A New Bible Reading Plan!

For the past six years (or so, give or take), several of my friends, and their friends, and their friends’ friends, have been reading the Bible every day together. We read (or listen to) about 7 chapters of the New Testament together every day and text out that we did our reading to the large group via a Google Hangout we setup.

Now, because we read the same chapters for 30 days, we’ve read the NT some 60 times in the span of about 6 years. And it’s been great! But it is also time for something new.

FEEDBACK: One piece of feedback I got over the past few years was how cool it would be if we integrated some Old Testament reading. So some in our group started reading through the OT each day (about three chap per day) in addition to the NT reading. But it was a LOT of reading to do every day, and if you missed a day or two, you found yourself having to read 9 chapters of Leviticus and another 7 of the NT to catch up!  We also heard that while the NT repetition was helpful, reading 6-7 chapters for 30 days got a little stale, and my own personal issue with this was that it didn’t allow a more devotional posture of reading, where one could spend a few minutes really thinking over a smaller section of Scripture.

So…with the help of my good friend, Pastor Dennis Lankford, and the feedback of friends Derek and Parris, we’ve created a new reading plan.

You can download the plan here: Daily NT OT Combined List

Here’s how the reading is laid out: We will read the same 1-3 chapters in the New Testament for one week, and then move on to the the next few chapters on Monday of the each new week. The same goes for the Old Testament, but the readings will be shorter. The OT passages are select passages, and not the entire OT. The idea is to be able to spend 15 or 20 minutes in the Word every day, and if you miss a day or two, you won’t fall behind. After about a year and a half you will have read through the key passages in the OT, and the whole of the NT 7 times.  Here’s an example of what the plan looks like:

Reading Example

There’s a real impact – a lasting impact – from reading the Bible frequently. Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 3:18 when he likens the reading of the Word to being exposed to the glory of God, and how that will permanently change us:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

If you want to take part in the reading, you’ll need to join Google hangouts (it’s best to just download the App). Next, message me and I will invite you to the Hangout. Finally, start reading and letting everyone else know how its going!

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These Words are Your Life

I have observed as a general rule that mankind tends to put off big decisions, big tasks and deep thinking about the big issues in life until such a time as they cannot be avoided any longer.

The thinking may sound like this, “Sure I know I need to think about religion eventually, but that’s a long ways off…lot’s of life to live before I need to deal with that sort of thing.”

This same attitude has always been prevalent among men.  Perhaps that’s why Moses had these words to say to the Israelites after giving them commands from the Lord:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47)

You would think that it would be enough for the people of Israel to simply hear a word from God.  After all, they had seen great and awesome works – miracles that no one had ever seen before.  But Moses wouldn’t have had to say, “it is no empty word for you, but your very life” if there wasn’t a natural tendency to disregard and not take seriously God’s words and God’s commands.

In the New Testament, we see the same thing with Felix and several of the other rulers that Paul testified before during his trial.  He confronted them with such stark and powerful truth that they were forced to put him off.  They didn’t want to deal with life and death decisions – they simply wanted more wine and cheese!

We find the same thing today, and that’s why (I believe) we read Jesus saying things like “I am the way the truth and the life” – He wants us to understand in no uncertain terms that His words are not “empty” or simply prophetic, or merely good for instruction.  To follow the teaching of Jesus is to make life and death decisions.

The Apostle John later affirmed this in his first epistle:

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:10-12)

Perhaps you would agree with me that these are “big” topics.  You ought not to open the Bible simply to read bedtime stories.  And what is more, most homes in America own a Bible of some kind, yet it sits there neglected.  The words of life, ignored. Night after night we watch our favorite television show, and delay the bigger things in life.  We know the truth is out there…but that can wait until tomorrow…can’t it?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Furthermore, if you are a Christian and you are not regularly reading the word of God you are depriving yourself.  You are cutting off the oxygen of the Christian life, and you are doomed to go through life with little wisdom and no joy.  I want to encourage you to pick up the Word – be intentional and have a plan.  Get some accountability and read the Word with someone.  Do not neglect the excellent in place of the average.  Do not neglect life in place of death.

