As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 9

Day 9 Readings
Matthew 9
Luke 9
John 9

He must of looked a bit foolish.  His head must have whipped from one side to the next, every step causing him to pause.  He didn't saunter.  There was no air of dignity about his walk.  Instead, he leapt from one place to the next.  He sprang about like child who for the first time entered a world of wonder.  This was the first stroll he'd ever taken that he could see where he was walking.  He'd been blind from birth, but Jesus had opened his eyes.  Now he saw everything for the first time.  All things had become new.

This is the story of the man in John 9 from your reading today.  A flat reading has him walking home unphased by the incident.  A full reading has him overwhelmed by sight, dancing and prancing about like a man with no care of his dignity in the world.  We are reminded today about the gift of sight.

What do you see?
When reading the Scriptures, we are often confronted with the question, "What do we see?"  Today's readings throw us against that question, not only in the life of the blind man, but in a variety of ways.

Matthew 9:
What do you see in a room full of tax collectors (cheats and sell-outs) and sinners?  Do you see a table to avoid or great dinner companions?

What do you see in the presumptuous actions of a bleeding woman?  A rule breaker that gets in the way as Jesus makes his way to somewhere really important or a divine appointment with someone in need?

What do you see on the seashore filled with broken hurting people?  Do you see people that will require a lot of energy and time or do you see a responsibility to act on the behalf of those struggling and suffering throughout life?

Luke 9:
What do you see in a crowd of thousands that are hungry?  Do you see people that need to go get a job, stop expecting hand outs and fend for themselves or do you see an opportunity to display the generosity of God?

What do you see in those moments when you discover something profound about God?  A chance to stay put, camp out and never go away from that moment or an opportunity to come down off the mountaintop with a fresh gift of God to give to others?

The Scriptures stretch and expand our vision.  They invite us to see things differently, through the eyes of Jesus.  The question remains, in seeing all things new, will you prance about like a child overcome by the wonder, or will you saunter away wishing you could unsee what you saw, cause not seeing was easier than seeing what Jesus sees?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 8

Day 8 Readings -
Matthew 8
Luke 8
John 8

Playing Around in the Text
We are often locked in a rigid, flat, one-dimensional reading of the Bible.  Throughout this reading plan, I've been challenging you to get lost in the Stories.  One can't wander too far away from the comfort of home, when the path is already flat, straight, and well-marked.  One-dimensional reading of the Bible treats the path as though it's already clearly marked out.  What you get is what you immediately see.  But what if?  What if the Scriptures invite us into creativity and imagination.  What if reading the Scriptures is like playing around in the text?  To some of us, this can almost seem blasphemous.  The Scriptures aren't to be played with...these are serious.

Throughout the centuries, the Jewish Rabbis have worked at perfecting the art of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (what we call the Old Testament).  The method they use is called Midrash.  Midrash isn't a technical, rigid, stale approach to the text.  Midrash invites the reader into playfulness.  Midrash recognizes that in the stories of the Bible, there are gaps, places where details are left unsaid.  These gaps mean that the text has an abundance of meaning.  At each gap, the reader is invited into the a moment of wonder, of surprise and shock, of playfulness and creativity, of (dare I say) imagination.  In this playfulness, the text comes alive in new ways.  Reading the Scriptures, by means of Midrash, invites the reader to step off the well-beaten path only to arrive at the destination in a new way.

Today's texts invite us into such encounter.  In John 8, we encounter a woman nearly stoned to death by the religious conservatives (the strict letter following folks) for her adultery.  These men make the mistake of asking Jesus what he thinks about this woman.  Here is where the gaps can make room for playfulness.  The story tells us that Jesus, knelt down and wrote something in the sand.  Have you ever stopped to think, "What did he write?"  "What did he draw?"  Reading the Bible invites us to linger in those moments.  Don't rush.  Let the Spirit of God to guide your imagination, evoke your creativity.  I've thought of a number of different options (that I'm not going to tell you here because I want you to make your own discoveries.)  In both Luke and Matthew, Jesus calms the storm.  Great.  One dimensional reading tells us, "Jesus can calm the storms of life."  Sure, absolutely.  But what else?  What else is happening on those boats?  What comes before?  What comes after?  Are there connections to be made?  Who is freaking out in the boat?  Who is trying to act tough?  Who is hung over the side crying out for momma?  Did you give yourself room to play?

