New Testament Reading Plan: Week 16

Week 16:

With the readings from this week, we will finish reading the New Testament.  All of the readings this week are written by the Apostle John between 85 and 95 A.D.  First and second John were written to Christians.  Both include teaching to counter false teaching (de ja vu).  Third John was written to a specific individual, Gaius.  Revelation was written from a dream where Jesus revealed Himself to John and was written to reveal the full identity of Christ and to give warning and hope to believers.

Day 1:  1 John (entire book)
1 John = love!

Day 2:   2 John (entire book), 3 John (entire book)

Day 3:   Revelation 1-5
The book of Revelation records a vision that John the Apostle received from Jesus.  It is for the benefit of 7 churches in Asia but everything that Jesus, through John, tells those churches applies to us as well.
To Ephesus:  Jesus commended them for their hard work and perseverance; rebuked them for forsaking their first love; gave them the action to remember and repent.
To Smyrna:  Jesus commended them for suffering persecution and their poverty; Jesus did not rebuke them; gave them the action of do not fear and be faithful.
To Pergamum:  Jesus commended them for being true to their faith; He rebuked them for compromise; He gave them the action of repentance.
To Thyatira:  Jesus commended them for their love, faith and service; He rebuked them for their immorality; their action is to repent.
To Sardis:  Jesus commended them for being effective;  He rebuked them for being superficial; their action was to wake up and repent.
To Philadelphia:  Jesus commends them for being faithful;  Jesus has no rebuke for them; Jesus asks them to hold on.
To Laodicea:  No commendations; Jesus rebukes them for being lukewarm; be earnest and repent is the action needed.

Day 4:   Revelation 6-11
The chapters you will be reading over the next two days are confusing.  Remember that this is apocalyptic literature which uses all kinds of images to get the attention of the reader and to dramatize the message in a memorable way.  The message is not intended to be hidden or obscure and would have been understood by the 1st century readers.  Please simply read the chapters for the overall message.  If more detailed information is needed, there are entire courses on the study of Revelation.

Day 5:   Revelation 12-18

Day 6:   Revelation 19-22            
Finally we see what God planned from the beginning coming true.  In the beginning, God created a perfect garden for men and women to live and God planned for an intimate relationship with them.  In the garden was a tree of life that was waiting for them to eat from.  Also, there was a tree of knowledge of good and evil that they weren’t supposed to eat from.  They ate from the wrong tree as they were tempted by Satan.  But even in the 3rd chapter of the Bible, Genesis 3, there was foreshadowing of what was to come.  One day, the offspring of Eve who would be Jesus, would crush the head of the offspring of the snake who is Satan.
We see that coming to fruition in the book of Revelation and sin and death are defeated and those who believe in the Lamb of God, Jesus, enter the final perfect garden forever, the “new heaven and new earth” as Revelation 21:1 tells us about.
Finally, God’s ultimate purpose is made true:  “6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”  (Revelation 21:6-7 NLT)

Day 7:  You have now finished reading the New Testament and several Old Testament passages that relate.  As you know from reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament, usually a letter has some words of thanksgiving and prayer for the readers at the beginning.  So in that spirit, read the following as a prayer for you who have finished this short Bible reading plan:
9 So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.  (Colossians 1:9-10 NLT)
May you continue in your quest for Christlikeness, bearing good fruit as you go.
God bless!

New Testament Reading Plan: Week 15

Week 15:

Day 1:  Hebrews 1-6
The book of Hebrews was probably written before 70 A.D. when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.  It was written to Hebrew (Jewish) Christians.  The Jewish people had been looking for the Messiah for centuries.  They had the promises from God, the Law, the commandments and the prophets describing God’s way to forgiveness and salvation.  Christ, the Messiah, came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, conquering sin, shattering the barriers to God, freely providing eternal life.  Following Jesus seemed contrary to the way they had worshipped God for centuries and the new “way” was difficult to accept.
The specific author (unknown) explains the sufficiency and superiority of Christ compared to what the Jewish people were accustomed to.
In this section, the author compares Jesus and His superiority to angels, their leaders and their priests.
Key verses – Hebrews 5:12 – 6:1 (NLT):  12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  1  So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.”  This passage echoes what Jesus said about “going on to perfection” (that the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley communicated as well).

