What are you missing? The #1 habit making the biggest difference in my life right now

Single habits have exponential effect.

Think about it. You start exercising regularly, and you become more discerning about your food choices; you might even find yourself getting better sleep and reading more Scripture. Somehow, one habit had exponential effect on multiple areas.  Charles Duhigg called these “keystone” habits, which include regular exercise, tracking your eating, regular family meals, and even making your bed in the morning.

For me, one keystone habit is making a huge difference: getting up early.

Some of you have doubts already. You starting to check out. I can hear you saying, “Oh, that’s great for you, but I’m not a morning person.”  Can I challenge you on that? You can be, starting with just a small step and getting up slightly earlier than you normally do. Michael Hyatt helped me see how anyone can become a morning person, and I’ve taken his advice to heart. I’ve got my alarm set for 4:55am each morning, and on most days, that’s when I’m getting up.

alarmsHey, I don’t bounce out of the bed like some people do. I drag myself to the coffee maker. The other morning, holding that terrible alarm in my hands, I almost reset it for another half-hour. But then, suddenly, through the pre-caff grogginess, I heard myself saying, “The battle is won or lost based on what I do, right now.” So I got up, and I was glad I did. Most mornings are great.

I’ve got to tell you: this one habit is having enormous effect. The benefits have been so evident that I’m excited to get up even as I’m going to bed at night (which I’ve been doing earlier, obviously).

How has rising early benefited me? In at least 5 ways. 

  1. Unhurried time for Scripture, prayer and spiritual reading. I’ve been reading through the Bible every year for years now, using the YouVersion App for the last few. This habit was already established, but now it never gets crammed in to another YouVersion_Banner__Official_2_part of my day because the morning got away on me. I’m able to read the Scripture and spend time praying, with no interruptions and no pressure. I sip my coffee, eat my breakfast, and read, both Scripture and other spiritual readings.
  2. Keeping a Journal. I’ve wanted to journal for years, but I wrote in fits and starts, with long periods with nothing at all. Whenever I went on retreats, I’d journal a lot, and I found it very helpful. And yet I just couldn’t integrate it into my regular life–until now. Getting up earlier has given me the unhurried space I needed to journal, often becoming an extension of my prayer time.
  3. Leadership Reading. As a leader, I’m committed to growing as a leader. Because “leaders are readers,” I always have a leadership book on the go. I’m a bit astonished what a difference my morning time has made–in the first two months of 2016, I read six leadership books! These readings are helping me grow as a leader, and that will have exponential effect on the rest of my life and ministry. One habit = exponential effect.
  4. Developing my writing. Well, here I am, in the wee hours of the morning, writing to you. Yes, blogging is part of this morning routine. I’ve wanted to write for years, but (you guessed it) never found the time to do it consistently. Guess what? I found it! The time was hiding away in those moments before I normally got up. Now I’m writing at least an hour a day, focusing mostly on this blog for now. This would not be happening if it were not for this one keystone habit of getting up early.
  5. Getting time alone. Even though I’m an extrovert who enjoys a lot of people time in a day, I need time alone. As I get older, I value my solo time even more. What I noticed is this: by getting up early, I’m get the alone time I need so that I’m more mentally ready, more relationally available, and more emotionally present to others when I am with them. This has been especially evident in my family life, as they emerge from the morning fog. Because I’ve already been up for a while, I’m ready for them. And it carries me through the rest of my day. I’ve had time with God and time by myself, so I’m not running on empty. My early morning alone time helps me give more to others.

This one habit is having exponential effect in my life. Could it do the same for you?

I’m not saying you do exactly what I do–not at all. But what do you wish you had more time for? What do you value that always seems be shoved out of your daily calendar? Give rising earlier a try and see what a difference it can make. My practical suggestion is this: get up 30 minutes earlier for 3 weeks. Be intentional with those 30 minutes; do something you value that never gets done. Do you need to sit quietly in the presence of God and pet the cat? Or start a short Bible reading plan? You might try journaling, exercise, poetry, or praying the Lord’s Prayer in a reflective way. I’m confident that you will benefit by simply carving out the time and seeing where it goes!

