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Bible Reading Notes

These notes were compiled by the Reverend Dr James A P Jack. You will find reading the Bible rewarding and encouraging, but reading the Bible is not always easy!

These guidelines may help you.

July 2020

The Gospel of John

July 1      John 21:1–14

This passage raises a few questions. Why were the disciples fishing? Was it a time of rest for them? Why did they take so long to recognise this stranger on the shore? Was the light too dim for them to recognise him? (It was early morning.) Such questions touch on our own recognition of Jesus. Note that Jesus makes no attempt to teach but is content merely to provide for them. Was he gently showing them how much they needed him?

July 2      John 21:15–19

It is as though Jesus is helping Peter to erase the memory of his earlier denial. Have we known a similar experience in our own lives? Note that Peter, who had earlier proved so fickle, is now given a job to do. Peter, first called to fish for men, is now to be a shepherd, caring for and feeding, the sheep and their lambs! The work of the Church is evangelical (fishing) and pastoral (caring).

July 3      John 21:20–25

We are to care for others in an evangelical and pastoral manner, but that is all. Our principal concern is our own obedience to Christ, and not others. John ends his gospel by reminding us once again that it is no way a complete record of all that could have been written about the life of Christ.

Passages of Faith

July 4      Psalm 39

This psalm stresses the frailty of human kind. The opening verses suggest anxiety and fearfulness. Still, today, many suffer because of fear. A lifetime may seem long to us, but set against the vast span of human existence it is but a puff of wind, a shadow. What we can do in our lifetime is as nothing as compared with the vast totality of the universe.

July 5      Hebrews 11:1–12

The whole chapter lists those who were able to accomplish things that were possible only because they were men and women of faith. The chapter begins with a definition of faith.

(a)  faith is utter conviction of the reality of matters which are beyond the reach of our physical senses;
(b)  it is by faith that we gain God’s approval;
(c)  it is by faith that we understand the origin and function of the universe;
(d)  it is by faith that we can do what is otherwise impossible to us.

Faith is an extra dimension to human experience.

July 6      1 Corinthians 12:1–11

No one can confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless they are guided by the Holy Spirit. So often we emphasise our own efforts in Christian service, yet we can do nothing unless it were first made possible for us by God through the Holy Spirit. That same Holy Spirit gives each of us a gift to be used in the service of the Christian fellowship. The gift received by each person varies. There are different kinds if gifts, each can be exercised in different ways and with different degrees of ability. We are responsible for discovering and understanding what gift we have received, and the way in which they are to be used.

July 7      Luke 10:1–11

There may be times when Christ’s followers have to stay at home and consolidate their position, but there are certainly times when it is right and proper for us to go out. Later they would know the companionship of the Holy Spirit, but no disciple of Jesus is ever alone. They were to go in faith alone and not dependent on their own resources and were given strict instructions regarding their message.

July 8      Acts 12:1–19

The first followers of Christ knew persecution at first hand – James was martyred and Peter imprisoned. When ‘the people of the Church were praying earnestly to God’ they could hardly believe it when Peter knocked at the door! Do we ever pray without really believing that God can or will answer our prayers?

July 9      Daniel 6:1–10

How easy to be discouraged in prayer. Today we read of one who was a victim of discrimination. His critics could find no fault with which to accuse him. They persuaded the king to ban all religious observances. All who prayed, other than to the king himself, were to be slain. Daniel knew what this meant but he kept on praying, he made no secret of his prayer, he prayed both frequently and regularly, he made no change of his habit of prayer. How often are we put off our worship, both public and private, because of tiredness, the weather, unexpected visitors, or some imagined rebuff?

July 10      2 Corinthians  4:7–15

The Christian life is not one of ease and pleasure. In spite of trouble, doubt, enemies and personal hurt, we are not destroyed. The resurrection of Christ is our constant guarantee that all these are overcome. They were overcome by Christ, and they may be overcome by us, if we share in his death. God’s promise of eternal life is available to all who share in the death of Christ.

