Monday, March 22, 2010

Some thoughts on Revelation

Yesterday, I spoke from Revelation 21-22. Undoubtedly, no book generates questions and speculation like Revelation does.

But, I wanted to share an email I got from James MacDonald's ministry Walk in the Word (if you go to this page you can subscribe to the same email). It is well worth the read.

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." - Revelation 1:3

The book of Revelation was never meant to be the personal property of scholars with their diagrams and charts. You, too, can read and understand it. And our verse today reminds us that we will be blessed by reading this last book of the Bible.

Why has there been so much confusion about the book of Revelation? Let me give you three reasons quickly. First, people can misunderstand or become overwhelmed by the heavy symbolism in Revelation. But symbols are to be understood the same way you understand anything else: literally. An example would be when Jesus said, "I am the door" (John 10:7). It's obvious He didn't mean, "I'm a nine-foot plank with a knob." You understand the figure of speech—the picture - literally. Jesus wasn't focusing on the literal physical makeup of the door, but on the literal purpose of the door - to provide access.

Secondly, people overlook the historic context. This book can't mean to us what it didn't mean to the people for whom it was originally written. The book of Revelation is Jesus' message to Christians who were suffering under the Roman persecution in about 90 AD. They were suffering for their faith - in prison and being tortured. They were persecuted because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Some of them were beheaded, burned at the stake, or fed to the beasts. The problem is that in Western-world, watered-down Christianity, some of us believe that we're not going to suffer, that everything's going to be perfect and great if we have God. A lot of the wrong theology about Revelation is rooted in a wrong understanding of what God really promises about the Christian life. Keeping the original audience and context in mind will help us to understand.

Thirdly, people often miss the fact that there are frequent Old Testament allusions and quotes in John's writing. We don’t know the Old Testament well enough, so when we're reading Revelation we just say, "Oh, I think it means this." If we ignore the way the Old Testament explains Revelation, our understanding will be off the mark.

If we avoid these three errors in reading Revelation, we can expect to experience God's promised blessing on our lives.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Letter to our church concerning missions

Next Sunday (3/28), our church will be voting on a motion from our missions committee recommending our church to support the Bracht family as they go to Nicaragua. We will be discussing this as a church this coming Wednesday (3/24).

I felt the need to share with those who are interested some of my thoughts on this subject. To that end, I have written a lengthy letter which will be available at church or which can be accessed on our website.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Children's Bibles

Someone recently asked me if I had any recommendations on children's Bibles. Of course, when it comes to books, I am seldom without a recommendation!

Anyway, I had 3 different Bibles for 3 different reasons. All of these have been useful in our family times reading through Scripture.
The Big Picture Bible - I love the way it encompasses the overarching theme of Scripture into each individual story.
The Jesus Storybook Bible - This Bible takes each individual story and shows how traces of Jesus can be found in them. I have emailed back and forth with the author and she has been very encouraging.
The Picture Bible - Some trusted friends gave us this Bible at Christmas. It is in comic book format, so I was somewhat skeptical...until I looked inside. I should've trusted my trusted friends. The Bible is SO thorough. Many Bibles (for understandable reasons) choose not to tell every story or even many stories, so they can concentrate on the major ones. This Bible went into detail in some of the OT historical sections and the book of Acts. I was majorly impressed.

Which Bible is my favorite? All three, I am a bookworm, and I guess a "Bibleworm."

Reflections on Psalm 119

As a church family, we invested a lot of hours into reading Psalm 119. Personally, it consumed a good portion of my life for the last month. I felt the need in my soul to write an epilogue. I had to write out what I believe God taught me and where He changed me through the extra effort given to these 176 verses. So, here are the things that stand out the most.

I saw a mini-theology (is there anything in Psalm 119 that is ‘mini’?) of who God is and what He does. Over and over, I saw an attribute of God, or I would write down an activity of God. I am not sure that I saw anything new concerning God’s character or his actions, but I certainly saw in a concise clear form a glimpse of Him.

I have realized that God wants me to love His revelation of Himself. I appreciate the synonyms for God’s Word found in this Psalm. It makes me realizes that ALL the commands, ALL the precepts, ALL the testimonies, ALL the righteous rules are things to be treasured, because they speak of a God who must be treasured.

I appreciate that God makes room for short, simple prayers. In the psalm, I found freedom to say, “help me,” “give me understanding,” and “save me.” The brevity of the prayer is not an indicator of the passion behind the prayer.

I have come to understand that confidence in God and vulnerability are not antithetical. Truly, they indicate reality for all of humanity. So, while the psalmist makes bold assertions of his faith in God, he also gives reason to believe he felt less than secure at times. That is not unchristian, that is the reality of Christians. We live with hope, but it is not a hope that is beyond being assaulted.

I certainly have found some new verses to think on. “You are good and you do good” still goes through my mind often. I have prayed, “I am yours.” I have verses to think about when I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep.

I have been blessed to think about our position on this side of the cross. I think we may take this for granted to often as believers. The psalmist did not have the embodiment of all that he was talking about. He never had seen and read of Jesus. We have. What an enormous benefit.

I have most identified with the last verse of the psalm. I have gone astray like a lost sheep (prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love), seek your servant (here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for your courts above), for I do not forget your commandments.

