Yes, you CAN read the whole Bible in a year!

small__5474106444I’ve lost count of how many times I started out to read the Bible through in a year and failed. The number has to be less than thirty-eight, since that’s how many years I’ve been a Christ-follower. If I could count the times I’ve started out on that journey, it would be easy to figure out how many times I’ve failed—all I’d have to do is take the number of tries and subtract one.

Yes, that’s right—I did it!

On December 31, 2012, I finished day 365 of “The Bible in a Year” reading plan from the American Bible Society. I finished a day late, but I finished. I expected to experience a hootin’, hollerin’ victory-rush celebration when that last checkmark appeared on my tablet, but the reality was a quiet moment of humble thanksgiving, a moment that surprised me almost as much as the realization that I’d actually finished what I started.

When I shared my victory with a friend, they asked what made the difference this year. I’ve thought long and hard about that question and came up with this list of ten experience-based tips I’d share with anyone who wants to start—and finish—reading the Bible in a year.

Tip #1: Start Where You Are.

Your plan doesn’t have to start on January 1, on your birthday, or on any other future date that empowers you to procrastinate. The best day to start a new reading plan is today.

Tip #2: Have a Plan

The old cliché is true: Failing to plan is planning to fail. A plan is a roadmap that defines your destination and details how you’ll get there. It lets you measure your progress along the way, and helps you get back on-track if you’re off-course. Starting at Genesis and reading until you reach the maps and concordance isn’t a plan, it’s a roadmap to failure. Been there. Not pretty.

Tip #3: Got Devices? There’s an App for that!

Our brethren at LifeChurch.tv have developed the free YouVersion Bible app for virtually every mobile device known to man. One of the best features of the YouVersion Bible app are the integrated reading plans. I used one of those plans to keep myself on-track last year, and I’m using a different one for this year. The only mobile device that doesn’t have a YouVersion app available is an abacus—but I hear an abacus makes a great holder for a paper Bible.

Tip #4: Work it into your daily routine.

I generally read my daily plan in the morning over breakfast. What part of your day is best for you? Find it, and then be consistent—the experts tell us it takes six weeks to develop a habit (good or bad). Develop a daily Bible habit.

Tip #5: Give Yourself Permission to Catch Up.

Stuff happens. You will get off-schedule. Every time you do, it’s an opportunity to give up. Don’t even entertain the idea. Weekends are challenging for me because my schedule is different. When Monday comes and I’m behind, instead of flogging myself I read more and catch up.You’re never so far behind that you can’t get back on track.

Tip #6: This will not always be fun.Or convenient. Or pleasant, even.

I know it sounds terribly unspiritual, but let’s be honest here. There are days when I don’t want to read the Bible. There are days when I do my daily reading and can’t even remember what I just read. And let’s face it, there are parts of the Bible that are, well, tedious (and a little boring). I’m sure God had a good reason for all those genealogies, but that doesn’t make them easier to read. Push through those days and keep going!

Tip #7: Listen.

God not only wants to talk to you, He yearns to talk to you. He can speak to you and your specific circumstances in passages you’d never expect. Even in those tedious genealogies. He always tries to talk to us, but we’ve got to get quiet and listen if we want to hear Him.

Tip #8: Watch for the Threads.

As you read your daily assignments, look for those threads that run through the entire Bible. They’ll change the way you see yourself and the way you see God. For example, the #1 thing in God’s heart is restoring His relationship with fallen humans like you and me. We can see that agenda first in the early chapters of Genesis, and if you look you’ll find it in every single book of the Bible. Yes, even in the genealogies.

Tip #9: Watch for the Ordinary.

As you read, be on the lookout for those ordinary people who God uses to accomplish His work. God loves using ordinary people. He particularly enjoys using them to do things beyond their limitations, and He even has a sense of humor about it. Who would have thought that a former Super-Pharisee (Paul) would be the one God would use to reach out to the Gentiles?

