YOUR STRESS FREE BIBLE READING PLAN

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YOUR STRESS FREE BIBLE READING PLAN

OK, you’ve tried before. The last few times might not have worked out but your intentions and instincts were right so you should definitely start again. Reading the Bible everyday is worth it.

START
You need a manageable goal. One chapter a day is a good place to begin. Allow 10-15 minutes per day. It will probably take even less time most days but give yourself the margin.

Let’s start with one month in mind. The gospel of John has 21 chapters. Starting today you will complete the entire book in 3 weeks by reading one chapter a day. After that, read the six chapters of Ephesians. To round out the first successful month of your daily Bible reading habit, read the little but powerful book of 2 Thessalonians.

CHOOSE A BIBLE
There are 2 things to think about in choosing a Bible. First, I recommend a modern language translation. I use the English Standard Version because it reads well and it’s more literal than the popular NIV. Some other version might  work better for you. No matter which Bible you choose, I recommend you use the same one each day so you can feel familiar with it.

The second thing to keep in mind is whether to choose a digital or a traditional paper Bible. Both have advantages. A digital Bible is more convenient since it can be stored on your phone. A traditional paper Bible is easier to see “at a glance” if you’re following a daily reading plan. I also find a traditional paper Bible easier to keep notes in than the excellent digital options available. Eventually, you will want both at your disposal- I go back and forth between the two depending on the need- but this month you’re getting a habit started. Choose the best for you and stick with it.

READ-DON’T STRESS
There won’t be a quiz at the end! Too often I have seen believers worry they should know more, or they feel internally pressured to find “deep” revelation every time they read God’s word. Stop worrying and start reading. God will speak to us sometimes in dramatic ways and more often in gentle whispers to our conscience. He can handle that part. For now, don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. Why should you? If you’re reading daily, you are doing great!

Our goal right now is to get started and to keep going. So read without overly stressing out if you don’t understand a name, geographic reference, or even a concept. Keep reading and God will speak to you in His own way and His own timing. img_0627

Finally, feel free to write yourself notes in the Bible or a notebook to keep track of your questions, thoughts, and moments of inspiration. Try to maintain a daily schedule but if you miss a day, start over where you left off. It takes time and consistency to develop a new habit.

Don’t worry about next month. Just get started.  Start today.

~JKB

CULTIVATING A LISTENING HEART

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CULTIVATING A LISTENING HEART
(1 Samuel 3:1-14)

Imagine one sound being played evenly at every frequency the human ear is capable of hearing. That’s “white noise.” Some people swear by their white noise machines humming through the night as they sleep. For these people, the cacophony of sound, similar to a small fan whirling, is the best way to block out other distracting noise that would otherwise keep them awake.

In our regular routines, it’s easy to hear “too much” due to the constant alerts on our phones, traffic everywhere, the perpetual sound of other people’s voices, and a thousand other sounds- both welcome and unwanted. Distracting clamor is part of life in the 21st century but unfortunately so many other conflicting sounds can create spiritual white noise, restricting our ability to listen for the one Voice that matters most.img_0021

God still speaks to His children today but to hear Him requires an intentional focus. We need to cultivate a listening heart. It can be done.

WAITING IN HIS PRESENCE

When the prophet Samuel was young, he was an attendant in the Tabernacle where he lived (1 Samuel 3). The Ark of God was housed there too and always represents the presence of God. One early morning just before dawn, while sleeping in the Tabernacle, near the Ark, Samuel heard the voice of God calling to him (v.3). He did not recognize it at first-but the old priest Eli helped him cultivate a listening heart for the voice of God. We can train ourselves to listen!

The Tabernacle was obviously quiet while everyone slept. The Ark of God was nearby. Samuel’s entire life was devoted to serving the Lord. Those three factors-stillness, God’s presence, and devotion- are good guidelines for us when we need to hear God about decisions we face, when we are seeking closer fellowship with God, or when we are maturing in the exercise of the spiritual disciplines.

To reproduce a similar atmosphere find a quiet place where outside distractions cannot interrupt your listening heart. Prepare your heart by reading Scripture to invite the presence and the clear Word of God into your life. Confess your sin so your life is clean and devoted to God.

