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Let’s Get Started!

I’m afraid it’s obvious: I love to eat. I like to go out and enjoy a delicious meal at a fancy restaurant where the waiter tends to your every need and the chef takes great delight in preparing a fantastic treat. But in recent years, I’ve also learned to enjoy cooking in the kitchen with Jan. Frankly, nothing beats a good home cooked meal.

Likewise, it is lovely to sit and listen to great Bible teachers and preachers. They are truly gifted, and they inspire me, but, just like the joys of home cooking, nothing is as rewarding as personal Bible study. So why don’t more people dust off their Bibles and search the Scriptures for themselves? 

Perhaps it’s because reading itself seems to be falling on hard times. People don’t have time, or they can’t pronounce the names, or it just doesn’t seem relevant. People like multimedia presentations. Perhaps if we had the Bible projected on the big screen or the computer screen or even the tiny screen on your phone, it would be more popular. No, considering what Hollywood did to the incredible story of Noah, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.

Sometimes we just need to roll up our sleeves and dig in. Think about it. Gold is buried in rock and pearls are found in the deep, blue sea. The truly worthwhile things in life require hard work. The same is true with God’s word. He will reward our efforts a thousand times over, but it will need some work.

First, it will require setting some time aside on a regular basis. You can’t just sit down one day and drink it all in! Plan to study — perhaps only fifteen minutes  — but do it every day. Next, sharpen up your pencil. The difference between reading and study is writing. Finally, and most importantly, pray. Ask God to help you!

Here is a straightforward, very easy way to begin studying the -Bible on your own. Read one chapter a day. (That’s usually less than a page!) Then think about it and chose the best verse. That’s the one that stands out to you. It might be a promise. It could be a warning or an example. You’ll know it. The Holy Spirit will speak to you. That’s exciting! So write it down on a post-it note or an index card and carry that passage with you all day long. Pull it out and read it. Smile and think about what God is telling you.

Don’t worry about the things you don’t understand just now. Later, in Bible class or from the pulpit or in conversations with other Christians, you’ll find the answer, but the important thing today is just getting started. Try this simple method to begin with. I guarantee if you use it for a month (that’s 30 verses in your pocket!), it will change your life.

Heaven, We Have a Problem

According to Pew Research, America has a literacy problem. “When was the last time you read a book? For almost 1 in 4 of us, it was more than a year ago, according to Pew Research. That’s three times the number who didn’t read a book in 1978.”1  The problem is even worse than that because, although Christians claim to believe the Bible is the Word of God, we aren’t reading it.

“A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.”

What about Great Britain? The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many couldn’t identify common Bible stories. When given a list of Bible stories, a staggering 59% didn’t know the story of Jonah came from the Bible, and almost 1 in 3 didn’t know the story of the birth of Jesus was in the Bible! Parents didn’t fare much better. Around 30 percent didn’t know the stories of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible! Worse, 27% think the story of Superman is in the Bible. 1 in 3 believes -Harry Potter is a Bible story and more than half (54%) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible!

It shouldn’t be this way! Nine out of ten American homes (Christian or not) have at least one Bible in them. The average American (Christian or not) owns at least three Bibles.

What can we do? 

  • We need to confess our lack of study and ask God for forgiveness.
  • Set aside a regular time – even five minutes a day – to read the Bible.
  • Use a Daily Bible Reading plan to guide you. 
  • Join us for Wednesday night Bible class. A recent study “shows that as Christians increase their participation in small groups, their Bible engagement scores go up.”

1 http://www.smallgroups.com/articles/2015/epidemic-of-bible-illiteracy-in-our-churches.

We Have Met the Enemy

A few years ago, Jan and I were driving home after services. I told her “I just didn’t connect with the worship this morning.” At the stop light, I continued. “The prayers seemed more like performances, and the songs were so disjointed! On top of that, the sermon just didn’t seem relevant. I wonder why I even bothered to get up this morning.”

My sweet wife smiled that knowing-wife smile and chided me. “Maybe you were the problem. Did you take time to prepare for worship?” I sulked as I pulled away from the light and then had to admit, “You’re probably right. I hadn’t thought about that.”

So how do we prepare for the most important meeting of the week? 

Shift Gears. Early on in driver’s training, you learn to shift into a different gear when you start to climb a hill. Before we can truly worship God, we must take a moment to “shift gears” and center our thoughts on Him. 

Discover the Power of Gratitude. “Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven.” As you are preparing for worship, take a moment to appreciate the gift of grace.

Drop Your Inhibitions. A lot of people are afraid of their own voice. They are too self-conscious to sing. We have so many wonderful singers here it can be tempting to sit back and listen, but the Lord loves a “joyful noise” and who are you to argue with God?

Tap into the Fellowship. There is an energy in corporate worship. Have you felt it? It’s always there, but sometimes our “receptors” are out of order. Reach out and tap into the power!

Confession is Good for the Soul. Sin and guilt make it hard to worship. Confess your sins by name and feel the power of forgiveness.

Be Filled with the Spirit. Paul told the Ephesians (and us) not to get drunk on wine “be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:19, 20).

