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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!

 

 

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.

 

Our Debt to God

worship-response-to-gods-grace.pngTherefore, brethren, we are debtors; not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:12-17)

We may not often think about it, but every believer owes something to God. After all, God is the One who redeemed us and saved our lives in time and for eternity. In reality, we owe everything to Him. 

The big question is, what exactly do we owe Him? According to today’s passage, we owe it to God to walk in the Spirit. There are loving reasons for this indebtedness: a choice to live in the flesh produces nothing but spiritual death (which is the absence of life; no love, no joy, no peace, etc.). But a choice to trust the Holy Spirit to deal with our sinful body appetites produces God’s life in our experience. 

Those who make the consistent decision to walk in the Spirit and to be led by Him prove themselves to be His [mature] sons and daughters. By inference, those who do not walk in the Spirit prove themselves to be [at best] carnal believers, like immature little children. At worst, they are demonstrating that they may not, in fact, be true believers at all. 

The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of adoption. That is, He is the One who places us as adult children into God’s family with all of its privileges … much like an unwanted orphan who is fully made a part of a loving, caring family. Chief among those privileges is that we have an endearing relationship with God the Father. We call Him “Abba,” similar to “Daddy” or “Papa.” The Spirit’s ministry to us is to testify to our human spirits that this is the relationship we have with God. It is the Holy Spirit providing assurance of our salvation. 

As God’s children, we are His heirs, with the promise that we share in the inheritance that belongs to the Lord Jesus! The inheritance itself is [at least] partially determined by our suffering with Christ. Since we are brothers and sisters of Jesus (as well as sons and daughters of the Father), we should expect the same kind of treatment experienced by our Lord. When we suffer as a Christian, we bear a striking resemblance to Him who died for us.

For Further Review

1.  What does the believer owe to God, and why?

2.  What are some benefits of living a Spirit-filled life? In what ways are you enjoying those benefits in your own life?

3.  Application: ask the Holy Spirit to send you assurance of your relationship with God. Record your thoughts and impressions for a few days to track God’s answer to your prayer.

4.  While Jesus was on earth, what were some of His sufferings? In what ways have you experienced similar kinds of suffering?

 

Where Do We Stand With God?

LifeSpiritBut you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

How does God view us, in terms of our sanctification? In other words, what is our position or status with Him as far as our progress in the Christian life is concerned?

 Does He see us as deficient, with mostly demerits on our record? Do we begin each day with a negative balance, with a need to do a truckload of right things to arrive at a positive balance by the end of the day? Are we merely wannabe Christians in His eyes? Or do we have a positive balance in our Divine account, fully legitimate as believers belonging to Him?

 The answer is in Romans 8:9. God declares that we are in the Spirit (and not in the flesh). We wake up each morning with an abundance of credit to our account. We are the real deal in His eyes. God has placed us in the Spirit, and He sees us as in the Spirit. We have a positive balance with Him, always.

 What this means is that believers need not prove themselves to God, trying to gain His favor. God expects nothing from our flesh … He knows that it cannot produce anything good. We simply need to walk in the state we are in; we are in the Spirit, so our need is to walk in the Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can create good things in and from our lives.

 Notice that the Spirit of God is referred to here as the Spirit of Christ. Note also the statement Christ is in you. Putting these concepts together we conclude that Jesus Christ lives within the believer by the Person of the Holy Spirit. That is how He does it … He dwells in each of us by the Spirit.

 Because the Spirit dwells within the believer, there is a continual promise of the experience of resurrection life. The same power by which Christ rose from dead is in us. The same life Jesus possesses is the same life we possess.

 A primary purpose of this life is that we can overcome the weakness and helplessness of our mortal bodies (our bodies subject to sin and death; our bodies which still contain the vestige of sin). In other words, the Spirit’s life in us conquers the flesh life as we trust in and walk in Him.

 Any good work that God does in us by power which does not come from us; the power God grants us is the resurrection power of His Spirit, which is the same power that raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.

