12.30.2011

Read the Bible

It's that time again, Bible reading plan selection for the new year! (Here's mine)

Why a Bible reading schedule, you ask?

Christians are people of the Book, God's Word. We are what we eat, in nutrition and in our intake of words or pictures. Maybe you like Youtube, Facebook, blogs, or Netflix. Okay, that isn't evil. But does your soul long for the Word of God above all these? Honestly, we can say that our sinful nature does not, and this is a daily battle. So let's prepare.

If you don't have a plan for reading a book as big as the Bible, it probably won't happen. You need preparation and long term resolve to go the distance. You are deciding to invest 15-20 minutes a day this year in this enterprise. Do you really think it's worth it? (Hint: it is.) Count the cost. Usually Bible plans try to sell you on how little you actually have to read. "Only 15 minutes a day!" Actually, it's more, if you read slowly and savor the text. And that's over 90 hours of time this year. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying it's a big commitment you have to re-make every day. Having a plan makes that easier. You know what you have to do. Daily Bible reading is a big life change that brings immense rewards.

A plan keeps you from going to your favorite verses and never getting around to other things. I'm amazed at how many people I meet who have been Christians for decades, who "never knew that was in the Bible." Don't let that happen to you. Read all of it.

A plan helps you gauge if you are giving priority to the Word and to the Lord in your daily schedule. Say what you want about "getting behind" and not wanting that unnecessary guilt. How can you say your relationship with the Lord is stellar, if you aren't motivated enough to take in a reasonable amount of His Word regularly? It's true that a reading schedule or daily reading is not required by the Lord in His Word. But I'm talking about a good barometer of your relationship, not a black-and-white sin issue. Don't condemn yourself if you get behind. Just start again today and keep going. The righteous man falls seven times and gets up again, as the Proverb says. He doesn't lay down and say, "Well, you won't fool me into trying to walk again now that I see what it can lead to." So it is with not finishing a plan in past years: doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again this year, changing what tripped you up before.



So let's set this plan up.

1. Most plans try to get you through the whole Bible in a year. This is a reasonable quantity for SOME people, but not for everyone. I've done this for the last several years, but it IS formidable. Set achievable goals. Don't aim so high in your new-year zeal that you are bound to fail. GO SLOWER. I'm opting for a two year plan. One benefit of this is that you can merge your family devotions with your personal devotions. This puts things back in the formidable camp, reading more than a chapter a day out loud to your family. But I'm really looking forward to it.

2. Chronological is the best way to read through the whole Bible. Reading straight through in book order is good, too. It's good to read the New Testament and Old Testament at the same time, so you don't wait until you're 3/4 done before you hit Matthew. So start with Matthew 1 and go chronologically.

3. I find Proverbs 10-29 very hard to digest in chapter chunks. Far better to take 1-3 verses per day on those. The Psalms are best read in one of two ways: 1. Chronologically next to the events in David's (mostly) life; 2. One per day, through them twice in a year. I opted for chronological this year.

I could not find a bible plan that puts all this together for me, so I took time I didn't have and put together my own plan. You can find it at the bottom of this page.



Implement! Pick a time of day when this is going to happen. I will be reading to my family after lunch and/or dinner most days, occasionally just before bed. Some families find morning devotions easy. A daily routine is your friend. It makes getting it done much easier. But routine alone is not your motivation. Pray for God's Spirit to draw you to the Word He inspired, in anticipation of finding Jesus there, day by day. Happy new year, and may God bless and transform your heart and life by His Word.

12.27.2011

Not quite Ron Paul's Foreign Policy


Hillsdale College President, Larry Arnn, is asked, in the Dec 2011 Imprimis:
You also write: “Promotion of democracy and defense of innocents abroad should be undertaken only in keeping with the national interest.” Where do you place your views on the spectrum between Ron Paul and George W. Bush?
Arnn: I side with Thomas Jefferson when he said, “We are the friends of liberty everywhere, custodians only of our own.” Foreign affairs are prudential matters, and prudential matters are not subject to narrow rules laid out in advance. But that practical statement by Jefferson is a brilliant guide.
"Also, we have to remember that it is a very dangerous world. Churchill believed that one of the effects of technology is to make us both wealthier and more powerful. And both wealth and power can turn to destruction. The great wars of modernity have been much larger in scale than ancient wars, and equal in intensity. Churchill believed that liberal society contains in this respect and others seeds of its own destruction. It is the work of statesmen to find the cheapest possible way to defend their countries without consuming all the resources of those countries.
"I pray that Iraq is going to be a free country, and I think there is a chance of it, and I give George W. Bush credit for that. But I have been skeptical, and it is a more complicated question than many seem to understand. A senior person in the White House said to me one time, “Don’t you think the Iraqis want to be free?” And I said: “Sure they do. But have you read The Federalist Papers? Do you divine from its arguments that wanting to be free is sufficient?” As it turns out, it is hard to obtain civil and religious liberty, and it is hard to maintain it.
"But do I think we did a good thing imposing a new constitution on Japan after World War II? Sure I do. Japan did a terrible thing to us, we conquered it, and there was an opportunity in that. It would have been a false economy not to seize that opportunity. Does that mean that in every country where there is a threat to us, we won’t be perfectly safe until they are democratic? Maybe. But even so, is trying to make them democratic practicable and the most practical way to serve our security? Probably not. Again, these are matters of prudence."