Playing around in the text invites the text to come alive.

However, there are a few guiding principles for us.

1.)  Playing around in the text doesn't mean the text can ultimately mean whatever you want it to mean.  Playfulness fills up the text, but it doesn't conform the text to your wishes.  Our faith tradition establishes some boundaries (think the lines of a football field or a basketball court).  These lines protect us from landing out of bounds.  The more we understand our tradition and the more we compare what we read to other passages of the Scripture, the more we will feel the freedom to play around faithfully.

2.)  Often our playfulness and creativity will be determined by where we are standing in life.  There is no neutral place from which we can stand and make sense of the Scriptures.  We are shaped by the context of our lives.  I often hear people say, "every time I read the same story it means something different to me."  In some ways that's true.  However, I'd like to change the language a bit. "Every time I read the same story I find myself standing in a different place of life which enables me to see the story from a different angle, which adds depth and meaning to the text."

3.)  It's always more fun playing with friends.  The Scriptures were never simply intended to be read as my book (in the individual sense).   The Scriptures were intended to be read as our book (in the communal sense).  Playing around is always more fun when there are others to share in the delight.  Reading the Bible well means finding people with whom you can share what God is showing you and hearing what God is showing others.  Community can also help to serve as a safe-guard from landing out of bounds.

4.)  A Trail Guide is always helpful.  If you are going to play around and wander off the beaten path, don't go alone.  When you read, invite the Holy Spirit to take your hand as you journey.  Allow the Spirit to be the One that stirs your imagination and invites you into creativity.  The Spirit is faithful to help us discover new things in the text and convict us when we begin to use the text to justify our selfish intentions and ambitions.

Read, play, have fun!  Let the stories come alive today.    

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 7

Day 7 Readings:
Matthew 7
Luke 7
John 7

St. Augustine, perhaps one of the most influential early Christian leaders of the first 400 years of the church, once wrote, "Scripture teaches nothing but charity, nor condemns anything except cupidity, and in this way shapes the minds of men." These words are found in his book called On Christian Doctrine. This book is one of our earliest pieces we have describing how followers of Jesus ought to read the Bible. (Yes, this was even an issue way back then.) What he captures in this short statement is something I believe to be central to our reading of the Bible and today's readings in particular.  

Augustine will emphasize over and over again throughout this work that the reading of the Bible should produce charity. By charity, he did not simply mean giving to a non-profit organization you believe in from time to time. Charity is the early way of speaking about Love. For Augustine, this was a particular kind of love. It is the devoted, rightly-ordered, sacrificial love of humanity toward God and their love toward one another for the sake of God. Let me say it this way, "If you are reading the bible and it doesn't produce the fruit of Love in your life for God and others for the sake of God, then you are reading the Bible wrong."  

By cupidity, Augustine is describing a life driven by all the wrong kinds of passion. It is a life when our love is thrown off course and we love all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. The Bible is a re-ordering and re-orienting of our lives back to God. Any reading of the bible that neglects this re-orientation is a misreading of the Bible.

Where might Augustine get such confidence to speak with such clarity about the right way of reading the bible? Today's passages might be a good place to start. Throughout today's passages you are encountering a similar theme. The validity of our lives, our actions, and our identities in Christ isn't determined by what we say, how much we know, or how often we do the right "churchly" stuff. It is determined by the fruit our lives produce. Those that give themselves to a journey with Jesus should have that journey evidenced in the sweet tasting fruit of their lives. For Augustine, and for many Christian writers, the fruit is very clearly a life of rightly-ordered, God-enjoying, neighbor-respecting love. In Luke 7, Jesus demonstrates this himself. Driven by the mission of Love, every where he went lives were changed, people were restored, lives were healed. (The power of Love is healing). When asked by John the Baptist's followers if Jesus was in fact the One they had been waiting for, He simply says, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." (Luke 7:22) Jesus simply says, "You've seen the fruit of Love for yourself. What do you think?"

