how i read the bible in less than 6 months

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I did it. The thing that I started this blog to record. I read the entire Bible, and it took me less than six months.

What was that? How did I do it? I’m glad you asked.

Over the years, I cycled through a lot of excuses for not reading the Bible. One was that I felt like I didn’t have time. (“Lol OK,” says God, who if you recall created the entire universe.) Another was that I couldn’t decide what plan to use.

I’m a very structure-dependent person. I like having routines and spreadsheets and to-dos to check off. I write my grocery lists in order by aisle. But in this area, structure had become an obstacle instead of a support. I would agonize over which plan was perfect, try one for a few weeks, feel bad about skimming passages that didn’t appeal to me, forget a few days, and then give up. I was holding myself too much to reading an arbitrary number of chapters and meeting arbitrary deadlines.

When I picked up the Bible this summer, I decided to just go with the flow. I did some cursory Googling to gather ideas on which books I should read first. From there I hopped around between the New and Old Testaments as I felt like it. Though jumping around might seem uncomfortable to someone like me who likes point-A-to-point-B solutions, I found I was actually experiencing a pretty cohesive story.

I’m sharing this plan so anyone who wants to read the Bible but has struggled to keep up before has a loose framework they can start with.

But before we get to the plan, here are three things that you should know you have permission to do.

1. It’s fine to stop after just a few minutes.

This plan does not prescribe a certain number of chapters per day. In my view, the important thing is to be filled up with God’s word as you read, not to get through a certain amount each day. If you’re not feeling it, it’s fine to just read one or two chapters. If you are, go ahead and read a whole darn book in one sitting. It’s totally up to you.

2. It’s fine to skim, every now and then.

I read a some of the Old Testament books pretty quickly. Generally you should avoid skimming, but let me be the first to tell you that you don’t have to memorize every single requirement for sacrificing sheep or pigeons or whatever. Especially if this is your first time through the Bible, the point is to learn about God and invite him into your daily life, not to get bogged down in details.

3. It’s fine to skip a day here and there.

Don’t beat yourself up. Just pick it back up when you can. Over the course of my study, I read at least every other day.

So, without further ado, here’s my ultimate not-a-Bible-plan Bible plan.

The Beginning

  • To learn about Jesus’ life: Two Gospels (I picked Mark and John)
  • To learn about the early church: Acts and Romans
  • To learn about prayer: The first book of Psalms
  • To learn about God’s first followers: Genesis and Exodus
  • To learn about the law: Galatians and Leviticus

(Why Galatians before Leviticus? Here’s why.)

About Halfway Through

  • To refocus on Jesus: Another Gospel (I picked Luke)

The End

  • For wisdom: Proverbs
  • Because it’s the end: Revalation
  • Jesus again: The last Gospel (Matthew)
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merry christmas, and a fun announcement!

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Hooray! It’s Christmas Eve!

I love Christmas. Love love love it. I’ve never understood the question “What’s your favorite holiday?” How could it be anything but Christmas? I love the quiet family time, the yummy food, picking out gifts for my favorite people, the joy and excitement that’s in the air.

Ok, I like getting gifts too. There, I said it. Let’s all just admit that we like this part, no matter how holy we pretend to be, and move on.

I’ve never been one to get caught up in the stress and consumerism many of us struggle with during this season. That said, I haven’t always done a great job of keeping my focus on “the reason for the season.”

This year I’m proud to announce: I FINISHED THE BIBLE.

The whole shebang. All 66 books, 31,102 verses, 695 pages.

It took me just under five months, from July 30 to today, December 24. And I did it with no Bible-in-X-months plan, no predetermined order, no accountability partner (other than this friendly little blog). I think I could have just as easily finished it in four months at the same reading pace had I not taken a few multiple-day breaks here and there.

Folks who either haven’t read the Bible or have struggled to do it, take heart! It’s possible!

I’ll post more in-depth later about how I tackled this project. But for now I just wanted to pop in and say Merry Christmas to all!

