Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Christmas Story In Chronological Order

There's only one place to get the true facts of the Christmas story - read the Bible version. Below are the scriptures dealing with the birth of Christ, in chronological order, as they happened. Take your time, and read these passages in order, for a simple but accurate Christmas Season Bible Reading Plan.

There are some amazing events and incredible drama recorded in these passages -  miracles, angels, Magi, prophets, the Star, and of course, the birth of the King of kings. 

Luke 1:5-25
The Birth Of John The Baptist Foretold

Luke 1:26-56
The Birth Of Jesus Foretold
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Mary's Song Of Praise

Luke 1:57-80
The Birth Of John The Baptist
Zechariah's Prophecy

Matthew 1:18-25
The Angel Appears To Joseph

Luke 2:1-7
The Birth Of Jesus

Luke 2:8-20
The Shepherds And The Angels

Luke 2:21-38
Jesus Is Presented In The Temple
The Prophecy Of Simeon
The Prophecy of Anna

Matthew 2:1-23
The Wise Men
Herod's Attempt To Kill Jesus
The Escape To Egypt
The Return To Nazareth

Luke 2:39-40
Jesus grows up in Nazareth

Sunday, December 14, 2014

7 Good Bible Reading Habits

Over the years, I've discovered 7 good Bible reading habits that I'd like to share. If you put these 7 habits into practice, I know you will be blessed. Since the Bible is the unique, inspired Word of God, the only way to know who God is, what He has done, what He will do, and what He desires from us, is to read it. So, here we go......

HABIT #1:  Keep Reminding Yourself Of  How The Bible Is Divided
As you read the Bible, always remind yourself of the big picture. In other words, be in the habit of thinking about what section you are in, i.e., history books, or books of law, or poetry books, or prophecy books, or letters to Christians. This will give you a good perspective of what you are reading.

The Bible is comprised of 66 books.  There is the Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books).  In very general terms, the Old Testament is about the development of the Jewish nation in which a Messiah would come, and the New Testament is about the Messiah (Jesus), who came through that nation. The Bible is somewhat in order, but not in true chronological order. Instead, it is divided into general sections. 

The Old Testament (39 Books)
Early History of Man and Old Testament Law:  First 5 Books (Genesis to Deuteronomy)
History (of the Jewish Nation):  Next 12 Books (Joshua to Esther)
Poetry (in writing style not in rhyme):  Next 5 Books (Job to Song of Songs)
Prophecy:  Next 17 Books (Isaiah to Malachi)

The New Testament (27 Books)
Gospels (the life of Jesus): First 4 Books (Matthew to John)
History (of the Christian church):  Next Book (Acts)
Epistles (letters to Christians):  Next 21 Books (Romans to Jude)
Prophecy (John's end times vision):  Next Book (Revelation)

HABIT #2:   Always Have A Reading Plan
Don't just randomly pick a place in the Bible to read. And please, don't close your eyes, open up the Bible somewhere, point your finger on a specific place in the page, and open your eyes thinking that's exactly what God wanted you to read. Yes, God wants you to read His word, but read it with a purpose and a plan.

It's best not to read the Bible for the first time by starting at page one and continuing through. You will get bogged down in Old Testament law real quick. And since the New Testament gives the way of salvation through Christ, I would start there, in the New Testament. For a first time reader, start with one of the Gospels, then the book of Acts, then an Epistle, then another Gospel, then another Epistle. Then read Genesis, but always working in another Epistle before going back to another Old Testament book. Make sure you get through all the Gospels and all the Epistles before going through much of the Old Testament.

There are several Bible reading plans you can find online, or in book form. Choose one that you feel you can follow and accomplish. And if you want, make you own plan, such as reading a particular book of the New Testament, maybe a chapter a day. Just take your time, and just have a plan!

HABIT #3:   Highlight Your Bible
Don't be afraid to highlight your Bible, or make notes in the margins. You would be surprised how it helps you, and how many times you will refer to those markings in the future. Even if you use only electronic versions of the Bible, most of them give you the ability to highlight and even make notes.

To be honest, if I was living in a country where Bibles are scarce, I probably wouldn't mark it up. Or if the only Bible I had was a family Bible that was passed down generations, I wouldn't make markings in that one, either. However, in our country, where Bibles are so accessible, and where many people have 2, or 3, or even more Bibles in their homes, I think making notes or highlights is a different story. However, if you are really against it, then at least take notes.

HABIT #4:  Occasionally Compare Bible Translations
Some people are totally and exclusively hooked on one particular translation of the Bible. Some churches actually only consider the King James Bible as the one and only true Bible. To me, the one and only true Bible is the original one written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Everything else is a translation from those languages into another language, such as English.

Now it's true that some translations are more literal than others, and these are the ones that are a 'word for word' translation. They include The New King James Bible, and The New American Standard, among others. You should definitely have one of these literal translations if you want to be as accurate to the original text as possible.