Then, like Samuel, respond to the prompts of God’s Spirit. He said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
(1 Samuel 3:10)

DOES GOD STILL SPEAK? OF COURSE!

Some will argue that God doesn’t speak today but He does. Some will argue we don’t need to “seek His presence” since He is everywhere and “omnipresent.” It’s true He is everywhere but there is a difference between saying “God is everywhere” and “God is right here.” In Scripture there is a clear distinction between His presence and His “manifest presence.”

A few weeks ago the Unceasing Prayer Movement hosted a 24 hour prayer and worship room in Austin in association with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention held in Austin this year. Several people from around the city and state, and obviously from different churches, prayed for 24 hours. People were coming and going the entire time. Several of my friends, some who do not know each other, shared with me they sensed God speaking to them during that anointed time in the prayer room. I find that fact revealing. Several people, including me, heard from God. Why? The presence of God was powerfully conspicuous as worshippers poured out their hearts in prayer! The presence of God opens up the probability of hearing God.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HEAR HIM?

It is obvious God wants to be heard. The bigger question isn’t whether God is speaking but whether we are listening! When we put ourselves in a posture, place, or position to listen, it is almost impossible to miss His voice. Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals the God who communicates to people. He hasn’t changed at all over the years. He is still speaking and looking for a people who are listening. When we put ourselves into the proximity of His presence – whether through sustained fasting, focused Bible study, or unhurried worship- we train our heart to listen and appreciably enhance the probability of hearing His voice. img_0019

-JKB

40 YEARS WITH JESUS

JKBcircle40 YEARS WITH JESUS

Today, December 10, 2016 is an important anniversary for me. On this day, 40 years ago, I started following Christ in a walk of personal discipleship. I was a teenager in Fairbanks, Alaska 5 days away from my 20th birthday. Today, I’m 5 days from my 60th. I thank God for the journey.

I often say I should be further along in my Christian life by now but, thankfully  I am a long way from where I started. Along the way I have learned some lessons and developed some disciplines that have fashioned my life. Here are a few of the most consistent truths that have guided my steps.

1) Persistence is the key to everything. No one feels like pressing forward everyday. Sometimes we want to coast or even give up but that’s when persistence kicks in. No one ever quit half way through the race to win the victory.

Marriages should persist during tough times-that’s one way our spouses know they can count on us. Parenting isn’t easy but we can’t quit on our kids. Following Jesus demands daily consistency too, because sometimes it’s hard to remain faithful. The enemy attacks, temptations are always a factor, and sometimes we just want our way rather than His. Yet, without a commitment to finish strong, compromise can slowly erode our once unquestioned resolve. No wonder even the Apostle Paul said, “I press on.”

I have learned to press into Jesus and rely upon Him even when I don’t feel like being strong. I know if I do, soon my natural sense of dedication and commitment will surge back.

2) My personal relationship with Jesus is paramount. It is my life. If I don’t walk with Jesus on a daily basis, I will soon fail Him, disappoint my loved ones, and be no good for anyone else. Therefore, daily prayer and Bible study are essential for my Christian life. It’s not selfish to prioritize your own spiritual growth, it’s mandatory.

Aboard a commercial airplane the flight attendants routinely demonstrate the oxygen mask system before the plane takes off. Passengers are always instructed to put their own masks on first before attempting to assist other passengers. Obviously you can’t help the person next to you if you have passed out from oxygen deprivation!

In the same way, I make my own spiritual growth a personal priority because if I dry up spiritually I will not be of any spiritual help for anyone else. For this reason, and more importantly because I love to fellowship with God, I have not missed a day of Bible study in more than 35 years. In the first 5 years of my walk with God I might have missed a day of Bible reading occasionally, but I never missed 2 days in a row. But over the last 35 years my daily Bible study is as important to me as breathing so I never miss a day and I never will.

Similarly, I am helpless as a follower of Christ without prayer. When I was in college in the 1970’s I committed to pray 30 minutes a day. Admittedly, there have been days when I’ve prayed less, but thank God there have been many days when I prayed much more. The key here has been commitment and persistence. I’ve learned to keep going regardless of how I feel or the circumstances around me.

Today, I’m more devoted to the ministry of prayer than ever before. And I’m more convinced of the power of praying with other highly devoted prayer warriors than I’ve ever been. That’s why I’ve joined with the Unceasing Prayer Movement in Austin and a team of highly committed prayer leaders to make Austin, Texas the most prayed over city in America.

