It’s that time of year when the “read the Bible in a year” plans are rolling out. And I was once a purchaser of a Bible-in-a-year text.
It sounded great— by the end of this year, I will have read the whole Bible! But I did not yet understand that, as a college student at the time, squeezing the whole Bible into my busy work and study schedule would mean that I was just quickly getting through the Bible, and not marinating in its beauty and truth.
Setting the wrong goal was the first of many things I learned the hard way. But trial and error has its spoils: I now have several strategies for making Bible-reading fruitful and manageable.
Quickly getting through the Bible was not the goal I should have set.
As you might imagine, I started off strong in January, and by the end of February, as midterms neared, my Bible-in-a-year book began its stagnation that would ensue the rest of the year.
It took a long time for me to realize that getting through the Bible in a year wasn’t right for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, a plan like this is right for some people. I’m certain there are people who have great success with that plan.
I needed to find a worthy Bible-reading goal for me in my current lifestyle, just as I am.
So last year, I set the goal to read the New Testament— and not in a getting through kinda way. I set a goal to read thoughtfully in a meditative way, and to respond once a month in a blog post.
I met my goal and my year was so enriched by it. So I am here to share what worked for me.
So, if you are wanting to read the Bible, maybe your first worthy, specific goal is read the four accounts of the gospel.
Let’s say you do set the goal of reading the four accounts of the gospel, and you set the goal of reading them all in January.
In my Bible, the four gospels amount to 123 pages. Now, 123 pages is reasonable reading for a month, but reading these accounts is not like reading a drugstore novel.
They are dense, saturated, profound.
Ask yourself if you will be able to give these accounts the consideration they deserve if you have a month for all four. Will your schedule allow for reading, pausing to reflect, researching context or corresponding passages?
If you feel rushed at all, give yourself ample time.
I took four months to read the accounts of the gospel, and it allowed me to journal through each and hold space for God to reveal truths to me:
In the first month, I reflected on the remarkable faith that accompanied each story of healing.
In the third month, I applied the “consider the lilies” passage to my difficult season of anxiety.
And in the fourth month, I marveled at Jesus’ radical civil disobedience in favor of God’s law.
Had I not allowed myself time and space for the activities that accompany critical Biblical consideration (annotating, praying, re-reading, meditating, writing), I would not have walked away with the powerful faith-altering truths that I did.
As I mentioned, I read one account of the gospel each month for the first four months of the year.
And I did this for the entirety of the New Testament. I divided the reading into 11 chunks and allotted one month for each reading, making sure to save December for my advent reading of The Greatest Gift.
Would something like this work for you? Would you like your own version of this graphic? Leave me a comment and I will get one to you!
In my inaugural post for this blog, I talked about the chapter in Joshua that inspired my blog’s theme: Joshua 24.
When Joshua challenged the tribes of Israel to choose—once and for all—whom they would serve, they answered that they would turn away from worshipping the Canaanite gods and serve the one true God.
To seal them to this statement (in other words to keep them accountable), he recorded their words in the Book of the Law of God (understood to be the early version of the Bible which was a stone tablet).
He then proclaimed “this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us” (24.27).
It’s unclear if he etched these things into the stone itself, but nevertheless, the communal commitment, the recording (on paper or stone), and the stone in front of the mighty oak were collectively became the measure of accountability. It was a way of saying— with God as the witness—we are holding you to your proclamation.
We are more likely to meet goals when we have someone or something keeping us accountable. By sharing my reading calendar with the blog-o-sphere, I felt the healthy pressure to meet my goal.
Who do you need to keep you accountable? A Facebook group? A best friend? A pastor?
Share your goal and timeline with someone who can check in with you and challenge you to keep going if you fall behind.
At my work at the community college, one of the learning tools we find really helpful is an assessment called the VARK assessment. VARK is an acronym for four common learning style preferences (visual, aural/auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic.
The ten-minute assessment gives you a variety of scenarios and asks you to select how you would learn best in each one. At the end of the assessment, it will show you the style of learning that might work best for you.
For instance, I always score highest in kinesthetic learning which means that I like to use my senses and body when learning. In college, I knew that I liked to re-write my notes to help solidify them in my mind, but until I took the VARK assessment, I never knew why.
Learning how you learn best may help you better study the Bible and invest in the tools that are more likely to make you successful.
A friend I met through the Joyful Life Magazine, Amber Thiessen (who has an amazing blog by the way!) touts the importance of habit trackers.
