30 Day Gospels: An Invitation

If [the things Jesus did] were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books. –John 21:25, The Message

Which book has been most influential in your life?

I’m a BIG reader and I can recommend any number of books, classic and contemporary, fiction and non. But for me, the “most influential” is, was, and always will be: The Bible.

The Bible, Genesis through Revelation, has been my source book, telling me who I am, who God is, and how I fit in this world. It has been my go-to for wisdom, not “What should I do today?” but “How should I live?”

The Bible has been my story book, my children’s story book, my history book, text book, and reference book. At times I have neglected the Bible – frustrated with life, God, the Church, or just plain too busy. Other times, I’ve taken my fight with God to Scripture and found consolation there among biblical characters who also wrestled with God (the Psalms especially are great for that, as well as for offering comfort).

I have no idea how many times I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read it cover-to-cover and I’ve read it in the chronological order in which it was written. My favorite way to read it is to follow a reading plan that always keeps me on track even when I skip a day or five.

I’ve been reading and studying the Bible for most of my life and, truth be told, sometimes I get bored. I know the stories by heart and I can tell you what many of them mean to me.

So sometimes I need a nudge to keep reading. Maybe you do, too.

This year I set a goal to interact with different versions of the Bible to shake up my reading and potentially bring new things to light. During Lent 2020 I hung out in The Jesus Storybook Bible, my very favorite children’s Bible which I recommend to more adults than children for its gorgeous way with words and art.

During September I read from The Message as I followed author Annie F. Downs‘s plan to read the Gospels in 30 days. Yes, I skipped a few days because life has its own plans. Some days I read simply because I had committed to do so.

And other days words jumped off the page at me. Like in Matthew 2:11 when it says that the scholars from the East, upon seeing baby Jesus in Mary’s arms, were “overcome.” I’m so familiar with Jesus that I forget to be overcome by Him. I long to be overcome, not by the day’s realities but by Jesus’ loving presence.

Or in these crazy-chaotic pandemic-political times, when it’s so easy to feel depleted and to dread each day’s news, I’m thrilled to read that “Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid'” (Matthew 14:27) and that “…your sadness will develop into gladness” (John 16:20). Right about now I can use a hefty dose of courage and the hope that gladness will be on its way.

So I’ll be reading through the Gospels again in October and I invite you to join me. I haven’t yet decided which version of the Bible I’ll read (what’s your favorite, or how do you shake things up?). I expect, like always, some days will be dull and other days new word, phrases, or images will leap off the page…because God’s Word is alive with insight, and oh how I need the presence of Jesus during this unusual time in which we live.

from Annie F. Downs

What I Didn’t Pack

Today’s guest post comes from a dear friend. Guy and I were in a church Community Group with Brad and his wife Shawn; for many years we and another few couples met regularly to discuss God’s Word and pray together. We also shared a lot of life, good food and drink, service and outreach, and knit ourselves together as family. Brad is a deep thinker who works out his faith on his feet. I love that this challenge to create nudged him deeper in faith, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Create Challenge #35: Brad White

bwhite-hiMy wife and I just returned from our annual anniversary vacation. We celebrated our first incredible nine years together and are looking forward to many more nine’s. Hawaii is a beautiful place to celebrate and a great place to reflect. It is here where my blog contribution finally came to me.

Getting ready for vacation can be stressful. Right? What to pack? What not to pack? How will this look with this? Are we carrying on or are we checking? “Are you going to golf this year?” “Are you bringing long pants?” All of these questions must be answered. I am pleased to say that I packed light, did not pack a pair of long pants, and wore shorts to dinner every night.

This contribution is not at all about what I did pack but what I did not pack and missed. You see, my friends, I claim to be a man of faith and try to live the right way and practice what Jesus teaches. Yet, when it comes to taking God on vacation, did I pack Him? In my heart yes, but in my practice I did not. Did I need a vacation from Him? No Way! I just didn’t make Him important.

When I start my day in the Word—either in my devotional or other readings—I seem to get grounded and off to a great start. So why did I not pack my devotional and Bible? It was right there on the nightstand. Was it a conscious decision? No. It was not like I said, “You are staying here this week.” It was more like getting my head wrapped around all the other stuff that really doesn’t matter.

My friend Patrick Bradley and I talked about this while we were in Hawaii. Patrick and his lovely wife Lisa are good friends of ours. We met them three years ago on vacation and have vacationed together twice since. Patrick and Lisa are Christians and Patrick is deeply into the Word.

