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The Kingdom of Jesus

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

 

As we’ve been going through the gospel of Mark in our neighborhood Bible study, I’ve been reminded of what a sneaky writer Mark is.  Let’s say that Paul, for instance, has four things that he wants to say to you.  They might be complicated things, but Paul is going to give them to you straight:  here’s the first thing, here’s the second thing, and so on. 

Mark isn’t like that.  Instead, if he’s got four things to say to you, he’s going to tell you four stories about Jesus, expect you to see the point of all four stories, and expect you to see the way that those four things fit together.  Often, there will only be the tiniest clue that he’s up to something.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s read together from Mark 1:14-15.  Here, we learn that Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.  We might think that this is only a random comment.  After all, the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear again in the whole first chapter of Mark.  However, a closer examination reveals that the kingdom is the theme of much of the rest of the chapter.  Let’s consider, then, what Mark has to say about the kingdom of Jesus.

First, we see that the kingdom has to do with FISHING FOR MEN.  Consider the story of Mark 1:16-20.  This story contains a double contrast with the wisdom of the world.  First, this is a kingdom that is going to advance with words, not with swords.  Jesus isn’t recruiting soldiers.  He’s recruiting disciples. 

Second, these disciples aren’t the kind of people that worldly wisdom would expect Jesus to call.  These aren’t philosophers.  These aren’t lawyers.  These aren’t scribes.  Instead, they’re fishermen, uneducated men from the middle of nowhere who probably never have made a speech in their lives.  Yet Jesus says, “These are the people I want telling others about Me.”

How heartening this is for all of us!  If we want to serve the Lord, we don’t have to go kill somebody for Him.  We don’t have to be experts in the Bible who know every Scripture forward and backward.  Instead, we get to be us.  We can be ordinary, flawed people because Jesus has chosen ordinary, flawed people from the beginning. 

We don’t have to do great things.  All we have to do is reveal the greatness of Jesus in our words and our lives.  All we have to do is follow Him as the people we really are.  In Him, that will be enough.

Next, Jesus reveals that the kingdom involves TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY.  Look at Mark 1:21-22.  Remember, Jesus is a Capernaum resident.  At this point, He still owns a home in Capernaum.  Probably, everybody in town thinks of Him as good old Jesus, the carpenter. 

Now, He pops up in the local synagogue one Sabbath, and He starts teaching with authority.  The natives react with astonishment, likely both at the authority of His teaching and that a carpenter could be teaching so authoritatively.  However, if Jesus’ teaching isn’t authoritative, He isn’t really proclaiming the kingdom.  A kingdom with no authority is no kingdom at all.

Today, we still have to remember that the kingdom of Jesus consists of His authoritative teaching.  Lots of people want to call that into question.  They deny that Jesus and His chosen messengers speak with authority when it comes to the practice of homosexuality, or to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  They deny that Jesus needs to be King in the work and worship of the church.  Instead, they claim that we get to do whatever we want, and Jesus—if He even exists—doesn’t care much one way or the other.  However, denying the authority of Jesus doesn’t make it so.  Either we hear His authoritative teaching, or we will face His authoritative displeasure.

After this, we see that the kingdom includes POWER OVER THE SPIRIT WORLD.  Let’s keep going in Mark 1:23-28.  In this case, the illustration is provided by a demon-possessed man who helpfully shows up in the middle of Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus immediately demonstrates that His kingly authority isn’t limited to teaching.  Instead, He sends the demon right back to Hades.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the synagogue on this day and you see Jesus cast out the demon.  What are you going to think?  Judging from the Scriptures, demon possession was common in Galilee during the Lord’s ministry, but there was nothing anybody could do about it.  How can a human being fight a demon?  Jesus, though, proves that through His power, He can fight demons and win.  This one act gave a lot of suffering people hope that they had never had before.

Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with unclean spirits today, but it is still true for us that our worst enemies reside in the spirit world.  Ephesians mentions rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness.  Over them all, of course, is Satan himself. 