July 11      2 Corinthians 4:16–5.5

The mature Christian is aware of two movements in life – physical decay and spiritual renewal. In our later years we cannot but be aware of declining strength and vitality. As Christians we should also be aware of growing spiritual confidence and knowledge. We come to a point when declining strength no longer bothers us because we lay greater importance on what is truly permanent. The body is like a tent, which is temporary, but the spiritual life is like a house, which is permanent.

July 12      Revelation 7:9–17

We believe in heaven, yet are almost afraid to think of it. John of Patmos was given a glimpse into the eternal. Note the crowd from every race and every culture, they stood in the presence of God and of his Son, they sang praises to God, they were those who had endured terrible persecutions, they had been cleansed by Christ, they are now under his protection, their days of crying and mourning had ended.

July 13      Revelation 21:1–8

Here is another vision of heaven. It is a new life and not an improved version of the old earthly life and it is a society of fellowship (city); God is with God’s people; it is now a time of joy and not of crying; all the limitations of earthly life have been ended.

The Book of Malachi

July 14      Malachi 1:1–5

Today we begin to study the last book in the Old Testament. It was probably written about 460 bc by an unknown author. ‘Malachi’ really means my messenger, rather than a proper name, though for convenience, we use it as such. Malachi was writing at a time when Israel’s morale was very low. Many had come to wonder if God’s hand was still on their nation.

July 15      Malachi 1:6–8

God’s message is directed to the religious leaders of the land. They do not honour God, and this lack of respect is seen in the sacrifices they offer. Israel’s priests were offering animals that are useless for anything else – and they see nothing wrong. God tells them to try offering such animals to their political masters. There is much for us to think about here. Is it not true that many of us regard our responsibilities to God as less important than our responsibilities to local government or to any social organisation to which we may belong? Dose our worship of God demand the best we can give, or what we can conveniently afford without distress?

July 16      Malachi 1:9–14

The Israelites blamed God for not answering their prayers, whereas the real blame lay with them. Their worship had become a routine affair and did not come from the heart. Indeed, their worship had become so vain and futile that God wished the Temple doors could be closed! Do we deliberately pay lip service to the Almighty? Are we really fulfilling the promises we made to God when we became members of the Church, when our children were baptised, when we were ordained as elders or ministers?

July 17      Malachi 2:1–4

God continues to address the spiritual leaders, and in the original Hebrew stress is laid on ‘you’ – ‘This command is for YOU’. It is so easy for us to blame other people for the troubles in our land, when, in fact, most of our troubles are spiritual in origin. They will not be settled by political persuasion but only spiritual renewal. If we do not honour God then we must bear the consequences. God is a God of love and mercy to all who turn to God in penitence and faith, but those who dishonour God, flout God’s laws and live as though there was no God – a curse will be laid on them. This is the clear teaching, not only of those verses, but of the whole of the Scripture.

July 18      Malachi 2:5–9

Here we come to a fault we used to call ‘spiritual backsliding’. It is possible for a man to set out on the spiritual life in sincerity and fidelity, honouring God and walking in God’s ways, but then something can happen in his life so that he turns from the right path. Some may turn away deliberately. Others turn away simply because their spiritual growth has been interrupted. How often we hear people speak of what they once did in the Church. God is not really interested in what we used to do, but only in what we are doing now. In those verses we see quite clearly that the priests used to respect God’s laws, but they no longer do so, and it is their present state that is being judged.

July 19      Malachi 2:10–16

God now turns from their spiritual faults to their moral failures, though the two are not unconnected. ‘Men have married women who worship foreign Gods.’ Here is a topic that is mentioned in scripture more than once. Inter-racial marriage in itself is no sin. What is sin is for a God-fearing man or woman to marry an unbeliever, of whatever race. Marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman. If a Christian enters into such a union with a non-Christian then it is a form of denial of the Lordship of Christ.

