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Lent Reading Challenge 2018 join me as I attempt to read Acts and Paul's Letters in 40 Days

Lent Reading Challenge – Acts and Paul’s Letter in 40 Days

Disclaimer: the two links to books in this post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and then purchase them from Amazon, I will receive a small incentive for this, as per my disclosure policy

Can you believe that Lent is already upon us? I feel as if the year has only just begun and suddenly we’re preparing for Easter. Admittedly this is probably because I’ve spent most of this year housebound due to a massive flare up of health issues – I haven’t managed to make a church service since New Year’s Eve! Which is probably why I decided that instead of giving something up for Lent this year, I’d focus on digging deep into my faith with some daily bible study. And, after some careful consideration, I’ve decided on my Lent Reading Challenge – Acts and Paul’s Letters in 40 Days.

Lent Reading Challenge 2018 join me as I attempt to read Acts and Paul's Letters in 40 Days

Why Acts and Paul’s Letters?

I’m pretty new to Bible Study, having only really dipped in and out of the Bible until quite recently. There are whole books that I haven’t read, especially in the Old Testament. But one thing I have noticed is that whilst I haven’t read all of Paul’s letters, the verses that I often turn to for encouragement and support come from one of them. And so I want to read them in full.

I want to learn more about the Early Church, and where better to do that than in Paul’s Letters, which are some of the earliest parts of the New Testament to be written. So often we begin with the Four Gospels, don’t we? And yet most of Paul’s Letters predate them. I want to explore the letters that Paul wrote to the various fledgling congregations, bringing the Good News of Christ to non-Jews, whilst remaining rooted in his own Jewish background. In fact, the more I learn about Paul himself, the more intrigued I become…

Paul, the jewish theologian

Last year I bought a book called, “Paul, The Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles“. You know how sometimes you see a book and just know that you need to read it? This was one of those books for me. I have only just picked it up and started reading it, but already I am loving it.

As the author so clearly explains in the introduction, Paul is a fascinating character because he continued to consider himself to be a Pharisee throughout his life, despite being, “rejected by the synagogue and misunderstood by the church”.

The author continues to say that, “sometimes, as Christians, we have accepted Paul’s teachings about Jesus while rejecting his love of the Hebrew Bible, as well as his Judaic heritage.” And this is something I am keen to avoid, by reading the book as I work my way through Acts and Paul’s Letters.

reading the bible in its historical and cultural context

One of the things that I have been learning about over the past couple of years is the importance of Religious Literacy, that is reading Sacred Texts through a historical and cultural lens. The books of the Bible were all written in very specific historical and cultural contexts, and whilst they contain eternal truths, we must always remember that the way in which these truths are expressed and explained are connected to the time of their writing.

For me, this understanding was entirely influential in my decision to explore Christianity further and eventually decide to be baptised last year. Being able to explore how and why the texts came to be, deepened my connection to them. I began to understand what they were saying far easier than when I had little to no context for them. And in turn I started to grasp how they could be as relevant for me today as they were to the original readers.

Paul – a theologian in a changing world

This is why I think I feel so drawn to Paul’s Letters. His entire story fascinates me, from his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus through to his letters of encouragement and explanation to those who were also trying to accept a whole new way of living.

He understood perfectly what it was like to have a whole change of heart that was so powerful it changed everything. He knew what it was like to feel inspired to change the way you lived, when doing so was downright scary. Let’s remember, he lived in a time of severe persecution – indeed, he had once been the persecutor, so he knew the risks!

A message as powerful today as it was back then

How much does that sound like life today, in many ways? How many people throughout the world live in fear because of their faith? How many people, even in places where freedom of religion exists, still face discrimination or ridicule for their beliefs? How is it, that 2,000 years have gone by and we’re still facing the same challenges?

