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How to Read the Bible in a Year

How to Read the Bible in a Year

Bible in Hands 2 copy

Along with Scripture memory, reading the entire Bible through in one year is a fantastic discipline for spiritual growth.  As the new year is about to begin, why not choose a Bible reading plan and commit to read the Bible from Gen. 1 to Rev. 22 this coming year?  Yes, it can be a challenge not getting behind on each day (and reading through Numbers!), but what an important and rewarding exercise it is to read the whole Bible in a year.

 Here are a few pointers:

  • Use a modern English translation that is reliable and readable (I recommend the ESV, NASB, or HCSB).  Other translations are good, but avoid using a paraphrase (The Message, The Living Bible) for this task.  Paraphrases are good to supplement your reading/study of the Bible from a reliable translation.

  • Pick a plan that works for you.  Some plans simply follow the books in order as they appear in the Bible.  Others incorporate both Old and New Testament readings each day.  Some include a portion of Psalms and Proverbs each day.  A unique plan is to read the Bible in the historical chronological order as the events actually occurred (link for this plan is below).  This might be a great plan for you if you have previously read the Bible through in a year.

  • Set aside a time and place to read each day.  This time/place needs to allow you freedom from interruptions and distractions.  Turn off the TV, put your phone away, read at a time when the kids are asleep or at school, etc.

  • Don’t get discouraged!  If you miss a day, make it up as soon as possible.  If you lag behind you will get discouraged and quit.  Also, reading large portions of the Bible doesn’t take as long as you think.  Our staff recited from memory the entire book of James last Sunday and it took only 15 minutes.

  • Don’t let reading larger portions of Scripture completely substitute your more in-depth study of passages (such as in a Bible study you are doing, Sunday School lesson, quiet times, etc).

Here are some helpful links to help you accomplish reading through the Bible:

Read the Bible in a year: http://immanuelshawnee.org/wp-content/uploads/PDFs/yearly_bible_reading.pdf

Chronological reading plan: http://www.esv.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pdf

One Year Bible online: http://www.oneyearbibleonline.com

Bible reading plans in multiple media formats: http://about.esvbible.org/resources/reading/

Have each day’s Bible reading emailed to you: http://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/

Read the entire Bible in 90 days: http://www.thebrooknetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/BibleIn90Days.pdf

Read the Bible in 2 years: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/files/2010/12/TwoYearBibleReadingPlan.pdf

Helpful blog post on importance (as well as strengths/weaknesses) of Bible reading plans: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/12/29/two-year-bible-reading-plan/

Read the Greek New Testament in a year: http://www.dennyburk.com/Stuff/ReadGreekNT.pdf

 

 

How to Memorize Scripture

How to Memorize Scripture

iStock_000001547067SmallWhy is it important and what are the benefits of memorizing Scripture?  Scripture memory is a powerful tool in growing deeper in your walk with Christ.

The Benefits of Memorizing Scripture

Dallas Willard- “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation.  If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs.  This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it!  How does it get in your mouth?  Memorization.”

There is a direct joy that comes from memorizing Scripture.  When your mind is filled with the word of God, it brings a direct joy in that it reveals to you the beauty of Christ.  The word reveals the person of Christ, His perfection, His grace, and His love.  The word of God reveals the tremendous promises of God.  There is also an indirect joy that comes from memorizing Scripture.  When your mind is filled with the word of God it brings indirect joy in that it weans you off the toxic pleasures of the world by means of the superior pleasures of Christ.

Life is going to throw some tough stuff at us.  Temptation to sin, either through lust, greed, pride, anger, you name it.  We will have crushing blows that seem to defeat us. People will disappoint us.  Tragedy will bring great grief.  Notice how many Scripture verses there are that directly apply to so many of the situations we face in life.  What if we had those verses already memorized when those tough challenges come our way?  Psalm 119:9,11- “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Let’s say you’re facing a situation that tempts you to sin. What do you have in your toolbox to fight against such a temptation- just your willpower?  If so, you’re probably in trouble.  But what if the Holy Spirit brings to mind at this point of spiritual battle a verse from God’s Word? All of these are illustrations of what Eph. 6:17 calls the “sword of the Spirit.”  When the Holy Spirit brings to your mind a pertinent spiritual truth at just the right moment it is a weapon- a sword- that makes the difference in spiritual battle.  Jesus did this in Matt. 4:1-11 when Satan tempted him.  Each time Satan tempted Jesus with a different temptation, Jesus had a spot on Bible verse that directly refuted the specific temptation Satan was throwing at him.  Jesus used Bible passages as weapon against temptation.  But that weapon has to be in place. This is where Scripture memorization comes in.

