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Read the Bible

The Bible

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Back in the twentieth century, I heard a preacher mention that you could read the entire Bible in a year by reading just four chapters a day. So I tried and it worked. The next year I did it again, and the year after, and every year since until it has become an ingrained habit. This is not a remarkable achievement. All my kids have already read the whole Bible (some, multiple times, and the youngest is twelve). I have a friend whose practice is to read through the New Testament once a month (that’s twelve times a year!), and read through the Old Testament at least four times every year. That regimen puts me to shame, but the point is that, as God’s people, we must read the Bible.

Someone is bound to point out there is a difference in reading and studying, and that is true (to a degree). Daily Bible reading is not usually done with the same intensity required to gear up for teaching a class on a particular chapter—the latter requires far more effort. However, that does not diminish the need for, nor take the place of, simply reading the Bible. And, with all the commentaries available, the late Roy C. Deaver would still point out there is no substitute for actually reading the text of Scripture.

What does regularly reading the Bible do for us? For starters, it helps demonstrate we are not hypocrites, since devoting real time to reading what God wrote is evidence we take Him seriously. (Then again, we should have loftier goals than merely avoiding a charge of hypocrisy). Though Bible reading does not necessarily imply faithfulness, faithfulness does imply Bible reading. Or, put differently, a Bible reader may not be dedicated, but the truly dedicated are certainly Bible readers.

Second, reading through Scripture on a scheduled basis keeps us in constant contact with sacred truth. What we hear during a few hours of assembly with the saints each week ought to reinforce what we are getting from God in our own daily reading, and vice-versa. Far easier to meditate on God’s word if we know what it says. And, if we are continually reading what it says, it is easier to stay close to, and in harmony with it. God’s children should know God’s book as well, or better, than they know sports, movies, music, entertainers, hobbies, politics, local news or video games.

Third, reading often through the Bible (especially the Old Testament) keeps it from being a strange, unfamiliar volume that we only wish we understood. Granted, we can all learn something new, and we will never plumb every depth of Scripture, but, of all people, the church of Christ should have a basic, working knowledge of key Old Testament events. Repeatedly reading the whole story makes biblical characters and history familiar and welcome in the landscape of our minds, like a well worn path where sights and sounds are comforting because frequent travel has made us comfortable with them.

Fourth, since the Bible is the only God-breathed (i.e. inspired) book in existence, what it says will trump an opposing view from any other source, including Bible commentaries. While good commentaries have their place, sometimes well meaning writers unintentionally lead us astray with comments not true. Thorough familiarity with truth helps us recognize error where it is. But we cannot become sufficiently familiar with the Bible if we refuse to read it thoroughly.

Reading four chapters per day is only one of many plans for daily Bible reading, but it will get the job done with time to spare. You can do the math yourself, since there are 1,189 chapters in the whole Bible (929 in the Old Testament, 260 in the New), and 365 days in a year. While some like a straight-through reading from Genesis to Revelation, others prefer a plan of reading from Old and New each day. Find an approach you like, or one you can customize. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3). On the cusp of a brand new year, here is a goal for us all: read the Bible.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Illusions

Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest

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In May 1863, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, with a worn out band of less than 600 soldiers, managed to talk 1,466 Federal troops into surrendering to him. How? He created a convincing illusion.

Union Colonel Abel Streight’s men were being doggedly pursued by Forrest’s cavalry. The men became so tired they could not stay awake to fight or even eat. Forrest demanded that Streight surrender. Streight initially refused, unless it could be proved that he was outnumbered. At this point, two pieces of Confederate artillery came into sight. Unknown to Streight, these were the only two cannons Forrest had on hand. Forrest gave a knowing nod to one of his captains, who had the cannons removed from sight. As minutes ticked by, Streight watched with mounting agitation as the same two cannons were pushed into his view, only to be pulled back and then made to reappear at another place. Finally, Streight exclaimed, “How many guns have you got? There’s fifteen I’ve counted already!” To that, Forrest nonchalantly replied, “I reckon that’s all that has kept up.”

