Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We Read the Bible . . . You Can Too!

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I've made many attempts to have a faithful devotional life, but they were always short-lived. I suppose I expected the discipline of Bible study to be easy for a Christian. When it was difficult and overwhelming for me, I felt discouraged and defeated.

In the process of a family struggle, I cried out to God for help, and He did something I wasn't expecting at all. He revived me. He placed in me a hunger to know Him more intimately, along with a deep desire to read His Word.

I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to delve into the Bible. However, there was something ironic about God's timing. I was the mother of three children under age four. God gave me this great hunger for His Word at the most hectic time of my life! Yet I was determined not to let the busyness of being a wife and mom—or my past discouragements—diminish this appetite.

So I launched into a routine of Bible reading and prayer. Unfortunately, I quickly faced those same struggles with inconsistency that had plagued me for years. But I kept trying.

I also felt an urgency to get more of God's Word into the hearts of my kids. We had just finished a children's devotional book, and I was looking for what to do next ... when an idea hit. I had two goals: I wanted to read the Bible, and I wanted my children to know God's Word. Why not do both at the same time? Why not read the entire Bible together?

My plan was simple: one chapter a day, five days a week. I shared this plan with my husband, Wes, and he provided much needed encouragement. However, after voicing the plan, I became curious to know how long it would take us to read the entire Bible. I put pencil to paper (factoring in "sick days"), and—Yikes!—my plan was going to take EIGHT YEARS!
I must admit, the idea of such a long-term commitment intimidated me, but I had a longing that would not go away. So, we began.

The first few days of reading were tricky. I was all jazzed at the prospect of reading the whole Bible. For some unknown reason, I thought my children would share my enthusiasm. Instead, while I was reading about the fall of man, they were jumping and spinning in their chairs. I felt like I was reading out loud to myself.

But God was gracious to not leave me feeling this way for long. On the fourth day, after our reading, my kids went off to play. Then I noticed what they were playing. They were acting out what we had just read—in great detail. They hadn't appeared to be listening, but they were hearing. They were hearing the Word of God. This was the boost I needed to keep going.
I soon realized that reading the Bible to children is not without some complications. Let's face it, the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) can be quite graphic. I almost panicked when my preschool kids asked, "Mom, what's a prostitute?"

Moments like that prompted me to start scanning ahead so I would know what was coming. I also came up with my own definitions for certain words—words my children needed to hear in order to understand the story but didn't necessarily need a complete definition for just yet. So, for example, a virgin is "a woman who has never been married." A prostitute is "a woman who goes from one man to another to another, instead of remaining faithful to a husband." You get the idea.

Before long, I could tell that they really were listening and getting drawn into each story. After reading about a long line of Israel's kings who did what was evil and provoked the Lord to anger, we came to the end of 1 Kings 16. Here we read about Ahab becoming king of Israel. The Bible says he did more to provoke the anger of the Lord than all the kings of Israel who were before him. When we finished reading chapter 16, I said, "Tomorrow, Elijah comes on the scene." My daughter yelled, "Yay, we need this guy!"

Not only were they following along closely with the stories, but God was increasing their capacity to understand. Once I was working hard to explain what it means to quench the Spirit. I likened it to throwing water on a fire. I was trying to come up with another illustration when I looked over at my son. He had his index finger pointing up, with the other hand covering his finger, while he was singing softly, "Hide it under a bushel, no! I'm gonna let it shine." He got it.
I shouldn't be surprised when they understand, just like I shouldn't be surprised when they want to respond to what we read. I saw this in an unusual and amusing way one morning as Wes was packing for a business trip. My son exclaimed, "While Dad's away, we should fast from sinning." Wes and I looked at each other. "Fast from what?" "From sinning," he said again, smiling. "And the reward for not sinning is donuts!"

That was the first of a series of requests he made to fast and pray. We had read accounts of people who fasted and prayed, and he was ready to participate. He wanted to obey, and that obedience was prompted by the Word of God. We did try to fast from sinning while Dad was away. (And Dad agreed to try not to sin while he was gone.) I'm not sure it was a total fast, but in the end we did enjoy the donuts.

