One Bite at a Time

August 30, 2013

How do you eat an elephant? The old time management answer is: one bite at a time. Our printed Bibles may seem like a thousand page plus elephant. The reality is that the Bible is a library of books, none of which are very large. Most books of the Bible could be read in an evening. Individual books if printed separately would seem pamphlet sized. None would be as big as a best-selling, paperback novel.

Matthew as a separate book

The following chart is based on an audio version of the Bible. I realize reading times vary. Silent reading is usually faster than reading aloud, yet most of us probably stop and think about what we are reading. We may reread a section. We may be interrupted. All of this slows us down. Faster is not necessarily better. The following chart is simply a guideline. The chart is to encourage you to begin to take one bite at a time.

Bible books that can be read in 15 minutes or less.
Ruth, Song of Solomon, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.
Total 24 out of 66 books.

Bible books that can be read in 30 minutes or less.
Esther, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Amos, Micah, Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 John.
Total 8 books giving us a running total of 32 books out of 66.

Bible books that can be read in one hour or less.
Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Hosea, Zechariah, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Hebrews.
Total of 9 books giving us a running total of 41 books out of 66.

Bible books that can be read in 1½ hours or less.
Joshua, Judges, and Revelation
Total 3 books giving us a running total of 44 books out of 66.

Bible books that can be read in 2 hours or less.
Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, Job, Proverbs, Matthew, Mark, John, and Acts.
Total of 11 books giving us a running total of 55 books out of 66.

Bible books that can be read in 2½ hours or less.
Exodus, Numbers, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and Luke
Total 6 books giving us a running total of 61 books out of 66.

Bible books that can be read in 3½ hours or less.
Genesis, Isaiah, and Ezekiel
Total of 3 books giving us a running total of 64 books out of 66.

Bible book that can be read in 4 hours or less.
Total of 1 book giving us a running total of 65 books out of 66.

Bible book that can be read in 4½ hours or less.
Total of 1 book giving us a running total of 66 books.

When the Flower Withers

August 23, 2013

The statistics indicate a moral change in our society that many of us have witnessed during our lifetime. The violent crime rate in the US was 160.9 per 100,000 population in 1960. In 2011, it was 386.3 per 100,000. The divorce rate in 1960 was 2.2 per 1,000 population. It reached its high point in 1981 with 5.3 per 1,000 and in 2009 was 3.5 per 1,000. If the divorce rate has dropped since the 1980s, cohabitation (“living together”) has increased. In 1960, there were 439,000 cohabiting couples. In 2005, 4.85 million cohabiting couples were reported by the Census Bureau — up more than 10 times the rate in 1960. In 1960, out of wedlock births were 5.3% of the total births. In 2007, they were 40% of the total births.

Elton Trueblood in his 1969 book, A Place to Stand, made an important observation on the moral decline of Western culture:

Always men have broken laws; that is nothing new. What is new is the acceptance of a creed to the effect that there really is not objective truth about what human conduct ought to be. The new position is not merely that the old laws do not apply, but rather that any moral law is limited to subjective reference. While this has been the position of a few individuals in various generations of the past, our time differs in that this has suddenly become the position of millions. Some of them still have a slight connection with the Judeo-Christian heritage, but the obvious conflict in convictions will, if it continues, finally dissolve even the mild connection that still appears to exist. If there is no objective right, then there is not even the possibility of error, and intellectual and moral confusion are bound to ensue.1

Trueblood calls ours “a cult-flower civilization.” His analogy means that when people first began to cut themselves off from Judeo-Christian ethics, they initially behaved in moral ways. Like the cut-flower exhibiting life though cut off from its roots. Such life though eventually withers, and in the same way, cut from the roots of Judeo-Christian ethics, our society undergoes a moral decline.

So what does this mean for Christians and the church today? It is easy to be a bit depressed, and certainly the cultural shift is lamentable. But it does not change our mission to share the good news. In fact it means that the difference between the lifestyle of a truly, biblical Christian is going to be even more distinct from the world around us. We face a culture much more like the one that Peter and Paul faced. They saw opportunity. The good news went out into that kind of world and turned the world upside down. When the flower withers, the good news is needed all the more.


1Elton Trueblood, A Place to Stand, p. 15.

Forces of Modernity

August 16, 2013

James W. Sire in his book, Chris Chrisman Goes to College, examines the forces of modernity that affect our Christian faith. He does it my mixing commentary with a novel about fictional Chris Chrisman going to a state college, and the challenges to his faith that he faces there. But these forces of modernity affect all of us and not just college students.

Individualism. Individualism has roots in Christian faith. After all, we believe that individuals are created in the image of God and are unique and valuable. We believe that salvation is an individual matter. Modern individualism however goes to some extremes. It desires to be totally autonomous from God. It believes that the individual is self-sufficient and can define himself anyway he wants.

Pluralism. Pluralism can be defined in several ways. On one level, it is simply the getting along of many religious, ethnic and cultural beliefs in one society. No one can argue with the need to coexist with our differences. But pluralism is also used with a philosophical meaning maintaining that no one explanation for life is true. In a situation where many religions exist, the influence of pluralism is to see all of them as viable. To raise the question whether one of them is true is to violate social mores.

Relativism. Faced with pluralism, relativism refuses to question the truth of any philosophical or religious position. The response is: “It’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Ethical values are treated in the same way. Everything is subjective and relative.

