January 31, 2016

Word and Deed

I saw this meme on Facebook the other day. Like so much of what we see and hear, it takes seemingly moral truth (often based on Biblical truth) and tries to boil it down into an attention-grabbing slogan. In this case, this meme is expressing the idea that it doesn't matter how many Bible verses you know; the only important thing is how you treat other people. That's all that Jesus really cares about. But is it?

Christians should make it a habit to compare what we see and hear with Scripture, especially when what we see and hear seems to be expressing a Biblical truth. We should be asking ourselves, "What does the Bible say?"

Friends, this meme is another subtle attempt to undermine the word of God. It is another attempt to diminish the first and greatest commandment by overemphasizing the second greatest commandment. What are those, you ask?  

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40
Was Jesus giving brand new commandments? No. These statements are a summary of the Ten Commandments given to the prophet, Moses. The first four commandments deal with how we are to love God; they come first, by the way. The last six commandments deal with how we are to love our neighbor.

We are commanded to love the Lord our God, first. This is the first and greatest commandment. If we love the Lord our God - we acknowledge Him as our Creator, Redeemer, King, and Lord - then we will love His word. Why? What does the Bible say about how we are to regard God's word? Let's find out.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. - Psalm 119:11
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” - John 6:68-69

Friends, I don't want you to be discouraged if you don't have many Bible verses memorized. The point is not about how many Bible verses you have memorized; the point is, your attitude toward the word of God is what really matters. Like so many things, this is a heart issue. What is your attitude toward the word of God? Is it casual? Sincere? Is the Bible merely good advice? Is the Bible the inerrant word of God? If you agree with the apostle Peter that Jesus is the Holy One of God and that he has the words of eternal life, then why wouldn't you be eager to hear what he has to say? If you haven't given much thought about Bible reading, I encourage you to start by reading Psalm 119. It is a beautiful Psalm that lifts up God's word.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't make another point. Earlier I mentioned that memes like these often present seemingly moral truths. Friends, it is true that Jesus does care about how you treat others. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means that we should put into practice what we read in God's word:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. - James 1:22
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. - James 215-17

This point in the Book of James agrees with Paul's second letter to Timothy when he said, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) God's word equips us to do good works. Once we read God's word, we should take it to heart and do what it says. Our good works do not save us. Our good works are evidence of our faith designed to bring glory to God, not to ourselves:

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:15-16

Further reading from GotQuestions.org: "Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?"

Begin to store the word of God in your heart, not so you can earn merit badges from God or so that you can impress your friends with how much Bible you know. Store the word of God in your heart so that you can be thoroughly equipped for every good work, and more importantly, so that you will begin to learn and to know more about your Savior. In a previous post, I encouraged you to read through the Bible. There are many ways to begin doing this: start with a verse a day, read through the four Gospels in 40 days, read through the New Testament in one year, or read through the Bible in one year. All of these reading plans and more are available on BibleGateway.com. God has revealed much about Himself in the Bible and we would be wise to read and to study what He has said so that we will be thoroughly equipped.

January 29, 2016

Facebook Cover - John 5:24

Here is another simple Facebook cover using John 5:24. Enjoy!

To download image:
1. Click on the image to enlarge.
2. Then right-click on the image.
3. Choose Save Image As.

January 26, 2016

Facebook Cover - Romans 5:8

So, I am experimenting with making some Scripture Facebook covers. I come across so many beautiful ones, but I often find myself looking for simple pictures with the Scripture verse being prominent. This is my first attempt at a simple Facebook cover, and if I make any more then I will add a FB Covers tab at the top. Enjoy!

To download image:
1. Click on the image to enlarge.
2. Then right-click on the image.
3. Choose Save Image As.

While We Were Still Sinners

January 22, 2016

Shine Among Them

ESV Online - Another Bible Resource

Way back in the Introduction, I mentioned that my preferred Bible version is the NIV 1984 (New International Version 1984), and that occasionally, I use the ESV and the NASB. Well, I totally forgot that Crossway (the publisher for the ESV) has it's own web site for the ESV online:

ESV Bible

There you will find Bible reading plans, apps, and the ability to listen to the Bible instead of reading it. Crossway recommends that you create a free account to access all of the features. I will add the ESV website to the Resources section of this blog for future reference.

January 18, 2016

Test All Things - Even Churchy Stuff

Friends, just because a campaign or a slogan is sponsored by a church or a denomination, that doesn't mean that we should take it as gospel, so to speak. The United Church of Christ has come out with a new campaign called Still Speaking 2.0 to upgrade its God is Still Speaking campaign.

