Camping Out in the Gospels

After several years of reading through the Bible in different translations, I decided to swerve off the well-trodden path and do something a little different. I’m reading through the Gospels in 2018.

I’m using the NIV Harmony of the Gospels, which instead of presenting each Gospel separately, puts parallel passages side by side and puts the story in narrative order. For example, the birth narrative starts with Luke’s introduction, John’s description of Jesus as the eternal Word of God, the genealogies of Jesus, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John the Baptist, and so forth.

I’m looking forward to rediscovering Jesus, free of all the political baggage that has been placed on Him from both the right and the left, conservatives and liberals alike. I have a feeling that Jesus said something at some point that both sides would deem offensive.

I want to fully embrace Jesus as both 100% man and 100% God (and not 50-50). I want to know Emmanuel, God with us. My plan is to read through the Gospels as many times as I can this year and let Scripture speak for itself.

If you’re interested in the book I’m using, you can pick up a copy here:



In the Beginning

“When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him. All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it” (John 1:1-5).

To me, John 1 has to be among the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. I may be a bit biased, but I do think that the way John opens his gospel is perfect. Matthew and Mark start with the birth narrative, but John goes back further than that. Much further.

We see Jesus as the Word with God from the beginning. Jesus, the Word, was (and is) God.

Sometimes, you need a different translation to see a verse or a group of verses in a new light. Reading the same verses in the same translations can be like singing the same old hymns in the same old style for years and years. Eventually, you fall into rote memory and stop paying attention to the words.

That’s one of the reasons I chose the New English Bible as my translation of choice to read through the Bible for 2015. It’s different enough so that the words seem fresh again.

It’s not a perfect rendering, but that’s not the point. The point is to keep letting the Word of God speak to me and (hopefully) to never let it get stale for me.

The best way to keep the Bible from getting stale is to do what it says. Don’t just read it and praise it for being clever and witty, but actually put it into practice. That’s something that’s easy to tell someone else to do, but much harder to do yourself. I should know.

As of this time, my plan is to read the Holman Christian Standard Bible (otherwise known as the Hard Core Southern Baptist Bible) in 2016 and the New Jerusalem Bible in 2017. Of course, these plans are always subject to change.



Sign of the Times

“You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, The Message).

“because a time will come when some will no longer tolerate sound teaching. Instead, they will live by their own desires; they’ll scratch their itching ears by surrounding themselves with teachers who approve of their lifestyles and tell them what they want to hear. They will turn away from the real truth you have to offer because they prefer the sound of fables and myths. But you must stay focused and be alert at all times. Tolerate suffering. Accomplish the good work of an evangelist, and complete the ministry to which you have been called.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, The Voice).

Here’s the thing. Lots of people are determining their theology by whether it feels right or not. If it feels good, it must be true; if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be not I but that doctrine or belief that needs to change.

I don’t claim to understand it all. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know this– Feelings are fickle and changeable. Feelings will (and often do) lie to you.

If I put my feelings over the Word of God, then I make myself the final judge of what is or is not true. But if I determine my feelings by what the Word of God says, then I’m submitting to God’s authority.

I really would like everything that’s true to feel good all the time. But I know that I (and the rest of us) are fallen human beings. Our emotions, our minds, our thought processes are affected by the Fall.

I trust God. I trust His Word. Even when it makes me uncomfortable.



The Ragamuffin Blog

As you know, the reason for the name of this blog is the very famous book The Ragamuffin Gospel by one Mr. Brennan Manning. I thought I’d share one of his quotes that I love, one of the reasons why I write these blogs:

““The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God).

That truly is what it means to be a Christian.


Speaking Louder than Words

I heard a great illustration from a pastor today. The way our culture is becoming so image-driven, in a few generations we’ll all be walking around with huge thumbs for texting, enormous eyes, and tiny ears just big enough for ear buds and to hold our eye glasses up.

In other words, it’s all about the eye. But did you ever stop and think for a moment that the old saying is not, “The hand is quicker than the ear?” Magicians don’t set out to fool your ears, do they? Why? Because the eye can be deceived much more than the ear can.

So listen carefully. Don’t be deceived, whether it’s politicians or elevision preachers. Listen carefully to what they’re saying and whether it lines up with the word of God.

