Daily Bible Reading

Daily Bible Reading

One of the acronyms for the Bible is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It instructs us how to act: don’t lie, don’t cheat and so on and so forth. It instructs us how to interact with other people: love your neighbor as yourself and pray for your enemies. It instructs us how to pray: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Yet, the Bible is more than basic instructions before leaving earth. In reading it, we get to know our God more. It is one of the ways to develop a deeper relationship with God. In reading it, we grow in holiness and we become transformed into the image of the only Begotten Son. We learn what it means to be a Christian.

Yet, the sad reality is daily Bible reading has ceased to exist in our lives. The Bible is forgotten throughout the week. The sad thing is we are okay with that attitude. We are okay with not reading our Bibles daily. We are okay with not communing with God daily. We are okay with not growing spiritually. We are okay, we are fine. That is scary, when our attitude towards not reading the Bible is we are okay with that.

Perhaps we don’t make Bible reading a normal part of our lives is because it is hard to understand. If we find that the Bible is hard to understand then we are in good company. The apostle Peter declared that the apostle Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16b). Just because it is hard to understand, it does not mean that it cannot be understood.

There is no doubt that there are some secret things in Scripture (Deut. 29:29), but the words of Augustine are suitable for the mysteries of Scripture. Augustine writes, “Although many things in the scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the selfsame thing in other places is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.  And those things in the scripture that be plain to understand, and necessary for salvation, every man’s duty is to learn them, to print them into memory, and effectually to exercise them.  and as for the dark mysteries, to be contented to be ignorant in them until such time as it shall please God to open those things unto him.  In the mean season, if he lack either aptness or opportunity, God will not impute it to his folly.” Too often, we declare Scripture too hard and mysterious because we don’t read other parts of the Bible. In others words, if one part of the Bible is hard to understand and mysterious then there are other parts of the Bible that might explain the hard and mysterious verses, chapters, or subjects.

Another factor that should encourage us to make Bible reading a part of our daily routine is we have the Holy Spirit. One of the tasks of the Spirit is to teach and instruct believers in the Word. We are not left alone to understand God’s Word when we read. We are not left to resources, human wisdom. We have the Author of the Scripture to help us understand the Word. We need to read prayerful and meditatively if we want to get anything out of God’s Word.

The question at the end of the day is do we want to know God more intimately? If so, make Bible reading a part of your life. It is okay if the Bible is hard to understand and has mysteries because we have the Spirit to guide us through it all.

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Jeremiah 29: Not Your Average Hallmark Greeting

Jeremiah 29:11

As I was reading Jeremiah today, I came across one of the most famous passages of the book, chapter 29 verse 11:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I can imagine this verse being set to a Hallmark card accompanied by an inspirational photo in the background. And in fact, a quick Google Image search of “Jeremiah 29” yields just that: dozens of cute/inspirational/tranquil etc. images, each with the text of Jer 29:11.

Well, I don’t want to spend my time bashing these images for being tacky or misleading (in the sense that they lead us to interpret the passage out-of-context). Jeremiah 29:11 certainly is a beautiful and comforting passage. But I’d like to suggest that when we read this verse in context, we aren’t just left with the fuzzy feeling of a Hallmark greeting. Instead, we gain a lasting impression of God’s redemptive grace.

First, consider the historical context. The passage is part of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the Israelite exiles in Babylon. Jeremiah 29:2 tells us that “[t]his was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.” You can read the full narrative of these events in 2 Kings 24. In short, the best and the brightest of Judah have already been exiled. The Zedekiah described in Jer. 29:3 is basically a puppet governor of King Nebuchadnezzar (Zedekiah will later rebel, and the rest of Judah will be exiled to Babylon). All of this is happening to Judah because of their sin and idolatry.

So what should we make of all this history? Well, the actual contents of the letter that Jeremiah sends to the exiles is surprising, given the historical context. Consider Jer 29:4-7:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters…But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In other words, Jeremiah is telling the exiles that they are going to spend a long time in Babylon. This likely isn’t something they wanted to hear. Remember, Babylon is the enemy of Judah. Indeed, Jer. 27-28 is about how false prophets in Judah are promising that Babylon will fall and the exiles will return. As much as Jeremiah himself wishes that this were true (see Jer. 28:6), he is clear about God’s word: Judah will go into exile and live among the Babylonians.