We can apply this same principle to times when we are trying to encourage someone going through a difficult time, sharing our faith, or making decisions.

Chuck Swindoll- “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture… No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends!  Your prayer life will be strengthened.  Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective.  Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change.  Your mind will become alert and observant.  Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced.  Your faith will be solidified.”

So, memorizing Scripture is beneficial to spiritual health and daily life.  But how do we do it?

The Method of Memorizing Scripture

You can memorize better than you think!

Many people say they cannot memorize Scripture because they have a bad memory.  Forgive me, but this is really just an excuse for the vast majority of us.  The problem is not our memory, the problem is we don’t want to be disciplined to put in the work required to memorize Scripture.  What if I offered to pay you $1,000 for every verse you memorized for the next 7 days?  How many verses do you think you could memorize then?  Also, how many movie lines, slogans, and cultural idioms have you committed to memory?  Several years ago the Lord convicted me of how many lines I had involuntarily memorized from movies I had repeatedly watched compared to the amount of Scripture I had memorized.

How do we memorize Scripture?

Write the Verses

1. Buy a pack of Post-It notes. Determine a color that suits your tastes. A color that is too dark or neon does not lend itself to memorization.

2.
Write (in black ink) on each Post-It note one phrase of the verse. Continue this until you have written the entire verse.

3.
Affix the Post-Its to a highly visible place in your bedroom or bathroom where you look often. Post them in vertical descending order. Take additional Post-Its and cover all phrases except the first one.

4.
Memorize the first Post-It. Recite it out loud, 5-10 times without error.

5.
Uncover the next Post-It. Follow step four again, this time with both Post-Its. Do this until the entire verse is memorized.

For a passage of Scripture, write out the passage on a page.  Cover the passage with a sheet of paper except for the first verse.  Recite the first verse 5-10 times and then move to the next verse reciting the previous verse(s) with it.

Memorize Word Perfectly

It’s a temptation, especially when you’re first starting out to fudge on the exact wording.  You get about ¾ of the verse memorized, then insert a few words you made up.  Don’t settle for just getting close, or for the main idea of the verse, or leaving off the reference number of the verse.  Why?  Without an objective standard of measure, you may keep lowering the bar and then eventually quit altogether.  Also, if you don’t have the verse memorized exactly you will lose confidence in sharing that verse to help a friend or witness to someone.  Incidentally, verses you know word perfectly are easier to review than those you don’t know so well.

Seek Accountability

Find a friend to whom you can recite your verses.  This will build accountability.  Here’s a great idea: find a person who doesn’t know the Lord to listen to you recite Bible verses.

Draw Picture Reminders

Sounds silly, but the reality is that most of us are visual learners- especially in this era of technology.  Doesn’t have to be elaborate or “good” art, but making a verse visual can help it stick in your mind better.

  • Psalm 119:11- a heart with a Bible inside of it.
  • Matt. 5:13- saltshaker over planet earth
  • Matt. 7:3-5- plank in the eye

Review, Review, Review!

Reviewing a verse takes a fraction of the time than actually learning or saying the verse aloud. Review your memorized verses once a week, then perhaps once a month, then every 6 months.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to keep a sharp edge on remembering verses. Review verses when you are waiting in traffic, or for an appointment, or trying to go to sleep at night.  Review is important or you will lose what you memorized.

I hope you will make the effort to memorize Scripture.  I believe it will give you a love for God’s Word and will in turn be life-changing.

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

store-crowd-black-friday-blur-615cs112212I came across an insightful piece last week written by blogger Matt Walsh (read his post here). In it, he makes the distinction between capitalism (which he is for, and I am too) and consumerism. Capitalism doesn’t automatically mean consumerism. Sadly, our culture doesn’t understand this distinction. Walsh writes about the intersection of consumerism and the Thanksgiving holiday:

That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover- just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back- just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone. Go online and buy things. Go to the mall and buy things. On your way, stop and buy some more things. Buy things for every occasion. Buy things to celebrate. Buy things to mourn. Buy things to keep up with the trends. Buy things while you’re buying things, and then buy a couple more things after you’re done buying things. If you want it- buy it. If you don’t want it- buy it. Don’t make it- buy it. Don’t grow it- buy it. Don’t cultivate it- buy it. If you are alive you must buy. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.

