Yesterday I published a simple way to read through the New Testament in 90-Days, called 90-Day Engagement with the New Testament (link to Amazon.com). I said simple, not easy because it takes our engagement to complete. The format draws me into more consistent reading. The short journal format makes it simple to use this effectively in a small group setting.
I also call this Engagement to tap into the excited attitude of a couple engaged to one another. One powerful word-picture of our relationship with the relational Trinity is a marriage, and this 90-Days has deepened my relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit.
I have drawn on a number of authors to compile this 90-Day, rapid immersion in the New Testament. One unique element is that I have listed the NT books in their approximate date order so we can experience the progress of revelation first-hand. Also, I have incorporated weekly responses to strongly encourage putting into practice what we are reading. There is no progress without response.
The daily reading schedule also encourages developing or strengthening our habit of daily time in Scripture. As I read church history, most all the men and women who have been greatly used throughout church history have been men and women of the Bible.What follows is a very brief, yet helpful, description of each of the twenty-seven New Testament books in date order.
James: Author: James; Date: A.D. 45-49
James, Jesus’ oldest half-brother (Mt. 13:55), hears reports that his scattered friends are struggling spiritually. Concerned as a spiritual “father” with passion for their best, he is direct, mincing no words. The structure seems to be five interrelated discipleship essentials written to shift how they view life to realign with God.
Galatians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 49
When men and women experience religion, they often turn it into a tool to control others. Not so Jesus. The message of freedom rings clearly in Galatians, in contrast to legalism or license, both of which bring us into bondage. God sets us right by faith alone resulting in authentic freedom through the Spirit because we have a new, direct relationship with God.
1 & 2 Thessalonians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 50-51
Paul gives us his adaptable, highly flexible “game plan” for developing a dynamic faith-community of any size in any place. The family feel of the first letter is attractive since it reflects the original Family-of-Three. The future sculpts the present, so every chapter in 1 Thess. concludes with a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus, a powerful motivation to persevere. Paul wrote the second letter from Corinth within 6 months.
Mark: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 50’s
Mark wastes no time! An event has taken place that radically changes the way we experience God, ourselves and the world. Mark can’t wait to tell us about it. This earliest of the Gospels reveals Jesus as the Servant. Jesus came to restore God’s original Eden-intent and raising up followers to continue His ministry. Mark reveals Jesus as a man of power and action (he repeats “immediately”).
1 Corinthians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 55
The Corinthians had a reputation as unruly and sexually promiscuous. Paul spent 18 months personally discipling them in the faith. Just because a person comes to Christ, all their actions do not immediately change. Five years later, he received reports about problems. Paul responds pastorally to twelve known problems with an affectionate, firm confidence in the Father’s care, the sufficiency of Christ, and the presence of the Spirit.
2 Corinthians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 56
Paul wrote the first letter with the confident authority of a pastor who understands God’s ways and the type of family-culture formed in a faith-community. The Corinthians didn’t challenge what he said, but his right to say it. This letter is a response to attacks on God’s chosen leadership. It has been called the “glory of the ministry,” expressing profound feelings ranging from sorrow to joy, from pain to comfort, from indignation to zeal.
Romans: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 57
Romans could be the most influential piece of literature ever written, called by an early church leader the “Cathedral of Christianity.” Paul wrote as both a missionary and a pastor and a theologian. Romans reflects reasoned thinking on fire with passionate worship through a man with wholehearted allegiance to the Father, Son and Spirit. The theme: “The righteousness of God gifted to a sinner through faith in Christ alone joins him/her to the Community-God and to God’s people as a new creation.”
Luke: Author: Luke; Date: A.D. 63
Most of us, some days, feel left out. Luke is the Gospel for those whom society treats as “outsiders.” As Jesus fulfills His Spirit-empowered mission to restore life to those who believe, Luke’s Gospel shouts: “With God there are no outsiders!” This gives us a deeper glimpse into God’s inclusive, generous, embracing heart.
Acts: Author: Luke; Date: A.D. 63
The spectacular dimensions of the story of Jesus are so impressive, we can easily slide into becoming mere admirers rather than adventurers in Jesus’ crusade to win the world back to His Father’s heart. Acts is structured around summary statements that describe the expansion of the church in six waves of the Spirit (6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16: 5, 19:20, and 28:31). Follow the example of those in Acts, entering into our own Acts 29 with our contacts at work and in recreation, in your city and in your church.
Ephesians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 61
Nowhere do we find a more straightforward approach as a model for a flourishing Christian life. Paul begins with an exuberant description of who the relational Trinity is as He relates with us as His redeemed and restored new creation (1-3). Then he skillfully calls us to walk it out (4-6). Sit in our spiritual riches. Walk this out as truth encounters life. Stand firm against spiritual opposition.
Colossians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 61
Societal pressure in Colossae tempted some in the church to add man-made religion and moral relativism (we decide what’s right) to the supremacy of Christ. This should not surprise us! It’s still happening today. Paul conveys his unswerving confidence in Christ as center of creation and salvation with a humility coupled with the passion of considerate love. Yet Paul never compromised revealed truth clustered around the Supremacy of Christ.
