Skip to content

6

At this time of year, many people start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. What can I do differently in the coming year to make my life better? Many plan to start diet or exercise programs, and some plan to start Bible reading programs that will take them through the Bible in one year. A lot of these Bible reading programs alternate between Old and New Testament. Some read from four different sections each day. Some read straight through from cover to cover, and others go in chronological order. In order to read the Bible completely in one year, you need to read about three or four chapters a day. I have done this a couple of times before, but I don’t intend to do it again. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good thing to read your Bible--this whole blog is built on it. I don’t think it’s wrong to read the Bible straight through either; in fact I think it’s a good idea to do so, either how it is written or in chronological order. But I don’t think that you should set yourself up for a schedule that you can’t keep, and that you will feel guilty about if you give it up. I think it is more important to forget the schedule, and read at a pace where you can stop and think, and pray, about what you are reading.

Many of you are familiar with Matthew 6:33 and the context around it. We are told not to worry about material things, what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear, because our Heavenly Father knows that we need them, but to first, above all, pursue His kingdom and righteousness, and the material things we need will be provided. The context tells us why we should put God first, and I think most of us would agree even if only for practical reasons. The problem is that most of us who have read, even memorized, this verse and agree with it, have trouble putting it into practice. So I want to talk about how we put God first. How do we get to know Him? How do we hear and know His voice? Surely His provision for us involves our cooperation. How do we follow His leading if we don’t know where He is directing us?

Rather than following a reading plan that will take you through the Bible in one year, why not make a commitment of how much time you will spend each day reading the Bible and in prayer. Why not try to get to know God, to understand Him. Many people pray for God to speak to them, to guide them on the next step of their journey. Do they expect to hear a booming voice from heaven with the answer telling them what they should do? Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about religion, and following a list of rules, especially self-prescribed rules, it is about having a relationship, being adopted into a new family. How can you get to know that family if you don’t spend time with them? Reading the Bible, just for the sake of getting through it, and not really paying attention to it or considering how it could change your life, would be like having a conversation with someone while you’re daydreaming about something else. If you want to improve the relationship, you have to listen. For those of you who are waiting for God to speak to you, He already has—volumes.

1

Today's post was written by Tim Challies, an author and pastor. You can visit his website here.
---------

Acts 12 contains one of my favorite stories of the early church. It is a great little bit of writing—a short story in three acts. I was reflecting on that story recently and just had to tell you about it.

The chapter begins with a description of Herod’s persecution against the church. In order to please his Jewish subjects Herod has James arrested and killed. This makes his subjects so happy that he then goes after Peter, throwing him in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts Peter under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail; it is a little fact, some narrative tension, that the author offers to foreshadow what will come.

The second act tells how Peter is delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes all the guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happen to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived. But she forgets to let him in; he is left standing on the street, pounding at the door. With the prayer meeting coming to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that he really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while.

In the third act we return to Herod. Herod has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. And then we find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this story, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

Acts 12 contains a great little story, a little vignette of life in the early church. Despite the miraculous (Peter being rescued, Herod being struck down) there is such a human element to it. We see the church in prayer, undoubtedly begging God for the life of their friend and pastor. Yet when God answers their earnest prayers, they refuse to believe it. “You are out of your mind,” they tell Rhoda when she insists that God has answered them. Two thousand years later we laugh at them, wondering why they would bother to pray if they didn’t believe that God might actually answer. And then we realize that we do little better; we realize how much effort we put into pleading for God to act and how little effort we put into seeking answers to those prayers. I trust the lesson was not lost on the early church. I trust they learned from it that God’s miraculous rescue of Peter was not in any way separate from their prayers. Those prayers, even though they were offered with little expectation of an answer, were instrumental in God rescuing Peter from his imprisonment. God answers prayer, even when we ask with little faith.

It is also worth noticing that as soon as Peter arrived he was sure to share all that God had done. Peter, the object of all those prayers, wanted to ensure that the church knew that it was God who had acted with such power and in such an unusual way. “He described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Tell these things to James and to the brothers.’” He wanted this great act of God to encourage all of the believers.

The chapter closes with these familiar words: “the word of God increased and multiplied.” Have you ever noticed how often these words, or ones just like them, appear in Acts? Just a brief overview of the first chapters shows them in chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12. In every case, Luke wants us to know that God continued to build his church. In times of joy and pain, times of peace and persecution, God built his church. All that God did was for his own glory and served his ultimate purpose of drawing a people to himself.

And this God, who acted so faithfully, so consistently, so powerfully, is the same God we serve today.

Many of you have probably spent a fair amount of time getting ready for Christmas--shopping, baking, preparing large meals. Do you feel like the actual event is over far too soon? It is really only the second of the twelve days of Christmas, so I hope you are still enjoying time with family and friends.

