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Reading the Playbook Every Day
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How many of you have made New Year’s resolution that actually made it into the month of February? Have you ever decided to lose twenty pounds—and actually lost twenty? 

It’s difficult, as frail humans, to stay with something. That’s why we all clap and blow foghorns whenever someone graduates, because they stayed with something for four or five years and actually did the thing they intended.

Way back in the distant past, a film entitled Parenthood explored the relationship difficulties of one extended family. And the story shared some keen insights that really translate eloquently into a person's Christian life.

There's one scene where “Julie,” a young Martha Plimpton, who's been dating boyfriend Todd, has run off and gotten married. Now, just a few days later she's back home with Mommy. Her husband's so stupid! He's so immature! She can't stand him any longer! She's through with the whole thing.

Well, two seconds later here comes her gum-chewing bridegroom of three days, portrayed by a very baby-faced Keanu Reeves—who does play the nitwit to perfection. "Oh, Baby Doll, I'm so sorry," he tells her. "I still love you.” Et cetera et cetera. And they get back together. But you get the feeling it's going to be quite a roller-coaster ride, along the lines of Elaine Benes and David Puddy, who would sometimes break up and make up two or three times in a single sitcom episode.

I guess we smile at the flimsy shenanigans of our television friends, but you know, these scenes of quick giving-up remind us of what Christians go through . . . especially as they begin the process of getting to know God.

Last Sabbath we shared a spiritual prescription for the new and/or growing Christian. Do you remember these 17 words?

TAKE TIME, ALONE, AT THE BEGINNING OF EVERY DAY, TO SEEK JESUS THROUGH BIBLE STUDY AND PRAYER.

There's one problem with this prescription. It's hard to do! It’s a painfully difficult habit to form. 

As we’ve studied the science of salvation, it’s been our recurring theme that God is the One who saves; He's the one who draws us and leads us to the moment of surrender.

But now that we've made a commitment to Him and are determined to spend time each day getting to know Him, we find that this can be a hard thing to do. I can give a testimony on this matter, and maybe you can as well. The reality is that getting acquainted with God is not something that comes naturally to people living on this particular planet. It runs absolutely contrary to our human nature.

I hope you’ve appreciated—as I have—some of the spiritual nuggets we've found in the classic Christian book, A Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tozer? He has one line that rings so true: "To know God is at once the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world."

Today let’s focus all of our spiritual attention on just two words. Here they are: Bible Study. Ouch! Unfortunately, both of those are hard words. I already know what you think of the word “study.” And the word "Bible" sometimes isn't the most exciting in the dictionary either.

But if we're going to get to know Jesus, we're going to find Him in the Bible. That's where the story is told. That's where you experience fellowship with the new Lord of your life. Jesus Himself, in John chapter five, said to the Jews concerning the Bible: “These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.”

So you and I are going to begin reading our Bibles. And we're especially going to be digging in them looking for Jesus. We won’t just read in order to put in the time; our desire will be to find a renewed and growing friendship with Jesus each time we go to His book and open it up. I think just keeping that perspective front and center will immediately make it a bit easier. More about that in a moment.

But . . . first things first. We get one enormously helpful suggestion from our spiritual prescription: Take time, alone, at the beginning of EVERY day. Not two days a week or every other day or only on days when it's raining. At the beginning of every day.

Here's a question. On which days do you need Jesus? On which days do you need to depend on God's power? Do we just need Him every third day? Or every February 29? Or do you need Jesus in your life Sunday,  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sabbath?

Here's another point. Have you noticed that bad habits are bad and that good habits are good? Well, that’s deep! What am I trying to say? Both naughty habits and nice ones take a while to develop, to form an ingrained pattern. Many, many new and seasoned Christians have noticed that if they began a program of daily Bible study and kept with it for a while, it didn't get harder—it got easier! That's great news all of us can celebrate together. Reading the Bible on a daily basis is a good habit that grows in its delight. The hard parts become easier and the easy parts become richer.

You'll remember that a few weeks ago we reflected on Pastor Morris Venden's emphatic personal suggestion about how the morning is quite possibly the best time to meet with God. I won't reiterate that today except to say that, by all means, do whatever it takes to strengthen Bible study as a habit. Every day the same place, at the same time, in the same chair or garden bench. Develop a routine that grows in its power and meaning.

Here’s something you can try. Get up just a bit earlier than usual and do some exercising. Turn on a weights-and-abs DVD or go out and jog three miles. Come back in, bask in a warm shower, and then find your comfortable chair, a good lamp, a toasty bathrobe, and your Bible. After the grinding miles and the perspiration, your time in God’s Word will seem wonderful by comparison! 

Another thing you can try if your schedule is tight in the morning hours is to enjoy a few chapters of the Bible right in your car as you drive to work. There are wonderful, Christ-centered CD sets now —or even I-Pod downloads—where you can hear just a little bit each day . . . and quickly move through large portions of Scripture. Instead of an endless rehash of the same news and sports headlines over and over and over again, give some time to feeding your soul and getting better acquainted with Jesus.

Let me address something else that even a novice Bible student has discovered. Whole sections of the Bible are hard. Let’s all admit it. Large passages in the Old Testament are difficult to grasp; they’re boring and tedious. Some versions of the Bible are written in an archaic style; they’re maybe almost impossible, to comprehend. So how do we cope?

