Friday, September 28, 2012

The Seinfeld Calendar - Reading Plan

The most popular posts on this blog are by far the posts featuring Bible reading plans (or schemes as the say in the UK). This popularity does not primarily come from my active readership, but from visitors who find my reading plan posts from search engines etc. I hope these readers stick around, but even if they don't I'm happy to provide a service that may help people interact consistently with the powerful and life-changing Word of God.

I must confess I have been reading plan free for some months (Yes, this means I ditched my plan for 2012, but I did so intentionally. Grant Horner's system is not for me). I have read my Bible every day without fail, and I actually have been reading more of the Bible lately than usual. I like to read multiple chapters per day aloud, sometimes using Discovery Bible Study, margin notes and highlighting and sometimes just belting it out.

One habit I have picked up, however, is the use of a "Seinfeld Calendar." This happened when in a Church service I was asking the Lord some questions, and I heard a quotation of the whole chapter of Hebrews 12 go through my mind and heart. I have never memorized Hebrews 12. I realized that the Lord was getting my attention, and set myself to reading Hebrews 12 everyday, with the intention of continuing for two months.

The situation reminded me of a productivity tool used by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld called the "Seinfeld Calendar." The simple idea has been getting popular, and I thought it would be excellent to use for a Bible plan. Lifehacker supposedly features the original story explaining advice the writer personally received from the comedian before a stand-up routine:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."
"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis.
You can read the full story here. This simple tool has proved effective and easy for many, and I'm finding it effective as well. I originally discovered the Seinfeld Calendar through a facebook post to, a simple site which allows you to title and create your own Seinfeld Calendar (though printing from the browser refuses to work for me). The site features a simple format which you can see below.

You simply title the calendar with your goal, such as "Read Hebrews 12" or "Read Five Chapters of the Bible" or as I'm considering "Read One Book of GEPCo" (GEPCo is Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians). I've been working on my Hebrews 12 Seinfeld Calendar for half a month. Simple really is better when it comes to productivity tools, and this is about as simple and elegant as it gets. Having trouble staying on task with your reading? Try a Seinfeld Calendar with your reading plan.

September 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Discovery Bible Study Part 3 - Individual

Read Discovery Bible Study Part 2 - Method first.

The Discovery Bible Study method is inextricably linked to evangelism and discipleship. Its greatest success is in group practice, where accountability, group inspiration, and discussion are part of the Spirit moving in the text. However, Discovery Bible Study can be a powerful component of individual study and devotional life. It is designed to activate believers in sharing and doing the Word by creating an approach to Bible study that necessitates sharing the text that you read with someone and fulfilling an "I Will" obedience statement appropriated from the teaching of Scripture. For many, this will be the most aggressive approach to obeying Scripture they've ever taken. 

The intention of sharing what you read every time you approach Scripture creates a compass in daily life where sharing Scripture becomes a priority.It makes evangelism and Christian fellowship a significant part of Bible study in a way that I have never seen before. You leave the Bible with the intention of sharing what you've just read with someone (a believer or unbeliever). This becomes a highly effective habit and can even create routines and hunger from those around you as "Today I read in the Bible. . ." becomes a normal and expected part of conversation.

In addition to the potent obedience and evangelism components of the study, the rewriting of Scripture benefits memorization and careful rereading of the text as does putting the text "in your own words." While these components may seem basic and simplistic, I don't know many readers who make a regular practice of this outside of us who practice Discovery Bible Study on a regular basis. As you can see above, this can create a significant amount of meditation just by going through the writing process. These pictures are of one my evangelism partner's personal DBS three column study sheets.

Picking a simple list of short passages to go through with the DBS method on a daily or weekly basis can radically change your life. For many Christians sharing a passage of Scripture and fulfilling the Word in a deliberate way once a week will be a powerful change in their life. Discovery Bible Study can activate this as a lifestyle in a believer, and it can accomplish this without lengthy training, curricula or extraneous materials. A Bible, a pen, a piece of paper, and a willing heart are all you need. 