Imagine that you live in a place where everyone not only likes you, but they have nothing but good to say to you or about you. Imagine that you have everything you need and much more besides. Imagine that all the problems you are facing now were gone. Jesus had things far better than we could imagine, and He left it all to come to Earth to face ridicule and persecution and torture. Why did He do that? For us. So that we could come into the presence of a holy God. So that we can enjoy the same privileges that Jesus has. That is the reason for Christmas.

This is my favourite carol. Merry Christmas everyone!

One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season is the music, and generally I can't get enough. So I'm going to share a little bit with you over the next few posts. For those of you who didn't get live Christmas music while you were out in the crowded malls, I hope you will enjoy this.

2

Most Christians, whether they actually practise it or not, would tell you that we are supposed to give 10% of our money, a tithe, to God. We think of it as our money, and by giving 10% we are either fulfilling an obligation (like paying a tax) or we are being generous and giving to charity. Financial expert and author Michel Bell would tell you that it is all God’s money, and we are just managing it while we are here on this earth.

The Clever Steward in Luke 16:1-9 was doing something very similar. He was the manager of his master’s household and was in charge of managing his master’s finances. But the manager started acting as if he were the owner and used the money for his own benefit. The master found out and fired him. What was that manager going to do now? Who would hire him? He was used to having a desk job, so he didn’t think that his back could take doing manual labour, and he certainly didn’t want people to think he was poor, so he didn’t want to beg. He had to come up with an idea fast, and so he did. He went to the people who owed his master money, and made deals with them. He cut one person’s debt in half, and another’s by 20%. I can’t imagine that the master was going to settle for a lower amount, so I believe that the manager paid the difference. This accomplished two things. He arranged for the master to get his money back more quickly, and he also won some friends by charging them less. That meant that when he was jobless there would be people willing to help him out. His master commended him for shrewd actions. His master certainly wasn’t commending him for his dishonesty. That is why he fired him in the first place.

What does Jesus want us to learn from this? I’m sure He doesn’t want us to imitate the manager’s bad qualities—dishonesty, selfishness and pride. But the manager had some good qualities too. He was quick-thinking, decisive and focused on his future; he knew that he could make use of his money to win friends. If we were to focus on our future, it would include eternity. Jesus is telling us that we need to use our wealth in ways that will reach people for Him. Instead of spending it on things that have no eternal value, we could buy Bibles, take missions trips, or support organizations that are already working to further the Kingdom. The more people who are saved because of our use of money, the more friends we will have in our eternal home.

4

What does Jesus mean by the word hate? It seems so harsh. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be all about love? A few of my Twitter friends and I have been reading Luke (#thebookofluke) this month, and one of them asked me about Luke 14:26. I have had the same question in the past, and probably many others have too, so I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about it.

As with every verse we look at in the Bible, we must consider the context and interpret it in the light of other scripture. Jesus certainly was, and is, all about love. He said that the two most important commandments were to love God and love others. (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:33 Luke 10:27-28) He even told us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-31) We have also been told to honour our mothers and fathers. (Matthew 19:19, Mark 7:10, Ephesians 6:2-3) That was important enough to be one of the Ten Commandments--the law. (Exodus 20:12) Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) So why is He telling us that we cannot be His disciples unless we hate our families and even ourselves? The word here translated as ‘hate’ is a relative term. It means that we must think less of, and, if necessary, disregard our family. Now, if our family members have the same belief system as we do, and are willing to put Christ first, it may never be an issue, but if they disagree with our beliefs and our commitment to God, then we have to choose—God or family? God freely allows us that choice, but if we choose our family over Him, we cannot be His disciples.

Let’s be clear about this. Everyone, without exception, is invited to receive salvation. That is the meaning of the parable of the great banquet. (Luke 14:16-24) People were urged to come to the feast, so that God’s house would be filled. The only ones who did not come were those who chose not to. But there is a difference between accepting salvation and becoming a disciple. Do we really want to live for Jesus? Is He really the most important part of our lives? Luke 14:28-33 talks about counting the cost. Each person who undertakes to build a tower or fight a battle must count the cost to determine if they can complete the task. The same is true for us. We must decide if the eternal rewards of sacrifice for Jesus will be worth the cost of the challenges we face in our few short years on earth.

Jesus, too, counts the cost to determine if we are committed enough to be on His team. Are we worthy of the responsibilities that He will assign to us if we say that we want to work for His glory? Can He count on us to see it through to the end? When He said these words, He had a large crowd of people pressing in all around Him. (Luke 14:25) Many were probably following Him because they wanted to be healed, or because Jesus had a habit of feeding people, or simply because they wanted to see what everyone else was doing. Jesus’ use of direct language would have certainly thinned out the throng. We know that none of them were willing to stick by Him when He faced death; they all fled. (Mark 14:49-50) If we are to be Christ’s disciples, we have to be willing to give up everything else and put Him first. It is your choice to make.