To magnify the illusion, Forrest began giving orders to his captain which were to be relayed to phantom units that did not even exist. Taking their cue from this trickery, the few Confederate troops Forrest had began marching into and out of Streight’s line of vision, giving him the appearance of greater numbers than actually existed. So, even though Streight’s men outnumbered Forrest’s by more than two to one, the Union troops surrendered, thanks to quick thinking and ingenious deceit on the Rebels’ part (see Nathan Bedford Forrest, A Biography by Jack Hurst, pp. 123-124).

What’s the point? The Devil is a master of illusion. Though he is pure evil, he can nevertheless give the appearance of being an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He can make the righteous feel outnumbered, outgunned, and overpowered, when such is not the case at all. He can talk us into surrendering on his terms by getting us to overlook the vast spiritual resources God puts at our disposal.

Long ago, the prophet Elisha was surrounded by a Syrian army bent on his capture (2 Kings 6:8-17). Elisha was not bothered by this, but his servant was greatly distressed. Elisha told his servant, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.” Elisha then prayed for God to open the eyes of his servant so he could see what Elisha already saw. God did so, and the servant was able to see “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” God had the matter well in hand, and was more than able to conquer the Syrians, which he did. Elisha’s servant gained a new perspective that he must have carried the rest of his life. He learned the enemy’s strength was illusory, and that, if God is for you, there is more power at work than can be defeated. And there is more to a battle than meets the eye.

So the next time you feel surrounded and outnumbered, don’t surrender. Dig in. After all, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Reacting to the Role

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Throughout human history, God has always had expectations of people. He has imposed requirements on individuals and groups, whether large or small. Every person has had (and still has) the duty to fulfill the role of a faithful servant to God, whatever the service entails. Not everyone has reacted rightly in fulfilling that role of unworthy servant (cf. Luke 17:10). At times in the past, God approached certain people with highly specialized missions and, even then, reactions varied.

 

Reluctance

 

Remember the Lord’s remarkable appearance to Moses in the form of a burning bush? God said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:10, ESV). Moses’ reacted with reluctance in the extreme, trying every tack that came to mind for getting out from under the obligation. Moses tried to explain to God that he was not the right man for the job (v. 11). Moses denied that anyone would listen to him (Exod. 4:1). Moses thought his lack of eloquence should disqualify him from the role (v. 10). As, one by one, the Lord shot down every excuse he tried to float, Moses finally said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (v. 13). Moses was reluctant (to say the least), but God was not taking “no” for an answer. And we remember Moses for what he became after he got past his initial hesitation.

 

Rebellion

 

If Moses’ first reaction is less than commendable, there is one even worse. God tasked Jonah with the words, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jon. 1:2). The next verse says “Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” This was nothing shy of outright rebellion against divine command. Unlike Moses, Jonah did not offer excuses. Rather, with appalling temerity, he ran with all speed in the opposite direction. Yet, such rebellious response was not allowed to stand, and the Lord prepared a great fish to the swallowing of the defiant prophet, after which Jonah carried out the assignment as first given. God could use Jonah to accomplish his will, in spite of the latter’s awful attitude.

 

Resignation

 

When the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary with incredible news that she would become mother to “the Son of the Most High,” the young virgin’s response was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary reacted with resignation, which is defined as “an accepting, unresisting attitude…submission; acquiescence” (dictionary.com). In great contrast to Jonah’s refusal, and much preferred to Moses’ reluctance, Mary’s reaction was nothing short of ideal. God gave her a role to fulfill, and she accepted with the heart of a humble servant.

 

Today, God does not contact us through a burning bush, or an audible voice, or a conversation with Gabriel. Rather, God calls everyone alike—that is, through the message of the gospel, as recorded in the New Testament (cf. Acts 17:30; 2 Thess. 2:14). Even so, and perhaps not too surprisingly, people’s reactions are still the same! A reading of Acts 17:32-34 reveals that, after Paul’s magnificent sermon in Athens, “some mocked,” thus reacting with rebellion. Others who heard Paul said, “We will hear you again about this,” thus reacting with reluctance. Finally, “some men joined him and believed,” thus reacting with resignation to the truthfulness of the apostle’s message. God has a role for you to fulfill as a faithful Christian. What’s your reaction?

