Friday, March 23, 2012

Cross Training: Conclusion

The past couple of weeks I've been examining No Greater Love Ministries' discipleship program called Cross Training. We looked at four essential disciplines for living a Christian life:
Study, Prayer, Fellowship and Witness. As you learn to practice these things in your life, you'll grow in understanding and in commitment to the Lord.

The purpose of No Greater Love (NGL) is to train men in righteousness, to raise them up to be faithful disciples of Christ, capable of leading others to Him. I've been involved with NGL for nearly 25 years, and it has changed my life. Because of the training I've received from NGL, I'm no longer a timid, undisciplined Christian. I have learned how to live my faith boldly, but also with humility. And I've enjoyed lifelong relationships with brothers who love me and also hold me accountable.

It's important to learn to share our faith with others so we can help fulfill the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:19No Greater Love uses mission trips to major national events as a tool to draw men closer to Christ. I've been on dozens of these events, including the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Street Machine Nationals and the VP Fair in St. Louis. Currently NGL makes annual trips to Mardi Gras and to the Indy 500. As we step out and witness for Jesus Christ, men get out of their comfort zones and find they have to trust God to guide, direct and protect them. And as He provides what they need, their faith grows.

On these trips, everyone is assigned to a small group of 6 to 8 men. A typical group has an experienced, proven leader who has been to several NGL events, an assistant leader who is there to help the men learn and grow (and to develop his own leadership skills), and several guys on their first or second trip, who generally didn't know each other before joining the group.

Everything happens in the context of these groups. The guys eat together, pray and share in small group sessions, train in evangelism methods, then go out on the street and minister with each other. Intense sharing with one another builds trust. The leader is provided group questions that can help the men deal with issues and problems in their lives. The idea is to get guys to drop their "good Christian" mask and honestly share their struggles and faults, the areas in which they need help. When this happens, men grow in their faith and find that Jesus is all sufficient to meet every need. Just as the Bible promises, as they confess their sins and failures and pray for each other, God brings healing and victory. (James 5:16)

On the street, we use several different methods to present the gospel. One way we share our faith is through clown ministry. Each group is outfitted in clown suits and makeup. Then they learn a simple clown skit and a couple of easy songs, get some smiley tracts and Jesus Loves You stickers and head out to a parade. We try to arrive an hour or two before the parade starts, when people are sitting around waiting for something to happen. When our groups show up, people are happy to see the clowns. The guys pose for pictures, pass out tracts and stickers, sing and perform the "Chicken and Farmer" clown skit. At the end of this skit, the farmer invites those watching to pray and commit to Christ. Everybody in the group gets to be the farmer at least once. Clowning is a very easy, non-confrontational way to begin sharing your faith.

Another way we reach out is through passing out gospel tracts. There are hundreds of different tracts available. NGL uses two - the Smile, Jesus Loves You one is aimed at children and is primarily used when clowning. The main tract used in street distribution is called The Big Question. This question is, "If you were to die this minute, do you have the assurance that you would go to heaven?". This tract is a very simple way to get people thinking about eternity. The back of the tract includes the Four Spiritual Laws: 1) God loves you. 2) But you have sinned, causing separation from God. 3) Jesus died for you. 4) You must repent and receive Him. Following that is a brief prayer of repentance and commitment.

When passing tracts, it's really important to smile and enjoy what you're doing. We have Good News to share, and want others to receive it. The goal is to get gospel literature into people's hands and pockets, and trust God to use it in their lives. Some guys use the tract to start conversations with people, which leads to the next NGL witnessing method: one on one sharing.

The idea of one on one witnessing is to hold a conversation with random people on the street and discuss spiritual things. The goal is to present the gospel effectively and to give the Holy Spirit opportunity to convict them and draw them into His Kingdom. There are a lot of ways to initiate contact. As mentioned, some like to start with the Big Question tract, asking bypassers how they'd answer the question. Others look for some kind of common ground to start a conversation. For example, some guys enjoy ministering to bikers or to veterans or maybe to parents with kids. Another interesting way to initiate one on one encounters is to simply stand holding a sign or a Bible and wait for people to approach you. One sign that's been effective lately simply asks, "Need Prayer?" It's amazing how often people will approach you with prayer needs, which opens up a conversation about God and His ways. Of course, it's important to pray with them as promised.

