Become a Daily Bible Reader in 2012!

    We begin reading the Bible through again Sunday morning in 2012.  In preparing for that start, here are a few suggestions:

1 – Make one particular Bible your “reading” Bible.  It should be light to hold, easy on the eyes, and a translation you do not find difficult.  The Bible can be hard enough at times without struggling with the vagaries of a difficult translation.  The New International Version is written on an 8th grade reading level.  The New Living Translation is prepared at a 6th grade reading level.  “The Message” is prepared at a 3rd.  grade reading level.  

    Don’t be embarrassed to choose a Bible for its reading level.  Remember: the Bible was NOT written in English.  It was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  You’re already a step removed from the original when you read in translation.  Why not choose a translation that’s easy to read?  Furthermore, reading the Bible is a growth process.  Like riding a bike, making it a comfortable part of your daily life will take some practice.  Don’t be afraid of training wheels when you first begin.

2 – Select a regular time to read.  Because I’m writing on each daily reading, I’ve already begun my reading for next year and I’ve decided to listen each morning on my way to work.  I can do four chapters one way – that’s a day’s reading.  Find a time that’s good for you and stick with it.  

3 – Keep a notebook and pen handy.  This year, I am summarizing each Bible chapter in one sentence – and trying to memorize the sentence.  I probably won’t memorize them all, but I can get a few books down a year.

4 – Keep at it.  If you get behind, don’t try to “catch up.”  Begin with that day’s reading.  While the goal is to read the Bible through this year, a more important goal is to develop a life-long habit of reading the Bible each day.  Develop that habit, and you will get through the Bible.

5 – Pray either before or after each reading.  If you are not accustomed to a regular prayer life, simply pray: “Lord, please help me to understand this reading, and from it, your will for my life.”  Add a thought about one important person in your life and end the prayer.  

I hope you are hugely successful in your reading in 2012.  Don’t forget to come back here Sunday for our beginning blog.

See you then!

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, December 29. Revelation 22

    Whew!

    Are you feeling a sigh of relief?

    Two relatives told me recently: “I’m a few days behind, but I am going to make them up and complete this reading.”

    I’m confident they will.  There’s nothing like the feeling of completion – especially when that completion is accompanied by knowing you’ve read God’s word all the way through.

    Congratulations!

    I find it interesting that in these last chapters, John is so overcome with emotion that he falls down and worships at the feet of the angel who brings him the Revelation.  In fact, he does it twice, and both times, the angel rebukes him.

    It’s really our problem too isn’t it?

    We lean away from God when we begin to worship something other than God.  Sometimes, what we choose to worship is even religious – perhaps “Christian” – in nature.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, should get in our way of bringing glory, honor, and praise to God every day of our life.  In our private thoughts, in our words to others, in our demeanor, in our ethics – all should be done with the goal of bringing the Lord glory, honor, and praise.  And when we are tempted to neglect, or do otherwise, let us hear the angel of the Lord say: “Do not do it.  Worship God!”

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, December 28. Revelation 19 – 21

    Remember that the book of Revelation has sections:

Chapter 1- Introduction to the Book

Chapters 2 – 3 – Address to the seven churches

Chapters 4 – 11 – The Future of the World – First Presentation

Chapters 12 – 16 – The Future of the World – Second Presentation

Chapters 17 – 22 – The Future of the World – Third Presentation

    The three presentations made in chapters 4 – 22 are the same presentation, only each time it is made, more information is given about mankind’s future.  If you look closely, you will see the similarities between them.

    In the first presentation for example, the nations turn against God and God destroys them with “lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm” (11:18-19).  In the second presentation, the kings of the earth gather against God at a place called Armageddon, but God destroys them with “lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a severe earthquake” (16:16,18).  In the third presentation, Satan and his henchman, the Sea Beast, along with the kings of the earth and their armies gather together to make war against Jesus, the “Faithful and True.”  But the beast is captured, and with him the false prophet (land beast) and they are thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

    A wonderful day is coming; a day when the church (called the bride) will be united with Jesus.  But that day is only for those who have “made themselves ready.”  They are made “ready” by washing in the blood of the lamb (a figure of Jesus’ sacrifice) and by clothing their lives in the works of the righteous.

