Tag Archives: Bible reading

Bible Reading Blog — April 27, 2016

27 Apr

TODAY’S READINGS — Nehemiah 11-13 & Luke 6:27-36

The words of Luke 6:27-36 are among the most often excused and glossed-over words in Scripture. We always try to find a loophole to turning the other cheek or lending freely or living enemies. I believe there are two reasons for our hedging on these verses . . . we underestimate our sinfulness and we underestimate the transforming power of the gospel.

We offer excuses for not following the way of life unfolded in Luke 6 because we are fundamentally self-centered. We want to be served, we want what we want, we believe what we have is ours to do with what we want. So when we are confronted by the words of Jesus in Luke 6, our default position is to balk at them, sometimes even dressing up our resistance with words like “discernment” or “wisdom.” And indeed, it is clear that Jesus did not heal everyone, did not give to everyone, etc. But it is a matter of approach to life. And that approach to life which is open-handed rather than close-fisted can only happen through the transforming power of the gospel. The whole basis of this life of freedom and forgiveness is the fact that we have received mercy from God and should therefore freely give mercy. But what an unusual way to live. The way of love, really, but so often seen as the way of the doormat. In a culture of rights, in a culture where authority is both abused and resisted, this is indeed a counter-cultural way of living which actually could transform not only individuals, but communities.

Bible Reading Blog — April 25, 2016

25 Apr

TODAY’S READINGS — Nehemiah 4-7 & Luke 6:12-16

Sanballat and company, whose mockery and taunting was the soundtrack for those Jews who linked arms to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:1-3), would fit in very well on the comment sections of many websites and blogs today. Angered at the Jews for rebuilding the walls, Sanballat led a group who tried to discourage the work through belittling it, questioning the skill and the wisdom of the workers. Our culture is now filled with this kind of naysaying, where every attempt is made to belittle Christians and mock what we do.

It is instructive to notice how Nehemiah responds to Sanballat here . . .

Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
Nehemiah prayed that God would take care of them because by dishonoring God’s work they had dishonored God. But having left it in God’s hands, Nehemiah and those with him got back to work.
You can’t outdebate a troll, but you can outwork them. Let them take their cheap shots and keep moving. Leave it in God’s hands and live as a disciple of Jesus. The only people who are never opposed are the one who aren’t doing or saying anything.

 

Bible Reading Blog — April 24, 2016

24 Apr

TODAY’S READINGS — Nehemiah 1-3 & Luke 6:1-11

Nehemiah is such a popular book for sermon series . . . it is about building, it is about restoring, it is about prayer, it is about leadership. Thousands of pastors have preached through this book because it seems to provide a story background for us to address all that is needed in the church today. It is a story of revival.

There is one aspect of today’s reading that struck me in a special way as I thought about it in relation to the church. Chapter 3, with its list of names and families and its description of repairing the wall, is a beautiful picture of the life of the church. Side by side, each one doing his or her part, each one given something of the task but not the whole, here we find a portrait of the kingdom in our own day. As each person serves, the body is strengthened. As each person gives of themselves to the work, something great is built. In the case of Nehemiah, it was the destroyed walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. In our case, it is a less measurable but no less real matter of lives changed from within, heart’s burdens lifted, love overflowing. Side by side, each one taking a part. What part of the wall has God assigned you? Flourish there with your brothers and sisters and watch the whole body grow so that Paul’s words in Ephesians become our daily experience . . .

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Bible Reading Blog — March 18, 2016

18 Mar

Today’s Readings — 1 Kings 5-8 & Mark 15:1-15

Never underestimate the power of stirring up a mob. This is what happened when Jesus was sent to Pilate. Barabbas was a notoriously bad character, but when the scribes saw that there was a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, they influenced the crowd to oppose Jesus and support Barabbas.

As I was reading this, my mind turned to our 2016 Presidential Election. So far in the campaign there has been a lot of this kind of activity going on. I’m not making a direct comparison of any candidate to Jesus or even to Barabbas. But what I am seeing is that candidate “A” is out there and he or she is in the public eye and candidate “B” and the supporters of candidate “B” come along and denigrate, bash and otherwise trash candidate “A” to such an extent that the general public feels it is almost criminal to vote for said candidate.

