WELCOME TO ROMANS!

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WELCOME TO ROMANS!

Romans explains salvation. From the opening verses you know you’re reading the explanation of how God justifies sinners and converts them into saints!
As as a result, some of the most well loved passages in the New Testament are found in Romans. For instance, in chapter one Paul writes,  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (1:16-17).
Later, he tells us the love of God was the reason for the cross. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Perhaps the most well known passage in Romans gives every believer assurances about the purpose of our lives. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).
The book was written by the Apostle Paul to a group of Christians in Rome about 25 years after the resurrection of Jesus and provides the most comprehensive view of justification by faith found in the New Testament. The doctrine  of election is also developed in Romans more clearly than in any other New Testament work and has provided endless discussion and debate for theologians and average believers as well for the last 2000 years.
The book of Romans has also played a unique role in the spiritual biographies of some of our most significant Christian leaders through the centuries. For instance, in the 5th century, while in Milan, Augustine was converted by reading a passage from Romans and later became the most influential theologian since the Apostles.
As Martin Luther, the well known German Reformer, studied the book of Romans in the 16tb century, while he was still a Roman Catholic monk and theology professor, it changed his mind about salvation by faith alone and he was saved.  This discovery led to the Protestant Reformation. Later John Wesley, the famous evangelist and founder of Methodism, was saved while hearing someone read the preface to Luther’s commentary on Romans!
As you read the book of Romans ask the Lord to teach you, and reassure you, about Himself and His wonderful plan of salvation. Who knows what God may have planned for you as you read one of the greatest books in the Bible!

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-JKB

WELCOME TO THE BOOK OF ACTS!

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WELCOME TO THE BOOK OF ACTS!

Nowhere in the Bible is there another book like Acts. It is the only biblical record we have of the exciting development and work of the early church.
Acts was written by Luke the physician who also wrote the Gospel which bears his name. In fact, the two works can be considered  two volumes of one continuous story. They are both addressed to an otherwise unknown recipient named Theophilus and in verse 1 of Acts Luke refers to his “first book.” In other words, Luke refers to his Gospel as his first book in the opening statement of his second book.
The two books are the longest two books in the New Testament. In fact, due to the length of the two books, Luke- not Paul- wrote more of the New Testament than any other single author. Paul wrote more individual books,  but Luke exceeds Paul in sheer word count.
In Acts we are introduced to the church in it’s infancy when prayer, dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and evangelism were the essential, identifying markers of the Christian life. It is not out of the question to perceive the core elements of the early church, as presented in Acts, as the “blueprint” of Christ’s church. As someone has said, “Jesus started the church the way He wanted it-now He wants the church the way He started it!”
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In the first section of the book through chapter 12 the Apostle Peter is the main human character and most of the action revolves in some way around him. Beginning with chapter 13, however, the narrative focus shifts so that Paul is the main character of the action until the end of the book.
As you read the book of Acts, take note of two things. First, notice how frequently the church retreated to prayer. Second, pay attention to how regularly the early church depended upon supernatural intervention and how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned as a result.
If the book of Acts reflects the purest stream nearest to the original source, how should our own church, and our own Christian experience, be corrected to align with what Jesus originally intended for His people?
JKB

PURSUING JESUS ’19: The Gospel of John

B4FC8CFB-7FA0-4A05-86EA-6A9D8E68CF84THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

The Gospel of John can surprise you if you’re not careful. At first glance it seems so simple. The more you read it however, the more profound and deep it becomes. Someone once observed that John is like a pool where an infant can wade and a theologian can drown!
Some of our favorite verses are found in the Gospel of John. Here is a list of some of the most well known and beloved.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(John 1:1)
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ –
(John 3:7)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
(John 4:24)
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
(John 8:36)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(John 10:10)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”
(John 11:25)
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
(John 13:35)
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
(John 14:1-3)
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
(John 17:17)
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
(John 20:29)
WHY A FORTH GOSPEL?
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John is different than the other 3 gospels. In fact, about 90% of the Gospel of John is unique – in other words, it contains information and details about the ministry of Jesus not found in the other three gospels. For instance, most, although not all, of the material found in the other three Gospels (prior to the story of Jesus’ last week) takes place in Galilee. In John’s Gospel, however, Jesus is frequently in Jerusalem or some other area south of Galilee. As you read the Gospel of John, think about where Jesus is in that scene and you’ll notice this for yourself.
SEVEN I AM’S
John weaves seven statements of Jesus throughout his gospel which  give us the a more complete  picture of who Jesus is and what He does. Each of these statements begins with “I AM.” They are among some of the most well known and beautiful passages found in Scripture.
“I AM the bread of life.”  John 6:35, 48,51
“I AM the light of the world.” John 8:12; 9:5
“I AM the door of the sheep.” John 10:7,9
“I AM the good shepherd.” John 10:11,14
“I AM the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6
“I AM the true vine.” John 15:1
In addition to these seven metaphors beginning with “I AM,” Jesus also described Himself as simply, “I AM” 5 times (6:20; 8:24, 28, 57; 18:5).
SEVEN SIGNS
When we think of Jesus we think of His miracles. While He performed many miracles in all four gospels, John only records seven and he refers to them as “signs.” Obviously signs point away from themselves and to something else. In the case of the seven signs in John, the signs point to the Miracle Worker, rather than miracles.
  • Jesus changed water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11
  • Jesus healed an official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:46-54)
  • Jesus healed  the paralyzed man at the Pool Bethesda (John 5:1-15)
  • Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:5-14)
  • Jesus walked on water (John 6:16-24)
  • Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45)
MEMORY VERSE
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
(John 10:11)
Enjoy reading the greatly loved Gospel of John!
-JKB

PURSUING JESUS ‘19 WELCOME TO MARK!

