word of God. Though sometimes our hearts grow cold, we need them lit again. Though we cannot start the fire of passionate desire for God (only the Spirit can do such work), we can set the kindling of his word around us. Often when we begin to pick up our Bibles or read through the Psalms, the Spirit comes to set ablaze our hearts.  The Spirit works alongside the Bible. The Bible kindles our affections, preparing for the Spirit to renew and refresh our weary hearts.

So if you are struggling this day to desire God and if the old man seems to be overcoming the new, get on your knees and saturate your heart in the word.  You will find that as you do, in time God will send the fire of heaven to your soul to light your affections ablaze again.  The wind of the Spirit will blow upon the cooling embers of your heart and cause the flame to roar again.

Don't Lose Your Appetite for Grace

When I find something new I like to eat, I eat it till I’m sick of it. Whether it is a new restaurant or a new snack I devour it till a lose my appetite for it. I experienced this recently with Chick-Fil-A. For a myriad of reasons I went to Chick-fil-a about five different times that week. Now I love Chick-fil-a, but by the end of that week the thought of waffle fries and chicken nuggets made me queasy. Why? Well our bodies are designed in such a way to encourage us to eat a variety of foods for our health, and a consistent diet of friend chick nuggets just doesn’t seem to be a healthy diet. We all need food to live, but there is something we need much more, the grace of God. We are dependent upon it not just the hour we first believed, but every moment sense. We are not only saved by God’s grace, we are sustained by it. Yet, I think there is a huge danger in our Christian life to begin to be so accustomed to consuming God’s grace that we lose our appetite for it. Each day we wake afresh in desperate need of God’s mercy, yet like so many other things, we begin to take for granted what we’ve been given. The beautiful truth of the Gospel can become to us something we take for granted or worse, something we feel entitled too. It is vital for us that each day as we live in God’s mercy that we beg for our souls to be awakened to the costly beauty of that mercy.

The grace we are given was incredibly costly. We are sinners, wretched and wicked, have been saved. We do not deserve mercy, grace, or forgiveness yet God has made a way and this through His son. Jesus entered into this world on a rescue mission to save sinners. He did this by going to the cross in our place, laying down his life as a sacrifice for our sins. At the cross Jesus absorbs our punishment and our condemnation and he justifies us before the Father. All of this is undeserved and all of this by grace. We who deserve death have been given life.

Christian, do not become so accustomed to the grace of God that you cease to be in awe of it. Do not let a day go pass where you sit in awe over these glorious truths and of God’s divine love for you. We daily consume his mercies each day as he sustains us in the faith, and as the decades pass may our awe of Him be ever-increasing. May our appetite for divine grace be ever-increasing and ever-growing, longing for more of Jesus. May those who have had their hunger satisfied by God always be hungering for more of God. In the words of Jesus “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”.