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Prayer

Yesterday I suggested that we approach our Bible reading as a means of growing our relationship with God, rather than looking at it as something we’re supposed to do like eating our veggies and flossing daily. Yesterday, we looked at the right “why” of reading the Bible

Today, I want to look at the “how” of reading the Bible in 2014.

Assuming you have the right approach, knowing that you are eager to hear from your loving Father, how can you go about reading through the Bible in a year? Given the fact that there are about 775,000 words in the Bible and most people read about 200-250 words per minute, you can read the whole Bible in about ten minutes a day. Just saying, “I’m going to read the Bible for ten minutes a day.” may not be enough planning for everybody. So what is one to do?

Which Bible Reading Plan?

There are many ways to read through the Bible and none is the “best”. It comes down to asking what do you want to accomplish? Do you want to read through the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation? Do you want to read the Old and New Testaments together each day? Do you want to read the Bible in a more chronological way? Do you want to just read the New Testament? If you want to read just the New Testament, do you want to include readings from Psalms and Proverbs?

A few years ago, our church read through the Bible using a plan developed by the 19th Century pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne. The plan had four readings from roughly two chapters from the Old Testament and two chapters from the New Testament. M’Cheyne’s plan is tried-and-true, but many of us found it to be a bit disconnected and lacked continuity as we read a little bit from four different Bible books each day. You may want to try this plan; if you do, you might want to check out Donald Carson’s “For the Love of God” blog which adds a devotional commentary to the daily readings.

The next year, I chose the Blue Letter Bible’s reading plan that covered readings from the Old and New Testaments. We found it to be much easier to follow.

Last year, I thought it might be better to get a chronological view of the Bible, so we went with Dr. George Guthrie’s plan based on his book, Read The Bible For Life. I used YouVersion’s free Bible App (works with iOS, Android and web) because it keeps track of where I am in my readings. I found the plan to be ideal and will use it again next year, however the Bible Eater Plan looks interesting.

For other thoughts about Bible reading plans, I highly recommend you take a look at Justin Taylor’s very helpful blog post. and you can find even more Bible reading plans at your favorite online Bible resources.

Though I think most people underestimate what they’re capable of, there’s always The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers.

Once you have chosen a plan, you need to choose a Bible. Some Bibles come with their own reading plans built in, such as the hugely-popular One Year Bible.

 

Which Bible Translation?

People used to be able to say that they couldn’t understand the Bible because they don’t understand all the thee’s and thou’s. Through its 400-year history, many believers have benefited from the King James translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. I don’t know about you, but I don’t speak Elizabethan English like William Shakespeare did, and I have as many issues trying to understand the King James Bible as the next guy! I have briefly discussed modern Bible translations elsewhere on this blog.

Since you’re reading this on a computer connected to the Internet, you have access to many Bible translations in your native language on numerous websites, including YouVersion, Biblia, and BibleGateway to name a few.

So how do you know which one to use?

That depends on what do you want to get out of it. If you want to get the general “feel” of the message from the Scriptures, you may want to use the New Living Translation or the New International Version. If you want to get more specific about the words used to convey the message, you may want to use the English Standard Version.

 

Now what?

You know that the reason to read the Bible is to grow in a relationship with God. You know that there are many plans and translations to choose from. But please don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with all the choices. And don’t run out and spend a bunch of money on a fancy Bible. Ask God to guide you and then “get after it!”

This time next year, you’ll be glad you did; you’ll have a better understanding of who God is and how He works to bring people into a relationship with Him.

 

(Note: Some of the links on this page will take you to Amazon where you can purchase products. If you use these affiliate links, I will receive receive a small  commission for the referral.)

 

 

If you’re like most Christians, you rarely pick up your Bible to read it on your own. You know you should read your Bible, just like you know you should be a better steward of your body with diet and exercise, and you should floss your teeth daily. You know you should do these things, but at the end of the day, you’re tired. And the last thing you want to do is head to the gym, get saliva all over your fingers, or read a book that seems a bit outdated. And the thought of reading through the whole Bible is, well, nothing short of impossible.

I have good news! You’re not alone! And it’s not an impossible task!