How appropriate, then, that a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need. Our great grandparents enjoyed a meal and praised the Lord for the food on the table and the friends and family gathered around it. We, having slightly altered the tradition, instead elect to bum-rush elderly women and trample over children to get our hands on cheap TVs.

What he says here is sad, but true.  We have now expanded “Black Friday” to Thanksgiving day. Walsh continues:

For a while, Black Friday and Thanksgiving coexisted. We thanked God for His blessings on Thursday, and then jumped into the consumer mosh pit at Best Buy on Friday. But this Black Friday-Thanksgiving marriage was tenuous and rocky from the start. It was doomed to fail. Thanksgiving offers tradition, family and contentment; Black Friday offers smart phones at drastically reduced prices. In America, we all know who wins that battle. So Black Friday, like a black hole, violently expanded; it absorbed the light that surrounded it and sucked everything into its terrifying abyss, where all substance is torn to shreds and obliterated. Black Friday could not be contained to a mere 24 hours. It is Consumerism. It wants more. It always wants more. Nothing is sacred to it; nothing is valuable. So, now, Black Friday has eaten Thanksgiving alive. Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It’s hard to hear anything when you’re wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy.

I think we should step back and really consider if shopping on Thanksgiving Day is what we should be doing. As Walsh notes in his post, if we are shopping on Thanksgiving then we are a part of the problem of consumerism.  I know I always want to be part of the solution to that problem.

I might add here that I see the problem of consumerism in our culture in general and even in the church.  Church, for more and more, is not about what I can give and how I can serve, but merely about what I can get from it.  Getting people to volunteer is a pandemic problem in the church today. Let’s avoid the consumerist mentality- at Thanksgiving and at all times.  Let’s live in wisdom and moderation seeking how we can give more than we take or get.  That is an attitude that places us in line with the heart/mind of God and causes us to truly be thankful and dependent on Him.

Philippians 2:5-8- “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

What’s the Purpose of Pain?

What’s the Purpose of Pain?

eric-liddellWhen we go through storms in life- trials, pain, heartache, stress, etc.- Christians almost always ask “Why?”  We want to know the purpose behind pain.  We know from the Scripture and from experience that God sometimes sends or allows hardship in our lives to correct us when we have strayed from him or to teach us some lesson (the old saying, “storms of correction and storms of perfection”).  Let’s face it- none of us would ever testify that we grew closest to God in times that were smooth and stress-free.  It is in the midst of the storm that God gets our attention and brings us to the end of ourselves.  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  Pain is so often the crucible of learning.

There is another possible purpose in our suffering that doesn’t revolve around our being corrected or instructed.  Sometimes God simply wants to use our suffering to do a work in the lives of others.  Think of it- how many times have you seen the faithful response of a follower of Christ in the face of suffering that encouraged or emboldened you in your faith?

The Apostle Paul is an excellent biblical example of God using a person’s suffering to benefit others.  Look at what Paul told the Philippians in 1:12-14- “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  Notice that he doesn’t say the gospel made progress in spite of his adversity (that’s how we think of it often in our lives), but rather the adversity itself had turned out for the advancement of the gospel.  Paul’s suffering of imprisonment led to elite Roman troops coming to faith in Christ and giving courage to Christians in Rome to live out and share the gospel with boldness.  There are times when the purpose of suffering is God working in the lives of others.  That’s a perspective we need to learn regarding our own suffering.

A powerful modern-day example of God using our pain in this way is the story of Eric Liddel.  In his book If God is Good, Randy Alcorn tell us “the rest of the story” regarding Liddel.

Eric Liddell, “The Flying Scotsman” of the movie Chariots of Fire, shocked everyone by refusing to run the 100 meters in the 1924 Paris Olympics- a race experts favored him to win.  He withdrew because the qualifying heat took place on a Sunday, and he refused to “violate the Sabbath.”  Liddell went on to win a gold medal- and break the world record- in the 400 meters, which was not his strongest event.  Most know about Liddel’s life as it relates to the Olympics and his refusal to run on Sunday.  However, many do not know what happened to Liddel after the Olympics were over.