'Tis the season of cookie exchanges, and I'm listening to Christmas carols as I get ready for one. I have a lot of Christmas CDs, but this year I have a new one--The Heart of Christmas by Matthew West. There are some traditional Christmas songs on it, but also some that he has written. One of them is called "One Last Christmas" which is a sad story about the loss of a child. The parents however have turned it into a story of hope for others who are facing similar situations by raising money for the hospital that treated their son. We celebrate so many blessings at this time of year, whether consciously or unconsciously, that we really need to consider giving to those who are hurting or are less fortunate. Acts 20:35 reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Please listen to Matthew West's song and consider giving to St. Jude's or a hospital in your area or any other charity that helps people in need. You can purchase his CD at his website or, particularly if you are in Canada, by giving a donation to another worthy cause at FullCircleTV.com

---------
Fair Disclosure: I receive no payment of any kind for this recommendation.

4

This being the Christmas season, we’ve been singing Christmas carols at church. And like all good contemporary churches, the words are put up on a screen at the front of the sanctuary. We don’t even have hymnals, so that isn’t an option. Occasionally there are typos on the screen, and I’ve come to accept that. After all, no one is perfect. There is one typo however, that comes up at Christmas time, that I’m sure the person typing thought was right. It is in the carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! written by Charles Wesley in 1739. He wrote more than 6000 hymns in his lifetime, that were theologically sound and full of doctrine.

Interestingly, Charles Wesley didn’t take kindly to people changing the words of his hymns when they reprinted them. In one of his hymnals he wrote, “I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they reprint them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are really not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favours: either to let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we many no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or the doggerel of other men.”

The verse I'm referring to goes like this:

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The Herald Angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Did you figure out what word I’m talking about? Sun. I’m sure that many of you thought that it should read Son, didn’t you? You certainly wouldn’t be alone. If you were to Google this carol, you would find that Son beats out Sun by a ratio of about two to one on lyrics websites. Son seems to be the more logical choice, since we are talking about the birth of the Son of God. I’ve actually had a pastor tell me that Sun is a typo. But it isn’t!

The term Sun of Righteousness comes from Malachi 4:2. It is part of a divine revelation from God concerning the Day of Judgement. (Malachi 1:1, Malachi 3:16-18, Malachi 4:1) A time is coming when evil will be abolished, and all the arrogant evildoers, those who chose not to believe in God, will be burned to ashes. But for those who respect God, for those who have accepted His gift of love, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. It is figurative language, with a parallel between the controlled burning of the furnace and the Sun. The burning furnace that will consume the wicked will bring destruction, but the Sun of Righteousness will bring warmth and healing. Like the centre of our own solar system, the Sun brings light and life.

Perhaps in these days of tolerating everyone’s beliefs, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about what will happen to those who will not accept Christ. I agree that it isn’t very pleasant to think about, but that does not mean that it won’t happen. God is a holy God, and the time will come when He will no longer tolerate those who do not trust in Him. He has made His existence and power very clear, (Romans 1:18-24) and He has given us the choice, but we must not kid ourselves about what the consequences of our choices will be. This is why the herald angels sang, “Glory to the newborn King!”

4

When you think of peer pressure, do you think of what children or teenagers go through at school? They often encounter pressure to do things that under normal circumstances they would never consider doing. Or how about a college student away at school being pressured to take a drink or drugs so that they can make some new friends? Those are the kinds of pressure that come to mind for me when I hear the term, but peers can pressure people to do good things too—to participate in team sports so you can have fun (even if you hate team sports), to be part of a group that is helping others, or even just a group for social reasons.

Today, I want to discuss a kind of peer pressure that has been on my mind for quite some time. If you are in the habit of forwarding e-mails, or sharing Facebook posts, you may have encountered this as well. Very often at the end of a touching or inspiring e-mail, the recipient will be told to forward it, and remember that if you are ashamed of Jesus and His words, He will be ashamed of you too. (Luke 9:26, Mark 8:38) What purpose does saying this have? Only to make the recipient feel guilty or afraid and pressured to forward the e-mail on. Is that really necessary? Is it that important to share the e-mail. If the message is inspiring enough it would get shared anyway; I often get the same ones from multiple sources.

In Luke 9:23-25 Jesus told His followers that in order to follow Him they would have to take up their cross daily. They would have to put Jesus ahead of themselves in everything they did. (Philippians 2:8-11) They would have to serve God, not money. (Luke 16:13) They would have to love their neighbours as themselves. (Matthew 19:19) They would have to pray continuously with thanksgiving. (I Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6-7) They would have to endure suffering with grace, and wisdom. (II Timothy 2:3, I Peter 2:19-20, II Timothy 4:5, Hebrews 10:32-36) They would have to rely on His strength. (II Corinthians 12:9) Jesus’ followers then needed to be willing to proclaim Christ in the face of physical persecution and even death, and that is still true for many Christians around the world today. There are many more important ways that we can proclaim Him that don’t require sending unwanted, guilt-inducing e-mails to our friends.