Reading through the Bible

Without a plan, you will find it difficult to develop spiritual disciplines. I encourage you in these days leading up to the new year to consider finding a plan for the new year that will help you in your Bible reading.

There is no right or wrong plan. (I suppose if you plan not to read, then that is the wrong plan!) A few years ago I began a reading plan that I have found helpful. It is an adaptation of a type of plan that has been used for many years by many believers. In this plan, you have three readings each day from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. You will complete the Bible in the course of the year.

This plan includes daily readings from the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, and the New Testament. The order of the some of the Old Testament books will not be the same as in your English Bible because it follows the order of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Here are the files for each of the four readings. I print these double-sided and use them as bookmarks in each of the four sections of the Bible I am reading.

Torah Reading Schedule

Prophets Reading Schedule

Writings Reading Schedule

NT Reading Schedule

Lectio Divina

We had a great Lord’s Day together yesterday. Dave Payton taught our class and did a great job with John 14. I am very happy to have able men who can teach alongside me.

At the end of the lesson, Dave included some notes about a Bible reading strategy that is very old, called Divine Reading, or Lectio Divina. The traditional form of this reading has four steps (lection, meditatio, oratio, and contemplation), but you can also find it with the six steps that Dave presented on Sunday (adding silencio and incarnatio). I think the six steps contain helpful additions to the original four.

The four stages of reading were equated with taking a meal or feasting. A bite is taken (lectio, or simply reading the text). The bite is chewed (meditatio, or meditating on, thinking about the text), the flavor and aroma of the text is enjoyed (oratio, or the prayer offered back to God concerning the text), and then swallowed (contemplatio, or the taking of the text into one’s life and the transformation of the life that results).

The two added stages of reading are the beginning prayer (silencio) and finally the living out of the text in your life (incarnatio).

Dave gave some practical suggestions that I think are imperative to good Bible reading:

1. Choose a length of text that fits you. Do not read too little. Challenge yourself. But also, do not try to read so much that you lose the life-transforming aspect of the reading. In my own reading, I have large portions that I read daily, but I choose smaller sections to use for the Lectio Divina described above.

2. Have a plan. This cannot be stressed too much. Do not be haphazard in your reading. Do not simply read when you feel like it or read what you feel like reading. No matter how much or how little you read, be intentional about it. As Dave also says, make a plan for how you are going to read. Find a time and a place to read.

3. Have study helps available. Be ready to understand the difficulties you might find in the text.

4. Don’t be in a hurry. Haste is your enemy. Consider the analogy of the feast described above. Reading the Bible is not a trip to McDonald’s. Don’t treat it that way. Whether you are reading large or small passages, consider them as gourmet food and savor them that way.

5. Adapt this plan to your situation and be creative. Dave stressed that each of us has a unique life situation. There will not be one specific plan that fits every person and every lifestyle. Don’t use this as excuse to be lazy, or worst of all as an excuse not to read at all. Rather, look at your life and the consider the challenge of how best to shape your life around the reading of God’s word.

We have a break for two weeks from our Sunday Bible Study. Take this time to continue privately in the Word. Consider the coming of our Savior at this time. Think about the New Year coming. Take every opportunity to make changes in your life that would form you into the image of God’s son.

Bon Appetit!

John 13

This Sunday we are studying John 13. We are entering a new section of the Gospel of John. Jesus’ public ministry has been the focus of John 1-12. Beginning in John 13 is an extensive section where Jesus is alone with his disciples. Following this section comes the crucifixion and then resurrection of Jesus.

John 13 can be divided into four sections:

John 13:1-11–Jesus Sets an Example for His Disciples
John 13:12-20–Jesus Teaches His Disciples the Meaning of Service
John 13:21-30–Satan Enters Judas
John 13:31-38–Jesus Gives a New Command

As you read each section, remember to first pray that God would help you to understand the text. Second, read each section asking what we might learn about God the Father and about Jesus the Son.

As you read, remember that last week in John 12 was the first time that Jesus said that his time had now come. Before then, he always said that his time was not yet. Notice the beginning of John 13. John repeats that Jesus knows that his time has come. That makes what follows all the more poignant.

In the first section, Jesus provides an example for this disciples to follow. He takes off his outer garment, takes the basin of water and a towel, and he washes the feet of the disciples. Consider what this act tells us about Jesus. What does Jesus think of himself? What does Jesus think of himself in relation to his disciples? What about Judas, who is still at the table at this point?

In the second section, Jesus explains to his disciples the meaning of the foot washing. The action of foot washing followed by Jesus’ explanation sounds quite a bit like the way Jesus taught through his parables. His act of foot washing is the parable. His explanation is the private word Jesus would have with his disciples when he explained his teaching to them. Jesus is Lord and Teacher, yet he washes his disciples’ feet. How much more should we, who are not lords and teachers, wash the feet of others.