Dr. Tony Evans has a fascinating chapter in his sports-oriented Christian bestseller, The Victorious Christian Life. He describes the Bible as the "playbook" for the Christian student, just like an NFL player carries around when he goes to his summer training camp. Now, those notebooks filled with X's and O's and pass patterns and diagrams might be kind of boring. Necessary but boring. And he says this about the Bible: "The truth is, studying the Bible is sometimes like eating vegetables. They don't do a thing for your taste buds, but they'll work wonders in your bloodstream."

Then he adds a P.S.: "As you study, you should be looking for the new lesson God wants to teach you about Himself."

I think that's helpful, don't you? As you're studying, keep asking yourself, "What's in here that I can use today?" Even in a passage that’s esoteric and seemingly unrelated to your busy life here in this 21st century, surely God has something that might give you an added glimpse of His character and His principles and His love.

Let me tell you something. Some days you'll feel like all your reading was for nothing. Nothing seems to apply. On that particular day, it feels like the entire devotional just went in one eye and out the other. Well, that's okay. Marriage communication is the same way sometimes. You can drive across town and go to see a major league game involving your favorite team—and on this particular day, the game is dreary beyond belief. But you don’t stop being a fan, because the game after that will be thrilling and rewarding again. 

And even if Bible study is sometimes helpful, and sometimes not, I've been amazed at the times when I was reading, following a schedule right through the Bible, and, lo and behold, God would have me arrive at a certain passage on the very day that I needed it most

I would say “uncanny,” except that I know it’s not simply a coincidence. No, God will actually arrange things so that a necessary verse will come front and center and grab our attention. On a day when I was tempted to hold a grudge, here'd be a verse on forgiveness. During a time when I might wonder how my family can possibly pay its bills this month, God would have me come across a passage such as: "My strength is sufficient for thee." Or: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Or: "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Incredible! Is it just luck that I happen to be cruising right up to Philippians chapter four on the exact day when I'm needing that verse? No, I believe with all my heart that God participates with us when we enter our study chamber and open up the Bible. He makes sure that His divine timing is present and active when we come to seek Him.

Here's another suggestion. If one version of the Bible doesn't work for you, by all means buy another version. Or two or three! It can be absolutely fascinating to read two versions side-by-side and pick up the different nuances that are present. Some renditions, you'll understand, are better for serious study while other looser paraphrases are acceptable for devotional reading. Book projects like The Living Bible and Clear Word very frankly contain the opinions and spiritual ideas of their authors—which is all right if we understand that up front. But make a serious effort to find a version that meets your need, that resonates with where you are right now.

In addition, I certainly recommend that you invest in good, thoughtful Christian books that supplement the Bible. The Bible comes first, of course. We in the Christian faith boldly declare: "The Bible and the Bible only" as our rule of faith. But I believe God has guided the minds of many thoughtful men and women whose insights can beautifully add to what God has for us in the 66 books of Holy Scripture.

During this series you've noticed how often I've mentioned Morris Venden's book, To Know God: A Five-Day Plan. I'd be willing to predict that many thousands of men and women, especially young people, have found a new commitment to Jesus Christ through that book. Other great classics include the recent book, The Purpose-Driven Life, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Philip Yancey’s wonderful twin volumes, The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? In our church, we find great blessings and truth in volumes like Steps to Christ and The Desire of Ages. And the list goes on. It’s a wonderful thing to find a rare jewel of a book and then share it with someone else in our church family.

You know, something wonderful happens when you stick with it and don't give up your study after three days. I read a great paragraph from a book entitled Knowing the Face of God, by Tim Stafford. Here it is: "The Bible does not automatically bring life and inspiration to everyone who reads it, any more than pictures of my wife and children automatically bring fond thoughts to anyone who looks at them. It is only when we live in relationship to people whose images are recorded on a photograph that we can love them through it. It is only when we live in relationship to the living Jesus that we can see and hear Him through the Scriptures."

Let me reemphasize two closing points. The things you learn early on in your walk with Jesus will become hooks that new things and new ideas can connect to. You'll read something in a good book one week, and then next week as you read your Bible, a fresh idea will suddenly have new meaning. In that sense, Bible study becomes easier, not harder, as time goes by. To borrow a math expression, our devotional life can actually grow exponentially.

For instance, there are some musicians among you who treasure singing in Handel’s Messiah each Christmas. Now, of course, each of the songs in that great oratorio come right from God’s Word; much of what Handel composed is from the great Messiah prophecies in the book of Isaiah.

Now, as you sing choruses like “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” you’re reminded of your recent reading of those words in the Bible. And the next time you read those words in Isaiah, the inspiring music will leap into your mind and give you goose bumps. Each experience feeds the other, and you grow both ways.

Secondly, and this is what Stafford was really talking about, make your Bible study an intense search for Jesus. As you get to know Jesus as a friend, the Bible literally springs to life. Stories about Jesus have new meaning—because this is your Friend! Verses about His power ring in your heart because you've experienced that power. The Bible becomes like that photo album that, all of a sudden, is interesting because you are part of the family.

It’s wonderful to discover, by the way, that this kind of family love is exactly what our loving Savior has always intended. Shall we pray?

Father, we know that it’s difficult to form the habit of seeking You regularly. Thank You, Lord, for these faithful people who are here at church week by week trying to know You better. Please empower each of us to be diligent in coming to you morning by morning. And Lord, we thank You in advance for the miraculous ways You’re going to lead us directly to the words and promises we’re going to need for that day. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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