Thursday, June 29, 2017

Read Through the Bible in 2017

December 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Announcements, Events, Featured, Get Connected

D.A. Carson on the Bible

The Word of God is central at Rodgers Baptist Church. Since Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth,” (John 17:17), our desire is to sing the Truth, pray the Truth, and preach and teach the Truth at our gatherings, and to apply the Truth in our daily lives. We sincerely desire to know God, not simply know about Him. This is why the learning of and living out God’s Word is central in our church’s life.

One happy tradition of RBC is Bible Sunday. On the first Sunday of every year special emphasis is placed on the Word of God. Those who read through the Bible in its entirety the previous year are publicly recognized. This is done not to make much of those people, but to celebrate the holy habit of reading through the Bible from Genesis to the Revelation. Also, on this inaugural Sunday of the New Year, we interrupt our normal Sunday school schedule with a lesson devoted to the primacy of God’s Word. Of course, every lesson we teach throughout the year is devoted to scripture, because all our lessons are rooted in and taken from God’s Word.

Still, the Bible Sunday lesson is a unique study on the supremacy of God’s Word. The goal of this annual lesson is to cause us to affirm or be reconfirmed in our commitment to be readers and doers of “the perfect law of liberty.”

It is good for us as the start of 2017 to hear what theologian J.I. Packer originally wrote in 1973 in one of the greatest works of Christian literature ever produced:

“For, though God is a great king, it is not His wish to live at a distance from His subjects. Rather the reverse: He made us with the intention that He and we might walk together forever in a love relationship. But such a relationship can exist only when the parties involved know something of each other. God, our Maker, knows all about us before we say anything (Psalm 139:1-4); but we can know nothing about Him unless He tells us. Here, therefore, is a further reason why God speaks to us: not only to move us to do what He wants, but to enable us to know Him so that we may love Him. Therefore God sends His word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself.” (Knowing God, p. 110 of the IVP 1993 edition) (emphasis mine)

This year’s Bible Sunday lesson will challenge us to follow Ezra’s example from Ezra 7:10, where we read, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do [it], and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”

May we also be able to say, as David did, “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart,” (Psalm 119:121).

Amen and Amen!

Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do [it], and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”

Ezra provides an example that Christians need to follow!  There are four attributes of Ezra that I want you to notice, and, hopefully, commit yourself to.

Prepare Your Heart

If you are to follow Ezra’s example, you must first prepare your heart.  How is that accomplished?  You must:

1. Pray for God’s guidance – Matthew 7:7

Of the many things that we should ask, seek, and knock, God’s wisdom is the greatest.  The only way to gain knowledge, wisdom, and discernment is through the Spirit of God.  And that starts with prayer (James 1:5) Now, how do you think God will supply you with this abundance of wisdom that He has promised?  Do any here believe that you just ask and wait for an anointing of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment?  Look to Proverbs 2:1-6:

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, [and] apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, [and] liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as [for] hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth [cometh] knowledge and understanding.

Knowledge, wisdom, discernment, all of these things come from God – through the Scripture – and to us.  Pray for God’s guidance as you prepare to delve into His Word.

2. Confession of Sin

There is a second step of preparation that is necessary before we can pursue the truths found in God’s Word, and that is confession of sin.  That is stated very plainly in scriptures such as James 1:21. It is impossible to profitably study the Scriptures with an impure mind.

Once we have prayed for God’s guidance and confessed our sins, then we will be prepared to…

Pursue Him in His Word

Ezra sought after the Lord, and the only place you can go to find God is in His Word.  Oh, sure, there is evidence of God all around us. God has written two infallible, inerrant, completely true revelations. One is the Bible, and the other is creation. General revelation will point people to God’s glory (Romans 1:20), but salvation and growth in Christ comes by hearing and heeding His special revelation. All creation is evidence of God’s power, but to really find God you must go to the Scriptures.  1 Peter 2:1-2:  “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:” (emphasis added)

Desire for Scripture

Do you desire Scripture the way a newborn desires milk?  If you’re going to study the Bible, then you have to desire it.  I have heard a story about the famous philosopher Socrates.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but since it illustrates my point really well I’m going to use it.  Socrates was the leading philosopher and teacher of his time and every serious student wanted to be his pupil.  The story states that a young man approached Socrates and said, “Sir, I would like to be your pupil.  Would you teach me?”