Big signs and a large cross are featured in another way we present the gospel: Marching. When we march, several of the small groups combine to form a column of 50 or 100 or more men, three abreast. At the front of the march is a cross, carried by men who rotate in and out periodically. Carrying the cross is a moving, emotional experience which gives just a little of the sensation of what Jesus suffered for us. Preference is given to men who have not done this before, followed by veterans. The cross also is a bold statement to onlookers.

Sprinkled throughout the marchers are large signs proclaiming the gospel with phrases such as Jesus Heals Broken Hearts, The Holy Bible -  It's True, and Jesus Saves From Hell. These signs leave no doubt as to who we are or what we stand for.

As we march, we sing. A songleader helps keep everyone together with help from designated singers scattered throughout the march. We favor songs that are simple and direct, such as Amazing Grace, Jesus Loves Me, and He Paid A Debt. Marching through the midst of the partiers is a powerful way to publicly proclaim Jesus, engaging people visually through the cross and signs and aurally with singing.

Another method of witnessing is street Preaching. In this, each man is given the opportunity to share their faith publicly. Many guys find this very intimidating. It certainly gets them beyond their comfort zone. But we often allow fear make this a lot harder than it has to be. Really, it's just a matter of reading a passage of Scripture or sharing one's personal testimony. It doesn't have to be loud, long or polished - faithful and obedient is all that's really necessary.

One more way we take the gospel to the streets is through music. Everyone on the trip isn't required to participate, but those with the ability and inclination often take their instruments out, sometimes with a battery powered sound system. We set up and sing praises to God. Sometimes music will penetrate a hard heart where other methods fail. And guys who like tracting or sharing one on one find that street music will often draw a crowd they can work. At times, we set up a "Street Church" with a full band and have a worship service right in the middle of the party.

There are many creative ways to help fulfill Jesus' instruction to preach the gospel. No Greater Love Ministries helps men overcome fear and intimidation and gain confidence as they learn to share the Good News. The goal is for men to draw closer to Christ, develop godly character, and go home as better husbands, fathers and sons, bosses and employees. And to apply the witnessing tools they gain in their everyday lives.

Jesus said when our light shines for Him, people will see and will glorify God. (Matthew 5:16) No Greater Love has helped me, and countless others, become more like Jesus and be able to confidently share my faith. This brief overview gives just a taste of how that happens. If you want more information, check out their website at

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cross Training: Witness

The final topic in No Greater Love Ministries' Cross Training is Witness.
Cross Training is basic discipleship, focusing on four areas:

This illustration helps us remember these areas. At the bottom of the cross is Study, the foundation of our relationship with God. Time spent studying the Bible will help us know Him better, learning how to serve Him and what pleases Him. Knowledge of God's Word is absolutely essential to a successful Christian life. I wrote a lot more about this topic here.

The top of the cross is Prayer. This is our communication line with God. James 4:8 says when we draw close to Him, God draws close to us. Prayer isn't a one way monologue - it's a conversation. When we pray, God answers. James 5:16 says "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." Study and Prayer help us form our vertical relationship with God. I wrote in greater detail about prayer here.

The horizontal crossbeam consists of Fellowship and Witness. This represents our relationship with people. Fellowship is the way we relate to other believers. Spending time with other Christians is essential to our spiritual growth. Hebrews 10:25 says "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another," Through fellowship, we receive encouragement, accountability, insight and comfort. It's a lot more than potluck dinners. Much more about this topic here.

The other half of the horizontal relationship with others is Witness. This is a primary way we are to interact with unbelievers. Of course, every contact with non-Christians will not be a witness opportunity. There are certainly other ways to relate to people. But witnessing is how Christ directed us to live our lives.

The very last thing Jesus said before ascending to heaven was "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere..." (Acts 1:8 NLT) What we call the Great Commission was Jesus' instructions to all who would follow Him: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT)

As a young Christian, I thought witness equaled "evangelism". And I found this to be rather intimidating, because it turns out I'm not an evangelist. Oh, I tried. I learned the Four Spiritual Laws, practiced D. James Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion, and went door-to-door with surveys.
I went to schools and prisons, to nursing homes, assisted living and homeless shelters. I have passed tracts, stood on street corners and preached, taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and traveled overseas to minister in churches and on the streets. I have performed with puppets, drama, music and as a clown. I've pastored Children's Church and led youth groups. And for a long time, I felt like a failure, because I just didn't see the kind of response that I expected.

