Over the course of my life and ministry, I have looked for books that focus on explaining and expressing The Gospel in simple, clear language that speaks to popular audiences. I have found a few along the way:
Right With God by John Blanchard
Basic Christianity by John Stott
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
and now this one – Words Matter: What is The Gospel? by Mark Ballard
This book is actually more like an extended tract or booklet than a full-length book. It is well within the range of readers with either time or attention limitations. The text of the book is only 75 pages. It is written in thoroughly-Scriptural, simple, straightforward, conversational language. In fact, the four short chapters are:
The Gospel is Crucial
The Gospel is Clear
The Gospel is Certain
The Gospel is Serious
If you are looking for a short read to reboot your own understanding and passion for The Gospel, refresh your ability to explain and express what The Gospel is, or for a book you can easily and confidently place in a friend’s hands to reinforce your Gospel witness, this is it.
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Words! Words! Words!
We are having numerous, multiple conversations among ourselves these days … intense conversations, passionate conversations, oftentimes contentious conversations. We are using words. We express our beliefs and convictions with those words … because words matter, words mean things.
The only problem is, sometimes we use the same word or words, but they mean different things to different speakers and hearers. The speaker is encoding his/her own nuanced thinking into the words, but the hearer is decoding the very same words through his/her mental filters with totally different nuanced thinking. Or, the hearer uses the same word/words, but means something different.
This is especially true in our contemporary context when we talk about the hot-button, hot-collar issues among us. When we want to add urgency to an issue, we say that it is a “Gospel-issue.” By adding “Gospel-” to it, we not only give it immediate urgency, but we also give it the weight of authority.
So, we have learned that if we want to add authority and urgency to the issues of, say:
(insert yours here…)
and the list of agenda goes on ad infinitum…
…then, we just add the hyphenated “Gospel-issue” to it, and that throws the conversation into another strata of importance.
But, when we do that, we run the risk creating an equivalency between The Gospel and whatever issue we’re trying to promote or advance by linking it with The Gospel. What we end up doing is creating the impression that “The Gospel is the same thing as believing in and practicing this issue the same ways I do. And, if you don’t use the same words I do the same ways I do when I talk about this other issue in relationship with the Gospel … and if you don’t act it out the same ways I do … then you don’t believe the Gospel.”
It has even become trendy and fashionable to question the salvation of notable and prominent Christian leaders, both contemporary and historical, just because they either held to doctrinal interpretations or practiced cultural and social conducts that are judged to be contrary and antithetical to the Gospel.
What is “The Gospel”?
However, we must distinguish what is essential to The Gospel from those issues, practices, and conducts that are effects of correct belief and application of The Gospel. We must distinguish what is core to The Gospel from what is only a consequence of The Gospel.
The Gospel is separate and distinct from all the effects, consequences, and fruits of true Gospel faith and obedience.
It is very possible to believe and confess The Gospel perfectly – that is, through true and genuine faith in Jesus Christ – and, at the same time, imperfectly practice every conduct that The Gospel commands us to live out. It is very possible to be perfectly justified by believing The Gospel and at the same time be imperfectly sanctified in living every aspect of your life in strict conformity to The Gospel’s teachings and standards. Our progressive sanctification may be in various stages and degrees of still yet progressing.
Yes – a true belief in The Gospel must dictate, govern, and control every single expression and activity of our lives. But, we all have our inconsistencies, imbalances, and blind spots when it comes to our living out the full and complete implications and applications of The Gospel in our daily lives.
So, that brings us back to Words Matter: What is The Gospel? After everything I have said here to set it up, this book is actually not a polemic. It isn’t exactly an apologetic work. The author addresses everything I have said here only with a glancing reference in his Introduction. But, he does so to set the contents of his little book squarely in the middle of the context of these contemporary conversations I have just been describing.
Words Matter: What is The Gospel?, though, is just a thoroughly-Scriptural, simple, straightforward, clear, concise explanation and expression of The Gospel.
The Gospel is one thing, and one thing only: how Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, how He was buried, and how He rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). The Gospel is The Message from God in Jesus Christ that saves us from our sins. That is it. And that is all it is. Because that is all that God has said it is.
And so, that is why “Words Matter: What is The Gospel?” – because when we begin to add more words and issues to The Gospel words that God has given us by which we are saved, then we have confused The Gospel and diluted it. We have counterfeited The Gospel (Galatians 1.6-9). More and worse than that, we have neutered and nullified The Gospel (Galatians 2.21).
The Gospel, as God has given it to us in Jesus Christ, is the power that God Himself uses to save all those who believe in Him (Romans 1.13-17). And, it is the only message/words that God will so use.
“What is The Gospel?” matters most because it matters to God!
When we attempt to add any other words or issues to The Gospel, then we render it void, ineffective, and useless. Because God is the only One who can make it work to give eternal life to all who believe. And The Gospel is the only words He will use.
These lesson notes were prepared and presented to our church’s Sunday School class, so they may contain references that are personal or specific to our group – but I pray and hope they are general enough to prove helpful and beneficial to others also … maybe even you!
I’m going to read these familiar words from James 1.22-25 in order to introduce and set up this lesson:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
I guess I could give this lesson at least these four titles and themes:
QUESTIONS TO ASK THE TEXT – which I will explain as we go along
WHAT TO “LOOK” FOR IN WHAT YOU ARE READING TODAY – because James keep repeating and emphasizing at least three times that when we read the Bible we are “looking” into it
HOW TO “DO” THE WORDS YOU READ IN THE BIBLE – because that is the most primary point that James is making here: that we must be “doers” of the words we are reading … and not just read it, hear it, or know it
SIX TAKEAWAYS FROM YOUR DAILY TIME WITH GOD – I’m going to go with this one because we are all familiar with what a “takeaway” is from something you have heard or read … you don’t just hear a message or a lesson, and you don’t just read the Word of God, and then get up and walk away and leave it all behind. James warns us we can do that – and we often do, to our shame and harm. But a ‘takeaway’ is a lasting impression that you ‘take away’ from what you have heard or read. You don’t forget it. You can’t shake it, and you oughtn’t to. You ‘take it away’ and you act on it. It changes the way you live the rest of your day and your life.
So, I want this lesson to be SIX TAKEAWAYS FROM YOUR DAILY TIME WITH GOD.
It isn’t my purpose here to even attempt to do an exposition of these words. All I want to do at this time is to emphasize the main point that James is making: and that is, it isn’t enough just to read the Word of God, or ‘hear’ the Word of God [as in learning it], but we must ‘do’ the Word of God! “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” By that, James means that you are deceiving yourself if you think it is enough just to know what the words in the Bible say – if you are not doing them. If you are not putting them into practice.
So, I hope and pray that you have committed yourself to reading the Bible regularly, systematically, and thoroughly. But you must also focus on “doing” what you are reading. You must be sure you are acting on the responsibilities the words of the Scripture are requiring from you, and that you are responding with obedience.
WHAT TO ‘LOOK FOR’ IN WHAT YOU ARE READING TODAY
James uses here the illustration of a man [or a woman] looking into a mirror. He uses the word “look” three times in this brief illustration:
…he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror [verse 23]
For he looks at himself and goes away… [verse 24]
But the one who looks into the perfect law… [verse 25]
Exactly what are you looking for? What are you supposed to be looking for?
Well, why do you look into a mirror? You look into a mirror so you can see and learn from what you look like – the way you are right now. Why do you need to know what you look like? So you can know if you look OK, if you are presentable … or if something is out of order and needs to be changed and fixed.
But, James says that all your looking into the mirror and seeing your reflection will do you no good if you put the mirror down and walk away with that gravy drip still all down the front of your shirt … or with your lipstick smeared up one corner of your mouth. James says, “For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like…” [verse 24]. You walk away from your reading with no ‘takeaway’!
You looked into the mirror to see what you look like – so now go and fix what needs to be fixed so your looking into the mirror will be worth the time you took to do it. That is your ‘takeaway’ – go and change it!