Gaining popularity of late, habit trackers do the hard work for you: they create individual check-boxes for daily goals met.
So, if you have committed to reading two chapters of a Bible book per day, you get to check the box for that day. Watching your sheet fill up with check marks is incredibly satisfying and encouraging for staying the course of your goal.
Habit trackers come in a variety of forms, and most are free to print for personal use:
In working through a Bible reading goal, prepare for the inevitability of confusion.
There may be context you don’t have, words that are unfamiliar, or parables that you don’t understand.
Accept that this happens to all of us in studying the Bible, and arm yourself with good resources to help.
I mentioned this resource in the last section, and many times on my Instagram account, that one of my absolute favorite resources for reading the Bible is The Bible Project. Created by Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins, the Bible Project combines sound Biblical information with palatable animated videos.
Each book overview video begins with context and offers a birds-eye view of the book of the Bible that helps orient the readers before beginning.
I cannot overstate the importance of grasping the context the verses are situated in.
Celebrating the small portions read will fuel motivation for the meeting the big goal you have set.
For each book of the Bible I completed, I would take my pen and write in the margin above the book’s title “Completed on Month/Day/Year.” It sounds simple, but it was incredibly satisfying!
And upon penning that phrase, it signified that I was ready to move to the next little square in my reading plan.
Each time I moved to a new book, I would create a notification on social media as an invitation for people to read along with me, as well as that accountability I mentioned:
I can say that it worked, friends. I made it all the way through Revelation before the end of November.
Completing a Biblical reading goal is an exciting milestones in your walk with Christ— celebrate it!
When I met my goal of reading the entire New Testament, I allowed myself to purchase something really special from the shop of Dandelions in December: a custom red oak leaf with a little “stone” (mustard seed).
All this to say, not every Bible reading plan is for every person. I finally found what works for me, and I encourage you to find something that will fit your lifestyle and your current Bible reading needs and desires.
Whatever you choose, let it glorify Him.
with His love,
It would be an understatement to say that 2020 had its challenges.
It would also not be fair to ignore all of the blessings tucked into the nooks and folds of its disheveled fabric.
One of the greatest blessings to me came in the form of heart-focused chats over coffee: the monthly feature of the blog I call Sips & Scripts.
Without question, each Sips & Scripts chat filled me with hope, encouragement, and inspiration for my own walk with the Lord.
The 11 women, 1 man, 1 babe-in-utero, and 1 chihuahua that were present for these heart-focused conversations all shaped my faith in some important way.
Take a look at these beautiful, God-loving faces and click on a chat that seems similar to your own walk with the Lord:
This is Kim. Her drink is a hot chocolate.
My beloved cousin, and the blog’s #1 supporter, Kim, bravely recounted her nine years of infertility and reminded me that God’s timing is always better than our own. Click here for the full chat.
This is Alexis. Her drink is a peach and mint tea with honey.
At the wise old age of 23, my kindred friend, Alexis, taught me four powerful and distinct practices for abiding in God in our circumstances. Click here to read our chat.
This is Gianna (carrying baby girl Luca at the time). Her drink is an iced Kuppa Joy.
My strong, God-loving friend, Giana, reminded me of the power of praying specific prayers, standing on those prayers, and watching God answer them as she detailed what it was like to see her young daughter through cancer. Click here for the full chat.
This is Amanda and her husband Alex. Their drinks are an iced amber latte and an iced cold brew, respectively.
Former tutor, now friend, Amanda, helped me understand how she and Alex (a newlywed missionary team) reach and mentor college students through the Chi Alpha organization. Click here to read the full chat.
This is Jade. Her drink is an iced maple cinnamon latte.
Once my son’s loving babysitter and now a passionate missionary, Jade, shared her experience witnessing to the LDS population in Utah and how individuals are won to the Lord by being loved first. Click here to read our full chat.
This is Michelle. Her drink is a coffee with homemade dulce de leche.
Longtime friend, Michelle, discussed two verses that help sustain her amidst the pandemic, especially during the burnout that we all were/are experiencing. Click here to read our full chat.
This is Hilary. Her drink is an iced vanilla latte.
My dear friend and mentor, Hilary, detailed God’s great faithfulness on the brink of her major life change: a cross-country move for her family of six. Click here to read our full chat.
This is Kim. Her drink is a homemade butter coffee.
