About John

Over fifty years ago as a freshman at VA Tech, I began reading through the Bible one chapter a day. I wasn't sure it was true but I was sure an "educated" person should read it at least once. Before I finished reading three years later I was convinced of its truth, had placed my faith In Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners like me. I began a lifelong habit of reading through the Scriptures usually on an annual basis. Over the years I have served as a missionary and a pastor from 1968 until retirement in 2011. My current activities include hiking with my wife, Mary, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, teaching a senior adult Sunday School class at Grace Church in Roanoke, frequent trips to visit our children and grandchildren, and writing this daily blog.

The Brother Who Suffered

Last week I breezed through Genesis 26-50 in two sittings.  God’s redemptive plan and purposes for the world unfold in the life of Isaac and his descendants—Jacob and Esau and their children.  This quick reading in “chunks” makes certain truths more obvious than would a slower reading.  Here’s what I noticed:

God always watches providentially over human history.

This includes every detail whether large events or very small incidents. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and supervision.  He is the God of the universe and the God of every person.  Minute and seemingly unimportant details are under His control—worldwide famine or the dreams of a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants in prison with Joseph.  Everything is interconnected and fits into a huge scheme that the Sovereign God is orchestrating. Our discovery of this truth drives us to worship before Him who takes what people mean for evil and turns it into good.

Sin continually ruins lives and relationships.

Jacob tricks his foolish brother, Esau and their father, Isaac. Jacob goes on to suffer from Laban’s trickery and deceit—getting a taste of his own medicine. Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob agonizes over how Esau will receive him.  Pride and lust permeates these conflicts.  Joseph stands out as one of the exceptional people, a type of Christ, who endures great suffering in order to redeem those who hated and abused him.

Mankind is lost apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention.

What are we to make of this?  Only God intervening by His mercy and grace can deliver lost humanity .  Hostility runs rampant even among the descendants of faithful Abraham.  They jockey for positions and plot against one another.  There is no peace, no goodness, no love, and no kindness.  Yet God works through all kinds of situations to unfold His plan.  He deserves all the glory for His wisdom and power.

Is this not true in your life and mine?  Do you feel overwhelmed by the stresses and rifts you experience among those you hoped would be supportive?  Are your good deeds overlooked and even rejected by those you sought to serve? Take heart in God’s presence and power.  Seek to please Him whether you see results for your efforts or not. Joseph endured years of pain and suffering with little encouragement and affirmation.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Most of all, take heart that God the Son endured all the just wrath of God for your salvation.  He has secured a place for us in glory.  We are not there yet, but He has won the victory over the serpent.  Our inheritance is secure in heaven.  Jesus is our brother who suffered by us and for us.  Trust Him.  Praise Him.

This week I’ll be reading: Matthew 1-28

His kingdom cannot fail

Our first week of Bible reading took us through Genesis 1-25

The whirlwind tour of early human history moved from the Creation, to the Fall of mankind, to the flood, the tower of Babel and right into the life of Abram and on to his son, Isaac.  These are important chapters which set the stage for a biblical understanding of the world and our place in it.

Here are some observations I made on this first stage of our journey.

  1. God is eternal. Nothing but God existed before creation.  And nothing created exists that is not dependent upon Him.
  2. God appears in the world He created making Himself known through His word and actions. As these chapters unfold, we see Him as a covenant maker who watches over all things seeing that what He plans is completed.  At times it appears that His purposes are hanging by a thread.  But He is not limited to human possibilities.  He enables an elderly couple to conceive a child.
  3. His appearances are timely and strategic. Nothing escapes His gaze and His hand. Faith in Him pleases Him, but unbelief brings pain, grief, regret, and death.
  4. He initiates creation and redemption. He ensures that it will come to pass perfectly.  The seed of the woman will bruise the serpent’s head.  His covenant will come to pass and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.

In my life, daily circumstances (this blog post was beset with obstacles including a miserable head cold, a power outage, freezing temperatures and a cross country airline flight) frequently overwhelm me with doubt, impatience, and pessimism about the flow of events personal and global.  A flyover of this biblical terrain brings me much reassurance.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20 so it’s easy to see how everything worked out for Abraham, but I am called to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of circumstances that can seem hopeless and whose outcome is still not revealed.

The old hymn of Charles Wesley (1744), “Rejoice the Lord is King” comes to my mind and heart:

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,

The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Resolved: to honor God by believing Him no matter how doubtful His final victory appears, and to remember that His kingdom cannot fail.

This week’s reading: Genesis 26-50

A Plan for Reading the Bible in Chunks

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Reading the  Bible in Chunks

This reading schedule will take you through the Bible one book at a time during the year and is based on the concept of “reading the Bible in chunks” developed by Dr. Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Used by permission.

The chart gives weekly reading assignments (22 chapters on average) which generally alternate between Old and New Testament books.  The purpose is to read each of the 66 books seeking to understand each one as a unit.  The exceptions are Psalms and Proverbs which may be read devotionally by chapters.  I offer this schedule only for your convenience, but you could easily develop your own unique plan for reading the Bible in chunks.