The real problem was, my definition of witness was way too narrow.
Evangelism is certainly a part of it. But not everyone is an evangelist. God has given every member of the body of Christ gifts to be used in building up His Kingdom. I Corinthians 12:7 says, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other." Some of those gifts are wisdom, knowledge, faith, and healing. (verses 8 & 9) Some are apostles, prophets, and evangelists; some are pastors and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11) God uses each of us to help witness for Him, utilizing the unique gifts He has given.

Witness is living every moment of our life for Christ. Witness happens when you represent Jesus in everyday living. When a whole busload of NGL brothers invades a restaurant, we make sure they understand that a generous tip is part of their witness. We can sit around the place talking about Jesus, pass tracts and stickers, sing our blessing and pray for the staff. But if we don't honor their service with a decent tip, all the rest will end up being hollow and meaningless.
As Christians, we should treat others better than anyone else does.

If we live our lives angry, bitter, hateful, unforgiving, demanding, curt and uncharitable, our witness is pretty much destroyed. Who wants to be like that? I've heard too many people say, "If that's what a Christian is, forget it!" Sadly, many claim to be Christian while displaying anything but godly character. Jesus said that true Christians would be evident not just by their actions, but by their character qualities. (Matthew 7:15-20 MSG)

The definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 really sums up the way we ought to live:
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (verses 4-7 NLT)

I can look at this list and think I'll never measure up. In my own strength and abilities, I never can be like this. But the Holy Spirit, God Himself, lives inside me and gives me the power to reflect the life of Jesus in my actions and attitudes every day. Remember what Jesus said in Acts 1:8?
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses."
What power was Jesus promising? I'm convinced it's the power to actually live this Christian life, to develop and display the character qualities of a true believer. It's not an overnight transformation - really, it's a lifelong process. "The Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)

When we live our lives to please Christ, witness just comes naturally. God has been so good to us - how can we not share the good news? Even though I'm not an evangelist, I regularly participate in outreach opportunities like the ones I listed earlier. Doing so helps fulfill the Great Commission. But more than that, as I am obedient to Christ's instructions, I grow and mature spiritually. I build relationships with other believers. It helps me develop regular prayer and study habits. In short, I become more like Jesus as I obey His call to witness.

My purpose in witnessing isn't to convince people to pray some fire escape prayer and then go their way unchanged. My desire is for them to meet the one true living God and have Him change their life the way He's changed mine. Becoming a disciple is a process which takes time.
My hope is to help people learn of Christ and get connected to Him. It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict of sin, to draw them to Christ, to regenerate them and help them develop godly character qualities. Christians are to "worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it." (1 Peter 3:15 NLT)

If we do this, we'll be a successful witness for Jesus Christ.

I'll write one final post in this series, talking specifically about the ways No Greater Love trains men to share their faith, and how God uses NGL mission trips to change lives. 
I pray you'll come to know Him better and learn to live for Him every day.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cross Training: Fellowship

Here's another post examining No Greater Love Ministries' Cross Training discipleship series. Today's topic is Fellowship

This illustration helps us understand Cross Training. The vertical part of the cross represents how we relate to God, the horizontal crossbeam how we relate to others. Relationships include many different aspects. Cross Training focuses on these four elements because they are essential for establishing Christian discipleship.

At the bottom of the cross, the foundation of our relationship with God is Study. Familiarity with God's Holy Word is the primary way Christians grow to maturity. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says,
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (NIV) Simply put, if you don't want to be a weak, ineffective Christian, you need to study the Bible. 
I covered this topic more thoroughly here.

On top of the cross, we reach out to God through Prayer. This is our line of communication with God. When we pray, we're in contact with the very Creator of the Universe, expressing praise and adoration, confessing our sins, thanking Him for his lovingkindness and provision, and asking Him to supply our needs. Then we listen for His response, and obey His direction. Prayer and Study together build that vertical relationship between the believer and God. I discussed this in much greater depth here.

The horizontal crossbeam represents our relationship with people. On one side is Fellowship, on the other is Witness. Fellowship is one of the ways we relate to other believers; witness is our outreach to unbelievers. Obviously, there are other ways to relate to people. But these two topics are basic for Christians to understand and practice.