It does you no good at all to know everything there is to know in the Bible merely in a factual way if you do not act on it! On the other hand, if you are NOT a forgetful hearer of what you have learned – but if you are a diligent DOER of the word you have read – “…he will be blessed in his doing.”
OK – so you are reading, you are learning, you are adding to your store of knowledge about the Bible and what the Bible says – now, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to respond with your actions? How are you going to put it into practice? How are going to change the ways you live throughout your days because you just read what you read?
QUESTIONS TO ASK THE TEXT YOU ARE READING TODAY
That’s what this lesson is going to be about. I’m going to give you a set of questions to be asking the Word of God as you read it. Better yet: I’m going to give you a set of questions to be asking God as you read His Word. God is the One who “breathed out” or inspired the Bible. God is the One who is speaking with His own Voice in all the words of the Word of God.
So we’re going to be asking Him to show us wondrous things out of His Law. And then, when He shows us what He intends for us to learn from His Word, then we’ll commit ourselves and set out to do it. We’re going to take our “takeaways” and make the changes that we have read about.
Psalm 119.105 ~ “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Psalm 119.59 ~ “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to Your testimonies.”
So, we’re going to read His Word, and think on our ways, and respond accordingly to what God says in those words.
HOW TO ‘DO’ THE WORDS YOU ARE READING IN THE BIBLE TODAY
SIX ‘TAKEAWAYS’ FROM YOUR DAILY TIME WITH GOD
So, I’m going to give you a Bible-reading “To Do” list – here are six “takeaways” – that we need to be asking for and looking for so we can go and do them:
The GOD I must know … and delight in
An EXAMPLE I must follow … or not follow
An ERROR that I must avoid
A SIN that I must confess, repent from, and forsake
A COMMAND that I must obey
A PROMISE that I must claim or keep
Now, if you want to – you can turn these into questions: “What does this Scripture say about THE GOD that I must know … and delight in?” And so on, ask the same question about the other five: “What does this Scripture say about…?” I’ll give you some questions you can ask the Scripture you are reading to help you find your takeaways.
So, these will be prompters for meditation, for prayer, for self-examination, and especially for application to your life.
And, these six that I will highlight are certainly not the only takeaways and lessons we can and must learn from reading the Bible. If you can think of others – and I’m sure you can – then go for it! But these six are the most prominent six lessons that I have developed to read the Bible for and learn from.
What I want to do with each one of these prompters is just to show us how each one can be used in any and every Scripture where you reading. All of these life-lessons are universal in all the Scripture, and they are woven into the warp and woof of the fabric of the whole Bible. So, they will be anywhere and everywhere you are reading. Just think about them, and look for them … with the intention of doing them!
Takeaway #1:What does this Scripture say about THE GOD that I must know … and delight in?
Just remember this: the God who inspired the Bible did so for the primary purpose to reveal Himself to us through His words so that we may know Him! Every page, every narrative, every event, every lesson, every story, every instruction is God telling us something about Himself.
I have described in another article how I began years ago to read the Bible with this first and primary quest in my soul – to seek to discover and know this God who inspired and gave us this book, the Bible, so we may know Him and enjoy a personal, spiritual relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. You can read that article here: https://daveparksblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/i-am-just-a-plain-man-seeking-god/
Everything that is written in the Bible is God’s personal way of declaring “I AM THE LORD … THIS IS WHO I AM!” God reveals His character, attributes, and nature in every interaction He has with His creation and with us, His creatures … and in His every response to those interactions.
Of course, since everything in the Bible is God’s revealing Himself, if we wanted to be thorough and complete illustrating how to read to know God and delight in Him, we would have to reference everything that is in the Bible. Obviously, we can’t do that. So, what I want to do is show you how this works where we all are reading together right now – in the Book of Genesis.
As you open chapter 1 of Genesis, you discover and delight in God’s creative power. You discover and delight in God as a God of order and beauty. You discover and delight in God being a Person Himself, and how He created us to be in a personal, loving relationship with Him.
As you continue reading through the account of Adam and Eve disobeying God and falling into sin, you discover and delight in God’s grace, forgiveness, and mercy in providing a sin sacrifice and covering for their sin – and you begin to discover and delight in how God will send His own Lamb of God in some distant future time to perfectly save us from our sins.
As you continue reading into the account of God’s judgment against the rampant sin of humankind in the Flood, you discover that God is a God of Holiness and wrath against sin – and He cannot and will not permit sin to go unchecked and unpunished.
As you continue reading on into the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you discover and delight in God as a God who makes covenants with Himself on our behalf – and then shares those covenants and the blessings of those covenants with us, His people, whom He is choosing and adopting to Himself to belong to Him and be with Him forever!
And, on and on … you get the idea. This is the first and foremost, and most important truth and lesson you are reading for: to discover who God is, what kind of God He is – and then to know Him and delight in Him!
Everything God does, He does it consistently with who He is. So, study His words, His attitudes, His evaluations, His judgments, His responses to everything we humans do, His actions and works – all with the end in view of discovering and learning more about Him – and delight in everything you discover about Him!
Psalm 1.2 says, “…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.” Why do we delight in the law of the LORD? Because – we delight in the LORD whose law it is. God’s law [or instruction] is the written expression of who God Himself is. It is the written record of His will, His desires, what pleases Him, what He wants from us.
And so, when we delight in Him, we delight is what He says – and we delight in what He says because we delight in Him. So, ask the Scripture you are reading, “What does this Scripture say about THE GOD that I must know … and delight in?”
Takeaway #2: What does this Scripture say about AN EXAMPLE that I must follow … or not follow?
With every historical account, story, and narrative, you need to be asking yourself:
What kind of example is being set and presented here?
What kind of example is being acted out here?
Is this a good example – or a bad one?
Is God drawing out this story for me to emulate and follow – or to avoid at all costs?
Let’s fast forward to the New Testament as the writers of the New Testament refer back to these examples and exhort us to pay close attention – make note of the examples we are reading about – and respond according to the character of that example.
I can’t give you the background and context of these New Testament quotations, but I will give you the references, and encourage you to look them up and see what kinds of examples each of them is referring to:
Romans 15.4 – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
1 Corinthians 10.11-Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
And, then, especially lest we forget also the examples of Sodom and Gomorrah … 2 Peter 2.6 – …if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes He condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…
Of course, there are good, godly, noble examples also – also too numerous to mention them all or describe their examples in detail:
So, as you read all their stories, ask yourself: “What does this Scripture say about an example that I must follow … or not follow?” And then, write it down – make a note of it … and do it!
Takeaway #3: What does this Scripture say about AN ERROR that I must avoid?
This kind of goes back to the last question about examples we must avoid. Except that when I ask “What does this Scripture say about AN ERROR that I must avoid?”, I’m emphasizing here some kind of practice or lifestyle that we can fall into – or slide into more gradually. An error to avoid is a mindset or belief system … a way of thinking and acting.
For example, when Eve was deceived by the serpent [who was, in turn, taken over to serve as the mouthpiece for the fallen Satan], the error that Eve was committing was that she had become distrusting of God’s absolute truthfulness. Satan deceived her into doubting God. That had become, at least for that occasion, an error, a way of thinking and believing that she had fallen into. So that Paul writes to the Corinthian church and warns them against falling into this error of not being fully, whole-heartedly, passionately in love with Jesus Christ and committed to Him.
Listen to his warning in 2 Corinthians 11.2-4:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Or, how about the error that Cain fell into, and even embraced and cultivated. His error was not loving his brother as we have always been commanded to do from the beginning. His error was allowing bitterness and hatred against his brother to grow and thrive in his heart – until he acted on it and murdered his brother.
Which prompted the apostle John to pull us up short and stand face-to-face with us and call us away from falling or sliding into this error.
1 John 3.11-15 ~ For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Jude follows up by warning us about those who practice this sinful error and lifestyle: “For they walked in the way of Cain” [Jude, verse 11].