None of us can see these enemies, though their handiwork is obvious, and if we have to fight them on our own, we will certainly lose.  Jesus, though, defeated them.  Indeed, through His death He defeated even the devil!   We can’t fight the evil rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers in the heavenly places, but we don’t have to.  Once we are in the kingdom of Jesus, we are safe from their hatred.

Finally, Jesus reveals His kingdom in His POWER OVER ILLNESS AND DEATH.  Our last story for the evening appears in Mark 1:29-31.  I suspect that most brethren pay attention to this story because it proves that rather than being celibate, the supposed first pope was married. 

However, once we read it through the lens of the kingdom of Jesus, we see that there’s a lot more going on than that.  Jesus is not limited to casting out demons.  Instead, He also has the power to go to someone with a serious illness and heal them completely and instantaneously.  Sickness cannot stand against the authority of Jesus.

Even that, though, is not the final point.  As I was studying this, I was struck by Mark saying that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.  I thought to myself, “That sounds like a sneak preview of resurrection!”  I checked, and in fact, the Greek word translated here as “lift” is the same word used for raising someone from the dead.  Mark is implying that Jesus is not merely in the healing business.  He’s in the resurrection business too.

For now, death has not yet been defeated.  Even the faithful still get sick and die.  However, the day will come when the final victory of Jesus’ kingdom will be revealed.  On that day, He will say the word, and everyone who died in Him will rise from the dead in Him.  Death will be no match for the authority of King Jesus!

Out of the Depths

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

 

As many of you are aware, a few weeks ago, I took a trip to Texas to work on a project called Timeless.  Its goal is to rewrite all 150 psalms so that we can sing them in our worship.  On the Saturday morning of that trip, several dozen brethren and I sang through about 20 of the psalm paraphrases that have been written so far.

Many of them were good, but there’s one in particular that I haven’t been able to get out of my head ever since.  It’s called “My Soul Waits for the Lord”, and it’s taken from Psalm 130.  I’ve been stuck on it partially because the music is so beautiful, but primarily because the thoughts are so powerful.  I want to share my meditations with you this morning as we consider what it means to cry to God out of the depths.

The first section of the psalm presents God as A GOD WHO LISTENS.  Look at Psalm 130:1-2.  These are dark words, brethren.  These are the words of somebody who is calling out to God from the depths of uttermost despair.  The emotion here is so raw that it should make us a little bit uncomfortable if we understand what it’s saying.  And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired this raw, dark, emotional song so that it would be part of the worship of God’s people forever.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us.  It tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid of darkness in our song worship.  We shouldn’t come in here and only sing about light and joy and happiness because that isn’t true to our walk with God.  Sure, hopefully all of us experience light and joy and happiness from time to time, but we also experience suffering and sorrow and heartbreak.  We shouldn’t try to hide those things from one another and from God.  Instead, we should sing about them together, so that our song worship can spring authentically from our lives.

Second, this psalm should remind us that there are no depths too deep for God.  This is true of the depths of physical and mental illness.  It’s true of the depths of the trials of life.  It’s true even of the depths of sin.  In fact, I think this psalm is about sin.  It’s the cry of somebody who has wrecked his life so thoroughly that only God can fix it.  Even then, no matter what we have done, we cannot go so far that God will refuse to hear us when we cry to Him. 

Second, the psalmist shows us that God is A GOD WHO FORGIVES.  Consider Psalm 130:3-4.  He begins with the darkest thought in a dark psalm:  the possibility that God could be a God who marks iniquities.  Imagine that.  Imagine that the God of heaven and earth is still perfectly holy, perfectly just, but that He is no longer a God of mercy.  Instead, He’s looking down from heaven, writing down every sin that every one of us commits, so that when the day comes, He will judge every one of us justly, and He will justly condemn every sinner to eternal torment. 

Could you stand up and face a God like that?  I know I couldn’t!  If all of my sins were exposed to the light of His presence, I could only hang my head in shame.  If God were only a God of justice, it would be better for all of us if we never had existed.

Thankfully, though, the word doesn’t tell us that God is justice.  It tells us that God is love.  He is rich in mercy, and He overflows with forgiveness.  Indeed, so great is His desire to forgive us that He sent His Son to die in our place! 

