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Suggestions on How to Read the Bible

December 29, 2016 Leave a comment

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I started my journey with God’s Word way back in August of 1973. While I’d had some sort of conversion experience over three years earlier, I didn’t really grow. In fact, one would be very hard pressed to identify me as a true believer during that season of my life.

But the Lord patiently and lovingly pursued me, a reluctant young man who really wanted to be a true Christian. But there was no power in me to pull it off, and I knew it—in that condition I finally surrendered to Jesus. The result: I was baptized with the Holy Spirit, and things began changing in my life. Radically changing.

One evening my friend Stan and I were hanging out, and he said, “Hey, how about if we read the Bible?” “Sounds good to me,” I said. He suggested, “Let’s read Galatians!” I said “Fine. What’s a Galatian?” Obviously, I was virtually ignorant of the Bible … but that night I had a new start. It didn’t take long for me to develop the habit of daily Bible reading, a habit that really got me going in my growth as a Christian.

So I began reading the Bible all the way through, from cover to cover, year after year. It never gets old. Oh, I’ve been through plenty of dry times in my Bible reading, I think that’s somewhat normal. I had to learn to approach Bible reading in new ways, from different angles. Keep it fresh.

I remember one year in my pastorate in Monterey, CA. It had been my custom to encourage the fellowship to accept the challenge of reading through the entire Bible that year. A gentleman who was in the church (a very respected believer with a fruitful ministry) came up to me after that morning’s service and admitted that before that year, he’d never read through the entire Bible. But now he excitedly told me that he’d done it that very year, as a result of my challenge. I’ll never forget his words to me: “Bill, I cannot even begin to tell you the changes that God has worked in my life this past year, and I owe it all to the reading of God’s Word!” Those words were music to my ears, like Handel’s Messiah to my soul.

So here are some things I’ve learned about reading the Bible. Perhaps this may be helpful to some of you.

1.       I’ve learned that reading the Bible is a relational encounter with God.

Through the Bible, God speaks to us. Therefore, I read as a listener, as a learner, as God’s child. I desire connection with God as I read, and God desires the same connection (infinitely more I do).

2.       I’ve learned that the Bible reveals Jesus, and Jesus illuminates the Bible.

The message of Jesus is told throughout the Bible, Genesis – Revelation. And Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, shines His light on the Bible to my heart. I cannot truly get what God wants to give me through His Word without Jesus.

3.       I’ve discovered the blessing of reading the Bible out loud.

Reading the Bible out loud slows everything down for me. It helps me focus. When the words are in my head only, my mind can more easily wander. When they come out of my mouth, it’s easier to stay on track. I see the words (the eye gate), and I hear the words (the ear gate).

Not only that, but if I’m reading aloud, I’m closer to being in a conversational mode with the Lord. It’s easy to pause, and just talk to the Lord about what I’m reading. Confession happens, there can be a faith commitment to a promise He’s made, or I might pray for strength to obey something I’ve been commanded.

Frequently, I’ll address Jesus directly as I’m reading the gospels. Instead of reading “Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee,” I’ll read “Some time after this, You crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee.” It personalizes the narrative, and brings me into fellowship with Jesus.

4.       I’ve used a Bible reading plan to help me with discipline.

There are many great plans out there, but I’m the kind of guy that likes to order the same thing at a restaurant! So if it works for me, I typically stay with it.

Having said that, I prefer a plan that has me in the gospels every day, and that is designed for a 25 day per month reading schedule. I want to be in the gospels every day because it’s all about Jesus, and I want to know Him better. And the 25 day plans allow me some catch up days, as well as the ability to linger on a passage and not read as many chapters on that specific day.

The good folks at The Navigators (www.navigators.org) have great plans, which are the ones I’ve used. But like I said, there are many great plans out there, usually available for free by download.

I print out the plan I’ve chosen, and then fold it up and keep it in my Bible. Then when I’m done for the year, I either start all over with the same plan I used, or with a new one that looks like a winner.

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5.       I like to read the Bible from one translation every year.

I do this primarily for the purpose of Bible memorization and familiarity. I find that by reading in in the same version I study from I am committing more Bible to memory than I even realize. That’s how it works for me, anyway.

One other note on this suggestion: it’s usually a good idea to read the Bible with the same translation used in your church … especially if your church is a Bible teaching church that teaches through the books of the Bible. Again, this is very helpful for Bible memorization and familiarity.

So please let me encourage you to try it out! Accept the challenge, and read through the Bible this year! It’s not hard, really … if one averages 85 verses a day, he/she will have read through the entire Bible in one year.

Some will protest by saying they don’t read well enough. My response: I’ve met plenty of believers over the years that have actually greatly improved their reading skills by reading the Bible! Also, there are many audio Bibles available online or via smartphone apps. By reading along with the audio Bible, you’re reading God’s Word!