The first slogan of this campaign says:

"Here's a Revelation: God Didn't End in Revelation." (Source)

Um, yeah. Where do I start? OK, technically, this statement is partially correct: God didn't end. In fact, God didn't begin, either. God has no beginning or ending. He is from everlasting to everlasting. (Psalm 90:1-2). God is the Alpha and the Omega. (Revelation 1:8). However, this statement is not referencing God's eternal state. Remember, this slogan is part of the Still Speaking 2.0 campaign, which is an upgrade of the God is Still Speaking campaign. Did you catch that? God. Is. Still. Speaking. In other words, the book of Revelation is not the final recording of God's Word because according to the UCC, God is Still Speaking 2.0. Does this agree with the Bible? Let's take a look.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:18-19)
Further reading from GotQuestions.org: Does the warning in Revelation 22:18-19 apply to the entire Bible or just the Book of Revelation?

Regardless of what the UCC or any other church or anyone else says, God Has Already Spoken. Please listen to Him and read what He has already said.

As if that slogan isn't bad enough, it gets worse. Here is the second slogan from the Still Speaking 2.0 campaign:

"The Bible is like GPS. A brilliant guide. All-knowing. Occasionally wrong." (Source)
Who dreams up this stuff? If the Bible is all-knowing then how could it possibly be wrong? And by the way, which parts are wrong? The stuff that you disagree with? Which parts are right? The stuff that you agree with? But what does the Bible say about God's word:

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The UCC says that Scripture is "occasionally wrong." Scripture says that the word of God is "flawless" and "God-breathed". Friends, ever since the Garden of Eden, the enemy of God has been trying to persuade us to doubt the veracity of God's word (Genesis 3:1): Did God really say?

All of this pains me because I once attended a UCC church. I bought into the God Is Still Speaking campaign the first time around because I was not saved. Yes, you read that correctly: I was not saved. I had been looking for a church - a faith community - in which to raise my children. That church and that campaign appealed to my sinful nature of equating the social justice gospel with the gospel. The social justice gospel does not require you to humble yourself before God and repent of your sins and declare your need for a Savior; the true gospel does. The social justice gospel wants you to work for justice, peace, harmony - the social justice gospel wants you to work for salvation. The gospel says that there is nothing you can do except admit that you can't save yourself and to trust in the finished work of Jesus' perfect sacrifice on the cross and his glorious resurrection. Ironically, there is no little mention of the gospel on the UCC's web site, but there is a lot of information regarding social justice. The gospel is foundational to Christianity. How can you call yourself a church - or a Christian - if you do not share the gospel?

Honestly, any "church" that wants to cast doubt on the truth of God's word is not a church - it is an organization. The UCC is a social justice organization masquerading as the church. The church is not a building or an organization: it is the body of Christ Jesus who was God incarnate. And if you cannot trust His Word, then who or what are you trusting in? And if you cannot trust the words of the One who saves you from your sins, why do you call yourself a member of His church?

Friends, I implore you to read the Bible for yourself. Get to know the words of God. Get to know and understand what God has already spoken. Test all things using the Bible as the standard. May the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

H/T: The End Time: United Church of Christ's edgy 'sorta scriptura' campaign

January 15, 2016

January 7, 2016

Love Is...

Valentine's Day is a month or so away. Even though it's a secular holiday, it is about love. I can't think of a better time of year to share about God's love for us. Well, except maybe at Easter. Or Christmas.

In anticipation of Valentine's Day, I will be posting several Scripture pictures from now until then. These Scripture pictures will be about love, of course. Here is the first one, taken from a well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 13:

January 5, 2016

Daily Devotional - Another Way to Read a Verse a Day

Reading a daily devotional is another way to read a Bible verse each day. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when reading a devotional:

1. A devotional is not a substitute for Bible reading.
It can be a great supplement to your daily Bible reading. It can also be a great way to ease into Bible reading if you are new to this, but don't neglect the Bible in favor of the devotional. In fact, while reading the devotional, grab your Bible and look up the verse that it references so you can see it in context. Read the verse that goes before and comes after it, or better yet, read the entire chapter. Even better, read the entire book. For example, if the verse of the day is John 3:16, open your Bible and look at John 3:15-17, or read all of John 3, or read the Gospel of John.

2. Be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and test the devotional using the Bible as the standard. 
This takes prayer, practice, and patience. One way to do this is to read the verse in context. (See #1.) While you're reading your Bible, look up the cross references verses in the margins. Another helpful tool is to use an online topical Bible search such as the one at OpenBible.info. Type in a topic such as "love" or "patience" to see what other Bible verses reference those topics. As always, don't read the stand alone verse; read it in context. (See #1.) Devotional writers are men and women, which means they are fallible. If you encounter a devotional that seems to contradict the Bible, always go with what the Bible says. Also, just because it's popular doesn't mean it's Biblically-sound.