No matter how new one is to the Scriptures, no matter what tradition one finds oneself in reading the bible, no matter how well or poorly one understands the complexities of Scripture, if the fruit of love isn't being produced, "you are reading the bible wrong." Jesus might end by saying from Matthew 7, "everyone that hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is is like a wise man who built his house on a rock." (Matthew 7:24)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan Day 6

Day 6 Readings - Side Thought
Matthew 6
Luke 6
John 6

Recently at an airport, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a very nice, very gregarious individual who discovered I was a pastor (I was reading a pastor-kind of book) and proceeded to tell me how I could grow my church into a "huge church."  Now understand this man was nice, genuine, and a delight to talk to so what I am about to say means absolutely no disrespect.  He said, "Jeff, I'm an agnostic.  I don't know what I believe.  But I do know this, that I like the values that Jesus teaches.  I really think that if you could just pull out the values, leave all the peculiarity of the stories in the book and just teach people the values, you will grow your church.  The reason why churches are dying is because they are holding on to Ancient stories when what people really want are the principles."

I listened.  I was respectively attentive.  I waited until I felt like he'd given me permission to respond and I said, "Friend, it is the peculiar and particular stories of the Scriptures that give meaning to those values and principles of Jesus.  Without the stories, we don't know what we are saying."

What my new airport friend was doing, without even realizing it, was entering into a modern debate that spans the last couple of centuries.  What's really important about the Scriptures? Is it the stories it tells or the principles that can be extracted from those stories?

What my friend didn't realize is that if we simply extract values and principles from the Bible, serve them up without any Jesus, we don't really have the principles or values of Jesus at all.  Besides, one might ask, which values would you care to serve up?  "Sell everything and give it to the poor," like he tells the rich young ruler.  "Forgive people 70 x 7 times," like he tells his followers.  The values and principles of Jesus' life only make sense in the stories that He embodies, the very same stories that he invites us into.

When we read the gospels, we are not looking for easy extraction.  There is no Cliff Notes version of the Bible.  No, when we are reading these stories, we are allowing our lives to be overcome by these stories, to lose ourselves in the pages.  In today's reading in John, Jesus talks about being the bread of life.  There is no easy principle there.  Jesus is claiming to be the very nourishment of God in our lives, and you know what many of the followers did who heard this claim?  Listen to this, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." (John 6:66)  The values and principles of Jesus (whatever that may mean in a person's mind) don't gather large crowds, in fact, the deeper one enters into the stories, the more one finds oneself confronted by a call to follow the One who refuses to leave the cookies on the bottom shelf, offering us ready made moral principles.

Yesterday you started reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and today you pick up a version of that same message in Luke 6.  These sayings of Jesus make NO SENSE outside the stories of Jesus that follow.  It is his life that gives meaning to the statements.  Only as we, followers of that Jesus, enter deeply into the call to abandon ourselves to Him and take on His stories as our own do those stories make sense for us.

Principled Christianity quickly degraded to arbitrary moralism.

The peculiar and particular stories of Jesus call us into a life of self-abandon and into the deeper life of radical obedience to the life of Jesus.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 4

Day 4 Readings - Daily Thought
Matthew 4
Luke 4
John 4

Growing up, the pictures I remembered seeing of Jesus in the churches I had passed through were always very sweet, serene, calm, and sentimental  Hands folded neatly in front of him, He calmly gazed up into the sky, praying to the Father.  For years, this was the picture I had of Jesus.  Jesus was the sweet Jewish guy/God that wanted to save my soul.  I had a Hallmark version of Jesus that appeared to be the currency of the day.

Then I read the Gospels!

I hope that as you are making your way through the stories of Matthew, Luke, and John so far, a different picture of Jesus is beginning to emerge.  Today especially, you will begin to recognize that perhaps Jesus isn't the sweet, sentimental, picturesque framed figure hanging in the lobbies of dying churches.  Instead, Jesus is the One who has come to turn the world upside-down and inside-out.  Jesus has come to inaugurate a Kingdom Revolution.

In Matthew, after battling the enemy in the desert, He begins his ministry with the announcement "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near."  (Matthew 4:17)  This is an announcement of displacement and should mess with us a bit.  He is announcing that the way you once understood the world has come undone, all the idols of power, control, domination, and fear have been usurped by the power of a Kingdom that is born in the heart of God's love and plays out through the person of Jesus who lives to deconstruct the status quo and in its place build a Kingdom that rightly orients people back to God's life-giving intent.  This is no sweet, sentimental, Hallmark card dealing Jesus.  This is a Divine usurper, a rabble-rouser, a revolutionary encouraging a coup de tat.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus builds on this announcement with a vision of God's Spirit breaking into the dark, dreary, desolate places of life and bringing hope.  He says, I have come to "preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release the captives."  Anyone hearing Hallmark in this?  The vision of God through Jesus is to make a splash.  It is to infiltrate the places where darkness seems to reign, where despair appears to have the final word, where bondage seems as though it can't be broken and unleash God's restorative, liberating, healing, justice-making power!  The intent of Jesus may not simply have been to save my soul but also to change the world.  Sounds like a revolution to me.