How about the error of those who disregarded the ways of God in their lives and rejected Noah’s warnings to repent from their sins and seek their refuge in God and the ark He was providing? But, they just continued eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage until the floodwaters of God’s judgment was poured out on them and destroyed them. Jesus warned against those errors: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man” [Luke 17.26].
Just one more: how about the error of Lot’s wife? She was so in love with what God had abominated and marked for destruction, and she was so loathe to leave it behind, she disobeyed the instruction of the angels not to look back – and instead did look back with a lingering longing to have it, and God turned her into a pillar of salt. “Remember Lot’s wife!” [Luke 17.32] … which is another way of saying “What does this Scripture say about AN ERROR I must avoid?”
So, as you are reading, pay attention to the text and study your own heart. Read, and look, and pray over what you are reading and ask God to keep you from the errors that have ruined so many others and destroyed their lives and happiness.
Takeaway #4: What does this Scripture say about A SIN that I must confess, repent from, and forsake?
Well, again, we have pretty much already plowed this furrow, but here’s the focal point of this question: we can become so used to our own personal history and experience of walking with the Lord, our traditions we have practiced for decades, the service we have been engaged in for years, and especially our long-time familiarity with the Scriptures – that we, especially, run the risk of becoming blind, jaded, and numb to our own sins.
Keep this question before you, and ask this question of the text and passage you are reading: “What does this Scripture say about A SIN that I must confess, repent from, and forsake?”
That is a very grave error we want to avoid – going back to the previous question #3. We can become so practiced in knowing what the Scripture says that we fail to really read what the very Scriptures we are reading are saying to us – and saying about us. We can so easily read about the sins of others that we fail to see those same sins in ourselves.
I read a statement by Pastor Burk Parsons the other day: “I want to hate my sins more than I hate the sins of others who sin differently than I do.”
We are so often like David was when he was visited by the prophet Nathan. Nathan began to tell David the story about the man in his kingdom who stole his neighbor’s one pet lamb to slaughter and serve to some friends of his when he had plenty of other lambs that already belonged to him. David became so enraged at the sin of this fictitious character that he was ready to haul him in and have him executed – until Nathan confronted him and said, “You are that man!” To which David responded with conviction and grief, “I have sinned against the LORD” [2 Samuel 12.1-14].
So, here’s what I’m challenging us all to do: as you read the Word of God, pray to God to keep your own heart open to the conviction of your own sins. Pray to the Holy Spirit to keep your conscience sensitive to your sins – to remove the blinders that prevent us from seeing our own blind-spots about our own sins.
Read the Bible – not just with your eyes or even just with your mind – but read the Bible with your conscience. And, when God reveals your sins to you, then let’s do what we’re supposed to do: not just feel bad about it, or try to make atonement by wallowing in your guilt and self-loathing – but confess it immediately, honestly, and sincerely, and then repent from it. Not just repent for having done it, but repent from it. And forsake it.
Either the Bible will keep you from sin; or sin will keep you from the Bible.
Psalm 119.11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Takeaway #5: What does this Scripture say about A COMMAND that I must obey?
Well – there are a LOT of commands in the Bible, wouldn’t you agree? And, God means for us to know them … and know them all … and do them all. I know that’s a tall order, but God has made it clear from the very beginning that it is our responsibility to obey Him in every respect, to obey His every command.
If only Adam and Eve had done that in the beginning! But, of course, they didn’t. And that’s why we’re in the sin-mess we’re in. I made the point earlier that one of the errors we must avoid is the error Eve was deceived into believing: that she could pick and choose which of God’s commands she had to obey, or the error of believing she could second-guess God’s authority or the seriousness of God’s commands, or even adjust God’s commands to her own preferences or liking.
Genesis 2.16 ~ And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
But, no! Eve chose to believe the serpent’s lie about God’s truthfulness and the consequences God had promised – because it better suited what she wanted to believe and what she wanted to do:
Genesis 3.1-7 ~ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘Youshall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Just remember: all the grief, suffering, and death we are suffering from now came from that one act of disobedience. So, keep asking the text: “What does this Scripture say about A COMMAND I must obey?”
Takeaway #6: What does this Scripture say about A PROMISE that I must claim or keep?
God has been giving us promises from the very beginning of the Bible. In fact, Paul told Titus that God has been giving us promises even “before the ages began” [Titus 1.2], and He has recorded those promises in His Word.
Immediately after Adam and Eve fell into their sin, God began promising that He would send the offspring of the woman [meaning, He would send His own Son, Jesus Christ], and that He would destroy the cursed effects that sin had brought into our world and upon us through the work of the serpent. We even call this promise the “protoevangelium,” or “the first good news,” the first promise of Christ and His Gospel.
When God destroyed the world with the Flood, He gave us the sign of the rainbow, and He promised that He would never again destroy the earth with water [Genesis 9.8-17].
That same promise is linked up with Jesus’ promise to come again at the end of this age. “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” [2 Peter 3.13].
When God gives us promises, He will keep them. We can believe that and count on Him to do as He has promised. God wants us to believe His promises and trust Him to be good on His Word. In the Bible, that assurance and confidence that God will keep every one of His promises is called ‘hope.’
And so, as you read everything you read in God’s Word, just remember that Jesus Christ is God’s Promise. The Gospel is God’s promise. Grace is God’s promise. His covenant is His promise. Heaven is His promise.
2 Corinthians 1.20 ~ “For all the promises of God find their ‘Yes!’ in Him [Christ]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our ‘Amen’ to God for His glory.”
Anything and everything you will ever need to live in the grace relationship God has promised us in Jesus Christ – whatever you will ever need, and more than you can ever desire that is good, God has promised it to us and given it to us in Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1.3-4 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us toHis own glory and excellence, 4 by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
Every one of these “His precious and very great promises” is contained in His Word. And, He means for you to have and enjoy every single one of them according to your every need.
So, as you read the Word, ask the text … ask the passage … ask God who is speaking His own Word, “What does this Scripture say about A PROMISE that I must claim or keep?”
And then, when He shows it to you, make a note of it.
Write it down.
Claim it and keep it.
He will be good for it.
Here are a couple worksheets I have developed to help you look for and take notes on these Six Takeaways from Your Daily Time With God…
It isn’t too late to join us and get started on the Essential 100 Bible-reading plan that will take you on a quick scan survey of the Bible narrative. As I have told you in a previous post, this is not a complete and comprehensive reading of the Bible – just a 100-day, 100-passages reading of 100 of the most significant highlights of the Big Picture of the Bible. It is a bird’s-eye, panoramic view of the Bible.
NOTE: this particular schedule is dated from September 1, 2020, when our church’s Sunday School began this 100-day reading [along with some other fellow church members and friends]. But, you can begin anytime, any day of the year. Just disregard the 2 columns on the left with the day of the week and the date. You can just start with the description of the reading and the passage to be read.
So, whether you start today … or another day … the Word of God will still be there – unchanged, just as alive and powerful as it’s always been – it lives and abides forever!
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
WHAT IS “THE BEREAN FELLOWSHIP”?