We see churches trying to connect with new generations of people in an increasingly secular society. We see people abandoning religion, because it has felt too rigid, and turning instead to New Age Spirituality (which is, as it says on the tin, a new way of exploring faith). And we see more and more interfaith dialogue beginning to take place. For all the times in which we are told, “God is dead” or “Churches are dying”, I see just as many examples of people doing exactly what Paul did – trying to figure out how to live their faith in a new way.

interfaith dialogue – as old as the hills

And that’s something that excites me, as I find myself balancing my faith in the eternal Christ alongside other lesser known expressions of faith. And the more I do that, the more I find other people doing it too. No longer do I feel as if my exploration of Christianity needs to be at odds with my exploration of the Divine Feminine or Pagan Sabbats. None of these have to be exclusive of the others, Paul taught us that in so many ways:

“After all, Paul is a Pharisee living among the Christians, Jews, and pagan Gentiles. He is a bridge builder. He confronts hostilities from many factions in the church as well as from the Greco-Roman world in which he ministers. As a Jewish theologian, he labors diligently to win acceptance for non-Jews among all Christian believers.” – Brad H. Young (Paul, The Jewish Theologian).

i want to be a bridge builder

Isn’t that a wonderful way of describing Paul? He’s a bridge builder. And we need more of those in our world, don’t we? There is so much strife all around us, and sometimes it feels like everyone is out for an argument. But as much as I love a good debate (and I do), I do not want to argue. I want to help build bridges, and how better to begin than by reading the words of one of the greatest bridge builders?

Do you want to be a bridge builder too? Why not join me in my Lent Reading Challenge and work through Acts (starting with Paul’s conversion) and Paul’s Letters in their chronological order? I’ve devised a 40 Day Reading Plan, using my Daily Bible, and I’d love to hear how you get on with it if you decide to try it too.

lent reading challenge – Acts and Paul’s Letters in 40 days


1Acts 8:1-3 & 9:1-31
2Acts 13:1 – 15:21
3Acts 15:22 – 17:34
4Acts 18:1 – 20:38
5Acts 21:1 – 23:35
6Acts 24:1 – 26:32
7Acts 27:1 – 28:31
81 Thessalonians 1:1 – 3:13
91 Thessalonians 4:1 – 5:28
102 Thessalonians 1:1 – 3:18
11Galatians 1:1 – 2:21
12Galatians 3:1 – 4:31
13Galatians 5:1 – 6:18
141 Corinthians 1:1 – 3:23
151 Corinthians 4:1 – 6:20
161 Corinthians 7:1 – 9:27
171 Corinthians 10:1 – 12:31
181 Corinthians 13:1 – 16:24
192 Corinthians 1:1 – 3:18
202 Corinthians 4:1 – 7:16
212 Corinthians 8:1 – 10:18
222 Corinthians 11:1 – 13:13
23Romans 1:1 – 3:20
24Romans 3:21 – 5:21
25Romans 6:1 – 8:17
26Romans 8:18 – 10:21
27Romans 11:1 – 13:14
28Romans 14:1 – 16:27
29Philippians 1:1 – 2:30
30Philippians 3:1 – 4:23
31Colossians 1:1 – 2:23
32Colossians 3:1 – 4:18
33Philemon 1 – 25
34Ephesians 1:1 – 2:22
35Ephesians 3:1 – 4:32
36Ephesians 5:1 – 6:24
371 Timothy 1:1 – 3:16
381 Timothy 4:1 – 6:21
39Titus 1:1 – 3:15
402 Timothy 1:1 – 4:22

If you do decide to join in with this reading challenge, please do let me know! I’ll be sharing my thoughts over on instagram and Facebook as I work through it. And if you’re on Pinterest, why not pin the image below so you can come back to the reading plan any time you like…

Lent Reading Challenge Acts and Paul's Letters in 40 Days

Nurturing Faith in the Family

As you may have noticed, I think quite a lot about faith and how that relates to our lives as individuals and as a family. I don't write about it anywhere near as often as I think about it, but it does crop up from time to time.

I've been thinking about it a lot lately, as I've been trying to get my head and heart around certain things and I have been reading quite a bit too (whenever I've had the time). I've been wondering how to nurture faith in our family, especially in terms of introducing the idea of faith to Little Man and encouraging him to explore it in his own way.

