2019 Bible Reading Challenge

A Sad, Sad Ending

Every year I like to offer a Bible Reading Challenge. More than anything else, my goal as a blogger is to draw my readers to the Word of God so that they are reading and studying it for themselves. It’s amazing how that clears up so many of the questions and issues that plague the church today.

During the G4L 2015 Bible Reading Challenge I spent about once a week writing about what we were reading during our chronological read-through of the Bible. So as we set about on the same challenge this year, I didn’t feel the need to do that again.

However…

Today, I read I Kings, chapter 11 and I felt compelled to write. I am pretty sure this chapter is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible. Solomon–the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes–the king known for his great wisdom–the architect of the temple–the man who had untold stores of riches and wealth–the man who asked God for wisdom–yeah, that guy…

Well, what a disappointment.

On Monday, I started a series about worldliness. And, while this is not Part 2 of that series, I believe it fits in very well with the topic of worldliness.

You see, in I Kings 11, we read of Solomon’s very sad and worldly ending. He turned from the Lord and the Lord removed His blessing and declared that Solomon’s Kingdom–all but one tribe–would be torn from his family’s hands. This is when Israel’s split kingdoms begin. All because the wisest man on earth imbibed the world.

It seems he was mostly tempted by women. It says in verse 1–

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites—

And these women that were brought into his harem were the cause of his downfall–

For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not [a]loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.

If I Kings 11 is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible, perhaps this is the saddest verse.

This can teach us some very valuable lessons, as we strive to be conformed to Christ and not to this world.

First, we can never, ever let our guard down.

This is something we can tend to do.  When we are younger, we are easily distracted and before we know it, sin has crept in and taken up residence in our hearts. When we are older, we can get lazy. We are tired of the battle and we just decide to take off a piece of spiritual armor or two for “just a bit” and that’s when our enemy attacks. He is always, always looking for that chink in the armor.

As Paul contemplates his own departure from this earth, he writes to Timothy:  

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Paul continued to fight and to run. He didn’t let himself get distracted or caught up in the things of this world. Oh, he wasn’t perfect but, while he lived in and among the world, he kept his focus on the Lord. And, even as he grew older, he stayed strong–so much so that he could say these words above.

Oh, that we may be like Paul and not like Solomon as we approach the end of our days!

Second, we must know our weaknesses and temptations and turn from them.

We all know our weaknesses. We just do. We know the sin that so easily ensnares us. But God has made us a very important promise in I Corinthians 10:13–

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Solomon could have escaped such a sad end to his life. But Solomon loved his wives more than he loved His God. What a tragic legacy.

When we love God more than our sin, He is faithful and will make a way for us to escape the temptation. But when we embrace our sin and rebel against God, we are left to the consequences and the tragedy of that sin.

Which kind of person are we? Do we choose to hate our sin or to love our sin? These are important questions.

May we live out the encouragement we are given in Hebrew 12:1–

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

May we yield all to God and turn from our sin without exception. And, in doing so, may we avoid the dismal ending that Solomon experienced–simply because he wouldn’t give up his sin.

Third, It’s never too late to change direction.

Okay, so, sadly, there is no indication of Solomon’s repentance and turn from sin. But we must remember that as long as we have breath, we have a choice. We have a choice to turn from that sin that so easily besets us or we have a choice to embrace it. No matter what sin–anxiety and fear, gluttony, sexual sin, wicked entertainment, anger (just to name a few)–we have a choice.

This is good news! It means it is never to late to change our direction! God is faithful and He will help us. His Holy Spirit will guide and direct us as we seek to go a different direction.

Fourth, our sins, past and present, do not have to define our lives.

When Solomon’s life comes to mind, most of us do not think about how it ended. Instead, we think of his wisdom, his role as author of two books of the Bible or builder of the Temple, or perhaps his great wealth. He is not defined or remembered by his great and tragic disloyalty to God.

So we, too, do not need to be defined by our sins. God’s marvelous grace is boundless and free for His children. If we are caught up in the prison of our past it is because we have chosen to walk into the cell and lock it behind us.

We do not need to be defined by past sins and, in fact, Paul starts off with this wonderful verse in Galatians 5–

Stand[a] fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

So we must move on. If we have repented and confessed, we have been forgiven and are free to move on.

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God used Solomon to teach us so much in the scriptures. As I have been reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes so much of the wisdom there is so helpful and profound. But we can learn from his tragic ending, as well.

May our children and grandchildren never sit around bemoaning the terrible ending that we had. May there be no disloyalty to God and no compromise with sin. May God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit guard us through to the end.

 

Are You More Like Saul or David?

It is springtime in our area. The dull, barren ground is turning different shades of green as grasses and weeds come back to life after being dormant all winter. The trees are pushing forth leaves and blooms. The world is coming alive again with vibrant colors. It is one of my favorite times of  year.

