Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reading: Zephaniah

The Book of Zephaniah is the prophecies of Zephaniah, a man who introduces himself as a part of the royal lineage and descendant of Hezekiah.  He prophesied in Jerusalem during the reign of Josiah, the King of Judah from 640-609 BC.

The book focuses on the impending judgment of God and the restoration of God’s people.  In fact, it mentions the day of the Lord more than any other book in the Old Testament.  The message of this book is applied to todays Christians as a reminder of the judgment of God and is a call to godly living.  We are by nature a sinful people but the Book of Zephaniah reminds us that our God is one of restoration. It is in Christ that we find our hope and salvation and our lives should reflect that.

Application Verses

Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests - 1:7

Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger - 2:3

She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God - 3:2

Therefore, wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent - 3:8-9

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing - 3:17

Monday, June 8, 2015

"How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible" by Keith Ferrin

You read the Bible, but do you ENJOY reading the Bible?  Is it something that you like or something you do because you have to?

These are very important questions.  If you don’t like the reading the Bible, you will be missing things that are very important.  If you’re just reading the Bible because you think you have to, it may not speak to you the way it should.

Keith Ferrin knows what this is about.  For years, he has been speaking to churches and writing books about a person can enjoy the Bible and get the most out of it.  His latest book, How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible, is full of help and guidance to make sure that you can get everything you need.  This book shows you the best way to approach the Bible from a relational mindset.

When it comes to the Bible, I have always been a studier.  I like sitting down with my Bible, a workbook, a pen, and a journal.  I have always felt that if I’m not writing things down, I’m not learning.  Sitting down to just the read the Bible has always resulted in my mind wandering and at the end of it all, I don’t feel like I have taken in much at all.

But this is the way that the book advocates.  It tells you to get rid of the pens and the workbooks (for now) and just read.  Spend time in the word.  Start in one spot and just read.  Focus on your relationship with God.  Treat reading the Bible like sitting down for coffee with a friend.  

The book has ten tips that will help you get to this point.  While it sounds easy enough to do, it can be difficult for many people.  Each tip comes with a study guide, Scripture references, and a prayer at the end.  The study guide is great for group use but also works well for the individual.  

Right from the start, I could feel this book changing my views on how to read the Bible.  I did as the book says and I put away my study guides and just began to read.  And while it was an adjustment, it was good.  Sometimes, we just need to go back to the basics, go back to what is easy.  Rather than searching for the answers, I felt like they were coming to me.

My favourite part of this book though is that there are some reading guides. Ferrin shares different ways that you can read the Bible to really enjoy it and get to know it.  There is the 60 Day Adventure (in which you spend 60 days reading one book, with the examples of Philippians and 2 Timothy), 4 month challenges (with guides), and a Group Study Plan (Ephesians is given as the example.)  I plan to use this book solely over the next year to guide my reading by trying all of the plans given.  

It doesn’t take long to read through this book and understand what it is teaching.  If you’re new to the Bible, a struggling reader, or a longtime Bible student, there is something in this book for you to gain a better understanding of God’s Word.  I highly recommend this small but impactful book.  As the Gary Thomas quote on the cover of the book says, “this book delivers on what the title promises.”

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reading: Habakkuk

Habakkuk was written by the prophet of the same name in the mid to late 7th century BC.  This book is the eighth in the set of minor prophets.  Much of the book is a dialogue between God and Habakkuk, in which Habakkuk questions the violence he sees before him and what God is doing about it.  The book is useful to Christian living as it speaks to a person growing in their faith and putting absolute trust in God.  

Verse 2:4 is the central message of the book.  “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”  This message is repeated three times in the New Testament:

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. - Romans 1:17

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. - Galatians 3:11

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. - Hebrews 10:38

Application Verses

Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. - 1:12

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. - 2:14

His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.  And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. - 3:3-6

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. - 3:18

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reading: Nehemiah

I had recently finished reading a book that related the topic (building the Kingdom) to the book of Nehemiah.  The next morning, as I read through my Twitter feed I found a lot of people I followed tweeting passages from Nehemiah, and I thought that it was good enough reason for me to also read the book.  As I had recently decided to read the Bible rather than study it, this was a good place to start, a book I was pretty unfamiliar with.  Here is what I learned:

The Book of Nehemiah tells of the work to rebuild Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.  Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the King, a high-ranking official in the Persian court of King Artaxerxes I at the capital city of Susa, which is in modern-day Iran.  Nehemiah got permission from the King to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its walls.  The work was completed in 52 days and while he was there, Nehemiah also made a genealogy of all the nobles, officials, and people who were living in Judah.  The Book of Nehemiah and The Book of Ezra was usually read together as one long book.

Application Verses

The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build. - 2:20

Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. - 9:5

Remember me, O my God, for good. - 13:31

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Adventures in Saying Yes" by Carl Medearis

This is a call to overcome your fears and live a life that boldly proclaims your faith.

The Medearis family consists of Carl, his wife Chris, and their three children.  A quick look at them shows that they are your typical American family.  But they have lived a very unusual life, one that is completely foreign to most North Americans.  For 12 years they lived in Lebanon, sharing the Gospel with neighbours and strangers, many times risking their lives to do so.  They survived war, prison, and death threats but through it all they faithfully and joyfully proclaimed the love of Jesus Christ because God never left their side.  

