Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading The Bible

The following is an edited version of a letter I sent to a group of men I meet with on a weekly basis. In addition to my thoughts below, this link to a piece by Justin Taylor is quite helpful

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of year again, we’re running out of days in one year and preparing to begin a new year with blank calendar pages – or at the very least with the promise of the unknown invading our lives from time to time. Many of us are saying, “Where did the year go?” Likely most of us don’t take time to answer the question.  The more time-saving devices we have the less time we have – can someone please explain that?
This morning I was reminded of the words of Jesus to our Father, “For their sakes I sanctity Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth,” (John 17:19). The word “sanctify” has a double meaning – to be set apart and to be holy. The person who is holy is set apart to the Lord, and the person who is truly set apart to the Lord is holy. The primary designation for followers of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is “saints”, which could also be translated “holy ones”. Christians are to be set apart to Jesus Christ and in being set apart (dedicated) to Jesus Christ they are to be holy. This designation appears around sixty times in the New Testament.
Jesus also says to the Father, “Sanctity them in the truth, Your word is truth,” (John 17:17).  In Ephesians 5:25 – 27 Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” We are sanctified by the Word, we are cleansed by the Word, we are set apart by the Word; but just as our flesh needs to have actual contact with water to cleanse our bodies, so our hearts and minds and souls and spirits require actual contact with the Word of God for us to experience cleansing, holiness, and maturity in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” Hebrews 4:12.
In a world spiraling downward and out-of-control, descending into darkness, our generation desperately needs a church washed and cleansed and made holy by the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus set Himself apart for our sakes, will we set ourselves apart for the sake of others?
We can only follow Jesus as we obey His word, and we can only obey His word in maturity as we know His word. Jesus says, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him,” John 14:21. How can we keep His commandments if we don’t know them? How can His word wash us if we don’t have contact with it? How can we be blessings to others if we are not set apart, dedicated, to our Lord Jesus?
I have attached the New Testament reading schedule that I sent out for 2015 in the hope that some of us will continue to read the New Testament on a daily basis.
There are many other fine schedules of Bible reading available on the Internet, including those which will guide you through the entire Bible in one year, two years, and three years. I do think that it is important to read the New Testament through each year for it contains the life and words of our Lord Jesus, the history of the early church, and the teachings of the Apostles and their associates.
I thought about also providing a schedule of Old Testament readings but decided instead to make a couple of suggestions.
1.    Read one Psalm a day. When you come to Psalm 119 split it up, or if you come to another Psalm that is quite long split it up. When you’ve traveled through Psalms pick up Proverbs (some folks read a chapter of Proverbs every day throughout the year – it’s filled with practical wisdom for daily living).
2.    Select a section of the Old Testament and read through that during the year. Or read in one section during the first quarter, another in the second quarter, etc. This way you will have read in various sections of the Old Testament by year-end. An example: in the first quarter you might read Isaiah and Jeremiah (Major Prophets); in the second quarter 1 & 2 Samuel (history); in the third quarter Exodus and Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch); in the fourth quarter Job and Song of Solomon (wisdom and poetry). Don’t be in a rush, get to know the landscape.
I have one suggestion that I’d like you to please consider: select a New Testament book and really get to know it during the year. Read it, read it again, read it again in different translations, ponder it, use it as a prayer guide, let it soak into your soul. If you select a short book like Colossians you may find that within a few months you’re ready to move on to a new book, maybe another short book like Philippians, if that is the case then great, but continue to revisit Colossians. Make the NT book your home for a year, let it become your friend, allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you throughout the year through the NT book you select.
The LORD said through Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” (Hosea 4:6a). The prophet Amos (8:11) wrote this, “Behold, days are coming declares the LORD God, when I will send a famine on the land, nor a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD.”
In these tumultuous times anything that diverts our attention from the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word is a distraction, we can live life caught up in the headlines of the day or we can live life rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ and His Word – if we choose to navigate by the weathervane of current events we will have no certain center of gravity and be of little use to anyone; if we fix our eyes on Jesus and live in His Word then we have a sure anchor of the soul and can live lives of sacrificial service to others. Jesus teaches that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospels, the same will save it. We can show others a better way, the Way of Jesus.

Much, much love - Bob

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Yet Another Non-Christian Email Sent By A Christian

Below is a response I wrote to a Christian who sent me yet another email about Muslims. This man and I are supposed to meet and discuss the issue of how we should respond to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and what our posture toward Muslims should be. I suggested we meet rather than attempt to share our thoughts via email, however, his recent email elicited my response below - I felt I needed to say something. 

Jesus was not mentioned in the email he sent. That is true for every email someone sends me attacking Muslims, or Americans who they don't agree with politically. If Jesus isn't our center of gravity then what is the point for the Christian? This poison has infiltrated the professing church to the place where many Christians are not known for following Jesus but rather for following political agendas. We have lost our heavenly identity and by doing so have become no earthly good - that is, we cannot bring the perspective of our Lord Jesus Christ to the conversation because we no longer know the Scriptures or the Spirit of our Lord, we are like James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven on those with whom we disagree. Jesus told them that they didn't know of what spirit they were - such is the sad case of a significant element of the professing church in the US.

I face this temptation regularly, and I must choose Jesus, I must put Him first and last - Jesus and only Jesus. 

Dear Friend,

I read what you sent, but I don't see anything about Jesus, about sharing the Gospel, about loving our enemies, about dying for Jesus Christ. This is our calling. And as for the reference to Armageddon, well...perhaps we had better think about how we should live in the midst of a chaotic world, amidst persecution - we are called to lay our lives down (Romans 8:36 and many other places). 

