Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Genesis Briefing

A few days back I encouraged you to ask the right questions.

Consider that what you're about to read, although dealing with events that are undatable (any dates assigned to Genesis 1-11 would be conjecture at best), probably came to its finished written form sometime during the Babylonian exile of Jacob's descendants, or shortly thereafter. We're talking the mid 6th century B.C. (somewhere around 550 B.C.)

Sometimes the Pentateuch (1st 5 books of the Bible, also called the Law, Torah, or the Books of Moses) is referred to as the story of pre-land Israel. Genesis through Deuteronomy tell the story of the people of Israel, their descent into Egypt, the Exodus, receiving the Law, wilderness wanderings, and finally their assembly on the far banks of the Jordan River, ready to go in and take the Promised Land. So what you're reading is the story of one landless Hebrew people as understood by its exiled descendants, also a landless people.

Consider how this story would read to a Hebrew exile, cut off from the land of his ancestors, yet dreaming of returning there soon.

You'll want to explore why God dealt with his people (Adam, Abraham, Jacob and Moses) as he did. Also, inquire as to the message intended for that Israelite refugee. Finally, as you read his story, determine what God might be speaking into your story.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two Improvements

First - I've added a reading list to the lower left column, which will be updated monthly. If you misplace your The Bible in 365 card, you can come right to the blog to get your reading assignment.

Second - I've removed the word verification hoop from the Comments process. If I start getting spammed, I may have to put it back, but for now that's a hassle that none of us needs.

Can You Say "Participation"?

Okay, the time is just about here. Our reading in Genesis begins in two days. It's time for the Bible-reading hoards to come out of the woodwork!

This is dangerous, because it may reveal that no one is reading, which would be understandable since our weather has made promoting this blog difficult.

But I'd love to know if you're reading along. If you are, do me a favor. Give me a little fist bump, preferably in the form of a comment to this post, or if that doesn't work for you, flash me some email traffic. If even that's too high tech for you... then you're probably not reading a blog.

Also, if you still need a The Bible in 365 card, let me know and I'll get you one. I'm hoping to list the readings for January in the left column (if I can figure out how). I know that little parenthetical qualifier is going to lead to several people sending me instructions. Don't. I'm a man. I don't read instructions, and I want to figure it out myself.

That brings up an interesting point. The word Torah, which denotes the first five books of the Old Testament, or more loosely all of Scripture, can be translated as instruction. Sometimes we can indulge our male impatience and skip the directions. When it comes to God's Word, we man up by taking the time to read and to submit ourselves to God's instruction.

So, Man Up! You, too, ladies.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Okay, How Do I Do This?

The Bible was written by people with God’s help. We call this inspiration. God didn’t stop there. God also helped preserve these texts, and he helps in their translation, too. But, again, that’s not all. God is also there to help us when we read the Bible. We call this illumination. God has all the bases covered. His Spirit is active in the biblical texts; in the writing, the preservation, and the interpretation.

If God has gone to that much trouble to make sure his Word accomplishes its purpose, then you can count on him to help you read with understanding.

Pick a time and place to do your reading. I try to do my Bible reading as early in the day as possible. That way I can meditate throughout the day on what I’ve read. Choose a time that works best for you.

Begin with prayer. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading, for his Spirit to commune with yours, and to impress upon your heart his message for you. Remember, as important as it is to know the Scriptures, it’s more important to know the Author.

Read. Don't forget to mark your The Bible in 365 card.

Pray again. Ask God to help you receive and retain what he has for you.

Meditate. Fancy word for letting what you’ve read (and what God says to your spirit) sink in.
To summarize: Pick a time and place, pray, read, receive, let it become part of you.

What If I Get Behind? (2 of 2)

Read the first part of this post here.

Here's what to do if you get behind:


Start again today. The longer you let it go, the more difficult it will be to get back on track.

Find TODAY'S reading, and start there, making a renewed commitment to stay with it every day. (Remember, reading every day is more important than necessarily finishing the Bible in 365 days. Also, by reading the current day's passage, you can more effectively engage with your friends at 365 Forum.)

When you have a little extra time, go back and read the days you missed.

