God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

400th Post and Wrap-Up

In this, the 400th post on Random Thoughts from Graham, I want to give a wrap-up of the Bible in a Year project with a few thoughts on what I learned while blogging through the Bible.

Words of Thanks

First, I have to thank my wife, Jessica, for putting up with me during the previous year. She had to endure many nights where I stayed up late to write. I also "conveniently" could not do household tasks. Maybe I won't miss everything about this project.

I also need to thank the congregation at the Sonoma Mountain Parkway Church of Christ (Petaluma Church) for reading with me and enduring at 50-lesson series on God is setting all things right. Thanks to Sharla Brechbill for sharing most of the posts on Facebook and to the members who encouraged me throughout the past year. I look forward to 2014 where we will go on to maturity while we look at how the Gospel is relevant to others.

What I Learned from the Process

From Scripture

The most important thing I realized from Scripture this year is that we stress religious obedience more than heart obedience. Almost everyone that had an issue with what I wrote objected to how I characterized religious obedience. To be honest, I was amazed at how often God told Israel to get their hearts right while minimizing religious rightness. To God, the heart is what matters. Religious obedience must come from the heart. When we preach baptism, church attendance, Bible study, and other church-y things, we get the cart before the horse. This also explains why churches struggle with obedience. While we stress religious obedience we miss what is important—setting things right. We preach Jesus' Blood, but not the two greatest commands. Members walk away thinking that as long as they go to the building and get dunked under the water God is happy. I do not think this is intentional but because of the limited resource of time. We only have so many lessons every year. We spend so many on religion that we have little time to help each other set things right. I think Jesus would challenge us with, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13, English Standard Version). We also forget the scribe's answer—which Jesus greatly complimented,
You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:32-33)
God wants His Chosen People to be religious but all religion must be from a holy heart and with the goal of improving our relationship with God. If the only thing I have written that strikes you is that baptism is not essential for the entire world to set their relationship right with God, you are stressing works not heart and have missed the entire purpose of this project.
The other thing I learned last year was that Scripture, when read correctly, does not let go. As I traversed through the Prophets I saw myself in their crosshairs. It was unnerving and exposing. When I reached the Gospels I thought it would settle down. They were worse than the Prophets! At the end of the Gospels I hoped Paul and the other Epistles would let me ease out the year. It never happened. When we read the Bible, we must feel exposed and vulnerable before God or we will miss Him.

From the Writing Process

I knew this would be a daunting project. I began back in November 2012 to have enough of a backlog to prevent burnout. On January 1, 2013, I had 35 posts ready. By the end of May I had used up all the extra days and never got more than three ahead the rest of the year. I had to write every day, many times until after midnight. That wears on you. By mid-November I had enough. I was burned out. I was exhausted. I wanted to quit. What spurred me one was only having a month and a half remaining. I know if I had started the project January 1 or only a week early, I never would have finished. Starting early gave me the ability to finish.

The Future of Reading Through the Bible in a Year

Yesterday was not the end for this project. I have a few ideas that I am kicking around. I believe this project is something many churches should go through. Bible students must do a project such as this—though not to this scale! I cannot describe how important this has been for my growth as a Chosen Person of God. I want to create a place for groups to schedule, converse, and write their thoughts as they go through the Bible in a year. How this will look is in the air, but I will be working on these tools in the next year. The blog will go silent for a few days/weeks/months while I spend time with family and work on finishing my Master's Degree. I do not want to stop writing, but I may not post here what I write.

As for a book, I will be looking for a publisher to print a version of this project. Considering the small numbers that read each day's post I doubt it will be very well received, but I will be shopping. If you wish for a copy, contact me via email or Facebook.

I would love to do this with a congregation again. I believe it is very important for churches to reframe both the Gospel and their role in the world.

Thanks to you all for visiting and reading along with me. The post will stay up and you can always read them by typing: http://grahambates.blogspot.com/2013/mm/dd.html into your browser to get that days' reading.

May you see God setting things right in the next year.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 31 - Revelation 19-22: God Sets Everything Right in the End

Today’s Reading: Revelation 19-22

The Message

English Standard Version

Today is the last reading. What a journey! Tomorrow I will post a few thoughts on reading throughout the year. But today—let's finish this!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Curse is lifted and people who have set things right reign with God forever!

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A rider called "the Word of God" defeated the Beasts, the Dragon, and their followers.
A thousand years later, the Dragon and his army stood for one last, epic battle. God burned them all in a flash.
The world was judged by how they lived.
God moved into the neighborhood with His Children forever.
I, John, saw a bejeweled city without temple or sun. The curse was lifted!
Blessed are the ones who wash their robes! Drink of the Water of Life!
Warning: additions and subtractions to this book will be punished.
Come, Jesus! May His Grace be with you.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God set everything right in the end.