Anything that distracts us from living in Jesus Christ, anything that distracts us from sharing the Gospel, that is what we ought to fear...and right now many professing Christians are not fearing the Lord, they are playing into man-made fears. 

You see, evil is evil, in whatever form it takes - and we have enough evil here without importing it...but as long as the domestic evil doesn't bother us we tend to look the other way.

And then if our God is sovereign, then perhaps we should pay attention to what He is doing - the prophets make it clear that our Lord rules over the affairs of men and that He uses nations to judge nations - we have seen this in the book of Judges [note to blog reader, our men's group is studying Judges], but it appears even more strongly in the prophets. Jeremiah was thrown in prison and then in a well when he pointed out to the king of Judah that God was judging the nation for its sins - since to whom much is given much is required perhaps we should pause and consider our national sins and the great light of the Gospel that we have rejected.

But my main point in all of this is that I don't see Jesus. We are Christians before we are anything and our call is not to kill for Jesus but to die for Jesus and others, and that includes our enemies.

The Early Church brought their enemies to Christ. There is not one instance that I'm aware of when the Early Church retaliated against its enemies. There is not one passage in the New Testament that counsels that we retaliate against our enemies (I'm not talking about the state, I'm talking about the church).

Why is it that professing believers in the United States think they deserve a free pass when it comes to persecution? We have brothers and sisters throughout the world suffering for the Gospel, but as long as it stays across the oceans we tend not to be concerned.

It is about Jesus, always about Jesus. If our lives are filled with fear and hate and vitriol we will not be prepared when we are faced with major decisions for we will have become conditioned not to love, not to lay our lives down, but to preserve ourselves and our things. 

The conversation should not be about Islam, that is a distraction, it should be about Jesus and sharing Him with all peoples - that is the Great Commission, that is our mandate. How can we demonstrate the love of God to Muslims and all others - Jesus died for them, will we?

Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20...and other passages). 

If I say that I will die for Jesus, then I must also say that as Christian I will not kill for Jesus.

Much love...looking forward to our conversation,

Sunday, December 13, 2015

No More Fear

My friend Bill wrote the following and sent it to me. This is the Bill who occasionally gives me excerpts from his prayer journal to post. As I read this the irony struck me that he found eternal life on the grounds of a funeral home - in a place of death he found life. Isn't that the Gospel? The women went to the tomb on Easter morning expecting to find death but they found life. 

No More Fear of Dying

Growing up, I was taught about Heaven and Hell so I knew that good people went to Heaven and bad people went to Hell.  I believed that I was a bad person and was going to Hell.  What I didn’t know, as Paul Harvey would say, was “the rest of the story.”  I hope and pray that the following will help others know that God is a loving and caring Father.

For 38 years of my life I did not like myself because I believed that God did not love me since I was a sinner.  Many times I would ask God to forgive me and then would go right back and commit the sins all over again.  There were times when I should have gone to jail for the things I did.  When I got away with them, I would tell myself that I was lucky.  What I did not realized at the time was that “luck” had nothing to do with it.  It would be much later in my life’s journey before I would realize this.

During our Thursday night Bible study recently, we were asked to read Hebrews 2:14-15 which says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” [NIV]

When I read these verses, it all came back to me:  the memory of being consumed with the fear of death.  I was that person they were talking about in these two verses.

I remembered back to the day and time when my life would change forever and the fear of death was gone.

My wife had died and I had two small children.  I was so overwhelmed by everything and I had no one to turn to for help.  I was sitting in my office crying and begging God to help me when I remembered something:  I had gone to a Needle’s Eye luncheon and heard someone talking about accepting Jesus as his Savior and how it changed his life.  At the time, I thought to myself, “Whatever!  Another feel-good story.”  I was given something with a prayer inside showing me what to say if I wanted Jesus in my life.  When I got back to my office, I put it in my desk drawer and went on with my life.

On this day, however, I opened that drawer and there was the pamphlet with that prayer in it.  I thought to myself, “Well, I have tried everything else.  Why not this prayer?”  I went over to the grounds of the funeral home that was next to my office and sat down under a tree and recited the prayer, asking Jesus to be my Savior.  I was crying. At that moment Jesus became my Savior.

For the first time in my life, I had “HOPE”!  My sins were forgiven and I knew He loved me.  For many years I had bought and paid for friends and now I realized that I always had had a friend in Jesus and it did not cost me anything.

All those times when I got away with doing something wrong (sin) and told myself that I was lucky – I realized that luck had nothing to do with it.  God was there and He had a plan for my life and He was just waiting for me to open that door so my Savior could take control of my life.  Once I accepted Jesus as my Savior, did all my problems go away?  NO!!!  But, He was there to help me through them.  Did I stop sinning?  NO!!  But for the first time in my life, I knew with His help and by letting Him have control, sin no longer controlled me.  I knew that God would forgive me and love me no matter what.  Jesus paid the price for my sins and that day, on the lawn of the funeral home, the Holy Spirit entered into my heart.

When I looked in the mirror before I met Jesus, I hated the person looking back at me.  When I look in the mirror now, I like that person looking back at me because I know God loves me. 

My life is no longer a slave to death.  When I asked Jesus to be my Savior, the chains of slavery to death were gone and I knew that I was a child of a loving and forgiving God.

Thank You, Jesus, for all of the pain and suffering that You went through in order that I would have eternal life with You and my heavenly Father.

Now you know “the rest of the story.”