Plan to Read the Bible

December 29, 2017

The Bible is a big book—really a library of books. Although I have valued Bible reading since I was a teenager, I’ve never succeeded at it without some sort of plan. The plan could be very simple. I will read a section of scripture before I go to bed. The plan could be more involved—I will read the Bible through in a year. The plan should fit you.

  1. Choose a translation that you are comfortable reading. Translations fall into two categories: formal equivalent (e.g., KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, ESV) and functional equivalent (e.g., NIV, Easy-to-Read, NET, CSB). Formal equivalence attempts to match the forms of the original language as closely as possible in the receptor language. Functional equivalence attempts to achieve the same effect on the reader. Formal equivalent translations usually have a reading level of 8th to 12th grades and are harder to understand. Functional equivalent translations may have a reading level of 3rd to 8th grades, but leave more opportunities for bias from the translator. My advice would be start with the ESV or NKJV which have lower reading levels (about 8th grade) than the NASB or KJV (about 10-12th grades) and see how it goes. If you are having difficulty with comprehension, then switching to something like the NET, CSB, or NIV makes sense (about 7th grade). For people still having difficulty, the New Century Version or God’s Word have even lower reading levels (about 3rd to 5th) .
  2. Personalize your plan. Reading through the Bible in a year is a wonderful goal, but maybe that isn’t the proper starting place for you. My first time through the New Testament was without a time goal involved—I just set as a goal reading through the New Testament, and kept at it until I was finished. Reading through the New Testament in a year takes about five minutes a day. The next thing I did was read through the narrative portions of the Old Testament (Law and History), which gives you the basic story of the Bible.
  3. Listening may be a great alternative. Some people have difficulty sitting still to read. God needs action-oriented people too. Maybe you should consider listening to the Bible on mp3 files or CDs as you drive or do other activities. The YouVersion Bible app has audio Bibles for free as do some others. If you want CDs, local bookstores or Christianbook.com are sources for these.
  4. Define success. If success is defined as reading a particular portion of scripture on a particular day, then I’m a failure, although I’ve been reading the Bible through in a year for decades. I claim to be a regular Bible reading but not always a daily reader. Expect to get behind and have to play catch up. Get ahead if possible. If your goal is more knowledge of the Bible, then skimming or skipping a section may allow you to keep going. How many people have gotten bogged down in the first seven chapters of Leviticus (sacrificial laws) or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles (genealogies)?
  5. Add variety and scope. If you succeed in reading the New Testament, then go on to read other portions of the Bible. Maybe you will work up to reading the entire Bible through in a year. I like reading guides that provide an Old Testament and New Testament readings on the same day for variety. I’ve also used different translations for variety.
  6. Do it. If you have come up with a personal plan, then the next step is doing it. As in forming any new habit, it takes time and you will have setbacks, but if you keep at it, reading the Bible brings many rewards.
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My Wish for All

December 22, 2017

My generation had a wish book, the glossy, colored pages of the Sears-Roebuck toy catalog. Its arrival marked a season of dreaming about what you wanted. It was a time of making your wishes known. It was a time of eager anticipation.

My childhood desires have faded, but not my wonder, anticipation, and joy. I was never meant to stay in childhood; I was meant to mature to learn lessons from the gifts I received. The adults in my life found joy in giving. I was to learn from them to follow the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). As I grew older, I realized that for some the wish book was a hollow dream. That this season of the year could bring sadness as well as joy. It could unfortunately illustrate greed as well as exemplify generosity.

My adult desire is to be generous. In my gift giving for family, I have also learned to give to others. In this desire to go beyond my immediate circle, I’ve found the greater joy. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

My adult desire is also to appreciate and enjoy time with family. My family has many traditions that we have developed over the years. Traditions have a way of growing. You do something once, that’s nice. You do it a second time because you enjoyed it before, and you soon find yourself with a yearly tradition. But they function as ways of making lasting memories. My desire for everyone is to make memories with your family. The joy of family need not be expensive. Simple things can bring families together. The years fly by, but our memories are precious, and those memories are a part of the life of joy.