On the flip side, there is a positive spin that is focused much more on style than substance. Some candidates are basing their whole campaigns on celebrity and personality  or the historic nature of their candidacy. Policy specifics are either too vague or too filled with pandering to all the groups a candidate presumably must win to reach their goals. Many candidates this year are trading on anger, not unlike the anger in Mark 15. It is on both sides of the aisle. Voters are angry so the politicians stir up that anger for their own purposes.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were angry too. Under the domination of the Roman Empire, having experienced many humiliating defeats in the decades leading up to the time of Jesus, Judea and Galilee in Jesus’ day were ripe for revolution. So there were many incidents of violence and attempted rebellion. Angry mobs were certainly not limited to the experiences of Jesus in Mark 15. The book of Acts shows clearly this mob mentality was not limited to the things Jesus went through in His passion.

I am not saying that the presidential candidates are going to end up crucified but I am saying that the violence we have seen so far will only intensify as long as both parties and their supporters focus on being angry rather than thinking about who is best qualified to lead in ways that will be best for our country.

My word of advice is to beware of the mob mentality. When you hear people say ridiculous things about a candidate, you can count on the mob mentality being firmly in place. When candidates say outlandish things about each other, they are trying to stir up this mob mentality in others.

 

Bible Reading Blog — March 16, 2016

16 Mar

Today’s Readings — BREAK & Mark 14:66-72

On Sunday night, we have been studying the book of Hebrews in our church. Last Sunday night, we studied the warning passage in Hebrews 6:4-8. I am persuaded that this passage is talking about apostasy, forsaking belief in Jesus. I believe the passage in Hebrews points to those who have initial experience of God but turn away from it.

So what about Peter? In our passage he denies Jesus three times. Is this the same thing as what is going on in Hebrews 6? Has Peter, in his denial of Jesus, entered into the realm of Hebrews 6, to the extent that he cannot be restored to repentance?

Obviously, the fruit of what Peter did after this tragic event is proof that he ultimately did not forsake Jesus. In fear he disowned Jesus for a moment, but even his bitter tears in the immediate aftermath of this event (see v. 72) probably indicate that he was already pricked in conscience about what he had done. This was not apostasy. This was not an ultimate forsaking of Jesus. This was a sin, a real failure. But it was not a full turning away from Jesus like that of Hebrews 6. How do we know this? We know it by two means: the fruit of Peter’s life and the security of the believer because of the sovereignty of God.

 

Bible Reading Blog — March 4, 2016

4 Mar

Today’s Readings — 1 Samuel 11-14 & Mark 11:20-33

In Mark chapter 11 we read, 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Jesus cursed the fig tree, an acted parable to illustrate the faithlessness (and therefore fruitlessness) of Israel. Peter, remembering what Jesus had earlier done, is astounded. Jesus reveals the secrets of such power — faith and forgiveness. If you have faith in God, Jesus says, there is incredible power when you pray. The power is not in you or in your prayer but in God. If you are really leaning on God, Jesus says, God will meet you in that and bless you abundantly. But when praying, there is not only a vertical aspect but also a horizontal one. For Jesus says,”whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” There is a connection between a right relationship with God and a right relationship with people. Lack of forgiveness toward people is a blockage in our relationship with God. So we may have all kinds of faith but if we do not love others but hold bitterness against them, our prayers will be hindered.

Maybe powerlessness in prayer comes from failure to deal with the unforgiving spirit we harbor against others.

Loving God and loving people consistently go together in the teachings of Jesus. Spiritual power and relational harmony are interrelated.

Bible Reading Blog — March 3, 2016

3 Mar

Today’s Readings — 1 Samuel 8-10 & Mark 11:15-19

I have heard the story of Jesus cleansing the temple used as a reason to prohibit churches from having a bookstore to prohibiting youth group fundraisers. I think this is a misguided approach for a couple of reasons. First, there is the issue of motives. While it is true that fundraising and selling in church can be a sign of greed or materialism on the part of those who sell, it is equally true that the motives may be pure and right. This is the issue. Jesus criticized those selling in the temple of being thieves. There is a motivation there that may not be in all who are selling something within the church.

The other reason we don’t draw a straight line between Jesus cleansing the temple and selling things in church is perhaps even more significant . . . we should not draw an equivalence between the temple and the church building. The church building is not the house of God in the same way the temple was the house of God. Because of Jesus’ coming, we live in the New Covenant. One of the changes that arises in the New Covenant is that worship is no longer connected with a specific place, the temple in Jerusalem. Worship is now a matter of spirit and truth and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (see John 4, 1 Corinthians 6). So an emphasis on the church building having a particular significance like that of the Old Testament temple seems misplaced. Therefore, we should not take cases of selling things as automatically akin to the buyers and sellers in Mark 11.