I am inviting you to come and join us in this joint challenge and Bible-reading venture we are calling “THE BEREAN FELLOWSHIP.” I’m naming it that after the Jews whom Paul found in the synagogue in Berea, who were “more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
The Jews in the synagogue in Thessalonica had rejected Paul’s teaching them from the Scriptures [the Old Testament Scriptures] that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and Savior that God had been promising in all the OT Scriptures. [see verses 2-3 … we’ll come back to this later…]
The Bereans, however, DID NOT REJECT the Word of God and Paul’s teachings concerning Christ from them. To the contrary, they responded with a four-fold response:
1. “They RECEIVED the Word with all eagerness” Or, another way to put it would be: “they were all in – all for it!” “they were eating it up!” “They couldn’t get enough!” “They couldn’t wait for the next Sabbath service!” [and that’s precisely where this is going… because they couldn’t wait for the next service – they had to be looking for themselves, on their own, like, every day…]
2. They examined the Scriptures [KJV, ‘searched’]. They were poring over it. They were reading, pondering, meditating, studying, looking into the meaning of what they were reading. They were comparing what they were reading with other Scriptures [see verse 3 – like Paul did when he preached]. They would talk about it among themselves. They would ask each other questions – and share the insights and input that each of them had to contribute. And, then, the next time they had a synagogue service with Paul, they would compare their notes and ask him to talk about what the Scriptures meant. [And, we need to keep in mind, that “the Scriptures” they had was the Old Testament – the New Testament books had not been written yet…]
3. They were loving, looking for, and learning more and more about Jesus Christ. When Luke writes ‘to see if these things were so,’ he is referring to what Paul had been talking about in their synagogue services. So, what had Paul been pointing out and talking about? Well, go back a few verses to see what it was that those in Thessalonica had rejected and that the Bereans had received, looked into, and learned with such eagerness and enthusiasm. You’ll find it in verses 2-3:
2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
That’s what they were searching for and finding – and so happy about! They were discovering Jesus Christ and His Gospel in all the OT Scriptures!
4. THEY DID THIS EVERY DAY! It was not just a ‘Sabbath Day’ thing. They were not like so many – just occasional ‘auditors’ of the Word of God. It became their daily practice … “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so!”
So, there you have it – that is ‘The Berean Fellowship’!
So, my challenge to you is this: Will you join us, and let’s do this together:
to receive God’s Word [Old Testament and New Testament alike] with a voracious love, eager excitement and anticipation…
to read it, examining, seeking, searching, looking for, and finding Jesus Christ in all the writings, on all the pages…
and to do it every day!?
DO YOU READ THE SCRIPTURES DAILY?
Do you read the Scriptures daily?
Have you developed the practice, the discipline, the daily ‘habit’ [if you will] of reading God’s Word, the Scriptures every day?
Do you read the Word of God regularly – not as just a rote, mindless repetition – but as a regular, consistent spiritual exercise and practice?
Do you have an orderly plan or systematic schedule of reading portions to help you keep yourself on task and on target?
If you DO NOT, now is the perfect time and a perfect way to start developing the exercise and discipline of daily reading the Word of God!
If you DO, I’m asking you for the sake of group unity, comradery, and encouragement to do what I plan to do myself – and that is, suspend and interrupt your already-scheduled reading plan and let’s all join together for this 100-day Essential 100 Bible Reading Plan.
This is a simple, easy to follow, plan for reading 100 carefully selected passages from the Bible that will highlight many of the key events and teachings that make up the Bible timeline.
Obviously, this plan is not a complete and comprehensive reading of the Bible. Much of the Bible will be left out. But it will give us a panoramic scan of the Bible … the big picture and the brightest highlights of the Bible’s storyline.
50 of these readings are from the Old Testament; the other 50 are from the New Testament. So, in the reading of these 100 passages, you will have completed a scan of the whole Bible – from Genesis to Revelation!
Plus, in doing so, you will also have begun [if you aren’t already], to cultivate and develop the practice of daily reading of the Scriptures – which we all ought to be doing.
I have given you three formats to help you follow this Essential 100 Bible Reading Plan:
I have prepared for you the 4-page paper schedule of the Bible readings
I have also sent you who are here at BRBC the printed card of the Bible reading schedule
And, to those of you who use your electronic devices [computer, tablet, phone], you can either just go to the YouVersion Bible website, and you will find this same The Essential 100 Bible Reading Plan in their “Plans” page [do a search for Essential 100], or you can download the YouVersion app to your device and set up the plan for yourself.
We are looking forward to sharing these next 100 days together in The Word of God!
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day!” ~Psalm 119.97
“…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.” ~Psalm 1.2
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” ~Luke 24.27“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness of Me…!” ~John 5.39
These lesson notes were prepared and presented to our church’s Sunday School class, so they may contain personal references to our group – but I pray and hope they are general enough to prove helpful and beneficial to others also … maybe even you!
Spiritual Exercises / Lesson #2
HOW TO ESTABLISH AND PRACTICE A DAILY TIME WITH GOD
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
From the beginning, when God first began to speak His words to Moses to be written down, God was insistent that His people passionately love Him and His words. He commanded them to not just expose themselves to His words, but they were to be intentional to make every effort to keep His words in their hearts to love them, and in every aspect of their lives to do them.
They were to highly value and treasure His words in their hearts: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart…”
They were to make every effort and take every measure to keep His words in their hearts and in their physical surroundings: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, they were to surround and saturate themselves with written reminders of His words.
They were to conduct every single activity of their lives and relationships according to and in agreement with His words: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
This is what I’m encouraging every one of us to do … daily, regularly, consistently … with the Word of God.
Whatever you choose to call it: ‘Daily Devotions,’ ‘Quiet Time,’ ‘Bible-Reading,’ – you need to be intentional about establishing it and practicing it. For myself, I prefer to call it “My Daily Time With God,” and I have called it that for years now.
Because, that is what it is: it is your time in the very Presence of God. This is not some mindless rote repetition; it is not an empty religious routine you need to fulfill; it is not just an obligation to be checked off. It is a personal spiritual encounter with the Living God. So, we should give it the attention and priority that God deserves to receive from us.
Hebrews 10.19-22 ~ 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let me share with you some guidelines to help us establish and maintain this Daily Time With God.
1 – Want to do it
Don’t let this be just something you feel like you have to do, or that you are expected to do this to be a good Christian. Don’t have even an inkling of a thought that you are under any kind of coercion to have this Daily Time With God … other than the compulsion of your love for God and your desire to be with Him in His Presence through His Word.
“…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” ~Psalm 1.2
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your Name, O LORD, God of hosts” ~Jeremiah 15.16
“I have not departed from the commandments of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my portion of food” ~Job 23.12
I am assuming that everyone of us eats every day – several times a day, in fact. I also doubt that any one of us approaches the table or responds when we are called to a meal or moans before going out to your favorite restaurant with, “Oh, man – not again! Do I have to? I just ate a few hours ago.” NO! We’re glad to eat again! Why? Because we have an appetite for it. It pleases our tastes and satisfies our desires.
Look forward to your Daily Time With God with that same appetite, desire, and expectation.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good!” ~1 Peter 2-3.
“But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” ~Matthew 4.4
Listen to how Jesus draws the inseparable connection between loving Him and loving the words He brought us from the Father.
John 14.21-24 ~ Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
The next time you sit down to open your Bible to read it, think about the sweet and personal promises Jesus is making here to those who love Him and love His words.
OK – so now you have sharpened and whetted your appetite for God’s Word… next…
2 – Commit to do it
I mean, make an intentional decision on purpose that you are going to seek the Lord and spend time with Him every day in His Word and prayer.
One of the most prominent lessons we learn from studying the Book of Proverbs is that we must give every ounce of our resolve to seeking God in His Word. Listen again to Proverbs 2.1-7 [emphases added]:
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding; He stores up wisdom for the upright…”
Listen to all those strong verbs that describe the laser-like focus of our intentions and the passion of our will that won’t be deterred. This is what true commitment acts like!
We need to make that kind of commitment … and tell the LORD whom you are seeking that you are making this commitment. Yes! Go ahead and talk to Him … out loud! He is speaking personally to you with these words. Answer Him! According to what we just read, He will respect, honor, and reward your commitment by showing Himself to you and speaking with you in His Word!
OK – so you have whetted your desire and made your intentional commitment … next, you need to…
3 – Choose a Bible-reading plan
You need to know ahead of time what you plan to be reading. You can’t just pick up your Bible and then start looking for something that you can read. That kind of experience may happen a few times in a lifetime with helpful results, but it’s no way to conduct a beneficial Bible-reading practice.
So, you’re going to try to find a random ‘verse of the day’? Do you know how many verses there are in the Bible? 23,214 verses! Do you want to read your random ‘chapter of the day’? There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Do you hope to find your ‘word for the day’? There are approximately 622,700 words.