How have you found the morning helpful for you?

What other keystone habits are making a difference in your life?

 

 

 

Getting the Mix Right: 3 Things You MUST Know about the Book of Revelation

How you hear the Book of Revelation determines how you interpret it. If you think it’s primarily futuristic, you’ll see it as a blueprint of what’s coming. If it’s ancient sci-fi, you’ll read it like Dune. If it’s rendering history through symbols, you’ll navigate accordingly. And if it’s a discipleship manifesto, you’ll respond with action.

The key is how you hear it. If you want to do that right, then you’ve got to hear it the way it was meant to be heard. This is true for anything you read. Gary Larson’s Far Side doesn’t help me fix my furnace; I don’t read up on ice cream to understand how to drive a car.  To hear the Revelation right, we need to know what kind of literature it is so we can engage it as designed. So many headaches and misunderstandings would be solved if we did just this one thing.

DJ-spinning
The Revelation is a literary mash-up, masterfully combining three classic genres into one, great party mix.

So what kind of literature is the Revelation? This simple question has three answers (I know, welcome to the Revelation), laid out in the first eight verses. I love musical mash-ups, where two songs are artfully combined to create something unique and beautiful–the Revelation is a literary mash-up, masterfully combining three classic genres into one, great party mix.

#1. The Revelation is an Apocalypse.

The first thing we hear in the Revelation is the starting note: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants . . . The English word “revelation” is the Greek word “apocalypse,” the word that has come to our common speech to represent a horrible, devastating end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kind of event. But that’s not it’s original meaning. Apocalypse meant, well, just as it’s been translated: revelation. Something’s being revealed, like a curtain being pulled back or a door being opened. Something, or more accurately, someone is present whom we had not seen.

Jesus Revealed
We called our Revelation message series “Jesus, Revealed” to keep its apocalyptic purpose central.

The Apocalypse pulls back the curtain and shows us true reality, what is really going on, who is really in charge, where history’s actually going. Apocalypse is an art form, a known style of writing, and the Revelation mixes in that genre throughout. But at its heart, the Apocalypse is the Revealing of Jesus Christ. Every page, every symbol, every note that’s struck or table that’s spun, everything serves this purpose: to reveal Jesus to his people. So when you read the Revelation, ask this Key Apocalyptic Question: How is Jesus revealing himself to us? Ask it every turn of the page.

#2. The Revelation is a Prophecy.

The second genre joins the Rev mix by verse 3: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. The fact that the Revelation is a prophecy will come as a shock to exactly no one. Of course it’s a prophecy. But all prophecy (anywhere in the Bible) must be heard in stereo, played both as a something that is about the future and something that is about the present. In fact, I would argue that all the future orientation of prophecy (new Listening in Stereoheavens/new earth, death being destroyed, beasts slain, people redeemed)  is given to inspire present faithfulness. The Revelation offers a resounding blessing on all who read this prophecy aloud and all those who receive it obediently. That’s powerful. So what’s our Key Prophecy Question? It is this: How is this prophecy inspiring me to faithfulness today? Again, ask consistently throughout.  

#3. The Revelation is a Letter.

Apocalypse and prophecy have barely hit their opening chords when genre #3 spins in. In classic letter form, we read: John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you . . . it’s how letters started back then. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is a letter written from a pastor to seven particular churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). No one disputes that for the opening chapters, as Jesus himself addresses each church with a specific memo. But when the letter continues in chapter 4 with a vision shift, readers easily forget that we are still reading someone else’s mail! icon_youvegotmail-150x150From 1:1 to 22:21, the Revelation is a circular letter, written and delivered to real Christian churches. Keeping this in mind is crucial, especially when beasts start showing up; it’ll keep Revelation’s purpose central: to encourage and challenge Christians to remain loyal to Jesus during difficult times.