Check out CityTeam's disciple-making resources and the links below:

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Single Column Journaling Bible

Crossway is one of the best Bible publishers on the market, and, in my view, the best when it comes to the versatility and variety of their editions. Of the many editions of the ESV available, the Journaling Bible is my all-around favorite, and while I haven't reviewed the original edition of the ESV Journaling Bible, I have given away more Journaling Bibles as gifts than any other edition, and I have probably recommended it more than any other edition. My only major criticism of the original Journaling Bible was its double column format, and its questionable durability. When I saw that the Single Column Journaling Bible had come out, I jumped at the chance to review it, sure that all my dreams had come true. This review will focus on the new edition, rather than comparing the two as I actually gave all the original editions I had away.

Identical in function, purpose and aesthetic to the original Journaling Bible, the new Single Column edition features the classic Moleskine appearance, complete with a thick elastic strap, cream colored pages and a low gloss cover.  While the original edition remains 6.25 in x 7.25 in, the Single column edition stretches out at 6.25 in x 8.0 in. This avoids the blocky look of the original and gives it more of a recognizable book shape. As usual, I wouldn't mind a thicker spine, but the page count in this edition surpasses the original by about 300 pages, so it probably is slightly thicker.

The inside is the main appeal of the Journaling Bible and Crossway succeeds brilliantly at creating a spacious, readable layout complete with two inches of ruled margins for your own notes. As you can see, there remains a fair amount of ghosting where the text from the opposing side of the page presents a ghostly image beneath the text. This is especially visible in the poetry sections. While this amount of ghosting is obviously undesirable, the Journaling Bible features 27 lb Bible paper, the same as the ESV Pew Bible, which is about as thick as you can ask for. I've confessed before that ghosting rarely, if ever, distracts me, and the fact that this is about the thickest Bible paper on the market makes me wonder if ghosting is an issue that can be fixed without some kind of miracle paper.

The font choice is classy and readable for younger eyes at 7.5. There seems to be a generous amount of space between each line as well, making the text a little more distinguishable. I am impressed by Crossway's dedication to decent margin space, especially in the poetry sections. They don't allow the text to curve into the gutter or slam right against the note-taking margins.

The narrative portions feature the same care in the layout, though notes will be a little more cramped here due to the paragraph format instead of lines and stanzas. This is the nature of the text itself. This is a black letter edition, which means colored pens will stand out well.

Like most wide margin editions, this layout features no frills. Simple chapter and heading titles and the necessary textual footnotes are the only additions to the text itself.

The margins feature nice dotted lines to reign in slanted writing, optimizing the page for efficiency and dictating a decent size print. I'm always in favor of empty space for charts, schematics, illustrations and so on, but these lines are attractive, and I will attempt to stay within them. They seem especially useful for the narrative portions where there's less space to go around, and a guide to using it efficiently will be helpful. You can view a PDF of the layout here.

The binding accomplishes an impressive feat by opening flat at the last page and from Genesis One. A fantastic benefit for those who write in their Bibles, as it's often irritating to hold the cover down while attempting to scrawl a legible but barely macroscopic note in the margin.

The sewn binding does its job. I believe the original Journaling Bible was a hybrid of glued and sewn. Crossway advertises both editions as sewn. It's difficult for me to tell if this is glued as well as sewn (I can't see a layer of glue. Help me out in the comments), but it certainly performs well.

This edition is light on features, offering a dedication page, table of contents, a Preface to the translation, an explanation of the translation features, a table of weights and measures, and a daily reading plan. As always I will miss the concordance, and I'm learning to miss the maps, especially during the book of Acts.

There's no pocket flap in the back of the Bible which would be a nice addition. We all know stuffing bulletins, Bible study outlines etc. in your Bible will stress the spine, but we all do it anyway. A pocket would make it more convenient as inevitable these inserts go flying everywhere.

