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Getting ready to Read the Bible

As anyone of us know, the desire to do something is greater than the reality of actually doing it.  I use to run for both exercise and good health.  I ran a number of small races - especially the Crazy Legs in Madison each year.  I wanted to run a half marathon; but alas, never did, because I didn't do the training necessary to compete.  Oh, I continued to run, but not on the level of "training".

Now that is an important principle in relation to reading the Bible.  As the Apostle Paul writes to his young pastor mentee, Timothy, he reminds him of the value of consistent reading of the Scriptures.

2 Timothy 3:16
16  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 


Do you see the word - training?  It is a word that means a consistent and steady learning process.  A lot of people want to read Scripture (desire) but then they run up against the difficulty of "I don't understand this" and give up.  I&…

Reading the Bible in 2018?

One of the things that I do every year at the end of the year is find a Bible reading plan for the coming year.  There are a lot of them out there, and any of them can be useful IF we are disciplined to keep reading all through the year.
I have often talked to people about reading through the Scriptures, and I think in general there's a general sense of "yes, that's a good thing to do" from most Christians.  But even a resolution to read through Scripture is like most resolutions - only followed for a while.  I like a Bible reading plan because it helps me track my progress and keep me disciplined to do it day by day.
I am planning on teaching a new series this next year that is going to be a Panorama of the Bible - a broad overview of the Scriptures.  I have only taught the Scriptures this way in the classroom, so the challenge is to say enough in a manageable amount of time that will help people to grasp the Big Picture of the Word of God.  I have posted on our Ch…

Christmas Day - Among Us

Merry Christmas my friends...my hopes are that this day will be full of joy, laughter, family and fun.  Is there any day like Christmas Day?
Do not get wrapped up like your presents under the tree in all of the "things" that make up this day.  Yes there is food - more than any of us should eat.  Yes there is noise and a smile at the chaos - which usually accompanies the gifts (at least in my experience).  Yes there is conversations...usually many going on at once.  But, all of these "things" are because of one thing - Immanuel, God is with us.  God has come to live among us.

The apostle John also says it succinctly:
John 1:14 
14  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth
.

Luke's Gospel tells us that the Angels in song praising God said it:

Luke 2:9-14
9  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with…

Christmas Eve - The Mystery of that Holy Night

It is Christmas Eve day, a Sunday, in fact the 4th Sunday and so the final day in Advent this year.  My wife asked me, "how do you feel about Advent this year, have you enjoyed it?"  She knows that Advent is my favorite time of the year.  I could not help but reply back that I have enjoyed it but feel it is over way too early.  Perhaps that is the key, and the question, "why does Advent have to end?"

For those of us who celebrate Christ and live for him, it doesn't have to end.  Advent means "arrival, coming" and we celebrate Jesus' entrance into the world as a baby born to a Virgin who was conceived by the Holy Spirit - an action that mirrors creation itself when God's Spirit hovered over the emptiness and spoke creation into existence.
Advent is Immanuel - God with us.  Jesus came into the world as a baby...a child is born (human)...a son is given (deity).  The Mystery of that Holy Night is that God invades the world through the weakness of …

Day 21, Last minute gifts

I ventured out yesterday to pick up some groceries on my way to my daughters house to pick them up.  I don't especially like shopping on the weekends, and that was reinforced almost immediately.   It was only 9:00 a.m. when I pulled into the parking lot and it was already almost full.  Christmas eve is tomorrow and clearly folks were doing some last minute shopping ahead of the weekend.

Last minute shopping - not my cup of tea.  The weekend of Christmas is a time for families to gather.  Traffic fills the streets and highways as people make their way, sometimes for hundreds of miles.  Airports fill up with planes full of holiday travelers.  So do buses and trains, and especially the freeways.
Yet there are those who save their shopping for the last minute...why?  Who knows the multitude of reasons:  too busy, don't know what to buy, looking for the closeout bargains...there are a number of different reasons.

Gifts are personal - or at least they should be.  They are also forge…

Day 20, Gifts for a King

Matthew 2:7-13
7  Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.
8  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
9  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
13  Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and f…

Day 19, Seeking Jesus

Matthew 2:1-2
1  Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,
2  saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”


The Gospel of Matthew is unique in its presentation of Jesus.  In chapter 1, Matthew opens by pointing out how Jesus is directly linked back to the Messianic line as the promise of God's redemption is made through Abraham and David.  There are a lot of names in this section, most of which are unfamiliar.  I'll simple use the opening verse and the final 2 verses of this section to make this point clear:

Matthew 1:1
1  The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham... 
Matthew 1:16-17
16  and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.  17  So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to th…

Day 18, Seeing Salvation

The night was over.  Mary, Joseph had breathed again after their baby was born.  All parents do.  The pregnant Mom knows she is not in control.  The baby is coming and almost all of the time it is all very natural. 
Their baby is wrapped in "swaddling cloths", lying in a manger when the unlikeliest of visitors - Shepherds - come looking for him.  They tell of angelic hosts who broke into the night sky telling them that the Savior, who is Christ the Lord is born.  Mary and Joseph must have been shocked when they showed up that night. 

