Without the Gospel

Deforrested forrest

“Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe …” – John Calvin

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Make the Most of Bible Reading for 2015

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It’s a New Year, and I’m willing to bet many of us have made it a goal (or a resolution) to read more. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, at least one of these books is probably the Bible.

This is good, and important. The great 20th century theologian, J.C. Ryle said, “‘True Christians delight to read the Scriptures, because they tell them about their beloved Savior.”

We should read the Bible to be able to know and delight in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also need to read it to know how to live as God’s people in God’s world.

And if you’re like me, and have tried to read through the Bible, you probably have more examples of failures and frustrations than successes. Now over the years, I have read through the Bible. I have taken time to study it, on my own and at seminary. But it is still a challenge to make my way through a regular and disciplined approach to reading the Bible.

This year, I have created a system to help get myself, and our church – Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, TX – along with anyone from our wider community – both online and in Mansfield, TX – to hit the New Year strong with a quick “win”.

We are reading through the entire Bible in 32 days. Think we’re crazy? Probably. But here’s what this means.

We have taken the most significant chapters and episodes throughout the Bible, and singled them out in a 32 Day Reading Plan, so that in just over one month, we can not only create the habit of regular Bible reading and meditation, but also cover the entirety of the storyline of Scripture, from beginning to end.

Below you can find the links to the resources we are using to helps us get through this goal. Once we finish, we will then look at other ways to continue the new habit of reading Scripture – whether it’s utilizing a “Read through the Bible – Old Testament and New Testament in a Year” type plan, or simple “Read the Bible Book by Book” (both available through the Bible App from Youversion).

Let me also encourage you to find some partners in your goal of reading through the Bible. Whether it’s available through your church home, or simply done with some friends, get with one or two others and share what you are reading, learning and how you are applying the Word of God in your life? If you need help with this, and you are in the area, we’d love to help you at Christ Presbyterian Church (email us at info@cpcmansfield.org).

You can also do this online, by using the hashtag #grow2015 and our @cpcmansfield address on Twitter and Facebook, and we’d love to interact with you, engaging your thoughts, insights and questions as you read with the rest of us.

Let’s read the Bible to know, see and savor our Savior, Jesus Christ, and grow in what it means to live as His people in His world, together.

For the 32 Day Bible Reading and Prayer Guide, and Questions to Ask resources, go to http://cpcmansfield.org/#/resources.

To see my example of putting the questions into practice, click https://www.evernote.com/l/AAOfENoBpAhGBZKhaHWjYyDLsDlNDg2U86c

God is a God of Stifling Freedom, or Beautiful Limitations

1“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

In one of the earliest chapters of the Bible, we come across this verse. What are we to make of it?

For starters, we should probably lose the notion that God is a detached, impersonal, and uncaring “being” in regards to the world. Notice that right after God created everything (Genesis 1), He makes man to “work and keep” all that He has just made. Man was given responsibility to cultivate the “garden” – the arena of all God’s creation activity.

Next, we need to see that God is not a  stuffy buzz-kill.  God gave Adam nearly unrestricted access to everything in creation. There was only one thing that was off limits. Not 10. Not a 187 point referendum on what was acceptable or unacceptable. Not a litany of voluminous pages of do’s and don’ts. One. One simple restriction.  Far from being overly panicky about rules and regulations, we see God as someone who is generous and fairly liberal in what He finds acceptable or unacceptable.

This leads us to consider why the one restriction. Many people have speculated over this for centuries. While there’s much to be said about the distinctions between the two trees in the garden (Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), I think it’s safe to say that whatever the reasons are for the restriction, the essence of it is whether or not man will listen and heed God, or his own wisdom.

And that my friends is the essence of creation and sin. God was not interested in merely having someone do His bidding – like a robot, and automaton, or simple cog in the machinery of creation. Nor was he interested in letting all of His creation simply go and dow whatever they wanted, or felt right, or thought would be good.

God created everything, man included, for relationship. And the basis of that relationship is trust. Man was given only one restriction in the Garden to see, ultimately, would he trust in God, or himself.

And that is a beautiful and glorious limitation. Far from stifling our freedom, we are free to express ourselves and enjoy all of creation, as we trust in the God who created it and commissions us to cultivate it. In that trusting relationship, there is freedom, joy and life!

But apart from that trust, we have the world we currently live in. Where we need more laws, rules, regulations to keep everyone and everything in line; where boredom and drudgery sap our joy, and where life is exchanged for the status quo of death, destruction and dysfunction.

Which world would you rather live in? One of “stifling freedom” because we all want what we want, no matter the cost or who it affects? Or one of “beautiful limitations” based on listening, trusting and obeying the Word of God?