If God is only just, there’s no point in serving Him.  I know that I’ve already blown it.  Why bother?  However, because there is forgiveness with Him, it makes sense to fear and honor and worship Him.  He is a God of second chances, and I know that if I seek Him, He will give a second chance to me.

Indeed, God’s nature is the source of HOPE FOR US.  Let’s continue our reading with Psalm 130:5-6.  I think that the entire psalm is beautiful, but in my opinion, this is the most beautiful lyric in the whole thing.  Here is this man who is crying out to God from the depths and the darkness of sin, and he is waiting for God more than the watchmen for the morning. 

I know we have many veterans in the congregation, and I suspect that just about all of you have had to stand a watch that lasted until morning.  In fact, some of you may even have done that in a time of war, when the darkness might conceal enemies who wanted to sneak up and kill all your sleeping friends.  In the midst of exhaustion and fear, how anxiously might a watchman long to see the dawn!  And yet, the psalmist says, we should long for God even more than that.

However, this longing, this hope in God’s presence, isn’t founded on our wishful thinking.  Instead, the text tells us that it is founded on His word.  God isn’t merely a God of mercy.  He is a God of faithfulness.  He has promised to forgive and bless His people, and through thousands of years of Bible history, we see Him doing exactly that, over and over again.  Even if we are down at the bottom of the well, even if we have sunk as low as we can possibly go, still we can wait on the Lord.  We can wait with hope and expectation because of the promise of His word.

The psalmist concludes by observing that God is the source of HOPE FOR EVERYONE.  Let’s read Psalm 130:7-8 together.  It’s clear to him not only that he should turn to the Lord from the depth of his sins.  He sees that his entire nation should turn to the Lord from the depths of their sins. 

In particular, God has three attributes that make Him the source of eternal hope.  They are His steadfast love, His plentiful redemption, and His complete forgiveness.  All of these attributes are based on the first.  “Steadfast love” is a translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which doesn’t have an English equivalent.  Hesed is God’s covenant love, a mingling of love and faithfulness.  He offers plentiful and complete redemption because those things spring from the depths of His nature.

We’ve been talking a lot this year about evangelism, and when you get right down to it, this is what makes evangelism so important.  We have to tell other people about God because there are so many people who so desperately need to know His steadfast love.  They’re down in the depths.  They’re down in the depths of depression and suffering and sin.  They know that they can’t get themselves out, but they don’t know that God can get them out.  They’re hopeless, and they’re hopeless because nobody bothered to tell them the truth.

That’s where we come in.  Evangelism isn’t for us, so we can boost those attendance numbers and puff ourselves up for doing the Lord’s work.  Instead, evangelism is for them.  It is for everybody who is hurting and hopeless and doesn’t know where to turn, because everybody can turn to God.

Stepping Up in Meditation

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

 

In our first “Stepping Up” series of the year, Shawn and I have addressed four topics that are familiar to every Christian:  prayer, Bible reading, worship, and obedience.  I think all of us would agree that these are basic, foundational practices essential to our spiritual lives.

In the fifth and final sermon in this series, I’ll be examining a topic that I believe is no less important, but that is much less familiar.  It is the subject of meditation.  Biblical support for meditation is widespread.  The word itself is used in 23 different places in the ESV, and the concept is commonplace throughout the Bible.  It’s fair to say that meditation is no less important to our spiritual welfare than prayer, reading, worship, and obedience.

Nonetheless, I think brethren often don’t recognize how important it ought to be to them.  Many of us don’t associate meditation with Christianity at all, and that’s something we need to work on.  This morning, then, let’s consider how we can step up in meditation.

First, let’s ask WHAT MEDITATION IS.  If I asked most of you, you’d probably come up with a mental image of some Buddhist monk sitting there cross-legged with his eyes closed, making the sacred sign with his hands.  However, that’s not what Biblical meditation is about.  Instead, consider what Paul writes in Philippians 4:8.  Other translations here will say, “think on”, “dwell on”, or even “meditate on”. 