My adult desire is to know Jesus and to make him known to others. And here is the rub: the New Testament teaches us about the birth of Jesus and its importance. Without the incarnation, there could be no atonement. Yet, the New Testament never commands a celebration of Jesus’ birth, which is not likely to have been on December 25th, but does command a weekly celebration of his death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper. If people feel pain by this season of the year, it is not from what Jesus or the New Testament teaches. They are the unintended consequences of human efforts.

The polls indicate that a majority of Americans celebrate Christmas now as a cultural holiday. Two-thirds believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, compared with 73% in 2014. 75% believe he was laid in a manger (down from 81%). Belief in the wise men guided by a star and bringing presents has also declined. (And for those who take the Bible seriously, the arrival of the wise men was likely months after Jesus’ birth, and not on the night of the shepherds’ visit.) Only 57% believe that all of these things actually happened.*

My wish for all is to know the blessings of generosity, family, and most of all Jesus. But we must go beyond the cultural trappings to the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. There are reasons for belief even if polls show a decline. For those who seek him, he can be found. And when he is found, he is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14, 19:16) which is not a seasonal occupation. With Jesus as the Lord of my daily life, I find an unfading joy: joy in giving, joy in family, but most of all, joy in Jesus Christ, my Lord.

*http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/12/18/5-facts-about-christmas-in-america/


The Sex Scandals

December 15, 2017

If you are not familiar with The Babylon Bee, it is a parody news site. Parody exaggerates for comic effect, but comedy to work and to especially make biting social commentary must contain an element of truth wrapped in its exaggeration. The current celebrity sex scandals have been a ripe field for the Babylon Bee.

One of the first such headlines to catch my attention read: “Another Actress Accuses Kirk Cameron of Treating Her with Respect.” The “article” goes on to quote this fictional actress as saying, “I never felt threatened, and I always felt safe and respected.” Another line states that women were treated “like fellow humans with inherent value, and not as sexual objects to be exploited.” Those are great lines.

Christian ethics do teach us to treat people with respect and not exploit them using them as objects. The Bible views sexuality as created by God and beautiful, but it is to be reserved for the relationship of marriage, marriage of a man and woman. We are taught not to lust (Matthew 5:27-28). So, when Christian ethics are lived it will lead to chaste behavior.

I will admit that there have been sexual scandals among Christians including ministers and church leaders. But whenever such things happen, they are the result of sin and weakness. They are examples of not living the faith, and they are aberrations — not what happens most of the time. Christian ethics lead to chaste and respectful behavior.

Another parody headline reads: “Sexual Revolution Working Out Great, Reports Nation Full of Perverts.” This is the headline for an article dealing with all the sex scandals. It raises the question of whether we should be surprised by sex scandals after a sexual revolution that encouraged sexual license. The secular moral relativist has a problem. The sexual predator is working with an ethic of might makes right: power and prestige allow a person to take advantage of a young woman or man and get away with it. We are understandably going through a period where there is a backlash to that, which I applaud as a Christian. But we can ask the moral relativist: why is might makes right wrong? If there is no ultimate standard, objections become more like I prefer chocolate over vanilla.

The sex scandals are troubling in many ways. The “casting couch” has been a cliché all of my life. People knew such things went on but didn’t expose them. Exposure is good, but we as a nation are in need of repentance that really turns to God. Further, the very people in entertainment and government engaged in this type of activity have often pushed the sexual revolution as a social agenda. The wreckage of the sexual revolution is all around us if we have eyes to see. Finally, there is another inconsistency. As men in entertainment are being outed, the entertainment being produced is still often sexually explicit. There is much that we as Christians should not watch. Does not this material make us into a nation of voyeurs? Are not voyeurs just another kind of sexual predator? Why condemn one kind of predator and not challenge the other? The final question is: where does this all end? The Bible’s answer has always been repentance or judgment.