To summarize, Judah is going into exile for her idolatry, and this exile is going to be longer than expected. Judah is experiencing the consequences of her sin; God is judging her. Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t just about God promising to do good and to bless people in general; Jeremiah 29:11 is about God promising to do good for Israel despite her radical unfaithfulness towards him. Thus, it is a testament to God’s continuing grace for His people despite their failure to keep the covenant.

Far from killing the good feelings we have towards Jer. 29:11, reading it in context humbles us before the majesty of God’s grace. The focus, as it turns out, isn’t on us, or even on Judah. The main speaker, the initiator, and the star actor in the passage is God. Jeremiah 29 offers a glimpse into the character of God. Here are several things we learn about Him:

First, we learn that God is sovereign and that his sovereignty is characterized by grace. In 29:14, God says that He is the one who has sent Judah into exile. Despite how it may look from a human perspective, Judah is not at the mercy of her enemies. Her exile is not just the story of the Babylonian war machine gobbling up another smaller nation as it tightens its grip on the ancient near-east. Instead, it is the story of God chastising his people and judging them for their unfaithfulness. Throughout all this, God-not King Nebuchadnezzar-is the one who is in control.

Since God is in control, exile does not spell the end of the Israelite nation. Carry on while you are in exile says God, because His plan for Israel is a plan for wholeness, for hope, and for a future. Even mighty Babylon will one day fall to the Persians (who will fall to the Greeks, who will fall to the Romans…), but there will always be a remnant of Israel. From this remnant, Israel will receive her Messiah, who will not only save Israel, but all of humanity from sin and death. God shows grace to Israel by preserving her in exile.

Surprisingly, God’s grace is also extended to the Babylonians, Judah’s enemies, through the Israelite exiles. Seek the welfare of Babylon, says God; pray to the LORD on behalf of its inhabitants. Yes, exile is a bad thing for Judah, but through all this, the Babylonians come into contact with the people who worship the living God–the people whose destiny is to become a blessing to all nations. Despite their failure to live up to their high calling, God’s people, by His grace, continue to be a priestly nation even while they are being judged in exile.

All that to say: Jeremiah 29 reminds us that God is sovereign, that He is gracious, and that His grace extends even to the enemies of Judah. God continues to be faithful, even when the Israelites have been radically unfaithful. Judah’s exile isn’t the end of the story for God’s people, but a chapter in the narrative of redemption that will culminate in the coming of Jesus Messiah. In this sense, Jeremiah 29:11 is not an ancient Hallmark greeting. It is God’s promise to remain faithful to his plans for redemption, a testament to His sovereignty and grace.

Saying “Yes” to Jesus…

Saying yes to Jesus

One of many favorite things about the church I serve at is that we have certain Sundays we call “Wild Card Sundays”.  These are the Sundays in which we are encouraged to visit other churches and see how God’s body worships Him elsewhere.  On one of these recent “Wild Card” Sundays, I randomly decided to visit a local young Asian American Church that is close to my house.  In many ways, this place was similar to our church, but in many ways completely different as well; I guess that’s how faith communities are and how God makes each community unique so as to better minister to the diverse world out here.  What was crazy was that my mentor and former Pastor/boss whom I shall call “Captain” was guest-speaking at the church and I was in for a blessed treat as I got to listen to him preach God’s Word.

Anyways, since this message was a few months ago, I believe that the essential main point was the importance of continuing to stay connected to God’s mission.  In life often, it is easy to be excited for God and continue to be fresh… but as time progresses we become comfortable and as a result, it’s easy to simply get into a place of no life or power as we become stagnant or even rigid because we haven’t moved or continued to lubricate our joints.  I liken this frozen-ness/woodenness to old age (those that I see that tend to be less flexible)… but is often an affliction that affects many believers of all ages and experiences as we start to become comfortable with where we are at in our lives.