I hope you and your family have a delightful day celebrating with family and friends.

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on cows and contentment

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My husband’s intern lives on a farm in what you could reasonably call the middle of nowhere. It’s a good 20-minute drive down windy county roads, some of which aren’t even paved, from the nearest grocery store. It’s the kind of place where you can stop and listen and hear nothing. Nothing human, anyway — just the wind rustling the trees and a duck call here and there.

Among their menagerie of farm animals is a small herd of beef cows — big, burly mamas and tiny, fuzzy babies in varying shades of chestnut with long, luxurious eyelashes.

The weird thing about being in a field of cattle is the overwhelming sense of contentment that washes over you. These cows are perfectly happy to munch on grass and wander wide-open fields and snuggle their young day in and day out. If they get a few extra alfalfa cubes, they’re pleased as punch. But they never moan and groan about what they might be missing. They’re just cows, doing their cow thing.

I think we could learn a thing or two from cows.

As I write this, my Bible is open to Numbers 11. So here are the Israelites, getting ready to go on a journey to the promised land. Not just anywhere. The promised land. They need food along the way, so God provides them with manna — which is reportedly both delicious and nutritious.

But after a few days, the Israelites get unbearably bored. And they start whining about not having the exact kind of food they want as they are on their way to the special place that God set aside just for them.

Typical.

It’s easy to laugh at the Israelites and to think that, if we were in their position, we would be so much more grateful to God for all the help he provided us. But would we?

I don’t know about you, but even as a routine-oriented person who enjoys a quiet and largely predictable life, I too get bored. I see the sparkly, impressive parts of other people’s lives selectively shared on the Internet and itch to have what they have. I frequently daydream about throwing my responsibilities off onto someone else.

As humans, we crave adventure. We yearn for excitement. It seems our biggest fear is monotony.

But it’s in the day-to-day of life that real joy and contentment can be found. In embracing our role and our place and finding contentment in every moment.

Maybe your place is in an office cubicle or at home with a gaggle of children around you. Maybe it’s in a field of beef cattle.

Wherever you are, remember:

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:4-8

May we each embrace our place today and every day — a place we’ve been set in for a purpose unlike any other’s — and may we do it cheerfully.

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white space for your soul

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I’m a compulsively early person. About 20 minutes before I actually need to leave the house, I get the worst ants in my pants. I just can’t sit around anymore.

You’re supposed to arrive everywhere you go five minutes early to show respect for the time of the person or group you’re visiting. But 20? That’s just annoying.

But the cool thing about leaving 20 minutes early is that it forces space into your life. And space is something we all need more of.

In document design, “white space” is an important concept. Studies (ironically, this one features very little white space) have shown that a document with ample white space is not only more aesthetically pleasing (think your favorite style blog vs. your college biology textbook), it actually helps our brain process information better.

The same can be said for our mental and spiritual health. God calls us to do, yes, but also to rest and to think. We need white space.

I’m a scheduler. I have my plans for each day planned out on my Google Calendar and on the calendar whiteboard in my kitchen. When I’m not actively doing something, I’m still doing something. When we’re “watching TV,” I’m reading Twitter. When I’m “getting ready for bed,” I’m clearing away dishes and other junk that’s accumulated from the day. Shauna Niequist calls this “fake-resting” in Present Over Perfect.

I’m getting some things done, but I’m also forgetting about other more important things. The more we fill up our minds, the less room there is for God.

Some people suggest scheduling downtime — like, putting it in your planner or on your calendar. That doesn’t always work well for me, unless I leave my house and go to a coffee shop so I don’t get distracted by clutter. Instead, I find I get the most refreshing white space in downtime I’m not expecting — like those 20 minutes when I can’t help myself from arriving early. There’s something about the spontaneity.