So, if you don’t have a plan, you’re just going to be immediately swamped, intimidated, and defeated from engaging in any meaningful interaction with the Word of God if you don’t have a plan you are following. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll give up in frustration.
Some of you are old enough to remember driving somewhere or taking a trip before GPS. How did we get to where we were going? We had an old-fashioned map. We would draw a circle around where we were starting from and draw another circle around where we were going. In between here and there, there is a maze of tangled roads and highways you can choose from. So, you survey your options, and then highlight the specific one route that you want to follow from here to there.
And then, that entire route would be broken up by the stops we planned to make along the way.
And even then, sometimes we’d get lost in spite of ourselves. But, we never would have arrived anywhere if we had just pulled out of our driveway and taken the first road or highway we came to and then made random turns as we continued to drive.
Your Bible-reading plan is like your map to guide you through your reading of God’s Word. It’s like the proverbial “how do you eat a whole elephant?” – the answer is: one bite at a time. So, your goal is to read the Bible. “Man shall live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” You choose a plan, you get started with it, and you keep with it until you do the whole thing. And, as they say, “The joy is in the journey, the struggle is part of the joy and the final destination is not an end but another beginning of another journey.” ~ Kathy Boyd Fellure
4 – Schedule the best time of your day to do it – and strive to keep it
Again, what you will want to do is schedule a time and portion of your day and designate it, consecrate it, and keep it as best you can as that portion of your day when you have your Daily Time With God. Try to keep it like an appointment. You don’t have to be legalistic about it – you don’t have to beat yourself up with guilt when it doesn’t work out every now and then … and it will be unavoidably interrupted from time to time. None of our lives have neat, clean, predictable schedules. And, this is especially true for those who are parents with young children or those of us who are caregivers to our seniors. You are ‘on call’ literally every moment of your day.
But, do your best to set apart a portion of your day when you can be at your freshest, at your sharpest in your attention.
Everybody is not the same on the time of day that is best for them. Some of us are morning people. Some of us are more attentive and alert in the evening, or maybe late at night. But, regardless of when you can give God a significant few minutes of your best undivided attention, I don’t think anyone would argue with or disagree that at least you need to have some time in the morning to fix your mind and attention on God – and to give Him back the day He has given you.
There is an old poem that speaks to this:
I met God in the morning, When my day was at its best;
And His Presence came like sunrise, Like a glory in my breast.
All day long the Presence lingered; All day long He stayed with me;
And we sailed in perfect calmness O’er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered, Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them Brought to us a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings With a keen remorse of mind,
When I too had loosed the moorings With the Presence left behind.
So, I think I know the secret Learned from many a troubled way;
You must seek Him in the morning If you want Him through the day.
~Ralph Spaulding Cushman
5 – Remember that you are in the Presence of God
Here’s a prayer to pray to God even as you reach for your Bible … before you open it to read it … you’re already praying to God to speak to you through His words. Psalm 119.18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
Be attentive to His Presence. Be sensitive to His voice in His own words. Deliberately, intentionally, even verbally pray to God, and open up your heart and soul to enjoy being with Him and in His Presence. How many times are we commanded in His Word to ‘seek the LORD’ … and if we seek Him, He will be found by us.
And, another thing: I know that we have all said and heard that “reading the Bible is God talking to us; and praying is us talking to God” – and I’m not going to argue with the truth that is in that statement. But, neither exercise is one-sided. Neither reading the Bible nor praying is a monologue. Because when God is talking to us through His Word by the witness of the Holy Spirit, we need to be talking back to Him in response … while we are reading!
Learn to pray to God, converse with God, talk with God – even as you are reading His Word. Learn to pray back to God in the words you are reading from Him. Donald Whitney, in his book Praying the Bible, says “So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means His words become the wings of your prayers.” Pray for yourself, pray for others, and worship God according to what you are reading about Him. Delight in Him, confess your sins, believe and trust His promises, resolve and decide to obey what He is commanding us in His Word.
In other words, read God’s Word in His own Presence. Justin Peters has famously said, “If you want to hear God speak to you, read the Bible. If you want to hear God speak audibly to you, then read the Bible out loud.” We ought to read the Bible out loud more anyway … even when you’re by yourself. If you’ll read the Bible out loud, you will not only be reading it with your eyes, but you’ll be hearing it with your ears … and, hopefully, with your heart also.
6 – Prepare for war
What I mean by this is that when you sit down to read and meditate in the Word of God, it is not just you and your Bible there. It isn’t even just you, your Bible, and God there. There are other spiritual beings in the spirit world who will be there, too. When you commit yourself to be serious with God and “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” then you can be sure that all the available forces of the kingdom of darkness will be marshalled and dispatched to war against you.
We would like to think that if we will commit ourselves to God and His Word, then our Bible-reading experiences will be times of peace, tranquility, and stillness. And, to be sure, oftentimes they are. But, getting serious about knowing God, and spending time with Him, and surrendering to Him to be in sync with His will puts a huge target on you for the Evil One to shoot at.
Just think about Jesus and His temptations from the Devil. What did Jesus use to victoriously defeat and triumph over his own temptations? It was the Word of God. Jesus Himself had grown up reading and meditating in the Scriptures … He had discipled and disciplined His own life by living by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Every time He was tempted by Satan, He responded by quoting words from “It has been written…” Satan knows that the Word of God will equip and arm you the same way. So, he will assault you, harass you, distract you, deter and hinder you, and tempt you with every weapon available to him. And, he will do this, more often than not, while you are in the very exercise of reading the Word of God!
That’s why Paul warned and exhorted us to fully arm and equip ourselves against Satan’s attacks by putting on the whole armor of God [Ephesians 6.10-20]. And, it shouldn’t be lost on us that all the other pieces of armor are defensive weapons against Satan’s frontal attacks: belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet. The only offensive weapon is the sword that the Holy Spirit wields to engage our own personal offensive assault against the Evil One … and that sword of the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. [Along with prayer also … verses 18 and following]
And so, prepare for war against your mind, soul, and spirit even as you are in the act and exercise of reading the Word and spending time with God. And, the Devil will get up with you, and follow you, and attack you as you get on with your day’s activities after you have spent time with God. You will be tempted and spiritually assaulted in the very vein of what you had just been thinking about and meditating on and learning from God in your Daily Time With God. He will test you most fiercely with what you have just learned and received from the Word of God.
So, be prepared to face those attacks and keep the sword of the Word ready to arm and strengthen yourself in the power of the Holy Spirit.
7 – Continue to persevere and follow through consistently even during the dry seasons
Just a needed word about this … because there will be dry seasons. There will be times when God will thrill your soul with unexpected joys. God will flash His Glory to your spiritual vision with epiphanies of His Majesty, Greatness, and Grace. Other times, He may crush you with revelations of His Holiness and your own sinfulness. Sometimes, you will laugh out loud – sometimes, you will break down in tears and weeping – hey, sometimes, you might even lift your hands and shout when you are sure no one is looking!
But there will be also seasons of time and experience when you don’t feel anything. Your emotions are unstirred – your sensitivities are numb – your feelings are flat. There will be times when you feel so aware and full of your own sinfulness that you can doubt whether a person can even be saved and feel as carnal as you think you are.
But that just means that you have to keep reading His Word. Keep seeking the LORD. Even those times of spiritual dryness and famine should minister to us by stoking our desire to personally encounter God in His Word all the more.
I quit a long time ago trying to figure out what God is up to in the ways He deals with me, either through His providences in my circumstances or in my spiritual emotions and affections. But I am pretty sure that sometimes He may just choose to step around the corner and hide Himself for a brief season just to give me an opportunity to discover just how needy I am of His Presence.