The genre of letter applies the other two genres of apocalypse and prophecy to their context, making it practical to everyday life. Our Key Letter Question is this: How is this letter helping these ancient Christians understand what was going on (apocalypse) and how to respond faithfully (prophecy), and, by extension, how does it help us now? Okay, that’s two questions, but the dual lens of “then” and “now” is critical. Ask these questions every step of the way through the Revelation.

There’s the Revelation mash-up, and each type of lit is essential to the mix Jesus wants us to hear. Here’s the point: in the Revelation, Jesus wants to reveal himself to us so we can faithfully follow him in our present reality and into his good future.

Want to hear more? I’ve been walking my friends through the Revelation in a series of messages at the Erickson Covenant Church; you can find them here. You can also subscribe and download through iTunes under “Erickson Covenant Church”.

Which genre of the Revelation surprised you?

How could this triple mash-up help your community hear the Revelation?

 

Note: I owe my understanding of the Revelation to so many authors, including Bauckham, Fee, Wilcock, Beale and Wright. But premier among them is Darrell Johnson and his work on the Revelation. I highly recommend Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation if you want to find out more.

You Can’t Really Get the Bible All By Yourself

We can’t go it alone. 

If we want to understand the Bible and obey its teaching, we need each other.

Why? Because the Bible is a “community book”, from start to finish, written in communities, for communities.

First, it was written in communities of living, active faith in God. Paul attributes writing roles to members of his ministry team, such as Timothy and Silas. I imagine Paul reading aloud to his team, discussing what he was burdened by, hammering through how to say it best, and praying together for good reception (especially for some of the more difficult letters). Luke, the primary author of the Luke-Acts volumes, interviewed people and collected stories, producing a dynamic narrative. Other works in Scripture show community involvement. And, of course, the Holy Spirit was involved every step of the way!

And, secondly, everything was written for particular communities, whether we’re hearing the great Hebrew prophets, the Gospel writers, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Little clusters of the faithful in Babylon, growing groups in Rome, persecuted Christians in Pergamum, all received God’s Word for their communities, as a community. Most early Christians only ever heard God’s Word spoken, Paul’s letters read aloud, Gospel stories discussed while gathered together. Due to illiteracy, many never would read it for themselves. Hearing God’s Word read aloud and then prayerfully discovering what it means and how we can obey as a community is how Christians engaged Scripture for most of Christian history.

PerovVG_PervHristianKievGRM
First Christians in Kiev by Vasily Perov (Wikipedia)

The advent of the printing press, the rise of literacy and the proliferation of writing is a tremendous gift. But one effect this gift has had on Bible reading is to privatize it, relegating Scripture to the silent, mental sphere of individuals. Many Christians, if they read their Bibles at all, do it in silence, alone, with no one else present. And that’s where it stays! For most of our brothers and sisters from the past, that would be a very strange way to engage God’s Word!

Scripture was given to inspire faithfulness in God’s people as a people; to honor that intent, we must engage God’s Word in community, hearing it out loud, taking it in live. Silent reading, personal study, private reflection are all important–don’t hear me wrong. But private practices will always fall short, even misleading us, if they are not sustained within a larger context of community reading, study, reflection and obedience.

What does this mean? It’s pretty simple, actually. Read and study the Bible with other people as a regular part of your life. Don’t accept as normal (silent, private reading) what is really, truly weird. When we read together, not only will we stay more engaged, but others will, too, and together we’ll be able to understand and obey the Bible in ways we’d never be able to alone.

God’s Word was given to us, for us, with an emphasis on the “us”. If there’s no “us”, even in the practice of listening and obeying, then we’ll miss out on much of what God intends us to receive.

How has reading Scripture aloud with others helped you understand the Bible more?

Can you think of a time when obeying God’s Word was only possible because you were receiving it as a community?

 

 

 

 

How You Can Begin Reading the Bible Today

If you are a spiritual seeker or a Jesus follower, Bible reading is basic. But life can be busy and we either forget or don’t seem to have the time to read as we’d like.

Here’s a few suggestions to help you read the Bible more this year.

First, decide what you’d like to do, and why.