B4FC8CFB-7FA0-4A05-86EA-6A9D8E68CF84PURSUING JESUS ‘19

Welcome to Mark!

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Mark’s Gospel is in a hurry! The word “immediately” (or it’s English synonym) is used at least 40 times! Whenever you read anything in Mark’s gospel he’s already moving on to the next thing! Not only is Mark the shortest gospel, the story itself is told with urgency. As you read this action oriented gospel, see how many times you catch Mark advancing the action of the story by using the word “immediately.”
What was Mark in a hurry to accomplish? Mark relentlessly marches us to the cross! One New Testament scholar said Mark is really a passion narrative with an extended prologue. Of course he was using hyperbole to make a point but the point is well taken. Consider this- Mark does not include the nativity or “birth narrative.” He does not include a version of the Sermon on the Mount. He rarely mentions the names of the Apostles. Most of the time, even when Mark mentions Jesus teaching, he doesn’t bother to tell us what He taught-he only mentions that He taught! Why does Mark seem to abbreviate the story of Jesus?
 Mark is in a hurry to move the story to the cross. At least a third of Mark’s gospel deals with the last week of Jesus’ life! It’s not an exaggeration to say Mark is the Gospel of the Suffering Servant! It’s the Gospel of the cross!
As you read Mark, underline or highlight the times and places where the sacrificial death of Jesus is mentioned or taught. By doing this you will get a strong sense of what Mark is all about.
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Our memory verse for Mark is Mark 1:15
and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Read it several times a day out loud using the same translation. By doing so the verse will lodge itself into your memory. Mark has 16 chapters so you have over 2 weeks to memorize this short but powerful verse. You can do it if you commit to doing it daily!
Let’s get started. Let’s read the Gospel of Mark.
-JKB

GETTING CLOSER TO GOD

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(Jeremiah 29:12-13)
Why do you attend church? Why does anyone? In the summer of 2018, Pew Research released the results of a nation wide survey revealing why people who attend church at least once a month, keep going.
Here are the top 5 responses:
5) To hear the sermons
4) To find comfort during hard times
3) To become a better person
2) To give children a moral foundation
1) To get closer to God
Those are all good reasons to attend church but the number one answer is most revealing. In fact, 81% of the respondents listed “getting close to God” as their number one reason for attending church. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/july/church-attendance-top-reasons-go-or-stay-home-pew.html ) The second most common reason was a distant second. People are hungry for God!
We should expect to experience God’s presence in church but fortunately we don’t have to wait for Sunday to feel closer to God- nor do we need to remain passive – hoping somehow closeness to God might occur-since we are urged to “seek God.”
God once spoke to a disillusioned people who had ignored God’s presence and in the middle of their discouragement He gave them hope. God encourages His people to come closer!
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
Here’s a basic truth God has laid before His people for centuries:
YOU CAN GET CLOSER TO GOD WITH AN EAGER HEART!
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Consider all the avenues God offers to us!
“…call upon Me”
“…come and pray to Me”
“…seek Me”
“…seek Me with all your heart”
                                        (Jer.29:12-13)
The pursuit of God should consume the believer’s life. Wanting His friendship, fellowship, guidance, wisdom, and His presence should eclipse every other desire in life. Do you believe that? After all, He said “… seek Me with all your heart.”
Are you reluctant to pursue closeness with God? Do you think there might be other things in life more rewarding or of greater importance? If so, remind yourself how many times the Lord has offered the same opportunity throughout the Scripture:
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…”
(James 4:8)
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
 
“Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God….”
(1 Chronicles 22:19)
“…those who seek me diligently find me.”
(Proverbs 8:17)
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”
(Matthew 6:33)
It’s true the lost world seeks everything but God (“…no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  – Romans 3:11). But the overwhelming evidence of Scripture points to the opposite for God’s people. Our spiritual life is designed for the healthy, relentless, on-going pursuit of more of the presence of God in our lives.
Here’s the best news of all- He gives us a promise: “You will seek me and FIND ME!” God wants to be soughtHe wants to be the pursuit of our lives but it’s not all seeking, the Christian life is about FINDING God’s presence and His friendship! In other words, closeness to God isn’t an empty pursuit- you can experience genuine friendship with God.
So today, what are you searching for? What are you hoping to find?
God says, “Seek Me.” That’s a powerful invitation. How will you respond?
-JKB

UP & AT ‘EM!

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UP & AT ‘EM!