Never before have I been more desirous of moving from merely having a prayer life to actually living a life of prayer. I believe prayer moves the Hand that moves the world.

3) Finally, the people in my life are more important to me everyday. I love my family, my church, and my friends. I’m grateful for the power of love and my life is better because of the people I love and those who love me. Always.

In a few days I will turn 60 and I’m loving it. I started with the Lord 40 years ago and I’m happy to look forward to 40 more. When I turn 100, perhaps I’ll have some more advice to share! img_9946

-JKB

 

3 WAYS THE BEST COMMUNICATORS KEEP PEOPLE’S ATTENTION

JKBcircle3 WAYS THE BEST COMMUNICATORS  KEEP PEOPLE’S ATTENTION

North Americans have less attention span than a goldfish. That seems harsh but it’s backed up by science. http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/

So, given this fact how do great communicators hold people’s attention? If you’re still paying attention (sorry, I couldn’t resist), let me suggest 3 powerful ways!

1) YOUR FIRST WORDS COUNT

As a communicator you’ve got secondsseconds (!) to get the attention of a congregation. Your first words are vitally important, but almost as important as what you say is the fact you know what you’re going to say. Those opening words can’t be mousy or unclear. This is where leadership instincts have to kick in.

Whether you start with a greeting like Rick Warren saying, “Good morning Saddleback”, or a question, or a pastoral prayer, be absolutely certain before you speak you know what you mean to say. Then say it like you mean it! Trust me. People notice.

2) IGNORE THE EXPERTS- USE HUMOR

Preaching is serious, right? Eternity is too long to be wrong, right? Of course, but the way people listen today doesn’t resemble our Puritan past, when congregations were trained to listen to somber, one hour plus, theologically dense sermons. Those people are gone no matter how much we wish they weren’t (if you object to this fact remember the goldfish thing).

As a new pastor in the late 20th century I had been schooled to be serious in the pulpit. It was good training but one Sunday morning I preached with a slight fever and I was a little more loose than usual. At home my wife said, ” You should be funny more often. You’re funny- so be funny. People love to laugh.” She was right. As my Executive Pastor frequently reminds me (about a variety of things we should do in church which our Seminary professors warned us not to do), “Nobody loves it but the people.”

“But”, you may object, “what if it’s inappropriate humor?” Preacher, if I have to explain to you not to use inappropriate language in church you’ve got bigger issues than being funny.

If they aren’t tracking with your explanation of the aorist imperative or the political intrigue of the Babylonian Captivity, I am certain you can recapture their attention with a brief, humorous insight. Remember, “people love to laugh.”

3) PREACH THE WORD

If you want to hold people’s attention, tell them what God has said. Nearly every Sunday, just before I walk up to the pulpit, I remind myself, “They almost didn’t come.” There are a lot of competing voices in our culture- but only one Voice heals, forgives, corrects, and saves. Tell them what God has said and you’re somebody people will hear.

They don’t come to hear us. They come because they want a word from God. The preacher should give it to them.

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“…And the great throng heard him gladly.” (Mark 12:37)

-jkb

Day 10) 3 POWERFUL PRIVILEGES OF PENTECOST

imageDay 10) 3 POWERFUL PRIVILEGES OF PENTECOST

Today is Pentecost Sunday-50 days since Easter. On the Day of Pentecost in 33ad the Holy Spirit was poured out on the praying church and the blessings of that day have continued ever since. Have you ever considered the privileges you enjoy today as a result of Pentecost? Here are a few.

THE PRIVILEGE OF A CHURCH FAMILY

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

Immediately after the Spirit fell, the new believers were gathered into a church fellowship. They learned the Word together, and enjoyed friendships, worshipped the Lord and prayed. Every Sunday when we gather we have those same privileges with our church families because the Holy Spirit is with us.

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THE PRIVILEGE OF EVANGELISM

“…praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

Someone once said, “Evangelism is not complete until the evangelized become evangelists.” The Holy Spirit empowered a group of new believers and virtual strangers into the most effective missionaries the world has ever seen. When we are filled with the Spirit, His love for the mission becomes our love for the mission.