    It’s a complicated image, but at heart it boils down to this: nothing of this world will last but people, and they last only if they have joined with Jesus and lived as he did, and as he commanded.

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, December 27. Revelation 16 – 18

    As the second major section (chapters 4 – 11) of Revelation comes to a close, God’s final judgment comes upon the wicked of mankind who are described as a “city.”  In the third major section, the same story is told but this time, God prefigures the final judgment in Romans 14 – once again referring to “the city.”  In chapter 16, just as He did in Revelation 9, God sends trouble on the earth to cause people to take their eyes off themselves and the worldly culture they prize so highly, and look to God.  And once again, God fails (Revelation 16:11).

    And so, as chapter 16 comes to an end, the world – in the figure once again of a city, Babylon, is destroyed.

    As chapter 17 opens, we are plainly told that the sea beast represents the city of Rome, the enemy of God’s people also called Babylon and we will see more detail concerning the end of time.  But the main thing to note is this: There is no earthly competition for the minds and hearts of men that will win against God.  No empire or culture can stand.  God intends them all to fail.  They are competitors without a chance.

    What competes with God for your mind, heart, and time?  As you consider which side you’ll be on, it’s important to note which is the assured side of the “winners,” and to choose wisely.

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, December 26. Revelation 13 – 15

    As the third major section of Revelation opens in Revelation 12, we are shown the real enemy of God and His people: Satan, represented by a dragon.  He is the cause of all the misery on the earth.

    Satan, however, does not always do his dirty work himself.  He has henchmen, and they are introduced to us in chapter thirteen: the beast of the sea and the beast of the land.  The sea beast resembles the dragon in that they both have seven heads and ten horns.  Both the sea and land beasts get their authority from the dragon and work in his behalf, and they are a motley crew if ever there was one.  In contrast to the descriptions of the lamb of God, the sea beast is a hodgepodge of different animals, looking rather cobbled together by committee and wounded at that.  The sea beast is an earthly manifestation of the devil, revealed later to be the devil dominated  culture of the world which, at the time, was Rome.  The land beast works to get all humans to worship and respect that culture and he is supremely evil, signified by the name 666.  The number 6 was considered in the ancient world to represent evil.  “3″ represented deity, thus 666 represented supreme evil.

    Here is something to be remembered: There is no worldly culture worth preserving.  The only culture of value is that which pursues holiness, and you can’t do that and fit in with the world.  Anyone who tries will fail, and anyone who chooses holiness will find himself outcast and restricted by the world.

    But not for long.

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, December 25. Revelation 9 – 12

    Seven seals give way to seven trumpets, each of which signals for calamity to come on the earth.  A third of the earth is destroyed, a third of the sea, a third of fresh water and a third of the stars are destroyed.

    You’d think that would be enough, but no.

    When the fifth angel sounds his trumpet, deliberate, pointed and planned judgment against the rebellious is effected by emissaries from hell – the abyss.  Too often we think of heaven as God’s dominion and hell as the devil’s, but that’s not true.  Hell is God’s dominion too, and those released from it are bound to do God’s bidding.  The creatures from the abyss are horrible to behold, and painfully powerful.  The whole process of their work has but one goal: to get people to take their eyes off this world, look to God, and change their ways (9:20ff).

    But most of them do not.

    That God uses physical pain to move people to turn to him is a biblical fact.  It is but a foretaste, a warning if you will, of the unbearable pain of recalcitrant behavior.