Tip #10: Watch for Opportunities.

As you read through God’s word, be sure to look for opportunities. When you start looking for them, you’ll find those opportunities on every page. For example, never miss an opportunity to use God’s favorite word. Whenever we respond to God with this word, something wondrous and powerful happens, and we’re never the same. It’s a word that always makes God smile when He hears it on our lips in response to Him—a simple, unconditional “Yes.”

 

 

 

photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

Reflections on Writing for the Ages

It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from the Writing for the Ages workshop at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs. I’m just now beginning to process the week, thanks to a hyper-busy day-job at a company that changed ownership the day after I returned to the office. I knew that change was coming, and the timing of this trip couldn’t have stunk worse if it tripped over a skunk. I almost pulled out of this workshop, but something told me I needed to be there. That something was right. Writing for the Ages was the best four days of my writing life. Ever.

This was my first trip to Glen Eyrie, but it won’t be my last. It’s an amazing place. The staff—all the way from the bottom to the top—were wonderful, friendly, helpful people who approached the work with servant’s hearts. They said they prayed for us by name before we arrived, all through our stay,  and would continue to pray for us after we left. I believe them. They did a masterful job of creating an atmosphere where we could relax, learn, and reconnect with our calling as children’s writers.

God spoke to my soul through so many different mouths that week, seemingly random but so superbly coordinated it had to be God putting the right words in the right mouths at just the right time to reinforce his call, encourage me on my journey, and speak clearly about His purpose and plan for me as a writer and as a child of God.

On the last day of Writing for the Ages, my friend and unofficial mentor Nancy Rue looked me in the eye and asked if I’d gotten what I needed from the event. I said yes, but I found it a little difficult explain what God had whispered into my heart that week. Nancy shared a few precious words of encouragement with me that were like the cherry on top of the affirmation sundae God served me over the course if those four wonderful days at Glen Eyrie.

It was a God thing. It had to be. In the face of so much encouragement, my natural self would have puffed up like the Hindenburg. Instead, I experienced a profound and surprising sense of humility.

I left Glen Eyrie with God’s thumbprint on my head, my heart and my feet—humbled, blessed, and thoroughly aware that any success I experience writing for children has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the God who called me. And He did call me.

 

 

Casey Anthony, Vitamins, and Judgment

I did something really dumb yesterday that cost me thirty bucks. Granted, thirty bucks isn’t going to bankrupt me. It just ticks me off.

I bought a bottle of vitamins at Sam’s Club, along with a a few cases of this and that. The girl at the checkout put that bottle of vitamins in the top of the shopping cart (the part designed for a child to ride in). When I unloaded the cart into the back of the car, I never picked up the vitamins. I guess they were the right color to blend into the cart, because I even pushed the cart over to the cart corral and never noticed the expensive little bottle hiding just inches from my hands. I never even gave it a thought until last night a little before midnight when I went to put them away.

I went back to Sam’s after church today to pick up some cheese that I forgot to buy yesterday, and I asked at the Member Services counter to see if anyone had found my $30 bottle of vitamins. They keep a logbook of items left behind, but my vitamins weren’t there. Left with no other option, I did what I had to do. I accepted responsibility for my dumb mistake and bought another $30 bottle of vitamins—and personally escorted them to their destination.

Casey Anthony Leaving Jail

Oddly enough, my experience today made me think about Casey Anthony.  Everyone and their cat has been talking about the surprise verdict in the Casey Anthony trial this week, and the rumble of dissatisfaction has re-surged today with her release from prison early this morning. The vast majority of vocal Americans believe Casey got away with murder and haven’t hesitated to let their feelings be known. There have been credible death threats, ugly crowds, and lawyers making money helping Casey hide.

I haven’t made a single statement on the issue since the verdict came out, in part because my opinion is a definite minority and I don’t want to get beaten up. I’ve decided to break my silence.