When our kids were young and living at home, it was sometimes a challenge to get them out of bed for school. My solution was to go into their rooms singing “rise and shine and give God the glory, glory children of the Lord.” Yes, it was as irritating as it sounds! I’m pretty sure my kids – who are all adults now – still hate that song! 

Conventional wisdom encourages early rising. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” In the competitive world we live in we are even reminded, “The early bird gets the worm.” 

THE VALUE OF EARLY PRAYER

Even in our desire to know God, early rising has value. The Psalmist said “…early will I seek thee.” (Psalm 63:1 KJV) The New International Version says, “earnestly I seek you…” The words “early” and “earnestly” come from a Hebrew word that means “to break forth” like “the breaking of the dawn”. A secondary meaning is “to break in” like prying a door open to “seek” what’s inside. In either case, there is a search going on that takes priority- hence the idea in one translation that we seek God early, and in the other we seek God earnestly. In both cases, He is our number one priority -so both translations are correct and actually teach the same thing- we want God first -so we seek Him early and earnestly. 

From a practical standpoint seeking God early makes the most sense. Jesus got up “while it was still dark” to seek God in prayer (Mark 1:35). There are, generally, fewer demands on us early in the morning. Even if we get up only 15 minutes earlier then usual, to give God our first thoughts in the morning, I believe our day will be better for it. God has a plan for your day. Spend time with Him early and discover the power of His daily guidance.

The principle reason for starting early is true in other areas of life too. For instance, in sports you wouldn’t want to get the game plan from the coach after the game – you would want it before the game. Why then, in the more important arena of life itself, would we not seek direction from God as early as possible each day?

Of course we can pray at all hours of the day and night and we are encouraged to do so (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It has been my experience, however, that the longer I wait before seeking God in prayer the harder it is to do it. My day gets busy, my mind gets distracted, and my time is often not my own. Many others have learned the same lessons in the school of prayer. So, start early seeking God and enjoy the benefits all day long. Get up and give your day to God.

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-JKB

3 BOOKS THAT WILL IMPROVE YOUR PRAYER LIFE IMMEDIATELY

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3 BOOKS THAT WILL IMPROVE YOUR PRAYER LIFE IMMEDIATELY 

Every believer knows prayer can move mountains, draw us closer to Christ, help us live the Christian life more effectively, connect us to answers from Heaven, and so much more. Yet, most of us also readily admit we don’t pray enough and often struggle to pray in faith. Perhaps  you can identify with the Christian writer Marshall Segal who recently wrote, “Prayer might be, at the same time, the most pivotal and most puzzling activity in the Christian life. It is the lifeline and life-mystery for believers. We know we need to pray, but we know we don’t pray enough. And we’re not always sure we’re even doing it right when we do pray.”
Because prayer is both powerful and perplexing, I suggest you read one or all of these books to jolt your prayer life back into a healthy rhythm. This isn’t an exhaustive list because if it was I would have to include books by Leonard Ravenhill, David Brainerd,
E. M. Bounds, John Franklin, Jack Taylor, Samuel Chadwick, Anne Graham Lotz,
Ronnie Floyd, Daniel Henderson, Bill Elliff, Steve Gaines, Bill Bright, Al Mohler,  and many others. The three books I’ve chosen for this list are easy to read, perfect for getting your prayer life started, or for starting over. So, here’s a brief idea what each book is about and why you should read it.
1) THE HOUR THAT CHANGES THE WORLD by Dick Eastman
For many years, when the low cost paperback edition was available, I led the Churches I’ve served to give away hundreds – maybe thousands – of copies of this book. I have recommended it to everyone I know. I once wrote the author and jokingly told him I had singlehandedly made his book a best seller! He wrote me back an encouraging note.
This book divides an hour into 12 segments of 5 minutes each. It shows the reader how to incorporate the different aspects of prayer, like praise, confession, intercession, and eight other categories (praise is listed twice), into our daily communion with God. The book is full of inspirational quotes and uses enthusiastic, simple language to motivate us to pray more regularly and confidently. It is, for all of its rich content, a short book too, so it won’t take you long to read it.
2) WRESTLING WITH GOD by Greg Laurie
There are 3 things I like about this book. For one thing it is written in a positive, sometimes humorous, common sense way, using everyday language. You don’t need a big theological vocabulary to read this book. Secondly, the book uses numerous examples and stories, excellent quotes, and Greg Laurie’s own life experiences to help us overcome one of our biggest challenges in prayer- we get discouraged and tend to give up too quickly. Finally, the book is short. It’s a quick read and you can start benefiting from it right away.
3) FRESH WIND FRESH FIRE by Jim Cymbala 
This book is one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. The story of how God transformed a struggling congregation of about 25 people into one of the leading churches of our time is pure gold! In one sense it’s more than a book about “how to pray.” In fact, it’s not that at all. Yet, in order to grasp in a contemporary context what is possible when people pray, this is “must reading”. The first chapter hooked me and I couldn’t put it down. The entire book is loaded with personal stories of contemporary people who received incredible answers to prayer and transformed lives as a result of prayer. I urge everyone to read this book and I beg every member of my church to read it. If you’re a pastor you have to read this book!
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There you have it- a summer reading list on
prayer that can revolutionize your prayer life!
-JKB