In short, Bible meditation is when we take some wholesome, spiritual thought, and we spend some indefinite amount of time turning it over and over in our minds.  Along with studying the word and reading the word, meditating on the word is supposed to be one of the main ways that we interact with it. 

Nor does this even necessarily have to be about the Bible directly.  You ever find yourself singing a hymn over and over to yourself, thinking about the words as you’re singing them?  That’s meditation too.  The same is true when we’re thinking about people we know who have revealed the word in their lives and considering the godliness of their actions. 

This isn’t a high-intensity activity.  Instead, it’s the opposite.  Ideally, “thinking about these things” is what we find our minds doing whenever we aren’t using them for something else.  We’re at the sink washing dishes, and lo and behold, we start meditating on the things of God!  It’s not some fancy spiritual discipline.  Meditation is as everyday as getting out of bed in the morning.

However, for all its everydayness, meditation is something we can’t do without.  Let’s consider, then, WHY MEDITATION MATTERS.  Look at Joshua 1:8.  The logic here is very simple.  If you talk about God’s word, meditate on God’s word, and obey God’s word, God will bless you.  If you omit any of those steps, you won’t get the result.

Let’s put it this way.  You ever known somebody who went to church faithfully, but was just as mean and hateful as they could be?  People like that probably have a meditation problem.  They hear the word, but they don’t take that word home and think it over.  It just goes in one ear and out the other.  As a result, when it comes time for them to make a moral decision, they don’t have the word in their hearts to guide them into godliness.  The word has not changed them because they did not give it the opportunity to change them.

We have to do the opposite.  We have to meditate on the word we have been taught so that it will change our hearts and our lives.  Otherwise, it’s like trying to get bread to rise by dumping a bunch of yeast on top of the bread dough and letting it sit there.  What happens if you do that, ladies?  You get a floury, watery mess that doesn’t rise, that’s what!  If we don’t knead the yeast into the dough, it can’t do its work.  Meditation is kneading God’s word into our hearts.  Unless we do that, we rob it of its power to transform us.

I want to spend the remainder of the sermon talking about HOW TO MEDITATE.  First, we have to PUT TO DEATH THE EARTHLY.  Let’s read here from Colossians 3:5-8.  Notice that Paul isn’t merely warning us here about ungodly actions or ungodly speech.  He’s warning us against ungodly thoughts.  The problem is that it’s possible for us to meditate on evil things too, and when we’re working those into our hearts, they will surely corrupt us.

Let me give you an example.  Like any of us, I face temptation, and one of the temptations I most struggle with is holding a grudge.  My fleshly self wants to carry a grudge until it dies of old age, then have it stuffed and mounted!

That’s a problem not just because we’re supposed to be tenderhearted and forgiving, but because of what that grudge-holding will do to me or any of us.  When I’m going around meditating on that grudge, first of all, it’s keeping me from thinking about whatever is true, honorable, just, and so on.  All that good stuff has been blocked out. 

Instead, I’m dwelling on evil things—the wrong that I think has been done me and the anger that I feel about it.  I’m hardening my heart against other people, and I’m becoming more and more convinced of my own self-righteousness.  Brethren, that kind of meditation is spiritual poison!  None of us can afford to dwell on things like that!

Instead, we must STORE UP THE WORD IN OUR HEARTS.  Look at the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:11.  We’ve said that meditation is thinking about godly things.  Well, if we want those things in our heads to think about, we have to put them there in the first place, and we have to love them enough to dwell on them.

Meditation isn’t a self-starting activity.  You don’t just say to yourself, “I’m going meditate on the things of God for the next 15 minutes!”  I don’t know.  Maybe that would work for you, but it would feel very unnatural and weird to me.  Instead, I’ve found that the key is packing my brain so full of spiritual things that I can’t help but think about them.

That starts with our Bible reading.  You know, it’s amazing that every one of us has in our possession at least one complete copy of the word of God.  Our first-century brethren would have turned green with envy!  What a priceless opportunity every one of us has, every day, to put that word in our hearts so we can meditate on it! 