Sometimes life happens to us, and around us, in rather remarkable - and yet - natural ways.  AND then, the next day things go back to normal.  It was that for Mary and Joseph also.  The night after the birth, the days turned towards the seeming normal of life.

Luke 2:21-32
21  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 

It is 8 days later and as th…

Day 17, When Glory Fills the Sky

It is Tuesday in this final week of Advent.  I was struck yesterday by how often I ran across music that was singing the praises of God's incarnation.  Music plays while shopping.  It is in the background in stores,  and even on television.  On the finale of a TV music show, one artist sang "O Holy Night" - beautifully, I might add.  No matter how many times modern man tries to avoid it, God's glory and praise is constantly there in our lives.

Luke 2:8-14
8  And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
10  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped i…

Day 16, The Miracle of Birth

Luke 2:4-7
4  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
7  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 


Today is Monday, the 18th of December, and the last Monday in this year's Advent season.  Today, I'm celebrating three of my Grandchildren all born on this same day, in the same year.  All three of them:  Leo, Raewyn and Theo turn 8 years old today!

Raewyn and Theo are twins and my daughter gave birth to them in England.  Leo is my Son and daughter in law's child and he was born in Wisconsin.  I think about that day 8 years ago and it the thought hits me that it was the miracle of the telephone that m…

Day 15, the Third Sunday of Advent, "The Journey"

Luke 2:1-7
1  In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.
4  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

The surprises kept on coming.  First the angel Gabriel tells Zachariah and Elizabeth they are to have a baby - a baby they hadn't been able to have on their own.  

Then the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she will have a baby - a baby she shouldn't have had because she was a Virgin, but the angel reminds her, "nothing is impossible with God".

An angel is sent once more - to Joseph and he tells him that the baby to be born in Mary is from God, and his name will be called Immanuel, …

Day 14, In Memory: Dr. R. C. Sproul

Luke 1:67-79
67  And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people

69  and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

70  as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71  that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;

72  to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,

73  the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

74  that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

75  in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77  to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,

78  because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on …

Day 13, His Name is John, Part 2

Poor Zachariah?  Maybe not, maybe quietly happy Zachariah.  For months he has quietly waited... unable to speak and possibly unable to hear also.  He waits in quiet, his mind replaying the encounter with the angel Gabriel in the Temple months before.

"It was real wasn't it?  Yes, I'm sure of it, and what's more it has happened exactly as he said it would.  I cannot speak, but my Elizabeth is pregnant and we're having a child...Yes Lord, I believe."

Then it came:  Luke 1:57-64 
57  Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.
58  And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59  And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,
60  but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”
61  And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”
62  And they made signs to his father, inquiri…

Day 12, His Name is John, part 1

Elizabeth and Zechariah had longed for a child, but throughout their marriage she had not been able to get pregnant.  It's a story that lots of couples could tell.  We have enough medical research today to understand the physical barriers to the inability to conceive; but the emotional and psychological aspects are not as easy to explain.

Remember the story?  Zechariah is "on duty" - a priest serving his two week obligation at the temple.  By "lot" he is chosen to go into the holy place to burn the incense, change the candles and the daily bread.  It was a high honor for any priest to be chosen; so much so that they could only do it once in their life.  Zechariah enters the temple that day and went about his work until he came to the altar of incense.  Then, suddenly, everything changed:

Luke 1:11-13
11  And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12  And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear f…

Day 11, Giving Gifts, Receiving one too

Probably nothing is more associated with the season that leads up to Christmas as shopping for presents.  That is something that can be a joy, or it can be filled with anxiety and frustration looking for just the right gift.

Years ago my wife worked in a bank.  She once told me that she hated the days in early December as people came in - unhappy and grumpy - because they took money out of their accounts in order to go buy presents they didn't want to buy, for people they didn't want to give them to, because they were "duty bound" to give gifts.  It is a miserable way to approach giving gifts...obligation, duty, must, got-to...

Then there are those gifts that come from love, generosity, an overflowing heart of affection,...gifts that inspire us to thanksgiving.  I don't think anything is so beautiful as someone giving a gift because they really want to.  Then the attitude is not one of duty, obligation, but simply as an action of love.