I'm hoping that our joint accountability will help each of us stay on track. We can encourage one another to keep reading... even those days when the passage isn't action movie material. In case you didn't know, God didn't part the Red Sea on every page, and David only fought Goliath once. But you'll be amazed at the richness of God's Word even on the days where no one gets fed to the lions and no giants are slain.

Next: Okay; How Do I Do This?

What If I Get Behind? (1 of 2)

The first goal of The Bible in 365 is to encourage people to read their Bibles everyday. Here's the thing: As with developing any good habit, daily Bible reading will have its ups and downs, especially at first. It's easy to let that quiet time slip by one day, and then the next day you're behind. If you get behind more than a few days, catching up can be a daunting task… but not impossible.

Every year I've read through the Bible, I've gotten behind at one point or another. You probably will, too. My first piece of advice: Don't give up! It only takes about 10 minutes a day, maybe a little more, to read the Bible in a year. Even if you didn't start until July 1st, you'd just have to read two passages a day, so we're only talking 20-30 minutes. Hey! Take eet eesy! You're not six months behind.

We'll get you caught up.

Next: What to Do About It

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Which Translation Should I Use?

There are lots of great Bible translations out there. The first thing you've got to know is that you're going to be hard pressed to find a bad one. Some are translated from the original languages a word at a time, such as the New American Standard Bible. Others are translated by the phrase, like the New International Version.

The first type may be technically more accurate in a word-for-word sense, but by-the-phrase translations, while still accurate to the original meaning, tend to read easier with phrasing that flows from the tongue.

I preach from the New International Version. It's probably the most popular translation of all time. I also really enjoy the New Living Translation and the New Century Version.

Another option is reading from a paraphrase like The Living Bible or The Message.

I alternate between the NIV and other versions. I read through The Message in 2007 and the New Century Version in 2008. Okay, the alternating thing is more of a guideline than a rule. This year (2009) I’m going back to the New International Version.

Here's my best advice. Go to a Christian book store and take three or four versions off the shelf. Read one Old Testament and one New Testament passage from each of the Bibles, like the 23rd Psalm or The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Find a version you're comfortable with. It doesn't have to be a life-long commitment. You can try another version next year.

Next: What If I Get Behind?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Right Questions (3 of 3)

In asking the right questions, we addressed the original context and the canonical context. Today we're exploring how we can determine God's message for you today.

Here are some suggested questions:

Ask questions to get definition: Who or what is being discussed? What does this (word, phrase, sentence) mean?

Ask questions to learn reasons: Why is this so? What’s the purpose? Why is this important?

Ask questions to understand the means: How is this accomplished? [1]

What is God trying to say to me?

How should I think differently?

How should I feel differently?

How should I act differently? [2]

[1] These questions come from Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981, 1993).

[2] These questions from from Dave Ferguson, The Big Idea(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

Next time: A word about translations

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Right Questions (2 of 3)

While the last post (available here) focused on the original context, these questions concern the canonical context, addressing the question: Where does this passage fit within the canon of Scripture?

Here goes:

Is the original speaker also the author of the written record? For example, Jesus taught, but as far as we know, didn't right anything down... okay, other than when he wrote in the dust in the woman caught in adultery encounter.

If not, who did record the original speaker's words?

To whom was he writing?

What was the intended message for the author's audience?

Identify the genre: history, speech, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, gospel, etc. It wouldn't be fair to interpret apocalyptic literature the same way one would interpret a love poem.

Consider the literary context. What comes before the passage? What comes after? Which stories are grouped together? Why?

Our next group of questions will explore God's message for us today.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Right Questions (1 of 3)

In order to get the most out of biblical interpretation, it helps to ask the right questions. This particular post comes in three parts, in which we'll ask questions to determine: 1) the original context; 2) the canonical context, and 3) God's intended message for you. Those terms aren't really important, but without answering the first two, it's less likely we'll get an accurate answer to the third.

Just remember, our main focus is to encourage people to read the Bible every day, and to help them read with understanding.

For right now, I'm more interested in the first part of that mission. I'm a firm believer that if we develop the habit of reading the Bible every day, the understanding will come. Even so, if we're going to read, we might as well understand sooner rather than later.

Here are some questions to get us started:

Who was the original speaker?

To whom is he/she speaking? Is he/she speaking to an individual or to an assembly of listeners? Is the audience receptive, hostile or indifferent?

