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.

On Reading the Old Testament

I was listening to a lecture recently, and the speaker pointed out that as Christians we often read our Bibles backward. That is, we start in the New Testament and work our way backwards to the Old Testament. When I thought about this, I realized that I did not only read my Bible backwards, but my knowledge of the Bible was backwards too! I seem to know a lot about Jesus, salvation through grace by faith, justification, etc. On the other hand, I really don’t know a lot about covenants, God’s promises, and the other big ideas of the OT. But if I don’t know my OT well, can I really say I know the NT? Can I say I know the Bible?

If you’re like me, then you’ll admit that our knowledge of the OT could use some vast improvement. But it’s not like we haven’t tried reading the OT. It’s just that whenever we approach it, it seems dry, esoteric, sometimes even irrelevant and inapplicable. We just don’t get it.

The following are some of the issues I’ve run into while trying to become a better reader of the OT. If you’re an NT-heavy believer like me, you may find some of these beneficial to your study of the OT.

How do we read the Old Testament well? The following three tips (really just variations on the same theme) have helped me in my reading of the Bible, but they are especially helpful when it comes to the OT.

  • It’s not about You. Most of the Bible (and especially the OT) is not written to individuals, much less 21st-century individuals; instead, God’s Word is delivered to large communities, specifically His Chosen People, the Israelites. Yes, God cares about us as individuals, but if our approach to the OT is us-centered–that is, if our focus is on what we as individuals can get out of it, rather than on what God is trying to communicate–then we will be utterly disappointed with what the OT has to say.
  • Direct, Personal Applications are few and far between. Most of us have grown up believing that every single verse of the Bible contains a direct application to us. At the end of every sermon, we expect a three point application that tells us what to do or what to think. But because the Bible isn’t written directly to us (we aren’t the original audience), it’s simply unfair to put personal applications as a priority. This is especially true of the Old Testament, where you’d often be hard-pressed to find the kind of life-changing, personal applications we’ve been conditioned to expect. So, don’t focus on “getting something out” of your reading of the OT; rather, listen to what God is saying to the Israelites, who were the direct recipients of the OT message. Resist the urge to allegorize their situation onto our modern times. Instead, learn to think like an Israelite. Pay attention to the story that God is building between Him and His Chosen People.
  • Grasp the Whole before dissecting the Part. When we talk about reading the context in our Bible studies, we often mean reading the immediate context, maybe the 5 verses around our text, or if we’re feeling real cool, the entire chapter. To put it bluntly, that is insufficient for most of the OT. Exceptions I can think of are maybe (but not really!) the Psalms and Proverbs. If we are serious about getting context, then we have to get the context of the whole book. That means reading and thinking through the entire book as a whole before we get into verse-by-verse studies. What is the main message or argument of the book? What are the big issues it is concerned about? Where does it fit in Israel’s history? What are recurrent themes? Questions like these prime us to think like the original audience, preparing us to receive the message that God is concerned about, rather than the message that we want to hear. The benefit of having the whole in mind is that, once we do get to studying the parts, we know how everything fits together in light of the overall message.

What does it take to read the Old Testament well? In my experience, the following three things (none of which are particularly popular in our fast-food culture) are essential to getting a good grip on an OT book.

  • Time. Unfortunately for us, OT books are relatively long compared to NT books. Any study of an OT book is going to take a long time, especially if we want to understand the book as a whole. In some ways though, this is comforting, because it means that we don’t have to rush our time with the Word. That, of course, is no excuse for being lazy.
  • Patience. Ultimately, the message that God speaks to the Israelites in the OT is also a message that speaks to us. But getting from what God says to Israel to what God says to us is a hard and narrow path. Most times, our first run through an OT book won’t be a satisfying read. We won’t get the pay-off right away, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up and move on to the next book. Wrestling with the Word takes patience and courage.
  • Humility. If our reading of the Word is to be fruitful, then we must approach it with humility, recognizing that our understanding depends on the Spirit’s revelation. Again, it’s not about what we can get out of it, but it’s about what God is giving to us. We need to put our agendas on hold and be willing to submit to the Word that God has revealed in the OT Law, Prophets, and Writings.