For a number of years Liddell served as a missionary in China, but when the Japanese occupation made life dangerous, he sent his pregnant wife and two daughters to Canada.  Japanese invaders delivered him to a squalid prison camp where he lived several years before dying at age forty-three of a brain tumor, a few months before the war ended.  Liddell never saw his family again in this life and never got to see the youngest of his three daughters.

Why did God withhold from this great man of faith a long life, years of fruitful service, the companionship of his wife, and the joy of raising those beloved children?  It makes no sense.  “Where is God in that?” we might ask.

And yet consider another perspective on the suffering Eric Liddel endured…

Margaret Holder was born in China to missionary parents.  In 1939, when Japan took control of eastern China, soldiers separated thirteen-year-old Margaret from her parents and imprisoned her for six years.     In an interview, Margaret recounted many stories of her experience in the concentration camp.  Many of these stories included a godly man who tutored her and the other children, organized sporting events, and brought God’s Word to them.   All the children in the camp loved him deeply.  He was their inspiration.  He helped to protect and care for them.  In the interview, Margaret then revealed the man’s name:  He was known as “Uncle Eric.”

Through fresh tears, Margaret said, “It was a cold February day when Uncle Eric died.”  If all Scotland mourned Liddell’s death, no one mourned like the children in that camp.  Only five months later, paratroopers rescued the camp’s survivors, so the children were at last reunited with their families.

Eric Liddell’s presence in that camp broke the hearts of his family.  But for years, nearly to the war’s end, God used him as a lifeline to hundreds of children, including Margaret Holder.

May the example of Eric Liddel cause us to look at our suffering, and the suffering of others, from the perspective that God may well be using our pain for the benefit of others and for God to do a work in their lives.  Would you be willing to suffer so that God could use it for His purposes?

 

 

The Martyrdom of Polycarp: How Christians Should Respond to Opposition Against Their Faith

The Martyrdom of Polycarp: How Christians Should Respond to Opposition Against Their Faith

polycarp-martyrdomOne of the earliest martyrdoms recorded by the early church was that of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smryna, in the mid second century.  According to multiple sources, Polycarp was a student of the Apostle John.  Polycarp was killed by government authorities because he refused to burn incense to Caesar and make the required statement, “Caesar is Lord.”

The “persecution” and “suffering” we face in the West for our faith in Christ dims in comparison to the suffering Polycarp faced or to the struggles Christians endure today in countries where there is no freedom of religion.  And yet, all who genuinely follow Christ will encounter friction of some degree with the world. It is inevitable when one lives for God who is perfectly pure in a world that is fallen and cursed by sin.  Jesus told his followers this would be case- “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19).

When we face trouble with the world because of our faith in Christ and belief in the Bible, may our response be as that of Polycarp.  May we stand fast in our faith and serve as a faithful witness while never retaliating in anger to our tormentors.  Below is the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom:

Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp.  And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, “Swear by the Genius of Caesar.”  When the magistrate persisted and said “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

But as he continued to insist, saying, “Swear by the Genius of Caesar,” he answered; “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the Genius of Caesar, as you request, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully; I am a Christian…”

So the proconsul said, “I have wild beasts; I will throw you to them, unless you change your mind.”  But he said; “Call for them!  For the repentance from better to worse is a change impossible for us; but it is a noble thing to change from that which is evil to righteousness.”  Then he said to him again; “I will have you consumed by fire, since you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.”  But Polycarp said, “You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly.  But why do you delay?  Come, do what you wish.”

As he spoke these and many other words, he was inspired with courage and joy, and his face was filled with grace, so that not only did he not collapse in fright at the things which were said to him, but on the contrary the proconsul was astonished, and sent his own herald into the midst of the stadium to proclaim three times; “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.”*

According to the church fathers, Polycarp was tied to a stake and the kindling beneath it was lit, but the flames didn’t touch him.  So the authorities stabbed him to death.

May this powerful example of faithfulness even in the face of death always be true of us when we face opposition for following Christ.  May we always stand for God’s Truth and do so in a loving way that exemplifies the Master we serve.