John offered solace to a group of people under great persecution. The Dragon and the Beasts symbolized Caesar and his rulers while their followers were people who wanted easier lives by going along with emperor worship. John wants Christians in Asia to know Caesar will not win in the end. God will defeat him. The epic battle, a thousand years in the making, turns out to be a slaughter of all evil while God loses not a single soldier. No group will ever defeat God. God will always defeat His Enemy.

God sets everything right in the end.

The followers of the Dragon and the Beasts are defeated alongside their icons. The world stands to hear God's Judgment. God judges the world based on how each person acts. The ones who set things right reign with Him forever. The ones who do not are thrown into the (metaphorical) lake of fire. Whether it is a literal lake or not is unknown—and unimportant.

God will set everything right in the end.

The vision of the new Jerusalem and the perfected Earth are so wonderful we can only hope they are as close to reality when the time comes. A city decked in jewels, with gold so abundant the roads are paved with it; a place where there are no places an enemy can attack; a city with no tears, pain, sickness, or sorrow. There is no temple or sun because they are unnecessary—God lives with His People and is their Light! The Tree of Life is back—the curse is lifted! The story starts anew, but this story will never have a serpent. God will set everything right and live with His People forever! Amen!

Come, Lord Jesus! Come!

Monday, December 30, 2013

December 30 - Revelation 12-18: The Dragon and the Beasts Mimic God with Disastrous Results

Today’s Reading: Revelation 12-18

The Message

English Standard Version


Thought to Guide Your Reading

God's Enemy mimics God, gains a huge following, and is defeated handily.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A Dragon attempted to kill a Woman giving birth to a Child. The Dragon was thrown to Earth and chased the Woman.
Two Beasts appeared and gave their followers a mark: 666.
The Lamb appeared for His Hour of Judgment between God's and the Beasts' followers.
Seven disasters would finish God's Wrath. God's Faithful Followers sang praises.
The Beasts' followers refused to honor God.
God's enemies were defeated in an instant at Armageddon.
I, John, learned the meaning of the visions. People will wage war against God's Chosen People but be defeated.
Babylon and all her followers will be defeated!

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Dragon and the Beasts mimic God.

The Dragon knocked stars out of the heavens. The Beasts had heads which were brought back from the dead. They all mimic the Lamb of God and the Angels of God. They perform magic tricks which lure their followers in. They try to look like God though they speak against Him in every way possible.
This vision shows an important way God's Enemy tries to defeat the world. If God's Enemy can appear to be like Him, He can take unsuspecting and ignorant followers into whoring and other terrible acts. It presents a difficult problem for us—how can we tell the difference in God's Messengers and the Beasts'? Those who are willing to publicly confess that Jesus is resurrected are God's Messengers. To John's readers, the designation is clear—Nero(n) Caesar is God's Enemy, the Antichrist. To us it is less clear but easily testable.

The Dragon and the Beasts amassed a large harem.

Since these people do not want to honor God, God's Enemy becomes very popular. So popular, in fact, that he can control the economy and blacklist people unwilling to get his mark. Many people will flock to join God's Enemy.

God defeats our Accuser.

What makes God's Enemy's defeat wonderful for God's Chosen People is that he is also our enemy. He stands before God telling how we do not set things right. God doesn't defeat him to squash a mosquito. God defeats His Enemy, the Accuser, to set our relationship right!

The Beasts' followers never wish to honor God.

Before we feel sympathy for the people who suffer the seven plagues, remember that each plague is meant to lead them to change and return to God. God does not want to punish them but they give Him no choice. He must have things set right and anyone against that will be punished.

How would it feel knowing you have no prosecuting attorney against you?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

December 29 - Revelation 6-11: Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets Show God's Power

Today’s Reading: Revelation 6-11

The Message

English Standard Version

Two days to go!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God shows His Dominion over the earth.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The Lamb removed the first seal: a conqueror.
The second seal: peace ceased.
The third seal: famine.
The fourth seal: death to a quarter of the earth.
The fifth seal: martyrs cried for vengeance.
The sixth seal: pandemonium. God's People were marked for protection. Crowds washed in Jesus' Blood praised God.
The seventh seal: silence.
Seven trumpets unleashed devastation. The fifth killed one-third of the earth. The survivors continued without a thought. God would allow His People to be killed but would raise them from the dead. The sixth trumpet.
The seventh trumpet brought God's peaceful Reign to the earth.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God shows His Dominion.

In one last-ditch effort to show the world His Power and Might, He opens seven seals and has seven trumpets blown to usher in the awesome signs of His Ability. These are acts done so the world can compare His Rule to the angel of the Abyss, as seen in tomorrow's reading.

The world continues on blithely dismissive of the acts they see.