Captain pointed out that because we are on God’s mission to this world… that we are as a body or church existing for the purpose of His work.  As a result… when we miss out on this mission, we miss out on God’s work.  He reminded me of this call by quoting John 20:21 … when Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  So what is this mission of God?  The mission of God is the kingdom of God touching & renewing everything and everyone in our world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is in joining with this wholesome message of grace that we are a part of His Missio Dei … and as a result it changes us and fills us.

Using John 4, and referencing Jesus’ interaction with the Woman of Samaria, he continued to talk about how this lady had learned to drink of the living water.  This living water nourishes and satisfies in such a complete and perfect way… and truly, if one was to simply live like that, it’d be fine, but at the same time, this lady left everything and proceeded to go forth and share in Jesus’ mission… that is the witness to her whole village despite her low social status.

The way of Jesus then can be seen in John 4:27-34.  When the disciples returned back with food for Jesus, they saw him talking to the woman and they wanted to ask him questions; no one did of course.  So after she left, they offered Him something to eat, and Jesus goes into Yoda-mode and basically replied “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” Can you imagine how that must’ve felt if you were his disciple and Jesus said that to you?  What did you possibly eat?!  You see, Jesus was operating on a whole different level of thinking from His disciples… rather than seeing the tangible realities of hunger and feeding, Jesus was saying was that what fills His soul truly was to be doing God’s will and His work.  Basically, He was being satisfied by being in harmony with God’s mission.  Have you ever felt or experienced that?  What was that moment when you were able to be in so harmony with God’s mission in your life?

I think we all encounter such moments throughout our lives.  Perhaps it is a time when we respond to the tugging by the Holy Spirit to speak to someone.  Perhaps it was the speaking to someone that God had put a burden on our hearts.  It could even be the simple small gestures of love towards another that may mean so little to others, but meant the world to the person you loved.  Truly, it is totally satisfying and fills you in a completely satisfying way.  More often than not, we eat of this wonderful fulfilling feast in God when we coincide… when we harmonize with God’s melody… which usually is directed towards the helpless… the poor, the oppressed, the orphans… the widows… and those lacking others to be there for them.  This is the joy of mission!  It is the ability to feast and partake in that infinitely satisfying goodness of God.

Captain then pointed out that we often don’t hear from God… because we aren’t listening to God and doing what He wants.  Rather we desire to hear and determine that tone/frequency or melody of God in our lives… but more so than not… God’s audible frequency is completely different and so much harder than what we dare or want to commit to.  Rather, we would like to be comfortable or self-reliant. It is in these times that we become more “wooden” or less flexible; we become less stretchable.  It’s only when you get out of the ruts of our lives… the comfortably cozy places that we can be stretched and to have opportunities to have a child-like faith.  This child-like faith is those places where we can’t rely on our own experiences and abilities but where we really have no confidence and strength in our own abilities.  God wants to stretch us, but more often than not… it requires us to count the cost and to consider and turn away from the comfort and safety of what we understand and know so well.

So what does this look like to be more on mission and in tune with God?  I think the one little quote I wrote down that made so much sense is this: “A life of obedience and faith is a life of saying ‘yes!’ to Jesus.”  It is learning to take not 1 HUGE step, but learning to simply take small steps of obedience and faith.  It is after taking these steps that perhaps prepares us to take big steps… but more often than not… when we look back… looks like some huge fantastic steps.  It is in learning to say “yes” to God that I think we grow and continue to be refreshed and to drink from that living water that rejuvenates and keeps us flexible.  It is also in the midst of these times of saying yes, that we see that the road that lies ahead.

One final thought I jotted down as I was listening to my mentor’s sermon was this… what are the dreams we live for?  Do we live for our dreams… imperfect and flawed… or do we allow God’s dreams which are infinitely better/perfect/complete… to be our dreams?  I think God wants us to dream His dream… to dream His story… He wants our hopes and all that we are… to be after that perfect dream… and it is in doing so that we become a part of His mission.  How will you say “yes” to Him today?