Privatization. Privatization is the tendency to split social reality into two sectors: public and private. The public sector has to do with government, politics, business, economics, production, technology, and science. The private sector involves religion, morality, leisure, and consumption. The tendency in our culture is to want to keep these two sectors separate.

The danger to a college student or anyone else is that if we obey the forces of modernity our faith dies. Christianity demands to be defended as true in opposition to other views. Granted that this defense should be made with gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15-16), but it should still be made. Christianity demands our whole life, both public and private. The forces of modernity give us a choice: (1) the erosion of our faith or (2) choosing to be out of step with the times.

The Titanic

August 9, 2013

April 14, 1912—a night to remember, the night the Titanic sank in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. As James Cameron’s movie has proved, the story of the Titanic still captures our imagination. Recently, my family visited the Titanic exhibit. Artifacts from the shipwreck were on display. Each of us received a boarding pass as we entered the exhibit. Mine was of course male, which didn’t give my person very good odds of survival even though he was a first class passenger. At the end of the exhibit, I was able to check the list of lost and survivors. The man with my boarding pass had died that fateful night. The impression of the exhibit is sobering.

It also brought reflections at the time of the tragedy as well. R. H. Boll was editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1912. Eleven days after the tragedy, in the April 25th issue, Boll reflected on the Titanic:

A catastrophe like this should not pass over the minds of the people of God without making its deep impression. It is, as it were, a miniature reproduction, and, like the destruction of the cities of the plain, a type forewarning and foreshadowing the goal of the world. Just as the Titanic sank, just so shall pass away the world and the lust thereof. So unexpectedly; so utterly beyond the reach of help; so irretrievably, shall it all perish, with its pomp and its glitter, its social distinctions, its pride, its folly, its wealth, its sins; and so shall it all be swallowed up in ruin.

“Salvation” was a great word that night on the Titanic. They may never have known the significance of it before. But they learned the meaning and the value of it that night in at least its temporal aspect; and possibly in its eternal import also. Most of them too late. Yet there was a remnant that escaped.

And was it not a privilege to each one of those that were called and permitted to enter the lifeboats, even if they did have to leave their things behind, and perhaps some friends and loved ones; even if they did have to endure discomfort and exposure on the small boats? But there are the many to-day, Christians, too, who “mind earthly things;” who count the salvations of God too difficult and inconvenient; who cleave to the world, and shall therefore be engulfed with it in its ruin and condemnation. “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Finally, if you or I had been before enlightened of God as to the fate that awaited the Titanic on this voyage, we should have felt bound by every consideration of honor and regard for human beings to warn them each and all; and we would have endured their skepticism, their jeers and ridiculing and scorn, insults even, if by any means we might dissuade some from the ill-fated ship. But God has told us what shall come and must come to the world and how “the end of all things is at hand.” If you know the Savior, if you know the Way of escape, will you not for His sake and for the sake of the perishing souls go tell it to-day?1

Today, high-tech explorers bring us artifacts from the sunken Titanic, and movie special effects vividly portray that fateful night. May these reflections from 1912 give us some additional spiritual insights from the tragedy of the Titanic.

1Gospel Advocate 54/17 (25 April 1912): 513-14

The Frustrations of Bible Reading

August 2, 2013

The average American household has four Bibles or more. We are a long way from the times before the invention of the printing press when Bibles were expensive and rare. But having access to a Bible doesn’t necessarily mean Americans are Bible readers. A recent press release from Logos Bible Software provides these statistics about Bible reading among church attenders.1

  • 18–34% Rarely or never read the Bible
  • 12% Felt confused the last time they read the Bible
  • 11% Felt overwhelmed
  • 40% Felt an “unfavorable emotion”

Survey respondents also indicated their top frustrations with Bible reading.

  • 32% “I never have enough time”
  • 12% “The language is difficult to relate to”
  • 11% “I don’t feel excited about reading it”

Is reading the Bible frustrating? The answer is yes — at least initially. Everyone who develops the habit of regular Bible reading struggles to find time to read. It becomes easier, but I still go through busy times in my life when I play catch up on my reading guide. We also need to keep things in perspective. None of the books of the Bible are very long. Most are pamphlet size if they were printed by themselves. Each of the gospels could be read aloud in about two hours. In comparison, one of the most recent John Grisham novels would take nearly 13 hours read aloud — the entire New Testament could be done in about 16 hours.

I think most new Bible readers do feel confused and struggle to understand. I liken my first time reading through the Bible with fishing with a net with holes six inches wide. You can catch a big fish with it — some of the big ideas in the text, but many things will pass right through. Fishing with such a net would obviously be frustrating. Each time through the Bible your net becomes finer, and you “catch” more of what is in the text.

I suspect that talking about the frustration of Bible reading seems a bit sacrilegious. After all, the Bible is God’s word. How can we complain about God’s word? Yet, I know of few things in life that don’t entail a learning curve especially if they are worth doing. Admitting our frustrations is the first step in moving beyond them. Knowing that others have felt the same way in their journey can help us work through our own frustrations. Believe me when I say the journey is worth it.

1 Note that the press release is about a free ESV Bible for iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire mobile devices. The free offer is good through August 10th. Use the press release link to find the offer. Logos is one of the Bible apps that I personally use on my iPad, and free is hard to beat.