28 December 2011

Bible Reading Companion

What It Is

A full set of one-page fill-in-the-blank worksheets that correspond with each day’s reading assignment that will get you through the entire Bible in just under a year (see notes under “What You Need to Know”). 
How It Came About

A couple years ago, I was looking for a way to encourage the members of our teen Sunday school class to get involved in a Bible reading program.  We offered this program (among other things) as a way for our young people to earn credit toward the cost of that summer’s youth trip.  Instead of asking the students to report on what they had read for the week, at the end of every Sunday school class I passed out a week’s worth of one-page assignments to correspond to the reading for that week. 

The program started with the New Testament then went to Psalms and Proverbs before going through the rest of the Old Testament.  In order to get the companion ready for distribution, I reworked the program so that it moves sequentially through the books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, with each assignment corresponding to a calendar date.

What You Need to Know

1.   The original program allotted five months for the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, and seven months for the rest of the Old Testament.  For that reason the Old Testament assignments tend to be longer than those in the New Testament. 

2.   You will also notice a difference in style once you get to the first of the New Testament assignments because that is where the program started.  It took some time before I developed a somewhat consistent approach to writing the assignments. 

3.   I did not use any certain method for the selection of phrases to include in the assignments, or words to leave blank.  In many cases, the selection is largely random and is designed simply to make sure you are paying attending to what you are reading and to keep you focused on the text.  However, in some cases, the words and phrases are indeed chosen to emphasize important truths; and in others the intention is to pique the reader’s interest by focusing his attention on something I found curious. 

4.   The program was designed to end on a Sunday, not the last day of the year.  For that reason, this companion ends three days early on December 28.  I hope you will forgive my not taking the great deal of extra time and effort to make the assignments of consistent length and style, as well as stretch the program to a full 365 days. 

5.   For that same reason (time), these assignments have not been proofread.  Throughout the course of the year that these were distributed in our teen Sunday school class, I corrected whatever mistakes were brought to my attention.  I am certain there are many more.  If you decide to complete these assignments and would like to notify me of the errors you come across, I would greatly appreciate it.  There is also no answer key.  If anyone would be interested in making such a thing (electronically) as they go through the assignments, please contact me, and I will be more than happy to have you do so. 

How It Can Be Used

Basically, any way you like.  If you are serious about completing the entire program, I would suggest printing the entire file (double-sided) and placing the worksheets in a large, three-ring binder.  I have wondered if this would make a suitable curriculum for a homeschool Bible class (except for the lack of an answer key)? 

Please feel free to contact me with your questions, suggestions, criticisms, ideas, etc.  May the Lord richly bless as you read, study, and practice His perfect, powerful, eternal word. 

1 Timothy 4:13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

Isaiah 34:16 Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read…

Deuteronomy 17:19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: 

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

14 December 2011

Practical Deism

Zephaniah 1:12 And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.

Forgive me for quoting wikipedia, but this concise summary well serves its purpose:

“Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator.  According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws of the universe.  Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or "the Supreme Architect") does not alter the universe by intervening in it.  This idea is also known as the Clockwork universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own.”

The entire page would probably be interesting to search, but the purpose of this post is not at all to discuss the history or beliefs of what we might call “philosophical” deism.  It’s to point out the fact that in Zephaniah’s day there were those who, in a very practical sense, though they believed in God, had this idea that He was very uninvolved in their lives.  We’ll call them “practical” deists.  And they’re still around.

In the passage, they convince themselves that God doesn’t bless the good or judge the evil.  He’s the Lord, but He’s off somewhere far away in heaven – far enough off that I don’t really have to worry about Him too much.

Granted, the deist – philosophical or practical – is a step up from the fool, who denies (or temporarily forgets, Proverbs 24:9) God’s existence all together (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).  The deist acknowledges His existence, but thinks of Him more so as a disinterested spectator.

Now let’s take a little closer look at the passage.  The Lord said He would search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees.  Maybe I’m just dumb, but I had no idea what lees were, or how one would settle himself upon them.  Sounded to me like a professional couch potato.  Anyway, I looked it up in a Bible dictionary on my shelf (World’s Reference Library), and here’s what I found:

LEES (dregs)

“Wines on the lees,” were wines allowed to stand after the first fermentation for better preservation of the wine (Isaiah 25:6).  Figuratively, it means contentment with one’s self and state, indifference and sloth (Jeremiah 48:11; Zephaniah 1:12).  To drink the lees, or dregs, is a picture of God’s punishment (Psalm 75:8).  No one can escape until He is completely finished; the cup must be drained, not tasted.

So the lazy complacency of these practical deists was a result of their failure to believe that God would DO anything, good or evil.