Day 2:   Hebrews 7-10
In this section, the author indicates how Christianity surpasses Judaism because it has a better covenant, a better sanctuary, and a more sufficient sacrifice for sins.
In Old Testament times, the high priest would make sacrifices every day, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people.  And only once a year, the high priest would go behind the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple, on the Day of Atonement.  The curtain separated the Most Holy Place (where the Ark of the Covenant was and where God “lived”) from the rest of the temple and the people.  So this symbolized the fact that sinful people could not be in the presence of a Holy God.  However, when Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two.  This symbolized the fact that we can now be with God if we believe in the death of Jesus being the payment for our sins.
This passage talks about Jesus being the ultimate High Priest, making the sacrifice for our sins, once and for all.  There is no need for a high priest to make daily sacrifices any longer.

Day 3:   Hebrews 11-13
In this section, the author explains how to live by faith, specifically in chapter 11 talking about people from their past in what some might call the “Hall of Faith.”  Finally, there is discussion to encourage for daily living, comparing the old and new covenants and some moral exhortations.
In Hebrews 11, we have the “Hall of Faith” – all of the Hebrew people from the past that found favor with God.  Sometimes, it is easy to think that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus brought a new way to be made right with God – the Law from the Old Testament and Jesus from the New Testament.  But this chapter tells us that from the beginning, it is faith that makes us right with God.  The Law can’t do that because no one can follow the Law perfectly.  So we need another way.  Faith in Jesus!  However, it is also faith in the Old Testament that made people right with God.  However, before Jesus:  “39 All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. 40 God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us.”  (Hebrews 11:39-40 CEB)
And then at the start of chapter 12, “1 So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, 2 and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.  (Hebrews12:1-2 CEB)

Day 4:   2 Timothy (entire book)
Written in 66-67 A.D. to Timothy, giving him final instructions and encouragement. This letter was written by Paul in prison in Rome.  This is Paul’s last letter and it reveals his heart and his priorities:  sound doctrine, steadfast faith, confident endurance and lasting love.  Since these are Paul’s last words, his “famous last words,” we can be sure that they are of utmost importance as he “passes the torch” to the new generation of church leaders.
Read Paul’s last words as if they are his last words written directly to you, a follower of Christ!

Day 5:   2 Peter (entire book)
Peter wrote this letter to warn Christians about false teachers and to exhort them to grow in their faith around 67 A.D.  These were Peter’s last written words and he knew his time was coming and so he wrote what was on his heart and about what would happen when he was gone.

Day 6:   Jude            
Jude is the brother of Jesus and James.  This letter was written about 65 A.D. to
Jewish Christians to encourage them to keep strong in the faith and to oppose heresy.  Catch a theme yet?  How many of the letters written and recorded in the New Testament deal with false teachers, false teaching and heresy?  A lot!  We have the same issue today in maybe different ways.  So we need to keep our eye on the truth as all of these New Testament letters explain.

Day 7:  rest

New Testament Reading Plan: Week 14

Week 14:

Day 1:  Ephesians (entire book)
Ephesians was written while Paul was in prison in Rome, around 60 A.D.
There are several key verses in Ephesians that are worth highlighting here.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)  “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”  We are saved by God’s doing.  It is a gift.  We can’t earn our salvation.
Because of our belief in what Jesus did for us, we have these benefits:
·         We were aliens, now we are citizens of God’s household, the church.
·         We were far away, now we have been brought near.
·         We have peace and have been reconciled to God, ending God’s hostility with us.
“11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:11-13 CEB)  This passage is the basis for the understanding that all Christians are given spiritual gifts and a ministry role by the Spirit.  We are to use our ministry role and spiritual gifts to complement others in the Body of Christ in order to build each other up.  Our goal is to become mature Christians, moving toward Christlikeness.

Day 2:   Philippians (entire book)
Philippians was written while Paul was in prison in Rome, around 61 A.D.
We are called to go on toward Christlikeness.  Paul said in Philippians2:5 (MSG)
“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.”   The same verse in the NIV translation is:  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:”  Regeneration into a new life as a follower of Christ comes with responsibilities and obligations.  We don’t work “for” our salvation but we work “out” our salvation.  We do that by obeying God’s commands.  We are justified (declared not guilty, in other words “saved”) but we are called to continue in our sanctification (becoming more and more like Christ) for the rest or our life, 24x7.  This allows others to see the changed hearts and lives that come from following Jesus.
13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:13-14 CEB)

Day 3:   1 Timothy (entire book)
Written to Timothy, one of Paul’s closest companions, in approximately 64 A.D.  It was written to give instruction and encouragement to Timothy as a young leader in the church.
Timothy was “pastor” of the church at Ephesus (which Paul started) for a time.

Day 4:   Titus (entire book)
Written to Titus around 64 A.D.  Titus was Greek and was converted to Christianity by Paul and became Paul’s special representative to the churches on the island of Crete.  This letter was written to advise Titus in his responsibility of supervising the churches.

