Overdue, but here are the questions sent in for December 2017.
Editor's Note: Click here to access the delayed January 2018 mailbag.
“Lately, I've been craving to learn more about God and thirsty for more knowledge. I love reading Christian articles, blogs, and books, but when it actually comes to reading the bible, I have a really hard time. I feel overwhelmed because I don't understand what it's talking about, whereas online readings/books make it "easier" to comprehend. I know only relying on outside resources other than the bible isn't healthy, but it's hard for me to take that first step delving into the bible and trying to comprehend it. Seems like a cliche question, but what can I do to discipline myself to read the bible?"
Anonymous / Buena Park (CA)
Thanks for this honest question.
To get straight to the heart of your question, here are 3 practical ways to discipline yourself to read the Bible:
1. Take some type of training course
I am discovering more and more that while Christians know they should read their Bibles, many of them have never really been taught how to read their Bibles. And as we all know, the most inspiring "what" without a clear "how" will soon be a deadend street.
I would encourage you to take some type of discipleship course that's available at your church. If you're not part of a church, I'd encourage you to join one that can resource you in these ways. If you're part of a church that does not offer this kind of resource, I'd as my pastor or a church leader if he/she could teach the church a process for how to read the Bible.
2. Utilize the right resources.
I think a right combination of resources can be very helpful as well.
I would personally recommend a Bible reading plan because it provides a sustainable structure. I'd also recommend a Study Bible (ex: ESV Study Bible) because it provides additional information which the average reader may not know.
For additional resources, here are a few recs:
How to interpretating the Bible: Reading the Bible for All Its Worth
A Brief Bible Survey: Essential Bible Companion
3. Break it into your daily rhythm.
In the end, the best resources and training only show up if we calendar it into the routine of our lives. I'd encourage you to find a slot of time where your reading/prayer time can be slotted in as simply "a part of my life." For me, it's early morning, but for you it may be mid-morning, late afternoon, or early evening. Up to you, but make it a part of your habit.
My final encouragement is to treat Bible reading early on like sushi or coffee. What I mean is, tell yourself it's an acquired taste. In the beginning, I needed a little time and extra sauce or sugar to down it. But today, the idea of putting sugar in my coffee or a lot of sauce with my sushi sounds crazy. In the same way, continue to bite and drink away. Not only will you get used to it, you'll find yourself craving the Bible more and more.
“In a recent post you addressed the difference between pursuing fame for personal glory and pursuing influence for God's glory as a minister. How does self-promotion fit into that issue? To what extent should a pastor promote himself [online] and "put himself out there"? Is it ok to spend energy pursuing a platform or should I allow God/others to provide that?"
JJ / Southern California
Thanks for this question, I believe you're referring to my previous mailbag post.
I'll do my best to answer your questions as succintly and clearly as possible with a few bulletpoints. I'll also answer this question within a pastoral context, and allow others to filter their own
1. Fulfill your ministry before pursuing a platform.
Because we live in a digital age, anyone and everyone has the opportunity to create a platform, but that doesn't mean everyone have one. In fact, I think we should only create a platform when our direct ministry to the people God has assigned us begins to create a necessary need/want. In other words, we're pushed to do that through the very ministry we're already doing.
So how do we know that? When the people we minister to, serve alongside, and serve under - affirm, encourage, challenge us to do so. Unless, a communal affirmation is there, I'd spend most of my energies simply ministering to the people God has given to me, even if that's literally a small group of 5 people.
I say this, not only from the ground of faithfulness ("faithful with a little, entrusted with more") but even the grounds of credibility. If you create a website, but it's clear you're not faithful to your own people and ministry, no one will pay attention.
I'd encourage focusing on people over platforms. Eventually people will be the ones who push you to platform, and the irony is that platforms ultimately exist for people anyways.
2. Constant motivation check.
In the end, I don't know how to answer the question of the extent that someone should promote himself and put himself out there. The reason being, there are different categories at work here.
For example, someone may only post on his/her pastoral network group and personal facebook account, and still feel really uncomfortable because they feel like they're promoting themselves too much. Another one may go the full 9 yards by creating a brand, pushing that brand, utiliing a marketing strategy, and so forth. This person may feel that they're simply stewarding and maximizing their platform in the name of faithfulness.
So how do we determine which is which? It all depends on the person's heart.
I've determined that in the end, you can't really know anyone's heart, but we can do the best to know our own hearts through reflection, prayer, and staring into the double edged sword of the Bible.
JJ, if you're afraid to start something because you're worried about your motives, know that it will be a constant battle. You can start right and go bad. You can start bad but fight right. People with 0 platforms are already in this battle, and yet people with incredible platform can be down to earth and humble as well.
So if people are encouraging and pushing you, start praying and strategizing. Sit down with someone with a platform and ask more indepth questions. If you desire a platform but aren't being pushed by anyone, I'd encourage you to lovingly and passionately drill 10,000 miles deep in the sphere God has already placed you. Before you know it, you may realize you already have a platform.
“How can Christians deal with depression in a healthy way when it is starting to really affect their spiritual growth and life in general?"
Anonymous / Los Angeles (CA)
Thanks for this question.
I would really encourage you to talk to a trustworthy friend, leader, or family member.
I am not an expert in the area of depression. I do know that feeling depressed and being depressed may not be the same things. For some people, we had a tough week, for others, our persistent depression would be clinically diagnosable. Even within clinical depression, there are varying levels (Depression Spectrum).
But this is precisely why I'd recommend that you talk to someone. You may discover that it was just a "weird 2 weeks" and knowing someone was in your corner was a turning point. Or you may be doing and saying all the right things, but you need to be encouraged by someone to seek professional help by speaking with a licensed counselor, and so forth. These are all possibilities that could and should be explored.
You may be asking, "Wait, shouldn't I just read the Bible and pray?"
Though there may be wide-ranging opinions on this issue, I'd personally encourage it all. If I have a toothache, I do read my Bible and pray. But I'd also take some Tylenol and if it persisted, I'd probably go to the dentist. But why not amplify everything more when it comes to the mind and emotions? Why not more aggressively read the Bible and pray? Why not more aggressively seek counsel? Why not talk to a counselor and gain other perspectives?
But maybe for now, the starting point can be just to bring this to light with someone you know. See, if that person can be someone who occassionally and more intentionally asks you how you're doing and walks alongside you, and if necessarily speak wise counsel into your life whether it's regarding a life routine, or seeking a counselor.