At the end of 2017 (or even during the year) please write me and let me know how it went. Your testimony will be powerful, and encouraging to others to read!

 

 

Personal Website Update!

April 30, 2016 1 comment

In the WordWell, I decided to update my personal website (http://billholdridge.com), after eight years with the old one.

I think it’s a great upgrade and turned out very well. At least, that’s my opinion. very good smiley

If you’d like, please take a look, and let me know what you think. Just leave a comment … I’ll appreciate it!

The purpose of the website is to provide materials that can strengthen and equip the body of Christ, by the way. Hope it does that!

Again, here’s the URL: http://billholdridge.com

Thanks!

Such Great Faith (the key to having great faith)

February 20, 2016 1 comment

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“Such Great Faith” (Luke 7:1-10)

Prayer: “We thank you, Lord, for Your Word and its eternal value. Every word of this Bible is breathed out by You and everything that is contained in it is exactly what You meant to say, exactly as it’s stated. So we pray that the ministry of the Holy Spirit might be real to our hearts and minds as we study this great incident from the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Compassion has been defined as “your pain in my heart.”

I love that definition! And in this chapter, Luke chapter 7, Jesus is confronted with much misery and He is compassionate in every case (reference from Pastor and Author Warren Wiersbe). There is the misery of the dying servant, the misery of a grieving widow who has lost her son; there were the difficulties of a perplexed prophet, and at the end of the chapter, the grief of a repentant sinner … imagine this, as she worshiped Jesus she had to face the scorn of the religious leaders. And Jesus helped all of them. He was (and is) a compassionate Savior.

Now the incident before us this morning occurred in the city of Capernaum. It’s important to remember that, and the fact that Jesus had been there before. In fact, Jesus had previously talked about the things He would do in this city of Capernaum, as He was being rejected by the people of Nazareth, which was His hometown, the place where He was raised.

He said to those people in Nazareth “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your own country.’” And then Jesus warned those people as He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:23-24)

What we’re going to focus this morning on is the first incident recorded in Luke 7. It’s a situation where Jesus marveled. There are only two times in the gospels are we told that Jesus marveled:

The first is recorded in Mark chapter 6, where He marveled at the unbelief of the people in His hometown of Nazareth. It was said that He could not do any mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Their unbelief hindered His ability to do anything much for them.

Two, Jesus marveled about a man who exercised such amazing faith that He would say, Jesus would say “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Luke 7:9). He was amazed by the faith of this centurion.

So our focus this morning will be upon the great faith of this man; why it was great, and what we can learn from it in relationship to our own lives.

  • The narrative reads like this from Luke 7:1-10:

Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. {2}  And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. {3}  So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. {4}  And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, {5}  “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” {6}  Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.  {7}  Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  {8}  For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” {9}  When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” {10}  And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.

Here we are told that Jesus, after He had finished teaching the things He’d taught in chapter 6 (the “sermon on the plain”), now enters Capernaum. He’s coming back into the city … the name of the city is Kfar Nahum, “Nahum’s village.” It was a fishing village on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, a place where Jesus often found Himself.

And it tells us in verse two that this centurion who is introduced to us, had a servant who was dear to him. This servant was sick, ready to die. So when this centurion heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Jesus, pleading with Jesus to come and heal his servant.

This certain centurion is mentioned here. He was a military servant of the powerful Roman Empire, and was there to keep the peace. They called this peace of Rome the Pax Romana (Latin for the peace of Rome). This period of peace lasted just a little longer than 200 years (approximately 206 years—27 BC to 180 AD, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). The military strength of Rome was so formidable that they had been successful in conquering all of their enemies, the result being that there was peace and stability within the empire. During this time of peace they were able to build roads, able to further the Greek language as the lingua franca (the common language) of the people, and were able to govern each and every province. A relative peace existed under Roman rule.

This centurion was in Capernaum for that reason, to assist Rome in keeping the peace. Questions we have about this centurion: Had he ever experienced combat? Had he been part of other’s deaths? The scripture doesn’t tell us, nothing is said about that.

But what we do know is that he had a servant, which was very common in that day, to own slaves. Perhaps as many as 15% of the entire population of the Roman Empire was made up of slaves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome). But his servant was not merely an object to this centurion, the centurion cared about him. He was dear to him—valued by him, precious to him. This tells us that this centurion had a heart.

I had the privilege of pastoring for 27 years in Monterey … near the Defense Language Institute, near the Naval Postgraduate School, and near the former Fort Ord. Some of the greatest men I’ve ever met were in the military; Colonels, Generals, Captains, Commanders, Master Sergeants, and enlisted. I have great respect for them. This centurion was in their class. He was like them in many ways.