Finally, expect great things! What you receive from worship is equal to what you put into worship. If you expect the singing to be bad and the lesson to be boring, I suspect that’s what you’ll receive but if you come expecting great things I promise you’ll receive even more blessings that you anticipated.

John McKeel

Balance

So how hard is it to steer a boat in a straight line? It’s much harder than you think! Our oldest granddaughter, Rachel, loves to steer, but she thinks it’s all about turning the wheel. Hang on! If Rachel is at the helm, everything is in chaos.

Navigating is mostly about holding a steady course, but the wind and the waves and the boat itself can conspire to work against you. Sail handlers will talk for hours about the different forces that react with the sails. There is the “center of effort” and overlaps and exit angles and aspect ratios. Helmsmen will talk about angles of attack and how to steer through a set of waves. What they are saying is, if your boat and sails aren’t balanced, you can’t steer a straight line. On an old cruising boat like Santa Teresa, with her long deep keel, if you set the sails properly, you hardly need to touch the wheel at all. She’ll hold her course, and you can relax and enjoy the ride.

Likewise, people need balance in their lives. Some people are experts at organization and time-management. They remind me of a well-organized hat rack. There they are, all the hats neatly arranged and on display. I can grab my daddy hat, my work hat, my husband hat, my social hat, my guy’s night out hat, and my church hat. They are all there. Unfortunately, I often have to wear several of them at the same time, and that looks a bit silly.

When I was a boy, I loved my bicycle. It gave me my first taste of freedom. I could ride to school, to a friend’s house, to the movies and deliver my newspapers. I loved my bike, but I also enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked. I remember one day I completely disassembling my bicycle on the driveway. It was carefully arranged with all the spokes in a neat row. The frame was there. The rims and the chain were carefully laid out side-by-side along with the seat, the handlebars, and the pedals. It looked great but was worthless. It couldn’t deliver papers or jump over garbage cans.

Some people are like that too. Their lives are neat and in order but aren’t going anywhere. To do that, the spokes need to be firmly attached to the hub. There must be a center to your life. Just like sailing, if you are not going to be continually making course corrections, there must be balance.

So what – or better – who is the center of your life? What holds it all together? If it’s your job, what happens when you retire? If it is a person, what happens if that person leaves? Hobbies are too transient, and causes are too nebulous. Only God is a worthy center. He gives my life meaning. God advises me not just about what is right and wrong, but also about what is good, better and best. My faith isn’t just worth living for; it’s worth dying for. 

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).

A Giant Pile of Sand

Are you one of those people who may not admit it, but finds Bible study boring at best and irrelevant at worse? If so, I think you are missing something special. Andy Deane, author of Learn to Study the Bible (Olive Tree, 2014) shares this hypothetical situation. 

Imagine you have been assigned the job of shifting a mountain of sand with a teaspoon. Can you think of anything more boring? Day after day, hour after hour, you shovel sand with a spoon from one giant pile into another, but what if you were guaranteed to find a nugget of pure gold every hour? Would that make a difference? And what if you were told, the longer you dig, the more often you will discover treasure? You will be rich beyond your wildest imagination.

“The same analogy can be made of Bible study. With very little effort, great riches are ours to discover and keep, as we carefully sift through the Word of God each day,” Deane writes. “Exactly what kind of treasure can we expect to find in the Bible? I’ve heard Psalm 19:7- 10 rephrased by someone this way: ‘The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. The life- maps of God are right, showing the way to joy. The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes. God’s reputation is twenty- four- carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee. The decisions of God are accurate down to the nth degree. God’s Word is better than a diamond, better than a diamond set between emeralds. You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring, better than red, ripe strawberries.’”

Here are eight blessings of -Bible study:

  1. It assures us of salvation, 1 John 5:13.
  2. It cleanses us from sin ,John 15:3 /John 17:17.
  3. It gives peace, John 16:33.
  4. It brings joy.
  5. It guides our decisions, Psalm 119:105.
  6. It helps us in prayer, John 15:7.
  7. It strengthens, 1 John 2:14.
  8. It leads to success, Joshua 1:8 John 15.

Better Not Bitter

Things hadn’t worked out the way Naomi had planned. She, her husband, and three sons made a move they believed would provide them with a new life. Things had started well, but then one disaster after another befell her. Life had become so hard she wanted to change her name from “Naomi” (which means “pleasant”) to “Mara” (which means, “bitter.” See Ruth 1:20.)

Life is hard. The world is full of injustice. Bad things happen to good people, but is it inevitable that age sours us? How can we become better instead of bitter?

Cut bitterness off at the roots.

Some people feed their bitter roots, but the Bible teaches us to get rid of bitterness as soon as possible (Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:31).

‘Fess up!

Of course, that’s not always possible. Circumstances often blindside us, but Helen G. Lescheid wrote, “Coming to terms with bitterness seems to be the first step toward getting rid of it.” That’s a two-part process: (1) admit your pain, and (2) stop making excuses for what happened. How many times have you heard someone you love say through clenched teeth, “I’m not angry!” Come on! Admit it before bitterness bites you.