There are exactly twelve people who are qualified to decide whether the verdict was correct. Period. I wasn’t in the jury box. I didn’t get to see all the evidence presented. I didn’t get to debate that evidence behind closed doors with eleven other jurors. I am, therefore, not qualified to pronounce Casey Anthony guilty. I sincerely believe that there were jurors who wanted to find Casey guilty, but the prosecution failed to prove her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the eyes of the only twelve people whose opinions count.

It should be noted, however, that the jury didn’t pronounce Casey innocent in the death of her daughter. They said the prosecution didn’t prove her guilty. I know of only one person who knows whether or not Casey is truly innocent, and that’s Casey. Even if she is truly innocent, the jury didn’t set her free. Today, Casey’s in hiding. She may never be truly free again.

My vitamin debacle brought Casey Anthony’s case to mind because I had to accept responsibility for my mistake. I had to accept the consequences of my mistake. I had to pay the price of the replacement. If Casey is guilty, she’s not “getting away” with anything. She knows the truth, and has to live with that knowledge. Eventually she will answer to her creator. Either she will face eternal judgment or Jesus will take her sin and set her truly free, just like he did for me.

Until that day comes, instead of throwing rhetorical (or physical) rocks at Casey Anthony, we ought to pray for her and her family and love her the way God loves us—unconditionally.

K-LOVE: Radio Listening Even I Can Love

I’ve been listening to a lot of radio lately.

Yeah, I know. Big deal. I work for a bunch of radio stations, so I listen to the radio all the time, right?

Okay, true confessions time. No, I don’t listen to the radio all the time. I listen to the radio when I have to. With ten different transmitters to monitor, there comes a point when I’ve heard all the radio I can stand.  I seldom listen to those stations for enjoyment—I’m evaluating the technical quality, coverage, or audio processing. I’m listening for technical issues that cause subconscious annoyance to average listeners and, in the wrong quantity, can make them tune away. Even when I try to listen to one of my stations for enjoyment, I can’t turn off that evaluating-the-signal thing. It’s even hard to turn it off when it’s not one of mine, but for the right programming I can do it.

Like any other consumer, when it comes to listening for enjoyment, there are some things I just don’t listen to. Sports, for example. I’m not into sports all that much, and I find no pleasure whatsoever in listening to grown men talk smack like ten-year-olds (a primary component in some—but not all— sports talk programs). I also don’t listen to Hip-Hop when I don’t have to. I find some of the songs outright offensive, and that offense has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with content. I don’t listen to a lot of talk radio either, and when I do there are certain triggers that will make me tune out faster than you can say Arbitron. Any form of racist rhetoric for example, including those who believe I should apologize for being born Caucasian. I have zero tolerance for racism in any form. Period.

A common thread that runs through all my tune-out triggers is negativity. I don’t need any extra negativity weeds in the garden of my mind, thankyouverymuch.  I have to tolerate a certain degree in order to do my job and coexist with a negative world, but I don’t have to consume negativity when it’s optional. I prefer to put as much positivity into my ears as possible. I need encouragement to fuel my soul so I can encourage others. That’s exactly why I’ve been listening to a lot of radio lately.

My favorite radio station these days is known as “Positive, Encouraging K-LOVE.” It’s not just a radio station, but a network of hundreds of stations coast to coast all carrying the same programming. Some are full-power signals owned by non-profit Educational Media Foundation (EMF), some are leased signals (what the industry refers to as a LMA, or Local Marketing Agreement), and some are low-power satellators (satellite-fed translators), but all carry the same listener-supported format of Contemporary Christian Music with relevant personalities and content. K-LOVE’s mission statement is:

To effectively communicate the Gospel message to those who don’t know or fully understand it, through full-time contemporary Christian music and short educational elements over radio and the Internet-using modern day language and the highest professional standards.

As I see it, they’re doing exactly that, and doing it well. It’s remarkably close to the kind of Christian radio we used to dream about producing ‘back in the day.’  K-LOVE is exactly what I need (from a listener’s perspective) in a radio station. It cleanses my head, encourages my heart and feeds my soul. I don’t just like K-LOVE, I need K-LOVE.

