Plan to Read the Whole Bible in 2016

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” – Psalm 119:97, ESV

For some years now I have committed to reading the whole Bible starting in January. Each year I fall short – sometimes just by Read-The-Bible-In-2016-680x383a little, sometimes by a lot. One year I decided not to commit to reading the whole Bible in a year but instead to simply read most of it in a year. Time and again, I find that I do better if I aim high and fall a bit short than to aim lower and to hit even lower.

That the Bible must be mastered (or one must be mastered by it) through study and prayer is obvious for ministers of the gospel. If a minister’s thinking is going to become increasingly biblical then his or her mind must be regularly fed and filled with Scripture, enough to compete, challenge, and overcome other influences and the fallen nature itself. To this end, both quantity and quality are needed. That is, there must be enough Scriptural intake to accomplish this goal with enough depth of meditation to let it penetrate past the surface of the mind and soul. This takes both discipline and love for the Word, but ultimately it requires  a great love for God with a commitment to be wholly his.

As he does every year at this time, Justin Taylor posted a great piece on his blog calling us to be committed readers of the Bible in the coming year along with many, many resources about reading plans, specialty Bibles, etc. Read it. Find inspiration. Find a reading plan that works for you. Most likely I will be using the ESV Study Bible plan again, because it works so very well.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules[c] of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.    

      – Psalm 119:9-16, ESV

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Athanasius on the Incarnation

OntheincarnI have not posted in about four months due to an overextended schedule. Hopefully, that is done for a while. Here is an old post from a few years ago that is relevant on this Christmas day.

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I have just started my way through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation to help with my Advent  reflections.  For Athanasius, the study of theology always leads to worship and wonder – or maybe it is better said that for him theology and worship are intertwined.  His words are in bold italics below.

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word will also be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.  For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident (page 25).

A placard in Olympia, WA, placed next to Christmas displays at the capitol: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds.”
That is nothing compared to the current, horrible persecution of Christians in Orissa, India.
Does not our handling and reaction to suffering, persecution, foolishness of the world, etc. reveal who we really are, just as Christ’s sufferings reveal his nature?  Is not the world’s hatred of us believers an affirmation of our faithfulness to Christ?  The Son could only reveal himself in fullness by taking human form – there needed to be something physical, touchable, to abuse, so that the world could see how a perfect man reacts and so that man’s sinful hatred of God could be even further exposed.  In a similar fashion, our handling of suffering reveals our level of sanctification – which is a measure of how like Christ we are.

He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men (page 26).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).  The Word took on flesh due to a mission, and that mission was to save souls.  That mission originated in and was motivated by the love of God the Father for the world.  Yes, God takes sin seriously – his Son had to take on a body so that he could die in our place – but love drives the whole enterprise. To ignore such love is utter foolishness and great affront to God.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning.  There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same same Word Who made it in the beginning (page 26).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…. 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” (John 1:1-3, 14, ESV).

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
(Joy to the World, verse 4).

The Son, the Word, was co-creator in the beginning.  And he is the One through whom the New Creation comes, both in our experience presently of regeneration and in the new heavens and new earth at his second coming.  No act of creation, whether physical or spiritual is apart from the Word. The creator takes on what He created in the beginning, humanity, to redeem humankind.  He uses the vessel, humanity, though which sin entered the world, to redeem it. Talk about reversals! Amazing! Athanasius points out that before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in fellowship with the Word, but with the Fall left its life-giving embrace.  God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word (page 38). So the Word came to man to give life again to all who would respond. The responders are embraced. With just a few sentences, Athanasius connects the beginning of the Bible to its end, showing the Word to be central figure in all of history.

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Bishop Bastian post: “What Book Should Come Next to the Bible?”

Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian has written a nice article about the Classic Catechism on his blog, Just Call Me Pastor. In the post Bastian promotes catechesis in general, gives an overview of how the Classic Catechism came to be, and discusses the international interest in it. So see the post, What Book Should Come Next to the Bible?, and enjoy.

And thank you, Bishop Bastian, for your priceless input during the development of the Classic Catechism, and for your continued support of it.

With Bishop Bastian at General Conference 2015.

With Bishop Bastian at General Conference 2015.

 

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Mentors Give Perspective and so Much More

When you feel small and sometimes out of place in your denomination, the timely attention of a mentor comforts and inspires in ways that are

Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian reviewing the Classic Catechism at General Conference 2015.

Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian reviewing the Classic Catechism at General Conference 2015.

difficult to describe. The relationship does not have to be an “official” mentoring relationship where both mentor and mentee have formally agreed to meet for professional or spiritual formation of the mentee. It might just happen around a shared interest across generations.

One of my unofficial mentors has been Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian. When I began working on the revision of the old Catechism of the Free Methodist Church which became the Classic Catechism, I needed someone with deep Free Methodist roots and a sharp theological and pastoral mind to review drafts. Since I was still relatively new to the Free Methodist Church, I needed input to make sure the final product would ring true to Free Methodist ears, not only in content but also in feel. At some point, I contacted Bishop Bastian and asked if he was willing to review drafts and give me feedback. He was willing, and so the emailing began. The feedback was timely, wise, and greatly improved my submission to the publisher. Also, being able to mention his help in the preface gave legitimacy to the project, something a bishop can do like no other.