Coming home I was determined to get into my devotional to see what I missed and how I could have used it.

Thursday, October 20 “Confident in the Father” Perhaps if I had read this the flight would not have been so stressful knowing that one of our stores had just discovered asbestos in the flooring and it was going to delay an opening. Did I pray? Did I turn the stress over to God? Did I read this and know that He had me and this situation?

Friday, October 21 “Our Choice to Love” The One who had chosen to love created one who could love in return. Now it’s our choice. Did I show love and compassion to a stranger today?

Saturday, October 22 “Do Something” Did I do something to demonstrate my devotion? Did I pray, teach, go, write a letter? No, I held a table at the bar for three hours so we could have a great view of the TV to watch the Cubs beat the Dodgers. Some will say God is a Cub’s fan…!

Sunday, October 23 “A Crisp View of God” It sure is easy to see God when things are good, but much harder to look for Him and see Him when things get rough. Reading this when I got home made me feel even worse. It made me feel that I see God when it is crisp and convenient and yet I didn’t think enough to bring His Word and guidance with me.

Monday, October 24 “In a Word” Did I have the presence of God with me this day? Well, the day started with three hours of work. I did manage to pack that and knew that opening four stores while on vacation would prove difficult. I was right. This devotion spoke specifically to having the love of God on everything we do. Did I have God’s love when one of my team members told me via email that we were not going to make an opening because we failed to convert utilities? Did I have the love of Jesus in my heart when I made that call? Would I have approached it differently if I had read the Word in the morning? I believe I would have shown more grace. Instead, I needed to ask for forgiveness.

Tuesday, October 25 “What Heaven Holds” Pure Joy! Arguments will cease, for jealousy won’t exist. Every sin is gone. Every insecurity is forgotten. Every fear is past. There is pure hope, pure love, and no fear. What a great way to start your day. Right? I wouldn’t know, since I left it at home. Instead, I started my day with three hours of work and two conference calls.

Wednesday, October 26 “No Secrets from God” That’s kind of scary, don’t you think? I’ve been there. Thinking I can fix things on my own if I work harder, push harder with little to no regard for how it makes people feel along the way. Three more hours of work and calls all day. But hey, we opened four stores today. However, He knows I am going to do that. He knows who I am and He is patiently waiting for me to ask for forgiveness. I believe God is asking, “Brad, how many times do you need to do this before you figure it out?” The good news is He loves me anyway. Even when I don’t deserve it.

Thursday, October 27 “A Gentle Lamb” Thank goodness we have this gentle lamb we can call Father. What an incredible gift. We serve a God who says that even when we’re under pressure and feel like nothing is going to go right, He is waiting to embrace us whether we succeed or fail. What a beautiful message to start your day. This was a beautiful day indeed. We went snorkeling and saw some of the amazing creatures our God has created. Fish of every color, schools of fish being chased by a barracuda, and a huge sea turtle. I came out of this day in this peaceful place totally amazed by our Creator’s power. I sure wish I had started my day that way.

Friday, October 28 “A Heart Like His” Happy Anniversary to us. God certainly knew what he was doing when he brought Shawn into my life. She is my everything. Should I have read this before my anniversary day started? Oh, heck yes! Let me tell you what I missed. This devotion spoke about the ledger we keep when measuring success and accomplishments. The ledger I keep is full of so many unnecessary columns. I think about this as I look at the best earthly being who has ever been part of my life. Why do we keep ledgers? Why do we measure? Why do I find it difficult to display pure love? These matters are irrelevant to God and should be to me as well.

Saturday, October 29. We are Home! I can read what I have been missing. I can pray and ask for forgiveness, and I can get back into my routine. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.

So what did I learn during my vacation? A few things…

  1. Pack your routine with you.
  2. Enjoy the beauty of the Creator
  3. Look at the stars
  4. Breathe
  5. Don’t pack long pants when you go to Hawaii
  6. Love freely
  7. Open your heart to the love of the Creator
  8. No more ledgers
  9. Don’t try to open stores during vacation!

The peace I find in writing this is simple… While I might have forgotten to pack God when preparing for my vacation, He NEVER forgets to pack us. He has us right there in His never failing grip of love.