Socrates just said “Follow me” then turned and walked into the water, and continued walking until he and this young man were both about chin deep in the water.  Socrates turned to the young man; put both hands on his head and shoved him under the water, holding him there.  Wanting to exercise great respect for the teacher, the young man tried his best quietly to remain below the surface and hold his breath, but after a few moments that became impossible. He began to fight his way back to the surface, with Socrates continuing to hold him underwater.  Finally he let go.  The young man burst out of the water coughing up water and yelling at the older man.  Socrates just looked at him and said, “When you want to know as desperately as you want to breathe, then I’ll be your teacher.”

As newborns desire their mother’s milk we are to desire the pure, spiritual milk of the Word. Ezra “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” Ezra had a desire for Scripture. He was a serious, diligent student of Scripture. You and I must be also!

The only way to gain knowledge of Scripture is by reading it.  There is no shortcut to this. It is vital that we spend time daily in the Word of God and in prayer. As pastors we must not only teach and preach the Bible, we must motivate and equip our people to also be students of God’s Word. Our desire, for ourselves and our people, should be to say as the Psalmist did, “I delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word” (119:16).

Something is wrong if Christians come to church, plug into the Bible, and then unplug themselves on the way out; waiting for the next service to reconnect with the Word of God.  A daily walk, a right fellowship with the Lord, cannot be accomplished without spending time daily in God’s Word.

Are we, like Ezra, pursuing the depth of truths found in God’s Word?  Oh, how we need to be!

Practice and Proclaim Biblical Truth

Not only should we pursue biblical truth as did Ezra, but we should also practice and proclaim the truths that we discover.  Our text simply says, “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it…” If we desire our families and the people in our churches to put into practice the truths of God’s Word, then we must set the example. We learn the Word to live the Word. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” is the charge we have been given in James 1:22. The ultimate goal of Bible study is not increased knowledge but increased holiness and Christlikeness.

 “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra practiced what he preached!  I encourage you to read the book of Ezra and see for yourself how this man always put his faith and trust in the Lord for all matters.  How he always did that which God commanded through Scripture no matter what the circumstances might be.  Ezra was the first of the expository preachers.  Listen to this passage from Nehemiah 8:

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

What a preacher!  Ezra was not ashamed to proclaim the Word of God.  I find it curious when people claim to have a love for the Bible, and claim to be in it daily, and yet never practice or proclaim what they claim to cherish.

Beloved, we need to follow Ezra’s Example.  We need to prepare our hearts by asking for God’s guidance and through confession of our sin.  We must diligently pursue God’s truths.  “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15.  And, lastly but so important, we must be committed to practice those truths “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only” and we must proclaim – teach- others those truths that we have diligently sought and learned.  One wise old preacher told a young preacher, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2.

Are you following Ezra’s exampleIf not, why don’t you commit yourself to begin today?

Howard Hendricks offers the following trifecta in his book Living by the Book: the Art and Science of Reading the Bible:

Read, Record, Reflect

Would you like to start gaining more from your time in the Scriptures? Here are three habits to cultivate that will increase your productivity. Use them every time you open your Bible.

READ – This may seem obvious. Yet too many “readers” are nothing but browsers. They turn pages the way they flip through channels on a TV set, looking for something to catch their interest. The Word doesn’t lend itself to that sort of approach. It requires conscious, concentrated effort. So read portions of the Bible over and over. The more you read them, the more clear they will become.

RECORDIn other words, write some notes. Jot down what you see in the text. Keep a record of your insights and questions. I don’t know how many times someone has said to me, “Prof, what I have to write down is not very good.” Yet the fact is, you can’t build on something you don’t have. So start where you are, even with very elementary things. Everyone starts at the same place. But be sure to write it down. Use a legal pad or notebook to record what you see. In your own words, summarize your observations and insights so that later they will come back to you. Doing so will help you remember what you’ve discovered and use it.

REFLECTThat is, take some time to think about what you’ve seen. Ask yourself: What’s going on in this passage? What is it telling me about God? About myself? What do I need to do on the basis of what I’m reading here? As we’re going to see, reflection, or meditation, is vital to understanding and applying God’s Word.

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