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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The Invitation

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We all get invitations of various kinds. Some are welcome, some not. Some are accepted, some ignored. There is that rare invitation that is just too good to pass up. In Matthew 22 Jesus likened the church to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, inviting many to attend the grand event. “Tell those who are invited…I have prepared my dinner…everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast” (v. 4, ESV). Several points are noteworthy regarding God’s extending an invitation to humanity.

First, you are invited! In Jesus’ parable, the king was not stingy with the invitations. “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find” (v. 9). Even if we’re never invited to prestigious parties and gatherings in our city, this fact more than makes up for it. The most important invitation ever issued is directed to you and me—an invitation to obey the gospel of Christ and experience eternal life. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17).

Second, God’s invitation is a blessing. In Jesus’ parable, the king was trying to honor the invitees, not burden them. An angel told John, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). With his invitation, God seeks to help us, not hinder. Yet, many to whom the invitation is addressed fail to see it as a blessing. When the Lord said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), he was issuing an invitation with a benefit attached. It’s a blessing to be invited.

Third, you must R.S.V.P. In the parable, Jesus said about those invited, “But they paid no attention and went off…” (v. 5). The height of ingratitude! A king’s invitation should not fall on deaf ears. When God invites, it demands proper response. After all, the invitation also brings obligation. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). No one has the right to hear the gospel and then say, “no thanks.” We decline it to our own destruction.

Fourth, proper dress is required. In Jesus’ story, the king finds an attendee at the feast dressed inappropriately to the occasion, and he is expelled (vv. 11-13). We would never dream of attending a wedding in pajamas, or a funeral in a bathrobe. Nor should any approach God’s banquet without proper attire. The dress code is strictly enforced. Of course, it’s not about literal clothes; it’s about the condition of the soul. “Blessed are those who wash their robes…that they may enter the city by the gates” (Rev. 22:14). Christians have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). We contact the benefits of Jesus’ death, including his sin-washing blood, when we are baptized (Rom. 6:3-4).

Fifth, don’t be late. What good is a wedding invitation if you arrive after the event is over? What good is a concert ticket if you show up after the music stops? God is most generous with the gospel invitation, but it is a limited time offer. Imagine a stamp in the front of your New Testament reading, “This invitation expires at the death of the owner, or the return of the Author, whichever comes first.” We might be late to many things with no ill effects (such as a movie, a ballgame, a birthday party). But nobody gets into heaven late. Arriving on time means obeying the gospel invitation and living faithfully in this life. Death cancels the invitation, putting it forever beyond reach of those who snubbed it.

Sixth, bring gifts. From earliest times, God has expected gifts; he commended Abel “by accepting his gifts” (Heb. 11:4). It’s not that God needs presents from us; it’s that we need to give him ourselves, and for our own good. In fact, it’s not so much that we bring a gift, as that we become the gift. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…” (Rom. 12:1). Most are unwilling to give that much to God. But remember the sobering words with which Jesus ended the wedding feast parable: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (v. 14).

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Are You Educated?

School Room

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Who is an educated person? A man with a doctoral degree? A master’s degree? A bachelor’s? An associate’s? A high school diploma? One who can read? One who does read? A man who knows well the field in which he earns a living? One acquainted with history and who appreciates fine art? One who mingles with the academics? Webster defines educate as “to cultivate and discipline the mind and other faculties by teaching.” Thus, an educated man is taught and disciplined in respect to some area(s) of knowledge.

Has America made the mistake of making a god of the educative process with little to no regard for what the process is actually teaching? We’ve raised generations to such heights of “education” they now believe people are nothing but glorified chimpanzees. Many “educated” educators teach the next generation of “educated” to trust the state and doubt the Bible, to indulge the flesh and refrain from religion, to deify man and detest the Messiah. We’ve “educated” a horde of lawyers and judges to teach us that the Lord has no real place on the public scene, on public property, or — in essence — in the public psyche. Ironically, God has become almost a trespasser in a nation whose coins still vow trust in Him.