And finally for today, revolutionaries recruit.  Today's passages speak about the types of recruits that Jesus calls.  They are left-outs, forgotten ones, and those that are forced to the margins of society.  He calls fishermen, broken people and women.  Yes, I said women.  This is not the sweet Jesus.  This is the rule-breaking Jesus.  In Jesus patriarchal (chauvinistic) society, women were marginal figures who weren't granted many of the rights and dignities of a real person.  In John 4, Jesus breaks all sorts of social norms, offering dignity and hope to someone who has regularly had that denied.

Let the Jesus revolution happen!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Thoughts on Day 2 and 3

Day 3 Readings - Afternoon Thoughts
Matthew 3
Luke 3
John 3

In these early chapters of the gospels, the stage is being set for many themes that will emerge over and over again throughout the unfolding of these stories.  As you read these passages, I want to draw your attention to these themes, making you aware of some of the undercurrents that will affect your encounter with these texts.

Conflict with Political Leaders:  In Chapter 2 of Matthew you were introduced to Herod.  In the days of Jesus' birth, the Romans were the occupying force of Jewish lands.  They had extended their empire throughout much of the known world.  One of the ways in which they ruled foreign lands was through the installation of "puppet" kings and rulers that though celebrated a place of political prominence really only served the whims and desires of the Roman Empire.  Herod was a puppet.  However, Herod was no dummy.  He had great privilege as a puppet and wasn't excited to lose that privilege.  The ancient prophesies that spoke of the coming of Jesus has spoken of him as a political ruler.  He was identified in Isaiah as the One which "the increase of his government and peace will know no end.  He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom..." (Is. 9:7)  Herod understood that there could only be one king.  Therefore, when he heard of Jesus' birth, he was eager to eliminate any threat to his reign.  This conflict with political leaders will extend throughout the gospels, the New Testament, and history.  When we call Jesus Lord, we are saying more than he just governs my "soul" someday in heaven.  We are declaring Him as the One that has our full allegiance.

Revelation, Open Eyes, and Unlikely Candidates
In Chapter 2 of Luke you discovered an essential biblical truth.  Our belief in Jesus and our embrace of His identity isn't something we "think ourselves into," "rationalize," or discover as an act of our will.  No, embrace of the identity of Jesus is an act of revelation.  God takes the initiative to make Himself known.  This has been the case throughout the history of the Scriptures.  Man doesn't begin the searching process.  If man ever "finds or discovers" God its because God had already gone out looking for man.  This passage from Luke speaks of revelation to a young peasant couple named Mary and Joseph, shepherds tending their flocks in the fields, an old man and old woman in the temple named Simeon and Anna, and in Matthew 2 to a group of foreign astrologers called Magi.  Each of these men and women are the recipients of God's self-disclosure.  They come to know because God makes Himself known.  Inherent in this is equation is the necessity of "open eyes and heart."  We can only see what God desires to show if our eyes and heart are open to receive the gift of revelation.  This leads to a complimentary theme that we will pick up later in the story...those that receive the gift of revelation are often the most unlikely.  They aren't power-brokers and influencers but those often forgotten about by society.

We've already dealt briefly with John the Baptist in a prior post, however, in Luke 3 he mentions a very important word that we must understand.  He says the word "repentance." (Luke 3:8)  Repentance isn't simply feeling bad for the bad things we've done or saying sorry to those (people or God) that we've offended.  Repentance, biblically, is a complete re-orientation (Greek - Metanoia) and realignment of life.  When the bible speaks of repentance it means to change direction or a turning around (Hebrew - Tshuv).  Think of it this are walking down a path (of your own choosing) when all of a sudden you are confronted by a call that says "you are headed down the wrong path, continue this way and it will lead no where good.  However, turn around (repent) and you will find life."  What you choose in that moment determines the impact repentance has on your life.