Day 5:   1 Peter (entire book)
Written by Peter about 62 – 64 A.D.  The letter was written to offer encouragement to suffering Christians, especially those who had been driven out of Jerusalem and scattered throughout Asia Minor.  At this time, Christians were being tortured and killed for their faith throughout the Roman Empire.
Read these inspiring words from 1Peter 2:9-10 (CEB):  “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people SO THAT you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Peter speaks several times in this letter about new birth.  “Once you were not…” but “now you are…”  This new birth should cause changes in our behaviors SO THAT others will see and understand about Jesus through our changed hearts and lives and they may come to believe.  “…Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.”  (1 Peter3:15b CEB)  We are called to tell others of the hope we have in Jesus.

Day 6:  rest            

Day 7:  rest

New Testament Reading Plan: Week 13

Week 13:

Day 1:  Romans 11-13
In Romans 11, Paul asks a good question:  has God abandoned His chosen people, Israel?  After all, Paul is now sharing the good news with the gentiles and they believe.  Jesus even said that the salvation would come to the Jew first, and then the gentile.  Paul answers his own question – absolutely not, God has not abandoned Israel and even though they have stumbled, it is not permanent.  Israel (the nation) still is God’s chosen people through which all of the nations will be blessed.  All Christians, Jew or Gentile, are adopted into God’s new Israel – the church universal, the Body of Christ.  Verse 11:26 even says that all of Israel will be saved.  (There are several explanations offered in commentaries about what this means so we will have to leave that as a mystery, at least for this blog.”)
Depending on the translation of the Bible you are using, Romans 12:1 starts with the word “therefore” or “and so.”  THEREFORE, based on what Paul has talked about in Romans so far, we should be transformed from the patterns of the world and we should change the way we think (see verse 2).  This will help us know the will of God for our lives.  Read on in chapter 12 and 13 to see how we should be transformed.  The bottom line:  “…love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Romans 13:9)

Day 2:   Romans 14-16
“So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.”  (Romans 14:19 CEB)  The Message paraphrase says it this way:  “So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words;…”  People who are sure in their faith have freedom.  If you are sure in your faith, you might think it is OK to do certain activities.  However, there are others who are not quite as sure in their faith as you might be.  They might not think those same activities are OK.  We need to be careful that we who are sure in our faith do not cause those who are not to stumble.  In other words, we who are strong in our faith need to be careful what we might say and do around other young Christians (or non-Christians) to make sure that we do not hinder their discipleship.  We should always be considering the other person with our words and actions.
Paul states a goal of his which should be the goal of every Christian:  “…I have a goal to preach the gospel where they haven’t heard of Christ yet, …”  (Romans 15:20 CEB)  And this goal has caused Paul not to go to Rome as he wanted.  (Romans 15:22)  He needed to make sure that he was first going to the places that had not heard of Christ before he went to Rome (where the church had already been started).

Paul is starting to wind down his 3rd missionary journey and is on his way to Jerusalem, bringing gifts to the Jerusalem believers from the churches in Asia and Greece.  He had missed being in Jerusalem for Passover but wanted to get there by Pentecost.  He is heading to Jerusalem even though he doesn’t know what awaits him there.  He does know that the Holy Spirit has told him that troubles await him.  But he is dedicated by his mission to testify to the good news of God’s grace given through Jesus.
Paul arrives in Jerusalem.  He does some compromising in this passage for today.  Note that he does not compromise on essential beliefs but he was becoming all things to all people so that he might save some.  (1 Corinthians 9:22.)  We should learn from Paul and do the same.  We sometimes split over minor issues or traditions.  We should remain firm in essential issues but be flexible over non-essential issues.  Augustine of Hippo (an early church father) said (and later echoed by John Wesley and the United Methodist Church):  in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty (or freedom); in all things, charity (or love).

Day 4:   Acts 24-26
Paul is now under arrest.  Because he is a Roman citizen, he is deserving of a trial and therefore, the Romans would not let Paul be punished.  (See reading from Acts 22 and 23.)  Paul is leaving Jerusalem and will go through several trials on his way to Rome where he will be imprisoned and tried there.
As you read Acts 26, think of this as Paul’s story, in fact it is his story.  And when you think that Paul once passionately persecuted the early church and now as passionately, proclaims Jesus, this story can serve as witness to the good news and cause others to change their hearts and lives.  Our changed life that others see can serve to do the same thing!