NGL founder Fred Bishop always says Fellowship is "a whole lot of fellows in the same ship". It seems as if churches generally define fellowship as eating together. There is something about breaking bread with your church friends that does help build relationships. It really is a wonderful thing, but it's also pretty easy to keep things superficial.

One purpose God has for fellowship is that believers would learn to love and trust one another. Part of trusting others is allowing our genuine feelings and personality to be expressed. There seems to be a set of unwritten rules for how Christians should behave, and most of us don't measure up. Thank God, our salvation is not based on righteous living - if it was, no one would be saved. 
But we care about what others think, and want to appear to be "good Christians". So we often pretend that everything is good, that we have no problems, that we are "fine" - even when our world may be crumbling around us.

Some people spend their entire life wearing the "good Christian" mask. We're so afraid that people will reject us if our lives don't measure up to some unattainable ideal. We think we're all alone in our trouble and difficulties. This is a lie of the devil, who wants us to avoid transparent relationships. He knows if we drop the mask and share freely about our struggles and failures, tragedies and triumphs, chances are good we'll find victory and be set free from the bondage he's trying to keep us in.

That's the real purpose of Fellowship. It's an opportunity to trust others enough to dispense with pretense and honestly share. Naturally, one cannot share everything with just anyone. Trust is earned over time. Communication is certainly a key - we have to get past the fear and open up to others if we want to be healed. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (NIV)

Some relationships will necessarily remain superficial.  Even if you are willing to be more open, others may not be. And some people truly can't be trusted. Confidentiality is another key to safe transparency. If I'm not certain intimate details of my life will be held in close confidence, I'm very unlikely to share freely. Fortunately it's not required or even expected that we will be totally open with everyone. What is important is developing a few genuine friends with whom you can be open and honest. This is true Christian fellowship.

I spent a lot of years cultivating a "good Christian" image. I wore the mask proudly and played the game well. But deep down, in the part of me I tried to keep concealed, I was afraid and insecure. 
I especially feared rejection. I thought if people knew who I really was, my failings and my weakness, they would no longer accept me. I was frequently paralyzed by fear of man. 

In decades of following Him, God has patiently worked with me, helping me understand the importance of pleasing Him rather than men. I've finally learned to drop the mask, at least with a few trusted friends. Even with them, there are times I hold back - but I'm working on it. Accountability helps me live a more God-pleasing life. My brothers hold me accountable at our weekly meetings. They know my weaknesses and love me anyway. Sometimes I fail by not doing what I should, not following through.This is definitely an area where accountability helps - the guys check up on me and help me keep on task.

Learning to be vulnerable in a small group of trusted friends has actually helped me be more genuine in all my relationships. I have discovered that everyone has weaknesses, we all fail. I've stopped worrying what people think (well, most of the time.) Honest sharing has generally caused others to open up rather than rejecting me as I had feared. Fellowship is one way God helps us mature, learning to trust Him and our Christian brethren with our lives.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cross Training: Prayer

Time to continue my series exploring No Greater Love Ministries' Cross Training discipleship method. In this post we'll discuss Prayer.

The above illustration can help you understand Cross Training. The vertical part of the cross represents how we relate to God, the horizontal crossbeam how we relate to others. Of course, these four elements are just a part of the total package. There are lots more ways to relate to God and to men. Cross Training focuses on just these four elements because they are essential parts of Christian discipleship.

We start at the bottom of the cross. The foundation of our relationship with God is Study. To really know God, you must know His Word. And you do want to know Him, lest you be very disappointed come Judgment Day. Jesus strongly indicates that not knowing Him means being left out of the Kingdom. (Matthew 7:21-23) A solid understanding of the Bible is essential to a successful, mature Christian life. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) I discuss this topic in much more detail here.

At the top of the cross is Prayer. This is the way we connect with our heavenly Father. Prayer isn't some mysterious practice, only available to the pious. You don't have to possess some special standing or position. There aren't secret magical phrases to be memorized and repeated. A book of written prayers to be recited isn't required, though some believers do find one helpful.

Prayer is simply communication with God. Some people seem to think God only understands Elizabethan English, filled with thees and thous. Others say He won't hear a sinner's prayer. 
I'm thankful that neither of those things is true. If He doesn't hear sinners, we're all in trouble, 'cause without Him none of us is righteous. The Bible says Christ Jesus came to earth in order to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15) And God delights to hear from us, no matter what language we speak. He really doesn't care how you approach prayer - the important thing is that you spend time communicating with God on a regular basis.