Of course, it is true that we could still buy and sell with wrong motives, and this would be sin in God’s sight. But the reason is not because we are defiling the temple or sidetracking it from its purpose, because the church building is not a temple. Instead, we would be sinning because we are defiling temples (believers; ourselves and others) through greed or selfishness or other wrong motivations.

When we see the Old Covenant emphasis on the holiness of the temple, it should cause us to treat our bodies with greater respect, as an act of worship. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Bible Reading Blog — March 1, 2016

1 Mar

Today’s Readings — 1 Samuel 1-3 & Mark 11:1-11

Every Bible-believing person has to deal with verses like 1 Samuel 2:25, “If someone sins against man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for Him? But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.”

The sons of Eli were assisting him in the priestly work, but they were worthless men. They regarded the offerings made to the Lord with disdain, and made up their own rules. They used what should have been an offering of worship as an opportunity to bring harm to those they were serving. They dishonored God in every way. So God willed that they be put to death. To many people, this makes God out to be an angry and unloving God. But what is missing from this assessment is a high view of God’s holiness and of the accompanying reverence which should characterize our lives. Sometimes we use grace as an excuse to deal with God flippantly and to use God for our own purposes. The actions of Eli’s sons are among those Old Testament examples of what Jesus called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” the unpardonable sin. Eli’s sons were condemned to death because of their willful disobedience and hardness of heart. And this was God’s will. This should be sobering to us.  God is loving and merciful, but He is not to be trifled with. If we are in a place of treating casually our relationship with God as we indulge in sin, repentance is the only right course. The only alternative is the fearful expectation of judgment.

Bible Reading Blog — February 27, 2016

27 Feb

Today’s Readings — Judges 18-22 & Mark 10:32-34

In the book of 1 Kings we see the story of the dividing of the kingdom of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms after the death of Solomon. One of the things a careful reading of the books of law as well as Joshua and Judges shows us is that this conflict which ended with division was a long time in developing. There are hints in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges of disunity between the tribes of Israel. Whether it is concern over the tribes which settled east of the Jordan or fear of those same tribes setting up an altar to God or even the horrible war with the tribe of Benjamin at the close of the book of Judges, conflict among the tribes of Israel is never far beneath the surface. So it is no surprise when we find the kingdom divide. To be sure, it is tragic. But it is not unexpected.

I find a parallel here to our own interpersonal conflicts. Most of the time major ruptures between people don’t materialize from nothing. There is normally some long term animosity, some nurtured grievance, some latent hostility. Then, when opportunity arises or some negative event takes place, the conflict explodes. Relationships are broken, friends are gathered, enemies are named and dismissed. When you think about people who rub you the wrong way, you are probably thinking about people with whom you might have a later conflict.

What is the answer? The answer is found in Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to turn the other cheek. The answer is found in Jesus’ life of compassion, where the outcast was not ultimately rejected and the only ones Jesus opposed were the ones who drew such sharp distinctions between themselves and all those they deemed beneath them. As long as we regard others with disdain, conflict is right around the corner. Jesus shows us a better way.

Bible Reading Blog — February 25, 2016

25 Feb

Today’s Readings — Judges 6-10 & Mark 10:23-25

When Jesus said it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven His disciples were amazed.

The disciples were operating under an assumption common in the ancient world: if you are healthy or wealthy this is a sign of your faithfulness to God and God’s blessing to you. When we read the gospels and the rest of the Bible we find that this is not a good way to measure faith or the work of God. People who are going through great hardship are often people of great faith and sometimes those with little in the way of earthly wealth are blessed with a strong relationship with God.

Jesus’ words destroyed the cultural teaching the disciples had unquestioningly accepted: good outward circumstances = great faith and the blessing of God.

Most of us today do not accept this idea outwardly, but many of us do accept it inwardly. If things are not going well for me, God must be displeased with some aspect of my life. If I am not prospering in life or ministry it must be because I lack faith. In reality, all of this is false, but it is easy to believe because we tend to think that ultimately we merit our salvation and blessing in some way. Until we see that salvation is from the Lord and according to the pattern He has for us (in other words God doesn’t grow any two people in exactly the same way or through exactly the same circumstances) we will not get off the performance treadmill into the freedom of the light and easy yoke Jesus has prepared for us.

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