And now, since I don’t have a clever or witty segue way (or one at all, actually), I moved on to point #2, which is that talk is cheap. I will tie these two thoughts together at some point. I promise.

But speaking of promises (see, now that was a clever segue way), it seems to me that my generation and younger are really good at making promises, but not so much at keeping them. It’s sad, but you hear someone say a variation of “I’ll be there” or “I’ll meet you there,” you usually expect them not to show. If they do actually keep their word, it’s a minor miracle.

Words are cheap. Especially when it comes to politics and faith. It’s easy to talk a good game, but much harder to back it up. In the arena of faith, people are sick and tired of professing believers who do nothing but profess. If they never see any evidence behind those words, why should they believe anything the person says?

Jesus told us that his family isn’t flesh and blood. It’s those who follow him and do what he says. The evidence of whether or not someone belongs to Jesus is obedience to Jesus. Period.

So don’t talk love. Show love. Don’t talk compassion. Show compassion. Your actions really do speak louder than your words, especially if they don’t match your words. People will remember how you acted far longer than they will remember the actual words you spoke.

And every single bit of this is for me as much as it is for anybody else. I’m bad about speaking and then not following through with my actions. May you and I both be known to keep our promises no matter what and to live out what we believe rather than just talking a good game. May we speak our faith out loud, but live it out even louder. And no, I couldn’t come up with a way to tie both my points together, so I’ll leave that up to you. Just preach the gospel at all times with your attitudes and actions and, if necessary, use words.

That’s all.



“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies” (from Shawshank Redemption).

I love The Shawshank Redemption. Especially the last 15 minutes. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that you find out that appearances can be very deceiving.

The line about hope is one of the best lines in the movie, and there are plenty of good ones. I think the apostle Paul said something similar when he wrote, “This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-4).

I want a hope that never dies. I need a hope that doesn’t disappoint.

I’ve put my hopes in things that certainly let me down, like relationships or jobs or even sports teams. I fully know what it’s like to be disappointed when a friendship doesn’t go the way you wanted, or a job you banked on comes to an end, or that team you wanted so badly to win loses.

But I’ve found when my hope is squarely set on God, I’m never disappointed. Ever. I’ve never been let down. Not even once. I haven’t always understood the paths he’s led me down, but I’ve always known the destination would be worth it.

God is a sure thing. Though heaven and earth pass away, his word will remain. That’s something you can hope in. And you and I both need something we can hold on to and hope in in these very uncertain times.

I’m praying you find this hope to be better than you ever thought it could be and the God of hope more faithful and true than you ever dreamed he could be,

This Wacky Weather We’re Having

I know I should be used to it by now. I’ve lived in Tennessee all my life and still I am constantly amazed, disturbed, awed, and surprised by it. The weather.

Take the 10-day forecast. We go from a high of 68 one day to a high of 32 a few days later. That’s like having two completely different seasons in one week.  Which proves that Tennessee weather is certifiably insane.

Yep, it’s true. Tennessee weather is wacky. But not as much as my emotions most of the time.

I can go from elation to despair in a matter of moments. Or from happy to angry in one second.

You know what that’s like. All it takes to ruin your happiness is the perception that someone ignored you. That’s all.

That’s reason #1 for me not to trust my emotions. After all, as a friend said once, feelings will lie to you. If you let them, they will blow a minor incident way out of proportion. And emotions are affected by so many things like lack of sleep, what you ate (or didn’t eat) earlier that day, how much exercise you’ve gotten, etc.

My friend also said to trust in what you know. And what is that? Only what I’ve come to learn over the years. That God is faithful and true to his promises. That his word is as good as done. That when God says it, that settles it, regardless of whether I believe it or not (and I so wish I could take credit for that one).

Trust that God knows what he’s doing even when it doesn’t seem like it. When it doesn’t feel like it. Because your feelings will change, but God won’t. Your feelings come and go, but God remains.

I still don’t know what to wear anymore. If I wear a jacket, it will be warm outside. If I don’t, I freeze. Go figure.


A Book Review In Progress Of A Book I’ve Already Read


“The great mark of a Christian is what no other characteristic can replace, namely the example of a life which can only be explained in terms of God” (Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard).

I’m re-reading a Brennan Manning book, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. I started off not sure of whether I’d read the book or not, but soon started recognizing that I had indeed read it before. No matter. It’s worth a second (or third or fourth) read because it still speaks the same truth it did the first time around.