The Religious Leaders
Jesus will be referred to as a Rabbi through the gospels.  This is a deeply religious word.  Rabbis were the faithful religious leaders of the days in the Jewish tradition (and still are).  They taught the Torah (the stories of God and the commands of God from the Old Testament).  As a Rabbi, there were certain expectations of what their holiness should look like and how they ought to behave.  Jesus often challenged those expectations.  We will see later in these stories how often he takes issue with the religious status quo that treats spirituality as a commodity to be marketed and controlled by the religious elite.  Other religious leaders never seemed to know what to do with Him, but they couldn't seem to get away from Him either.  He tosses tables in the holy temple in John 2.  In John 3, a religious leader by the name of Nicodemus has to sneak out in the middle of the night to ask Jesus questions so he's unseen by other religious leaders.

Not only did Jesus come in conflict with political leaders, he had issues with the religious as well.  He was revealed to the outcasts and not the influential.  Such tension thickens the plot of the stories to come.       

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 2

Day 2 Readings - Morning Thoughts
Matthew 2
Luke 2
John 2

As you take the leap into Day 2 of your reading plan, I want to invite you to consider the type of reading we are committing to over the next few weeks.

In the late 1960's there was a detective show called Dragnet.  Sgt. Joe Friday was well known for a phrase that he repeated over and over, "Just the facts ma'am, just the facts."  He was a cut to the chase kind of guy.  He was in a hurry and wanted to slice and dice through all the fluff to amass the right amount of factual information.  Once he had the right information, he could move on to the next case.  For many of us, that's how we read.  We read for information.  We are in a hurry and eager to consume the facts so we can move on.  We skim newspaper and magazine articles looking for the most pertinent information.  We love twitter because a writer can only use 144 characters.  Just give us the facts.

Then we read the bible and apply similar techniques.  We consume information, skim for details, look for pertinent data, and slice and dice through the stories looking for the facts.  Many of the issues and conflicts about the bible center around "which facts are true and what information can be proved."

But what if that's not the intent of the Bible?  What if the intent isn't simply to fill our heads full of information but to create the kind of environment that makes possible an encounter with the God that the Bible speaks of?  What if the point isn't the facts, but the stories told.  Reading the Bible is about accepting an invitation.  Every time you flip open the pages of the Bible you are being invited into a strange new world filled with people and places far removed from your time and place.  You are being invited into a space where God is at work, where the world is inhabited by Divine power and purpose, where people grapple to make sense of this God that intrudes into their space and calls them into His space.  You are being invited into stories where though the characters are distant, their lives, their struggles, their journeys are remarkably similar to yours.  We are invited to step into a world where God wants to encounter our lives and reform us.  Reading the Bible isn't about extracting facts, skimming for pertinent details, or consuming information.  Instead, reading the Bible is about being consumed by a story that reframes our existence.

Instead of reading for information throughout this reading plan, I want to encourage you to slow down and accept God's invitation to read for transformation.  Beyond just knowing what the text says, why don't you instead ask the question, "how does what the text say transform how I understand God, the world, and my place in God's world?"  Read with anticipation, eagerly leaning forward into the hope that God may have a word for you.  This word may cause the ground to shift under your feet.  It may disturb your fairly settled world.  It may shock and surprise you with the unruly and untame actions of a God that refuses to be placed on the short leash of facts and data.  You may just lose yourself in the stories.  However, you also may find that in losing yourself in the stories, you actually gain yourself in encounter with the God of these stories.

This afternoon I will deal with some thoughts from the texts themselves....Happy Reading!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some Thoughts on Day 1

Day 1 Readings: Afternoon Thought

Matthew 1
Luke 1
John 1

I know, I know that wasn't very nice was it.  You got tossed into your gospel readings and the very first thing you encountered was Matthew giving you a long list about who was whose daddy.  Exciting stuff right?  Ummm...most of you are thinking "no."  Throughout each day, I'm going to give you some things to think about as you are reading these stories from the gospels.  I'm not going to tell you what each off them mean.  No, God will unfold the meaning of these stories for each of us through His faithful Spirit.  However, I am going to give you some food for thought.

Matthew 1:  Why all the names?