Things I wish I was told before I left for college

Things I Wish I Was Told Before I Left For College

Around June every year my commute to work gets a little bit sweeter. This is because the high school that I live near goes into summer session and the early morning traffic jam it creates takes a break for a few months. Then September rolls around and the bumper to bumper traffic returns. However, one thing that doesn’t return is an entire class of students. So as the class of 2012 starts to pack their bags, here are a few words of advice…a few things things that I wish I was told before I left for college.

Be responsible

Your college education is important. However you need to make sure that you view your education (or anything else you have for that matter) with a biblical perspective. You have been given an opportunity to attend college. This does not make you better than others who do not have this opportunity. What it does mean is that you have been blessed with something which you now are to be a responsible steward of. The parable in Matthew 25:14-30 describes the relationship between a master and his servants and how each servant was entrusted with something of great value. A few things we can observe are:

  • The amount that each servant was given varied, but as we’ll soon see the responsibility was the same
  • The ownership of these things always belonged to the master, the servants were stewards or managers
  • The purpose behind the possession of these things was not self-serving, the servants were to invest them for the master’s gain
  • The result of being a faithful and responsible steward was rewarded, the 2 servants that invested and earned interest for the master received the exact same praise even though the amount of return was different

Don’t get caught up comparing what you’re doing after high school with someone else. Realize that whatever you’ve been entrusted with is not yours. Resist the temptation to be self-serving. Seek to understand how to invest yourself purposefully for God’s gain, and “…enter into the joy of your master (Matthew 25:23)“.

Stay focused

I was in college when YouTube started gaining momentum. As if there weren’t already enough distractions, suddenly dubbed versions of old GI Joe cartoons were all the craze. There are a lot of things that will distract you from pressing onward in the manner which Paul describes in Philippians 3. The need to stay focused and press on is reinforced when Paul describes the Christian life as a race in two of his other letters in the New Testament. He describes it as requiring self control in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, so that we could win the race. He also describes it as requiring endurance in Hebrews 12:1-2, “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith”.

You’d never try to run a marathon wearing jeans and carrying a suitcase in your hands. Take the race seriously and as you run, consider what might be slowing you down. Stay focused, and fix your eyes upon Jesus.

Look out for that pop quiz

I found myself cramming a lot during college. That usually did the trick when I knew a test was coming up. However when those pop quizzes reared their ugly head I was usually caught off guard because I had spent my time doing useless things. Boy did I wish I had been studying more regularly.

Likewise, life will take twists and turns when you least expect it. Classes will seem impossible. Your transcript may begin to look more like alphabet soup. Friendships and relationships will seem like more trouble than they’re worth. Unexpected circumstances will come your way. However despite these circumstances, remember that your citizenship is not in this world but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Remember that Jesus came to die for you and I. Remember that He came to rescue us. And explode into doxology as you put all the pieces together. However the sad reality is these are the last things that come to mind. Make it a point in college to develop a healthy habit of studying the Word of God regularly. Then you’ll be ready for any pop quiz that comes your way because you have learned and remembered these things.

While sharing about his initial reaction to finding out his daughter had cancer, Pastor Britt Merrick recalled the strength and encouragement he found as the scriptures flooded his mind, specifically Psalm 61:2. He was ready for the pop quiz. He described it as “your mind goes to Jesus (skip ahead to  8:15, but the whole thing is worth watching)“. Invest time in setting a solid foundation that is built upon the Word of God. You never know when there will be a pop quiz.

Study hard

There are so many other things that can be said, such as the importance of plugging yourself into a local church, but we’ll end it with this last point (which is extremely similar to the previous point, but still worth repeating). I trust that if we can get this right, the other things will fall into place. Study hard.

It is easy to bury yourself in your books studying for school. As much as we’d like to say we always studied to learn, a lot of time was spent studying to simply pass a test. No, we’re not flip-flopping on our previous bit of advice. Be a responsible steward with the opportunity you have been given to further develop your God-given talents for God’s glory. However, do not de-prioritize studying the Word of God, which has eternal value. May we say with the psalmist, “Your word is a lamp to my feet. And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)”.