What’s the pay-off for reading the Old Testament well? Of course, there are plenty of benefits for reading the OT well, but here are a couple that have been on my mind lately.

  • We come to a deeper knowledge of the Person and Work of Christ. When Jesus said that the Scriptures testify about Him, He was referring to the Old Testament. The OT is the framework under which the NT operates. All the technical terminology of the NT is sourced in the OT. If we want to understand the NT, then we must understand the OT to an equal degree. Finally, if Christ is God’s fulfillment of all His promises to Israel, then knowing Christ means we must be familiar with the history of God’s relationship with his Chosen People.
  • It enriches our worship of God. A deep understanding of the OT enriches our worship by teaching us to approach God in accordance with the way He has revealed Himself. In this sense, our worship isn’t arbitrary. Our idea of God isn’t just something we’ve pulled together from philosophy and world religions. Instead, our worship of Yahweh God is grounded historically, in the work that He has done and the word that He has revealed.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

The Christmas Message

The below is a special guest post by my friend, coworker, and brother in Christ, Andrew Lin.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Paul begins this verse or statement with the following: “the statement is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance”. This should immediately grab your attention. Paul prefaces his upcoming statement by saying that it is not only trustworthy but also deserving of full acceptance. In the Greek, it literally reads “trustworthy is the statement”, placing the emphasis on trustworthy; this statement is worthy of banking your whole life on. In addition, Paul adds that it is deserving of full acceptance. Here I want to draw your attention to the word full, it speaks to two possibilities here in which I think Paul is emphasizing both. Full implying the attention of all peoples that would hear this, and also full implying the entirety of one’s being. On the one hand, Paul is saying that this deserves the attention of everyone, all humans. But also, for each and every one of us, it deserves our entire, full, undivided attention. What an introduction to the following statement!

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I want to draw your attention to the subject of this statement: Christ Jesus. Paul is talking about the person of the Trinity who took on human flesh. Literally Christ meaning the “anointed one.” It was his title. And Jesus transliterated from the Hebrew, “Yahweh-saves”, God saves. It is the person of Christ that the gospel centers upon, and it is the person of Christ that Christmas centers on.

“Christ Jesus came into the world.” This coming into the world indicates not a coming into being, but rather coming from another place. This speaks to Jesus coming into this world, taking on human flesh, coming from another world. Jesus came from Heaven where He existed from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the God and the Holy Spirit. John writes in his gospel “1In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God and the Word was God… 14And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us.” And lets not diminish the action of coming into the world. Jesus left his place in Heaven where he experienced full joy and satisfaction to come into decaying world, a world filled with sin, a world that hated him. This condescension demonstrates the humility of Christ. It demonstrates the ultimate sacrificial love in which Jesus would leave his place in Heaven to come into the world among sinners.

For what purpose did he come? Paul continues to write that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That was His primary purpose in coming. This is what the whole Christmas story is centered upon; not only did Christ come into the world, but he came into the world to save sinners! Christmas is not about gift giving, holly, Christmas trees, fat Santa, and apple cider, but rather is about God who comes to save His people, to save sinners.

Paul is specific here, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He did not come into the world to save the righteous or the holy or the unblemished, but that he came into the world to save wretched sinners. The distinction here is not that there are those in the world that are sinners and those that are not, those that need Christ and those who do not. But rather this is the mentality that is echoed in Paul’s following statement: “of whom I am the foremost.” It is the reality, made known through the word of God that we are all sinners. “None is righteous, no not one”–Romans 3:10. It is the realization of sin in the face of a righteous God in which Paul recognizes the greatness, the infinite nature of his sin. And in this humility he cries out “of whom I am the foremost.” It is this humble attitude and recognition of undeserved mercy and grace, that demonstrates true and authentic faith in Christ.