You know that Scripture from Jeremiah 29.11 that we’re always quoting about God’s knowing the plans He has for us – to give us a future and a hope? Well, God gave this word to Judah through Jeremiah even while they were still in Babylon in exile from their homeland. Their temple had been desecrated and desolated. Their worship had been disrupted. Their city had been burned to the ground. And on and on … I would say that the place they were in would qualify to be called a ‘dry season’ – wouldn’t you?
And yet, even in those times, what was God’s word to them? He told them to keep on seeking Him – with all their heart.
Jeremiah 29.10-14 ~ For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfareand not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
So, yes – continue to follow through consistently in your Daily Time With God … even through the dry seasons.
8 – Don’t hold yourself to unreasonable expectations
The main reason I’m saying this is because if you are super-conscientious, and if you are really serious about your Daily Time With God as your time of encounter and communion with God in His Word – then, if you default on it or if you don’t maintain it perfectly, then you’ll be the kind who will beat up on yourself, and be wracked with guilt, and be ready to declare yourself disqualified (adokimos). So, don’t do that! You will default from time to time!
Sometimes, we say about the life we live: “You know, the main problem with life is that it is so daily! ” Meaning, that some days are going to start falling apart early on. Your daily routines will be interrupted. Your agenda for that day will be derailed. You’ll hear the blaring in-your-face bulletin: “We now interrupt your regularly-scheduled day to bring you this meltdown – deal with it!” And, you’ll have to deal with it.
Or, you’ll get physically sick – maybe for days at a time. Or, you’ll have appointments and errands that will tie you up all day long – or whatever. Many of your days will take on a haywire life of their own.
There will be times when you feel like you are ‘behind’ in your commitments. And, let’s be honest, there may be times when you just feel spiritually raunchy and you have lost interest and the passion of your desire.
Just be sure you don’t give it up. Don’t require yourself to be perfect … because, if you haven’t learned this by now – you’re not perfect!
And, if the default is your fault, or if you’ve been negligent, or if you’ve backslidden, or if you’ve taken your own hike into a far country, or if you’ve been wandering or disobedient – you just need to repent, and come back, and pick up again where you left off. God’s Word will heal you. God will restore you. God will receive you back.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all oursins into the depths of the sea. 20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. ~Micah 7.18-20
You have His Word on that!
9 – Write it down
Get yourself some kind of system for writing notes as you read God’s Word. It may be a pretty notebook, but it doesn’t have to be. It may be one of these contemporary journaling notebooks that a lot of people are carrying around these days, but it doesn’t have to be. I like to use a cheap little spiral-bound 8×5 inches notebook with 80 lined pages. I buy them in bulk and keep them on hand to take all kinds of notes on different things. I keep one of them with me as I read through the Bible in my Daily Time With God. Nobody but you will ever see it anyway.
Write the date. Write the Scripture you’re reading. Then, just jot down notes to yourself as the Holy Spirit makes impressions on you.
You may want to make a note of
some word or some phrase that interests you, and you want to remember where it is…
a cross-reference, connection, and comparison with another Scripture…
some attribute, characteristic, or description of God for you to know and delight in…
an example that you must follow (or not follow)…
an error that you must avoid…
a sin that you must confess, repent from, and forsake…
a command you must obey…
a promise you must claim or act on…
Whatever it is that impresses you – whatever jumps out at you – just write it down! Remember, it’s not just words on a page. It’s not just our ancient history, or writings, or documents.
It is the Word of God that lives and abides forever!
It is God speaking to you with His own Voice and in His own words!
Make a note of it, and keep your notes to refer back to, refresh your memory later on, or just keep a journaling record of where you and God spent time together in His Word on that day!
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success!” ~Joshua 1.8
I AM JUST A PLAIN MAN SEEKING GOD … Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read the Bible for the first time? Without knowing what you already know about God and the Bible? Just to open it up and begin reading to discover for the first time what the Bible reveals about God, about human history, about you?
I have. I wouldn’t trade what I have learned, gathered, and accrued over the years of continuously and consistently reading the Word of God – but I have also yearned at times to return to the sheer delight of making that first fresh discovery of God and His glory from reading something that comes to life in such a powerful way that it’s like I’m seeing this for the very first time!
I remember one season in my life in particular when this thought and desire first possessed me – or at least in this way I’m going to describe to you. I would like to share it with you in the hopes that it might inspire you to read the Word of God with this same fresh perspective and insight.
“I am just a plain man seeking God!”
I just know that I was deeply depressed during this particular season. I was questioning everything about the significance and effectiveness of my life for any good that I had contributed to the Kingdom of God or to other people. I was doubting the worth of everything about me: my meaning, my purpose, the direction I was heading in, the wake I had left behind me, the prospects of whatever was in front of me … everything!
I can’t pinpoint the year exactly, but I remember well where we were living, so it was sometime around 1984-85. I’ll run across the notes that I wrote to myself some day and pin down the precise time, but that’s not the important thing for here.
I know that I just needed to hear from God – from the Living God. I was beginning a new reading-through of the Word of God like I have done repeatedly for over 50 years. I was in a pastoral role, again just like I had been for the past 12 years previous to that time. I had been a Christian, a believer for 20 years at that time. I had been reared in the pastor’s home and in church all my life.
But, none of that background, experience, or familiarity with God and the Bible was feeding my soul. I needed something fresh from God! I wanted to know God and to hear from God in a personal way, in a soul-quickening and reviving correspondence with the Living God!
None of my background or past experience qualified me for any sort of special effects or encouragement to my soul. In other words, none of those long-practiced activities could speak life into my depressed and downcast spirit.
It’s not that reading the Bible ever becomes “old hat,” or that we become jaded to it – but sometimes we go through seasons when we have lost the passion, the verve, the thrill of life that we long to enjoy when we commune with God in His Word.
I am, after all, in my core being, just a plain man who is seeking God!
I want to know God! I want to hear from God! I must hear from God Himself! And, I knew that God speaks through His Word by the life and power of the Holy Spirit. And, I knew that God has given us His Word for the specific purpose of “outing” Himself to us – revealing Himself to us, telling us who He is, who we are, and what His will and purpose is to have a loving relationship with us.
So, the thought hit my mind one day: what if I didn’t have all this background and familiarity with God and the Bible? What if I didn’t already know everything I know about God and the Bible? What if I was opening up the Bible for the first time – with the desperate desire and hunger to discover who this God is and know Him? What if I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t already know what was going to come next – but just had the confidence that if I read this Book, the Bible, I would find God, meet God, and discover who God is? And, perchance have a personal encounter with Him?
What would I discover about God just from reading the Bible from this perspective and with this intention: I am just a plain man/woman who is seeking God!
So, I remember beginning to read where the Bible begins … in Genesis 1 and following. Here are the kinds of thought I began having as I started reading … and as I kept saying to myself: “I am just a plain man who is seeking God!”
God is a creating God! God makes matter and stuff out of nothing! “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” There was nothing there before God made it, but God created everything there is! So, He is an eternally-existing God, and He is a powerful God! Powerful enough to create everything that exists out of stuff that did not exist before! And, He is the Creator of everything that is in the world. I mean, that’s what that sentence says about God!
God’s Spirit and Presence in in His created world! “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” I suppose His Spirit and His Presence is still ever-present everywhere in His physical creation. Like, right here with and around me!
God is a talking, speaking God! “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light…” and there was everything else that God just spoke and said “Let it be!” This God is not only a talking, speaking God, but He is doing His talking and speaking from His superior intelligence and intellect. He is talking and speaking as a Person – He is a Person-God and a personal God! And, I am convinced that just as this Bible that I am reading is telling me about this God talking and speaking like this … is also God speaking and talking with me! This is becoming more and more awesome – the more I read and the more I find out about this God!
God is a God who performs other activities of personal intelligence – and He also makes value judgments according to His own Personal values! “And God saw that the light was good…” So, this God is good, and He determines when other things are good, and He values good. “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.” God calls things what He wants them to be – and what He is pleased for them to be. God is a God of superior and ultimate authority. This God “makes the call” about everything. God assigns the definition, the purpose, and the evaluation of all things. Things are distinguished and differentiated according to His desires and pleasure – they serve His good purposes.