Philemon: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 61
Don’t overlook the powerful message in this one chapter book written from prison. The slave, Onesimus, runs away from Paul’s friend, Philemon, and finds Christ in Rome. This book reveals the power of forgiveness. Paul encourages his friend Philemon to forgive from his heart, fully restoring a Christian brother, which involves them in radical social change.
Philippians: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 61-62
What a superb model for planting faith-communities. We quickly feel the joyful dance of the words, even in tough times. After an intro that describes traits for an effective influencer (1:1-10), Paul deals with three of the great pathways of discipleship. Mission, advancing the Kingdom (1:11-30). Community, taking the position of a servant (2:1-30). Worship, living with all-in allegiance to Christ (3:1-21). Chapter 4 applies this to life.
Matthew: Author: Matthew; Date: A.D. 50’s-65
“Fulfilled” is a key word in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew (also called Levi) wants to be sure we see that the radical changes from the coming of Jesus have a context. Jesus is unique, yet there is continuity from the OT. Everything before is completed in Jesus, and we are also completed in Him. All the parts of our lives are brought together in Christ. How is this story impacting others as you pass it along?
1 Timothy: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 63-65
This is Paul’s first leadership letter, written to his son in the faith, Timothy, yet applicable to every follower of Jesus who influences today. The best leadership in faith-communities is servant-leadership. It’s often inconspicuous, unless a crisis looms. Servant-leadership doesn’t call attention to ourselves, yet never sacrifices conviction and firmness. This is Paul’s first instruction for building up servant-first character for servant-leadership orchestrated by the Spirit, the Administrator of the church.
Titus: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 63-65
Paul wrote this second leadership letter to his young associate, Titus. Titus just took on a tough task to oversee a number of new churches on Crete. A Cretin at this time were known as the dregs of the Mediterranean world with many disreputable practices. All truly Trinitarian leadership/ influence flows from a servant-first life based on godly character. Note how our “good works” adorn our lives.
1 Peter: Author: Peter; Date: A.D. 64
In Acts, Peter and Paul are the two most prominent characters. In this letter, Peter calls the church to return to being bold, compelling witnesses to this brand-new life in Christ. Regardless of cost, this life is worth our wholehearted allegiance. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope in you.” 1 Peter3:15 is the key to unlock this book.
Hebrews: Author: Unknown; Date: after A.D. 64
Too much religion is a bad thing. By contrast, we can’t get enough of our Community-God, Father, Son and Spirit. However, our well-intentioned self-efforts to do for God can actually disturb our relationship. The author spoke against the “Jesus-plus” Christians: Jesus-plus-angels or Jesus-plus-Moses. He wrote with direct, frank language, strongly warning them of the dangers of drifting from wholehearted allegiance to Jesus-plus–nothing.
2 Peter: Author: Peter; Date: Prior to A.D. 67
In every list of the Apostles, Peter’s name is first. He was normally the first who spoke, wielding great authority in the early church. What is even more impressive is how Peter exercised his position of authority. 2 Peter is a strong, corrective letter, direct, seeking to draw believers back to wholehearted allegiance to Jesus. And he repeatedly encourages them as “dear friends” to return to all-in commitment to Jesus, where authentic life is.
2 Timothy: Author: Paul; Date: A.D. 67-68
Paul also wrote this third leadership letter to Timothy. This final advice builds strong, servant-first, Bible-based leadership that mentors others in Christian faith-communities. We see Paul encouraging and guiding the developing of such leadership. He calls leaders/influencers in every generation to pass it along in the same way to develop such leaders (2:1-7).
John: Author: John; Date: A.D. 85-95
“In deliberate parallel to the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence. This time God’s word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus” (“The Message”). Notice how Jesus relates with people with leisurely conversations and compassionate responses. His aim is to tap into their unmet, God given needs, for instance like an inner need for purpose (Nicodemus) or belonging (Samaritan woman).
1 John: Author: John; Date: A.D. 85-95
Who God is determines how we respond. So John tells us that God is Light, Life and Love. John then calls God’s people to the corresponding responses, to obedience, faith and brotherly love flowing from His presence. Some feel John is harsh and narrow-minded because he is so direct. Not so! His is the directness of a caring grandpa. He deeply loves his grandchildren and tirelessly calls them back to radical Christianity, which is their highest and best.
2 & 3 John + Jude: Author: John/Jude; Date: Jude A.D. 80’s
2 & 3 John are short letters by John to his dear friend, Gaius, personalizing similar ideas as in 1 John. Jude is a half-brother of Jesus, and writes a letter with many similarities to 2 Peter. Our faith-communities are as susceptible to disease as our physical bodies if our immune system is compromised. So actively contend for truth with strong faith and loving mercy.
Revelation: Author: John; Date: A.D. 95-96
The church was under attack! And this book provides staying power for God’s people, if it’s approached as intended. Many get sidetracked in the details of the figurative language. John gives us the proper approach for blessing. “Blessed is the one who reads, hears, and takes to heart” (1:3). Read with these mountaintop themes in mind: (1) God is in sovereign control; (2) the Lamb is worthy; (3) God’s people will be rewarded at the end; (4) God punishes His enemies.