*“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” translated by Michael Holmes in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations

 

When the Fog of Pain Eclipses the Truth of Hope

When the Fog of Pain Eclipses the Truth of Hope

FogSome of the toughest times we face in life cause us to lose sight of the full truth that God is with us in the storm and is the victor over sin, death, disease, and injustice that cause the storms.

The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in history.  It occurred in what is modern day Belgium on June 18, 1815.  It pitted the French army, commanded by Napoleon who had recently escaped from exile, against the Anglo-German-Dutch forces led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian forces commanded by Gerhard Blucher.  It was a battle of immense importance and was won by Wellington.

There is an interesting story of how the news about the outcome at Waterloo reached England.  News was carried first by a ship that sailed from Europe across the English Channel to England’s southern coast.  The news was then relayed from the coast by signal flags to London.  When the report was received in London at Winchester Cathedral, the flags atop the cathedral began to spell out Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon to the entire city.  “Wellington defeated…” However, before the message could be completed, a good-old fashioned London fog moved in, and the rest of the message was hidden.

Based on incomplete information, the people of London thought Napoleon had defeated Wellington.  That would have been devastating for England.  Gloom began to fill the nation as the bad news spread quickly everywhere.  But when the fog began to lift, the flags high up Winchester Cathedral completed the news: “Wellington defeated the enemy!” The English fears had been unfounded. Joy immediately replaced the gloom.  All over England people danced in the streets, rejoicing at this great victory over one of the most dangerous enemies England ever faced.

There are times in our lives when we go through storms of pain, disappointment, grief, stress, etc. that leave us in a fog of wondering if we will ever make it through the storm.  We doubt God’s purpose and plan in the storm and may even doubt the existence of God himself.  We are like the disciples on Good Friday night. They went home that evening in despair.  They weren’t focused on the event that would come Sunday.  Jesus’ resurrection was the full story.

Trying times can easily put us in a “fog” that obscures the truth of the total message.  One, if you are a follower of Christ you are never alone.  You have One who has suffered as you have suffered and walks through the storm with you right now.  Isa. 43:2- “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”

Two, always remember that in the end Jesus wins.  Sin, Satan, the forces of evil- the things that cause so much of our pain- will one day be vanquished by Jesus and he will consummate his perfect kingdom on the last day.  The New Testament teaches in many places the fact of Jesus’ victory should be great encouragement for us struggling in the present.  Don’t let the fog of pain today eclipse the glory of your eternity in Christ.

Somebody’s Watching Me

Somebody’s Watching Me

UnknownYou might have read the title of this post and thought it would be a review of the song by Rockwell (I am, after all, a child of 80’s music!).  No, this post is about something different.  The other day I was studying 1 Peter 2:11-12 and was struck about the importance of a Christian’s conduct in a world that is clearly watching what Christians do.  I was reminded of a quote by the old Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren who rightly noted,

“The world takes its notions of God, most of all, from the people who say they belong to God’s family.  They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible.  They see us, they only hear about Jesus Christ.”

Peter reminds his readers that their conduct must be “excellent,” or honorable because the world is watching.  When the world observes our behavior that is rooted in love, grounded in truth, and marked by denying the “lusts of the flesh” it will make an impact on others.  In Peter’s words, the lost will “glorify God in the day of visitation.”  Whether this means the lost will come to Christ through the observance of a Christian’s behavior or acknowledge Christ is Lord on the Judgment Day and know at that time the behavior of Christians pointed to the truth is unsure.  Regardless, the behavior of genuine Christ followers will make an impact for the kingdom of God.

Some will be angered by the worldview Christians follow.  Some will merely want to scrutinize the behavior waiting for the Christian to make a mistake.  But others will observe the transformation Christ brings and the evidence of it in the way Christians live and ask, “Whatever it is you have, I want it!”

Thus, it is imperative that the conduct of Christians be anchored in the word of God and a genuine example of the transformation that comes about from following Christ.  All this means that Christians must live in a counter-cultural way.  They cannot live like the world.  Sadly, this is becoming less apparent in the church today.  David Wells notes,

“The church [must] form itself, by his grace and truth, into an outcropping of counter-cultural spirituality.  It must first recover the sense of antithesis between Christ and culture and then find ways to sustain that antithesis… It must give up self-cultivation for self-surrender, entertainment for worship, intuition for truth, slick marketing for authentic witness, success for faithfulness, power for humility, a God bought on cheap terms for the God who calls us to costly obedience.  It must, in short, be willing to do God’s business on God’s terms.”

