Monday, 30 December 2013

10 Reasons for Reading your Bible in 2014

Christmas is over, thank goodness. Isn't it a minefield of custom and etiquette? Did we send an appropriate card to this or that person? I hope they didn't feel it was preaching at them. On the other hand, I do hope it wasn't too frivolous, was a clear “witness.” Did someone we sent a card to not send one back? Did we get a card but forget to send one? Is anyone coming off our Christmas card list? (No one comes off mine)

And gifts! Does anybody understand this new technology that seems to be obsolete as soon as it hits the stores? A book is still the safest bet in my view. You don't have to switch it on, it won't run out of power, it will pass airport security without any trouble, and you don't need teenagers to show you how it works.

A friend wishes you a merry Christmas and you shake his hand in a manly fashion, but what about his wife? Do you simply nod, shake hands in a manly fashion, or do you kiss her? Do you kiss her, or does she kiss you? Is it a peck on the cheek, an air kiss, and how many? One, two three? How many is polite and how many is bordering on predatory?

And the greeting! How are we to greet each other? If you say “merry Christmas” you simply know someone is going to look disapprovingly at the connotation in that word “merry.” “That’s the kind of Christmas you have is it? And you an elder of the church!” On the other hand, if you say a sober “happy Christmas” someone is bound to reply with a loud, “Merry Christmas!” as though to make the point, “cheer up you miserable so-and-so.”

Do you think we might be worrying about the wrong things though? The best place in my Christmas was the carol services. They took me away from the hurly-burly of Christmas mania and focussed my mind where it should always have been. Thank God for his church.

New Year Resolutions

But it is over for another year. Although, we now have New Year's resolutions to contend with. I expect the diet companies will get a sharp rise in membership in January followed by a depression by March, in more ways than one. Gym membership will rise for a bit, but how long will it last? The roads of hell are paved with good intentions. Are we thinking about this in the wrong way as well? Is there a better way of finding resolve, of making and keeping the promises we foolishly make to ourselves this time of year?

I have one piece of advice when it comes to New Year's Resolutions – don't make them!!! “From now on...” statements just rise up and embarrass us, remind us of our folly and failures.  The problem is that once we tack a resolution to a day and time it becomes absolute and we are so discouraged the moment we fail because the failure is absolute.

“I said I would do this ‘from now on without fail,’ and I have failed, and what a miserable, discouraging experience it is.”

My advice to you is, don't make this type of resolution. Can’t we find different, more realistic, reasons altogether for adopting the disciplines that so often evade us?

Some of you will decide to follow a Bible reading plan in the coming year.  With the right motivation we can start a plan any time, resume it with renewed resolve when we fall down, and witness real progress even as we occasionally fail. Reasons that have nothing to do with the date but everything to do with how we benefit from reading our Bibles.

Let me share some thoughts on why starting a Bible reading plan – any time – is a good idea and give you reasons for persevering, guilt free, in that plan.

1. EncouragementBible falling apart

I am encouraged to read that the apostle Paul needed to encourage his young charge, Timothy, in applying himself to reading and teaching the Bible. In one of his letters to  Timothy Paul writes this familiar text,

As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim.3:16)

Even church leaders need to be reminded to read, teach and live the Scriptures. This should encourage us to persevere, knowing we are in good company when we sometimes struggle. In persevering we can be a blessing and encouragement to others – even our leaders.

2. Blessing

There is blessing in reading and obeying the Bible. God said of Abraham,

I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (Gen.26:4)

How did Abraham hear God? You might be surprised to know he read God’s word. We like to think of those times when Abraham heard directly from God but he also had a written record of God's statutes and commandments. The word translated statutes means a written record, an engraving in fact. Certainly, written records go back that far and further. So Abraham read and obeyed God's written word and, we are told, there is blessing in hearing and obeying God. Following the example of the “father of the faithful” includes Bible reading.

3. Personal Application

The Bible is for us and applies to us personally.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb.4:12)

What's on your heart today? What is burdening you? A good place to start is with God's Word, which can help straighten out your thinking, read your heart and show you a way through. Look again at that note from Paul to Timothy:

As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim.3:16)

How often have we thought how we would like to have spiritual wisdom, to know thorough equipping, and to grow in the things of God? What better motivation could there be for opening our Bible to read in the coming year?

4. Inheritance

We are charged with faithfully passing on Bible truth. King David, in his old age, wrote:

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Ps.71:15-18)

Scripture tells us this is what Abraham did, “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac” (Gen.25:5) Just like Timothy, Isaac had learned and inherited God's truth from childhood. In the Bible we see God’s truth being passed on from one generation to the next. From Abraham to Isaac  to Jacob, to Moses and the prophets, to David and from him to those that followed and to Timothy from his mother. We too have inherited that same truth from our spiritual parents. What better way to do the same than by the good example of faithful Bible reading?

5. Covenant

We are told in Exodus,

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do." And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. (Ex.24:4)

Just as with those people of God in the desert, when we become Christians we enter a covenant relationship with God and the terms of that covenant are recorded in the Bible. Why wouldn’t we want to read that exciting account of God’s dealings with his people, of God’s promises to us and ours to him?

6. Tradition

We read of the first Christians that “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

As we read, ponder, set our minds and hearts on the word of God we are doing what was done by our spiritual forebears in the early church. In the privacy of our room, in our quiet times, as we read, ponder and apply the word of God to ourselves we are following in that unbroken tradition given us by God.

Do you want to know what it is to be a biblical people, to be “church?” It starts right here, with Bible reading.

7. Prophecy

Before he ascended to the Father Jesus said to his disciples,

These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Lk.24:44-45)

Warning his disciples of false Christs Jesus said, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” (Mk.13:23) The things that happen to the people of God are the fulfilment of the purposes of God. Have you ever thought of that? Ours isn't a blind faith but an informed faith, wonderfully informed beforehand by Scripture. Who wouldn’t want to delve into God’s declared purposes?

8. Instruction

Paul reminds us in his letter to Christians in Ephesus,

You also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph.1:13-14)

Did you get that? You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, when you believed. Now look at what John says in his gospel about believing,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

In the Bible we have that “word of truth” and in believing that word we are included in God’s great plan for mankind, sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Why wouldn’t we want to open up the book and read what God has to say to his people?

9. Example

Writing about the experiences of rebellious Israel Paul wrote,

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Cor.10:11)

Some people are in the Bible as an example, others as a warning. This is instruction to us as we anticipate Jesus coming again. Why not learn from the wisdom and folly of others, reading their stories, allowing their lives to either guide us on or warn us?

10. Assurance

Finally, in a glorious description of the City of God, John writes,

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed-- on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.

The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement.

The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there.

They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.

But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Rev.21:10-27)

You see, there is another book and our names are recorded in it as citizens of God's city and kingdom. We are written there if we have believed and obeyed, like Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, John, Paul, Timothy...who believed because they read and trusted God's word and walked by its light (Ps.119:105)

Who wouldn't want to read the Bible this coming year, to be reminded of God’s sure promises to those who trust him? And if, like Timothy, we need encouragement, if we get distracted, who wouldn't be encouraged to take up the word again, persevere and continue in trusting and obeying, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [pressing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Php.3:13-14)

Happy New Year, and may God draw us ever closer as we devote ourselves to his word in the Bible and allow it to shape and mould our lives, to his glory.

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