As I wrote this, I was sitting outside a coffee shop waiting to go to lunch with a friend. It was a beautiful sunny day — one of those wonderful Texas fall days when the sunshine is warm but the breeze is just cool enough to justify wearing your new suede ankle boots. I had no laptop or book with me and my phone was almost dead (oops), so I was using an actual notebook and pen(!!). It was crisp and quiet and I could feel the white space restoring my soul.

I can’t say I’ve ever heard the literal voice of God, but after the initial OMG-what-am-I-going-to-do-for-20-minutes panic subsided, I felt him answer:

You don’t have to do anything. Just be.

Ladies and gents, take some time to just be today. It may only be a few minutes, but let that white space push out all your worries and busyness and fill up your soul.

Be — be with yourself, be with God, be creative, be silent.

Just be.

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author of creation (literally)

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Over the years, I’ve returned again and again to a question: How can God possibly care about little old me? Of the billions of people on this planet, there are so many who are more faithful, serve more, study more, pray more. How can I even be a blip on his very crowded radar?

And then I happened upon a new way of thinking about God.

Picture an author. Maybe he’s sitting in front of a computer with a cup of steaming coffee or curled up on a couch with a fancy fountain pen. Maybe he’s in a cabin in the woods, or maybe in a high-rise apartment in a big city, or maybe he’s here in your living room.

Whatever this literary figment of your imagination looks like, there are two key characteristics authors share with God that can help us better understand how we play a role in God’s plan.

God cares deeply about all of his creation because he created them.

An author cares deeply about all of his characters. The main characters play a bigger role in the stories he weaves, yes, but no story is complete without supporting characters. They are equally important and equally complex in the author’s mind, even if their full stories don’t come through on the page.

Geeky aside: I listened to this interview with J.K. Rowling while preparing Thanksgiving goodies. About halfway through you get some great insight into how she thinks about her characters and how fully she developed them, even beyond the “main” characters.

Think about Harry Potter for a second. Sure, the books aren’t really about Professor McGonagall or Stan Shunpike or Justin Finch-Fletchley or Cornelius Fudge. But the plot would have been radically different without them. They are all Rowling’s creations and all critical to the story.

Likewise, you are God’s top priority as his beloved creation. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing (or what they make it seem like they’re doing). God’s focus is on all of us. 

This is the big one: God has time for you because he is outside of time.

An author is not beholden to the minutes and hours and days that pass in his stories. He can linger over special or challenging moments, jump ahead to future chapters, jump back to ponder what he’s already written. He can develop new traits or memories for his characters before or after a scene is written. And he can rewrite scenes. The characters keep moving forward in their plot, but the author is free from that constraint.

Your life is constantly moving forward, but God is the past, present, and future. He has more than 24 hours in a day, and so he has infinite time for each soul he created.

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God is called the author of peace, author of life, author of creation. I think that wording is just a coincidence. It means author in the sense of creator. But author in the literal sense? That’s a new and, for me, encouraging way of understanding of God.

Through this lens, I find much greater comfort in scripture about his concern for us. “Cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you” rings a lot more true from this perspective. He created us, he knows us deeply (even the parts others don’t see), and he loves us deeply.

God is writing a story, and he created you specially for the role he’s put you in. Let him tell it.

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holding tight to permanent

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Part memoir and part biblical wisdom, She Reads Truth: Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away is a powerful commentary on change, loss, and learning to depend on God. And oh man, y’all, this book hit me right in the feels. It’s touching and powerful and occasionally funny (there’s a great line in there about God waiting for his creations to figure out how to make sushi).

SRT provided gentle answers to a question I’ve been wrestling with lately: How do I reconcile loving my life in this world when Christians are called to not be of the world?

It’s not a question the book addresses head-on, but it’s critical in my current stage of life.

Because I do love it. I love my family, I love my job, I love my friends, I love snuggling with my pups, I love writing, I love sitting outside in the sunshine with a glass of Topo Chico. Heaven sounds nice and all, but I’m not quite ready to give it all up. Does that make me a bad Christian?