Become a forgiver

Here is the Christian key: Don’t let anyone tie you to the past. Stephen forgave his killers even before they threw the first stone! (Acts chapter 7) Forgiveness is liberating! But if that’s true, why don’t we forgive people? A simple answer can be, “They hurt me. I want to hurt them” or “I forgave them once, and they didn’t change. Why should I let them continue to hurt me?” We forget that we have been forgiven!

So what’s included in forgiving? Forgetting for one. Let it go, but there is a time for confrontation. God doesn’t expect his children to be doormats. Sometimes we hurt the ones we love, and we don’t even realize it. Confrontation doesn’t have to be hostile. In fact, confrontation always has the goal of restoration. We value the relationship. Love can conquer.

Finally, forgiveness is empowering. Refuse to allow anyone to crush your spirit. Forgive and prove you are indeed a child of God!

Casting Stones

One of the most beloved stories from the life of Christ involves a scandalous sinner. She was caught “in the very act” of adultery and dragged before Jesus to test him:

They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, to have a basis for accusing him, (John 8:3-6).

Do you remember what Jesus did next? He didn’t argue with them. He didn’t give a long sermon. He just stooped down and started writing in the dirt with his finger. 

Have you ever wondered what he was writing? Some say he started writing scripture quotations. Others say Jesus looked at each one in the crowd and started writing down their sins like a spiritual accountant. I don’t know what he wrote, but I do know what he said after “they kept on questioning him.”

Jesus stood up and said, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” At that, the crowd melted away in shame.

The Apostle John was there that day and heard Jesus speak. Much later in his life, John wrote to Christians, “If we,” (John was speaking to us) “claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:8, 9).

We’re not perfect — Just forgiven!

Making Memories

Once I officiated at a wedding for the daughter of a boating friend. The bride was beautiful (as all brides are) and the groom was a little nervous (as all grooms are). It was a large wedding and relatives had flown in from all over the country. The weather could have been better so, under the threat of rain, at the last minute we had to move the venue indoors, but it was still wonderful.

The service began well. Dad walked daughter down the aisle and properly repeated his line, “Her mother, and I do.” Everyone was seated, and I gave the lesson. At last, it was time to exchange the rings and “Repeat after me.” Unfortunately, her ring was tight and the poor groom could either put the ring on her finger or repeat after me, but he couldn’t do both at the same time. 

“… with my heart’s sincere –affection…” I said slowly and clearly.

“…with my heart’s infection…” he repeated.

I love weddings but think about it. We don’t remember when everything goes right. What we remember are the things that go wrong.

Many years ago, I was preparing to perform my first wedding ceremony. I was so nervous, I sought out the oldest minister I could find, Maurice Meredith, and I asked for his help. “Help me go over the ceremony again Maurice. I don’t want to make any mistakes.”

Maurice carefully walked me through everything as I took copious notes: groom’s family on this side; bride’s on that side; stand, sit, repeat after me. Then Maurice, with that characteristic twinkle in his eye said, “When you come to the part about exchanging the rings — if everything has gone smoothly — drop the rings.”

“What?” I looked up horrified.

“Drop the rings!” he repeated.

“Why?”

“Because otherwise, they won’t have anything to remember,” he laughed. And Maurice was right. We remember the groom who fainted, the flower girl who took her shoes off, the bridesmaid who set her dress on fire. 

So keep this lesson in mind this week when things go wrong. We’re not making mistakes — we’re making memories!

Novus Ordo Seclorum

“Charles Thomson (November 29, 1729 – August 16, 1824) was a Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence.” 

— Wikipedia

Thomson had a tragic childhood. His mother died when he was just a boy, and his father took the family, five boys, and a girl, from Ireland to America to begin again. Within sight of shore, Thomson’s father died, and the sea captain embezzled all of their money. Thomson closed his father’s eyes after hearing his final prayer, “God take them up.” The children were left at the mercy of the New World. Charles rose above it all and became a true American patriot. He became the leader of the Philadelphia “Sons of Liberty” and a good friend of Benjamin Franklin.

When the Continental Congress was formed, Thomson became its secretary – a post most scholars equate with a Prime Minister. For fifteen years Thomson served until the Congress was finally adjourned. At its conclusion in July 1789, Thomson retired to work on a translation of the Bible and wrote a synopsis of the four gospels published in 1815. You see Thomson was a Greek and Latin tutor for the famous Philadelphia Academy and what he is best known for today is his work on the Great Seal of the United States. 

It’s on the back of a one-dollar bill. Do you see the Latin motto “Novus ordo seclorum”? It comes from the fourth Eclogue of Virgil:

Now comes the final era of the Sibyl’s song;

The great order of the ages is born afresh.
And now justice returns, honored rules return;
Now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.

“Novus ordo seclorum” means “New Order for the Ages.” Medieval Christians believed Virgil’s poem was a prophecy of the coming of Christ and Thomson, a Latin tutor well acquainted with Virgil, thought the founding of the United States was also part of God’s plan. 

It is fashionable today to tout the separation of church and state, but for the founding fathers, there could be no separation of God and State. Think about that the next time you spend a dollar bill.