The Meaning of Church

December 8, 2017

Our English word church translates the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία, G1577) in the New Testament. Ekklesia means assembly, so the emphasis of the word is on our regularly assembling together. Preachers have through the years also mentioned the etymology of the word which is “called out.” But as Everett Ferguson notes, “The popular etymology … is not supported by the actual usage of the word. The emphasis was on the concrete act of assembly, not a separation from others.”1

Our English word church derives from another Greek term kyriokos. This word is a Greek adjective mean “Lord’s.” The word does occur in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10 where they refer to “the Lord’s supper” and “the Lord’s Day.” However, in our word church, the phrase in its word history is kyriokon doma (Lord’s house). This word phrase led to Kirche in German, Kirk in Scotland, and church in English. So, the first definition in English is “a building set apart for public esp. Christian worship.”2 However, ekklesia is not talking about a building but an assembly of people. Because of this word history for our English word, we end up emphasizing that the New Testament meaning of church has to do with the people not a building.

Ekklesia was also used for other assemblies than what we think of with church. It is used for an assembly of citizens in Ephesus.

Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. (Acts 19:32, ESV)

But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly (ekklesia). (Acts 19:39, ESV)

It is also used of the assembly or congregation of God’s people in the Old Testament in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.

This is the one who was in the congregation (ekkesia) in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. (Acts 7:38 ESV)

The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word ekklesia 100 times in the Old Testament for such things as the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:2/23:1), the assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30), the assembly of the sons of Israel (Joshua 9:2/8:35), and the assembly of the people of God (Judges 20:2). This may give some force to Jesus’ words, “I will build my church.”

The word synagogue (Greek συναγωγή, sunagōgē, G4864 )is also used once of an assembly of Christians, although this gets obscured by translation.

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, (James 2:2, ESV)

I’ve heard people say, “You can’t go to church, because we are the church.” But the reality is you can go to an assembly. Unless age or health prevent it, to be a part of a church is to assemble regularly together.

1Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, p. 130.
2Merriam-Webster Third Unabridged Dictionary


The Meaning of Church

December 8, 2017

Our English word church translates the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία, G1577) in the New Testament. Ekklesia means assembly, so the emphasis of the word is on our regularly assembling together. Preachers have through the years also mentioned the etymology of the word which is “called out.” But as Everett Ferguson notes, “The popular etymology … is not supported by the actual usage of the word. The emphasis was on the concrete act of assembly, not a separation from others.”1

Our English word church derives from another Greek term kyriokos. This word is a Greek adjective mean “Lord’s.” The word does occur in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10 where they refer to “the Lord’s supper” and “the Lord’s Day.” However, in our word church, the phrase in its word history is kyriokon doma (Lord’s house). This word phrase led to Kirche in German, Kirk in Scotland, and church in English. So, the first definition in English is “a building set apart for public esp. Christian worship.”2 However, ekklesia is not talking about a building but an assembly of people. Because of this word history for our English word, we end up emphasizing that the New Testament meaning of church has to do with the people not a building.

Ekklesia was also used for other assemblies than what we think of with church. It is used for an assembly of citizens in Ephesus.

Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. (Acts 19:32, ESV)

But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly (ekklesia). (Acts 19:39, ESV)

It is also used of the assembly or congregation of God’s people in the Old Testament in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.

This is the one who was in the congregation (ekkesia) in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. (Acts 7:38 ESV)

The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word ekklesia 100 times in the Old Testament for such things as the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:2/23:1), the assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30), the assembly of the sons of Israel (Joshua 9:2/8:35), and the assembly of the people of God (Judges 20:2). This may give some force to Jesus’ words, “I will build my church.”

The word synagogue (Greek συναγωγή, sunagōgē, G4864 )is also used once of an assembly of Christians, although this gets obscured by translation.

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, (James 2:2, ESV)

I’ve heard people say, “You can’t go to church, because we are the church.” But the reality is you can go to an assembly. Unless age or health prevent it, to be a part of a church is to assemble regularly together.

1Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, p. 130.
2Merriam-Webster Third Unabridged Dictionary


Servants Don’t Need Titles

December 1, 2017

I can remember a grammar assignment in grade school that had to do with titles of respect and their abbreviations. One of the examples in the lesson was “Rev.” for “Reverend.” I was certain we didn’t use “Rev.,” so I asked my Mother what to put in the assignment, because it was asking for the student’s usage. We came up with “Bro.” for “Brother.” By the way, I’m not overly fond of that answer, because “brother” is not a title of respect but a term of endearment and relationship, but I digress.