The next scene tells of the dinner. There is an interaction between Peter and John, and then John asks Jesus a question, but this whole section is leading up to moment of decision for Judas. In the middle of the meal, Judas arises and leaves to begin the process of betrayal. John concludes, “And it was night.” What a contrast to the light of Christ coming into the world.

After the departure of Judas, Jesus begins teaching the disciples. He offers them a new command, “Love one another.” This is not really a new command. Jesus knows and quotes the Old Testament when it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rather, it seems that Jesus is amplifying and emphasizing the importance of this command. This emphasis on loving one another seems to be what Jesus was getting at in the other Gospels when he gave the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord Your God” and a second command like it, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, in effect, was saying, “You have heard it said, ‘Love the Lord your God’ (And you should), but I say to you, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (because you haven’t been doing this).” This is what Jesus is getting at by saying he is giving them a new command.

Notice at the end of this section what Jesus says about love. Our love is the sign to others that we follow Jesus. It is not by our doctrine (although right doctrine is important), it is not by our dress (though we should dress modestly and appropriately), and it is not by what we say (although we should speak the truth and be prepared to give witness to Christ). Instead Jesus says that people will know we are Jesus’ followers by the way we love one another. Pay attention to what Jesus says and what he does not say. He does not say that people will be won over by our love, but only that they will know who we are and our identity in Christ. Also, he does not say that this happens through our love of them (although we should love all people), but rather that they will know who we are by the way we love each other.

I look forward to seeing our small group Sunday morning.


How Will They Preach?

I just received a message from friends on the mission field with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In their message, they included some statistics about the current state of missions around the globe. Here is what they said:

Fast Facts
Global population ………………………………………………………………… 7.0 billion people
Population of unreached people groups with limited
or no access to the Gospel …………………………………………………… 3.9 billion people
Number of Southern Baptist missionaries currently
serving overseas with IMB ………………………………………………….. 4,854 missionaries*
(* Plus their approx. 4,000 children)
Number of countries in which they are working …………………….. 134 countries
Number of people groups currently being engaged
by IMB missionaries ……………………………………………………………. 874 people groups
Number of people groups currently being engaged
that do not have Scripture in their language
(“Bible-less people groups”) ………………………………………………… 204 people groups

I want to point out two items from this list and then encourage you to give sacrificially to support the International Mission Board.

First, notice number of people groups that the IMB is currently engaging: 874! I wish that number were higher, but we need to praise the Lord for what he is doing among those 874 different people groups. But second, notice that among those 874 people groups, 204 of them have not scripture in their language! That means that almost one in four people groups being engaged by the IMB has no scripture available to them.

If I might add to Paul’s argument in Romans 10, “How will they hear the gospel, unless someone preach it to them; how will they preach unless they be sent; and how will they preach unless there is a scripture to preach!

There is an urgent need to provide scripture to those 204 people groups currently being engaged by missionaries. There is also a great need to provide both missionaries and scripture to hundreds upon hundreds of other people groups that have not been engaged and which have no scripture.

This Christmas you have an opportunity to help support the work of the thousands of IMB missionaries through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, an annual offering taken on behalf of the IMB. 100% of the funds raised through the offering go to support overseas operations. Your offering will make a tremendous difference in the world. If you are not part of a church that takes an offering for the IMB, please go the IMB website for information about how you can help support their work.

John 12

We are preparing for John 12 today at church.

This chapter highlights several different responses to Jesus. Jesus himself will conclude the teaching.

First, we see the response of both Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Judas, the keeper of the disciples’ money. Mary uses expensive perfumed oil to anoint Jesus’ feet before his coming death. Judas is greedy for money.

Second, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, many people followed Jesus. The priests, on the other hand, responded to Jesus’ life-giving miracle by seeking to kill Lazarus, so that the crowd would cease following Jesus.

Third, the crowd responded to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with shouts of praise and a welcoming of Israel’s king.

Fourth, back to the problem of Lazarus, the Pharisees saw the crowds rushing after Jesus because of his rising from the dead. Their response was, “We have failed.” Their only failure was failing to open their eyes and see the truth.

Fifth, some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for the Passover seek out Jesus through Philip and Andrew. Jesus responds to the news with the long-awaited “Now my time has come.” Jesus has said repeatedly throughout the Gospel of John, “My time has not yet come.” Now it has arrived.

Sixth, the Father, in a voice from heaven, responds to Jesus, saying, “I have glorified [your name], and I will glorify it again.”

