Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why have a Bible Reading plan?

If you choose to read or have read any of my postings, I hope you notice a difference in what I believe being a follower of Christ is, as opposed to what we often hear preached and taught, not only at UCC, but at many so called "evangelical" churches. It is the 21st century Americanized gospel of "me, and my value to God" that bothers me, when it should be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Treven Wax says this in his book, Counterfeit Gospels, "Even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth. Why? Because they are easy. They cost us less. And they make us popular with people whose opinions matter to us.   ...Counterfeits leave our hearts and affections for God depleted at just the time we should be overflowing with passion to share the good news with others." (page 13) Do we really think that all there is to salvation is joining a church or saying a prayer or participating in a ritual and it ends there? Or that it does not end there, but continues based on my actions or merit?

It is not about what I bring to God, it is about what God has done for me in Christ. It is not about my efforts to live up to a moral code, but rather my response to his grace that should determine my steps. And if I truly see Him as beautiful, then my response will far surpass any moral code that would be set before me. Isn't this what Jesus meant when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-28) In this and many other instances, Jesus takes the law and enlarges it rather than minimalizing it. He makes it a matter of heart, not a matter of mere obedience. He makes it something that we can only accomplish through grace. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) The good news is not that I couldn't do it before, and now I have to do it, the good news is that I couldn't do it before, can't do it now, won't do it in the future, but Christ has done it for me so I can now live in the freedom to love Him and respond to Him out of love, not obligation.

So let's look at the 8 reasons to listen to God daily, as listed in UCC's Daily Bible Reading plan. As we read, ask yourself, are these things God centered or me centered? Are the Scriptures indicative of what the Bible teaches as a whole or are they pulled out of context to support a thought that is not one that is intended to be taught?

1.  So that my prayers will be answered. (John 15:7)
  • GOD: My grace is freely given, but answered prayers, now that's gonna cost ya. (Sarcasm intended)
  • A popular Prosperity Theology text and use of text. This type of thinking can lead to the thought that if one does not get their prayers answered, it is because they aren't doing enough. So I ask myself, was Paul not doing enough when he asked to have his thorn in the flesh removed? Was David not doing enough when he prayed for his infant son's life to be spared? How about John the Baptist? Did he ever pray to get out of prison or to not be beheaded? Did he suffer his fate because he was not committed enough? Does this idea glorify God as sovereign or does it make Him my puppet? Does this verse even remotely apply to the idea of a daily Bible reading plan? Perhaps remotely, as those who remain in Jesus will have a thirst for his word. But will a Bible reading plan get my prayers answered? Should this be a motivation that we promote for reading the word? But then why not talk about that, how as a Christian I should hunger and thirst to know more about the God who sent His one and only Son to die for me? Now, I know that the Bible says that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective (James 5:16). But the Bible also says that there are none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10) Any righteousness we have is what is granted through Christ, and not through works! It is not about me.

2.  So my decisions will be wise. (Psalm 32:8)
  • While I agree that there is much wisdom to be found in the Bible, reading it is not enough to grant us true wisdom, that requires a surgical procedure by the Holy Spirit. No one knew the Scriptures and studied them more than the Pharisees. Yet they, in their wisdom, crucified Jesus. It is not about me.

3.  So I will not sin. (Psalm 119:11) Now read Psalm 119:9-16.
  • This is not a text about a man merely reading God's word, but a part of a passage about a man who passionately and dearly loves the God who is behind those words. It is a man who meditates on those words and delights in them. It is a man who sees the beauty of God and desires to get as close to Him as humanly possible. It is not a man who is merely seeking to be a better, more sinless person. It is not about me.
4.  So I can find comfort. (Psalm 119:52
  • Yes, comfort in the midst of suffering, not a padded pew and AC, or a better retirement income. Read verse 53! "Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law." Who are the wicked? Those who do not honor and glorify God. So again, more than promoting a reading plan, we need to promote the God who is the author of that plan. We will be comforted when we see Him as beautiful and caring for us. We will be comforted by His love for us in the midst of our trials. We will be comforted as we see He has a plan for everything and knows us intimately. It is not about me.
5.  So I can get the most out of life. (Joshua 1:8)
  • This verse is about more than a daily study time. It is about a life-style. Joshua had taken over for Moses, who in a moment of weakness had dishonored God. Moses's punishment was he was not able to enter into the promised land, he would only see it from a distance. Moses not only read Scripture, he wrote Scripture! So how does one interpret "getting the most out of life?" If it is living in the joy of knowing God, then yes, this is true. If we interpret "getting the most out of life" as being prosperous and successful by this world's standards or having less stress or trials, then a long line of men like Moses, David, and even John the Baptist would have some legitimate complaining to do. To make an ambiguous statement such as this is dangerous. It is not about me.
6.  So I can know what is true. (Acts 17:11)
  • Yes, truth is important. But sometimes by truth we mean "our truth." Are we really reading the Bible to get truth, or are we merely seeking to defend a position we already hold? The Bereans were considered "more noble," not just because they searched the Scriptures to find the truth, but also because the "received the message with great eagerness." It's not just about reading, it is also about how we read. Are we zealously searching for the truths that God wants us to receive? Again, the Pharisees read and memorized the Scriptures more than any others, but Jesus still called them "blind guides" because they did not read to perceive, they read to validate their own ways. It is not about me.
7.  So I can be close to God and learn from Him. (Hebrews 10:22)
  • Yes! This should be reason #1 out of 1. Psalm 63:1  "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water." or Deut. 6:4-5 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" I could go on. It is not about me.
8.  So I will have hope. (Romans 15:4)
  • After reading many of these reasons, I find myself asking, "Hope in what?" I think part of my frustration is the ambiguity of these statements. Hope that I will get my prayers answered better? Hope for wisdom? Hope for avoiding sin? Hope for comfort? Hope for a better life now? Hope for knowing the truth? Read Romans 15:1-4! Or the entire chapter for that matter. It is not even talking about a hope of salvation, but a hope to know God and one that drives our desire to serve God sacrificially, just as Christ served us! It is a hope drives us passionately toward a deeper commitment to walk in Him based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we afraid of turning someone off because of the truth that we need to speak? Because it is not about me.
Agree or disagree, all I am trying to do is be zealous for God and search for the truth. What I see in these reasons and their attached proof-texts is a quick and careless treatment of the God I love. We can justify many behaviors with a quick statement and a Bible text. I hear it almost every Sunday. But remember, when Jesus quoted a text, He was speaking to an audience where many intimately knew those words and the context they were found in. Today, many people have no deep theological basis and are eager to be spoon fed what to do, how to act, and how to believe; so a grain of Scripture often is all the authority they need. If the truth of the Scriptures is all about God, then I need to  stop looking at bits and pieces and dig into it to know the truth. I need to approach it looking for what it reveals about Him. It is not about me.

Proverbs 1:7 (Msg) "Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning."

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