A second type of Bible translation is based on "thought for thought". Bibles are usually easier to read because of the way they are worded. These include translations such as The New International Version or The New Living Translation. And finally, a third type of translation would be the "paraphrase" type Bibles such as The Message. The problem with paraphrase Bibles is that they may stray too far away from the original language, so be cautious with these.

If I'm looking for additional insight or perspective, I like to occasionally compare, side by side, at least two different translations. You'll find that the different translations basically say the same thing, but in a slightly different way. Sometimes this helps you to better understand a passage. There are several Bible websites that allow you to compare translations. BibleGateway is one of my favorites.

HABIT #5:  Ask Yourself The Right Questions
When reading scripture, always ask yourself good questions: Who wrote the passage? Who is it written to? What is the context (what comes before it and after it). What can I learn about God from the passage? What can I learn about myself from the passage? Does the passage challenge me with a response, perhaps something God wants me to be better at?  What does God want to teach me from this passage?

HABIT #6:  Read Some Scriptures Every Day
It's important to read some scriptures every day, even if it's just a few sentences. Of course, a Bible reading plan is the best way (#2 above). There's just something about developing the habit of daily reading scriptures. It develops and strengthens your faith. At a minimum, at least sign up for a daily email devotion, or a verse for the day type of routine.

HABIT #7: Share What You Learn
Reading the Bible on your own is one thing, but discussing it with other people brings it to a whole new level. There's a scripture that says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). Sometimes another person who reads the same scripture can give you addition perspective and understanding. So, share what you have been reading, especially something that really is special to you.

I'm sure you can come up with more good habits when it comes to Bible reading. I guess the key is to make Bible reading a 'habit', a routine, a practice. Do that, and your life will be enhanced. You will grow spiritually, your relationship with God will grow, and you will come to know Him more fully.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Secret Of Being Content

Have you ever met anyone who claimed to be content? I'm not talking about someone who seemed to be content, I'm talking about someone who claimed to be content. It seems it's a rarity, at least in our culture. We've got 2 things going against us who live in the US as far as contentment is concerned. First, like all people everywhere, being content is against our human, selfish nature. As Christians, we need to constantly battle selfishness and greed because Satan keeps tempting us in that area. Secondly, our culture in the US is anti-contentment. Because of our materialistic society, we are always conditioned to desire more and more things. It's the old keeping up with the Jones' mentality. 

Forget the basic necessities when it comes to living in America. We want extravagance. That word means luxury or indulgence. Just look at all the commercials on TV, magazines, and newspapers. It's all about trying to persuade you to buy more and better stuff, whether you need it or not.

By definition, to be content is to be satisfied. And it seems no one is satisfied any more. We're not satisfied with our jobs, or how much money we make, or where we live, or what we have, or our cars, or our house. 

When I visited Tanzania, Africa, there were families living in places we would not even call a house. Some were just plain, small block structures with only openings for windows and no electricity or running water. A lot of these houses were small, family farms where they grew their own food as well as food to sell or trade. It made me wonder, could these people still be content? 

With that being said, being content doesn't mean we must live in poverty. In other words, we do not need to live in poverty in order to find contentment. On the other hand, we do not need to gain great wealth and riches as the means to acquire contentment. Perhaps the real definition of contentment is being glad, being fulfilled, and being ok regardless of the circumstance we are in. Being content, whether one is poor or rich, is having an inner peace unrelated to an outward condition. 

So what is the secret of being content? Well, there is a special ingredient. It's revealed in the passage below written by the Apostle Paul.

"Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13 NASB)

Paul learned to be content regardless of the circumstance. There were times when he had little and was hungry, and there were times when he had much and was well fed. But in both of those two extreme situations, he was content, he was satisfied, and he was ok. Why? He explains the reason. Paul says, "I have learned the secret." What is the secret? How did Paul find contentment no matter what? He reveals the answer in this statement, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

You see, true contentment does not have a direct correlation with wealth. But it does have a direct correlation with God. Contentment does not necessarily increase as wealth increases. But contentment does increase as your relationship with God increases.

And it's true that someone living in poverty can have terrible struggles and trials, but they still can find inner peace and contentment in knowing Christ. That's because there's hope and peace in knowing His love and the hope we have in Him. Just as those in poverty can still find contentment, those who are wealthy can also find peace and contentment, but only through knowing Christ. And furthermore, if we are in Christ, the Spirit of Christ is in us. And that is what gives us the strength and endurance to handle what comes our way.

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  (Romans 4:17)

There's nothing wrong with being wealthy as long as one who is wealthy is a good steward. However, the love of money should not be our motivation in life, and certainly it can't be our fulfillment. This doesn't mean we should not work hard and be responsible. It's just that life is not about finding wealth, it's about finding contentment.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

Another wonderful thing about contentment is that is shows no partiality. It doesn't matter what one's social condition, culture, economic status, intelligence, skill, or race is, the contentment that is found in Jesus is equally available to every person, and in equal quantities.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."  (Colossians 3:15)

Those who are not in Christ may not understand what I've been saying, but those who are in Christ know exactly what I'm talking about.

"Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy." (1 Peter 1:8)

Amen!