As a side note, a subject that has become interesting to me, is that in the original Greek text of this passage, Luke refers to this servant by the term doulos. You’ll recognize that term as it’s translated in the epistles by the word bondservant. But in v. 7, as the centurion refers to his servant, he refers to him as his pais (a Greek word a boy or a girl; a child or children, or a slave or servant; it’s used 24x in the New Testament).

For some reason, Jay Michaelson, in an article published by the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-michaelson/when-jesus-healed-a-same-sex-partner_b_1743947.html), states that pais does not mean “servant” here in this passage but rather it means homosexual lover. And so the argument is made by Michaelson that this servant was the centurion’s younger homosexual lover. It should be noted that his viewpoint comes without any supporting documentation from ancient Greek sources, and without regard to each and every time pais is used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and in the New Testament (see http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/2012/08/did-jesus-heal-centurions-same-sex.html).

But just for discussion’s sake: (and I completely disagree with Michaelson’s conclusions) what if pais did mean homosexual lover? Would Jesus have healed the servant? There is no reason to think He would not have, because His mission was to heal the sick and the brokenhearted. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He came, not to destroy men’s lives but to save them. We have to remember that many, many people were healed in the days of Jesus’ ministry. Not all of them received eternal life, but each and every one of them received something of the goodness of God. Some theologians call this goodness of God to pre-believers or unbelievers prevenient grace (aka “common grace”). It’s the grace of God which precedes and is part of the Lord drawing people to Himself, whether or not they eventually believe and make a commitment to Christ. The Lord healed many people who came to Him, because His mission was to seek out lost people and reach them. The healings were indications of God’s love, and evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah … giving the people a choice to believe.

I write all that to write this: that our calling as believers is not to decide people’s worthiness or unworthiness to receive benefit and blessing from Jesus. Our calling is to love them. Our calling is to minister the good news, to be loving and gracious disciples. We are free to do that, because of Jesus in our lives and because of the gospel.

Going on, this servant of the centurion was near death due to some sort of illness. Notice that the centurion “sent” elders of the Jews to Jesus. This could have been a command to these elders, so that what they would do would be out of sheer obedience … after all, he was a man of great authority in that region. But instead we get the distinct impression that there was more to the relationship between the Jews and this soldier. In fact, it appears that they wanted to plead with Jesus on behalf of the centurion and his servant.

It tells us in verse 4 that when they came to Jesus they begged Jesus. They begged Him earnestly, and they even said that the one for whom He should do this was deserving. “For he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”

It was sincere. They begged Him earnestly. They thought very highly of this centurion, because he did love their “nation” (their ethnos, their people, their nation). They meant the term ethos in the sense of people, not nation, because that would have been unlawful under Roman rule. To say it again, this centurion loved the Jewish people.

And, he’d also built them a synagogue. If one travels to Israel today, they can visit the ruins of the city of Capernaum. Among those ruins is a synagogue … dated at about the 4th century. That means that the present ruins are not of the same synagogue that had been built in Jesus’ day. However, archeologists have discovered that under the present ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum is the foundation of a 1st century synagogue … likely the very synagogue built by this centurion.

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Ruins of the ancient great Jewish synagogue at Capernaum or Kfar Nahum at the shore of Galilee lake northern Israel

 Notice that the Jewish elders told Jesus that the centurion was “worthy” — they said this because they operated under a system of works. In that system, in their minds, one deserved blessings, they earned them. A person’s deeds merited their blessings in their thinking. That was the way they thought … and their whole religious system was geared that way. 

This is contrary to the doctrine of the New Testament, by the way. This is what God’s word says about that approach.

Romans 4:4-5 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…

See if I work for my blessing, then when blessing comes it’s really not a blessing—it’s really a wage that is paid for my works. But God is no man’s debtor … He doesn’t pay wages to people for their good works.

The one who doesn’t work for right standing before God and for blessing, and doesn’t believe that they can earn it or deserve it, but simply believes on the message of the gospel that came to us through Jesus Christ, that person’s faith is accounted for righteousness, and God is able to give salvation as His gift. Because it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, notof works, lest anyone should boast.

So we see that the plea of the Jews stirred up the compassion within the heart of Jesus. The pain of the centurion and his servant went right into the heart of our Lord. Therefore, as it says in verse 6, Jesus went with them. It tells us that when He was not very far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him with his request: “Don’t bother Yourself to come. I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. And I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to You and to greet You face to face. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. So Jesus went with the elders and was near to the centurion’s house … the centurion sent some of his friends to Jesus, men who would represent his heart. And the centurion, through them, says that he is not worthy.