I think that if we are all honest, Christian and non-Christian, we would concede that we are somewhat sinful. However how many of you would tell your friends that you are the worst sinner, the worst person you know? Probably not many, but this is what Paul is saying here, that in contrast to God and his infinite holiness and a proper understanding of our sinfulness, this an appropriate response. And in this humble statement, Paul is direction our attention not to himself necessarily, but to what he finds his value in. He continues in the next verse saying that he receives mercy for the reason that Christ Jesus would be the foremost. His value, his joy, his assurance is not found internally, but externally. It is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

This simple statement is the gospel message, the Christmas message. You are wretchedly sinful against a holy and infinite God. This has separated us from true fellowship with Him and your sin demands payment. The Bible informs us of our utter need for a Savior and the insufficiency of imperfect substitutes. Just look at the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. But God in his grace and mercy provides for us the perfect sacrifice, the perfect substitute as payment for our sins. And He is Jesus Christ. The Christmas message more than anything is a message about the Savior of the world who has come to save sinners, to save us.

I encourage you this holiday season to consider Christ. Consider the depths in which God condescended from Heaven to come into this world. To be born into a filthy, ordinary manger in human flesh. That he lived a perfect life so that he could be the all-sufficient solution to our dire need. He has come into the world to save sinners. Understand that Christmas is not so much about a cute baby in a manger, but a God-man who came into this world; it is not so much about giving gifts to one another, but the ultimate gift God has given in his Son; and it is not so much about warm fuzzy feelings of joy in a festive season, but a humble recognition of our sin and Christ as the perfect atonement for us.

And be encouraged as well. The verb here that Paul uses is “came”. It is past tense, it means that it has happened. The gospels each testify to Jesus coming into the world and testify to Jesus living a perfect life, and finally testifying to his death on the cross. And it doesn’t end there, but that Jesus was raised from the dead in victory over sin, and sits at the right hand of God. This has been accomplished for the purpose of saving sinners. Believe in him, trust in the Savior.  Take joy in the fact that your salvation, that your assurance of faith, that your sanctification lies not in your own self, but rather in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

That is the Christmas message.

Love God, Love Others

I have a thesis that the command to love God and the command to love your neighbor as yourself are fundamentally the same thing. As Christians, we struggle with the fact that God demands 100% of our love, and yet He commands us to love others. As humans, we struggle with the fact that we find things closer to us—people, hobbies, stuff—far easier to love than God, Who seems so distant at times. I believe that truly loving your neighbor (or anything for that matter) means that you first love God, and that loving God inevitably means that you will love your neighbor. You cannot claim to love anything unless you first love God.

My thesis begins with the assumption of creation ex nihilo. God, we believe, created everything out of nothing and, as Genesis says, He created everything good, because God Himself is Good. Things exist and are good only because God has caused them to be. In terms of existence, apart from God, there is nothing, non-existence, nada. Outside of God, nothing exists on its own.

What of evil then? Evil exists; are we to say that it exists in God, that God is evil? Of course not. Existence is itself a good; therefore, evil cannot be said to exist apart from good, because evil is the deprivation of good, the lack of goodness. When a good thing becomes evil, it suffers loss of what it once was. Evil is the nothingness which once was good; it is the subtraction of goodness. But what remains is still good, if only because what remains still exists. Evil, then, does not exist in and of itself.

Thus, even though evil is nothing, God did not create from evil by creating from nothing. Before creation, only God exists. God cannot suffer evil, because He is incorruptible, undergoing no change in His Being; He is the Supreme Good. But created things like humans, although they are good, can suffer evil by becoming less good. By choosing to turn away from God, the source of existence, we are turning towards nothingness, and we suffer the loss of our goodness and existence, which comes from God. That is what it means to be evil.

