27 July 2020
One of the rarely mentioned and little appreciated joys of being a follower of Jesus is that we get to celebrate two birthdays every year — one biological and one spiritual, the latter being the day of our New Birth. In salvation terms, I’m coming up on my 52nd birthday on Friday July 31! I give thanks to God for the night of my salvation… and for the promise I made to Him when I was only three hours old in the Lord.
Testimony of My Salvation
From Job (above) and David the same idea: Treasure!3
“Help me to understand what I’m reading, Lord!”4
Needed: curiosity, hunger, and childlike wonder5
I celebrated my 16th biological birthday at the end of May 1968, just before the end of my sophomore year in high school. During the closing months of that academic year and into the summer, I was searching for some deeper meaning in life. I devoured books on the subject (especially those along the lines of the “secrets of your ‘subconscious mind’” variety) and was making a disciplined attempt to read through the Bible. (To be honest, though, between the “King James English” and the priestly, sacrificial minutiae of Leviticus, I became hopelessly mired halfway through the Pentateuch.)
My quest also led me to visit various church youth groups. (As an aside, I had grown up in a church-going family, but we always attended what I would now deem as “liberal churches,” i.e., churches that didn’t believe in the need for salvation and New Birth. Bible references in the sermons were more accidental than intentional.)
One youth group that I visited in particular stood out — a lively, intriguing, well-attended (about 25 teens sprawled around a living room) youth Bible study in the home of a couple from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. It was here that I first heard that Jesus Christ was to return to earth. What?! Unheard of! In my liberal-church naivety and ignorance of the Scriptures, my immediate reaction was to wonder what “flying-saucer book” this “weird, off-the-wall idea” came from. Imagine my surprise when someone pointed me to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (the subject of that night’s study). Wow, that’s in the Bible? Who knew?! I eagerly returned the next week…
…only to discover no one else had bothered to show up that night! Even the youth-group leader, Andy Scott, arrived 15 minutes late. Finally there were four of us. In his wisdom, Andy decided to skip the evening’s planned Bible study; rather, he turned the micro-gathering into a personal evangelism encounter. I didn’t know it, but after months of searching, my heart was ready. For the first time in my go-to-church-every-Sunday life, I heard the Gospel, learned what Jesus did for me — and why — and what I needed to do to accept His offer of salvation and to follow Him. “If that’s what Jesus wants me to do, I’d be glad to!” I responded with all my heart.
A Special Promise Made that Night
Youth pastor Andy Scott (thank you, Andy, wherever you are, for your obedience to the Holy Spirit that night!) sent me home with the counsel to read through the five chapters of the First Epistle of John three times before going to bed that evening. I obeyed and read that epistle to my great spiritual profit.
But another transaction was made that evening, a promise that has had far-reaching consequences: I promised the Lord that I would read through the Scriptures cover to cover every year. No one had yet taught me that most basic of spiritual-growth principles:
Find a time and place to pray
And read your Bible every day.
But being now in a living, New-Birth relationship with God, the Holy Spirit dwelling in me, I was being taught (as I see now) by His abiding presence within. I could not have articulated that at the time, but it was clearly a “God thing,” and I knew that I could not make such a commitment before the living God and shirk or renege later. Thus, July 31st, my spiritual birthday, is always my “finish date” for reading through the Bible. Each completed journey through the Bible is a “birthday present” in its own right. So this week I’m “52 and through” the Bible yet again!
Promise Kept (and Then Some!)
One of life’s special blessings: having a spouse who shares this “wonderful obsession” to read through the Scriptures regularly. Here’s Denise teaching in Lima, Perú.9
“Well,” you say, “since this is your 52nd spiritual birthday, that means that you must have read through the Scriptures 52 times.” Yes. But no. No, not just 52 times. After I entered into the ministry (at the tender age of 19), and as my pastoral ministry evolved into a teaching ministry, I realized that once a year through the Scriptures was woefully inadequate. So back in 1988, I “renegotiated” the promise, amending it to twice through the New Testament every year and once through the Old Testament every year. It was at the cost of more discipline and more time, but it resulted in more blessing and insight, more than a fair tradeoff!
But the burden for teaching and writing responsibilities continued to grow, as did the conviction of my inadequacies and insufficient saturation in the Scriptures. So starting on my 39th spiritual birthday (2007), I spent a year “counting the cost” of increasing that daily reading. I didn’t want to make a promise I wouldn’t or couldn’t keep. By spiritual birthday #40, a full year later, the matter was settled — my promise was “renegotiated” again to this: annually reading the New Testament 4 times and the Old Testament 2 times. As of this coming Friday, by God’s grace, the promise-fulfilled count stands at 115 times through the NT (including seven times in Spanish) and 66 times through the OT (including twice in Spanish).
Possibly a Clue!