That’s a good thing.

bwhite
Brad White serves as Senior Manager of Construction, Expansion, and Facilities for Oportun Inc, responsible for the organization’s rapid expansion in California, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. He has been married to Shawn Casey White for 9 years and a member of MVPC for 9 years. Brad is the blessed son of Bill and Ethel White of Maryville, Tennessee, and proud father of William White, 30, of Sarasota, Florida.

Scripture: Our Map

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This picture has always struck me as an accurate portrayal of my relationship with my mom – the two of us snuggled up, enjoying a book together. Mom read with me all the way through high school, and even when I was in college she sometimes read the books I was assigned. She loves to read, I love to read, and one thing I know for sure I’ve done well as a mom is pass on that passion to my children.

I love stories, written stories and life stories. My story and your story. And God’s story, the written version of it found in the Bible, and the living version we play out everyday. I grew up going to church and I knew the kid-versions of Bible stories. But when I got to be a teenager people kept telling me I needed to read the Bible on my own, except I didn’t know how.

Let’s be honest, the Bible can be fairly intimidating! It was written in different times and cultures, with different languages and different uses of language (literal, figurative, descriptive, prescriptive, poetic, etc). And that’s even before you get to all the translations (NIV, NLT, NASB), study Bibles or life application Bibles, or even the question of where does one begin to read? At the beginning? At the beginning of the Old or New Testament, or at the beginning of any of its 66 books? And then what? You might feel, as many of us have, like the Bible belongs to certain people, whoever they are, and remains a big mystery to you, that some people ‘get’ the Bible while others aren’t qualified to crack its cover.

In our mid-20s Guy and I were married and working at a church and, while I regularly read books about the Bible, books that guided me in what the Bible said, I didn’t often read the Bible itself. Until someone showed me these verses in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All Scripture is God-breathed [other translations read “inspired”] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

“Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” not big words but they don’t easily roll off the tongue. And what do they really mean?

Know. Stop. Change. Do.

God wants to use the Bible to speak to you about what you should know, stop, change, and/or do. So you read this Book, God’s Story, filled with incredible stories of God at work in the lives of some very ordinary people, all the while enjoying a conversation with God Himself about what He wants to say to you through His book. The “know, stop, change, do” paradigm changed everything for me.

I didn’t immediately shelve my stack of devotional books. I didn’t stop attending worship or my small group Bible study. But with this simple tool I didn’t have to rely on someone or something to help me understand the Bible. Instead of reading about the Bible I could read the Bible itself and come away changed because I’d read it. Because, while reading, I recognized that I was in the presence of God.

Still, where to start? I recommend using a Bible reading plan. I particularly like One Year Bible Online. Click on today’s date and it pulls up today’s Bible reading – Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm and Proverb. I don’t necessarily read all of each day’s readings, but the beauty of a reading plan is I don’t guilt myself if I miss a day or even a few days; I just go to that day’s reading and start fresh.

Recently a friend asked me about the Bible. She didn’t understand the basics: Old and New Testaments, the various books of the Bible, the chapter and verse markings. I was so grateful she asked, for two reasons: 1) she trusts me to guide her, and 2) she reminded me that the Church takes for granted that people understand the Book we revere as our authority for life and faith. So to you, dear Readers: if you need help understanding the Bible, find a trusted person to ask your questions; and if you’ve been around the Book a while, don’t assume that others get it. It’s up to us to help them find their way to Jesus, the Living Word.

Connect
What is your favorite book and why?

Study
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
From whom did Timothy learn the holy Scriptures? (see 2 Timothy 1:5)
Using this passage, how would you explain the Bible to someone who hasn’t read it?
What benefits result from reading Scripture?
Read James 1:22-25.
Put James’ mirror analogy in your own words and explain what it says about Scripture.
What does it mean to “look intently” into Scripture and “continue” to do so?

Live
Who has been influential in helping you learn to read and apply Scripture to your life? How have they influenced you?
What are your practices for hearing the Word? For example, do you have a set time and place to read Scripture? What tools have you found helpful?
What are some strategies that have helped you be a “doer of the Word”? (i.e. How do you keep Scripture in mind throughout the day?)
What do these verses tell you personally to know, stop, change and/or do?

Pray
Pray that God will actively speak to you through His Word and that the Spirit will guide you to continue in it.

Experiment
Read Bible stories with children, or read a children’s story Bible. My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Use One Year Bible Online and read for at least five minutes five days this week. As you read, have a conversation with God. What does He want you to know, stop, change and/or do?