It's a brand new year and if you're like many people, amid all the hubbub and football games of January 1, you may already be one day behind in your new year's resolution to read the entire Bible in a year.
Averaging just over three chapters a day, it is possible for you to read all sixty-six books of the Scriptures by the end of 2013. So, if you didn't read your three chapters yesterday, don't give up!
There are many good reasons for reading the Bible.
We Lutheran Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God because it gives faithful witness to the foundational Word Who gave life in the beginning and Who gives new life to those who turn from sin (repent) and believe (surrender one's life trustingly) in Jesus Christ.
The book of John in the New Testament says of Jesus, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...All things came into being in Him." It goes on to say that, "the Word became flesh and lived among us...From His fullness we have received grace upon grace..." (John 1:1-18) The Bible then is God's Word about the Word of God!
The Bible is also the place to find the authoritative answers revealed by God about God, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and how to live our lives each day. As another place in the New Testament reminds us, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
So, reading this book is important. But how can you stick with it? Here are a few tips.
First: You might want to recruit some friends who will read the Bible over the course of the year, then meet weekly to discuss it.
In 2011, we decided to read the Bible together in a year's time at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, the congregation I serve as pastor. Participants read at home, then joined in weekly discussion groups held on Wednesdays, one group meeting mornings and another in the evenings.
Reading the Bible together like this helps us to be accountable for doing the reading. It helps keep us "on task."
A group also affords us forgiveness and understanding when we, inevitably, fall behind from time to time.
And we learn a lot from others by reading and discussing God's Word together in this way.
Second: Find a translation with which you're comfortable.
We're blessed to live in a time in which there are many English translations of the Bible. Some are better than others, of course.
But if you find yourself tripping over the King James Version's thee's, thou's, and begats, consider reading the Bible in a translation that you can more readily understand.
Many translations can be found online, not costing you a penny.
Among my favorite translations are the New Revised Standard Version, the Good News Bible, the New International Version, and The Message. (One deficiency of The Message, by the way, is that it doesn't note the verses the way other translations and paraphrases of the Bible do.)
Third: Even if you do decide to use an online Bible over the course of the year, you should go to the expense of getting a basic commentary of the Bible.
Good commentaries will give you background information on the passages, explain the usage of certain words, and may even contain maps. The Eerdman's Companion to the Bible is one such book. The investment needed to buy this book will, if you use it as you read the Bible, be more than worth it!
Fourth: Consider getting a study Bible.
Such Bibles will contain some of the resources found in commentaries. You'll pay a bit more for a study Bible, but not have the expense of a commentary.
The Life Application Bibles, which exist in several different translations, are really great.
So too is The Student Bible with tremendous explanatory articles throughout by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford.
Another great study Bible is The Lutheran Study Bible, published by Concordia Publishing House. While I disagree with my Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod brothers and sisters on some points of theology, especially in their understanding of the role of women, who I believe Scripture teaches are equal to men, I nonetheless find this study Bible extremely helpful.
I cannot endorse the study Bible published by my own denominational publishing house.
Fifth: Remember Jesus came into the world to give forgiveness. So, forgive yourself when you miss a day of reading the Bible or when events intrude and you miss a bunch of days.
The best thing to do when someone learning to ride a horse, bicycle, or skateboard falls is get back up and have at it again. The same is true of reading the Bible. Either pick up where you left off in your reading or, if you're using a list of dated readings, start in again for the readings assigned for the day.
Remember: Reading the Bible isn't about putting a notch on your belt or proving that you're a Super-Christian.
It's about getting to know God better, the way you do a friend.
A friend won't beat you up if you're unable to make the lunches you planned to have together. Friends understand.
So does God. The intentions of our hearts count a lot with God.
Enjoy getting to know God as your best friend by reading the Bible in 2013!