I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:4-7)

Study Notes 12-29-13: John 15:6-8

Below are my study notes for John 15:6-8.  We spent a good time this Sunday on verse 6 especially and dealt with the reality of God’s judgment and the converse blessing (eternally) of abiding in the vine.

15:6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Invisible and Visible

This is a reiteration of what was introduced by Jesus in verse two.  Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit it likened unto a person who spends their time attending church but never really believes.  These are the false Christians – they are the chaff, the weeds, the seed that lands on the hard ground and never takes root.

It is hard for anyone to read this passage and not think of Christ’s words from Matthew 13. In that chapter we read of Jesus’ parable of the weeds (among several others) and the power of that parable brings us to a place of fear and trembling.  Here are some excerpts:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36-43)

We have to distinguish between those who fellowship on a Sunday morning and superficially “attach” themselves to the vine (the church who is Christ), and the vine itself with its true branches.  There have been those who make a distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” church, or the “visible” and “true” church.  Theologically when you distinguish these two groups, it comes down to those who are the elect and those who are the reprobate.  Those who attend church for something to do on the weekends, and those are themselves joined metaphysically and spiritually to the body of Christ.

I stress here that we are not to be play the role of the angels here sorting through the crop.  Rather we are to be sowers of seeds and those who nourish the ground with the Word of God.

The second point in Scripture that this passage brings to mind is when the prophet Zachariah tells of a vision he was given of Joshua (the high priest at the time) before the throne of God.  In the vision, Joshua stands before God’s throne in filthy garments and is being accused by Satan. The analogy used to describe Joshua here resembles verse 6 of our own passage:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1-2, ESV)

This is the kind of defense that Jesus will offer us on that final Day of Judgment. He will stand for no accusation against His elect – for all accusations fail to hold weight against the balance sheet of Christ’s redemption.  What a great truth to know that He has plucked us from the burning and placed us before the Lord and clothed us in the righteousness of Christ (see the rest of Zech. 3 for a beautiful picture of this).

Getting it Wrong

One of the things we see from time to time in our everyday interaction with other evangelical friends – especially those brothers and sisters who worship in the Presbyterians tradition – is that instead of “playing the angel” they go in the opposite direction to the point where we see them baptizing even infants into the church.

This is not the same mistake as the Catholic Church, which believes their baptism conveys grace, and therefore salvation. The Catholics are completely in error and have been for hundreds of years, but it is not that error which we are addressing here.  Rather, the Presbyterians baptize infants from an outgrowth of a belief that the NT community functions as the OT community functions.  They (rightly) believe that the church will be a “mixed” communion with both wheat and tares, but (wrongly) see that as meaning that the church of the Old Testament will function as that of the NT with Baptism serving in the place and manner of circumcision.

This is a mistake of not applying the newness of the New Covenant to their ecclesiology.  While the OT congregation was marked outwardly by circumcision inwardly the people were missing the primary determiner of New Covenant membership: the indwelling of the Spirit. All it took to be part of the Israelite communion was obedience to the laws of Moses with regards to the ceremonial rites and so forth (most notably circumcision).  Of course God wanted their obedience from the heart, but He dealt with them differently than He deals with us – there is some discontinuity there (in other places I have dealt with the justification of OT believers as coming from Christ – they looked forward for their justification as we look backward to the cross etc.).

The New Covenant church is marked outwardly by love and obedience – this certainly includes baptism and the Lord’s Super.  But those are outward manifestations of the primary marking, which is new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is the new circumcision – a circumcision of the heart.

Again, I’m convinced that this problem we see in other evangelical denominations with padeobaptism emanates primarily from a lack of understanding and applying the newness of the new covenant.

The Outward Sign of a Brand Plucked

Lastly, as I write these words my own daughter Chloe Mae is going to be baptized tomorrow morning by our pastor.  I believe in the significance of baptism, and the reasoning behind it is clear – it is an outward sign that we have been joined to the body of Christ.  It is the proclamation of that spiritual truth to all who will listen.  It is the testimony given by a soul whose life has been raised from death unto life.