I consider myself to be a Unitarian and as I wrote in this post, "The Unitarians believe you should actively seek your own experience and understanding of the Divine". But how do I do this with Little Man whilst he is so young? At this age they want clear and specific answers, not ones that ask them to consider deep thoughts they are unable to really comprehend right now. 

But even more confusing is how do I explain to him that I read the Bible but that I interpret it in the way that I feel guided to inside my own heart which doesn't always tally up with the more typical interpretations? It makes using a devotional very challenging and so we haven't got any of those.

So I was really happy to find and read the book "What God Wants" by Neale Donald Walsch and find that it talked very deeply about what he calls "Separation Theology" (the theology that we are separate from God and one another and that there must be one true religion) and went into detail about how he feels a theology of Unity would work. After all, this is what Unitarian thinking is all about. 

The following two quotations are ones that I want to keep in my mind and heart as I work on nurturing faith within myself and Little Man, and I hope you don't mind me sharing them. 

About Religion

"There is only one God. Whatever we think God is, most of the major religions of the world would agree: there is only One of That […] From "There is only one God" to "There is only One Thing at all" is a small shift. It's not a rejection of doctrine, but an enlargement. It's not an abandonment of traditional religious teaching, but an expansion […] This is not about rejecting religion. It is, in fact, about reinvigorating it, enlivening it, refreshing it." (Chapter 18)

About Scripture

"Humans will understand that God's words are found in all of the world's Holy Scriptures, and that no scripture is more authoritative, more complete, more accurate, or more authentic than any other, but that each contains great wisdom and each leads to a greater understanding of The Only Truth There Is" (Chapter 23)

These two verses speak to me so much and make me feel so much more at peace with how I approach the Bible and other sacred texts in a way that has previously been described by many as a "pick and mix" approach without much substance.

But nothing could be further from the truth, as I am constantly exploring God and my relationship with him. This is currently now being explored through another book I found at our local library, this time a Christian one, "What the Bible Really Teaches" by Keith Ward. 

Although I have found the beginning of this book rather hard going, it is in fact helping me to explore things in ever more detail and depth and I do believe that even though a book may be hard to read, that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it!

The reason I find it so hard is that actually the author is rather forceful in his "challenge" to fundamentalist thinking and beliefs and though I completely agree with an awful lot of the points he makes, I don't appreciate the style and force behind his words. It was a fundamentalist style of Christianity that pushed me away and so it is good to read a book that focuses on it, but even so it could have been toned down (in my mind, at least).

That being said, I am enjoying reading his "six principles of biblical interpretation". These include:

The Principle of Contextualisation

"We cannot read a biblical passage as though it has just fallen out of the sky and was addressed to us personally. We have to try and see who wrote it, when, why and for whom".
"What the Bible really teaches  is usually not very clear, and it is often widely misunderstood. In other words, what the Bible really teaches is not one thing, clearly stated, which it is faithless to doubt or deny" 


The Principle of Comprehensiveness

"In reading any passage of the Bible, we must consider all relevant biblical material, and not take passages in isolaton and out of context".

These both make me want to explore the Bible in much more detail than I have in the past and work out what it meant to the people at the time and what it means to me now. 

Essentially, these two books have made me feel more at ease with sharing parts of the Bible to introduce Little Man to God and faith and that it is okay to do this and share my own thoughts on what it all means, even if that isn't the mainstream intepretation. I was so worried that I might introduce something to Little Man and then him come across it again at school or something and find himself in a difficult situation if what I have shared with him is different to what is shared with him by another. 

But isn't that the point? Faith is personal, I have always maintained that, and yet I worry so much about getting it wrong when trying to explain this to Little Man. I need to let go of some of that worry and trust that he will find his own way in his own time. 

Thanks for letting me share this part of my heart with you today. I know that some of you may be very firm in your faith and the way you are raising your children and may find this slightly perplexing. Others of you may have no faith or be quite sincere atheists and may think I am mad for worrying so much about it. Either way, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in the comment (as long as they are respectful and polite, of course!)