The apostle Paul indicated there is such a thing as “falsely called ‘knowledge’” (1 Tim. 6:20, ESV). Surely it does not profit the mind to be full of falsehoods. Deceit will not deliver; lies will not last. The human mind was designed to run on higher grade fuel than error offers. Yet, there will always be he who “loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15), thereby hindering his own ability to perform as a man educated in what truly matters. There will be those “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). What results is that the ostensibly educated are, in fact, blinded to genuine truth. This is why Festus could say, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (Acts 26:24). No doubt Festus fancied himself more rational than the apostle when it came to the gospel, but reality was otherwise.

But let us lay aside the question of who Americans think is educated and, instead, ask, “Whom does God deem educated?” That answer reveals a strikingly different perspective. There is no degree attached thereto. No particular school is mandated. No diploma, no class ring, no alumni association windshield sticker, no grade point average, no transcript. In fact, it consists in nothing else but learning and doing the truth — divine truth (John 8:32), which puts one in very close contact with a man named Jesus. Antagonists of the gospel long ago came to see that Jesus had a most unsettling way of turning the socially unlearned into the spiritually enlightened. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). You see, being with Jesus is the education. Listen to and do what He taught and you will far outshine the rest. The psalmist wrote about God’s word, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99). So, who is educated? Is it the Ph.D. who winds up in hell or a Cambodian rice farmer who makes it to heaven? Who knew what mattered? As C. S. Lewis put it in the book, Mere Christianity (p. 78):

If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Christianity and Culture

 

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Is Any Request Too Small?

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“You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2, ESV). James penned those words to some of the earliest Christians; yet, they likely apply to most of us today.

Is it possible we miss out on prayer’s blessings because we misunderstand prayer’s scope? We hear public prayers full of big, spiritual topics such as sin, forgiveness, the church, evangelism, the Bible, the cross, Christ, mercy, etc. And we pray about big concerns such as the sick, our troops, our country, our politicians, or victims of the latest natural disaster.

Perhaps focusing on these legitimate items has helped foster the idea that prayer is for big requests—not small ones. Or, similarly, that prayer should be reserved for spiritual requests—not ones that seem more mundane. But, is that true? Is any request too small to bring to God in prayer? Consider three points that might increase our appreciation of prayer, our use of prayer, and our trust in God.

First, Jesus taught prayer as a necessary tool for getting through the day. Prayer should be used to ask: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Any given meal may not seem either spiritually significant or terribly important, but Jesus said what will be on the dinner table later merits making a request to God. Why? Because it emphasizes our dependence on God, acknowledges God as the giver, and recognizes the food as a gift (cf. Jas. 1:17). Bread should never be sliced so thin that God is squeezed out.

Second, our cares are God’s concern. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). “Anxieties” translates the Greek merimna, which describes our cares, our distractions, our concerns, our being pulled simultaneously in different directions. If we take those things to God in prayer, we put their burden on him so that we need not carry the load. God has broad shoulders and there is no care too heavy for him. But, on the other end of the spectrum, neither is any care of ours too little for him. Why? Because God cares for us. A loving parent does not callously dismiss a sincere request from his child concerning something weighing on the child’s mind. The child’s concern may not be causing the parent anxiety, but the parent willingly takes on the concern because he loves the child. Just so with God.

Thankfully, Peter did not qualify his words by saying, “only cast your most important cares on God,” or “don’t bother God with small concerns.” We must never trivialize prayer, turn it into a venue for silly wishes, or approach it with selfish motives. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas. 4:3). And, not every request will be God’s will (Jas. 4:15). But, if a thing is big enough to be a real concern in my life, then it is big enough to pray about—not because it’s big to God, but because it’s big to me.