One of my newest friends, but already one of my closest, Kim, showed me the benefit of bringing our kids in on our past struggles in order to bolster their own faith. Click here to read our full chat.
This is Emily. Her drink is an oat milk cappuccino.
YWAM missionary and all-around amazing young woman, Emily, shared with me the surrender that comes with listening to God about her future plans. Click here to read our full chat.
I first want to say to each any everyone person listed above: thank you.
Truly, thank you, for sharing your story and opening your heart even if it made the conversation tender and vulnerable. Thank you for your trust in me and your candor; your words live on to help others in similar situations.
And thank you for the inspiration each of you offered me. I did not leave one of our chats without feeling my heart filled up with enthusiasm for God’s goodness.
I set out at the beginning of 2020 with a goal to post twice month for 11 months: once on a predetermined part of the New Testament, and once for the Sips & Scripts conversation.
Though I met my goal, I did feel that I may have given myself too much of a restriction at times. Determined to get each conversation published by the end of the month, I sometimes felt like I didn’t give my interviewee ample time to review the draft (especially for those who neared the end of the month). If I ever made you feel rushed, dear friends, forgive me.
And so I want to make some adjustments to the Sips & Scripts feature moving forward:
Mugs full, Bibles open, friends.
with His love,
Our modern culture can make it hard for kids to understand the beauty and importance of generosity. And no time is more difficult to fight the battle of “I want!” than at Christmas:
Now, I am not anti-capitalism, nor do I admonish these people and companies for doing their jobs. It’s a supply-and-demand market—simple as that.
But I do think we parents can show kids just how wonderful it is to give just like Jesus did.
Here are three fun ways to bring kids into the joy of giving.
My cousin Sarah told me about Secret Elf-ing about five years ago, and we have done it consistently for the last four years.
It’s easy, and doesn’t have to cost a ton:
3. Have the kids make cards including one that explains what they are up to. We keep them anonymous.
4. Be sneaky-sneaks by escaping out of the back of the car, dropping the basket on the porch, ringing the doorbell, and running back to the getaway car before the recipient sees anything!
What I love about Secret Elf is that it allows the kids to give without expecting any praise or credit. Plus, it’s really fun for boys to be stealthy and pretend like they have a secret operation.
Again, I take no credit for this idea; this was all my friend Nicole.
She and her kids set up a homemade, ticket-based reward shop in our neighborhood to help offset the frustrations that come with school Zoom. We parents contributed dollar-store finds that the kids used their earned tickets to buy.
In November, we switched it over to a Christmas gift shop so that the kids could buy and wrap presents for their siblings (and for the parents, too! They had a parent gift table).
The kids made their selections for each sibling, and the older kids helped the younger ones wrap them up before they left the “shop.”
Nicole made the shop safe during COVID by only participating with families she knew did not have symptoms or recent travels, and by spacing out the families in different blocks of time. The shop was outside with hand sanitizer and optional masks.
There’s nothing cuter than kid-wrapped presents, right?
What I loved about our neighborhood shop was watching the kids think through the gift choices in terms of their siblings’ preferences and tastes.
It’s important for my kids to understand their privileges and to give them perspective about how other people live.
A few years ago, we took our kids down to the Povarello House in downtown Fresno to give them an image of what it means to be homeless. They had heard us talk about others not having homes, but they hadn’t seen it for themselves until that trip.
My kids watched their dad help volunteer at the Povarello House Christmas event, helping homeless kids make ornaments and arranging for homeless moms get their toenails painted.
It was a small effort, but it seems my sons now have improved perspective when I mention that some kids in our city are not getting Christmas presents.
Our church arranges for impoverished children to make Christmas wish lists, and this is the first year that we haven’t been to church during the Christmas season due to COVID (so we’ll be increasing our Salvation Army donation for this current situation).
But in years past, we have had such a great time getting the kids involved in selecting a child, shopping, wrapping the gifts, and even using chores to help “pay” for some of the gifts themselves.
All this said, we don’t chide our kids for wanting a toy or looking forward to the presents on Christmas—it’s a natural kid thing to eagerly await gifts.
We just want to mix in the joy that comes from giving because we have the greatest model for giving: Jesus.
What did Jesus give? His wisdom. His guidance. His time. His comfort. His love. His life.
To live like Jesus means to give.
with His love,
This is Shanda.
Her drink is an iced skinny vanilla latte.
And to say we had our chat under the falling autumn leaves would be an understatement— the leaves were coming down in actual droves to the point that it halted our conversation for a second as we stopped to giggle about it.