    I see two lessons here: First, to be reminded that no matter what befalls you in life, it’s nothing really to what can befall you in death.  “Couldn’t get much worse, right?”  Wrong.  It can get worse.  Which brings me to the second lesson: When things are going your way, that may not be a good thing.  It does not necessarily signal God’s approval, but only that you have moved so far from Him he can see no way to bring you back.  And third, when things go bad, it’s not necessarily a bad thing: God may be signaling you to come home.  The fact that you can feel the discomfort means you still hear His call.

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, December 24. Revelation 5 – 8

    Ancient papyrus was normally made by glueing horizontal strips of papyrus to vertical strips.  The horizontal side was the writing side.  The reverse was difficult to write on, but it could be done if the message were particularly long or important or urgent.  The scroll in the hand of God contains a message that is all three.

    The importance of the message is signified by the fact that it is sealed not with one or two seals, but with seven.  Who has the right to reveal such an important message?  To the victor belongs the spoils and all rights of the victorious, and the lamb, the lion of the tribe of Judah – Jesus – is the victor.  He controls the message of the scroll.  He controls the future.

    Jesus did not, however, become the victor by trampling on innocent people – like the figures of the four horses in chapter 6.  He became victorious in a much more noble way: by purchasing people for God with the payment of his own blood.  Jesus does not force people into servitude.  He dies for them.

    Christ’s death has the power to turn believers into kings and priests, and the benefits of his death are not confined to any race, nation or culture, but available to us all.

    One final note: Jesus is not a “servant” or an “adjunct” to God.  He is God.  He stands in the center of the throne, where God is, and is worshiped along with the Father (5:13) by the same heavenly host, in virtually the same words (compare 4:11 and 5:12).

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, December 23. Revelation 2-4

    Does God care about us? 

    Does He know what we are going through? 

    Is He watching us?

    What does He think?

    These are all questions the first readers of Revelation would have been asking.  They are the same questions the readers of Zechariah were asking five hundred years before.  Interestingly, God chose to answer the questions in both cases in much the same way.

    The Revelation was a message given by God to the apostle John – the last surviving apostle at the end of the first century era.  John wrote it down as instructed, and sent it to seven Christian congregations in Asia Minor.

    Revelation is not just a letter.  It is art.  It contains a message conveyed by a panorama of images designed to grab the imagination and underscore the power and grandeur of God. Jesus, the author of the message appears as a man dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet with a golden sash around his chest.  His head and hair are white like snow, and his eyes like blazing fire.  His feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was sounds like a mighty rushing stream.  In his right hand he holds stars and out of his mouth proceeds a sword.  His face shone like the sun.

    Wow!

    And that’s the purpose of the signs: to get your attention.

    Revelation has four parts:

1)    The first part (chapters 1-3) is the direct address to the seven churches of Asia.  To each, Jesus declares that He does know what is going on.  He knows their situation, their troubles and their weaknesses.  In this, the most important part of the book, he gives direction for living so that, when the end comes – and the book emphasizes an end is coming – they will be ready.

2)    The second part (chapters 4-11) underscores why living according to the direction of Jesus is important.  It opens with a magnificent scene in heaven.  Jesus is the exalted “lamb of God” (chapters 4-5). He knows his people are at odds with the world, and oppressed by it (chapter 6), but he is not going to bring their troubles to an end yet.  He takes special pains to protect his people (chapter 7) before he brings trouble on the earth to try and get humanity to change their ways and turn to him (chapters 8-9 – note especially 9:20-21).  Ultimately, however, even God’s patience will grow thin, and the Lord will bring all things to an end. The world will always trample on the people of God until the Lord brings the earth to a final and cataclysmic end (chapters 10-11).

3)    The third part functions very much as the second part, though giving a few more details. It opens with a magnificent scene in heaven (chapter 12).  Jesus knows his people are at odds with the world, and oppressed by it (chapters 12-13), but he is not going to bring their troubles to an end yet.  He takes special pains to protect his people (chapter 14) before he brings trouble on the earth to try and get people to change their ways and turn to him (chapters 14-16 – note especially 16:10-11).  Ultimately, however, even God’s patience grows thin, and the Lord will bring all things to an end. The world will always trample on the people of God until the Lord brings the earth to a final and cataclysmic end (chapter 16).