Although (as Ryle says) many have been attached to Christ outwardly through baptism or church membership, but have never understood the significance of what it truly means to be “in” Christ. First must come repentance and a true desire to set Christ above all things. A real affection for the Savior is kindled within your heart, and you cannot help but tell others of the gracious salvation of which you are now a recipient.  All of this is from the Spirit at the direction of the Lord Jesus, and for the glory of the Father.

15:7-8 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Prior Desire

We’ve studied something similar before in prior lessons, and we see this principle illustrated throughout Scripture – not simply in the NT but also in the OT as well.

When Jesus tells them that they will be granted whatever they ask its based on the presupposition (or prerequisite, you might say) that they will be asking for the right things because the words of Jesus will be “abiding” in them. When Jesus’ words abide in someone they change that person. Their desires are different because His words are powerful – they are “living and active.”

Take, for example, Psalm 37:4, which says:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
 

In this passage, David knows that the prerequisite for receiving what we desire from the Lord is that first we desire Him in the first place.

If you recall, I addressed this specifically in John 14 where we read the following:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

Here we see that the end goal of Jesus granting us what we ask for is that the Father would be glorified in the Son. The Father is glorified in the Son in three main ways. Here is an adapted list of what I mentioned previously:

  1. When we ask for things in the name of the Son, the Father is glorified in the lordship of the Son, because this lordship exhibits our desire to please Him, and mirrors the relationship that the Father and the Son have together.
  2. The Father is glorified in the Son because when the Son answers our requests He exhibits his power, mercy, grace, kindness and love – all of which are character qualities shared with the Father. Therefore, by His acts of love on our behalf, the Son exhibits the heart of the Father for His children.
  3. The Father is glorified in the Son because “whatever” He grants will be in accordance with the “greater works” (14:12) of the Son. In other words, when we ask for “whatever” we need, it is in the context of 14:12 and doing His works, which is to say that we are asking for His help to do His work. We are basically bowing before Jesus and saying, “this is Your work Lord, give us help to do this work of Yours.” The Father is glorified in this because it makes much of His Son and the Father’s plan and character (as we see in 15:8).

Consequently, this verse reminds us that we have a chief end in life and a real purpose for which we have been saved (Eph. 2:10).  I really can’t stress this enough because there are so many people in the world who don’t know the answers to these fundamental questions: what is the purpose of my life? Why am I here? Who am I?  Etc.  We not only know the purpose of our lives, but we know who sustains us, and keeps us until the end. This passage assumes we know these truths, and is a call for us to call upon Christ to for our help in our daily task of living for His glory.

Two Practical Takeaways

There are two things that are presupposed by Jesus’ words here that are most instructive.

First, we have to have His words abiding in us.  Which means we need to first be reading His word.  This only serves to underscore both the need for time in the word of God.  Here is Jesus, the Word incarnate, telling us something more than just a mystical truth (cf. Carson) having to do with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. There is truth by extension to the assertion that in order for His words to be abiding in us we have to devote ourselves to those words. That means time in the Word of God itself.

Second, to “ask” something of God is to be spending time in prayer. Jesus assumes that we will be taking our requests before the Lord.  Paul urges us to do the same:

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

And so in order to be a fruitful Christian we must recognize the importance of prayer and reading God’s word.  Interestingly, the more we realize and internalize the truth that we are “in” Christ and that He is “in” us, and in fact here with us right now, the more we ought to be driven to communicate with Him.

So here is the question: Do you ignore Jesus’ presence?  And do you seek to solve problems on your own strength, or do you consult the Word?  Let me tell you this, there are many within the church today who seriously think that ministry can be done apart from using God’s word as the dominant method for gaining wisdom and healing.  There are people in this very church who think that.  And I am here to tell you that they couldn’t be further from the truth.  If you are in a small group or “Bible study” which purports to be using the “latest” in trendy programs and yet considers the Bible as an adjunct part of the curriculum, then flee from that group my friend!  Run for your life.

There is nothing so powerful as the Word of God.  It is that abiding word used by the One who abides within us that will renew your mind, change your heart, and sanctify your soul.