Even if you don’t have one of K-LOVE’s over-the-air outlets where you are, you can listen anywhere you have internet connectivity. There are K-LOVE apps for iPhone and Android phones, as well as streaming through their website that works well on my Android tablet.

I love K-LOVE. I think you will, too. Check it out.

Getting Out of the Fish

In recent weeks God, as He is wont to do, has drop-kicked me out of my comfort zone.

I’ve learned an important lesson in this experience.

If ever you utter the phrase, “Lord, I’ll do anything but <insert scary ministry thing here>,” God is quite likely to call you to do <insert scary ministry thing here>. In fact, you can almost count on it. It’s not that He’s mean and wants to put us into places where we’d be miserable; it’s that our “scary ministry things” are often linked to places where we’re ruled by fear and need healing. In my case, God’s called me to the thing that for years I’ve avoided: Children’s Ministry.

Over the years, I’ve staunchly held that my gifts don’t fit Children’s Ministry. I even suggested that if I were to attempt to work with children, I would duct tape them and lock them in a closet—which claim usually had the desired effect, causing those who disagreed with my assessment to back off.

What a load of crap.

The real reason I’ve resisted working with children is that I didn’t want to go back and dredge up unpleasant memories from my childhood. Simply stated, I am to Children’s Ministry what Jonah was to Nineveh. God has pursued me with incredible patience, just as He pursued Jonah. I can even look back and see a similar pattern in my resistance and rebellion, even a parallel to the “big fish” thing.

Let me tell ya, it stinks inside that fish. Not recommended.

Back in May, I made a life-changing decision to get out of the fish. When the Lord tapped my shoulder and said, “Let’s talk about writing fiction for tweens,” rather than my usual diversionary tactics, I answered with a simple “Okay.” Not that I’ll never again write adult fiction, but for now my focus is completely on middle-grade fiction. Oh, and for the benefit of those not familiar with the term, middle grade does not mean mediocre, as some folks I know actually thought when I first used the term. It’s writing targeted to the middle grades, generally 9-12 year olds. It is exactly what God called me to write. It proves He has a sense of humor. Those were some of the worst years of my life, and He’s called me to go back there and write from that misery.

Come to think of it, that’s not humor—it’s downright brilliant, making me go back and heal some wounds I never even wanted to admit to having. It’s stirred up some interesting memories and insights, some of which I’ll blog about here in the near future.

I took a giant step five weeks ago. I volunteered to help with our church’s Children’s Ministry on a more-or-less trial basis. For the past five weeks, we’ve done a re-run of our VBS program on Sunday mornings. Today, our Minister to Children asked how I felt about my experience and if I wanted to stay.

I said yes.

In fact, you couldn’t drag me out of that children’s wing with two cranes and a bulldozer.

Okay, Lord, you can go ahead and move the fish. I won’t need him anymore.

I’m “all in.”

Ancient Egypt and the Fourth of July

We’ve had a rare and wonderful couple of days around the Case complex. Rare, because I haven’t written a word in the past two days. Wonderful, because Sharon and I did something today we’d been talking about for months—we went to see the World of the Pharaohs exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center. It was either today or wait until Mr. Peabody fixes the WABAC machine, since today marked the closing day of the exhibit. We’ve been talking about going ever since the exhibit opened last September. At least we didn’t wait until the last minute. There were approximately 343 minutes left before closing when we arrived.

I wish I could share my pictures with you, but unfortunately no photography was permitted in the exhibition hall. Dozens of stern-looking men and women watched every move we made, lest someone whip out an iPhone and take an illicit picture of a rare artifact rather than buying a postcard from the Egyptian tchochke section of the gift shop.

To me, it’s always interesting to explore a culture different from my own.  Not everyone agrees with me, I’m sure. Take the folks who travel to foreign lands are get upset because the people there don’t speak American English. If you want to be surrounded by people just like you, why not stay home and give the more adventurous a little elbow room?