The centurion’s heart was to tell Jesus that he didn’t consider himself worthy. It’s vital that we notice the huge difference between the Jewish elders’ view of the man and his own view of himself. Their view of the centurion: he is worthy for Jesus to do this for him, because of the things he has done for us. But the man himself, the centurion, said “I am not worthy, that You should come under my roof, and I’m not worthy even to have come to You.” The centurion, Pastor David Guzik writes, was a remarkable man.

“The centurion was a remarkable man. The elders said he was worthy; he said he was not worthy. They praised him for building a house of worship; he felt unworthy that Jesus would come to his house. They said he was deserving; he felt himself undeserving. Strong faith and great humility are entirely compatible.” (Pastor David Guzik)

This was the one about whom Jesus said, “I’ve not seen faith like this, not even in Israel.”

Pastor Warren Wiersbe adds another comment. He said, Imagine a Roman officer telling a poor Jewish rabbi that he was unworthy to have Him enter his house! The Romans were not known for displaying humility, especially before their Jewish subjects.”

Yet this Roman centurion has this attitude of humility before this Jewish teacher, this itinerant preacher from the nondescript town of Nazareth.

The request was, just “say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Now something we’ve passed over so far at this point in the story—was that this centurion had “heard about Jesus.” The things that Jesus had previously said and done in Capernaum (and possibly elsewhere) were known by him (Luke 4:31-43 records these things): things like teaching with the kind of authority no other Jewish religious leader had ever displayed. Perhaps he’d even heard excerpts of Jesus’ messages from the mouths of others. He had heard that Jesus was commanding unclean spirits to come out of people and they immediately obeyed. He had no doubt heard about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and then later that same evening healing everyone who came to Him of any kind of disease. Demons had come out of many, and as they were driven out, they were crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

Something like 1,500 people lived at Capernaum at the time, and since news travels very quickly in a small community, these things came into the ears of the centurion. And the things that Jesus had said and done had been heard by him … and all of that led this man to come to certain conclusions about the Lord Jesus.

His understanding of who Jesus was and is was based upon the things that he had heard that Jesus had been doing and saying. And so he drew conclusions about Jesus. If He can do this, then He must be like ______. If He has this kind of power and authority, then He must be this kind of an individual. And that is how he thought it through. So we see in verse 8, For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

And this is the statement that captured Jesus’ heart, and caused Him to be amazed. He marveled at this man’s faith. (23:15)

Notice that the centurion’s statement begins with the phrase “For I also am a man placed under authority…”

The word also is key here He recognized in Jesus something that was true of himself; he was under authority … he was a centurion (over 100 men), but he wasn’t a commander over other centurions. What he did was due to the fact that he was under authority. That’s where he received his own credentials and position, from the authority place over him, under which he operated.

The centurion recognized that Jesus Himself was under authority, that He received His authority from another.

Now if Jesus could do all the things this centurion had heard about Him doing, then how great must be the Authority above Him? You might say, “Now wait a minute here; I thought that Jesus is God; doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus is God? What’s going on here? How could Jesus be God and be under authority.

To answer the question, let us not forget that Jesus was made for a time a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7). It’s called the incarnation, He came in flesh, He was incarnated, He came to live with us, He humbled Himself to live His approximately 33 years as a human being, without ever ceasing to be God. At the same time not only has He always been God, in the incarnation He added a nature, He became one of us. Now He is God who is man, and man who is God. He is the God-man, to put it that way.

Jesus specifically said that the Father is the One who had sent Him. In John 5:36 He said “But I have a greater witness than John; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish; the very works that I do bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”

These works that I have done tell a story, Jesus was intimating … they give witness to the fact that I have been sent by the Father, and what I am doing I am doing at His command, and by His authority and power.

And the centurion recognized something of that. “I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me,” he said. This centurion was saying of Jesus “I recognize that You are a man under authority but I also recognize the authority You have. And the authority You have is like my authority … whenever I command anything of anyone within my jurisdiction they always obey. They have to. They do what I say. ‘Soldiers, come here or go there’; ‘Servants, do this or do that.’ At my command all I have to do is say it, and they will do it. That’s the authority I have. And Lord, You have that same kind of authority. I’ve heard about You; I’ve heard about what You do, about Your power … Your authority over unclean spirits. I’ve heard about the fact that You can heal any kind of illness that exists. I’ve heard about Your authoritative teaching, which is completely different from the religious leaders that are common in Israel today. You speak as those these words and truths came directly from You, that when God speaks, they are actually Your words. And so I know that You have authority, just like I have authority. And whatever You say, in the spiritual realm or in the physical realm, that is what MUST happen, because You said it. And that is why I’m saying to You, all you need do is speak the word and my servant will be healed, because that is the kind of authority You have. Within my authority as a centurion, my orders are always obeyed. With Your authority, Your orders are always obeyed as well. I’m only asking of You, Jesus, that You exercise the authority that You have in relationship to My servant.”