No, Amanda and Raechel write. It just means we need to put the things we enjoy — things God intended for us to enjoy — in a greater perspective.

Contentment is having hope that is not dependent on our circumstances. It’s living with everything we ever wanted or none of the things we really needed, and being joyful either way because we are dwelling on the good things that has already done. I was learning, maybe for the first time or maybe all over again, that God was good because of who He was, not because of what He could do for me…

Contentment was going to be a lifelong exercise in fixing my gaze on the Lord both in plenty and in want.

I have plenty right now. I know, unfortunately, that in the future I’ll be in a stage of wanting. But the message this book shares is applicable to both: The things in this life that we love are anything but permanent, but that’s OK, because their value doesn’t come from their permanency. Their value comes from their creation by God and their role in our lives as his plan unfolds. It’s a subtle but important shift in perspective. And it’s one I think we could all benefit from.

My rating? A solid four stars out of five.

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P.S. I received a copy of this book through a giveaway by Lifeway and Eric Geiger, who blogs about ministry and leadership. Check him out!

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finding hope on election day

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This has been a particularly painful election cycle. It seems like everyone is sick of politics and nobody is happy with the candidates we’re stuck with. This season has brought out the ugly in too many of us.

Because we’re scared. Scared of what happens when we’re stuck with four long years of a deeply flawed president — and make no mistake, both major candidates are very deeply flawed — and what they will choose to do with their power.

We have good reason to be scared. But we also have reason to hope.

First, the person sitting in the Oval Office has a pretty minimal impact on our day-to-day lives. Second, God’s will will be done either way.

As much as we as a society like to keep the spiritual and the secular separate, the Bible has a lot to say about government. Christians are called to submit to worldly authority not in spite of God but because of God:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Romans 13:1-2

Submission is a difficult concept to love in politics, just as in marriage. It requires a lot of humility, and it instinctively repulses me because I have such strong opinions about good and bad policy. It raises a tough question: If we are called to submit to authority, what happens when that authority enacts unjust laws?

Paul wrote this during Nero’s reign, which was not exactly the pinnacle of just and life-affirming government. And the Bible has more to say on this subject:

Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say, “What are you doing?” Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him.

Ecclesiastes 8:4-6

Ecclesiastes gives us assurance that even when we are asked to follow a bad ruler, God’s will will be done. We are told to be still for the time being — because all things work together for good, even if we can’t understand how right now. And when we rely on his wisdom instead of the world’s, we can seize that “proper time and procedure” to stand up against what is wrong, and to stand up well. (I’m putting the emphasis here on procedure. There are good ways to effect change and there are bad ways.)

The Old Testament chronicles a litany of awful monarchs who oppressed their subjects, and yet God was able to fulfill his plan. Sometimes because he thwarted their evil schemes and sometimes because he needed their mistakes in order to make something greater happen. Our salvation would not have been possible if a flawed ruler had not put an innocent man named Jesus to death.

Election Day is tomorrow and I am so ready for it to be over. But I have a little glimmer of hope: That no matter who tops 50% and what they choose to do while in office, there’s one person who will win: Jesus.

Much as I would love to have the last word, I can’t say it better than Max Lucado. He writes:

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016.

Happy election week, friends. Keep your chin up. And may God bless the United States of America.

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disciple of all nations // flawed and chosen

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This blog has only been around for two months, but there’s already a common thread running through it: That although we may feel like we’re not something enough for God to approve of — not faithful enough, not spiritual enough, not knowledgeable enough about the Bible, not prayerful enough, just not good enough — these feelings are absolutely not true.

So I want to close out my mini-series on the disciples with a final reminder: The disciples were fundamentally flawed people. And still Jesus chose them to walk with him.

It’s so easy to skim through the gospels focusing on Jesus (which is in itself a good thing) but forgetting about the people around him. Thinking, “Man, those guys were so cool. They healed people and drove out demons and got to hang out with Jesus all the time. I wish I was like that.”