Image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net by adamr
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net by adamr

Would you like to read a few minutes a day? Is listening to the Bible on your daily walk or commute more your style?  Is there something you’d like to know or understand? Is there a question you’d like to pursue? Why are you doing this? Answering questions like these will help guide your Bible reading.

Depending on your answers to the “why” questions, make a little plan for your reading. This does not need to take long or be complicated. I’ve set out two options for you. Option A is for those who despise set plans and like to make their own roads. Option B is for those who appreciate a little guidance on the journey.

Option A: Focus on some “main” books.

If you are new to the Bible, I always suggest starting with one of the Jesus stories (called gospels). There are four of them–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–and you can find them at the start of the New Testament (see any Bible’s table of contents). If it’s been awhile since you’ve read the Bible, I also recommend starting with one of the gospels. Why? Because the story of the Bible culminates in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jesus stories will help orient you (or re-orient you) to the central character and plot of the whole Bible.

But maybe you’ve been reading the gospels and are ready to explore further. I’d suggest a little Bible tour, starting with Genesis and Exodus, Deuteronomy, then skipping over to read some Psalms (pick 15 or so) and then Proverbs (read the first few chapters, then just jump around randomly). Continue reading with 1 and 2 Chronicles and the prophet Daniel.  Moving over the the New Testament, read Luke and Acts (they are companion volumes), Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Hebrews, James, 1 John and Revelation. If you break that up into three chapters a day, you can complete this whistle-stop tour in under four months.

Does that seem too complicated? Try Option B.

Option B: Pick a ready-made plan that works for you.

Some of you like the idea of carving your own path through the snow. Others prefer a little guidance, and there is so much help available. You Version has brought together a variety of Bible reading plans. You can read them on your tablet, phone, computer or just follow along in an old-fashioned, handheld Bible. I suggest clicking on “Whole Bible” or “Partial Bible” in the left sidebar, and choosing a plan that suits your goals or your time frame. You can read Luke in 12 days, or read all the Jesus stories in a month. Others might try reading the Psalms or Proverbs in 30 days a piece. Or you can do what many have done, and in about 15 minutes a day, read through the whole Bible in one year. (You can purchase a hard copy of the One Year Bible here.) Pick a path and try something out. And many of them feature audio, popular for many who are on the go or want to listen to the Bible while driving, walking or working around the house.

Reading the Bible does not need to be complicated. Nor does it require hours of study per day.  I hope you can experience the joy, pleasure and insight that comes from the simple, regular reading of the Scripture.

Is there a Bible reading plan or method that has helped you?

What do you find most debilitating when it comes to reading the Bible?

Three Easy Steps to Start Reading the Bible

1. Get one.

2. Open it.

3. Start reading.

Okay, maybe a little more direction would be handy. But seriously, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Oddly enough, though, we often make Bible reading more mysterious than it is, and then leave it on the shelf and never start reading.

My advice? Just start. You’ll be surprised at what you find.  A friend of mine recently started reading the Bible for the first time. Her discovery? The Bible is way more interesting than she expected it to be, the stories about Jesus intrigue her, and she is (surprise!) enjoying it. She is eager to continue.

That can be true for you, too.

Just Start Reading
Just Start Reading

Here’s three more steps you can take to enhance your Bible reading experience.

1. Start with a story about Jesus.  All Christians will agree that Jesus is the central figure of the Bible, so why not start with him? And you’ve got four options: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, located right at the beginning of the New Testament (see Table of Contents in any Bible). Extra tip: Use a modern translation, such as the New Living Translation (NLT) or the New International Version (NIV). It’ll be easier to understand than Grandma’s old King James Version.

2. Read a natural section and ask: What are these stories telling me about Jesus? And what do I think about what they are telling me about Jesus? Pay attention to how you respond to these Jesus stories. What intrigues you? What bugs you?

3. Find a good friend with whom you can discuss what you are reading. The Bible was never meant to be read alone. It was meant to be taken out in the daylight–read and discussed openly.

That’s it. Really.

Let me know what you discover.

PS. As a bonus, check out YouVersion, a great Bible App for your tablet or smart phone. You can even listen to some of the available translations, which is a great way of getting into the Bible.