In all of these responses, do you see yourself? Jesus says at the end of the chapter, “The one who believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me. . . . I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness. . . . I know that [the Father’s] command is eternal life.”

Have you placed your faith in Jesus as the one sent from God? Are you still walking in darkness? Jesus came as a light in the darkness of the world so that we would not remain in the dark, but would receive the light, and the gift of eternal life. That is God’s gracious offer to you today.

Nigeria Bible Translation Trust–Week Two

I am at the end of my second week in Nigeria. Things continue to go well and I am looking forward to our third week here, and then seeing my family again!

Work in a developing country is always a challenge, and we have daily reminders of that as we deal with the electricity. Electricity from outside regularly turns on and off throughout the day. It seems to be mostly off, but I can’t always tell. The NBTT has a generator that can be turned on to power the compound when the outside electricity is off, but there are significant amounts of time when neither the generator not the outside electricity is on. Since the generator uses fuel, they do not run it in the middle of the night, for instance. And they especially don’t want to run it when there is outside electricity coming in.

the result of all of this is that our meetings are frequently, and sometimes quite inconveniently, interrupted by power outages. Since we are using a minimum of paper in this meeting, all the information is shared electronically, and the presentations are projected on a screen for the audience. Once the electricity goes off, it is quite difficult to continue what we are doing.

“What is the problem?” you might ask. We could just turn on the generator then and continue with the program. That works when the person that runs the generator is present, is awake, can be found, is not away on a trip, etc. But we persevere. And good things are happening.

I observed two translation teams this week. The first three days of the week I spent with two Kamwe men and their consultant. Another man was there being trained for something, but I could find out what. The first day we met and they went through a chapter of Leviticus, chapter three, I believe. One of the translators read the verse in Kamwe. Another would translate that translation into English. Then the consultant would ask questions about the translation. They worked so quickly that they finished the chapter in about two hours.

I was particularly impressed with this young lady working as the consultant. The group was working in English, but she knew the target language of Kamwe well enough that she could converse with them in that language. In addition, she would talk at times to the other young man there for training in a third language that the two Kamwe men did not seem to understand. And then, when there were difficulties at certain points she would read from the Camerounian Bible to give them other examples of translation options. This, and she knew Hebrew extremely well.

When I pointed out to her the next day that she was working in four languages besides Hebrew, she smiled a little shyly. “Did I?” When I counted off the languages and then paused, she said, “Oh, you forgot about Hausa. We used that quite a bit.” I believe it was a desire for accuracy more than pride.

The second day that I spent with the group they got hung up on two verses in Leviticus 4 that dealt with sin that came from mishandling things devoted to God. They had great difficulty in getting the right sense for the things devoted to the Lord. They tried many options, but they all fell short for one reason or another. They struggled through two hours like this. The translators apologized repeatedly for taking so long with these concepts. They were embarrassed, I think, because they were afraid I though they were going too slow.

At the end of the two hours, we began to pack up our things to leave. I asked the consultant if I could say a few things to the translators. I told them that the previous day they flew through about 35 verses of text, but that today they could only do two verses. But then, I reminded them of the text they were translating. It concerned the guilt that would attach to a man who mishandled the things of God. I reminded them that their job there was to translate the Word of God into their native Kamwe language. They were handling the things of God. It was crucial for them to not mishandle it, but to treat it carefully.

There is serious work being done here these three weeks. I am humbled to be invited to be a part of it. My prayer is that God would be honored by the correct handling of his Word, and that many people and peoples would come to know him by reading and studying his Word in their language.

Nigeria Bible Translation Trust–Week One

I am in Jos, Nigeria for an Old Testament workshop on biblical law at the Nigeria Bible Translation Trust. We have two more weeks to go.

The first week has been eventful as we have had lectures each morning, given by Scott Nikaido, Anne Kompaore, and me. We discussed some introductory material on the first day and then began looking at texts after that. We spent the first week focusing on the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20-23). Our lectures have ranged in topic depending on the presenter. Scott is very knowledgable on background issues related to the Ancient Near Eastern law codes. Anne Kompaore is the translator among the three of us, so she focused on specific translation and linguistic problems that arose in her texts. I focused on the Hebrew text I was covering and worked through my chapter, showing how we get from the Hebrew text to an English translation.