Scot McKnight, in his commentary on 1 Peter 2:11-12, wrote that someone interviewed a well-known American preacher and contended that some of this preacher’s message was different than the message of the Bible, particularly about self-denial.  The preacher responded, “If I preached that, the people in my church would be mad as _____.”  The interviewer persisted and said the concept of denying yourself was still in the Bible.  The preacher’s response: “Just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean I have to preach it.”  This is a classic example of the cultural-conditionedness of some churches and preaching today.  Little wonder so many that claim to be Christ followers do not live counter-culturally.

So, we must be diligent to live differently than the world.  We don’t need to be afraid of our culture, or hate it- we need to engage it with Christ’s love and truth through our actions, words, attitudes, etc.  We most likely have no idea who is watching us and the impact it is making in their lives.

Herb and Ruth Clingen and their young son were missionaries to Japan when WWII broke out.  The Clingens were sent to a POW camp in the Philippines where they were imprisoned for three years.  Herb’s diary told of how his family’s captors tortured, murdered, and starved to death many of the camp’s inmates.  The prisoners particularly hated and feared the camp commandant named Konishi.  Herb described one especially diabolical plan of Konishi forced on the Clingens and others near the end of the war:

“Konishi found an inventive way to abuse us even more.  He increased the food ration but gave us palay– unhusked rice.  Eating rice with its razor-sharp outer shell would cause intestinal bleeding that would kill us in hours.  We had no tools to remove the husks, and doing the job manually- by pounding the grain or rolling it with a heavy stick- consumed more calories than the rice would supply.  It was a death sentence for all internees.”

Through divine providence the Clingens were spared and liberated from their camp in February 1945 by Allied forces.  That prevented the final plan Konishi had drawn up- shooting and killing all survivors.  Years later the Clingens learned that Konishi had been found working as a grounds keeper at a golf course in Manilla.  He was put on trial for war crimes and hanged.  Just before his execution, Konishi professed conversion to Christianity, saying he had been deeply affected by the testimony of the Christian missionaries he had persecuted.

May we careful to be an example of Christ to the Konishis in our lives.

He Makes All Things New: How God Will Consummate the Age

He Makes All Things New: How God Will Consummate the Age

cloudsAt the end of time, God will consummate all He created to its final glory. The things that were tarnished by our sin, God will restore. Some things will be taken away and other things will be made new. This is the final goal of history. Rev. 21:5 states, “And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” What encouraging news for those who are in Christ! Below are side-by-side examples of how God will consummate the age.

Gen. 1:1- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Rev. 21:1- “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…”

 

Gen. 1:16- “God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day…”

Rev. 21:23- “And the city has no need of the sun, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

 

Gen. 1:5- “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.

Rev. 22:5- “There will no longer be any night…”

 

Gen. 1:10- “God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas.”

Rev. 21:1- “And there is no longer any sea.”

 

Gen. 3:14-19- The curse is announced

Rev. 22:3- “There will no longer be any curse…”

 

Gen. 3:16-19- Sorrow and pain begin

Rev. 21:4- “There will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

 

Gen. 3:19- “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Rev. 21:4- “And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death…”

 

Gen. 3:24- “So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Rev. 22:14- “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life…”

 

What an amazing thing to see these Scripture passages in comparison! May we live our lives today with eternity as our focus.

 

Sufficient Grace

Sufficient Grace

graceThere are times in life when we experience storms that seem to never end.  Paul endured what he called a “thorn in the flesh.”  And yet, Paul discovered that even in the most painful and enduring trials the grace of God was sufficient.  2 Cor. 12:8-9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”  The word order in Greek can render the phrase to read, “Sufficient for you is the grace of me.”  Indeed, what we need first and foremost in the storms of life is the grace/presence of Jesus.  More than looking within ourselves or to the world’s answers, we need Jesus.  He is the comfort, strength, and provision we need in painful times.

How do we connect with God’s grace/presence during storms of life?  It is important that we elevate our study of the Word.  Psalm 119:71- “It is good for me that I was afflicted,
 that I may learn Your statutes.”  In times of struggle, our perception and understanding of God’s Word is heightened.  Martin Luther once said three things are necessary to understand a text of Scripture: prayer, study, and suffering a trial.  The reason God allows us to be in a storm is to teach us a lesson; to mold and shape us into the person he wants us to become.  In storms, God is trying to get our attention.  Thus, we need to spend quality time in the Word.

