Thursday, May 25, 2017

What do I read next in my Bible?

I have not done it in many years, but sometimes I have just opened my Bible in a random fashion to see what God had to say to me.  It was sort of a modern take on the casting of lots or Urim and Thurim.  How do I know God's will?  Let's roll the dice so to speak.  I would hesitate to say one should never do this.  One is reading God's Word.  That is good.  In recent years a funny story has crossed my path a couple of times.  A young man want to know what to do with his life so he opens his Bible in this random fashion and the Scripture Matthew 27:5 about Judas is what the page opened to and the eye caught, "...and he went and hanged himself."  Feeling discouraged by such a dark passage he decided to try again and get a more positive Scripture passage.  He opened the Bible this time and came up with Luke 10:37 which told him "You go and do likewise." I have no idea whether that story is real or not.  I'm guessing it is not.  I would say I have often opened the Bible randomly and received more positive and more helpful passages.  Not that positive and helpful is the purpose of the Bible.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that in Question and Answer 3 the following:

Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.1

1. Micah 6:8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

When we approach the Scripture to find out what job I should take or if I should by this business or not, we are seeking from the Scripture something that is askew from the main purpose.  That is not to say there is no good in seeking guidance and wisdom, which often does come from Scripture.  If I wonder if I should explore serving other God's besides the one true living God, the Scripture does tell me what to do.  God of the Bible forbids it.  While my country does not specify whom I should serve in religion, the Bible tells me whom I am to serve.

In deciding what to read in the Bible there are two approaches to take.  The first is to figure out what issues in our life need addressing then read the book of the Bible or select passages that deal with that passage.  Often our questions that we would like the Bible to answer do not line up with that 3rd Question and Answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Our primary questions should be in line with our primary needs, but sometimes our hearts are not ready for that.  Our hearts ask for questions about suffering, marriage, finances, living a good life, and how to be wise.  The Scripture does address these, so going to those passages addressing those sorts of questions that are on our hearts can be an entrance to Scripture reading.  However, if we see the Bible as just a self-help book helping us with temporal concerns in the here and now, we may never get to the greater teachings of Scripture.  We must eventually look at deeper questions such as who is God?  Who is Jesus?  What is salvation?  Salvation from what?  What is sin?  How do I serve God?

What do I read next based on my need?  You can choose a temporal, earthly need or an eternal issue.  Either one can be a starting point.  It should not be an end though.

One way to address the topical issues is to look at Nave's Topical Bible.  Billy Graham in his ministry recommended this tool and there are versions on line.

http://www.naves-topical-bible.com/
http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/naves-topical-bible/

Another way to find topical Scripture passages is to use Concordances.  Today this activity can be easily done by searching for words in Bible Software.  There are many ways this can be accomplished.  There are Bible apps and applications.  Some of them for free such as put out by http://CrossWire.org. There are websites that have the whole Bible on them as searchable text.  Examples: Biblegateway.org, netbible.org, and esv.org.

Google can also be helpful by Googling phrases like, "What the Bible says about wisdom".  The auto complete of "What the Bible says about" can tell you a bit of what is on people's minds.

The other way to read the Bible is to read through the whole thing.  Ligonier Ministry has a bunch of different Bible reading plans on a page dedicated for this purpose.  There are charts for just reading one chapter at a time over three years.  There Bible reading plans that take one through the whole Bible in a year.  There is the M’Cheyne plan which takes one through the whole Bible in a year, but takes one through the Psalms and New Testament a second time.   The ESV.ORG site also has reading plans.

For myself, I am reading shorter passages but listening to a podcast which reads the ESV with the M'Cheyne plan.    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What is Sacred: Reading Mathew 23:16-26

Reading Matthew 23:16-23 helps us see how we are slack in giving respect for all aspects of God's creation.  While we might not use God's name in vain, we might not speak well of our fellow man.  These are beings created in God's image.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that the have it wrong when they teach that swearing by the Temple brings no obligation, but swearing by its gold does.  Jesus points out parallel teachings they have, where they teach about limits of the Law.  Jesus points out how the sacred has relationships and effects to other things.  We might see that we have not been recognizing the holy and the sacred in our own lives.

Another teaching of Jesus in this section has to do acting to advance justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  Justice is seeking the right.  Mercy acting forgiving, not giving punishment that someone deserves.  Faithfulness is being true to virtue and duty when it is costly to do so.  These are in contrast with the Pharisee practices of greed and self-indulgence.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reading Jesus Warnings in Matthew 23:6-15

In Matthew 23:6-15, Jesus talks about the dynamics of being a religious leader. When we are religious leaders there is a temptation to exalt our own reputation. There is a temptation even in obeying to do it for the motive of stroking our ego. In my home in the Ozarks it was the practice the churches I grew up in to not use titles like Reverend. Pastors were often called brother, but then again other men in the church could be called brother and the women sister. It seems that brother could also be used as a title of honor also. The intent is to not do that though. After completing seminary I have found it a challenge to find a traditional ministry with the honor that is common in American Protestant churches. So my heart is sometimes seeking honor exactly in the way that Jesus warns against. My own heart has a subtle desire to seek honor and a not so subtle anger in response to dishonor. This is another call to the life to live daily repentance.

I've been listening on Audible book by Robert Linthicum called City of God, City of Satan.  In the book he tells about how he went to Australia to speak to urban pastors in Melbourne and Sydney.  He said that he felt the pastors were particularly strong in doing urban ministry because they 1. share pastoral responsibilities as a team, 2. have other jobs for their own livelihood, and 3. the church is able to serve in addiction rehabilitation centers and housing.  These pastors serve in a way that enables ministry even in a small church through their sacrificial lifestyle.  A part of my own goal has been to find ministry that is honorable, when I should be looking how to serve, even serve sacrificially.  This example given in the book is a challenge to my own plans and prayers for current and future ministry.

Jesus talks specifically about over seas mission. He says that when we do such work is that we may be responsible for propagating even more sever forms of religious pride and ego. I have personally wanted to be involved in missions overseas. While trying to fulfill the great commission in Matthew 28:19,20, I must not fall into the sin warned against in Matthew 23:15. At the same time, I can see the warnings in Matthew 23:6-15 being used to justify not going to the mission field. I can also see it being used to criticize those who would set an example that challenges our comfort and ease.

Pray with Me:

 Lord, Our hearts are full of pride. We take our duty to love you and make it a contest which we want to win. Forgive us. For give us for also making others join in the contest. We have these and many more sins. Forgive LORD we pray. Amen