July 20      Malachi 2:17–3:5

When we ask questions such as ‘why does god allow this?’ Or ‘What is God doing?’ we are not showing our cleverness but merely doubting God’s authority. There will come a day when God’s ‘messenger’ will appear such a day would not be one of peace but one of purging as God’s people are cleansed of sin. When that purging is over then the offerings of worship will be pleasing to God. In that day of purging certain practices will be particularly severely dealt with – tampering with the occult, sexual immorality, falsehood, injustice and oppression. Consider these practices in the context of our modern society.

July 21      Malachi 3:6–12

In our faithless questions we often imply that God has departed from us, whereas it is we who have departed from God. God is unchangeable; it is we who move. Therefore, any new relationship between us and God must involve our own ‘turning back’ to God.

July 22      Malachi 3:13–18

The Israelites had a problem of which many of us are also only too aware. They could look around and see that many who disobeyed God still managed a prosperous life. It began to look as though there was little point in religion since good men were no better off than evil men and, indeed, were often poorer. Religion seemed to be a handicap rather than a blessing! God promises that a day is coming when, once again, the distinction between good and evil will be made plain!

July 23      Malachi 4:1–6

These verses now state quite clearly what has been hinted at earlier – that a time is coming when evil people will be destroyed and those who honour God will not only survive but they will be healed. This healing means that they will be perfectly restored.

The Book of Habakkuk

July 24      Habakkuk 1:1–4

We know little about Habakkuk as a man except that he wrote about 600 bc – a time of decline in Israel, and of growing power in Babylon. The prophet understands his message to have been revealed to him by God. He is not expressing his own opinions, but passing on what God has shown him. He begins by asking why there should be so much violence and injustice around him. God’s law seems quite ineffectual in the society of his time.

July 25      Habakkuk 1:5–11

God answers the prophet’s complaint. God, in fact, is doing something, and it will be of such a nature that the people of Israel will be utterly astonished. God is bringing the Babylonians to power. Later verses describe the military power and ruthlessness of Babylon. We must learn that God sometimes uses unbelieving nations to discipline and correct those who claim to follow God.

July 26      Habakkuk 1:12–17

Habakkuk, naturally, cannot understand what God has just revealed to him. How can the holy and eternal God even think of using people like the Babylonians to accomplish God’s will? It seems almost like a contradiction in the divine purpose, yet sometimes God’s people wander so far from God’s way that God has no alternative but to use unbelievers to effect God’s will.

July 27      Habakkuk 2:1–4

How often in the New Testament we are told to ‘watch and pray’, ‘be on your guard’, ‘be self-controlled and alert’. If we genuinely want to understand the ways of God, then we must keep our eyes open and be alert! But we must also learn to wait. Just as a farmer waits for his crops to ripen, so also God waits for the right time to act. Those who reject God may appear to enjoy success in this life, but in the long term their apparent success doesn’t last, while those who remain faithful to God will enjoy his blessing.

July 28      Habakkuk 2:5–6

Evil men are attracted by wealth, yet wealth itself is deceitful. Its deceit is shown in a kind of progression. First, it is deceitful in that it never leads to satisfaction – always we want more. The evil man is never satisfied. Satisfaction through wealth is an illusion.

July 29      Habakkuk 2:7–8

Here we discover the second form of deceit that exists in wealth. The more you have, the more you attract the attention of other evil men who want what you already have. Wealth places one in a vulnerable position. Instead of bringing peace it brings anxiety lest you lose what you have already gained.

July 30      Habakkuk 2:9–14

The third danger of wealth is that it tempts a man to use violence. He may begin to gather wealth through hard work and honest gain, but he quickly discovers that the rate of increase of his wealth can be accelerated if he begins to pressurise those with whom he deals. The fourth danger follows naturally as the craving for wealth that can become so acute that a man will stop at nothing to acquire more.

July 31      Habakkuk 2:15–17

The fifth danger is moral degradation. The desire for wealth, social prestige, political power, industrial success and fame have a similar effect to the one who starts off well-intentioned but ends up ruining his life and the life of those around him.