Tucked away in the passage is a short snippet where John writes how people in the world never changed their way of life or their objects of worship. They were too stubborn change anything.

The seventh seal and trumpet brought God's Rule.

The first six seals and trumpets brought death and destruction to the world. The seventh brought peace. The seventh brought God's rule. God's Rule means peace and tranquility!

What would it take for you to take notice and change your life?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 28 - Revelation 1-5: God will Set All Things Right in the End so Endure Until Then

Today’s Reading: Revelation 1-5

The Message

English Standard Version

We've read 65 books! Only one to go which will last four days!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Don't focus on the numbers or the visions. Focus on the message.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message through John to Asian churches:
Glory to Christ, eternal Priest! No one will escape His Return.
While on Patmos, Jesus compelled me to write what I saw and heard in a vision.
To persistent Ephesus: return to Me. Listen!
To libeled Smyrna: never give up. Listen!
To bold Pergamum: remove saboteurs. Listen!
To impressive Thyatira: change and receive a reward. Listen!
To dead Sardis: stop napping. Listen!
To steadfast Philadelphia: keep going. Listen!
To lukewarm Laodicea: buy from Me. Listen!
I saw the Throne-room of Heaven where every living thing praised God. The resurrected Lamb opened God's Scroll.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The purpose of the Revelation is to tell Christians that God will set all things right in the end.

Welcome to the playground of most conspiracy theories and off-the-wall theologies known to Christianity. We cannot blame them, since the Revelation (not RevelationS—pet peeve alert) does have quite a lot of imagery which seems ripe for picking and using in whatever idea you have cooking. Yet they—and Christians in general—focus on the wrong part of the book. The Revelation is not a book of encoded messages for readers thousands of years in the future. The Revelation is a letter to Christians to let them know their current persecution will last only so long before God sets it right. John uses imagery, visions, and other circuitous routes to bypass his Roman guards. To spend time on the numbers, the images, and John's commentary divorced from the overall message misses John's purpose. They had meaning to the original audience (24 = 12 Apostles + 12 tribes of Israel, many illusions coming from the the Prophets, etc.), which we will discuss a sampling, but the meanings are meant to help them realize that Caesar is not God. He will not win in the end and God will bring him to his knees:
Riding the clouds, [Jesus] will be seen by every eye,
   those who mocked and killed him will see him,
People from all nations and all times
   will tear their clothes in lament.
   Oh, Yes. (1:7, The Message)
Governments and other individuals/groups that grow in power and (self) importance eventually rival God. The message of the Revelation stays the same for us, though we should not look for a play-by-play description of what will happen in the near future. Some of the broad patterns repeat but the specific images are not the same.

The seven churches suffered different issues and were successful at varying degrees.

We should take heart that these groups had some things right, some things wrong, and Jesus wanted them to get better. No matter how bad we think of ourselves, God can still use us if we are willing to submit to Him.

Jesus has a level of Holiness all His own.

John wept when he realized no one was pure enough to open the Seals. Yet John was wrong—there was One worthy to open the Seals—Jesus! The amazing animals which had amazing power sang praise to the weak, resurrected Lamb. Only Jesus is worthy of our honor, praise, and glory!

Remember the vision of Jesus at the Throne of Heaven.

In the next few days we will read how the enemy mimics God in order to supplant Him.

How do you need to see that God is going to set all things right in the end?

Friday, December 27, 2013

December 27 - 2 John; 3 John: Loving and Inviting Christians into Your Home

Today’s Reading: 2 John; 3 John

The Message

English Standard Version

You have been reading the Bible now for 360 days. Only five to go! What a journey through Scripture!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

John wants both groups (or tells the same group twice) to be careful of people who do not love their neighbor as themselves.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

2 John

The Elder to my dear congregation: Everyone in the Truth loves you.
May grace, mercy, and peace come through truth and love from the Father and Son!
I am thrilled that you live the Truth. Conduct your lives in love. You know this already because it never changes.
There are many who deny Jesus was human. They are the Antichrist! Don't be influenced by them. If you stop believing in Jesus you stop believing in God. Don't let them in!
Let's speak face-to-face soon. Everyone here greets you.

3 John

The Elder to Gaius:
I love you, friend! I pray for your fortune, health, and soul. News of my children's faithfulness always brightens my day.
Hospitality shows your faith—a good work worthy of God. By helping passing Christians when unbelievers wouldn't you joined in their work.
Diotrephes questions my advice. He will answer for spreading rumors and throwing out travelling Christians. Don't join this evil! They know nothing about God.
Good for Demetrius, he excels in the Truth.
I'll have more to say in person.
Peace and greetings from us to you.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

We obey God by loving others.

Just as John wrote, there isn't much new in this book. There isn't much new for me to comment on, either. We know loving is how we obey God from several sections already. It is the basic command that never changes.