The book resonates with me because it is all about getting the Christian faith back to the basics. Actually, one basic: knowing Jesus. Not just in a ecclesiastical or theological way. Not knowing facts about him or memorizing his words to spout off in an argument. It’s about knowing Jesus, celebrating how he chose a nobody like me (or anyone else) to love and rescue and save.

This Jesus isn’t the feel-good type who’s telling everybody to be nicer to each other. He’s not only a wise teacher trying to make us better people with better morals and better ethics. He’s God in the flesh who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”

It’s both comforting and convicting. It’s comforting in that it’s about knowing a Person, not following rules and being good enough. It’s convicting, because I can’t know Jesus and stay the same. I can’t follow Jesus and not have to change radically.

I love this quote of Manning’s (from another book he wrote):

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”

That’s what I’m after. Are you?



A Disciple

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what being a disciple of Christ really looks like. I think it looks like more than someone who is a fan of Jesus, who likes Him on facebook. It’s more than someone who goes to church every Sunday and reads the Bible every now and then.

Back in the day, if you wanted to be a disciple of a rabbi, you would literally leave your family and your job and go live with the rabbi. You would eat your meals when he ate his, go wherever he went, and sit at his feet and hang on every word he spoke. You would try to become just like the rabbi you were a disciple of.

That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. You leave everything else behind and immerse yourself in Jesus’ words. You spend as much time with Him in His Word and in prayer as it takes. Which honestly is a lot more than I typically spend in either of those things. More than knowing about Jesus, you want to know Him and follow Him.

A disciple is someone who belongs to Jesus. Oswald Chambers put it best when he said, “If any man come to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his life also, he cannot be My disciple,” not, he cannot be good and upright, but, he cannot be one over whom Jesus writes the word “Mine.” Any one of the relationships Our Lord mentions can compete with our relationship with Him. I may prefer to belong to my mother, or to my wife, or to myself, but if that is the case, then, says Jesus, you cannot be My disciple. This does not mean I will not be saved, but it does mean that I cannot be ‘His.'”

A disciple is willing to stand up to both political parties and hold them both accountable to what the Word of God says. Not what FoxNews or CNN or MSNBC say, but what God in Scripture has already said. A disciple is willing to stand up for the unpopular truths that will get him or her possibly ostracized and ridiculed and thought of as old-fashioned and narrow-minded and out of touch with reality.

If those are some of the qualifications of a disciple, then I’m not there yet. I still love my comfort way too much and I have too many allegiances and loyalties to people and things other than Jesus. Probably the majority of Christians, especially in America, would be in the same category.

Lord, make us disciples who are willing to forsake everything to follow You, no matter what.

My Big Honkin’ Bible

The following was inspired by what I heard at Kairos tonight. In case you’re wondering, Kairos is a worship event and Bible study that meets every Tuesday at 7 pm at the Connection Center at Brentwood Baptist Church off I-65 exit 71 in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Do I have the Word of God on me or do I have it in me?

There’s a really big difference.

Do I carry around a big honkin’ Bible that looks impressive or do I live it out through my words and deeds?

Do I have God’s Word snugly under my arm or hidden in my heart?

Jesus didn’t overcome the devil’s temptations by braining him with a big Bible. He used the words, “It is written” and used the Scripture he had memorized and ingrained into His life. He used Deuteronomy, to be specific.

I have to be honest. I have a LOT of Bibles. Some are big and leather and good for knocking people upside the head (theologically, not literally). Some are small and portable. I have just about every major translation.

But what I don’t have is God’s Word in my heart. Sure, I have a few verses here and there memorized, but nowhere near enough to say that I KNOW God’s word.

Something that stuck with me was that sometimes you have to BE ready because you won’t have time to GET ready.

In other words, you don’t want to wait until you’re in the middle of a battle to get your sword out. You don’t want to wait until you’re in the midst of spiritual warfare and face with temptation to decide to start committing Scripture to memory.

Hopefully, this won’t be something else I blog about then forget about. I really want to hide God’s Word in my heart.

I remember something a pastor wrote in the first Bible I ever received. “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”

I have found that to be very true in the years since.

May you and I start a love affair with the Word of God that lasts both our lifetimes and where we are not conformed to our culture and the world around us, but transformed into people who can help change our culture and the world.