What do the plants need to grow?

If you had any science in school, then you probably already know this. They need water, and sunshine, and warm temperatures. They need the nutrients that are in the soil and they need to be disease-free so that they are able to take up those nutrients and process them correctly.

Just as a plant needs certain things to grow, so, too, do we Christians.

I have been reading about David and Saul in I Samuel over the past few weeks and I was so struck by the contrast of these two men. David was called a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) while King Saul was called rebellious, stubborn, and was eventually rejected as Israel’s King (I Samuel 15:23).

Both men committed grave sins. Both men made some really bad choices. We know this because of the events recounted in scripture. One was not a greater sinner than the other–so why was one called “a man after God’s own heart” while the other one was rejected? What made the difference?

I believe there are four very critical differences and that these differences determined their relationship with God–

1) When confronted, David was repentant while Saul was not. In 2 Samuel 12:13, Nathan confronts David about his sin. Without hesitation, David admits his sin and offers no excuses. Compare that to I Samuel 13:11-14, where Samuel confronts Saul about offering a burnt sacrifice himself instead of waiting for Samuel and going through the proper channels. Here we read no less than three excuses and not even one admission of wrong-doing.

In order for growth, transformation, and change to take place, a heart and mind willing to admit wrongdoing and then to repent of that wrongdoing is critical. Excuses will just keep one mired in sin. Like quicksand, it keeps us floundering and hopeless and stuck because we want to blame everyone else for our problems instead of taking ownership of our sins and then working along with the Holy Spirit to eradicate the sin.

2) David is teachable, while Saul is proud. We can see this as we read the Psalms and also as we read the accounts of both David and Saul. This comes across so clearly. A proud heart is never a teachable heart. When one is proud, a know-it-all attitude often comes with it. When there is questioning, it is often done with a demanding spirit–as if they deserve to be told the answer. True humility leads to a teachable heart and this is what we saw in David’s life, both in his writings and in the accounts of his life. In contrast, Saul was a proud man–seeking to kill the man who threatened his kingship and contacting a medium (and going completely against God’s command) when searching for an answer.

The difference is so striking and, honestly, we can see this played out over and over all around us. Pride yields stagnancy, strife, and broken relationships, while a teachable spirit yields vibrant growth and loving, healthy relationships.

3) David was willing to wait on the Lord, while Saul tried to manipulate events to his advantage. David had to wait a very long time to become King. David shows us his heart in Psalm 130:5-6–

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

But we find Saul trying to take matters into his own hands. He clearly did not trust the Lord. Again, the most obvious examples of this are his efforts to eliminate David in order to preserve his kingdom and his sin in contacting a witch to discern what to do. Instead of waiting on the Lord, he jumped ahead and tried to fix things himself.

And what a difference we see! David, anointed as a young man, finally becomes King of Israel at the age of thirty (2 Samuel 5:4). In contrast, three of Saul’s sons are killed and Saul is mortally wounded and ends up committing suicide (I Samuel 31:1-6).

We all have a choice. We can trust in the Lord and wait on Him. Or we can jump ahead and try to manipulate circumstances and fix them to our advantage. One choice leads the believer to vigorous growth and the other leads to spiritual murkiness.

4) David upheld and was dedicated to God’s Word while Saul was more interested in his own opinions and experiences. Psalm 19:7-11 shows us clearly how David felt about God’s Word–

The law of the Lord is perfect, [e]converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the [f]honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

He was passionate about the Word of God and this Psalm has inspired, comforted, and reminded many Christians through the ages of the importance of it.

Saul, on the other hand, was more interested in himself. As this site puts it–

“In essence, Saul’s root character flaw is self-exaltation and self-deception. He thinks he knows better than everyone else, including God. The biggest tragedy is that he’s not even aware of it. The story shows he is completely blind to his arrogance and always believes he’s in the right.” (The Bible Project: King Saul and Self-Deception)

Growth is always greatly hindered when we care more about our own opinions and experiences than we do about the Word. Again, we can see this play out over and over again in the “Christian” culture around us. How often are people much more interested in their own version of “right” and “fair” than in what the Bible teaches? Even going so far as to ignoring proper hermeneutics and twisting scripture to make it say what they want? And, yet, this doesn’t lead to any growth, but rather to a deceived, self-absorbed believer at best or to an unsaved follower of a false religion wrongly called “Christianity” at worst.

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Repentant.

Teachable.

Trusting in and Waiting Upon the Lord.

Viewing God’s Word as my Anchor and Guide for Life.

 

These four things provide a great environment for spiritual growth! The honest question we all must ask ourselves is this: How do I measure up? Are these four things evident in my life?