Now, the application my mind went to was the failure of God’s church in their charge to reach this lost and dying world with the gospel.  Why is it that so many of God’s people are “settled on their lees” while the world is lost and going to hell? 

Maybe it’s that we’ve slipped into some sort of practical deism.  We don’t deny the Creator, the Savior, the Redeemer.  We just refuse to really believe, or fail to remember, that there really is a hell, there really is a lake of fire, people really are going, and we really are commissioned to bear the message of the only means whereby God’s judgment can be averted.  It just seemed like if we really believed those things, we’d be doing SOMETHING to pull them out of the fire (Jude 1:22-23). 

And it seems like we’d realize THAT is far more important than things like feeding the homeless, curing aids, building habitats for humanity, fighting abortion, drilling wells in third-world countries, etc.  Don’t get me wrong.  All those things are great.  But all of that without Jesus Christ will only benefit a man in THIS LIFE.  Fact is, every man, woman, boy, and girl has an ETERNAL SOUL we need to be concerned about.  And eternity lasts quite a bit longer than the 70 years or so we’re allotted down here. 

Further, the passages states that this practical deist fails to believe that “The Lord will…do good.”  God will bless His word (Isaiah 55:10-11).  Souls will be saved (Psalm 126:5-6; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).  Our work will be rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:19).

So let’s get up off our lees and do something to help reach this world with the gospel.  Pass out some gospel tracts.  Hold a gospel sign at a busy intersection.  Knock on some doors.  Put a bumper sticker on the back of the car.  Go ahead and bring it up with our co-workers or family member.  Write a letter to that relative that needs to hear the gospel.  Support a missionary.  Pray for a missionary.  Better yet, be a missionary.  Whatever we do, let’s do something.

13 October 2011

Nobles & Their Necks

Coupled with the book of Ezra, the book of Nehemiah presents the history of the Jews who returned to the homeland following the Babylonian captivity.  Ezra was a ready scribe of the law of God (Ezra 7:6-10).  The book that bears his name focuses on the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11-2:5), and his book focuses on the rebuilding of the wall of the city.

Chapter 3 is where the work commences.  It’s a description of who built where and repaired what gate.  The names of the gates – and what they represent – make for some great preaching. 

Then there’s this statement in Nehemiah 3:5 And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.  A couple points need to be made.

1.  If you’re too noble to work, then God will never use you.

The people had a mind to work (1 Corinthians 1:26).  But the nobles refused to participate.  The Tekoites were among those God used to repair the walls and gates of Jerusalem.  But the nobles considered themselves too important for that type of work.  And they missed out. 

Perhaps this is why the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:26 …not many noble, are called:

It’s a noble thing to want to accomplish something in this life for the honor and glory of God.  But whatever it is we might seek to accomplish, it’s going to take some WORK.  Your talent, your ability, your skill is not enough.  Prayer alone is insufficient.  Anything meaningful, anything worthwhile is going to take some labor, some effort, some toil. 

God can use all kinds of people.  But He cannot, He will not use a lazy, self-important man or woman.

2.  There is risk and sacrifice involved in accomplishing something for the Lord.

Read the verse again, Nehemiah 3:5 And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.
Would you not expect the verse to say that they put not their backs to the work of their Lord?  That’s what I expected to read, but that’s not what it says.  It says that they put not their necks to the work of their Lord.

That’s a common expression we all understand.  To “stick your neck out” or “put your neck on the line” is basically to take a calculated risk.  It’s to say, “This might not work, this might not turn out, but I believe it will, and I really think it’s the right thing to do, so here goes…” 

You and I are unlike God.  We can’t see the end from the beginning.  When we step out by faith in obedience to His word, all we have to go on is His promise that in the end, God will be pleased, and He’ll reward us for our labor (1 Corinthians 3:8).  We’re never promised success.  We’re never promised favor.  We’re never promised protection.

When you set out to do something for the Lord, you will be exposing yourself to failure, to ridicule, to mockery, to attack, to opposition.

Perhaps these nobles had listened too carefully to the laughing of Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem (Nehemiah 2:19).  Perhaps they decided to distance themselves from the work on the wall, just in case those guys were right.  Maybe they didn’t want to subject themselves to the ridicule and conspiracy of chapter 4. 

What we need to recognize is that dealing with all of those things is just part of doing God’s work.  So we all have a choice to make.  We can aim at nothing and hit it.  Or we can go ahead and pull the trigger, mindful of the fact that there might be some recoil or retaliation.  We just need to count the cost and figure out whether or not it’s worth it. 

Considering all that the Lord has done for us, we’ve got to say that anything we could possibly do for Him is absolutely worth whatever it might cost us.  May the Lord really help us believe that’s so.