3.  Look for a devotional that explains the Bible verse(s) with Scripture, not opinion.
In other words, it should read almost like a Bible commentary or a sermon with the intent of pointing you to Christ and helping you to understand God's word, not the author's opinion. A good devotional gives analytical insight into some aspect of God's character using the Bible, not the author's opinion, to back it up. Some devotional writers try to appeal to the reader's emotions by using their own opinion and experience to validate the Bible verse or concept. It is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. For further reading, I strongly encourage you to read about the difference between exegesis and eisegesis at GotQuestions.org: "What is the Difference Between Exegesis and Eisegesis?"

With this in mind, I am recommending the following two devotionals:

Day by Day by Grace - Bob Hoekstra
Morning and Evening - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Why these two? First, both of these are available online (in more than one location), which means they are free! Second, these were written by preachers who were more concerned with pleasing God rather than man. How do I know this? While I didn't know either of these men personally, when I read their devotionals I see that they are willing to preach the whole counsel of God: that which encourages and edifies and that which rebukes and warns. Reading these daily devotionals is like reading a mini sermon - a sermonette if you will. I have been reading Day by Day by Grace for going on 3 years, and every year I learn something new. I have haphazardly read Morning and Evening in the past, but this year I decided to read it along with DBDBG and my Bible reading plan. Both of these devotionals continually point me to Christ, and both challenge me to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) This is my opinion and my experience, by the way. Don't take my word for it; test it for yourself using the Bible as the standard.

One final thought: No devotional is perfect, but some are definitely better than others. Earlier I encouraged you to test each devotional you encounter by comparing it to the Bible. There is a certain popular devotional called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Friends, I have to encourage you not to use it. I read it for a full year when I was a new Christian and figuratively speaking, it left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed reminiscent of my New Age - seeker days yet, I couldn't figure out why until I Googled some reviews. It turns out that I wasn't the only one who had issues with it. For a recent review, I recommend reading 10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling by Pastor Tim Challies. Remember: just because a book or a teacher/preacher is popular does not mean you should stop being like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures to see if it's true. Always pray and ask God for discernment and wisdom. The goal is for you to get to know your Lord and Savior who is the Jesus in the Bible, not the Jesus of someone's imagination. May the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

January 4, 2016

A Bible Verse A Day

In a previous post I encouraged you to read through the entire Bible in one year. If reading through the entire Bible seems overwhelming, you can read through the New Testament in a year. If that still seems like a daunting task, don't despair! You can begin to read the Bible by reading a Bible verse each day. At the end of 365 days you will have read 365 Bible verses.

Bible Gateway Verse of the Day

Let me issue a caveat to this plan: it is rarely if ever a good idea to read a Bible verse alone. The danger is that you can easily take a verse out of context. It is better to read the preceding and following verses; better still, read the entire chapter. The whole point of reading a Bible verse each day is to help you to develop the habit of daily Bible reading and to eventually inspire you to read the Bible - the entire Bible. Make a commitment to begin daily Bible reading. This year, start with a verse a day. Next year, choose a Bible reading plan so that you will "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)

Read Through the Bible

Does reading through the Bible seem overwhelming? I love to read and I have a degree in English, but reading through the Bible seemed like a daunting task. I first read through the Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - back in 2008 starting in January and ending in December. In 2012, I did the same thing. The good news is that there is more than one reading plan to choose from. This year, I am following a different plan from Biblica: I started on December 3, 2015 and I'm reading a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, and a Psalm or a Proverb each day. Reading through the Bible will be one of the best things you do. You will see God's plan of redemption unfold as you "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)

My purpose is to direct you to some online resources to help you read through the Bible. Why online resources? The short answer is convenience. The long answer is that I want to make sure that people who don't have their own Bible will have immediate access to the daily Bible passages, and the easiest way to do that is online. (I am not going to discuss Bible apps for your phone, because quite honestly, I don't use Bible apps because I don't like reading on my phone.)

Many of the plans you will see are one year reading plans where you read through the entire Bible in one year. You absolutely do NOT need to start a reading plan on January 1st. You can start anytime. This means that you can start TODAY! Hooray! If you are feeling more ambitious, there are plans to read through the entire Bible in 90 days here and here. If you want to take it slower, there are reading plans where you can read through the Gospels in 45 days, or read through the New Testament in one year. The plan you choose is up to you. Make a commitment to read God's word for yourself and begin today.

Bible Gateway Reading Plans 

Bible Study Tools Reading Plans

Biblica Reading Plan

(These online resources recommend that you create a free account on their site so that you can track your progress. I am using the Biblica reading plan, and I did not create an account. In my opinion, creating an account is recommended but not necessary.)

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