God's story of Jesus is rooted in the history of a particular people.  Through this list, we get to peer into the pages of  God's family album.  This lineage connects the story of Jesus to the history of God's faithful actions through ordinary people (just like us) over several generations.  Each had a part in the unfolding drama of God's redemptive plan for us.  One might say that, "family trees do matter."  This isn't a list of perfect people.  Some were liars and cheats (Abraham and Jacob), others were manipulators and adulterers (Tamar and David), and others were prideful and arrogant (Rehoboam and Uzziah).  Yet God was at work.  God is at work in the back story of our lives, even when we can't see it, even when our pasts are less than perfect.  The life of Jesus emerges not out of the pristine past of a people undaunted by failure and foul-ups but through the sinful and broken, the hurting and fragmented, the courageous and passionate, the imperfect and unfinished.  God was at work.  Sometimes God births the most beautiful things into this world from the most unseemly our lives.

Luke 1:  A Story of Impossibility

God never makes things easy on Himself apparently, at least that appears to be the story that Luke is telling.  Throughout the story of God, God has chosen the most unlikely of situations to act.  Think about it, a group of nobody slaves in Egypt (Exodus), on top of a hill with a wet altar and 850 false prophets (1 Kings 18-19), in a fiery furnace (Daniel 3), and the list goes on.  God majors in impossible situations.  Luke starts the story of Jesus by pointing to a barren ole' lady who gets pregnant, a doubting priest who can't talk, and a young virgin that's about to have a baby.  Yeah, it doesn't get anymore impossible than that.  The story of Jesus is a story of a God that overcomes impossibility through the creative power of His love for us.  No impossible situation will deny God His desire to catch us up into His redemptive, healing, transformative work!  Or as the angel says to Mary, "For nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37)

John 1:  Not that John, the other one

How about a little point of clarification.  The John that John talks about in John chapter 1 is not the John that writes the book of John.  Clear?  Good.  No wait, let me try that again.  In John's gospel, he mentions a guy named "John the Baptist."  In the gospels, he is one of the first Heralds of Good News.   The bible tells us that John the Baptist was sent to tell the people that God was up to something new and that they had better make way.  That something new was Jesus!!  John the Baptist had the unique roll of telling anyone that would listen that God had not given up, that God's great hope was coming soon, that there was time to return to God! (Maybe it wasn't so unique after all, kinda sounds like what we should do).  John was a messenger of good news - though you will find out later wasn't appreciated very much.  The "John" that writes the gospel of John was a different John altogether.  He was one of the first followers of Jesus who you will meet when we get to Luke Chapter 5.  

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 1

Day 1 Readings:  Morning Thought
Matthew 1
Luke 1
John 1

Taking a Journey:
Today begins our 30 day journey through the Gospels of the New Testament.  For many of us, this will be the first time we've encountered many of these stories.  That's ok!  This will be an exciting journey over the next 30 days as you grow closer to Jesus, getting to know Him as follower, friend, learner and listener.  If you take this journey seriously, God will change you through it.

However, before we get too far in, perhaps a few initial thoughts.

1.)  What is "Gospel"?  The word gospel means "good news."  When we use this word in the Christian faith, we are describing the story of Jesus.  His story is good news to all of us.  More directly for our purposes, the "gospels" are the first four books of the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Each of them tell the story of Jesus from different perspectives, originally to different communities of readers.  Each will emphasize different aspects of Jesus' story, but together they tell the good news.

2.)  Choosing a good translation:  When beginning to read the bible, it's important to find a good translation that you are comfortable with.  If you grew up with the King James Version and feel good with it, have at it.  However, for most of us, the language will feel a bit clunky.  I would suggest reading the NIV, CEV, or NLT.  Each of these versions are written in a language that is a bit more comfortable to read.  

3.)  Don't get overwhelmed with what you don't know:  One of the quickest reasons people give up reading the bible is because they find passages they don't understand.  Don't stress, you aren't the only one.  Proficiency and confidence in reading the bible happens over time.  However, you have to start somewhere.  When we pray and ask God to help us to get what we need in that moment, God helps us to see what we need to know at that moment...the rest will come with time.  

4.)  Take your time:  Don't read like you are devouring a quick fast food meal in the car between appointments.  Take some time to savor the words.  Step into the story and look around.  Wade into the story and find your place.  Where would you stand in the stories?  What captures your attention?  What stirs your curiosity?  What is God up to?  What shocks you or troubles you?  How is God addressing you through the story you are reading?  

Allow the bible to become the means through which God can speak a good word, a challenging word, a convicting word, a transformative word into your life.