Who else is there? Are there other people on the outskirts of the crowd listening in?

What was the intended message?

These questions help us discern the original context. The next group of questions is aimed at what I call the 'canonical context.'

Interpreting or Just Reading?

Many hold the position that the Bible should just be read, rather than interpreted. The fear is that careful study could push aside the Holy Spirit. I don’t think so.

Everything requires interpretation. Have you ever tried to express dry humor through email? Unless the person with whom you're communicating knows you really well, the joke will probably go over like a lead balloon. Interpretation is more difficult without being able to see facial expressions and body language.

Or suppose your spouse asks for a Kleenex. Would you give him/her a soggy used one, or a fresh new one? The new one, of course. But how did you know that was the appropriate choice? You interpreted the request.

There are some simple interpretive questions we must ask when reading the Bible, too.

Next: Questions to Ask

[NOTE: In a previous post I mentioned that one benefit of reading through the Bible at a faster pace is that, in doing so, we may see the broader message more clearly. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. However, anyone knows a forest cannot be studied in depth without studying the individual trees that make up the forest. The same could be pointed out regarding Bible reading vs. Bible study. While a through-the-Bible reading program has its place (and I think it's the right place to start), it will never replace careful study of select passages. It's not an either/or kind of question. Both are vital for a disciple’s development.]

Sunday, December 21, 2008


We're committed to a pace that, perhaps unfortunately, will not allow us to plumb the depths of interpretation to the satisfaction of some participants. We'll be covering three chapters a day - and some days more than that. We are basically skimming the surface, little more than a survey of the Bible.

That's actually a good thing. Huh? What are you talking about, Willis? Sometimes we can get so focused on the details that we miss the overall message of the Bible, or even a single book. One of the teaching techniques employed by my New Testament profs was requiring that we read an entire book in a single sitting. After all, especially with Paul’s letters, that's the way they were meant to be experienced: Rather than curling up with a parchment and a commentary, dissecting individual verses, the leader read the complete letter to the congregation. They experienced it orally, in community and in total.

I read through the Bible the very first time in 1981 (I think). For years I've had varying degrees of success in my reading attempts, but now it's a thoroughly ingrained habit that I wouldn't give up for anything. What I still remember with amazement is how familiar the Bible seemed the second time I read it through. Nothing aids one's biblical comprehension better than simply reading the Bible... except maybe reading it in community with other disciples.

Next: Interpreting or Just Reading?

I'm Not the Bible Answer-Man

The more I study the Bible, the more aware I am of how much I still don't know. I have a lot more to learn. That’s great; I love learning.

As we read together, I fully expect to learn from you... from your comments and from your questions. I can't give definitive answers for every question, but I can at least help steer the discussion, and maybe access some resources you don't have.

Much of what I share will be, admittedly, my opinion. It wouldn't be fair for me to declare, This is the way it is, without acknowledging others might see things differently. You might disagree with my assessment. That's okay.

But don’t expect me to say, every time, This is just my opinion. I’m confessing that here and now. Occasionally I’ll remind you, but consider yourself warned as of now. And anyone who tells you differently is either mistaken or not being up front with you. Biblical scholars have reached consensus on many topics, but there are some things we’re never going to agree about.

Some day we’ll ask Jesus, What’s the truth? He’ll answer, I am the truth.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Make Sure Your Comment Doesn't Get Published (2 of 2)

Read the first part of this post here.

Be dogmatic. I’ll be the first to defend your right to believe, but dogmatism isn’t about belief; it’s about domination. Dogmatism shuts down dialog. Once an opinion becomes a dogma, simply voicing a question about it can label the questioner as an outsider. No one is an outsider here. Also, being dogmatic is the antithesis of being teachable. Being teachable is born out of a spirit of humility. Hmmm…, I wonder what being dogmatic is born out of…

Get personal. When responding to comments, please focus your thoughts on the content, not the person who made the comment. Also, remember that not every participant will be at the same stage of spiritual development. Some may have been reading the Bible since they were kids, and others may have never read it. That’s okay… in fact, that’s pretty exciting, if you think about it.

Don’t try. The first time you try to make a comment, the process might be a little intimidating. It’s really pretty intuitive, but some of the steps may be new to you. Don’t let the process stop you. The second time will be easy. Also, don’t let anxiety about whether or not your question is worthy keep you from asking. If you have a question, I can almost guarantee someone else is wondering the same thing.