The classic elastic strap is still here along with a nicely proportioned ribbon. The strap is yet another encouragement to stuff loose papers in the Bible. The band is thick and strong, though I have friends whose elastic strap on their original edition is loose and shot. They may simply be bad stewards of elastic as it will always wear out if misused. The durability of this edition remains in question. Two of my friends have done significant damage to the bindings of their hardback editions, and I am uncertain if this edition will hold up better. The binding seems higher quality, and I certainly hope this Bible can take hard use as that's what the design lends it to. The Journaling Bible should be carried regularly, stuffed into backpacks and bags, pressed into, folded up, closed upon bulletins and maybe even pens, and well used because that's the kind of use a reader that fills their Bible with margin notes desires.

In short, this is almost the edition I've always dreamed of. If I had my way, there would be blank margins, a thicker spine and bigger print, greater durability, a concordance, and a pocket in the back, but really this is looking a gift horse in the mouth. This edition is a great gift to wide margin lovers everywhere. The streamlined approach to design will please far more readers than it will alienate. This edition is really what most Journaling Bible users wanted: more of the same, an identical edition with a single column format. Crossway accomplishes this with their trustworthy efficiency, and presents it at an affordable price. It's time to start a new Bible journaling project.

My thanks to Crossway for providing a complimentary review copy. I have given an honest review.

531910: ESV Single Column Journaling Bible(Black) ESV Single Column Journaling Bible(Black)
By Crossway Books & Bibles
536045: ESV Single Column Journaling Bible (Red) ESV Single Column Journaling Bible (Red)
By Crossway Books & Bibles
531927: ESV Single Column Journaling Bible Bonded Leather Brown (Flap with Strap) ESV Single Column Journaling Bible Bonded Leather Brown (Flap with Strap)
By Crossway Books & Bibles
4838X: ESV Journaling Bible, Original, black ESV Journaling Bible, Original, black
By Crossway Books & Bibles

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Blogging, Missions, and Revelation: The Future of Bible Reading Project

You may have noticed that lately Bible Reading Project has drifted out of its niche of "creative, inspiring, and exciting methods of interacting with God's Word and with His Son Jesus Christ" into an emphasis on evangelism, missions, and cross-cultural ministry. This is a major mistake in blogging. Failing to stay in your niche is supposedly sure to lose and alienate readers as they receive content in which they have little interest. I'm very much aware of this conventional wisdom for how to handle one's self in the blogosphere, and I am still as passionate as ever about God's word and finding new ways of interacting with it; however, my life as a missionary and my passion for evangelism and making disciples is rapidly consuming my time and encroaching upon every aspect of my life. That is reason to rejoice!

The Lord is blessing me and making me fruitful in ways that blow my mind. In the last week I've proclaimed the Good News to many, studied God's Word with many, and led one person out of darkness and into the light of Christ! Praise God for a young man who was radically born again and has left his old life behind for new life in Christ!

As missions, evangelism, and disciple-making take more and more of my heart, mind, and time, I'll be writing more on those topics. I hope this will greatly enrich the blog and bring more of an obedience and discipleship focus to the subject of Bible study, but at times it may not fit with the expected output of BibleReadingProject. I will try to keep most of my missions stories and writing over at the blog on my new personal site, but there will be some convergence here (there already has been quite a bit). I can't be sure that I'll maintain the same output at all though. This is only a blog. There are people who are lost, saved, and newly born again who are a part of my life that I'm called to minister to. People are the only thing you can invest in that lasts forever. If it comes down to them or the blog, I will choose them.

Some of you may have noticed that I have posted a number of book reviews here that fall more into the genre of missions and ministry literature than Bible study. This is because I often receive review copies for free in exchange for a review. These review copies are available because of the traffic this blog receives, and many of these books have enriched my life and ministry. The current Bible Project series on Discovery Bible Study was inspired by one of these books and it has become one of the most personally transforming Study methods I've used. I will be continuing this series soon, so stay posted.

A final point would be that evangelism and missions will radically change the way you read the Bible and it may radically change your theology. Reading the Bible with unbelievers, new believers, and with those who have had no contact with it before will draw out new revelations about how incredible Jesus really is. Bible stories gain even more savor and richness as you see people respond to them in powerful ways, and as God begins to move. There's nothing to jar you into a new realization of God's goodness like seeing multiple people miraculously healed at the same time! Or if you run into people from other cultures who have questions about encounters with Jesus in dreams and visions. Or if you yourself are guided to a seeker by supernatural revelation. Evangelism and missions is so often where the presence of God remains and where the action is. The Word comes alive!

