Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Preparing for the end

I found out a little late that there were not one but two failed predictions of the end of the world in the closing days of 2012. Most everyone knows that a certain interpretation of an ancient calendar of the Mayan culture indicated that the world would end on December 21, 2012. Lesser known is the prediction of Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), who apparently declared from prison  that the world would end before the dawning of 2013. 

It is no surprise that predictions like these turn out to be wrong because Jesus told his followers that they would not know the timing of his return and that he would come at an unexpected hour (Matt. 24:42; 44). Nonetheless, it seems that predictions of the end make the news with some regularity. I suggest ignoring them. In another place Jesus taught his followers that it is not for us know the timing of the culmination of things (Acts 1:6-7).      

While we should discourage predicting the timing of the end and buying into such predictions, Warren Jeffs sort of had it right about one thing. If the news accounts are correct, he told his followers to be ready for the end. If this is true, then he has something in common with Jesus who also commanded his followers to be watchful and ready for his return (Matt. 24:42; 44). One big difference between the command of Jeffs and the command of Jesus is that Jeffs told his followers to be ready because the end was coming by a certain near date while Jesus told his followers to be ever ready because they would not know the date. But both commanded watchfulness and readiness.

While we may rightfully shake our heads at predictions of the date of the end of the world, we should not forget the Lord's command to be ready at all times. One of my seminary professors said that every New Testament mention of the return of Christ falls in the context of an ethical injunction to Christians. In other words, the New Testament writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did not use the impending return of Christ to scare unbelievers into believing. Rather, they used it to encourage Christ-followers to get to work in doing what the Lord has called us to do. 

That's the way to be watchful and ready: steadfast obedience to the teachings and the example of Jesus.    

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Setting yourself up for Bible reading success in 2013

In my January 2012 church newsletter column I encouraged folks to make a New Year's resolution to read through the Bible in the year. After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, among other things, that all scripture is God-breathed and equips us for every good work. I can't think of a book more worthy of habitual reading than one that is God-breathed and equips us for every good work.

Last year I suggested several methods of reading through the Bible in a year, but one in particular appealed to me then. Zondervan, a publisher of the New International Version (NIV), has made available a schedule for reading through the entire Bible in 90 days. The page numbers reference a special 90-day version of the NIV, but you can ignore those and go by the chapter numbers.

If people have trouble reading the Bible in a year, what makes me think there would be a higher success rate in attempting to read the Bible in 90 days? I wonder if many may find it easier to stick to a discipline for three months rather than 12 months. Furthermore, what if you try the 90-day plan, but you miss some days and it winds up taking you six months or 12 months to finish instead of 90 days? So what? You will still read through the whole Bible within the calendar year, which is better than most Bible readers in our culture.

This year, I'm going to suggest a modification to this 90-day schedule. If you look at the link above, you will see that you don't get to the New Testament until day 68 of 90. Start there, picking up with Matthew, not the the end of the Old Testament. If you can hang with the schedule for 22 days, beginning at day 68, then you will at least read through the entire New Testament. Once again, if you miss a few days and the process takes longer than 22 days, don't quit. 

The New Testament is, of course, a lot shorter than the Old Testament. You can build on your success of completing the New Testament by turning your attention to the Old Testament. Perhaps in this way the discipline of reading through the Bible in a year will become less intimidating. 

We can do this.