04 October 2011

Bible Facts on Hell

·         Mentioned 54 times in the word of God
·         Mentioned 15 times by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry
·         To deny its existence is to call Jesus Christ a liar
·         To downplay its importance is to criticize Jesus’ preaching

·         Fire that shall never be quenched, flaming torment (Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:24)
·         Occupants cry for momentary relief of one drop of water (Luke 16:24)
·         Weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42, 50; 24:51; Luke 13:28)
·         Place of outer darkness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30)
·         Left with nothing but your thoughts, memory (Luke 16:25)
·         Everlasting destruction (Matthew 10:28-29; Luke 12:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Hebrews 6:2)
·         Better to pluck out your eye, cut off your hand, cut off your foot than to enter (Matthew 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48)

·         Location the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40 w/ Acts 2:27, 31)
·         Levels/degrees of punishment: lowest hell, greater damnation (Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalm 86:13; Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47)
·         Temporary holding place: jail, trial, prison = hell, Great White Throne, lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15)

·         Jonah cried from belly of hell (Jonah 2:2)
·         Jesus was not left in hell (Matthew 12:40; Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27-31)
·         Jesus has the keys (Revelation 1:18)
·         Will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18)
·         Strange woman’s house the way to hell (Proverbs 5:5; 7:27)
·         Proper chastisement helps children avert it (Proverbs 23:14)
·         God’s presence if I make my bed there (Psalm 139:8)
·         Tongue set on fire of hell (James 3:6)

·         Never full; enlarges itself (Proverbs 27:20; Habakkuk 2:5; Isaiah 5:14)
·         Population continually increasing – 150,000 people die every day, and most of them go there
·         Hell is filling up…with people you care about – your lost friends, family members, classmates, job mates – they’re headed there (John 3:36)

·         Rich man in hell wanted somebody to tell his brothers (Luke 16:27-28)
·         People in paradise would have sought to rescue those in hell were it not for the great gulf (Luke 16:24)
·         Only chance we have is now, and we can make a difference (Jude 22-23)

20 September 2011

An Idle Soul

Proverbs 19:15 Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.

The Bible (and the book of Proverbs in particular) has a lot to say about slothfulness, laziness, idleness. In this modern-day American society that’s obsessed with entertainment, amusement and leisure, it’s important that we’re constantly reminded of the dangers of being idle.

There are dangers in idleness of mind.  Benjamin Franklin was by no means a Christian or a godly man, but he said some insightful things.  One of those sayings is that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.  That might not be Bible, but it’s biblical.  We must guard against an idle mind.  Man’s heart is desperately wicked, and if we allow our minds to wander and allow our thoughts to roam, they have a powerful tendency to go where they shouldn’t (Genesis 6:5).  We’re to carefully guard our thoughts, take our thoughts captive, and bring them in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3).  Twenty times, the Bible uses some form of the word meditate, and it’s pretty much the very opposite of the transcendental variety.  God wants us to think on purpose.  About Him.  About His word.  About what’s right.  Don’t have an idle mind. 

Then there are dangers in idleness of body.  According to Ezekiel 16:49, the root of Sodom’s iniquity and the primary reason for its eventual destruction was not sexual perversion.  That was just a symptom.  A major part of Sodom’s problem was that “abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters.”  Too much free time.  Too much leisure.  Too little responsibility.  And so they kept devising mischief (Psalm 36:1-4; Proverbs 6:14, 18) until they sunk to the depths of depravity.  We ought to be people of activity.  With a God to glorify and a world that’s dying and going to hell and with so much to learn and so much to do, it’s pretty much a sin to be bored.

But what caught my attention in Proverbs 19:15, was the phrase “an idle soul.”  You see, I know a lot of young people who rot their guts on junk food and their minds on video games, but then again, I know a lot who don’t.  They’re not idle in their minds.  They’re busy studying, busy learning, taking tests, writing papers, preparing for their future.  And they’re not idle in their bodies.  They’re working jobs and completing projects and playing sports and participating in this activity, that group, the other program. 

But the dangers they fail to recognize are the dangers of an idle soul.  When it comes to their spiritual life, they’re lazy.  They’re lazy about their Bible reading.  They’re lazy about scripture memory.  They’re lazy about their prayer life.  They’re lazy about witnessing.  And they don’t think it’s that big of a deal.  They’re busy with school.  They’re busy with friends.  They’re busy with their plans.  They’re busy with life.  And that’s good.  But their soul is starving to death. 

The Proverbs passage says that “slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep.”  It makes them like Jonah down in the sides of the ship.  Taking a nap while the world goes to hell. 

1 Corinthians 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

Romans 13:11-12 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

Let’s be aware of the dangers of idleness.  Let’s not allow our minds, our bodies, or our souls to be idle.  Work for the night is coming!