God creates all life – and all life comes from Him! “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures … God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves…” He continues creating all living creatures on the land, in the air, in the waters. All life is created by God! This God is not only alive and living Himself, but He is the One who makes everything live that is alive!
God created human beings! God blessed human beings to live in loving relationship with Himself! God created us … God created me … to know Him, to live in communion with Him, to enjoy sharing a loving relationship with Him! “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’” And then, after creating this first man and woman, God continued to converse with them, to bless them with His company and Presence, and allow them to serve Him under His direction and pleasure! He continued to explain and demonstrate how He and they would have this loving and gracious relationship together under His sovereignty, Lordship, and provision!
Are you getting the idea? Bear down, bore down on the words to read them with as fresh a mind as you can muster – and open up your understanding to the Holy Spirit to reveal God to you in all His holiness, majesty, greatness, and glory!
And, then, you just keep reading on through the rest of the Bible with this thirst and quest in mind: “I am just a plain man/woman seeking God!”
If one of the first and primary reasons we read the Word of God to begin with is to know God and find our joy and delight in Him, then make that your goal and quest – and He promises to “out” Himself to you and say, “Here I am!” [Isaiah 58.9]
“When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you” [Proverbs 6.22] … because it is, after all, the Word. of. God!
Like you, I have thought about these same issues for years now – and even more so within the last year, especially … and even more, more so since the events of the past few months have exploded these crucial and sensitive matters into our national and social conscience, conversations, and relationships.
We must confront these issues and engage the other persons involved in them. We must talk about it. And, we must do something about it. We must seek to establish equity, fairness, and justice in all our institutions [governmental, corporate, churches, and social] and relationships. We must strive for love, unity, forgiveness, and reconciliation where they have been lacking, ruptured, or violated.
But, we can’t allow ourselves to be swept up and along by the impassioned emotional responses that are expressed in the tidal waves of group-think and impulsive actions.
I will say for my own part, that from the beginning of these very public and passionate discussions, one of the guiding Scriptures that has convicted me, pointed me to my attitudes and courses of action, and clarified for me how I must follow Jesus in living out the Gospel is James 2.1-13.
James’s immediate context is one of rich/poor, socio-economic disparities and the prejudices that arise from them – and, keep in mind that all of this is going down in the churches [“…comes into your assembly…” verse 2]
These prejudices [James calls it ‘partiality’, verse 1] result in personal disdain toward and ultimate rejection of certain persons because of differences you see that cause you to evaluate them to be inferior to you in some way. James calls it what it is: “…have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” [verse 4].
But the same principle applies to every other difference among us.
In verse 1, James declares that the Gospel, and my “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory,” forbids me to devalue or disdain any person, any bearer of the image of God because of the melanin content of their skin, their country of origin, their customs or culture, ethnicity, or any other superficial difference.
Jesus Christ and His Gospel requires me to treat every person with the very same equal respect, justice, and fairness as Jesus Himself does in His Gospel. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” [verse 8]
And, all of that is true, first, because of our common creation by God and the common oneness of race all human beings share [Malachi 2.10; Acts 17.26]…
…and how much more so because the Gospel of Jesus Christ forbids us to treat any other human being with partiality or difference [Romans 1.14-16; Romans 3.22-24; Galatians 3.26-29; Ephesians 2.11-22; Philippians 2.1-11; Revelation 7.9-12, et. al.].
If I violate this Gospel law either in attitude or conduct, then I have sinned. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” [verses 9-10]. So commands Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
Then, when I listened to these podcasts by Pastor Robert Cunningham – who pastors Tates Creek Presbyterian Church, just down the road a bit from where I live here – I heard him articulating many of the same thoughts I had been praying over and coming to.
Except that, he is so much more articulate, cogent, precise, simple, thorough, and comprehensive than I could ever hope to be.
So, I commend him and these podcasts to your attention and consideration. You will find him to be calm, compassionate, reasonable, and fair. He is Scripturally-convictional and historically-documented. Most of all, he challenges us from start to finish to follow Jesus, be sure it is actually Jesus we are following, and commit to living out the ‘works’ that our ‘faith’ really requires. As he states in his third podcast, he is speaking from his own Presbyterian (PCA) context, but you and I can apply these same principles to our own.
The summaries of each of these episodes are his own summaries:
Episode 31 / Racism in America / part 1 / In the first episode of a three-part series on the historical cultural moment emerging from the killing of George Floyd, Robert speaks to those who are passionate for racial justice. While affirming their zeal to fight racism, he cautions that they may be unknowingly embracing a destructive ideology that harms the very world they are seeking to heal. In his analysis, he takes a look at the history and meaning behind many terms that have entered our mainstream discourse which are crucial to understand.
Episode 32 / Racism in America / part 2 / In episode two of our “Racism in America” series, Robert now speaks to Christians who have a harder time accepting proof that racism is still a problem in today’s society, and challenges us to examine our history through a more critical lens.
Episode 33 / Racism in America / part 3 / In the final episode of our series on racism in America, Robert looks specifically at how our Protestant, Presbyterian tradition has handled the issues of slavery and racism in our country’s history, before ending the series with theological and practical applications for our church.
In the end, like in all matters of faith and culture, we must always follow Jesus – wherever He leads. And through the testimony of Scripture as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, we must always make sure that it is actually Jesus we are really following.
“Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”
The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb | (Searching for Jesus’ path of power in a church that has abandoned it)
Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel | Nelson Books, 2017
Actually, I heard this book recommended by a brother and fellow church member, Seth York, on one of Hershael York’s PastorWell podcasts, and so I got and read it.
I thought I was reading my own life’s story written by someone else … complete with constant references to the same Scriptures that have taught me, guided me, encouraged me, strengthened me, and kept me from despair and giving up on myself for the past 50 years. I found myself profusely highlighting, marking, writing notes and comments in the margins of the pages, as well as making copious notes in a reading side-journal I keep as I read.
So, here’s the crux of the issue – this issue of “power”: every one of us wants to be a person of influence with others for God. We want our lives to matter, to count. We want to “make a difference.” We want to be effective as a positive, edifying influence in God’s Kingdom. We want to be useful to God as an instrument of His grace in the lives of others. And, that’s a good thing. That’s what God gives every one of us our gifts to do.
The only problem is: far too often we seek to exercise that influence through channels of human wisdom and power. It is so easy for us to revert back to our default fleshly confidence in our own skills, abilities, strengths, or even our very gifts from God. It’s a common axiom among us to “play to your strengths.”
That is what Goggin and Strobel are calling “the way of the Dragon.” These carnal exercises of human wisdom and power are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3.15) and are implemented with “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts” (verse 14). It leads, not to humble service and giving of ourselves to others, but rather to wanting to use others to promote ourselves or advance a personal agenda. It produces a desire for position, prestige, and even a celebrity of some degree or another. I’ve even heard talk of “leveraging” certain people, or positions, or events to advance one’s own personal ministry ambitions. The common methods employed in this “way of the Dragon” are coercion, intimidation (bullying), and manipulation.
However, Jesus has mandated, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.20-28). What we will have to discover is that Jesus’ way of wisdom and power (“the way of the Lamb”) is by His grace working His own wisdom and power through our weakness and brokenness (1 Corinthians 15.10; 2 Corinthians 4.7-12; chapter 12.1-10 et. al.).
There is also the constant reminder throughout these chapters that everything we are doing in the Kingdom of God – all the activities that go on in our churches and in our ministries – it all is in the arena, context, and environment of constant spiritual warfare. Here is just one of many summary paragraphs I highlighted – this one from chapter 4, “Standing Against the Powers,” page 75:
“The church, the place where kingdom values should reign is the place where we come to know and participate in the way of God – where ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 6:12). The church is the place where the powers are to be exposed for what they are and are continually put to shame as they were upon the cross. Sunday morning worship in this sense is a spiritual battle, but the battle isn’t limited to Sundays. This is why we need to discern the fruit of the church to see where it is rooted. Is the church walking in the way from below – a way that is unspiritual, earthly, and demonic, driven by selfishness and jealousy – or is it walking in the way from above, made manifest on the cross in love? This question should be at the heart of our small groups, conferences, seminars, and publishing; it should be woven into our parenting, friendships, and service. This question should drive us and deeply unsettle us.”