Next: I’m Not the Bible Answer-Man

How to Make Sure Your Comment Doesn't Get Published (1 of 2)

Comments will be moderated before being published. That means that once someone finishes the word verification step (read how to post a comment here), their question/comment comes to my email inbox where it awaits my thumbs up or down. I, and I alone, am responsible for what I allow to pass through my editorial filter. Here are the ways to not get published.

Be anonymous. It is my firm intention that if someone refuses to be accountable for their words, then I’m not going to give them a microphone. If parading your question before the vast readership of 365 Forum causes you anxiety, email it to me, and I’ll be happy to discuss it privately. I’ll probably encourage you to make it public, but it’s okay if you’d rather not. Just remember, we’re developing community here. I’ll do my best to make it a safe neighborhood.

Be mean. I’m not fond of bullies, and I want everyone to feel like they can express their thoughts here without fear of being attacked. On the other hand, sometimes the nicest people can do damage to relationships by not thinking through what they say. We’ve probably all done that; I know I have. If your comment has a harsh edge to it, I will either shoot it back to you for revision, or just hit the delete button, depending on how I perceive the spirit of the comment.

Next: Part Two

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What if I Have a Question or Comment?

Sharing a comment is easy. Here's how you do it:

1) Click on the Comments link at the bottom of the blog post on which you want to be heard.

2) A field will open for you to type your comment or question.

3) Immediately below the comment field, there is a drop down box that is labeled: Comment as: Click on the blue downward pointing arrow at the right end of that window. If you have a Google account, enter that information. If not, select Name/URL. A box will open allowing you to enter your name. If you have your own blog, the URL space allows you to type its web address, which is intended to drive some traffic to your blog, but that information is not necessary. Once you've entered your name, hit Continue.

4) Once your comment/question reads to your satisfaction, and your name appears in the Comment as window, hit Post Comment.

5) At this time, a word verification tool will open up. Typing the letters shown convinces the blog you're not a computer program spamming 365 Forum.

6) Once you've completed this step, you're all done. Your comment will soon appear in my email, where I will approve it for publishing.

Next time: How to Make Sure Your Comment Doesn't Get Published

Some Introductory Information

More about our new 365 Forum.

As we begin The Bible in 365, at select intervals (still to be determined) I'll give you a heads up on what you'll encounter in the coming days (or maybe weeks). And here's the best part! As you read, you'll have questions: Why does John put the cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, while the other gospel writers have it near the end? or comments: Wow! Athaliah (2 Kings 11) reminds me of the wicked witch of the west! You can ask those questions and make those comments by clicking on the Comments link at the bottom of my blog posts. You can also email questions/comments to me or just hand me a slip of paper when you see me.

Or, what's really cool, you may have a response to something someone else has commented, or someone's question might spur you to ask your own question. Again, just click on the Comments link, and share your thoughts.

If you want to ask a question, but don't want the question to appear in the blog, tell me that when you email it to me. I'll respect your wishes and address your question/comment as best I can. The downside, though, is that our sharing back and forth will be part of the richness of this forum, so I hope you’ll trust the rest of us with your questions. If you’re wondering about something, someone else is probably wondering the same thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Your word is like a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105 - NCV)

Welcome to 365 Forum, a blog especially published for Aloha Church of God. You've been provided a The Bible in 365 card, which I hope will help keep you on track as you read through your Bible this year. Reading the Bible is one of our most cherished spiritual disciplines (read: good spiritual habits), and yet few have read through the entire book, and even fewer make it a priority to read it every day. The goal of 365 Forum is to motivate more people to develop the good spiritual habit of reading the Bible every day, and to help them read with understanding. In fact, developing that every day habit is more important than whether or not one finishes reading through the Scriptures in a single year.

One of my self-expectations is to keep my blog posts below an average of 250 words. That's going to be difficult, due to the nature of the blog, but for now, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. If we have to revisit that, we will.

Between now and January 1st, I'll be sharing more details about 365 Forum, and giving you some tips for reading the Bible and for interpreting what you read. How often I update this blog will be determined, in large part, by your participation. Come back every day.

This seriously could be part of God's plan to change your life for the better in 2009.