But the disciples were not perfect people.

Peter’s faith wavered when Jesus asked him to walk on water. Judas fell victim to greed and betrayed Jesus for money. And all twelve wasted most of the last supper arguing about which one of them was better than the others. They questioned whether Jesus was really the Messiah all throughout their journey with him. 

Jesus got a little frustrated with them sometimes. And still he chose them.

They weren’t theological scholars. They were fishermen and tax collectors — blue collar folks with no formal training whatsoever. They didn’t have any special knowledge or expertise. Luke says they were “unschooled, ordinary men.”

And still Jesus chose them.

In the same way he chooses us, even though we fail him day by day, even though we’re not qualified.

So for those of you like me who have suffered from what I call Christian Impostor Syndrome, cut it out. He made us — and he called his creation “very good.” And that’s all the qualification we need.

We are flawed and chosen.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20


This post is part three of a series on the disciples. Read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

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joy // worship playlist

I’m fortunate to have been happy for most of my life. I feel contentment often. Most of the time it’s when I’m curled up with a good book or enjoying a glass of iced tea in the sunshine. I felt something along the lines of elation on my wedding day — total giddy delight.

But those things are slightly different than true joy — the kind that radiates through your body and turns your focus away from everything else.

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We can experience true joy through God — and what’s even crazier to imagine is that he experiences joy in us. What?? The God of the universe is joyful about little old you? YES.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 15:9-11

If that’s not enough to get you pumped about the day, I don’t know what is.

Worship comes in many forms, but there’s something special about music for me. (And not just church songs, but I’ll circle back to that in a later post.) There a couple of songs that spark that joy — that gets my heart pumping and my head excited about God. That, to borrow a lyric, “start a fire in me.”

This is my ultimate joyful worship playlist. Feel free to put this bad boy on shuffle, roll the windows down, and belt the lyrics out at the top of your lungs. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing. Nope, nothing to see here.

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ask away

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So, let’s say you’ve become a Christian. Jesus is your bestest best friend and you’re just overflowing with all the blessings in your life. Life is all puppies and rainbows from here on out, right?

Nope.

Even with God on our side, life is going to have rough patches. When we have fears and struggles and doubts, it’s so easy to feel like bad Christian. If you really loved God, you wouldn’t have these feelings! And if you did, you’d just ignore them and push on through without batting an eye, right?

Also nope.

I recently finished reading Judges, and Gideon’s story stuck with me. God appears to Gideon in Judges 6 and tells him he’s going to lead an army to defeat the bad guys, the Midianites.

But Gideon’s not sure about all this. He has some pretty tough questions for God, and he comes right out with them:

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

Judges 6:13-16

Gideon is pretty blunt here. He comes right out and accuses God of abandoning his people. An angry god would’ve condemned Gideon or struck him down for his boldness. But our God takes the time to both address his accusations and reassure him about his ability to lead the army to victory.

But Gideon still isn’t sure. What if this wasn’t really God? What if he had been out in the sun too long and was going a little bonkers? So he asks God for a sign that it was really him and that he would really lead his army to victory — not once, not twice, but three times! (See Judges 6:17-22, Judges 6:36-38, and Judges 6:39-40.)

And God did exactly as he asked. Three times. This blew me away.

I have a tendency to think I’m inconveniencing God with my prayers, especially when they’re about problems that seem trivial in the grand scheme of things. But God took the time to prove to Gideon three times that he was real and had set a plan in motion — a plan that needed Gideon to succeed. God’s patience in the face of Gideon’s criticism and fear is revolutionary for my own feelings of inadequacy.

It’s ok to have questions. We might feel like quitting, but God doesn’t quit on us. And if we ask him, he’ll sit patiently with us and help us work through whatever’s on our minds. He wants to be real with us, if we’ll commit to being real with him.

So that thing that’s been sitting on your heart, weighing you down? Ask away.

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