After our morning sessions we have been breaking into small discussion groups to allow the participants to ask questions and discuss particular points of interest. My group on Friday was particularly interesting to me. In the morning session I had been covering Exodus 23, which included a description of three annual feasts. In our group I asked the translators how they have been translating matzot, the unleavened bread used in the first feast. Most of them responded in their local language with some sort of phrase that included bread and indicated that the bread had no yeast. I then asked if any of them had bread in their culture. “Oh, sure,” they all responded. Good. So they know what bread is. “And does your bread have yeast in it?” “Oh, yes, yes. We use yeast in our bread.” “Well, okay, then. Do any of you have bread with no yeast in it?” A few of them thought for a moment, and then one older man to my right said with a big smile, “Yes, we make a type of bread with no yeast.” “And what do you call it in your language?” He answered with a word that sounded to me like mpenpen. “Do you suppose,” I continued, “that you could use mpenpen to translate matzot?” All the men looked at one another. “No, we already have a phrase ‘bread without yeast’.” I then went on to explain that in English we have no bread without yeast. So when we come the word matzot we can’t translate the word. We have two options. We could simply transliterate it and call it matzot. But then we would still have to explain to people what that was. The other option is to explain in the translation what matzot is. The second option is what the English Bible tradition has done by using the phrase unleavened bread. The problem, however, is that these Nigerian translators, at least in some cases, do not have the same problem we do in English. They have bread with no yeast, and they have a perfectly good word for it: mpenpen. But they were reluctant to use it because they had a tendency to work from an English translation as a base text. They were creating unneeded difficulties for themselves because instead of seeing the Hebrew and finding the right translation in their own language, they were following the English, which has to use explanations and figures of speech that are not in the Hebrew language. They were trying to translate our problem, rather than translating the text.

After we talked for a few minutes, a few of the men got very excited and animated. (Our group was called down at one point because our spirited discussion drowned out the work of the other groups!) They began to explain to one another how they could use their own words rather than following the English words. There was a satisfaction, I think, both in the fact that they discovered a simpler way to translate the text, and also that their languages were rich enough to be able to translate the Bible more easily and naturally than English could.

This first week has been a great education for me as I learn to identify translation problems. I also have had to learn to ask questions properly. I have been working in our afternoon sessions with the Gokana translation team. The team consists of two Nigerian translators from the Gokana people group and an American consultant. We were checking their translation of the Ten Commandments on my first day with them. I noticed something odd in the last commandment, “You shall not covet . . .” There was an odd combination of words about an eye and a fire. I brought it to the consultant’s attention. “Oh, yes, that is a good question,” he said. “What does that phrase mean there?” One of the translators began to work through it, but I thought I would cut to the chase, and asked, “Does it mean coveting?” Before the translator could answer me, the consultant interrupted and said, “No, we don’t do it that way. Let me try this.” He then began to work with the translator to apply his phrase in various situations to see what his phrase meant. We fianlly figured out that his phrase, as he translated it into English, was to have a “burning eye.” But when we explored various scenarios, we discovered that to have a burning eye meant you had something that you wanted to protect. You didn’t want anyone else to have it. Well that was the opposite of what we were trying to communicate with “You shall not covet.”

The other translator brought up a related idea. You can have “a burning heart” as well as a “burning eye.” He suggested perhaps that was the better option. The translators became frustrated at this point, because at this level of analysis it is difficult to figure out how one uses language naturally. The dissection kills the patient, so to speak. Finally, the first translator took out his phone and called a Gokana friend back home. The consultant sat back and looked pleased. Now we were getting somewhere. When his friend got on the phone, they had a brief discussion about what a “burning eye” and a “burning heart” meant. The first meant that you wanted something. The second could be used either way, for something you want or for something you wanted to protect. So, as it turned out, they had the proper translation.

That lesson taught me several things. First, you have to ask the right questions. If the translator had been allowed to answer my first question and say, “Yes, it means to covet.” We would not have had the whole discussion. As it was, we learned quite a bit about those figures of speech and perhaps a better way to translate a nearby text, “I am a jealous God.” God has a burning heart in that case. Second, I learned that translatinn and translation checking is hard work. It is time consuming and must be done carefully. But it must be done. I will share more about that later.

Week One has gone well. Pray that Week Two goes as well or better. Blessings.

The New Year

It is time to resurrect this old blog. It is a new year, and our God is a God of new things. He enjoys creating and re-creating things anew. He created us and brought us into the world. When he saves us, he makes us into new creations. As his sons and daughters, we should be in the same business, so to speak.
Today is the first day of my second semester Biblical Hebrew course. It is a January course, so we will go every day for thirteen days.
In today’s class we be introducing ourselves to one another, making sentences of the this is that variety, telling where things are located using prepositional phrases, asking simple yes/no questions, and making simple sentences using participles. All of these things are review from the first semester.
We will spend the last hour or so of class today learning how to listen to and carry out a simple command. You know, if that’s what learning Biblical Hebrew is all about, then maybe we should learn Hebrew from the Lord!
Shalom lekha.