I invited Shanda for this edition of Sips & Scripts because I have been working through her digital study of the Seven Churches in Revelation, and I wanted to lean into the topic a little bit more.
But, as God often does, he reroutes my plan from what I think I need to what I actually need.
We began talking about her interest in Revelation, and I found that many of my questions about this book were answered in her two-part podcast series “Are we in the end times?” with Albert Leon. By the way, this particular series is incredibly helpful to anyone studying Daniel, Revelation, or who has questions about end times.
When Shanda mentioned that she was helping her son study the book of Revelation and then decided to offer an online Bible study on the topic, I knew I had my new angle: the recursive nature of motherhood and ministry. Shanda continually circled back to how her work in the ministry helps equip her sons, and vice versa.
Shanda and I both have three sons, and since her boys are down the road a little further, so to speak, I really leaned in to how she balances her burgeoning ministry with equipping herself and her boys to defend their faith.
“From a young age, my boys knew that early in the morning they would find me praying in my closet. They would come in groggily and land on my lap and listen to their mama pray as they began to wake up. I prayed each morning, and each night, we read the Bible together. There was never really any grumbling because it was such a consistent part of our household and the boys came to expect and embrace it.
We go to church as a family. We pray as a family. We work through cultural issues as a family.”
“It is these cultural issues that my boys are facing that have prompted me to take an interest in apologetics. When we are raised in the church, our faith is our belief system, and we aren’t always well positioned to defend our faith to outsiders.
So after reading Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham, I discovered my new direction for my family and for my ministry: Apologetics.
“Through Mama Bear Apologetics, I found a great resource called Apologetics for Tweens. We have progressed to a more mature phase in our household; now that my sons no longer need me to read Bible stories to them, we do apologetics together as a family.
One of the best creeds that I have found for my sons to defend the Bible to non-believers alsocomes from Voddie Baucham and is supported by 2 Peter 1:16-20:
The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claim their writings are divine rather than human in origin”For more from Voddie Bauchum click here
So my sons have committed this to memory which prepares them when they have peers, or even teachers, who try to dismantle the legitimacy of the Word.”
“This year in particular, with COVID, with the BLM movement, and with the election, I was struck by how many people who called themselves Christians could defend actions and beliefs that were so far removed from Biblical teachings.
My ministry stands on the Word without exception.
And I want my boys to know that they are going to encounter so many differences of opinion even within the church— even from Christians.
I impress upon them that the Bible must be the lens through which all incoming information must be filtered.
But in order to do that, they have to really know the Bible, and though I dedicate myself to helping them know the word of the Lord, they are the ones who must exercise discipline in really learning what scripture says.”
The Bible must be the lens through which all incoming information must be filtered.
“Just like my boys will need to be the ones who know and understand the Bible, they need to develop their own prayer life as well.
One of my sons is going through some tough anxiety right now, and I assured him that I would pray for him, but I am also guiding him in how to ask for supplication in prayer.
I said, ‘pray out loud with me here, so I can help guide you if I need to.’
Teaching our kids how to pray is an underrated practice. We can’t assume they know the best way to speak and converse with the Lord.”
“In addition to teaching my sons, I was a youth ministry leader for years before I was called to my current ministry. These days, I speak, I help women study the Bible, and I podcast, but the pull to Apologetics is really where I see myself headed.
I am currently obtaining my Apologetics certificate so that I can soon help Christians to defend their faith in the same way that I am helping my boys do so.
Though 2020 had its difficulties, it allowed me to embrace the subject of Apologetics and read and discover a passion for it. So, I see 2021 headed in that direction.”
“My personal verse to stand upon in my mothering and my ministry is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified1 Corinthians 9.27, ESV
I understand physical discipline through training and nutrition, so my spiritual disciplines keep me from being disqualified as I preach to others— my children included.”
My friends and I also completed her study Reflections of Eve: a Woman’s Perfect Purpose in an Imperfect World, which prompted such great conversations in our group about a Godly woman’s role in our modern world.
Shanda’s heart for God and her love of the word is palpable, friends. I left our chat feeling inspired by her passion and dedication to helping others (her sons, yes, but also the women she encounters in her ministry) defend the Word of the Lord and the teachings of Jesus.