We may be doing pretty good at one or two of them and struggle with the others. Or we may be doing “okay” at all of them, but could do so much better. Or we may have never even thought about this and have no idea.

If we are really brave, we will ask our spouse or someone else that is close to us. Do they view us as repentant? As teachable? Do we exhibit a willingness to wait on the Lord? Do we uphold God’s Word?

Sometimes this can be very painfully eye-opening but it will be so worth it because it will get us moving in the right direction.

So let’s examine ourselves in light of David and Saul. Which one are we more like?

 

Running Ahead of God

Have you ever faced something that looked utterly unfixable but you just had to fix it? You didn’t know how but you just knew you had to try and do something. And so you come up with all kinds of ideas. You might think of these ideas while you are driving or while you lay in bed at night. Always thinking about how to fix a hopeless situation that so desperately needs to be fixed.

I wonder if Sarah did that, too? Did she lie awake at night wondering if she could help God fix the situation that she and her husband, Abraham, found themselves in? She knew that God had promised land to Abram’s descendants (Genesis 15:18) and yet they didn’t even have any children. That, combined with the fact that she was really old and past child-bearing years, probably caused her much consternation.

I wonder if she fussed and stewed and worried about this seemingly unfixable situation? I wonder if she lost sleep over this?

However she faced this insurmountable problem, she ended up doing what most of us do .

She tried to fix it herself (Genesis 16:1-4). She gave her maid to her husband so that she could have children for her. From our perspective this seems extremely strange. But to Sarah this seemed a very sensible way to fix a very dire situation.

Before we become too critical of her, think about yourself for just a moment. Haven’t you done the same? Oh, it may not have been a situation such as hers that had such far-reaching consequences, but, seriously, haven’t you ever tried to jump ahead of the Lord and fix something?

I know I have. I used to think I could fix situations by talking. God has since shown me that this is unlikely. And that if I am going to talk or discuss I need to wait on His timing instead of jumping ahead and making things worse. Not that I’ve mastered this, by any means. I still run ahead of God occasionally–especially with my family. And it still almost always makes things worse.

There are so many ways we try to run ahead of God instead of waiting. And praying.

Sometimes we do need to bravely and courageously stand up and take a step forward or have a hard conversation. But, so often, we do this without prayer. So often we do this before we seek wise counsel.

History would be very different if Sarah had not run ahead of God and tried to fix her problem without His help. She literally changed the course of history.

Of course, God, in His Sovereignty, knew all of this would happen and His purposes were not thwarted. They can never be thwarted. This thought is a true comfort for all of us who have the tendency to try to fix things.

And another thing to consider here, as well, is that God uses these waiting periods and unresolved situations in our lives to grow us. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God uses all things to transform us into the image of Christ. When we try to fix things, not only may we botch things up but we may lose out on a wonderful opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness.

The thing I have struggled with, particularly, when this subject comes up is this: I hate for circumstances to be unhappy. I long for my life to be filled with ease and comfort and happy thoughts, and–perhaps even more than for myself– I long for this for those I love, as well. And so this makes it especially tempting to try and fix things.

But, before we do anything, we should probably wait a bit, pray, and then seek wise counsel. Anything we do before that will probably, at best, be unproductive, and, at worst, make things so much worse than they already are.

So let’s leave our circumstances in God’s hands rather than trying to help Him fix things. He can take care of it and He will in His timing. And He will be faithful in letting us know when it is time for action. He does this by opening doors and giving us opportunities that could only come from Him. He does this through the counsel of those who have walked with Him for a very long time, making them not only older in the faith than us but but generally so much wiser than we are, as well. And He does this through orchestrating circumstances in such a way that leaves little doubt it is time for action.

Sarah tried to fix her situation and it made things so much worse. Let’s not jump ahead of God like she did.

Reading Your Bible with SPECS

Do you remember *The Prayer of Jabez? Its author ripped a verse out of context and built a whole unbiblical theory around it. And then he wrote a book about it that thousands (or maybe millions?) of people bought and believed. This has happened over and over again and it happens for one reason: Improper interpretation that leads to wrong application.

So much of the unsound teaching and crazy doctrines that are so prevalent today are born out of improper interpretation of scripture which leads to wrong application. I wrote a post recently about interpretation and how important it is. You can find that here. As we head into the new year, I’d like to follow up that post with one on applying God’s Word correctly.

I am hoping that one thing you want to continue or begin in the new year is spending quality time in the Bible. But simply reading a few verses and calling it a day will not be sufficient to mine the treasure of the Word.

I will take just a minute here and caution you about simply using a devotional and reading a verse or two and then some man or woman’s thoughts about those verses. While these can be helpful, they should never be our only time spent with God’s Word. It is so important to study the scriptures for ourselves. As believers, we want to mature from being hand-fed milk to feeding ourselves solid food (Hebrews 5:13-14).