The same is true with other sources of spiritual wisdom.  I know people who keep hymnals on their bedside tables and read a hymn or two every night before turning in.  Among our hymns are some of the most beautiful things ever written in the English language.  They’re perfect for meditation!  If that’s not enough, we need to spend more time with strong Christians whose words and conduct will give us good things to dwell on.  The more time we spend with these things, the more we will learn to love them, and the more we will meditate on them.

Understanding Bible Translations

Monday, February 04, 2019

 

The last time I took the pulpit here, I preached on how to step up in our Bible reading.  Much to my surprise, the part of it that attracted the most discussion afterwards was a brief comment about the translations I recommended for reading.  Lauren said there were a bunch of folks furiously scribbling down acronyms, and I had several conversations afterward about it.  One of those conversations was with Dr. Clifford, who encouraged me to preach on translations, so here I am!

Even though this sermon is not going to be about any particular Biblical text, it’s still going to be about the Bible.  After all, our faith is founded on the premise that we can read and understand the word of God for ourselves.  However, few if any of us can read the Scriptures in the original languages, so we have to rely on translations for spiritual understanding..  How reliable are they?  This evening, then, let’s see what we need to know about understanding Bible translations.

First, let’s ask WHAT A TRANSLATION IS.  This might surprise some, but I’ve seen a lot of confusion in this area from brethren, and it begins with the difference between a translation and a paraphrase.  A translation is taken from the original languages, but a paraphrase begins with an English Bible. 

Also, translation or paraphrase has nothing to do with perceived faithfulness to the text.  Let me give you an example.  Some years ago, I preached a sermon out of the NIV, and after the sermon, one of the elders of the congregation came up to me and commented on my use of a paraphrase in the pulpit.  I told him, “That’s not true.  The NIV is a translation,” which it is.  However, he still didn’t take the point.

This is important because even though there are paraphrases on the market—things like The Living Bible and the Message—most of the options we’re presented with are translations.  With the exception of a few that were translated by people with an agenda, they are good-faith efforts to make the word of God available to people who only read English.  We don’t have any perfect translations of the Bible, and some translations are better than others, but just about all of them can teach us the truth.

Despite this, there are people who try to stir up strife about translations, and most of them are people who believe that only the King James Version is the word of God.  They’re very active on social media, and they use memes like this one to cast doubt on other translations.  The NIV leaves out verses??? That must be pretty bad, right?

Actually, no.  This isn’t evidence of some subversive plot by atheists.  Instead, it’s about the manuscript evidence on which translation is based.  There weren’t as many good manuscripts available when the KJV was translated, so the translators concluded from limited evidence that those passages belonged in the Bible.  However, by the time the NIV was translated, many more manuscripts had been discovered, and its translators decided from better evidence that those passages should be excluded.  In my opinion, the NIV is right to leave those verses out!

This takes us to a discussion of TRANSLATION PHILOSOPHY.  I think if you asked most Christians what they want in a Bible translation, they would say something like, “I want a Bible that says what the original manuscripts say.”  The problem is that it’s not that easy.  Translation isn’t like solving a mathematical equation.  There is not a single right answer in every instance. 

The first way that translators have tackled the problem of saying what the text says is with word-for-word translation.  If there’s a word in Greek, the translator chooses the best English word available to represent it.  This approach tends to appeal to brethren, but there’s a problem. The languages of the Bible, like all languages, are idiomatic.  They use figures of speech.  Most of the time, if you translate an idiom literally, the result is confusion rather than enlightenment. 

Let me give you an example.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:4, Paul talks about knowing “how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor”.  I realize that I’m speaking to an audience of hardcore Bible students.  Many of you probably recall studying this text and drawing your own conclusion about the meaning of “vessel”.

However, imagine that you’re coming to the text for the first time.  Possessing one’s own vessel is a Greek idiom, but it isn’t an English one.  I would guess that if you grabbed somebody off the street and asked them to interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:4, they would probably think you were talking about a jar!

