Beginning Again

Its a New Year, 2014. Fortuitously I ended my Bible reading December 31st on the last chapter of the book of Revelation. Such a glorious chapter with memorable scenes like “a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street.” vv. 1,2 And “On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” vv. 3,4 And “‘Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.'” vv. 12-14 It is marvelous to ponder those images in my mind and contemplate that ultimate reality. Such a comforting way to end the old year of 2013.

And on January 1 I began again the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. I think for only about ten or fifteen years I have been doing this, reading from start to finish, Genesis to Revelation, through the Bible, continuously, over and over again. That’s kind of a shame when I think of how long it has been that God has awakened me, caused me to be Born Again, and has given me His Spirit. That was April 1976. At that time I voraciously read the Word because I had not done so at all and really knew so little of what the Bible contained except for the “Readers Digest” Cliff Notes snippets that Catholics are spoon fed in school growing up. So when God introduced me to Him on that dark evening I immediately started reading the Bible like it was a love letter from a girlfriend I thought I’d lost. I read it all trying to learn everything I could. And there was a lot to learn, if you look at the size of the Bible.

But when one gets to meet God face to face as I did in 1976, in a spiritual sense, not physical, you’d understand how hungry I was to understand just Who He was in those pages. Yes, in all those pages – from Genesis right through Revelation.

Since then I’ve been reading His Word getting to know Him more and more and more. But in these almost fifty years I’m sad to say there have been periods of time when I’ve been lax about reading the Word. When there have been too many days passing without me picking up the Bible. And as I now reflect on this I an see that my spiritual life has suffered for it. It has only been within the last ten or fifteen years I think (I haven’t marked the day on the calendar) that I started to consciously read through the Bible on a daily basis. There is a great benefit to this as the more you read the Word the more you understand what is actually happening historically and spiritually and theologically. The more you read straight through the Word the more what happens with God’s people and how God deals with them makes sense. Truly if you are not familiar with the flow of history from Genesis to Revelation it becomes difficult to understand some of the hows and whys of God’s dealings with mankind. And if God’s dealings with mankind as described in the Bible don’t make seem to make sense the Bible will be rejected as nonsense, as it has been by many through the eons. But most importantly, the more you read through the pages, all the pages of the Bible, the more you come to know Him! And it is that getting to know Him that most people who go to church seem to forget about, that their God is so small just going to church can take car of that need. But God is much more infinite than that, if infinite can be quantified. Why wouldn’t one what to know Him as much as one possibly could if all they needed to do was read about Him in the Bible?

So if you have not developed the habit of daily reading a chapter or two or more of God’s word I wholeheartedly suggest this is the perfect time to take up the challenge. Find an accurate and readable translation (not one that is written in a language that hasn’t been spoken in hundreds of years) and start today. Get to know the great God and Savior Jesus Christ Who has been calling you to the most rewarding relationship you will ever know in your lifetime.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Legislate Morality or Legislate Immorality?

Yesterday, December 31, I read the last chapter of Revelation, in my read through the Bible. Today I start again at the beginning, Genesis 1. But today I reflect on that last amazing chapter.

“There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:3-5

Wonderful words to close out the good news of the Bible and the year 2013.

But I am thinking of verse 11 and this New Year’s day, the start of 2014 and where we are going in the “new world” and what American society is becoming. “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” Rev. 22:11 They say you can’t legislate morality. But I’m seeing that you can legislate immorality. Of course these days morals are in the eye of the beholder. But there are those do hold to the concept of God-given morals. And the fear is for the future of a society when immorality is codified into law as it is now in America.

Homosexuality is now not only socially acceptable but is a legal form of marriage blessed by the United States Supreme Court (Hollingsworth v. Perry). It is not that it is just a matter is treating all human beings with dignity and respect, it is now a matter of accepting a form of sexual sin that has always been called sin, in society and in the Bible, now called “normal” and acceptable and legal and protected. What other sin has reached legal protected status? Adultery? Stealing? Lying? Drunkenness? Murder? Not yet at least. Woe to a society that starts down this road of legalizing and protecting sins.

Now the State of Colorado has legalized the “recreational” use of pot smoking. So intoxication has been legalized. Those of us who have escaped the clutches of this so-called recreation and variations, the destructive habit of wasting one’s mind and human resources, know better, and users are laughing at you legislators who were hood-winked into passing this law, just so they could get high with an easier conscience. Most of us know better that there is little difference between the mind altering high of cannabis and that of alcohol. That is the highs may be different but one still gets one’s mind altered and out of focus. And the Bible decries against being drunk with wine for good reason. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Eph. 5:18 The reason is because it is not a good thing for people to be out of control by getting high or drunk. (I’m sure if in that first century pot smoking was common as wine drinking Paul would have mentioned it in the verse as well, but it is included under the term “dissipation.”) God doesn’t think this is good behavior and as a practical issue nature teaches this too. When you’re out of control bad things happen.