How could I go from an inconsistent devotional life to a steady time of reading and meditating on Scripture? God used my children! He took a discipline that had been a struggle for me and made it an immeasurable joy. I am overflowing with gratitude to God for giving me this idea and for constantly fueling the desire to be in His Word.
After five years, we finished the Bible on March 19, 2007. We spent the day celebrating together as a family. The experience was more than simply maintaining a discipline; it was about getting to know God.

On March 20, 2007, we started over in Genesis. Together, we continue—one chapter and one day
at a time.

Carrie Ward is a wife and mother of four. She and her husband, Wes, make their home in Niles, Michigan.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Finest Food in Israel

In John chapter 6, we read a very interesting exchange between Christ, the Jews, and his disciples. Within this exchange we read one of a few difficult teachings that Jesus delivered over the course of his ministry. This teaching found in the greater context of the Bread of Life discourse says:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

This proved to be a very divisive saying by Jesus. In fact, it was because of this teaching that many of Jesus’ followers left him.

Clearly in the context of John chapter 6 we see that Jesus is revealing himself to be the archetype of the Manna “come down from Heaven”. However there may be more to consider in our Savior’s statements than what we see in the immediate context.

The Priest’s Provision

The tribe of Levi was distinct from the other 11 tribes. Unlike their brothers, God said that they would have no inheritance when they arrived in Canaan; that is, they would not receive any tribal land as their own. Rather, God said that He would be their inheritance. This meant that the Levites responsibilities within the nation of Israel were a little different than the other tribes. They attended local altars, supervised cities of refuge, served as judges and educators, and were charged with the daily duties in and around the Tabernacle. Since the Levites had no land of their own and because of their differing role within the nation they were not able to provide for themselves. Therefore, the Levites lived off of the tithes, offerings, and burnt sacrifices of the other tribes. This of course meant that the priesthood was supplied with and survived on the very best provisions that the Land of Israel had to offer.

Upon first consideration the idea that anyone would dare eat the burnt sacrifices off of the Altar of God sounds blasphemous. It is often assumed that these offerings were holy, set apart, unto God alone. This was not the case. In fact we read in the Torah that the diet of the priests was specifically outlined and commanded. Leviticus, chapters 6 and 7, gives us the specific instructions on what the sons of Aaron should eat and how they were to partake of these offerings.

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it.’”

"These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy: The guilt offering is to be slaughtered in the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered, and its blood is to be sprinkled against the altar on all sides. All its fat shall be offered: the fat tail and the fat that covers the inner parts, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the covering of the liver, which is to be removed with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as an offering made to the LORD by fire. It is a guilt offering. Any male in a priest's family may eat it, but it must be eaten in a holy place; it is most holy.”

"The same law applies to both the sin offering and the guilt offering: They belong to the priest who makes atonement with them. The priest who offers a burnt offering for anyone may keep its hide for himself. Every grain offering baked in an oven or cooked in a pan or on a griddle belongs to the priest who offers it, and every grain offering, whether mixed with oil or dry, belongs equally to all the sons of Aaron.”

Things are far different today than they were those thousands of years ago. The current age in which we find ourselves and the New Covenant that we are under has rendered the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system obsolete. Today we understand that it is Jesus who is our Great High Priest and the perfect satisfactory sacrifice. We also know that we, the Church, are a priesthood unto God. In fact, we are called a Holy Nation of royal priests unto the Lord (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 5:10).

So where does that leave us with regard to Jesus’ declaration in John chapter 6, that unless we eat of his body and drink of his blood then we will not be raised to life? Again the context clearly shows that Jesus was revealing himself to be the better Manna; the Manna that sustains and yet does not perish. However, could have Jesus also been pointing forward toward the Communion Meal? We remember that Jesus would later break the bread of the Passover Seder and instruct his disciples to take and eat. “This is my body broken for you.”, and he would pass the cup of wine saying, “Take this cup, it is my blood poured out for you.”