And so we come to the problem of loving God and others, and we see that if we are to love one another, then we must love God. Any good that exists in a human being comes from God. If we do not love God in them, then it turns out that we do not love at all, for apart from God, a human being is nothing. Hatred, which is the refusal to love a human being who exists, is also the refusal to love God, who is the source of existence. It is the love of nothing. By the same token, idolatry is loving something in a human other than God, but outside of God, there is nothing to love! Idolatry, then, is also the love of nothing, and the love of nothing is more properly called the lack of love.

I hope it is clear by now that the only way to truly love a human, to truly love anything, is to wholly and completely love God. Let us recognize that when we love another person, we actually love God in them. Some may say that this is abusive, treating humans as a means to God, rather than ends in themselves. But isn’t obvious that the only way to love humans as ends, is to love God, the end? In fact, if we do not love God, we always end up abusing other people, either hating them or making them into idols. It is only when we are fully loving God that we are properly loving everything else.

This is why the mystery of the Gospel is so, so important. As evil, sinful people, we are broken lovers, lovers of nothing, lacking true love. The incarnate Christ, however, by His life, death, and resurrection, has redeemed us from the depths. His mission is to give us Himself, to restore our relationship with Him, true God from true God. In Christ, we become complete lovers of God, and it is because of this that we become right lovers of everything else.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? – Matthew 18:24-26.

God, This Hurts

Philippians 1:29

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”

I added the “daily bible verse” tab to my facebook page, and for the most part, the verses have been pretty popular, famously quoted verses.  Today’s verse in Philippians, however, struck me in its transparency and straightforward truth.  The nature of a Spirit-filled body in Christ is such that we are “not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (verse 29).

In my personal life, it has become a habit to talk to God whenever suffering enters my life.  This is one of the fantastic qualities of our God – He is a Father who desires us to come to Him with everything, our triumphs and sorrows.

I will try not to go into the issue of pain and suffering too much – C.S. Lewis does a far better job in “The Problem of Pain.”  I merely want to state that in today’s society, I often find myself subconsciously adopting a secular mindset in my faith.  In the drive to find a major, a career to pursue, I often receive the advice,  “If you don’t enjoy it, it isn’t for you.”  This advice is almost always followed by this enticing, all-familiar phrase: Do something that makes you happy.

Yes, of course God gives us natural gifts and desires in a certain field, and it would be foolish to ignore those talents.  Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”  Needless to say,  a significant amount of suffering is involved to achieve that level of skill.  The struggle to become like Christ is no less demanding.

My issue is perhaps best illustrated through the book of Psalms.  The book of Psalms is a heartfelt chronicle of man’s struggle to live a God-pleasing life; Pastor Krishna spoke on the Psalms, saying that as God-breathed scripture, the psalms are God’s way of telling his children how to pray to Him.  And yet, as I read through the book of Psalms, I find that I often miss out on a key message God has for me, which He reiterates through Paul in Philippians – suffering for God.

Take a look at this unashamed cry to God in Psalm 69:

1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

Let me make something clear – the writer of this psalm is an upright, God-fearing man.  Later on in the psalm, he writes,”7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. 8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. 9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

This is the suffering that I believe is expected of us as followers of Christ – why should we expect any different treatment than what He received if we are being truly Christ-like?

But to return to the first part of the psalm, I felt a doubt rising in me as I read, “the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

Because quite honestly – and I hope I’m not alone in this – those moments can happen whether or not I’m in tune with God.  And when I find myself floundering, I ask myself, deeply, whether I am doing God’s will – after all, could it really be this horrible for me?

At Sunday School we recently watched a documentary on a missionary who brought the word of God to a very remote part of Asia; his openness about his doubt in doing God’s really resonated with me.

Regardless, the last few weeks, I have made the mistake of embracing the “do what makes you happy” mentality in my spiritual life, completely ignoring the call to suffer as well.  I pray for wisdom in my decisions from this  point on, that I may find joy in pursuing God in all aspects of my life.