But should Christians care what happens to the health of society? I’m thinking of the verse mentioned above, verse 11, “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” Should Christians care that society seems to be on autopilot speeding for the cliff? Believers sure seem to be out numbered in the war on sin, otherwise how could such laws have been passed? Christians are still out there passing on their faith one person at a time. The Holy Spirit is still at work saving souls one new birth at a time, just as He did from the day of Pentecost. And as we see from those last chapters of Revelation those souls will overcome by the blood of the Lamb who will usher in His glorious kingdom where “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” Rev. 22:3-4

In the meantime, however, Christians still have to make their way in this world struggling with this flesh and blood as they try and figure out how to live Godly lives in the midst of this fallen world and make an impact for Christ. But we have Jesus to imitate and can approach all individuals in love as Jesus did the woman caught in adultery. And what were His words to her? “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” John 8:11 He hated sin and its effects on humanity more than anyone (Luke 13:34) but He loved more than anyone and forgave. That is the Gospel, through His blood we have forgiveness and are free from being enslaved to sin. Through His blood, resurrection, the gift of the Spirit, we can overcome that slavery to sin. That was the message of Pentecost and remains the message today.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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How Long is 400 Years?

So I’ve finished reading the history books of the Bible and am reading the poetry books. Its been an amazing journey. God led Abram on a mystery trip of promise and generations later a nation was born. The stories are phenomenal, watching God work in the lives of His people as they obey and disobey. They get to posses the Promised Land and they are expelled from it. They reach such great heights and drop to such deep lows. But all the while God never abandons them, even if it seems like it to them.

At the end of the historical books they are back in the land of Israel after the 70 year Diaspora, the great dispersion. They’ve restored the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and are trying to rebuild their lives around their God that they had abandoned which had caused their expulsion in the first place. All the cries of the prophets that they had heard for so many years and generations, those that gave “the Word of the Lord” that Israel had been used to hearing since the days of Samuel and before, are about to go quiet. There is now to be a period of silence for 400 years. It wouldn’t have been the first 400 years of silence. When Jacob and his clan were brought to Egypt by his son Joseph for protection before there was even a nation of Israel, this initiated a 400 year silence of the voice of God. Four hundred years is an awfully long time to be without the voice of the One who guides you and comforts you and gives meaning to your life. Without that voice to help a lot of things can happen that can have an unpleasant effect on your path in life. And in this case, while Jacob’s clan grew into a powerful nation they, at the same time, became enslaved!

It makes me wonder what the people thought as they lived year after year through those times if the inter-Testemental period. Not hearing any prophesy the likes of an Isaiah or Jeremiah of Micah or Amos. With all of the talk from the prophets about a Messiah that would restore the Kingdom there must have been some kind of hope to spark their dreams. But still the years rolled on with nary a peep and the world continued to oppress them as governments controlled their existence. Its hard to imagine how exasperating it must have felt waiting for something to happen to bring the freedom they wished; just like, as they must have compared, to those days as slaves in Egypt. Would they be waiting forever?

Sometimes I feel this way as a Believer, waiting for the Lord to speak to me, reading His Word, waiting for some spark of creativity to ignite to compose a page for a blog. You’d think every verse would be pregnant with thoughts and ideas begging for lines and paragraphs to bring to the page, but it doesn’t work that way. The prophets didn’t publish every day. You can tell from their books that the Lord gave His word fairly sparingly, judging by the amount that we read today from them. If that’s the case, God didn’t tell them to speak very often. Apparently only when it was called for, when He had a purpose to fulfill.

Still, for those of us who read His Word daily and expect to be bedazzled, it can be disappointing to not get a buzz every time I read the Word. Not like I did when I first read the Bible. Back then in 1976 the Word was brand new to me, it was so alive and amazing and fresh, and the Spirit spoke so clearly as I read; it was awesome! Now, after the countless times of reading the Bible from cover to cover, becoming very familiar with the stories and with how God worked in His creation and His creatures, it isn’t that I’m less awed by our great God and King, but a familiarity has set in in the 30 years plus of reading and studying.

I guess I have to be careful that I don’t treat His Word in such a way that this familiarity becomes indifference. After all, except for a direct revelation of God speaking to me, which I have yet to experience, His Word is all I have to know who He is and what he wants of me and the world. This book is, after all, still His love letter, and how should a love letter be read? Certainly not in a casual manner. But with the heart, and with grateful thanksgiving for such and indescribable gift! ( 2 Cor. 9:15)

So whether He waits 400 days or 400 years at least He has given me His Word to speak His peace and mind to me, and I don’t have to wait a moment to communicate with Him. “Pray without ceasing,” as Paul wrote (1 Thes. 5:17), you can communicate with God any time, anywhere. Why wait?

