Posted by: gmscan | September 23, 2011

Two Verses

I have just finished reading the Bible for the first time.

It has taken a couple of years. I know there are 90-day programs for reading the Bible, but I wouldn’t want to go that route. First, I am a slow reader. I usually read each sentence several times and often make notes in the margins or dog-ear pages I will want to come back to. Plus, I was reading R.C. Sproul’s Reformation Study Bible which includes discussions of translation difficulties, historical notes, and so on. It tripled the size of the book, but I found it all very rewarding.

I did not start with Genesis and end with Revelations. Instead, I began with Acts, went back to the Gospels, and then read the Old Testament from start to finish.  I did it this way because I already had a pretty good idea of the life of Jesus, but very little idea of what happened next – how the church got organized, how Christianity went from a handful of people in an obscure province of the Roman Empire to the most consequential movement in human history.

Then I read the Gospels and was intrigued by Jesus saying he was here to fulfill the prophecies. I figured I had better read those prophecies to find out what he was fulfilling, so the Old Testament came last.

Now I am eager to spend time with Jesus. So I will shelve the study Bible for now and read the Gospels as they were meant to be read.

But first, I want to share a couple of incidents of the past week that remind me that I am not doing this reading alone. The Holy Spirit is right there with me.

I went to my grandson’s high school football game on Wednesday. He was put on Junior Varsity even though he’s a freshman, so it is a pretty big deal for him. Before I left on the 45-minute drive I cleaned out the back of our car and came across an old cassette tape of a performance of The Messiah I was involved in in Maine 30 years ago.

I have often wondered what became of that tape. It was the best performance of The Messiah I have ever heard. Our Chorale Arts Society and the choir of the local university, both directed by Robert Russell, joined up with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bruce Hangen, to do the performance in the local municipal auditorium, filled with an audience of some 2,000.  It was a magical, sacred evening and listening to the tape brought back the wonder of it.

The last section I listened to on the way home was the bass solo, “But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.”

That evening before going to bed, as I was finishing the Old Testament, the last book was, of course, Malachi including that exact verse (Malachi 3:2).

The other incident began last week at my Friday morning men’s study group. We are reading Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and he paraphrases one of the parables (Matthew 20: 1-16) like this –

Jesus told of a farmer who hired people to work in his vineyards. Some clocked in at sunrise, some at morning coffee break, some at lunchtime, some at afternoon coffee break, and some an hour before quitting time. Everybody seemed content until payroll time, when the stalwarts who had worked twelve hours under a blazing sun learned that the sweatless upstarts who had put in barely an hour would receive the exact same pay. The boss’s action contradicted everything known about employee motivation and fair compensation. It was atrocious economics, plain and simple.

Indeed. No one could run a business that way. Workers would all check in just before quitting time to get a full day’s wages.  Is this grace, or is it injustice?

There is plenty here to discuss. Jesus was not telling us to behave this way, he was telling us this is how God behaves.

And I thank God he does, because this is my story. I am the fellow who punches in right before quitting time. But my salvation will be every bit as well-earned as that of people who have been believers all of their lives. Which is to say, not earned at all. I am every bit as unworthy of salvation as everybody else in the pews.

But the amazing thing is that on Sunday, this is the exact same verse our pastor used in her Gospel reading and sermon.

Someone is stitching this all together for me because that someone knows how thick I am. I don’t get the message until it is beaten into my head.



  1. Great insights, Greg. John and I have been impressed by Isaiah 58:7-9. Here is an amazing scenario.

    On September 16, 1999, our church community of Zarephath, NJ was completely flooded by Hurricane Floyd.

    4 years later volunteers completed the work on a little house that was transformed into a free clinic, where we could care for the poor. For almost 8 years, we saw people in need, and our church grew from 200 to 2,000. The culture of caring was contagious. We were often standing room only, so another bigger place was identified, out of the flood plain.

    Volunteers began work on a 5,000 square foot building and it was completed in July. All the equipment, medicines and exam tables were moved over.

    On August 21st we had an open house where the church people, politicians and people in the community could see what was done.

    On August 28th, Hurricane Irene barreled through, competely flooding the original campus and former clinic under 14 feet of water.

    The next week, a truckload of supplies came from the pharmaceutical companies– donated to help the flood victims and to continue our help to the poor. We had plenty of space to accept it and thus bless others.

    The entire community was amazed at the timing– a great witness to the grace of God.

    • Alieta, I have never doubted that your mission is blessed, you confirm that every day.

  2. Hi Greg! I always enjoy reading your emails. I really appreciate your personal comments about what the Word of God means to you.
    I think my favorite book of the Bible is the gospel of John.
    I am always amazed how Simon .. then Simon Peter.. then Peter is transformed thoughout this gospel. We are all a work in progress.
    My favorite part is John 21. This event takes place after Simon Peter denies that he knows Jesus three times, and after the crucifiction and Jesus’ resurrection. Simon Peter has returned to fishing. ( We all tend to go back to our old ways when we mess up or when things don’t work out like we plan.) He is, no doubt, frustrated because he can’t even catch fish anymore. Then someone calls from the shoreline. ” Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
    Can’t you almost hear Simon Peter grumbling under his breath, maybe even mimicking the question? Then the person on the shore hollers..” Throw your net on the right side and you will find some.” Wise guy! .. but they did.. and amazingly there were more fish than they knew what to do with. They worked to get all the fish they could manage toward the shore. Then John says to Peter, ” It is the Lord! Peter’s focus is not on the fish now. It is only on Jesus! I LOVE that he grabbed his robe and wrapped it around him and he jumped in the water. The boat was just going to slow him down. If I would have been Peter wading toward Jesus, I would be trying to figure out what in the world I could say to him to express my sincere, heart rending, remorse for the way I acted toward him, knowing full well that Jesus already knew my every thought. I would have thought, He’ll never trust me again.
    Jesus already has a fire going. Jesus has breakfast in mind for the weary disciples. Bread and fish. How appropriate. Don’t you imagine they smiled at each other as they remembered the boy with the loaves and fishes. Then Jesus has a moment of truth with Simon Peter. “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”.. was that more than the fish??? I wonder what Jesus glanced at when he said that. Was it the fish?.. Was this a Question of whether Peter would be willing to finally walk away from his past?
    Was this Jesus offering him “reinstatement”? When Jesus asks him two more times, I’m positive it isn’t because He doesn’t know Peter’s heart, I think it is because Peter needed to know his own heart. He needed to make a decision. It’s not going to always be a day of catching more fish than you can haul in, Peter. Are you ready to follow me so you can lead others? Peter obviously did follow Jesus. Are you as excited as I am when you read this!!
    God is SO patient with me! He knows just what it will take to win my heart and get me on the right path. I hope when you read John that your heart will just be full to overflowing!


    • Wonderful, Karen. Yes, I have read John, but that was before I read the Old Testament and seen what a hopeless broken world Jesus came into. I can’t wait to get back to it and let the peace of the Lord wash over me.

  3. You are describing events that are “God Winks Moments.” I highly recommend the book “When God Winks.” It will get you to thinking about every one and everything that comes into your life. Are they here to help me with my mission or am I here to help them with their mission? That thinking helps to connect the dots that God provides to us. There is no such think as a coincidence, it is when God wants to remain anonymous.

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