One aspect of this book’s writing that I most appreciate is how the authors gathered their content: both Goggin and Strobel are writing from their own personal experiences of personal brokenness and what others may even call vocational ‘failure,’ or at least certainly disappointments. But, what these two “young influencers” have done is sought out the counsel of a number of older, long-experienced servants of the Lord. They listened to them tell their stories, and then wrote about the lessons they learned (or were affirmed and reinforced to them) from these older servants’ lives of living, ministering, and serving in “the way of the Lamb.” I admire their humility and willingness to learn from others who had walked in “the way of the Lamb” before them, instead of strutting into the Kingdom arena with the self-aggrandizing announcement, “We’re here! We’ve got this now!”
Just a personal note here at the end: God has led me on this way of brokenness and weakness all of my ministry. I began my public Gospel ministry with an attitude of pride, but God effectively broke me of any confidence in and reliance upon my self-contained ability or power through a series of experiences which not only marked me at that time, but which have also followed me ever since. He knows how lay His hand on me at any time, pull me up short, and remind me that without Him I can do nothing; and that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4.7). This verse became my signature reference through those experiences and remains to this day.
So, to anyone who struggles with a deep, discouraging, and maybe even debilitating sense of your own weakness and inadequacy, get this book and read it. You are actually stronger than you know – through Christ in you!
Just in case you are still reading – and interested: here is another excerpt from chapter 2, “Power in Weakness,” which is written, by the way, in conjunction with their conversations with J. I. Packer (pages 29-31):
“The problem confronting Paul was that he did not embody any of the marks of power the Corinthians valued. In many ways, he was the exact opposite of what they desired: He did not have an impressive physical presence, he lacked bravado and confidence, and he was meek and gentle in his leadership (2 Cor. 10:10). He did not speak with eloquence (2 Cor. 11:6), and he did not boast in money, intentionally refusing to take money for his ‘services,’ choosing to work a menial job that would have been socially dishonorable (2 Cor. 11:7). On top of all this, Paul experienced continual suffering and hardship (2 Cor. 11.21-30). Each of these things was a sign of weakness in the eyes of the Corinthians. The totality of Paul’s weaknesses had become unpalatable to them. The Corinthians wanted a super-apostle, not an apostle of weakness … Rather than meeting the Corinthians’ expectations, however, Paul shone a light on the very weaknesses that caused him criticism, putting his weakness front and center (2 Cor. 1:3-7; 6:2-10; 11:16-12:10). Radically, Paul embraced the very things that the Corinthians rejected, identifying these weaknesses as signs of his true apostleship. He argued that his weakness was actually verification of the power of God working through him, and he rejected the Corinthian view of power as worldly success, bravado, and status. For Paul, the power to dominate and win was antithetical to the nature of the Gospel. This is not merely a question of what leadership ‘style’ you like, but a question of whether you embrace the way of Jesus. The high point of Paul’s defiant response to the Corinthians’ lust for power is found in the passage we began with: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12.9-10).
For a culture so fixated on power, it is hard to imagine how paradigm-shifting these words were, and how difficult they would have been to hear. But, of course, our own cultural context mirrors the Corinthian context in nearly every way. In a culture boasting of personal accomplishment and success, Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness. Why did he do so? So that the power of Christ may rest upon him. Paul viewed an embrace of weakness as an embrace of strength, because in weakness he could depend upon the might of God. His weakness was the source of his power. Paul did not anchor his life as a follower of Jesus in his ability, talent, gifting, resume´, or strength, but in the grace of God alone. To marshal these skills or achievements in his flesh would have been to embrace power from below and thus reject the Gospel. Paul wrote, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1 Cor. 1:17). Incredibly, Paul argued that to embrace the Corinthian way – to put ourselves forward, emphasizing our strengths and seeking our own power – was to empty the cross of its power.”
So, as a partial expression of my love for her, I want to excerpt a portion from a message I preached on Mother’s Day, 13 May 2001.
The message is from Proverbs 31.28, “Her children rise up and call her ‘blessed’; her husband also, and praises her…” I titled that message, “Bless You, MOM!”
“Motherhood is a bond created by God between a mother and the children born to her. God created and made us to love, to think, to feel this way toward our mother. It is a bond forged by our literal physical connection to each other.
Let me tell you just a little of what my Mom did for me…
MOM carried me in her own body for almost a whole year and suffered all the inconveniences of pregnancy…
MOM delivered me into the world through her own pain and discomfort…
MOM nursed me and fed me…
MOM cared for me when I couldn’t take care of myself…
MOM, especially, re-arranged her whole life for the whole rest of her life around her love, care, and concern for her children…
MOM taught us to know and love God and to love each other…
MOM instructed us in respect, manners, and right ways of living…
MOM praised us when we did right (which was every now and then) – and disciplined us and corrected us when we disobeyed and did wrong (which was more often than not)…
MOM counseled, comforted, and consoled us in our injuries and hurts…
MOM worried, even when I didn’t think she had to – but she always told me: “I am your Mother … it is my prerogative to worry!”
When I was only 20 years old, I travelled to West Virginia from North Carolina every weekend to preach in a church in Charleston WV. I would leave work on Saturday afternoon and drive 4 ½ hours to Charleston to preach on Sunday. I would arrive Saturday night, stay overnight, preach Sunday morning and then again Sunday afternoon; then drive home again and get home usually around midnight. And my drive home at night was along winding state roads through WV and VA and finally into NC. And Mom would stay awake and sometimes worry until I got home.
Mother never retires from Motherhood.
Mother will always be Mother.
MOM can console, sympathize, and comfort like no one can … and she did – through the fevers, coughs, upset stomachs, vomiting, diarrhea, earaches, mumps, chicken pox, measles, and anything and everything else that afflicts her children. I still have vivid memories of Mom smearing three children at one time with a paste made out of corn starch, covering our itchy measles sores to try to give us some relief – staying up all night to do so.
Dad loved us – but he couldn’t touch our feelings like MOM could … and did.
When I was probably 12 years old or so, I was walking after school down to a bookstore that Dad had opened up down in the small town East Rainelle where we lived. The school bus passed and Robert Caudill who was one of the school bullies leaned out the window of the bus and spit snuff spit all over the hand-me-down jacket I was wearing. I liked that jacket – it was my favorite jacket – and Robert Caudill just spit all over it. He didn’t injure me physically, but, he sure did terribly hurt my feelings!
I walked into the little bookstore and Dad was there, working on a print job in the back of the store – another sideline he had. I was fighting back the tears. I told Dad that Robert Caudill had spit on me. Dad was the realist – the pragmatist. (Just a few years previous to this, Dad had spent five years of his young life fighting Nazis in Europe, so he knew all about mean people.) He said, “Son, I’m sorry. Things like that happen. There are all kinds of people in the world and some of them … well, we just have to put up with them.” (That’s probably what I would tell my son, also.)
But, that’s not what I wanted to hear. I WANTED SOME SYMPATHY!
So, Mom was there also. She wasn’t always there, but she was that day. I blubbered out, “MOM, ROBERT CAUDILL SPIT SNUFF SPIT ON MY FAVORITE JACKET!” Mom gave me what I wanted … and maybe needed. She just hugged me to herself in her arms, and said, “Well, David, Robert probably doesn’t have a good home. That may be one of the reasons he’s so mean. But, WE LOVE YOU … AND I’LL WASH YOUR JACKET, AND IT WILL BE ALL RIGHT!”
You know what? it was! And, you know what else? it still is.