If there’s one thing I wish I had a picture of, it’s a sign that appeared near the exit of the final room of the exhibit, the room with the mummies and sarcophagi. They wisely put that room at the end of the exhibit so all the kids being forced by Mom and Dad to broaden their historical acumen had something to look forward to that kept them focused (sort of). The sign touched on a point of controversy that’s been discussed repeatedly over the years: By displaying these sarcophagi and the linen-wrapped human remains found therein, are we disturbing and/or disrespecting the dead?

I’ve found myself thinking about that question for the past several hours, long after leaving the exhibit. I’m far from an expert on the religion of ancient Egypt, but I know they believed in an afterlife.  I believe in an afterlife too, though not at all the same kind of afterlife they did. I think, however, that the ancient Egyptians wanted the same thing most of us want: to be remembered. I can think of no situation sadder than a life ending and nobody wanting to remember that life,  or mourn, or grieve their loss.

Therein is a thread that connects us all, regardless of our religious belief (or lack thereof): we want to be remembered after we die.  Any honest author will admit that they dream of writing something so powerful that it continues to speak for generations after they’re gone. Medical researchers dream of discovering the cure to some fatal disease and having that cure bear their name long after they’ve breathed their last. Even the steelworkers who erect our modern skyscrapers take pride in knowing that over which they’ve labored will outlive them.

The sign called attention to an inscription on the wall of the room where the actual remains were displayed. It was a blessing that called on their gods to bless those individuals whose mummified remains I had just viewed—a blessing that listed the name of every individual whose remains we’d seen.  I could not recite that blessing without violating my own belief that I should not pray to false gods or idols, but I respected that blessing. As long as the names of those people are spoken and respected, they have the kind of afterlife they craved, an afterlife in which they are not forgotten.

In processing all this, it’s occurred to me that just yesterday we celebrated the day when America declared its independence, a day that began the first of many wars fought to achieve and maintain the freedom most Americans take for granted. One of our most sacred freedoms is the right to choose our religious belief and affiliation. While it’s become a popular sport to look down our noses and badmouth people who don’t believe exactly the way we do, I think it’s important to remember that the same blood that was shed to protect my right to embrace Christianity with both hands and both feet protects the rights of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and whatever-else-ists to believe what they believe. I may respectfully disagree with what you believe, I will fight to the death to defend your right to believe it.

May we never forget the names of those whose blood has defended our right to respectfully disagree.

The View From The Cross

Contemplating the various Good Friday observances—or lack thereof—taking place today, I found myself recalling a conversation I had fifteen years ago while living in Virginia Beach. I had the privilege of performing the role of High Priest in the tenth anniversary season of The Man Called Jesus, a top-shelf passion play that, with changes of name and venue but the same core personnel and message,  is celebrating it’s twenty-fifth season this week.

My remembrance is a conversation with Robert Klein, an outstanding actor who had performed in the role of Jesus for five years at the time (and is performing his twentieth season in the role this week). Working with Robert was a remarkable experience. His grasp of character and focused portrayal was so intense that, as High Priest, it was all I could do to not fall on my face and repent. Talking with him one day during rehearsal, I asked him about his experience developing the character. Preparing the character for the first time changed his life forever, because he had to focus on seeing things as Jesus would see them. After five years, he believed preparing for that role was the greatest spiritual growth exercise in his life.

Think about it. Jesus knew exactly what would happen. He knew the mission he had to accomplish. He knew that every road he traveled led to an agonizing death on a cruel Roman cross. With that knowledge, every photon that entered his eyes took on greater meaning and intensity.  Given his deeper knowledge, what did Jesus see as from his unique vantage point on the Cross?