Thank you, Lord, for this psalm. I say with the psalmist in v. 16 “This psalm has been my delight, and I will not forget it.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Threads - some recommendations

As I have gone through the Threads of Psalm 119, a few books have been especially helpful.

Threads in general
Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison (has an entire chapter devoted to the Psalm)

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
Desiring God by John Piper
The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper

Future Grace by John Piper
The Cost of Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper
The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

Knowing God by J.I. Packer
The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer

Why Does It Have to Hurt by Dan McCartney

Monday, March 15, 2010

Comfort and security

Yesterday, I spoke from Psalm 119 on the issue of where we find our security.

One of our church members sent this from the Heidelberg Catechism. I think it succinctly summarizes my burden from the message.

Q: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

A: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.

"Clean up your act" or "you need a clean heart"

It is so easy when dealing with a 'discipline issue' in the lives of kids to come across with the attitude of "You need to clean up your act!" I think that is my default position.

And yet, is that grace-based, gospel parenting? I was reminded again last night that children (or their grown-up parents) often don't need a lecture/sermon on how they need to start acting better. At least, that isn't the first thing we need. What we need most desperately is a view of our heart from God's perspective. Having that view, we need that heart which is corrupt and selfish to be clean. And that is where the gospel has the megaphone. The gospel is what "cleans our hearts." The promises of the New Covenant in Ezekiel and Jeremiah promise just that.

Too often, when I am talking to our children it is easy to fall into the 'clean up your act' mode. It may show more about my heart than I might realize. Perhaps, I think I can clean up my own act, and rather than coming to God's throne for mercy and heart transformation, I may opt for my own plan and my own effort.

God help me to have a clean heart, and not just make another failed attempt to clean up my act.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Day 22: Psalm 119:169-176

169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 19: Psalm 119:145-152

145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
I will keep your statutes.
146 I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
148 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
150 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;
they are far from your law.
151 But you are near, O Lord,
and all your commandments are true.
152 Long have I known from your testimonies
that you have founded them forever.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Prayer for a people group

I have an email sent to my inbox each day. It is an email reminding me to pray for a certain people group in this world that needs Christ. Today’s group particularly struck me. The group is the Badhai people, located mostly in India. In that country, there are an estimated 518,000 people of this tribe. That is about the size of New Castle County.

And yet, there are “no known believers among the Badhai.”

God, break our hearts for the nations. Millions who don’t believe in You, and millions who have never heard.

Day 17: Psalm 119:129-136

129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from man's oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 16: Psalm 119:121-128

121 I have done what is just and right;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Give your servant a pledge of good;
let not the insolent oppress me.
123 My eyes long for your salvation
and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love,
and teach me your statutes.
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
that I may know your testimonies!
126 It is time for the Lord to act,
for your law has been broken.
127 Therefore I love your commandments
above gold, above fine gold.
128 Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right;
I hate every false way.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 15: Psalm 119:113-120

113 I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law.
114 You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word.
115 Depart from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commandments of my God.
116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
117 Hold me up, that I may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually!
118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes,
for their cunning is in vain.
119 All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross,
therefore I love your testimonies.
120 My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgments.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 14: Ps 119:105-112

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to keep your righteous rules.
107 I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
108 Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your rules.
109 I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart.
112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 13: Ps 119:97-104

97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102 I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 12: Psalm 119:89-96

89 Forever, O Lord, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
91 By your appointment they stand this day,
for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.
94 I am yours; save me,
for I have sought your precepts.
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
but I consider your testimonies.
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but your commandment is exceedingly broad.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 11: Psalm 119:81-88

81 My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
82 My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84 How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
85 The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law.
86 All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
87 They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A few thoughts from today's reading

If you have some extra time today, a couple of worthwhile exercises from Psalm 119 would be to fill in these blanks...

In Psalm 119, God is described as a God who_________________.

If God answers the prayers of Psalm 119, then He will _________________.

This is what I mean from today's reading, God is a God who makes and ...fashions people (73), whose rules are righteous (75), who in faithfulness afflicts people (75).

And if God answers the prayers of Psalm 119, then He will give me understanding (73), comfort me with His love (76), bring his mercy to me (77), put the wrongdoers to shame (78), make my heart blameless (80).

What a God and what prayers the psalmist makes!

Day 10: Psalm 119:73-80

73 Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word.
75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76 Let your steadfast love comfort me
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.
78 Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 9: Psalm 119:65-72

65 You have dealt well with your servant,
O Lord, according to your word.
66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
68 You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.
69 The insolent smear me with lies,
but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
70 their heart is unfeeling like fat,
but I delight in your law.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Two things worth doing...

A couple of things that I think an American Christian ought to think about doing... Get a passport, and register to vote

Why these two?

Registering to vote - It strikes me that our freedom in America is a privilege, responsibility, and a stewardship from God. Not every nation is blessed to have the opportunity to participate in the political process as American citizens can. So, being a faithful steward would seem to invite us to at least cast an informed vote as we have opportunity.

Getting a passport - I heard a person encourage Christians to do this once, and I thought it was a great idea. It is in all reality a way to "sit on go" in case God were to ever the open the door for you to serve Him internationally. That would be one less hassle, one less obstacle to your obedience.

I don't think either of these would be 'tests of spirituality,' but I do think they could serve a Christian well. Something worth thinking about.