And this is what Jesus reacted to. In verse 9 it says that when He heard these things, He marveled at the centurion’s faith. He’d never seen such great faith, not even in Israel. And Jesus felt it necessary that everyone know about this kind of faith. He turned around to the crowd, and it was to them that He announced that this faith was amazing … superior to any faith He’d seen. It became a teaching lesson for everyone that was there and listening. This is what faith looks like; this is what great faith look like. This is how the Son of God ought to be trusted, ought to be believed. This kind of faith is worthy of Him.

Nowhere in Israel had Jesus seen such faith, and this faith is coming from a Gentile. Verse 10 tells us that when those who had been sent to Jesus returned to the house, they found the servant well who had been sick. 

Jesus did it; He simply spoke the word. We didn’t hear it, His exact words are not recorded for us here in the gospels; but presumably, He spoke the word. The same One who in Genesis 1:3 said “Light, be!” and light came into existence … that same One spoke healing into the body of this dying servant. He didn’t actually need to speak anything. His thought alone would have brought the same result. His will, on whatever level, became His command which had to be obeyed. And the healing of the servant proved that Jesus had the authority the centurion had said He had. 

So what was unique about the centurion’s faith? First of all, we see that he realized the kind of authority Jesus possesses over sickness and all things. That made his faith special, unique.

He had strong faith in Jesus because he had a good and proper concept of Him. When we have a proper concept of God in our minds, faith flows much more naturally. When we have an improper or inaccurate concept of God in our minds, faith is pretty much impossible. The real challenge for us, therefore, is that we gain a proper concept of God in our minds; a proper concept of Jesus and His authority. That’s the key.

It’s like the guy that’s standing on the edge of the cliff, and there’s a very deep chasm below him. On the other side of the chasm is another cliff. Strung across the chasm is a rickety old bridge. He knows he needs to get to the other side, but he looks at the bridge and sees that it has tattered ropes and broken planks. It doesn’t look stable or strong at all. He wonders whether or not he can make it across. So he psyches himself up, gives himself a pep talk, gets himself motivated and begins. He tries to keep his faith as strong as he can make it. But the bridge isn’t strong enough and he falls down into the chasm.

Contrast that man with another man who stands on the edge of that same cliff. He too must cross the divide, and is wondering whether he can make it. In front of him is a bridge designed and built by the same engineers and construction company which built the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. And he’s thinking, “Wow, that’s an awfully deep chasm, and I’m not sure about this. I’m really struggling; emotionally, I’m a mess … terrified, really. Logically, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Can this bridge truly support me?” In spite of his apprehension, he goes ahead, and makes it easily to the other side. Why was he able to make it across?

Because one can have strong faith in a weak bridge, but that will only put you into the chasm below. Or, you can have weak faith in a strong bridge and make it to the other side. In other words, it’s not the strength of the faith that is the important thing; it’s the strength of the bridge that matters!

The centurion had a concept of Jesus in his mind that made Jesus a very strong bridge. And his faith was great, not because he as a man was great, but simply because he’d allowed the truth of who Jesus actually is to enter into his mind and heart. He had strong faith in a strong bride. He had both.

Great faith comes from knowing a Great Savior. Knowing His attributes, thinking about who He is and what He is capable of.

I once had the privilege of teaching a Bible college course on the Attributes of God, describing His characteristics. The students loved the class, but it seemed like their favorite attribute of God was His infinitude … that is, God is infinite or without limit. The students learned how to connect God’s attribute of infinitude with every other thing that is true of Him. God is faithful, and is unlimited in His faithfulness. God is love, and is without limit in His lovingkindness toward us. God is merciful, and there are no limits to His great mercy. God is powerful, and is without limit in His power. There is nothing that is impossible for Him; with Him all things are possible. God is without limit in any characteristic that is true of Him. They also learned how God’s attributes work in complete harmony. Not only is He sovereign, He is also good. Not only is He just, He is also gracious.

This is where faith begins, this is how our faith is strengthened, by getting to know God accurately and well. One of our greatest spiritual errors is that we spend far too little time getting to know God, in just contemplating Him.

Warren Wiersbe adds this thought:

“If this Roman, with very little spiritual instruction, had that kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater our faith ought to be! We have an entire Bible to read and study, as well as nearly two thousand years of church history to encourage us, and yet we are guilty of ‘no faith’ (Mark 4:40) or ‘little faith’ (Matt. 14:31). Our prayer ought to be, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’” (Weirsbe)

How then can we increase our faith? How can our weak faith become strong faith like this centurion?