 For Further Review

1.  What does it mean to be in the Spirit? According to this passage, who are those that God classifies as being in the Spirit?

2.  Read Ephesians 1:13,14 and answer this question: what are the steps leading up to being sealed with the Holy Spirit?

3.  When you wake up in the morning, what is your view of yourself? How does God’s view of you differ from your own?

4.  Why is it important to have the correct view of yourself as a believer in Jesus?

You Are in the Spirit

lost-savedBut you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

How does God view us, in terms of our sanctification? In other words, what is our position or status with Him as far as progress in the Christian life is concerned?

Does He see us as deficient, with mostly demerits? Do we begin each day with a negative balance, with a need to do a truckload of right things to arrive at a positive balance by the end of the day?

Or, does He see as in a positive light with nothing to prove, but only with a need to walk in the Spirit?

The answer is that we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, because the Spirit of God does indeed dwell in the believer. God has placed us in the Spirit, He sees us in the Spirit. We have a positive balance with Him, always.

Notice that the Spirit of God is referred to here as the Spirit of Christ. Note also the statement Christ is in you. Putting these concepts together we conclude that Jesus Christ lives within the believer by the Person of the Holy Spirit. That is how He does it … He dwells in each of us by the Spirit.

Because the Spirit dwells within the believer, there is a continual promise of the experience of resurrection life. The same power by which Christ rose from dead is in us. The same life Jesus possesses is the same life we possess. A primary purpose of this life is that we can overcome the weakness and helplessness of our mortal bodies (our bodies subject to sin and death; our bodies which still contain the vestige of sin). In other words, the Spirit’s life in us conquers the flesh life as we trust in and walk in Him.

For Further Review

1.  What benefits can you think of that come from knowing that as a believer, you are in the Spirit?

2.  How does Jesus Christ dwell in individual believers, according to the passage?

3.  What is the ministry of the Spirit as He dwells in us? What does He provide to us? What difference does this make in our lives?

 

Death … or Life and Peace?

mind-set-on-the-spirit-is-life-and-peaceFor those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)

The mind is a powerful thing, the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels, and remembers. One’s mindset is his particular way of thinking: his attitude or set of opinions about something (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

Numerous passages in the New Testament emphasize the importance of having the right frame of mind, of filling our minds with the right thoughts, of using our minds to focus on God’s direction for our lives. For examples, consider 1 Peter 1:13, 2 Timothy 1:7, Colossians 3:2, Philippians 3:15, Philippians 2:4-8, Ephesians 4:23, and Romans 12:2.

Here, Paul the apostle writes of two very distinct, disparate approaches to life. One is the mindset of the flesh; the other is the mindset of the Holy Spirit. Each approach or mindset has its own predictable and definite results.

The mind occupied with the things of the flesh is death (or the absence of life, as in Galatians 5:19-21). The flesh life is at enmity with God; it is opposed to God … and hostile to Him. He cannot and will not bless the life which is lived in the flesh.

The mind oriented in the direction of the ways of the Spirit is life and peace. This kind of lifestyle is pleasing to God, mainly because He authored it. The Spirit enabled life comes from God Himself, therefore He recognizes and loves it.

A believer in Christ has the capacity to operate in either realm at any given moment, but never both at the same time. Therefore, we must choose the way we live, either flesh or Spirit. We utilize the means of grace to make a Spirit directed choice; the promises of the Bible, Christian fellowship, the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and believing prayer.

While God loves the believer whether he/she makes the right choice or not, the actual lives we lead are can only be pleasing to Him when we live them His way.

For Further Review

1.  What is the orientation of your own mind? If you were to be honest with yourself, what do you think about and focus on most of the time?

2.  Consider the fruit of the way you are living. What is being produced overall: the fruit of Galatians 5:22-24, or the works of Galatians 5:19-21? What is the root cause of either result?

3.  Think about it: what does it mean to utilize the means of grace to make a Spirit directed choice? How do we do that?