I plan to keep writing here, and I hope you keep reading. I hope the blog inspires you not only to read the Bible in new ways, but to do the Bible in new ways. I hope it makes you want to go out and read the Bible with someone who doesn't know Jesus. I hope it makes you want to introduce the God of the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible who lives and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, to someone who doesn't know Him. Thank you for reading. The best is yet to come!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review: Insider Movements by Jeff Morton

Insider Movements: Biblically Incredible or Incredibly Brilliant by Jeff Morton is a must read for anyone involved in ministry and missions to Muslims or anyone involved in supporting missionaries overseas (which should include the whole Church). The issues here are of paramount importance. As a worker among Muslims, I have seen the dramatic influence of Insider Movement methodology at work. Jeff Morton's book is a balanced presentation and critique of Insider Movements. It is not an angry diatribe or a weighty academic study as some may characterize Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel. It is an accessible, practical, and persuasive explanation and evaluation of what is going on in most missions to Muslims around the world.

Insider Movements are defined in different ways but a basic description within Muslim Ministry would be a multiplication of Muslim converts who remain inside the religion of Islam so as to not lose their cultural identity. This missiological model has become increasingly popular, especially in missions to Muslims, where it seems the majority of missionaries have been influenced by Insider Movement methodology. Yet few outside of the world of ministry to Muslims are aware of this approach. This book is a timely interaction with the foundations and practices of Insider Movements.

Jeff Morton has produced an excellent and concise evaluation of Insider Movements and the methodology surrounding them. The writing remains clear, engaging, and even entertaining in the midst of bringing important exegetical, theological, and academic approaches to bear. Morton brings a careful and well balanced critique of the the thinking, theological processes, and strategies of Insider Movements by evaluating primarily the Theology of Religions present within the method. The majority and finest part of the book interacts with the scriptural basis of the IM position. Morton educates, evaluates, and persuades with great fluidity and maintains a smooth progression of ideas and evaluations, building his case carefully from the basis of scripture.

Some of Morton's conclusions about Islam will make missionaries uncomfortable, and a few will be tempted to dismiss Morton out of hand because he finds little to nothing worth a convert retaining within Islam. He disagrees that some things within Islam are salvageable. Unfortunately he allows the reader to interpret what this means practically, and some may paint Morton (and already have) as a harsh "extractionist" who demands all former Muslims don a starched white shirt and tie, sit in a pew, and sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" in a language they've never learned. This is the way opponents are demonized within missiological debate. Regardless of how missionaries feel about this conclusion, they must engage with Morton's exegesis of scripture and his interaction with the interpretations that proponents of IM use to found their case.

Morton's work, though concise and easily read, is an exceptional challenge to IM theology. He engages the majority of texts used to develop IM paradigms as well as quoting and engaging published interpretations. These issues include such questions as: Was Melchizedek a pagan priest? Did Elisha endorse worshipping Rimmon when speaking with Naaman? Were the pagan sailor's in the book of Jonah in a relationship with God? Were the Samaritans in John 4 and Acts 8 converts who retained their pagan religion? Was Acts 15 an example of entering the kingdom through Jesus without Christianity? Is Acts 17 evidence that scripture values socio-politico-religious identities? Does 1 Corinthians 7 mean Muslims should stay Muslim? Does 1 Corinthians 9 instruct us to become Muslim to reach Muslims? All of these texts and interpretations are introduced, fleshed out, and interpreted with transparent exegesis.

The book concludes with a brief discussion of conversion and a final analysis of Insider Movements. It includes appendices which feature a twenty page case study of IM in West Java. The case study is an illuminating, disturbing, and essential look at how Insider Movements occur outside of the textbooks and conferences in the real world.

I have been waiting for a solid but brief and accessible critique of Insider Movement methodology to appear. This book is almost exactly what I was looking for, and I hope that Morton's colleagues will produce more along the same lines. I will be buying multiple copies to distribute to workers, churches, and inquirers.