Another thing we need to do is elevate our prayer life.  Like Paul, Jesus prayed three times for his “thorn” or as He called it His “cup” to be removed- the cross (Matt. 26:36-44).  In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed if there could be any way for Him to fulfill God’s will without the torture and pain of the crucifixion for God to make it so.  Yet, for Jesus and Paul, it was God’s will for them to endure the pain of the trial.  It was prayer that enabled both to move forward, despite the difficulty, in God’s plan for their lives.  The “thorn” and the “cup” were not enjoyable, but Jesus and Paul knew that the grace/presence of God would strengthen them to thrive through the storm.

Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 19th century, was a man who endured many storms in his life, but experienced the grace of God.  He experienced strong bouts with depression most of his adult life.  His wife whom he cared for was an invalid most of their marriage.  He took unpopular stands against the theological liberalism of his day and endured constant ridicule and threats.  He spent one-third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness.  There was hardly a weakness, hardship, or difficulty he did not know.  And yet he knew his trials would result in strength and God’s grace. Spurgeon wrote:

“It is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future, but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith… At this moment, and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory, the grace of God will be sufficient for you.  This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee, sufficient to strengthen thee, sufficient to comfort thee, sufficient to make thy trouble useful to thee, sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it, sufficient to bring thee out of it, sufficient to bring thee out of ten thousand like it, sufficient to bring thee home to heaven.  Whatever would be good for thee, Christ’s grace is sufficient to bestow; whatever would harm thee, his grace is sufficient to avert, whatever thou desirest, his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee, whatever thou wouldst avoid, his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate… Here let me press upon you the pleasing duty of taking home the promise personally at this moment, for no believer here need be under any fear, since for him also, at this very instant, the grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient.”

It is so very true: even in the darkest and longest of storms, the grace and presence of God is sufficient to enable you to thrive through the storm and be made stronger in His will.

Turning Trials Into Triumphs

Turning Trials Into Triumphs

man-praying1I recently shared a quote in a sermon on the storms of life by George Matheson, a 19th century Scottish theologian and preacher.  He was born with eyesight problems and by the time he was 18 was practically blind.  He was renown in his time for his preaching and lecturing skills.  He was also an accomplished hymn writer.  One of his hymns, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” is a classic in many modern day hymn books.  Matheson couldn’t physically see, but recognized spiritual truths with great clarity.  He never thought the trial of his blindness was unfair and embraced it as a principal way he would bring glory to God through obedience to the lessons God would teach him through it.  The quote below is from one of his writings and is a powerful, majestically written reminder that our greatest trials can indeed be our greatest triumphs.

“There is a time coming in which your glory shall consist in the very thing which now constitutes your pain.  Nothing could be more sad to Jacob than the ground on which he was lying, a stone for his pillow.  It was the hour of his poverty.  It was the season of his night.  It was the seeming absence of his God.  The Lord was in the place and he knew it not.  Awakened from his sleep he found that the day of his trial was the dawn of his triumph.

Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity and they will say, ‘It was the cold ground on which I was lying.’  Ask Abraham; he will point to the sacrifice on Mount Moriah.  Ask Joseph; he will direct you to this dungeon.  Ask Moses; he will date his fortune from his danger in the Nile.  Ask Ruth; she will bid you build her monument in the field of her toil.  Ask David; he will tell you that his songs came in the night.  Ask Job; he will remind you that God answered him out of the whirlwind.  Ask Peter; he will extol his submersion in the sea.  Ask John; he will give the path to Patmos.  Ask Paul; he will attribute his inspiration to the light which struck him blind.

Ask one more! – the Son of God.  Ask Him whence has come His rule over the world; he will answer, ‘From the cold ground on which I was lying – the Gethsemane ground – I received my scepter there.’  Thou too, my soul, shall be garlanded by Gethsemane.  The cup thou fain wouldst pass from thee will be thy coronet in the world by and by.”

May we all see the trials we experience in life as opportunities to be taught and molded by our loving God who desires to fashion us into the likeness of His Son.