4)    The fourth part gives us a close up view of the coming end.  The troubles of mankind are caused by a world run by Satan (chapters 17-18) – whose end, and whose minions’ end, is assured and described by God (chapters 19-20).  The section closes with a description of the final home of the faithful, and the assurance of God that the message given is faithful and true (chapters 21-22).

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, December 22. 3 John, Jude, Revelation1

    The first century Church was not immune to congregational difficulties.  For the most part, church leaderships countered division with a call to peace.

    There were, of course, those occasions when expulsion of a member (we’d probably call it “shunning”) was practiced.  Sometimes, it involved a persistent moral failing of a member who refused to change his life (1 Corinthians 5).  At other times, it involved members who misunderstood scripture and whose lifestyle brought shame on the whole congregation (2 Thessalonians 3).  And at times, it involved church members who were, for whatever reason, just looking for power (Romans 16:17ff).

    In an unnamed first century congregation, there was just such a power struggle.  A Christian named Diotrephes had, over time, become a respected church leader.  He had become so powerful that he successfully forbade his church to listen to the apostle John (we are not given the reason).  Anyone who did so, Diotrephes “put out of the church.”  Gaius, another Christian in the same congregation, was at a loss as to what to do.  Everyone respected Diotrephes.  Gaius did as well.  But Gaius also respected John.  Gaius had no power and no influence.  He wasn’t taking sides, he just didn’t know how to respond.

    In his letter, Third John, John could have written to him: “You need to take my side.  After all, I am an Apostle.” But he didn’t.  That would have just exacerbated the division.  Instead, John encouraged him to continue to live in the Christ-like manner he’d been following, and if he had any questions at all, to refer them to another member, Demetrius, who was well spoken of  “by everyone.”

    Jesus said: “You know that  the  rulers of  the Gentiles  lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–  just as  the  Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).  Later Paul wrote: “We  who are strong  ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those  who  insult you have fallen on me” (Romans 15:1-2).

    There are those times when harsh discipline must be meted out in any family, and the family of God is no exception.  But when that happens, we must be sure we’ve done all we can to follow these words first.

    In difficult times, we all look for someone with a level head whose walk is closer to Christ’s and further from the world’s.  Demetrius had such a walk.  Someone may be looking for just such an example in you.  How’s your walk going?

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, December 21. 1 John 4 – 2 John

The word “antichrist”only occurs in the first two letters of John in the Bible and whoever they were, they were a part of the Christian fellowship being addressed.

    Popular religious preachers and authors commonly describe “the antichrist” as some world leader, a messenger empowered by Satan, who has yet to arise to lead the world against Christians and deceive Christians into leaving the fold.  Customarily, the “antichrist” is paired with the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians.  But in describing the antichrist, authors and teachers would do well to confine themselves to the texts where the specific identification is made.  An antichrist is anyone who undermines our submission to the authority of Jesus.  It can be a nonchristian, but it is likely also to be a Christian.

    Second, this attempt to identify the “antichrist” as some well placed political figure, and the attempt to see him in our own history, leads Christians away from focusing on their own behavior, submitting to the will of Jesus.  In doing that, they (and we) ignore the primary message of First John – how we behave determines whether Christians are really disciples, or just hypocrites.

    Third, John ties “belief” to behavior.  “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” he writes.  We get side-tracked here into the discussion of whether “belief” is enough to be a Christian, or whether one must be baptized.  But that is a mistake of huge proportions.  John doesn’t write simply that the one who believes is “born of God,” but rather, that the one who believes and is born of God loves those others who are likewise born of God and keeps God’s commands (note 1 John 4:19 – 5:2).  John is not discussing how one becomes a Christian, or how one is saved, but how the saved person acts toward other saved people.  After all, John is not writing to the unsaved, but to Christians.