Quick Report from Guatemala
Superintendent Atilio Chávez
& Dr. Gladys de Chávez,
the leaders of the pastors and leaders
with whom we work in Guatemala.10
I confess that I don’t follow U.S. national news nearly as much as I do the daily COVID-19 news reports coming from Guatemala, Honduras, Perú, etc. Here is the translation of a recent e-mail from Bro. Atilio:
“I am confident that you always have us in your prayers and that your love for us is unmatched.…
“Pastor Rene Elías is very ill. Yesterday he needed oxygen. He is at home. The other pastors have passed [through] the virus at home; not all of them have gotten sick. We have some pastors in need and thank God we have helped them with our own funds and aid… if it is in your possibilities to help us, we will share it with much love.
“You are always in our prayers.”
We will be sharing as many reports as we can in next month’s newsletter. Stay tuned for an opportunity to help the Latin American leaders!
Is that all so much birthday boasting? The Lord knows — that’s not my heart. My hope is to encourage (and maybe provoke!) you in your own reading. If you’ve been reading the Scriptures through faithfully, keep at it! If you made that promise (perhaps more than once), but haven’t been faithful to it, now’s the time to recommit. If you’ve never made such a commitment, I’ll share with you what I’ve often shared with others:
When is the best time to start reading
through the Bible annually?
Answer: The day you get saved!
The second-best time to start? Today!
Does all this reading make me a “Bible expert”? No. Emphatically no! In fact, in many ways I feel like I know less about it than ever! Or, perhaps better explained: I am more aware of the huge gaps in my understanding. I am keenly attuned to the fact that my fallible, finite, faulty “gray matter” vainly grapples with a Book authored by an omniscient, infinite mind; only the Spirit of God, who teaches us, can penetrate my cluelessness and enlighten me about anything.
But lest that sound all forlorn and hopeless — over the last few years, more and more “pieces” come together as I read faithfully and prayerfully. The Holy Spirit graciously makes “connections” that I’ve never seen or understood before. Some days I even feel like I might have a “clue” from the Scriptures about what our heavenly Father reveals concerning His grand designs. And that excites me to continue reading, eagerly, faithfully, humbly, full of curiosity and wonder.
I’m so glad that I was led to make that promise on the night of my spiritual re-birth! I’m blessed that the Lord has helped me to keep that promise!
I am so glad that our Father in Heav’n
Tells of His love in the Book He has giv’n.
Wonderful things in the Bible I see;
This is the dearest, that Jesus loves me.11
Re-cap of a Busy Month
Well, maybe all of the above is too personal for your liking. I apologize; you know how it is with us “old folks” — once we get into story-telling mode, it’s hard to reel us back in! Let’s finish up with a quick report about this month’s activities at Finest of the Wheat Teaching Fellowship:
- We edited and published a “new” Percy Gutteridge message, Logos & Rhema, on our website (free, course) and as an e-booklet on Amazon Kindle (99¢).
- Thus completed, Logos & Rhema has now been delivered to hermana Inés González for translation into Spanish, at her request.
- We also published Percy Gutteridge’s article The Double Portion of Elijah as an e-booklet (99¢) and refreshed it on our website (free). This will be part of the forthcoming book The Emblems of the Holy Spirit. But you can read it all now on the website, starting with chapter 1, The Sevenfold Holy Spirit.
- Around 10-15 hours are spent each week in correspondence, advising, and phone counseling. (And yet I’m still behind on e-mail and thank-you notes!)
Upwards of a hundred “new” words were harvested for my Spanish vocabulary practice from my Spanish New Testament readings.
- Three days ago, I began enhancing and enlarging my Leper in the Throne Room. article (an unfolding of Isaiah 6) before we commit it to publication as an Amazon e-booklet.
There’s more going on, of course, in various stages of completion. I’m especially looking forward to Denise’s special writing project (but more on that next month). Meanwhile, many thanks to all of you for your prayers and financial support. You are being used by God, who supplies all our needs and your needs, according to His riches in glory.
Much love in Jesus,
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- All the Scripture graphics used in this newsletter were created by Jim Kerwin using for backgrounds photos shared freely on two wonderful free graphics platforms. The photo in this case is by Rod Long on Unsplash. ↩
- Image underlying the Job 23:12 graphic is a photo by FotoRieth from Pixabay. English verses quoted in these graphics are from the New American Standard Bible published by the Lockman Foundation. ↩
- Psalm 119:11 image by Roger Casco Herrera from Pixabay. Any Spanish Scripture quotations in these images are taken from the Reina-Valera 1960 translation, the copyright to which is held by the American Bible Society. ↩
- Another photo by FotoRieth from Pixabay ↩
- Photo by Ben White on Unsplash ↩
- Photo by Leroy Skalstad on Unsplash ↩
- Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash ↩
- Photo by Jorge Watanabe. ↩
- Photo by Jim Kerwin ↩
- Photo by Denise Kerwin. ↩
- The full links to Philip Bliss’ upbeat, favorite hymn can be read by clicking on this link: I Am So Glad that Jesus Loves Me! ↩