As a result, all Bible translations will, to varying degrees, also use a thought-for-thought approach.  They will tell you what they think the text means rather than what it says.  For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4:4, the ESV takes a thought-for-thought approach and says “control his own body”, which makes a whole lot more sense to the average English speaker.  The danger, of course, is that the translators will be wrong about the meaning of the text, and the more this approach is employed, the more likely they are to be wrong.

With this in mind, let’s consider some DIFFERENT TRANSLATIONS.  When it comes to translations with which brethren are most familiar, the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV are more toward the word-for-word part of the spectrum, the NLT is over toward the thought-for-thought side, and the CSB and the NIV are tweeners.

Once again, there are no wrong answers here, but of those translations, I prefer three of them:  the NKJV, the ESV, and the CSB.  Much of this has to do with publisher support.  I trust Crossway, which publishes the ESV, and Holman, which publishes the NKJV and CSB, to put out a quality product.

However, there are also things that I like about each translation too.  Let’s start with the oddball, the CSB.  Because of its translation philosophy, it reads much differently than what we’re used to.  For instance, look at the way the CSB renders Romans 8:6.  I really like this.  Rather than forcing a Greek idiom into English, it uses an English idiom to explain the Greek.  However, I decided not to adopt the CSB because it’s too different.  If I used it from the pulpit, everyone following along in their NASB’s, KJV’s, and NKJV’s would constantly be doing doubletakes.

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the NKJV, which is, unsurprisingly, a lot like the old KJV.  Here’s the NKJV rendering of Romans 8:6 by way of comparison.  I like the NKJV, and I’ve used it as a preaching Bible before.  However, it has the same limited textual basis as the old KJV and, like the old KJV, it includes a number of verses that I don’t think should be in the Bible.  That’s not a huge deal; it doesn’t materially affect the meaning.  However, it’s enough to lead me to look elsewhere.

That leads me to my weapon of choice, the ESV.  Here is the ESV take on Romans 8:6.  I use the ESV because it’s such a good all-rounder.  Its translators used all the best manuscripts, it reads more smoothly than the NASB, and it’s better for precise study than the NIV.  Like every translation, it has renderings that I don’t like, but all in all, I think it’s a strong contender for a Christian’s go-to Bible.

Stepping Up in Bible Reading

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

 

Nearly every gospel preacher on the planet, including both Shawn and me, will advocate reading the Bible on a regular, ideally daily, basis.  Most Christians will agree that, yes, it would be good for them spiritually if they were to carry a Bible-reading program to its conclusion.  However, I suspect that most Christians never have managed to read the Bible cover-to-cover despite those good intentions.

If that’s you, don’t feel bad about that, so long as you intend to do better this year.  Though it seems simple, sticking with a Bible-reading program is quite difficult.  I myself didn’t manage it until 2013, despite having preached the gospel for nearly 10 years by then.  In the years since, though, I’ve read through the Bible at least one time every year, and I’ve learned a few things about reading along the way.  This morning, I’d like to share them with you so that all of us can step up in Bible reading.

First, I’d like to discuss the importance of CHOOSING THE RIGHT BIBLE.  I don’t think this is something that most Christians think about, but the Bible we select to do our reading has everything to do with how successful we will be.  For instance, at home, I’ve got this awful purple fake-leather KJV Bible that’s printed on what feels like copier paper in 7-point type.  Yes, it’s the Bible.  It contains all 66 books from Genesis to Revelation.  However, if you wanted to read that thing cover-to-cover, you’d have to have the patience of Job!

The Bible we use to read matters a lot, and my guess is that a lot of Christians fail in their Bible-reading resolutions because they aren’t reading out of a Bible that’s right for them.  My suggestion, then, if you want to get serious about it, is to buy a Bible specifically for reading.  Don’t try to cheap out.  Don’t try to do your reading on your phone.  I suspect that most people who start out doing daily Bible readings on their phones end up doing a daily Facebook reading!  It’s too tempting.

Instead, go to the nearest big Lifeway or other Bible bookstore and spend some solid time looking for a Bible that’s right for you.  I recommend paying particular attention to Bibles in the ESV, NKJV, and CSB translations.  Those are all translations that are good for reading, and they are well supported by publishers that turn out a quality product.