Click on the table below to expand:

I’ll be posting updates and comments each Monday throughout 2018 (D.V.).  Happy new year. Blessed Bible reading in chunks.

God’s Perspective

Without God’s Word no one can grasp the importance of believing and serving God.  Only the Bible allows us His perspective.

Today’s Reading

Malachi 1-4; Revelation 22

Selected Verses

Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. Malachi 3:18

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  Revelation 22:14-15

Reflections

Malachi, like the other prophets, sees clearly the inward and outward sins of the people he addressed. He goes into detail about their idolatry, their failures in marriage, and their stealing God’s money. The Jews presumed that either their status as descendants of Abraham exempted them from obedience or that the Holy One of Israel was unconcerned about righteousness in His people.

The prophet warns them that the day of the Lord is coming. They would see that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. It does matter how one lives before God.

John points us to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Those who are accepted before God recognize their sinfulness and come to have their robes washed in His blood (Revelation 7:14).   These blessed ones do not presume upon God’s mercy but receive the salvation offered in the gospel. They have access to the tree of life and enter the city by the gates. Meanwhile, those who remain in their sins–such as immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood–are outside.

Think about it

Although Malachi wrote around 500 years before John penned his Revelation, these writings converge in a harmonious and glorious view of the final end of all things.

All sin will be punished. Unbelievers remain outside the city where God dwells with His people. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ has paid for the sin of His sheep by His atonement. By His wounds they are healed (1 Peter:2:24). Be sure you know that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).

Thank you for walking through the Scriptures with me this year and, if we have not met here, may we meet in glory to worship the Triune God. Our life here matters and it does matter forever.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Three Motivations to Read the Entire Bible

Expected Benefits Sustain Motivation

To stay motivated on a large project, like reading through the entire Bible, we need a firm conviction of the importance of sticking with it to completion.  So how important is knowledge of the Word of God?  Here are three benefits we can only obtain by knowing the Bible.

Salvation

Second Timothy 3:15-17. The Scripture makes us wise to salvation. We get some idea of the power and glory of God from the Creation, but only God’s Word informs us that we are sinners in need of a redeemer.  In short, God is holy and we are sinners. We have a need, and God has the only adequate provision for that need.  He became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross taking the just penalty for the sins of His people.  By our human reasoning we would never imagine such a remedy for our guilt and shame.  We might attempt to gain forgiveness by our good works, but, without the light of Scripture, we would not grasp that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Sanctification

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (First Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). Sanctification has a progressive aspect, in that, over time we grow in our godliness by the Word of God.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (Second Timothy 3:16).  If we would be trained in righteousness, we need the Word of God–not merely on our shelves but–in our hearts.  The Bible works powerfully to teach us truth and to reprove and correct us when we go astray in thought, word, or deed.  The result of this process is training in righteousness or growth in sanctification.  By this growth, we do God’s express will.

Service

Paul concludes his comments on the value of Scripture with this: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” Second Timothy 3:17. God redeemed us “from all lawlessness…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  God called us not for our own benefit alone but to serve Him with zeal.  God intends for us to do this by being equipped with His Word.

Without knowledge of the Word of God we cannot be saved, sanctified, or service-ready.  That knowledge can and will move us forward in these three aspects of the Christian life.  We dare not neglect the Scripture if we care about pleasing God and doing His will.

A plan helps

There are many ways to grow in the knowledge of the Bible: listening to good preaching and teaching, personal reading, study, memorization, and meditation.  All are essential.  We ought to use every means possible to learn God’s truth from His Word.  On this blog, I encourage regular, systematic Bible reading.

God calls us to salvation, sanctification, and service.  Let us develop a deep sense of the importance of starting a regular reading plan and seeing it through to the end.

On Monday, I will post a flexible and practical plan for reading the Bible in the new year based on the concept of “reading the Bible in chunks” developed by Dr. Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Used by permission.

I think you will like it.

Fleeing the Now Generation

Those who believe God’s word flee from the “now generation” and live today in the light of a day to come when He makes all things new.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 13-14; Revelation 21

Selected Verses

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. Zechariah 14:9

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Reflections

Zechariah’s prophecy and the vision of John in Revelation intersect in today’s readings. Here we can see:

  1. God exercises authority over all things. He sits on the throne and there is no one who can compete with Him.
  2. God deserves worship from all.
  3. God makes all things new. The fallen world with sickness, sorrow, tears, and death gives way to a new heavens and earth where He restores all things.

Think about it

The Urban Dictionary defines the “now generation” as “people who want instant gratification.” By definition Bible believers are not members of that group. We live for a day when His kingdom will come and the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Flee from the foolishness of the “now generation.” They want what they want and they want it now. Don’t fall for that illusion. Cling to the promises of God for a day when He will make all things new. The new year gives us an opportunity to consider how to make necessary changes to live more fully in the light of that day to come. How will you invest the year ahead to reflect an attitude of expectancy and faith in the day when the Lord makes all things new?

God’s Sovereignty: The Key and the Book

Scholars disagree over the interpretation of certain prophecies. But none can deny that Scripture affirms God’s sovereignty over everything in the cosmos.

Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

Selected Verses

For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!—Zechariah 11:16-17

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.—Revelation 20:1

Reflections

When the Bible addresses the final events of time, not every detail is clear, but what is clear is that God reigns over all and that every person will stand in judgment before Him. 

Zechariah shows us that God is the One raising up leaders, even evil ones. He is the One who is also judging them and putting them down. God doesn’t merely permit some wicked to gain power. He actually controls their ascendance and uses it for His purposes, in some cases to discipline His own people. In the end, He brings judgment on these ungodly powers.

In Revelation 20, the key and the book depict God’s control of the cosmos. The key, entrusted to an angel, opens the bottomless pit where the Lord holds Satan confined and impotent. Although he is completely wicked, he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. We also see a book of life with the names of those chosen to live and not suffer the lake of fire.

Think about it

We can have only one of two possible responses to these passages: belief or unbelief.  For believers in the Triune God, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well.

Unbelievers may dismiss the assertions with ridicule or ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true. Without a Holy God who rules absolutely over all things and Who will judge us in the end, the universe is out of control and life is meaningless. This alternative is unacceptable. 

But praise God! He reigns in sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book. Let us believe Him. 

The Bride’s Dress

At weddings, guests wait and wonder. “What will the bride wear?”  Here we see a special bride before the ceremony. Her dress will amaze you.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 7-9; Revelation 19

Selected Verses

Say to all the people of the land and the priests, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?  And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?”— Zechariah 7:5-6

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.—Revelation 19:6-8

Reflections

Zechariah was sent to confront Judah about her unacceptable service to God.  Oh, she had fasted and mourned.  She had put on an outward show of brokenness and repentance, but the Lord saw through the phoniness and hypocrisy.  True service to God is performed with fear of Him, not some kind of self-serving motivation  It is done by “small and great” since no one is exempt from responsibility before Him (Revelation 19:4). It is futile to attempt to perform outward acts of service to God that are not matched by inward piety.

John relates his vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  What a joyous occasion it is!  There is nothing quite like a wedding celebration where bride and groom are filled with love and hope for their future.  They commit themselves fully to one another “till death do us part.”   But no matter how splendid the ceremony, the banquet, or the couple, nothing compares to the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.

Think about it

At weddings, the big question is always, “how will the bride look?  Through John’s vision we are allowed the rare privilege of seeing the bride before the ceremony.  Are you, like me, surprised by her attire?  We expect it to be fine linen, bright and pure, but on closer examination we see that this linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.  That is what she is wearing.

Fellow disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, never underestimate the eternal significance of your righteous deeds done in fear of and love for Him.  Your labor in the Lord is not in vain (First Corinthians 15:58).

 

Final Victory

God will bring final victory over all the forces of evil, therefore He calls His people to separate themselves from those who are doomed.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 4-6; Revelation 18

Selected Verses

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” —Zechariah 4:6-7

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.”—Revelation 18:4-5

Reflections

There have been many moments in history when it appeared that God’s people had no hope of final victory. The Lord always sent messengers to reassure the Church that she would not be ultimately defeated.

In Zechariah’s day, the temple was in ruins and God commanded its rebuilding. It seemed impossible and, in fact, it was. But it did not depend on the strength or might of human beings, even of those who loved the Lord and longed to see worship restored. Through the vision, the prophet understood that it would be successful through the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. God commands all the armies of angels and He does His will which no one can thwart.

John was permitted to see the fall of Babylon. She had commanded the world, economically and culturally, and seemed invincible. All who dealt with her enjoyed wealth and pleasure. But her end is assured. She will be brought down to nothing. Her ruin will be mourned by those who depended on her. God called His people to come out and not to go down with her in judgment.

Think about it

What is your view of the dominant culture of our day? Are you optimistic that God’s truth will ultimately triumph? If you are one who has been bought by the blood of the Lamb, flee both pessimism and compromise. Final victory is assured.

God Rules

Both believers and unbelievers alike can lose sight of the fact that God rules over human history and will ultimately conquer all those who oppose Him.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 1-3; Revelation 17

Selected Verses

Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Zechariah 2:13

And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,  for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

Revelation 17:16-17

Reflections

My seminary professor, Steve Brown, used to quip, “Christians don’t pray because they are afraid God doesn’t exist. Atheists don’t pray because they are afraid He does.”   Certainly, there are times when everyone doubts God’s existence. Our experience can make us question whether our faith is based on reality. Is our experience a reliable basis for faith? The Scriptures tell us to trust what God has said, not what our hunches tell us.

Zechariah delivered messages to Judah assuring them that though their forefathers had brought God’s judgment on themselves, they were not thereby automatically left without hope. Each person is responsible before God to repent of sin and turn to Him in faith. There are times when God may appear to be unengaged or sleeping, but that is an illusion. All the earth owes Him glory and honor. It is wise to keep silence before Him.

In John’s visions, he sees that reality. There is chaos and wickedness in the world, but do not be confused. God is still ruling over all things. He puts His purposes into the hearts of those who hate Him and they do His bidding without intending to.

Think about it

Our observations on the state of the world, if uninformed by Scripture, are not trustworthy.  Let God’s Word give you a solid basis for faith and life. You will know that, indeed, God rules.