Daily Bible Reading
Our daily Bible reading program is nearing its completion. We have almost read through all the narrative sections of the entire Bible, and it has seen a lot of ups and downs.
One striking realization as we read through these stories is that all of the human characters are flawed in some way. We don't have to get all the way to Romans 3:23 to know that all humans have sinned and fallen short of God's glory—we have already seen that truth demonstrated many times over in the stories of humans and God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Samson, Naomi, David, Jonah, Peter, and so many others... They all live out the truth that humans are flawed and that our need for God's righteous deliverance is a dire one.
And that's what makes the story of Jesus the Redeemer so truly wonderful. He gave himself up on our behalf, "although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." (Isa. 53:9) He "has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15) He is the first human character in these Bible stories who can be trusted to accept life on God's terms and let God perform his good will toward humanity. All others—including ourselves—have rebelled, but Jesus walked by faith in God's promises and in submission to God's kingship. And as a result, he is the reason that we can be saved from sin and from our own self-destructive choices.
Here's an activity that all of us can do to help us more fully accept the gravity of this marvelous story: Make some time to say a prayer that focuses exclusively on thanking God for Jesus Christ. With all the background of the story of lost humanity and God's grace upon grace sent to save us, take some time today to just say thanks to God aloud for the incredible gift that he has given us in Christ.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17)
- Dan Lankford, minister
This week's daily Bible reading guides us through the book of Acts. This, along with the four Gospels, is one of the most important books of the New Testament. And while that might sound odd to say that some Bible books are more important than others ("They should ALL be important to us."), the truth is that the teaching in the epistles depends on the stories in the Gospels and Acts. Without the story of Christ, the teachings of Christ are robbed of most (maybe all) of their power.
And that's where we can see the great value of the book of Acts. It starts with these words: "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen." Two things stand out about that introduction: 1) That the apostles were commissioned to carry the Gospel and Jesus' teachings into the world. It was now in their hands. But perhaps even more important for us to realize is that 2) the work they did was Jesus' work.
The book of Acts is not a departure from the stories of Jesus' life; it is a continuation of his story. While the Gospels told the story of Jesus' work on the earth, Acts tells the story of Jesus' work over all the earth. The power in the book of Acts is the same power at work in the Gospels: the divine power of Jesus that could not be stopped by persecution, could not be overcome by darkness, and could not be contained by death.
So as you read the book of Acts in the coming weeks, remember that its power is the same power that's been in the story all along. The power in the Story is that it all points us to Jesus, "the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt. 16:16)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In Sunday's morning message, I highlighted the importance of following the Golden Rule in our marriages. Then, when it came up in yesterday's daily Bible reading, I stopped and considered it a little more, because it is said and emphasized slightly differently in Luke's gospel than in Matthew's. So here are the verses and a few thoughts that struck me about them.
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:27-30)
The first thing that occurred to me is that Jesus' way of living is always going to be counter-cultural. This is the kind of passage that sounds great, but it doesn't feel like the proper thing in the moment. And it's not something that's easier for baptized believers than it is for unbelievers—we all struggle to actually live like he talks about in this passage. If someone takes our stuff, our temptation is to protect the rest of our stuff from that happening again—not to give more to the person who took from us. If someone wounds us, our temptation is create distance or emotional safeguards so that doesn't happen again—not to willingly turn the other cheek right into the emotional line of fire. It's a principle that is hard to live by, and yet it's what gives Christianity the power to turn the world upside down with such simple ways of thinking.
The second thing that occurred to me is that Jesus isn't just speaking in generic principles here—he's making specific commands. And that's something that convicts me. Because it's easy to say, "I should be willing to be generous, even when generosity is challenging." But it's a different level of difficulty when Jesus says, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back," and I know that is exactly what he means. The questions I have to answer for myself are these: Am I truly ready to give to everyone who asks something from me? Am I truly ready to let someone steal from me and not try to recover my stolen property? Most of my life, my answer to those questions has been no. But I have to re-evaluate that, repent of it, and make a change. And maybe you do too.
Living for Jesus is hard sometimes. But it's always worth it. May God give us strength.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The stories that we're reading this week sound like they could be from some sort of post-apocalyptic movie plot. A low-level politician is murdered by a mob, there is a certain degree of martial law, real justice is scarce, and everyone in the story is either part of the oppressive enemy or living in abject poverty. Is this what God intended life in the promised land to be like? Not. At. All.
The harsh reality of what's now happened to Solomon's powerful, wealthy, and respectable nation makes for a great demonstration of what happens to people who rebel against God. Think of how much they lost—culturally, spiritually, economically, politically. Lives were taken. Their national identity was destroyed. Even their land, a permanent home which once flowed with milk and honey, is now a desolate strip of earth playing host to people who are, for all practical purposes, homeless. And why did all of that happen? Because they rebelled against God.
Sin always comes at a high cost. Especially for those who know what God's way truly is, the tradeoff between God's goodness and sin's deception is never, ever worth it. The writer of Hebrews talked about that in a way that reminds us that it is never worth choosing sin when we know what God's will truly is. Take his words to heart, and stand firmly with God in your words, in your actions, and in your heart.
"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation." (Heb. 6:4-9)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In this past week’s daily Bible readings, we read large sections of the story of Solomon. It’s a confounding story of what might’ve been: a king who rules God’s people with perfect wisdom but then squanders the chance to fulfill God’s whole plan for the kingdom. He seems to be rising at the same time that he is falling.
One place in the story which embodies this simultaneous rise and fall is in 1 Kings 10:23 thru 11:8. In one breath the writer of 1 Kings says, “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” This is great news! The king is a voice for God to the Hebrews and all nations! But in the next breath, the writer gives us the foreboding news that Solomon turned back toward Egypt and married many foreign women who turned his heart away from YHWH. And so the whole thing turns out only to be the story of what might’ve been.
Haven’t we seen the same kind of things happen in the lives of people whom we know? Someone becomes a Christian, and their faith seems to take off like a rocket. They are participating in church life, reading the Bible daily, and showing all the signs of total commitment. But then signs of spiritual weakness start to show, and soon their hearts are turned away from YHWH. It’s the same kind of life that Jesus talks about in his parable of a seed that grew up quickly in thin soil and then died out because its roots were weak. All of us need to be reminded: put your faith completely in God. Live by his wisdom. Don’t become a person whose faith might have been great.