The first thing is to ask why you should to read the Bible.

Is it because your pastor or Bible study leader says you should? Is it because you read somewhere that you should?

If your reason for reading the Bible is because you think it’s something you should do, then maybe you need to rethink your reason.

Don’t get me wrong! I think you should read the Bible. But the reason isn’t because it’s something you should do. Your reason should be because you want to experience a deeper relationship with God. If you want to experience a deeper relationship with your spouse or a friend, you must spend time with them. The same is true with God. The primary way we experience a deeper relationship with God is by spending time with Him, reading your Bible and praying.

Too often, we approach our relationship with God with the idea of “doing” and “not doing”. But God is a person and we build a relationship with Him just like we build other relationships: by spending time talking and listening.

If you’re a child of God, you need to know that God wants to speak to you! (John 10:27) But unless you read what He has revealed, you can’t hear what He says. Sure, you may occasionally hear a “still, small voice”, but how can you know if that voice is the One Who loves you and wants the best for you, as opposed to the one who hates you and wants to destroy you? (2Corinthians 11:14-15; John 10:10)

Knowing the Bible will empower you to distinguish between the voice of our Shepherd and the voice of our enemy. And we will know our Bible as we read it.

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

As long as our approach to reading the Bible is one of obligation or duty, we will continue  a hit-and-miss experience of Bible reading and we’ll continue to walk in shame when we fall – the same shame we feel when we visit our doctor or dentist. However, if our approach to Bible reading is one of wanting to grow closer in a relationship, and one of wanting to eat a much-needed, delicious meal, our desires will be fulfilled. Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Those who find their refuge in him are blessed! (Psalm 34:8)

The right reason for reading our Bible is crucial to success in reading it.

 

Application

Take a few minutes to pray about reading the Bible in 2014. Confess your approach of duty and obligation. Ask God for a fresh taste of Himself. Ask Him to give you a fresh perspective of growing your relationship with Him through reading your Bible.

Tomorrow, we’ll take up the “how-to” in reading through our Bible in 2014.

 

 

It was a hard day at church Sunday. Perhaps the hardest I have ever experienced. Definitely the hardest I ever want to experience.

We hoped and prayed that last Sunday would never come. But Sunday, our church family at Bethel Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas voted to begin the process of transferring the property deed to the Parker Baptist Association. John Thielepape, the Association’s Director of Missions and the Association’s Executive Board will administer the transfer of our deed. We look forward to seeing how God will use the facilities for His glory to reach people that we might never have been able to.

For several years, Bethel has been on life support. We saw the demise coming several years ago and sold our parsonage. We had a flood a few years later and due to the insurance settlement, we were able to do some much-needed updates of the vintage 1970s-era carpet and paneling. All of this helped keep us afloat. For a while.

Last November, as we considered the 2013 budget, our treasurer informed us that with our current average expenses and income, we had about 4-6 months left of savings. I challenged our people to fast and pray through December and be ready to discuss at our quarterly business meeting what we felt God was telling us. At the January meeting we said that we felt that God still had work for us to do at our location. Perhaps we were in denial. God continued to provide for our finances through October — eleven months into our “4-6 months”. He’s still providing. He always does. He always will, but not necessarily the way that we pray for – or expect.

If our church has been on life support, then last Sunday was the time to “call in the family”. I don’t think anyone was surprised by the realities I presented, though not all of us were ready to “pull the plug”. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any one of us wants to pull the plug. But there comes a time that you have done all that you can do to extend life and that the life support no longer extends life; it actually extends death. And we have passed that point.

It is only a matter of time before we close the doors of the church as a fellowship. We will soon turn the page and close the book on Bethel Baptist Church. As we seek God’s plans for us as individuals, we look forward to seeing how He will use what we have learned and the experiences He has blessed us with. And we look forward to seeing how He will use our facilities in the future.

Only He knows. But as I have told our people for over six years, it’s not about us; it’s about Him and His Kingdom. We get to show up and participate.

But Sunday wasn’t just a hard day. It was also a great day to spend time together with our church family. Most importantly, we praised and worshiped the God Who called us together to begin with. Our task at this point is to continue to seek His lead as we move forward.