I have two suggestions.

Number one, know the Bible; and get to know the God of the Bible. Read the Bible, read every book of the Bible. And constantly ask yourself the question, what does this teach me about God? What do I learn about Him by knowing this Bible story or reading about this Bible truth?

When I read about the children of Israel in Egypt for 400 plus years, and how they went from being a people of 70 souls to a nation of 2 million or more, what does that tell me about God and who He is? When I read the messages of the prophets, messages through Isaiah or Jeremiah or the others; what do their messages tell me about who God is? When I read the gospels and understand the profound gospel truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), what does that tell me about the nature of God as being merciful and gracious? 

You see, we trust only those that we know. And we only trust implicitly those whom we know accurately. The wisdom is this: know God well, you’ll trust Him more. Remember that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, that we might know Him and His will. It’s impossible to know Him well without the Bible.

For example, we can acknowledge God as the Creator of the Universe. This is the most foundational, bottom line truth we can believe. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And Hebrews tells us that it is by faith that we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

The second suggestion is, ask God to do things. It’s so simple, isn’t it? The centurion, upon learning of his servant’s illness, could have remained quiet about it. Had he remained quiet, there would have been nothing asked of Jesus. After if there had been no request of Jesus, perhaps his servant would have eventually died. But he asked. He asked Jesus to do something, and Jesus did something.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus was very plain. He said “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Please ask! Jesus is begging us … ask, ask, ask. As James puts it, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). It’s so simple: ask a lot.

If you have someone you’re working with, and you find out they are sick, or someone in their family is sick, ask God for a healing. Ask them, “Can I pray for you?” Not many will refuse prayer! They may not even believe in God, but pray for them. Maybe pray for them right then if the situation calls for it and it’s fitting to do so; or maybe later. Then tell them, “I prayed for you.”  And watch what God will do. He’ll do stuff when we ask!

But we have not because we ask not; that’s one of our big problems, we just don’t ask enough.

How can we increase our faith? Get to know the Bible and the God of the Bible, and then ask Him to do things. Not just for our own personal lives, but for all kinds of situations everywhere around us. It’s amazing what God can do!

Pastor Chuck Smith used to say something like this: “the difficulty of any task is measured by the capacity of the one doing the work.” So we’re looking at an illness, and we’re thinking, this is way beyond doctors, this is way beyond the medical professionals, this is way beyond anything I know or understand. But who am I talking to when I ask? I’m asking the One who created the universe, the One who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life so that we became living beings … He is the One I’m asking. And the difficulty of any task is measured by the capacity of the one doing the work. I’m asking the Creator to do something that for Him, is not difficult at all.

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

Does God ever get tired, because He’s exercised so much of His power that day? No! God never gets tired or is ever weary. He never runs out of power, because He is limitless in His power. Therefore, He can be asked.

So here it is, Jesus was amazed at this centurion, He marveled at his faith. God, give us faith like that!

Amen.

 

God Is For Us

January 13, 2015 Leave a comment

God-is-for-usWhat then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

How many ways can it be said?

  •  God is for (He is on our side, in our corner.) 
  • God is for us. (The all-powerful Creator of the universe is the one who is on our side.)
  • God is for us. (He is on the side of sinners saved by grace; of the believer in Jesus Christ, whom he has reconciled to Himself.)

 Since God is for us, we are assured of everything we need. After all, He did not spare Jesus in giving Him for us, so why would we ever conclude that He would withhold any legitimate need from our lives?

Since God has justified us, how could we ever think that an accusation or charge against us would hold any water with Him? Jesus died for us, rose from the dead for us, ascended and was exalted for us, and who is constantly praying for us. God has proven Himself; He will not bring charges against the believer.

Who or what could ever separate us from this kind of love … the love of our Lord Jesus Christ? The resounding answer is NO ONE can separate us from His love. NOTHING can separate us from His love.

Human beings cannot separate us. Extreme trials, persecution, or perils cannot separate us. Death cannot take us out of God’s deep love. Angels could not do it even if they wanted to. Demons or the devil cannot do it. Nothing created can ever separate the believer in Jesus Christ from God’s great and eternal love. Which means that nothing that exists… apart from God Himself … can ever separate us from God and His love for us. And we know that will not happen, because God sent His Son (John 3:16).

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Spread His praise from shore to shore
How He came to pay our ransom
Through the saving cross He bore
How He watches o’er His loved ones
Those He died to make His own
How for them He’s interceding
Pleading now before the throne

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Far surpassing all the rest
It’s an ocean full of blessing
In the midst of every test
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Mighty Savior, precious Friend
You will bring us home to glory
Where Your love will never end
1

For Further Review

1.  What kind of confidence is produced in the life of a person who is absolutely convinced that God is for him?

2.  In your own life, what have been some obstacles that have kept you from gaining solid confidence that God is for you? How can you move past those obstacles into confidence and assurance?