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THE PRIVILEGE OF PRAYER

And they devoted themselves to…the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

If the Spirit is in our church, we will be “a house of prayer for all nations.” The greatest personal privilege you have at your disposal is the free access you have to God through prayer. The Holy Spirit organized the “Jesus People” at Pentecost into a praying powerhouse and He is doing it again today all over the world.

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I could say much more about our privileges as a result of Pentecost but today I just want to say, “Thank you, Holy Spirit!”

-JKB
PENTECOST SUNDAY
MAY 15, 2016

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Day 9) HARP AND BOWL

JKBcircleDay 9) HARP AND BOWL

One of the unusual scenes in the book of Revelation allows us a brief glimpse into the worship around the throne of God in heaven. There two objects, held by heavenly beings, suggest how we might worship God on earth.

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8)

THE HARPS
There is music in heaven. Musical instruments accompany worshippers as they sing praises to God. The elders around God’s throne hold harps. God loves when we praise Him on instruments now, partly because He is surrounded by praise like that for eternity in heaven. In Revelation 4:8-11, John informs us the four living creatures and the twenty four elders, (the same group holding the harps and bowls in chapter 5) are in a perpetual chorus of praise. As fascinating and encouraging as it is to consider the elders with their stringed instruments forming an eternal orchestra, it is the second object they hold that staggers the imagination!

THE BOWLS
John saw a prayer meeting in heaven unlike any other. The elders are holding golden bowls, full of a smoldering incense.

Incense was burned in the Temple at Jerusalem day and night. It was made of sweet spices and frankincense, an aromatic resin that smells something like nutmeg. When the incense was ignited, the aroma of the rising smoke made the area around the holy place extremely desirable and inviting.

In heaven, the elders are holding bowls of incense. This isn’t potpourri- just sitting in a bowl throwing off fragrance. Incense is combustible. The bowls the elders hold are on fire!

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As if that imagery isn’t enough to electrify our spirits with curiosity, John confirms an additional detail- the bowls are made of gold. Gold means the content of the bowls is highly valuable. It’s at this point John informs us the content of the bowls, the incense of heaven, is prayer. Your prayers and mine-every prayer we’ve ever prayed- are kept in golden bowls coming up before God like incense.

HARP AND BOWL WORSHIP
Today, we can worship God in a variety of ways but I suggest the heavenly harp and bowl model as a great option. By combining worship music and prayer, our prayers are more easily joined with others in the congregation or in a prayer meeting.

Music also encourages and lifts our spirits and allows us the privilege of praising God with our our entire life- our bodies, our spirits, and our minds. By singing and playing instruments during prayer we add life and a fragrant, inviting aroma to our prayers. Think of it as “worship based prayer“. Harp and bowl is not entertainment, it’s the biblical model of worshipping God simultaneously with music and prayer.

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The next city wide prayer meeting we hold in Austin, plan to attend and we can worship like the living beings in heaven- with harps and bowls.

-JKB

Day 8) THE FULLNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

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THE FULLNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

God wants His people to live Spirit filled lives. That’s why Paul instructed the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) That Scripture applies to every believer today as well. How can we be filled with the Spirit?

GOD DOES IT

“Be filled,” is a passive verb meaning the action of filling is outside of our control. It is not something we do- it is something done to us. God fills us with the Spirit, we do not fill ourselves.

GOD DEMANDS IT

“Be filled” is an imperative form of the verb, therefore it is a command. It is God’s will for you to be filled with the Spirit. If you are not Spirit filled you are living outside of God’s design for the Christian life.

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THE TIME IS NOW

“Be filled” is a present tense verb. That means we are to continually be filled with the Spirit. Fullness is not a “once and for all” experience. It is a fresh, dynamic part of our daily life.

 

 

THIS IS FOR YOU

“Be filled” is a plural verb. That means the fullness of the Spirit is for every believer. That includes you. Are you seeking the fullness of the Spirit? If you’re a believer you should. The Holy Spirit is not reserved for a sub-set of the church or a spiritual “special ops” branch of the Body of Christ. All of us should live Spirit-filled lives!

As we approach Pentecost Sunday on May 15, shouldn’t the church today long for the outpouring of the Spirit just as the church 2000 years ago did? I believe we should.

Today, right now, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. God will hear your prayer.

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-JKB