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The eyes of Jesus’ body had an excellent view of the strange mix of people that had gathered to witness his execution. Beneath his feet, Roman soldiers rolled the dice, dividing His clothing among them. To one side a group of women wept, mourning the one that they had loved and followed. On the other side, Jewish elders hurled insults and challenged His claim to be the Christ, saying: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself.”

Jesus’ disciples were there. Scattered. Dazed. Confused by their great leader’s apparent surrender. Jesus’ mother stood among them and wept, releasing thirty-three years of pent-up motherly angst. Before her pregnancy became visible to the gossips and judgmental neighbors who assumed her to be a sinner, she knew the boy in her belly was the Son of God. She had always known this day would come. The sight of the sharp swords of the Roman soldiers must have triggered memories of the day when she dedicated her eight-day old firstborn son to the Lord—the day when Simeon, the old man who prophesied over her baby, looked into her eyes and warned her of the heartache that would accompany her calling, saying: “A sword will pierce your very soul.”

Surrounding all these main players, a sea of spectators gathered at Golgotha because it was the trendy place to be at the moment. The same fickle crowd had hailed Jesus as King of the Jews just a week before. Earlier on that day of execution they had chanted, “Crucify Him!” and demanded the release of a known criminal named Barabbas rather than the one they once praised.

The eyes of Jesus’ soul didn’t see the crowd. He saw each person as a unique individual. He saw their needs, their hurts, their misunderstanding. He saw Mary, his mother, and felt her heartache at watching her son die a slow, miserable death. Jesus commissioned the disciple John to care for Mary, to take her in as he would his own mother, a loving act of compassion that not only served his mother’s needs, but met the unspoken need of John to love and serve his dying Lord.

The clueless mob of bloodthirsty onlookers must have caused Jesus’ tender heart to break. They didn’t even begin to comprehend the redemptive scene they witnessed.  Yet Jesus felt no anger or bitterness, as you or I might. He looked through eyes full of compassion, longing for them to accept the sacrifice he offered on their behalf. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t even know what they’re doing.”

Jesus’ disciples—the men whom He had walked beside, trained and lived with for three years—had no more insight than the ignorant mob. He saw their confusion, their heartache, their utter cluelessness.  Only one man on that gruesome hilltop understood the events taking place that day, but Jesus knew his disciples’ mourning would soon turn into laughter, their tears into shouts of joy, their discouragement into vision and purpose.

The eyes of Jesus’ Spirit saw what only the Son of God could comprehend. For the first time in all eternity, Jesus experienced isolation from his Father and understood the depth of human depravity and sin. Demons danced around him with delight, celebrating their supposed victory—but with eyes not limited in time and space, Jesus also saw those demons cowering in darkened corners three days later. He saw an eternal bridge, christened with his blood, that would allow mankind the same intimate, personal relationship with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed in Eden before they sinned—the relationship they were meant to have with their maker. When others saw only defeat, Jesus saw the coming victory.

The dying Messiah looked beyond that momentary pain and saw the results of his sacrifice through history. 3000 people received His salvation on the day of Pentecost as cowardly Peter, who had denied Him three times, boldly preached under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus saw Saul of Tarsus, a vicious enemy of the Gospel, accept the free gift of grace and become one of the early church’s greatest leaders. He saw an Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Phillip in a roadside pool taking the good news to his homeland.

Countless generations of mankind passed before Jesus’ eyes, generations for whom His sacrifice made possible salvation by grace through faith. Some accepted, some refused, but all made their choice between the free gift of eternal life and the self-chosen curse of eternal death. Billions made their decisions as he watched, not a massive crowd but solitary individuals making their own personal choice between condemnation and grace, death and life. Al Capone. D.L. Moody. Adolf Hitler. Billy Graham. Each made their own personal, eternal choice.

Then, as He looked down that eternal timeline, Jesus saw you. He saw you in your moment of decision, and He knew your name.

Even then, Jesus could have stopped his suffering. He had the authority to call a legion of angels to set Him free.

Instead, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Then, He bowed His head—and He died.

Because He thought you were worth it.