3.  God’s love demands worship. Why not express your heart of worship to God in any way that seems fitting (in writing, by song, or in prayer), as a response to His great love for you in Christ Jesus.

 1 Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (© 2008 Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise)


Redemption’s Highest Heights

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

The_Unbreakable_ChainAnd we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

How do we know that Romans 8:28 is true? The answer is grounded in the timeless truths of the gospel of God, described in Romans 8:29-30. 

Like the pinnacle of the highest mountain, this passage brings us to the highest of heights of God’s revelation. God has done awesome things … things so gracious and merciful they are hard to even fathom. The implications are for both time and eternity. 

He foreknew us. He knew what would happen before it even occurred. This speaks of His omniscience (of the fact that He knows everything). In fact, there is nothing that can be known that God does not know. He is infinite in His understanding (Acts 15:18; Psalm 147:5). 

He predestined us to be conformed into the image of Jesus. Those whom God saved have a certain destiny; He has one goal for each and every one of us. That goal is to become more and more like His eternal Son. This is His goal because He wants more sons and daughters, and thus more brothers and sisters for Jesus. In other words, God desires to always increase the size of His family. Eternally, He has the best possible Son, the perfect Son. He wants more that are like Him. This is that He might love them in His kingdom just as He loves Jesus. 

He called (invited) human beings to come to Christ, who is the firstborn—the preeminent One—of those who have come out of death and into life. The invitation was to believe the gospel … and for as many as do that, they become children of God (John 1:12-13). 

Those whom He called and who responded to the gospel, He also justified. He made a declaration that they are now righteous in His eyes, fully exonerated and wholly acceptable to Him. Just as Jesus is righteous, so the believer in Christ has been declared righteous (1 John 4:17). We have the same righteous standing as the Son of God. 

Those whom He justified, He also glorified. He made them full of glory. They look nothing like they did in their bodies of sin on earth. Rather, they are glorious as Jesus is glorious (1 John 3:2; compare Revelation 1:10-18). 

Note that each of these amazing declarations of redemption is revealed in the past tense. That means that in the mind of God, it is as though they have already happened. Seeing things from His eternal vantage point rather than from the limitations of time, God sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10), and therefore views all believers in Christ—past, present, or future—as already being in their gloried state … with Him in eternity. 

This is how we know Romans 8:28 is true … God does work all things together for good, for those who are the called according to His purpose. If God can bring the believer out of sin and into glory, then surely He is able to use everything that comes into our lives for His ultimate plan. God cannot be stifled or waylaid in His eternal purposes.

For Further Review

1.  What is the foundation of the truth of Romans 8:28? In your own words, describe what God has done for the believer.

2.  How has Romans 8:28 been misquoted? What is wrong with the various misquotations? How have they changed the intended meaning of the verse?

3.  What is God’s ultimate plan and purpose for every Christian? How does that purpose affect the way we live our lives in the here and now?

 

The Groaning of the Spirit

January 11, 2015 Leave a comment

gift_of_the_holy_spiritLikewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

It is not always easy to admit our weaknesses, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. It is only through the realization of our weakness that we are likely to rely on the Holy Spirt, who is the Divine Helper. It is true that weaknesses are the doorway to strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). 

Here we see a specific weakness that we all share, which is weakness in prayer. We are stumped concerning the how of prayer, and often about the content of our prayers. We even struggle with the motivation to pray. 

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is able and willing to give us what we need so our prayers will be heard, and thus be effective (1 John 5:14-15). 

His groanings (sighing) cannot be uttered; that is, they cannot be spoken in words that we understand. Our part is to believe God … to believe Him that the Spirit is praying this way as He intercedes for us. 

The Father is searching our hearts for the prayers of the Spirit, and He knows the Spirit’s purpose in His groanings. The Spirit’s prayers are always spot on. Our part is to just flow with it, to believe the Spirit is helping us, and to trust the outcome of the Spirit’s intercession. 

Through it all, we become better pray-ers as we trust God in our weaknesses.

For Further Review

1.  Think about some of the difficulties or struggles you have had in your own prayer life. How have you dealt with them? What have you learned?

2.  In your own words, describe the meaning and experience of the Holy Spirit making intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.

3.  Take some time right now to ask God to help you in your weakness in prayer, and then make it a point to specifically trust the Holy Spirit to be the answer to that prayer.

 

From Guilt to Glory!