To deny Jesus as human and divine is to walk away from God.

Yesterday we read how the Antichrist is someone who denies Jesus was divine. Today John adds that a person who denies Jesus was human is anti-Christ. We cannot choose what we want from God. We must have all of Him or none of Him.

Don't invite people who deny Jesus' humanity or deity to teach—no matter how interesting they may be.

The reason is simple—we do not want their influence on our lives. That doesn't mean we stay away from them completely, though. We simply do not give them a place of influence. That is very different than having conversations as equals.

Hospitality is very important to God.

John has nothing but good things to say about Gaius' hospitality. It is worthy of God's Work. God's Chosen Messengers deserve to be taken care of by His Chosen People. The world will not do it, so it is our job to do it. Diotrephes had a lot to answer for because he showed no hospitality to God's Messengers. Show hospitality for God's Chosen People travelling through. They deserve any support we can give them.
I have stayed in many Christians' homes, sometimes for extended stays. Their willingness to share part of their lives with me can never be taken away from them and I will always stay grateful of their sacrifice. May it continue!

Have you any stories of great hospitality shown to you?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 26 - 1 John: Want to Commune with God? Love Each Other

Today’s Reading: 1 John

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

John is not afraid of the "s-word", but he also does not want people to confuse it with the "l-word".

Summary in 100 Words or Less

We saw the Word of Life. If we walk in God's pure Light our sins—brought into the light—are taken away. You are in God when you obey. Warning, the world separates you from God.
Antichrists deny Jesus is Divine.
God's True Children, like Jesus, sacrifice themselves for each other. Practice real, non-condemning love.
Believe only teachers who openly confess faith in Jesus.
God's Spirit is greater than the world's.
Reflect God's Love. Walking God's Way proves we are His.
Everything points to Jesus as God—stop doubting. Boldly and freely interact with God. Guard against all imitation gospels.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

We seek to experience communion with God.

John's first letter centers around being in and with God. We tend to see his letter as a strange, esoteric foray into spirituality. Though when you read it as a whole you realize that is is more theoretical than esoteric. There are practical ways to do what John encourages these people to do. John doesn't mention them because he expects them to flesh them out. All of them center around one point—communing with God. We want to be in God's presence. We want God to acknowledge our presence. The way is not found in losing everything, emptying our minds, and giving up all urges.

Communion with God is found by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Okay, I'm mixing Jesus' Words with John's. The point is still the same—communion with God is found when we love others, not when we hate ourselves. The tests all involve love. The world separates us from God because it teaches selfish love. God is pure Light—Love. There is no darkness—hatred—with God. We cannot hate others and say we are in the light. When we love our neighbor as our self we commune with God.

God wants to remove barriers to communing with Him but we must be willing to put them up for his removal.

The reason stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge sin prevents communion with God is that we are not willing to let the barriers go. If we let them go, God will remove them. The Light will shine on us again and we will be purged of our mistakes. God wants to set your relationship with Him right. Give up the barriers by bringing them to the light.

The Antichrist is anti-Christ.

We love to make complicated, Hollywood-style dramas out of the Bible. The Antichrist or antichrists has been blown so out of proportion that most influential people are eventually called the Antichrist by their enemies. The Antichrist and antichrists are easy to spot. There is one, simple test: Do they publically confess that Jesus is God? If they do, they aren't. If they won't, they are. The important thing—and the part most people ignore—is that anyone can be antichrist. All you need to be is anti-Christ.

The person who acts right is right.

Christians have an epidemic of doubt. This doubt is not doubting whether God exists, Jesus is God, or if God will actually set all things right—though many do doubt these things. The epidemic of doubt is if we are righteous or not. It comes from the fear that since we cannot earn back our relationship with God, we can never know if that relationship is right or not. John sets that doubt and fear aside by writing that those who act righteous are righteous. Their righteousness still comes from God and we have not "earned" it. But we are righteous nonetheless! If you want to know you are righteous, do righteous things. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Then you will know you are righteous. The opposite is true, as well. You can never be righteous when you do not love your neighbor as yourself.

God's Spirit is greater than any other spirit.

The concept of God being greater, stronger, and longer-lasting than anything people want to defeat Him will be the central driving force behind John's Revelation. There is nothing that can prevent you from being in communion with God. Nothing can separate us from God's Love. God's Spirit is too strong.

Those who commune with God have great prayer-power.

God will act when people who commune with Him—by loving their neighbor as their self—ask Him to act. This isn't magical, it's based on the fact that as we submit to God we pray for His Will. As we pray for His Will to be done our prayers are answered. Those who pray against God's Will are the ones who think God will somehow be magically forced to grant their wishes because they are God's Chosen People.

Has the Message sunk deep into your life?