Friends, as you shop, think…

Day 10, IN you

Advent means "arrival, coming", and in it we celebrate, and anticipate, the coming of Jesus.  Here's something to think about:  Jesus came INTO our world - the incarnation means "Immanuel", God is with us;  but also Jesus comes INTO our lives - personally. 
Mary experienced this.  Jesus was born through her.  She carried Jesus "in" her; but at the same time, Jesus came into the world "for" her too.

Luke 1:30-31,
30  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

Luke 1:34-35
34  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 
35  the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 

If the incarnation means anything, it means Christ comes "into" o…

Day 9, God of the possible

I read a story of a teacher who assigned her class - What I would like to be when I grow up.  Everyone wrote down their child-like thoughts:  a fireman, a mom (just like my Mom), a football player, a nurse, and on and on it went.  Then she got to one students paper that said, "When I grow up I want to be possible".  She pulled Donny aside and asked him what he meant by that.  Donny shyly responded:  "My Mom is always telling me that I'm impossible, and some day I'd like to grow up to be possible"!

If Advent is anything to us, I hope, it's a reminder that God makes all things possible.  Remember?

Luke 1:26-37
26  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
28  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
29  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tr…

Day 8, The Second Week of Advent: Connecting the Dots

One of my favorite things as a child was to get those pages that we're filled with nothing more than Dots...and the goal was to connect the dots and then discover what the picture is all about.

As we celebrate Christ today in our worship, I hope you can "SEE" Jesus in your time of worship with others.  I hope you can connect the dots.

Each Sunday in Advent we sing an old hymn to begin our worship service - O Come, O Come Emmanuel  The hymn has its roots in the 8th century.  I think its the closest we modern Christians get to singing like the ancient Monastics did in their chants.  Do you remember it?

1 O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel. Here the hymn begins...with a prayer, a longing for God to come - Emmanuel means "God with us".  From the prophet Isaiah,  Isaiah 7:14  14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behol…

Day 7, "Do Not Be Afraid"

Mary and Joseph...she a 14-15 year old teenage virgin...he probably a 18 year old young man coming of age.  Joseph asked Mary's father for her hand in marriage, and Mary's father said "Yes".  Joseph went to Mary and she was excited beyond all measure.  They were betrothed.  Joseph build the addition on house, get things ready and then claim your bride for a life-time together as husband and wife.
Then one day it all changed...God stepped in.

Luke 1:26-31
26  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
28  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
29  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
30  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31  And behold, you will c…

Day 6, Singing thru Christmas

Luke 1:46-47 
46  Mary responded,“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!


Zephaniah 3:17 
17  For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior.He will take delight in you with gladness.With his love, he will calm all your fears.He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”


Last night my wife attended our Grandson's Christmas concert.  I smiled watching and listening to my two Grandsons who, among their classmates, sang various children's holiday songs.  Even as the program ended with Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer I felt myself following along inside with the words that go back all the way to my own childhood.
Of course, Christmas has its own library of music.  Adults remember "White Christmas", "Winter Wonderland", "Silver Bells", "The Carol of the Bells, and on and on we can go.  We sing some Christmas hymns during Christmas:  "O Come, All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night&qu…

Day 5, Advent Means God Heard

The principal characters of Advent aren't picked from the elite, the powerful, the intellectual, or the well-known.  Luke's Gospel reminds us that there were only a few people who were involved and none of them stood out in Israel at that time. 
The Advent story begins with an aged Priest and his wife who we are told cannot conceive.  Although faithful in serving, they were worn out by failed expectations.  They begin the Advent story.

Luke 1:5-7
5
 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
6  And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.




I think you'll agree...probably not the creme de la creme of Israel.  To not be able to bear a child was a societal shame...often connected superstit…

Day 4, Come and See

The days of Advent have turned cold here in Wisconsin.  It's hard to imagine the text I read this morning given the weather outside.  The text speaks of Jesus as he begins his earthly ministry.  He is relatively unknown - the exception being his cousin, John - the Baptizer.  As Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by him, he also makes contact with his first disciples.

What captures me is the words, "Come and See".

John 1:35-46 
35  The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,
36  and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
37  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
38  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
39  He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
40  One …

Day 3, A Root from a Stump

Prophets are not fortune-tellers, but people immersed in seeing with eyes that take in what most others miss.  Isaiah was one of those prophets.  Watching a world filled with political posturing and power grabbing;  threats of war that loomed on the horizon; and his nation distancing itself from its God...he saw something quite different from what the Jerusalem newspapers were printing each day.

He saw the stump of Jesse...a branch from its roots.

Isaiah 11:1-10
1  There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2  And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,the Spirit of counsel and might,the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3  And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see,or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4  but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;and he shall strike …