It’s not only important that we read and study the Bible for ourselves but it is also important that we do so in the right way and with the right heart attitude, as was discussed in this post. And then there is one more component: Application. How do we make the most out of its application in our lives? And, even before that, are we really willing to get serious and apply what we read to our own lives? No matter how much it costs us?

Let’s not gloss over this question because this is where we often lose zeal. Are we willing to apply God’s Word no matter how much it costs us? Are we willing to give up worldly things we love? Are we willing to forgive and give up long-held grudges? Are we willing to humble ourselves and forsake our pride? To love the unlovely? To love our enemies? Are we willing to be the odd (and sometimes despised) members of our families and workplaces and, sadly, increasingly, of our churches? Proper application of scripture includes all these and so much more.

As honest students of God’s Word we will embrace the wonderful promises of peace and joy and all of the wonderful blessings held within the scriptures while also understanding that the way of the Cross is one of tremendous sacrifice, difficulty, and persecution.

I just finished reading Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck (which I highly recommend, by the way). It took me awhile to get through, but I finally finished it. The final chapter was on applying God’s Word today. I wish I could share the whole chapter here with you, but, of course, that would be impractical. But one thing he suggests we use for application is the word SPECS. I don’t believe this originates with him and I’ve actually heard of this somewhere before but forgot about it. It was a great reminder and one I thought I’d share here with you.

There are five questions we can ask ourselves as we seek to apply the scriptures, using the acronym SPECS–

S–Does the passage speak of any SIN to be forsaken?
P–Is there any PROMISE to be claimed?
E–Is there an EXAMPLE to be followed?
C–Is there a COMMAND to be obeyed?
S–Is there a STUMBLING BLOCK or hindrance to be avoided?

 

We can use this acronym for any passage we are reading. In the Old Testament, with the exception of Proverbs, we will focus more on drawing principles from the lives and events that we read about. In the New Testament, we will run into much more that applies directly to us, as the Church.

Now don’t forget one extremely important thing: There may be many scriptures that don’t apply directly to you.

We are not reading the Bible just so that we can change us (a self-centered, modern-day thought), we are reading the Bible to know God. This is our main focus: to learn about God. If you are reading the Bible through this year or are spending a good amount of time in the Old Testament in your reading, you may grow discouraged at the lack of application there for you. Please don’t! Our most important task in reading God’s Word is learning about Him.

In fact, may I suggest that, before putting on our SPECS, we answer the question: What does this passage teach me about God?

So why don’t we grab a notebook and pen and put it with our Bible this year as we read? We can write down what each day’s reading tells us about God and then we can put on our “SPECS” and write down any applications as we read the passage in its proper context.

SO are you ready to begin?? Let’s make this year our best and most profitable year yet as we dig into God’s Word with an attitude of submission and obedience. And, in doing this, may we make personal changes that spill out and over into the lives of all those we touch. God is still changing people. May we be the ones He changes this year through the power of His Word!

 

* Here are some links that explore The Prayer of Jabez and its unbiblical principle–

The Real Prayer of Jabez

The Prayer of Jabez and Other Misuses of the Bible

 

A Challenge for 2019

I believe the Bible to be the inerrant and inspired and sufficient Word of God. I believe that it has the answers for all of life and that power for the Christian life is found there. And I believe that God’s precious Word is being attacked at an unprecedented level.

It is my hope that this blog will encourage my readers to honor and defend the Bible. I hope it encourages you to turn to scripture for guidance and direction and to use it as a grid to test all things.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to encourage you, my readers, to read and study the scriptures personally. After all, it is imperative that we don’t rely on fallible men and women for our Christian growth. We should be actively reading and studying the Word for ourselves.

It is with this in mind that I once again am offering a Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge for the new year. I am presenting this about a month early to give you the opportunities to purchase books and to get any materials together in preparation before 2019 gets here.

The 2019 Challenge will be a chronological read-through of God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation. I am excited about this challenge. We did a similar challenge in 2015 and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Reading the entire Bible in a year is life-changing. You can find all of the details here at this page–

2019 Bible Reading Challenge

I truly hope that you will consider joining me in this new challenge. I want to be here to encourage and support you in this and you will find several ways I try to do this at the link above.

“But,” you may be thinking, “I always fail. I never make it through the whole year. Why bother?”

I, like you, said that same thing for many years. And I have two things to say in response to this:

First, yes, you might be right. You might not make it. But you will still have read God’s Word for one month or three or six. It’s not time wasted, no matter how far you get.

And, second, one of these times you will make it through. Don’t give up! It took me fifty years, but one year I actually succeeded in making it the whole way through. I know you can make it, too. Especially with a little help and support.

So why not give it a try? Join the Growing4Life Bible Challenge and commit to reading God’s Word in 2019!

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