One of the benefits that became clear to me through the help of Bishop Bastian is the importance of seeking counsel from ministers who served previous to my generation. There is a timeless wisdom there and a way of looking at things that is at once unnatural to me and at the same time makes me wish I had lived in that previous generation. Ministers are very foolish indeed who look only to the latest books on ministry and church growth and mega church pastors who “know how to do real ministry today.” C.S. Lewis made a similar statement about books in an essay included in On the Incarnation. He wrote,

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means old books (1977, p. 4-5).

I am thankful to Bishop Bastian who gives me a perspective that I would not have without his input. He is a precious, classic, “old book,” and I mean that with great respect.

May the Lord make more of us into mentors for younger people, and may he help us to be patient with them as good mentors have been to us.

Reference

Athanasius (1977). On the incarnation. With an introduction by C.S. Lewis. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladamir’s Seminary Press.

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Classic Catechism Seminar Materials – General Conference

Below are the PowerPoint slides and the simple handout I will use for seminar on the Classic Catechism this Wednesday.

Using the Classic Catechism handout Gen Conf 2015

Catechism Presentation for General Conference 2015

 

 

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Classic Catechism at General Conference on Wednesday

On Wednesday, July 15, at 7 a.m. I will give a seminar on the Classic Catechism at General Conference in room Boca IV. Come hear about its origin and join in brainstorming about using it for discipleship and more. 

 

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Christian Life After Yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling: Helpful Links

indexHere are a few links that I have found helpful in my initial processing of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage and essentially changed the legal definition of marriage.

My own bishops of the Free Methodist Church-USA issued a sound statement on the ruling and reminded us of where we stand as a denomination:

As Free Methodists, we remain committed to our best understanding of what God intended from the very beginning, what Jesus affirmed, and what virtually all followers of Christ have understood almost universally until relatively recently. We unequivocally affirm that from the beginning God intended marriage as composed of one man and one woman committing themselves to one another in a lifelong covenant of faithful love. In this union, where two become one flesh, God intends the reflection of God’s own self, God’s own image (see our 2011 Book of Discipline, par. 3215, 3311).

A post from Bishop David Kendall back in 2012 is helpful on the whole issue of Re-Defining Marriage. At the conclusion of his post, Kendall wrote,

But what if we “re-defined” marriage in practice?  What if followers of Jesus truly followed Jesus?  If in Jesus’ name, we found grace to wait on sexual expression, grace to enter into deep and joyful intimacy with the one to whom Jesus leads us, grace to forgive and be forgiven, grace to become truly one in Jesus, grace to weather the storms of life together better and stronger than on our own, grace to grow old graciously and sweetly together, grace to experience a bond so insoluble that even death does not threaten?  What if among more and more of us, God’s good idea of marriage—God’s idea—appeared on beautiful and inviting display?

How might God work if we could “re-define” marriage, beginning in our homes, in such ways?

In Everything Has Changed – The Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage,  Albert Mohler makes many important points, among them reminding us of the growing animosity toward traditional Christians that we must learn to live with:

One of the most dangerous dimensions of this decision is evident in what can only be described as the majority’s vilification of those who hold to a traditional view of marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. Justice Samuel Alito stated bluntly that the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” According to the argument offered by the majority, any opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in moral animus against homosexuals. In offering this argument the majority slanders any defender of traditional marriage and openly rejects and vilifies those who, on the grounds of theological conviction, cannot affirm same-sex marriage.

Own Strachen gives us Five Implications of the Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision. One of the things we should do, he writes, is

Lastly, we should cultivate our families and reinvest in our marriages. It’s right and even needed to seek the reversal of this decision and the undoing of its many baleful effects. We must and should do that, and every single Christian should participate meaningfully in the political system at every level they can. But let’s get this straight: our major work going forward, along with what I’ve said thus far, should in truth be the cultivation of our own gardens.

Kevin DeYoung, who has written a wonderful book called What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality, posted a helpful response: But What Does the Bible Say? He emphasizes loving our neighbor and holding fast to biblical truth. He wrote,

Any Christian who really believes the Bible must believe all of the Bible. You can’t applaud what Jesus says about loving your neighbor from Leviticus 19, if Leviticus 18 and 20 are throwaway chapters. You can’t unpack the good news of Romans 8, if Romans 1 is overstuffed with cultural baggage. You can’t marvel at the goodness of God’s creation, if there is no good design in how he created things. Either the Bible is God’s Word or we are sufficiently godlike to determine which words stay and which words go.

The cultural breezes are blowing against us. The worldly winds are stiff in our faces. But the hard parts of the Bible are no less true for being less popular. The Bible says what it says, so let us be honest enough to say whether we think what the Bible says is right or wrong. Diarmaid MacCulloch, a decorated church historian and gay man who left the church over the issue of homosexuality, has stated the issue with refreshing candor:

This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong. (The Reformation: A History, 705).

Yes, those are the only alternatives.

Lastly, Denny Burk offers good counsel to pastors in A word to pastors preaching in the aftermath of Obergefell v. Hodges. To summarize: be biblical, courageous, practical, and holy. All of which require boldness and a willingness to suffer the consequences.

May the Lord give us wisdom to know how to live in this fallen world, commitment to hold fast to his truth, and strength as we enter a time of increased marginalization.

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