We can’t all leave our lives to go to another country but the call to live a life of bold faith is for everyone right where they are.  God wants us to put our fears aside, to remove doubt and worry from our lives, and begin to live the adventure God has put in front of us.  

Adventures in Saying Yes: A Journey from Fear to Faith by Carl Medearis is the story of one family who chose to say yes to whatever God asked of them and along the way learned how exciting a faithful life in God is.

Carl Medearis is an international expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations.  His years spent in the Middle East mean he has incredible stories of the efforts to spread the Gospel throughout the region and many of those stories are in this book.  There are stories of preaching Jesus in mosques, bringing people to Jesus at a gas station restaurant, and meeting people who spent decades in the Middle East and saw only one person come to Jesus (imagine the delight that God has in drawing that one person close to Him.)  There are also stories of learning to live in a new culture, neighbours taking care of each other, and living out Jesus’ command to love one another.  

But this book isn’t just a memoir of living in the Middle East.  Neither is it a call to the missionary life.  It’s about opening your heart to whatever God has in store for you.  Of not letting fear get in the way.  And this is what makes the book so strong.  While you will be inspired by the lives of the Medearis family, you will begin to open yourself up to hear what God is saying to you through the book.  It will have you looking inward to see where in your life you are being held back by fear and where you should be saying yes instead of no.

This is also a great book for people who spend time with people of other faiths on a day to day basis.  There is a lot to be learned from Carl Medearis about how you can cultivate relationships that open people up to hearing about Jesus without negativity.  For over a decade I have lived and worked in predominantly Muslim communities and my biggest lesson has been in the importance of building relationships.  Sharing the Gospel can take years of building up relationships first.  

Many of us are scared of opening ourselves up to what God wants from us.  That is understandable, few people find it easy to give up control, even to God.  But this book shows us that when God calls us to something, He never leaves our side.  And He is calling us to boldly proclaim the Gospel, at home and throughout the world.  It’s time for us to put our fears aside and see what amazing things God is going to do with us.  

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Baker Publishing Group.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reading vs. Studying

I recently started reading a book by Keith Ferrin called How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible.  The back of the book says, “Do you feel like you should read the Bible more? This book will help you want to read it.”  

I must admit, this is a book I really need.  It’s not just about spending more time in the Bible, it’s about the type of time you spend in it.  And one of the things that Ferrin talks about early on is the difference between reading the Bible and studying it.  

I’m a studier.  I like to get out my Bible, get a workbook, be asked specific questions, and then go find the answer and write it down in my book.  I can do this for a topical study or for the study of a particular book (though I prefer topical studies.)

But how much am I really taking in by doing this?  Am I really understanding the bigger picture? Am I letting it speak to me?

I’ve never really enjoyed sitting down to just read because I find that when I do, my mind wanders and I don’t feel like I’m remembering very much.  But maybe the key isn’t about how much I can remember.  Maybe it’s about giving the Bible an opportunity to speak to me.  Maybe it’s about spending time with God in a relational way, not a teacher-student way.

So, I’m spending a lot of time with this book by Keith Ferrin and really paying attention to what it is saying.  I’m putting aside my study methods of the Bible and I’m spending my time just reading.  I’m letting life lead me to what I read and I’m following the challenges set forth in the book.  I’ll let you know how it goes and my review of the book will be up in a couple of weeks.

How about you? Are you a reader, a studier, a combination of both? Do you enjoy reading your Bible? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond" by Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller

Canada is home to one of the most diverse populations on the planet, ethnically, culturally, and religiously.  This is something to celebrate but also something that is changing the nature of our society, and the church especially.  It may seem that churches are in decline but the Canadian church is responding beautifully to this changing landscape.

In Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond, Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller bring us the stories of churches across the country that are strengthening diverse communities and building up the diversity of the kingdom of God.  Published by World Vision Canada, this is an inspiring and invaluable book.

I was blown away by how inspiring this book is.  I am so thankful to be able to attend a culturally diverse church in the heart of a major city and to be able to witness the amazing work it is achieving in our community and beyond.  And this book showed me the many different ways other churches are meeting the needs of their communities.  Not all churches can operate in the same manner.  Not all churches can meet every need.  But by learning about what others are doing, we can all be continually inspired in our quest to build God’s kingdom.

In this book you’ll find churches that are have decided to make their focus:
  • reaching out to university students
  • opening their doors to new immigrants and refugees
  • using the internet to reach out
  • strengthening marriages
  • blessing their cities with furniture banks
  • supporting single parents
  • encouraging adoptive and foster families
  • creating youth camps
  • equipping youth to be leaders

and many more ideas.

This isn’t just an inspiring book, it is a resource.  Each chapter gives a description of the church and the work it is doing in a couple of pages.  Then, the “More to Explore” section at the end of the chapter shares information about how this church fits into the larger landscape in Canada and gives articles, websites, and programs that further explore this issue.  The Conclusion of the book sums up the work that is being done across the country and gives guidance and tips for doing the same in your own church.

Whether you are in ministry or you attend a congregation, this book will inspire and equip you to mobilize your church to reach out further into your community.  The landscape of our country and these congregations are proving that the church can weather this change and continue to do God’s work in our cities.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications.  The opinions expressed above are my own.