 

Today was either a very good day or a very bad day to be a US Citizen. If you are for “marriage equality” for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered (LGBT), today was a very good day for you.

If, however, you are for traditional “one-man, one-woman marriage”, today was a very bad day for you.

Two very important decisions were handed down by the US Supreme Court today: the Federal DOMA and California’s Proposition 8.

 

Federal DOMA

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Federal Government cannot grant special privileges to one group (traditional marriage) over another group (LGBT). Tax credits and other Federal benefits given to traditionally married couples must be granted to LGBT couples as well.

The Federal DOMA was signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton in an effort to define marriage in the traditional sense. The Court stated today that those who would limit Federal benefits to one group and not another were doing so in an effort to inflict punishment on the other group. In other words, those who supported DOMA — including Clinton – were bigoted and punitive against those who supported “non-traditional” marriage. Perhaps the Court was correct.

Civil Liberty is a sticky issue.

A few years ago, some groups disapproved allowing religious groups to use public school facilities after school hours and on the weekends. A doctrine of “equal access” was adopted which said that if any one group was allowed access (YMCA, Boy/Girl Scouts), then all other groups also have access. The other side of the same coin said that if one group was prohibited from accessing the school facilities, then all groups would be prohibited from using the facilities.

In a free society, I am protected to be able to practice my religious beliefs according to my personal convictions. At the same time, someone who holds the exact opposite religious beliefs from mine is also protected to practice their religious beliefs according to their personal convictions. That’s the way liberty works. Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, and Protestants are all free to practice our religious (and non-religious) beliefs. Giving preferential treatment to one group over and against another group violates the “no establishment of religion and the free exercise thereof” parts of the First Amendment. If it applies for one group, it should be applied in the same way to all the other groups.

When the Parker County Ministerial Alliance requested that the Weatherford City Council start with pledges to the US and Texas Flags and an invocation, there was great caution on the part of the Council. They were afraid that at some point in the future the City might have to use taxpayer funds to defend against lawsuits from groups claiming a violation of “separation of church and state”. Their approval could have gone one of two ways:

1 – Having a designated person to pray “nonsectarian” prayers (presumably to a nonsectarian god?).

2 – Allowing a diversity of persons to pray according to their own religious tradition (including praying “in Jesus’ name” for those who chose to do so).

The Council allowed the Ministerial Alliance to coordinate the invocation pray-ers with option 2. The Alliance has done an honest job of being “inclusive” of leaders of respective groups in the community, even inviting religious leaders who are not affiliated with the Alliance.

 

California’s Proposition 8

The second decision handed down by the Supreme Court had to do with California’s Proposition 8. Prop 8 was an amendment to California’s Constitution which defined marriage for the State of California; it was California’s version of the Federal DOMA that applied to just the State of California to protect it in case the Federal Government nationally legalized “nontraditional” marriage. The Court struck down Prop 8, saying that marriage cannot be limited to one-man one-woman couples. However, they also stated that a LGBT couple whose marriage was recognized in one state does not necessarily have to be recognized in any other state.

 

My Take on the Decisions

I am not a lawyer, nor am I a Constitutional Scholar. However, I am a citizen of the United States whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War of independence against tyranny. I am also a pastor. And these Supreme Court Decisions affect me. They affect all of us.

What we saw today is a display of man’s depravity. What we saw was the natural consequence of putting our ultimate decisions in the hands of nine fallen men and women (the “highest court in the land”).

When a nation turns its back on its original principles and reads its founding documents as “fluid documents”, open to new interpretation of each new generation, anything is up for grabs. Literally anything. LGBT today … LGBTP (pedophilia) tomorrow?

We see a very similar situation in churches that turn their backs on their original principles, where Christians view our founding Document as a fluid document, open to new interpretations of each new generation.

I’m not just talking about the “liberal” churches. I’m also talking about the “conservative” churches. We have all – in our own way – turned out backs on our original principles of reaching a lost and dying world with the hope of the Gospel as it is revealed in the Bible.