When you’re out Bible-shopping, don’t judge the book by its box.  Actually take those Bibles out there in the store and spend a few minutes reading a page or two in each one.  Pay attention to whether the print is comfortable for your eyes.  Ask yourself if the Bible feels right in your hand.  I myself read out of a genuine-leather Bible rather than a polyurethane Bible because I like the way it feels.  Does it have a whole bunch of references that you find distracting?  Go through this process with a couple dozen Bibles, pick the one you love, and buy it.  Whatever it costs you, successfully completing a reading program will be worth far more.

Second, if we want to succeed in our Bible-reading, we have to UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE OF READING.  To illustrate what I mean by this, I’d like to look at two different passages from the book of Acts:  Acts 8:27-31 and Acts 17:11.  Both of these texts involve the Bible, but they are not about the same activity. 

Let’s start with the Bereans.  Notice that Luke doesn’t say they’re reading the Scriptures.  He says they’re examining the Scriptures.  In other words, this is a text about Bible study rather than Bible reading, and study and reading are not the same thing.  The Bereans are trying to answer a particular question, and they’re devoting a lot of effort to their search.  These things, focus and intensity, are characteristic of study.

Reading, by contrast, isn’t like that.  Look at the eunuch back in Acts 8.  He doesn’t have the word open for any particular reason.  He’s just killing time on his way back to Ethiopia.  Similarly, his consideration of the word isn’t that intense.  He doesn’t understand what he’s reading, but he’s OK with not understanding, and if Philip hadn’t shown up, he would have gone on not understanding.

In the church, I think we have a firm handle on Bible study, but I don’t think we understand Bible reading.  As a result, brethren approach Bible reading in the same way that they do Bible study.  They’re very intense with the text.  They try to figure out every little nuance.  They may even have a system of marking up the text with colored pencils as they go. 

Now, that’s all well and good, but the problem is that it’s exhausting!  Christians who start this way will often end up with a Bible that’s 10 percent marked up and 90 percent unread.  Their intensity defeats their purpose.

Instead, I find that for me, Bible reading is a lot more passive.  I’m not trying to outline the text or figure out everything; instead, I’m simply listening to what God has to say to me.  Whatever I get out of it is what I get out of it.  If I come to something I don’t understand, I make a mental note of it and move on. 

If you want to get through our reading program this year, then, don’t try to study your way through it.  Read your way through it.  It’s a lot less demanding, and I think you’ll find that it’s much easier to maintain.

Finally, we will be much more likely to succeed in our Bible-reading plans if we READ REGULARLY.  Consider the psalmist’s attitude toward the word in Psalm 119:20.  He doesn’t want to encounter God’s law yearly or monthly.  He wants it to be a constant part of his life.

I think all of us want that too.  Well, if we don’t, we have spiritual problems that are beyond the scope of what this sermon can fix!  We want to be in the word daily, but then life intervenes.  We get really busy at work, one of the kids gets sick, or we just plain lose focus, and the next time we look up, we’re two months behind.  “Oh, well,” we say to ourselves.  “Guess I might as well wait till 2020 to take another crack at it.”  What we want doesn’t end up being what we do.

However, with a little bit of thought, we can make what we want into what we do.  Some of this starts with timing.  For all of us, there is an optimal time to read:  maybe in the morning, maybe on our lunch break, maybe right before bed.  For me, since I’m a morning person, first thing in the morning is my ideal time.  Whatever it is, we need to figure it out and read then.  If we do that long enough, the habit will become ingrained.

Second, we need reminders.  I started off by getting a daily email notification.  Now, I’ve printed off reading plans for both of my Bible reading schedules and check off readings as I do them.  If that doesn’t work, maybe we need stronger behavioral cues.  For instance, it might help if every night, you sat your Bible down on top of your TV remote or your phone.  Want to check your messages?  Want to watch something?  You have to read first!  Things like this sound silly, but in reality, they can help us tremendously in reaching our spiritual goals.

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