Be sure to check out the good fruit she is producing for our Father.
with His love,
So, here I am: Revelation. I’ve read the final book in the New Testament and met my goal for 2020. It feels wonderful. I feel much more empowered to speak about the New Testament in contrast to the embarrassing way I would try to piece together the scraps of knowledge from reading it piecemeal.
That being said, I have only read the NT through once, so I am nowhere near an expert, but I now have a much fuller picture of what God was doing through these gospels, letters, and accounts.
Though I can’t say Revelation will be my go-to comfort read, I am glad I read it and it holds important truths for our modern lives.
To supplement my reading, I have been working through Shanda Fulbright’s study of the seven churches in Revelation, and touching base with the Bible Project’s videos on Revelation (my absolute favorite way to orient myself before a new book of the Bible).
The Bible Project framed the book of Revelation in the most helpful way:
Revelation is an apocalypse (from the greek ἀποκάλυψις) which was a category of literature familiar to the Jewish audience. “Apocalypses recounted a prophet’s symbolic dreams and visions that revealed God’s heavenly perspective on history and current events, so that the present could be viewed in light of history’s final outcome” (Bible Project).
Because the sheer amount of prophetic images given to John were extensive, I am going to focus in on just one part that revealed some of the truth of God to me, the start of Chapter 12.
In John’s vision, when the seventh angel blows his trumpet, “God’s temple in heaven was opened” and the first sign that appears in heaven is this one:
clothed with the sun
with the moon under her feet
and on her head was a crown of twelve stars.
She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains
and the agony of giving birth.Revelation 12.1-2, spacing mine
As someone who went through three labors and births without medication (not trying to sell you on this, by the way), it may not surprise you that the passages that evoked a response in me were those of the birth of the Messiah by the celestial woman.
The woman (whether she represents Mary or a more general prophetic image) is clearly revered and holy because the number twelve (in her crown) is reserved in John’s revelation for the sanctified.
Here is the part that made me feel something resembling strong vulnerability—a feeling of violation perhaps— a feeling beyond anything I have truly felt in my actual life. I wanted to recoil in horror and fight for protection all at once.
And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour itRevelation 12.4, ESV
Of course the dragon (representing Satan) would come at this point. Yes, he wants to destroy the King of Kings, but he also appears to the woman, this particular symbol of righteousness, at the peak of a trial—in the middle of a good work for the Lord—when her guard is down, and she is in the midst of suffering.
Our enemy doesn’t always come when we are armored up and standing tall for battle. Sometimes he sneaks in when we are curled in the fetal position, riding the waves of pain, feeling desperate for relief.
And this is when God intervenes.
The woman could not have fought the dragon in her condition. So, without much detail, we know that God does not allow the devil to obtain the child:
She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron,
but her child was caught up to God and his throne
and the woman fled to the wilderness to a place prepared by God
in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 daysRevelation 12.5-6, ESV, spacing mine
A war arose in heaven. God sent the angels to battle the dragon on the woman’s behalf while he created a safe place for her.
But the dragon doesn’t let bygones be bygones.
When God’s angels were the victors of the cosmic battle, the dragon was thrown down to earth with his own angels. And what did he do first?
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.Revelation 12.13, ESV
He wasted no time in seeking revenge. The woman no longer has the child, but that seems not to matter to the dragon. He is ready to punish her straight out of his anger.
So here is the part that struck me:
But the woman was given the two wings of a great eagle so that she may fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a timeRevelation
God could have removed the dragon. He has that power. He could have smote him on the spot. But for whatever reason, God allows the enemy to exist. Why he allows the enemy to roam is a question bigger than my human mind can comprehend.
The only answer I can provide is that without an enemy, there would be no spiritual battle. There would be no good and evil. There would be no right and wrong. There would be no need to rely on God, nor need to ask for help.
And help is what I am getting at.
God may not choose to remove the enemy or evil forces from your life, but that does not mean He does not help.
Priscilla Shirer once said “God may not put things in your hand, but he puts them in your reach.”
We need not be passive rag dolls waiting for God to scoop us up— no. We are made in His image. We can take the tools He offers to battle the enemy down here on earth.
And Revelation offers us the truth that God will aid us in this broken, battlefield of a world until Satan will meet his ultimate defeat.
One day, there will be a new earth and a new heaven, and the description here should be read with reverence and gratitude:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things have passed awayRevelation 21.1-4
No pain, sadness, or tears. No hurt. Just peace and communion with our God.
Read that passage again if you need hope right now. All difficult and sorrowful things will pass away.
We will get to be with God.
with His love,