The “liberals” have done it by rejecting the Bible as a static document of God’s revelation and authority. They argue that the Bible is outdated and needs to be reinterpreted for the changing culture. They see LGBT as a new situational ethic to be interpreted according to the “love of Christ” without any judgment on the LGBT lifestyle (because the Bible is outdated, remember?).

The “conservatives” have done it by not reaching the lost and dying world. Somehow, we expect lost to find their way to us (even though the Bible clearly says that no one is righteous and no one seeks after God on their own. We have failed to “contextualize” the unchanging Gospel as revealed in the Bible and actually dialog with lost and dying people. We run from Christian huddle to Christian huddle preaching against the evils of abortion and homosexuality. But when was the last time we talked with an unwed teen, offering her viable options for carrying her baby to term (Who’s going to pay for her medical bills?)? Or when was the last time we sat down with a LGBTQ* friend or coworker about his/her struggles for acceptance (regardless of what acceptance he or she may be struggling with)?

Our only hope is for the church to be the church: repent and return to the God on Whose principles and Document our faith was founded. Only then will we have any hope for hope and the blessing that we once enjoyed as a church and as a nation.

So was it a good day or a bad day in Court? Regardless of your views of traditional vs. nontraditional marriage, today was a bad day in Court. It revealed our depravity. The depravity of all of us.

 

 

*LGBTQ is a relatively new designation that includes those who are questioning their sexual identity.

 

As I type this on the morning after the 2012 General Elections, I am physically sick to my stomach. Not because “my guy” didn’t win. I feel sick because of where I see us as a nation and where we are heading as a nation. We are getting what we have asked for. And we deserve exactly what we are getting.

I don’t claim to have the spiritual gift of prophecy, but this is what I see in the coming months and years:

Homosexuality will continue to be paraded in the public square. “Gay marriage” will continue to garner support, either blatantly, or through laissez-faire attitudes by heterosexuals.

Abortion on demand will continue to be “legal and safe”. But it won’t be rare. More babies will be killed (at taxpayer expense), and more women will suffer the physical and emotional consequences of abortion.

First Amendment Religious and Free-Speech Liberties will continue to erode. Religious institutions and other organizations that are pro-life in nature, or pro-life in the organization’s leaders’ beliefs will be required to provide insurance that covers abortion/abortifacients (abortion-causing drugs).

Second Amendment Liberties will be restricted, either through the banning of certain weapons, or through the taxation of weapons and/or ammunition.

Several Supreme Court Justices will be replaced, resulting in decades of even more left-leaning decisions.

As of December 31, 2012, United States citizens will arrive at the “fiscal cliff”, seeing tax increases and cuts to our military and other programs such as Medicare. With President Obama’s reelection and continued Democrat control in the US Senate, our elected leaders will not feel obligated to address these issues — and the US House will have no authority to do so on their own. Our deficit will continue to increase exponentially, increasing the tax burden on our children, grandchildren for generations to come, as we spend more and more of what we don’t have. The result: the “recovery” trumpeted by the Democrats for the past few years will fall into another recession or worse.

Free Market Capitalism will be more restricted through increased government regulation. More workers will be laid off — or their status will be reduced to “part time” status — as employers seek to avoid the increased costs of providing mandated healthcare for their fulltime employees or fines if they don’t.

 

In short, our nation will continue to become much more different than what we have been accustomed to.

 

Our Mandate for 2012 and Beyond

It is incumbent on all Christians to pray.

Paul commands that we pray for all those in authority (1Timothy 2:1-2). If we haven’t been, we must begin to pray for our leaders. If we have been praying for them, we must not stop praying. We must pray more, not just that we get our way, but that God will bring us back to Himself, His ways, and his purposes.

“My people” in 2Chroinicles 7:14 applies to all of God’s people, not just the Nation of Israel, led by Solomon in that passage. In fact, the context of 2Chronicles 6-7, if God’s people fail to follow Him, He would bring calamity to them. If “My people” respond in repentance, then He would hear their prayer and bring restoration.

We are in 2Chronicles 7:13, 22. May we be brought back to experience 2Chronicles 7:1-4.

 

May God have mercy on us!