It Is All About Him

Jesus tells the Pharisees in John chapter 5 that while they had diligently searched the Scriptures to find the way of eternal life they had failed miserably because they had not understood that the testimony of the Scriptures and the true way to eternal life was found in him. We see something similar in Revelation 19:10; John tells us in this passage that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. That is, the central theme of the Old and New Testaments is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally we see Jesus making the definitive claim that all the Scriptures were about him in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that he, “…did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill.” I believe that Jesus is here declaring that he is both the fulfillment of prophecy and the embodiment of the Moral and Ceremonial Law. In other words, he was not only perfectly obedient to the Moral Law but Jesus was the realization of everything the Ceremonial Law’s types and symbols pointed to.

Therefore, this is what we see when looking for Jesus in the sacrificial system. - That Jesus is the total atoning provision for our sin in the Burnt Offering, he showed himself to be wholly consecrated to the will of the Father in the Grain Offering, he made reconciliation with God in the Peace Offering, he is the perfect propitiatory sacrifice in fulfillment of the Sin Offering, and he is the complete redemptive payment of the Guilt Offering.

What Now?

Next time you take communion meditate on this; think about how we, the royal priesthood of God, symbolically feast upon the eternal and perfect once-for-all sacrifice given for us. It is a meal that we did not work for but was provided for us by the labor of another. This meal is solely the result of a sacrifice given for the guilt of sin and without it we’d starve to death. Though it is marked by death it is absolutely satisfying and all that we need; in fact, we are being nourished by the finest food that the Land of Israel has to offer.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:26
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Friday, September 11, 2009


I woke up this morning totally oblivious to the significance of the day. It wasn't until I opened my Facebook account to see the many status updates memorializing the the day, that I remembered. It was 8 years ago this morning that 3000 souls were lost in the terrorist attacks that came against our nation. As we memorialize our lost and reflect upon the tragedy of that day, I want to remind you of another 3000 who perished; about another tower that fell; and another 3000 who were saved.

3000 Lost

It was only a few weeks into the Exodus of the Hebrew nation that Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law, that would bind Israel in covenant to their God. After forty days on the mountain, Moses descended to hear a great celebration. Unfortunately, the celebration was not in exultation of God’s covenant Law coming down to them, but in worship of the the golden calf that was built from the bounty of the plunder of Egypt. Moses' anger boiled at this rebellion and he called for all those who were on the side of God to come to him. The Levites rallied to his command and they went through the camp slaughtering all those who worshipped the golden calf. 

Three thousand Israelites were killed on that day.

A Fallen Tower

In Luke 13 Jesus is told about a certain group of Galileans who were killed by Pontius Pilate. The inquiry was intended to find out whether these Galileans were worse sinners than their brothers since they had died in such a tragic way. Jesus answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." He then uses another tragedy to highlight this point. "Or [how about] those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

3000 Saved

Seven weeks after Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the grave his disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, celebrating the Feast of Weeks and waiting to receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. As they were assembled together there came a sound from heaven like the blowing of a violent wind and the manifestation of God's presence, in flames, above each of their heads. They were each filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages as the Spirit enabled them. This miracle caused a great stir in Jerusalem and many people gathered around
the disciples because of what they witnessed in the Temple's court that morning. However, some mocked the disciples and accused them of being drunk. Peter stood, with the other Apostles, and addressed the crowd. He explained that it was only nine in the morning and that they were not drunk as they had supposed, but that what they'd just witnessed was the fulfillment of a prophecy given by the prophet Joel. He then declared to them that Jesus was the Promised One of God, that he was both Messiah and LORD and they'd murdered him. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other Apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

Three thousand Israelites were saved on that day.

God's Good Pleasure

So as we reflect upon the infamy of that day, let's not forget that we survived September 11th, 2001, not because we were better people than those who died that day, but because of the gracious good pleasure of our God. It's by the extension of his mercy toward us, that we are the ones memorializing the day, rather than being remembered for having died that day. 
Like those Hebrew rebels, we too have worshiped the creations of our own hands rather than the Creator. And like them, we too warrant the wrath of God and his justice against our rebellion. The 3000 that tragically died 8 years ago were not greater sinners than you or me — for there is none that does good and we have all fallen far short of God's glory. We are all deserving of their fate and unless we repent we too will likewise perish. 

The good news is this, like those 3000 who turned to Jesus at the behest of Peter's call 2000, if we will turn from our rebellion by turning to Jesus the King, and call upon his name, we too will be saved from death.
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