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One Last Chance

I finished the historical books of the Old Testament, Nehemiah (OK, if you don’t count Esther – but Nehemiah chronologically comes after Esther). Like all of the historical books it starts out so promising, with the glory of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem in its sites. The Temple has already been built as described in the previous book of Ezra. Now all that needs to be done to wrap up God’s working His Old Testament salvation history after the Jews failed to keep their part of the Covenant and were removed from the Promised land for 70 years was for Jerusalem to be built again to give the Jews one last chance at returning to God with all their heart, mind, and strength. It was hoped by those leaders who God put into their hearts and minds to glorify Him by returning to the burned out and destroyed center of the state of Israel that this would be accomplished. Throughout the book of Nehemiah his fervent wish was that God’s people would finally devote themselves to their God like they’ve never done before.

And it starts out this way. In spite of so many obstacles in their way. Particularly the pagan society that overtly attempted to thwart them at every turn. But they banded together bravely locking arm in arm, and rebuilding even with weapons in one hand and construction tools in the other. It is a marvel to behold, and success finally came with the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. The celebration was well deserved for this accomplishment and they glorified their God celebrating their feast with phenomenal joy, reading from the Book of the Law.

Sadly it wasn’t long for things to start to crumble. The reading of the Law caused them to realize that many of the people including the priests had been compromised by incorporating the habits and customs of the pagans around them. They confessed their sins and vowed to separate themselves, removing pagan wives and children, not buying and selling on the Sabbath, and a variety of other thing called for by the Law. But even though they made these agreements by the last chapter they have still started to slip and Nehemiah is still making complaints against the Nobles of Judah who are profaning the Sabbath, and there were Jews who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab who were particularly offensive because they tried to repulse Israel as they came out of Egypt led by Moses. Even the son of the High Priest was among them.

It is unfortunate that after such great rejoicing not many verses earlier that the history of the Old Testament should end on a particularly critical note. But all the Historical Book are this way, and it is a precursor to the next stage of God’s plan and the final unfolding of Salvation History when on a far more personal level God takes things into His own hands and takes measures to free His people in a more direct way from their sin and its horrible power. But first 400 years of silence as God’s voice is not heard must pass and the nation of Israel must fend for itself and wonder if there indeed will be any salvation from any quarter in an increasingly oppressive world.

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Three Strikes?

I just finished reading 2 Kings and am getting ready to start 1st Chronicles. It is heartbreaking to read about the abject failures of the tragedy of tossing aside the glorious promises of God for the miseries of trash and filth and worthlessness. Which is exactly what Israel did when God led them into the Promised land and gave them the promises and they instead choked on the greed of wanting to wallow in the evil that mirrored the nations surrounding them.

But this wasn’t the first time the promises of glory were exchanged for an illusion resulting in the most reprehensible retardation of one’s standing before God. For instance, God gave Adam and Eve the most perfect setting imaginable and they had nothing to worry about, had nothing standing in their way, and yet they could still throw it all away for the illusion of a better way. Strike one.

God being gracious gave mankind another chance and chose Israel to reveal Himself in a dramatic way. The historical books of the Old Testament show how that went. Very little went well, so much failure. Strike two.

Then Our Lord personally came to earth, dwelt among us in human form with a very specific mission, to save humanity by paying the penalty for our sin and giving us the opportunity of receiving that gift. And the Church was born. And for a hundred years or so, fighting against the evil of the world, the church flourished. Then after a few hundred years, when the church grew, conversions spread, and even the Emperor reportedly converted to Christianity, soon it would be possible to blend Christianity with the State governing. And in doing so the gospel would be broadcast even further around the world, but would be watered down in the process, and Christianity would be watered down in the process as well, and the leaders of Christianity would soon bring great shame on an institution that is supposed to be called by the name of our great God and Creator. Just as His name was supposed to rest in the Temple of Jerusalem forever as He promised it would if only Israel would keep His laws and commandments; but they did not, and in spite of the prophesied 70 year captivity in Babylon as He promised God wiped the place away as one wipes a dish clean and turns it over to dry.

As church leaders today make a mockery of Christ, and give a poor example to the flock? The Book of Revelation has some warnings for a few churches for being to luke-warm, for loosing their first love, for basically forgetting who they are. Is this strike three? Fortunately His Holy Spirit has never kept quite and has always voiced His word down the centuries for any with ears to hear and eyes to read His word. There is a way and we can walk in it. We don’t have to listen to the false teachers and leaders when the Spirit dwells inside. How many strikes can we expect as we dance around this plate we call Earth?

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