Why don’t we use the title “Reverend”? I’m bothered by the meaning of the word when applied to a human being. The first definition of “reverend” is “worthy of reverence.” It occurs once in the King James Version in Psalm 111:9.

He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. (Psalms 111:9, KJV)

In the context of the Psalm, the one whose name is “holy and reverend” is God himself. The Hebrew word that stands behind this English translation means “to be feared.” The ESV, NIV, NASB, and NKJV have “awesome” in the high sense of something that creates the sense of awe in a person. Although I believe church leaders deserve respect, it seems that reverence is on the other end of the spectrum and applicable only to God. Sometimes you can’t prevent people from using the title in community settings, but I have a tendency to scratch it out if it’s on a name tag. It’s not a title I like or use.

But on a deeper level, I think the teachings of Jesus discourage titles of this sort.

… and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:6–12, ESV)

“Rabbi” in Hebrew is akin to “reverend.” It literally means “my great one.” Jesus is forbidding the term among his disciples. There is no hierarchy of exalted teachers as developed in Judaism. “Father” also needs to be understood against the background of the Jewish practice of exalting certain rabbis from the past and designating them as “fathers.” Jesus is not arguing against the use of the term as we talk about fathers in the home or even metaphorically (cf. 1 Cor 4:15; Phil 2:22). The context is religious titles. The ESV uses the word “instructor” for the third term. It is a word that was used in Greek for a personal or private tutor. Only Jesus is worthy of this roles in our lives. All Christian teachers are to be pointers to Jesus.

The overall message for church leaders is humility. Elders, deacons, evangelists, and teachers are servants of the church. They have important functions within the church, but these functions must be carried out with servant hearts. Special titles promote pride and lead us in the wrong direction. Servants don’t need titles.


Lamb of God

November 24, 2017

I love to sing Twila Paris’ “Lamb of God.” If you have a songbook handy, you may want to reread the words to this great hymn. It’s one of those songs that can send a chill up and down your spine because of the powerful lyrics. Out of 37 occurrences of the word “lamb” in the New Testament, 33 refer to Jesus.* The lamb of God is a major New Testament theme.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist announces “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (ESV)!” His words are certainly prophetic—pointing to what Jesus was going to do in dying on the cross. His words also resonated with the Old Testament. The Passover Lamb’s blood spared Israel from the last plague and led to the deliverance from slavery. Jesus is called our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words also contain reminders of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. As Hebrews notes, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV). So it is not surprising to hear Peter speak of being redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19, ESV).

John’s words may also point back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. A number of New Testament passages link this prophecy to Jesus (e.g., 1 Peter 2:22).

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:7, ESV

And it is clear that this one like a lamb brings about forgiveness for others.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us

peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5, ESV

In fact one of the most striking aspects of John the Baptist’s statement is that unlike the Passover Lamb and the Old Testament sacrifices, this lamb of God is for all—“the sin of the world.”

The greatest number of occurrences of the word, “lamb,” referring to Jesus is in Revelation. “Lamb” occurs 28 times in Revelation.* This brings an additional thought to the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—VICTORY. It is in Revelation that we see the Lamb in heaven receiving praise (5:12). The redeemed sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3). We also learn about the “marriage of the Lamb” (19:7) and “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), that is the church.

Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, fulfills the Old Testament prophecy and hope. He provides the once and for all sacrifice for sin, and He is the victorious Lamb who sits upon the throne. With the hymn, it is easy to exclaim in praise, “O Lamb of God!”

*Amnos meaning “lamb” occurs 4x with all of its NT occurrences referring to Jesus. Arnion, another Greek term for lamb, occurs 30 times with 28 of them referring to Jesus. Pascha is the Greek term for Passover. Of its 29 occurrences, three of them refer to the Passover lamb (with the word, lamb, being understood from context), and one of those three refers to Jesus (1 Cor. 5:7).

*Word count based on the Greek word, arnion. English word counts may vary because the word, Lamb, may be supplied where the Greek literally has “he” (e.g., 6:7, 9 and 8:1).