Jesus' disciples once asked Him to teach them to pray, and He responded by teaching them what we now call the Lord's Prayer. (Luke 11:1-4) Some faith traditions put a lot of emphasis on repeating this prayer regularly. Other churches rarely even mention it. I believe both of these approaches are kind of missing what the Lord Jesus intended. If we simply ignore Jesus' teaching on prayer, there's a good chance our prayer life will be ineffective. On the other hand, just repeating the same words over and over by rote without even considering what we're saying doesn't necessarily mean God will hear and respond.

Jesus warned against that approach to prayer just before He gave us the Lord's Prayer.
"When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven..." (Matthew 6:7-9 NLT) So what's the point of the Lord's Prayer?

I think there are a couple of applications. It's certainly unifying to have an entire congregation pray this prayer together publicly. And in ecumenical gatherings with believers from many different Christian traditions, praying the Lord's Prayer as a group can really help pull everybody together. But I don't believe Jesus intended us to repeat this prayer as our individual approach to God. Instead, I think He gave it to us as an outline for personal prayer. Each clause indicates important things to include when we pray.

Here's a quick summary:  
Our Father in heaven = Approach God based on relationship.  
Hallowed be Thy name = Give Him praise and honor. 
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done... = We are to line up our desires with His. 
Give us this day our daily bread = Bring your requests to the Lord. 
Forgive we forgive (others) = Repent of your sins, and forgive as you've been forgiven.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil = Pray for victory over flesh and the devil.
Thine is the kingdom... = Finish as you began, giving God all the glory.

NGL has a simple way to remember things to include in our prayers. The acronym ACTS is a memory aid, representing Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. These things are all included in the Lord's Prayer, and this is a pretty good order in which to pray.
Adoration: Start out giving by God glory
Confession: Admit and repent of your sins
Thanksgiving: Thank God for the blessings in your life
Supplication: Finally, present your needs and desires to Him

Praying is not just about asking for stuff. God is not the great Santa Claus in the sky, just waiting to provide every want we might have. According to the Bible, Christians are destined to develop the character of Jesus. (Romans 8:29) God's purpose is for us to become faithful disciples of Christ. When we pray and listen, God gives us understanding and direction to help us mature. 

I see prayer as a conversation - and a conversation is not one-sided. God desires to communicate with His children, and sometimes we won't shut up long enough to hear Him. There are several ways God speaks to believers today. That topic is way too long of a teaching for this post so I'll save it for another time.

But we all need to learn to listen when we pray, so here's the number one way God speaks to people today: through His Word. That's why regular Bible reading is so important. It's an invaluable source of wisdom. (James 3:17) Study is the foundation of our relationship with God; Prayer is our line of communication with Him. Practicing these two disciplines regularly helps us develop a genuine relationship with our heavenly Father. And He's promised when we seek Him with all our hearts, we will definitely find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) And the journey is a lifelong adventure.

Cross Training: Study

As mentioned in the last post, I am discussing No Greater Love Ministries' (NGL) Cross Training in greater depth. Cross Training is basic discipleship, focusing on four areas:

As you can see in this illustration, the foundation of the cross is Study. This is the basis of the Christian life. We learn about God and His ways through study of His Word. And as the Word is hidden in our hearts, we develop godly character and morals. (Psalm 119:11)

2 Timothy 3:16-17 illustrates this principle: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (NIV)

When I started this Christian walk, I had a pretty solid background in Bible study. I'd been in church my whole life* and had gone through years of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and confirmation classes. I knew a lot about the Bible and God - but I didn't really know Him or His Word very well. I have heard it said that when the Spirit comes to live in you at your conversion (see Romans 8:9) you immediately develop a hunger for His Word. I believe this can be true for many people, but it didn't happen that way for me.

I was 14 years old; I really needed to mature. I was much more interested in manifestations of the Spirit than in drawing closer to God through diligent study of His Word. God was patient and kind with me, as is His nature. He gently led me along for several years, guiding me in the paths of righteousness. And I did learn a lot about His ways and experienced the joys of His presence. 
But I didn't really have an overpowering desire to read His Word. I was content to just coast along on other peoples' knowledge and understanding. I read Christian books, listened to sermons and Christian music, sat through a bunch of Bible studies and took part in countless praise & worship sessions. But I really didn't study the Scriptures for myself.