Third, prayer is the vehicle by which we are to express unceasing thanks to God. As Paul wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). If our thanks in prayer is limited to weighty subjects (e.g. salvation, the church, Jesus’ blood), then we lose sight that God also deserves thanks for the sandwich eaten at lunch (as well as the safe drive, the unexpected refund check, the new shoes found on sale, the dependable automobile, the rain, the air conditioning, and a thousand other items). If we fail to thank God for the little things, then we rob him of glory and live as though we are more self-sufficient than is true. But that leads to this conclusion: If I have the duty to thank God for small blessings after they come, then I also have the right to ask God for small blessings before they arrive! To end where we began, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Doctrine

 

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Rescuing the Perishing (James 5:19-20)

The Bible

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When James, half-brother to the Lord, penned his epistle, the youthful church was already in need of instruction on dealing with the unfaithful. Straying sheep are no new phenomenon! He concluded with these words: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20, ESV). Several points can be made by breaking down those verses into smaller segments.

The scope is sweeping (“My brothers, if anyone among you…”). With “brothers,” James obviously addresses Christians, and “anyone” would potentially include every Christian. In other words, none is immune to the possibility of sin and consequential destruction. James disproves the Calvinistic doctrine of once-saved-always-saved. New converts can sin (Acts 8:22). Elders can sin (1 Tim. 5:19-20). Even apostles could sin (Gal. 2:11). Understanding the possibility is part of guarding against the danger.

The truth can be trampled (“…wanders from the truth…”). You cannot wander from where you never were. You cannot leave truth if you were never in it. You cannot give up truth if you never possessed it. Thus, James is discussing those who at one time were in the truth (i.e. saved). To wander from the gospel implies God’s truth is not worth the effort to live it. If we fail to properly value the gospel, then we risk becoming like pigs which trample underfoot expensive pearls (cf. Matt. 7:6; Heb. 10:29). Truth deserves better treatment than that.

The reachable can be rescued (“…and someone brings him back…”). Sadly, not everyone can be reached. As a piece of meat can be seared to lock in its juices, so a conscience can be seared—through practice of sin—to lock out godly sorrow, which leads to repentance (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2; 2 Cor. 7:10). Some former Christians abandon the Lord with such determination they can never be reclaimed (Heb. 6:4-6). But others wander away, taking with them hearts not yet seared against God, and which are still susceptible to repentance and forgiveness. Imagine the eternal joy and thanksgiving when a wanderer is brought back.

The concerned are capable (“…let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering…”). Notice James does not lay this task at the feet of elders (though it is part of their work). Nor does he say this is the preacher’s job, or the deacons’ (though they share in the duty). Instead, he says “whoever,” and that word potentially includes any and every Christian. The words “brings back” indicate focused action. Instead of passively waiting for the wanderer to wander back, we should be actively seeking his return. Let no Christian think himself incapable of this weighty assignment. If you’re a Christian, then you’re capable of doing something for the lost (praying, if nothing else). It’s not a question of being qualified; it’s a question of being concerned.

The labor is life-saving (“…will save his soul from death…”). Has anyone ever saved your life? Will you ever forget them? What James mentions is even more monumental: saving a soul from the “second death” (Rev. 20:14), which is unending separation from God in a place of ceaseless pain. Hell is ultimate horror. The greatest good one person can do for another is to rescue his soul from that destiny. No endeavor is more worthy. Do you know anyone who has wandered? What are you doing about them?

The grace is generous (“…and will cover a multitude of sins.”). Jesus’ blood is what covers sins (Rev. 1:5). That blood is applied to those who “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). Therefore, to cover a wanderer’s sins is to get him back to walking in the light—the only place where God’s saving grace is accessed. Thankfully, God has no quota on forgiveness. Paul considered himself at the head of the list of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), but he also knew God could forgive even his sins. God can and will forgive any and every sin the wanderer commits, as long as the wanderer repents and comes home. What a hope-filled statement that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psa. 103:12). What matters is not the quantity of sins, but the quality of repentance!

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2010 in Expository

 

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