January 11, 2015 2 comments

WeNOCONDEMNATIONlcome to this devotional on the book of Romans, the book of the gospel of God. This guided study through Romans chapters 1-8 will help you to understand the universal human need for the gospel, the message of the gospel, and the practical implications of the gospel in the lives of true believers.

Every day or two, an attempt will be made to publish the next lesson. In all, there will be 35 individual studies. Feedback or questions are always welcomed.

Get ready … this could be a life changing experience for you!

HOW TO USE THIS DEVOTIONAL

First of all, in order to get a handle on the overall message of the book, read all of Romans.  Be sure to look at the big picture of Romans before you get into the specific passages. Take a moment and actually read through all 16 chapters, which is how the book was meant to be read! This will help you to frame the book and see the forest before you start examining the trees. 

Next, carefully read each day’s Bible passage, in its context. When a Biblical cross reference is given, take the time to turn to that passage and read it as well. Be sure to observe what the passage is saying (its details), to try to understand what a passage means (interpretation), and then to focus on how the passage might apply to your life. 

ABOUT THIS DEVOTIONAL 

This part devotional, part commentary on the book of Romans chapters 1-8 was written by Bill Holdridge, Pastor and Founder/Director of Poimen Ministries, a ministry focused on helping senior (or lead) pastors of churches. 1 

All scripture quoted in this book is from the New King James Version of the Bible. 2 

Some of the material contained in this introduction is from the excellent work by Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible. 3 

For Further Review questions at the end of each day’s lesson include all three elements of inductive Bible study (observation, interpretation, application). But the greatest focus is upon application. What does this passage have to do with our lives as believers? What does is speak into my life? This is the ultimate goal of all Bible study and devotions, to learn that we might grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Therefore it is important to take time to go over these reflection questions and apply them to your own life.     

KEY CONCEPTS IN ROMANS 

The epistles make up the third major section of the New Testament. The Gospels are the Proclamation of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts contains the Propagation of Jesus Christ. The Epistles are the Explanation of Jesus Christ, and the book of Revelation tells of the Consummation of Jesus Christ. 

From the perspective of its human authorship, the letter to the Romans is considered to Paul the apostle’s greatest work, his magnum opus. Its logic, flow of thought, depth of theology and doctrine, and thorough explanation of the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ make Romans the go-to book for discovering the implications of the salvation which is in Christ Jesus. Once its message is learned, it provides the interpretive basis for understanding the rest of the New Testament letters. 

To quote author Bruce Wilkinson, “But Romans is more than a book of theology; it is also a book of practical exhortations. The good news of Jesus Christ is more than facts to be believed; it is also a life to be lived—a life of righteousness befitting the person ‘justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). 3 

The epistle to the Romans was written from the city of Corinth near end of Paul’s third missionary journey (55-56 A.D.). He wrote this epistle through an amanuensis (a dictation secretary) named Tertius (Romans 16:22). After it was written, the letter was carried to Rome by a woman named Phoebe, who was a servant in the church in Cenchrea, a city close to Corinth (Romans 16:1). 

The historical importance of the book of Romans cannot be overstated. The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther came to understand the gospel of grace and led Germany and other parts of Europe into true faith in Christ through studying Romans. John Wesley was converted to Christ after hearing a reading of the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. 19th century Bible scholar Frédéric Louis Godet commented that “The probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.”

Paul’s purposes for writing Romans are evident from other places in the New Testament. Overall, the epistle served as a great preparation for his eventual coming to them.

We know from Acts 19:21 that he wanted very much to see this city, the greatest city in the Roman world.

Acts 19:21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

He also wanted to teach the church there and be encouraged by their faith (Romans 1:11). 

Romans 1:11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established…

When in Rome, Paul wanted to win more people to Christ (1:13). 

Romans 1:13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 

He desired that the Roman church help by supported his intended travels to Spain (Romans 15:24). 

Romans 15:24 …whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while.

From Romans 15:24 we also learned that his purpose was to enjoy the company of the Roman Christians, at least for a time (Romans 15:24). 

Overall, a main purpose of the book was for Paul to prepare the Roman Christians for his visit by laying out a systematic presentation of the gospel he had been preaching for over 20 years.

The theme of Romans is the gospel of God (Romans 1:16-17). After having studied the Psalms to discover how one could be saved, the reformer Martin Luther asked the question, “Is righteousness something I must strive for to gain it, or is it something I receive?” It was while pondering this question that Habakkuk 2:4 almost flew off the page at him: “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). This same O.T. verse was quoted by Paul in the key passage of the epistle:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. {17} For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

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1 “Poimen” (pronounced poy-main’) is the Greek word for pastor or shepherd. Poimen Ministries is featured at www.poimenministries.com

2 The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. 

3 Talk Thru the Bible by Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, © 1983 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.