Day 5:   Acts 27-28
As Paul is in Rome, he continues to witness to the good news of Jesus.  He calls the Jewish people in Rome to come to where he is staying and he testified about God’s Kingdom “from morning until evening.”  He tried to convince them that what God had said through Moses and the Prophets was true and came about in Jesus.  Some believed and others did not.  (The prophet Isaiah prophesied this in Isaiah6:9-10.)  But, “Unhindered and with complete confidence, he [Paul] continued to preach God’s kingdom and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Acts28:31 CEB)  And all God’s people should say Amen, which means “so be it!”

Day 6:   Colossians (entire book), Philemon            
Paul is now in prison.  From prison, he writes several letters starting with Colossians.  As you read, listen to his words and remember – he is writing while imprisoned but continues to declare the good news!
Paul says in Colossians 1:24 (MSG):  I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering.”
And as Paul is in prison, he asks for prayers from the Colossians:  “Pray that God would open a door for the word so we can preach the secret plan of Christ – which is why I am in chains.”  (Colossians 4:3 CEB)

Day 7:  rest

New Testament Reading Plan: Week 12

Week 12:

Day 1: 

Week 12:

2 Corinthians (the 2nd letter to the Corinthians in the Bible) was written between 55-57 A.D.  So, it might have been written not too long (no more than within a couple of years) of 1 Corinthians.  It is reported that 2 Corinthians was the fourth letter that Paul had written to the church at Corinth.  Two of those letters have been lost.  After 1 Corinthians, most of the believers were responding positively.  However, there were some (false teachers) who were questioning Paul’s authority.  This letter was written to address that issue.

Day 2:   2 Corinthians 5-9
2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (NLT – New Living Translation) says:  “8 I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. 9 Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.”  In other words, Paul was holding the Corinthians accountable for their behavior and he told them so (in his 3rd official letter that has been lost).  As Christians, we are to hold our brothers and sisters accountable in a loving way (i.e., “speak the truth in love”) so that we all grow further in our discipleship of Jesus.  Sometimes it is hard for both parties; but we are called to do it.  This is one of the purposes of a Life Transformation Group – to hold us accountable so that we all keep “going on…”

In chapter 11, Paul stressed how important it is to follow the Jesus that Paul preached, not a false teacher’s view of Jesus.  Paul accuses the Corinthians of accepting the false teaching very easily.   (11:4 (chapter 11, verse 4)  He also says that he is going to keep contradicting the false teaching.  (11:12-13)  We are called to do the same.  We have to be on guard in these days as the early Christians were then for false teaching – teaching that does not accept Jesus for who He really is.

Day 4:   Acts 20:1-3, Romans 1-3
In Acts 20:1-3, Paul is in Macedonia and spent most of the time there in Corinth.  While there, he wrote the letter to the Romans in 57 A.D.  Paul had never been to Rome but other believers already had started a church there.  The book of Romans is a letter to the church there indicating that he hopes to visit Rome.  Romans is a letter addressing theological issues (relating to the study of God) and talks about the meaning of faith, salvation, the relation between Jews and Gentiles in Christ and provides some practical guidance for the church.
In Romans, Paul is presenting his case for the gospel as a lawyer would present a case in a court of law.  In chapters 1 – 3, Paul makes the case that everyone in humanity is lost.  The Gentiles are lost because they have an opportunity to see God in creation, but don’t.  The Jews are lost because they complain about the sins of the Gentiles and they are doing the same things.  “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  (Romans 3:23 NLT)  In other words, no one can follow the Law.  “But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight – not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago.”  (Romans 3:21, NLT)  That way is faith in Jesus!

Day 5:   Romans 4-7
Chapter 4:  Paul spends time documenting that Abraham was credited as righteous because of his faith.   Because of our faith, we become part of Abraham’s descendants that will inherit the promises God made to Abraham.
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”  (Romans 5:1 NLT)  Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, taking our sins (past, present and future) to the cross brings peace in our relationship with God – the peace that surpasses God’s wrath that He has against sin.  This happened before we believed:  “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  (Romans 5:8 NLT)

Day 6:   Romans 8-10            
In chapters 9 and 10, Paul is heartbroken that the Israelites (at least not all of them) would be saved.  The Israelites were God’s chosen people, they were given the covenants, and they were given the Law.  The Jewish ancestors were theirs and Christ descended from those ancestors.  But it is not about obeying the Law (which no one can).  It is not about inheriting salvation from your ancestors.  It is about having faith in what Christ did on the cross.  He was our substitute and was punished on our behalf for not obeying the Law.  If we have faith, we will be saved.  “Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Romans 10:9 CEB)  “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him.  All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.”  (Romans 10:12-13 CEB)  But to call on the Lord’s name, you have to hear 1st.  That is our job – we are sent to spread the good news so that “they” will hear and “they” can be saved!

Day 7:  rest