Lots of Christians' lives follow this pattern. Some never move on to maturity. They're happy to be spoon-fed theology from the pulpit and from paperbacks, content to chase after what they think is the latest and greatest manifestation of God's Spirit. Sometimes they find the real thing, sometimes it's just hype. Doesn't really matter - it provides the excitement they crave either way. Compared to the latest thrill, reading the Bible seems boring and mundane. That's the way my life was for several years, and I might have stayed there forever had it not been for a wise decision by my pastor in Nebraska.

One Christmas he gave everyone in the congregation a little booklet. It was a Bible-reading plan. By following the plan, one would read through the entire Bible in a single year. This was a revolutionary idea for me. I had never read through the whole Bible, not even once in my life. 
He challenged us to commit to reading the Scriptures every day, with the intention of finishing the whole thing in a year's time. I decided to go for it.

The best thing about this little plan was it offered a variety of readings every day. You didn't just start at Genesis and slog your way through to Revelation. I had tried that approach once on my own and had bogged down by the time I got to Leviticus. Another problem with that method is, you're reading for 9 months or so before you ever see the New Testament. On the plan I started with, every day you would read a few Old Testament chapters, a Psalm or chapter of Proverbs, a selection from one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) and a chapter from the rest of the New Testament. By reading 15 or 20 minutes daily, I successfully read through the Bible in one year's time.

I can't say that I suddenly developed a delight in God's Word. At first, it was kind of a chore - but I was committed and wasn't about to quit. And the process appealed to me - I love checking completed tasks off a list as I finish them. (Sometimes I even write things on my to-do list that I've already completed, just so I can cross them off.) This Bible plan was an already prepared checklist. As I worked my way through that first year, there was a real sense of accomplishment in marking off each daily reading.

And then an interesting thing occurred. Over time, as I consistently read the Bible month after month, it became my habit to do so. Gradually, I found myself looking forward to my time in the Word. I began to find studying the Scriptures to be a genuine delight. As I opened His Book, God began speaking to me through the pages of His Word. I started understanding things I hadn't been able to comprehend before. By the end of the first time through, I couldn't wait to start again.

I have followed this routine ever since. There have been times I've fallen behind in my reading and had to scramble to catch up. But the rewards of regular time in God's Word have been nearly immeasurable. A few years ago, I sensed the Holy Spirit was nudging me to double up, reading through the Bible twice a year. So I revised and fine-tuned my reading plan to take only 6 months. I'm currently reading through for the 42nd time. 

Naturally, my Bible knowledge has increased over the years. This could easily become a source of spiritual pride, and I'm afraid sometimes I fall into that trap. I try to guard against such an ungodly attitude, remembering that the whole purpose of studying the Bible is to know Jesus Christ better and bring Him glory. I pray He lets me share His Word with wisdom and humility, always pointing to Christ rather than myself.

The fascinating thing is, even after all those times through the Word, I'm always seeing new things. It's like God shows me something fresh every time I open the Bible. He speaks directly to current situations in my life, giving me insight and understanding through His timeless Word. One thing is sure, it's never boring. To help keep it fresh, I change translations every time. I rotate between several English translations, including New King James, New American Standard, 
New International Version, and the New Living Translation.** Each has a little different approach***, and sometimes reading a new version helps me get a different perspective.

I've tried a few different Bible reading plans over the years. Every one I've used has offered a variety of daily readings, because I find that to be a most accessible approach.  Currently I'm using a plan put out by the Navigators discipleship training group. The best thing about this plan is, it features only 25 readings each month. This method provides a little grace - if you miss a day or two, you're not way behind. If you're interested in this particular plan (the 12-month version, not my custom 6-month one) you can find it here.

Reading the Bible regularly has changed my life. I'm convinced the study of His Word is the primary way to really know God. He has revealed Himself there, and it's the number one way 
He communicates with His children. His Word never changes; it's forever settled in heaven. 
(Psalm 119:89

You don't have to wait until next year to start. You can get under way any time. If you don't think you can manage the whole Bible in a year, try reading just the New Testament. Here is a plan to do that, reading just 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The important thing is to get started reading the Bible every day. I promise that God will meet you in the pages of His Word.

*For more on my early life and training, see the Wisest Choice Ever.

**Apparently if the translation doesn't start with "New", I won't use it. 8^)

***Comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of various translations is beyond the scope of this post. In the future, I'll explore that topic.