Shameless repost, since it sums up my views well.

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12.23.2011

Free book!

Here's a great deal. Free audio book, "When I don't desire God," by John Piper. Great for dealing honestly with the spiritual doldrums.

12.19.2011

Best Books Ever

I’m seeing a friend tomorrow who always asks what I’ve been reading lately. He has put a top 10 best books list, so I thought I’d try it. I looked through the list of what I’ve read in the last 7 years, and picked out the best, and what else came to mind. I got down to 16. These are not in any order, and some dates are approximate…


Holiness, by JC Ryle (1880)
On pursuing godliness and piety, by one of the “last puritans.”

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)
Great literature exploring various social and personal virtues and vices through a compelling story.
Right Ho, Jeeves, by PG Wodehouse (1934)
Rip-roaring hilarity. Read for writing style, or just for fun.

Christ and the Caesars, by Ethelbert Stauffer (1958)
An historian looks at the political context into which the Gospel came in the first-century Roman Empire.

Desiring God, by John Piper (2003)
A modern classic on loving and pursuing a relationship with God.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1940)
Yes, I’m cheating counting this as one. See Pride and Prejudice explanation, above.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis (1950)
Yes, I’m cheating counting this as one. See Pride and Prejudice explanation, above.

The Lord’s Service, by Jeff Meyers (2003)
Theological and Biblical examination of what corporate worship should be.

Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen (1923)
A modern defender of orthodoxy shows how religious liberalism is a separate religion from Christianity, invading and corrupting the Christian church.

The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter (1670)
What a Christian Pastor should be and do in his ministry.

Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin (1563)
A masterpiece of systematic theology.

Idols for Destruction, by Herbert Schlossberg (1993)
Modern social critique of how our culture is leaving God. Examines the roots, not just the symptoms of the culture wars.

Odyssey, by Homer (700BC)
Great story of justice, patience and endurance

Valley of Vision
Collected prayers of Puritans. Beautiful, intimate and theologically rich.

Through New Eyes – James Jordan (2000)
A refreshing look at Scripture that looks at God’s world and word through new eyes.

Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan (1678)
Classic, saturated with Scripture.

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12.17.2011

The Weight of Glory


The Weight of GloryThe Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CS Lewis was a master essayist, who offered some bracing defenses of orthodox Christian thought and practice at a time when liberalism was already at high tide in his academic circles. Cogent and colorful, this book is a collection of essays:

1. The Weight of glory, in which he ties God's glory to the joy we desire but never fully achieve.

2. Learning in War time, a lecture to students during the war, making the case for continuing the pursuit of culture and vocation during wartime.

3. Why I am not a pacifist, in which he explains... why he is not a pacifist.

4. Transposition, a glorious take the relation between physical and spiritual, sensations and emotions, our resurrected body compared with our present one.

5. Is Theology Poetry? in which he rejects believing the theology because it is beautiful.

6. The Inner Ring, probably the most insightful essay on the temptation of all people no matter how old, to work for acceptance by the "in crowd," however you define that. He dissects the lure of the world, and the pride of life.

7. Membership, on how the Church as participating in the body of Christ keeps us from individualism and collectivism. Right up the political wonk's alley. If you wonder how to handle Acts 2:42-44 as a political conservative, read this.

8. On forgiveness, a short sermon on forgiving real faults, not rationalizing away people's offenses so there is really nothing to forgive.

9. A Slip of the Tongue, another sermon, facing honestly our desire to not commit too much to God before it hurts us in the "real" world.


View all my reviews

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Resurrection Communion


Hebrews 5:5, 7-9
So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: 
          “You are My Son, 
          Today I have begotten You.” 
7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him."


The bread and wine Jesus has commanded us to use to memorialize His death also points to His resurrection. Grain and grapes have to be worked over by people. The process involves yeast, fermentation, contact with corruption. But out of that comes life-giving bread, joy-giving wine. This is what happened to Jesus. He learned obedience in His suffering and tasted death for you and me. He rises like bread. His divine life mysteriously mixed with death, contended with death and conquered it. The result is life-giving joy for us in Christ’s life.


Easter - 4/24/11

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Resurrection Day Confession


Ephesians 2:1-3 - "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others."

Even on Easter morning we do not neglect to confess our sins. Without confession and death, fasting and repenting, we cannot see the Gospel of reconciled enemies. We were dead in our sin. We were at war with God, but He made peace by the blood of His cross. And it isn’t the kind of peace you find on a battlefield strewn with bodies. He gives life. So come and drop your dead body of sin at the cross. Then walk over to the empty tomb, look up at the clouds, and find your life hidden in heaven with God.

This reminds us to confess our sins

Easter - 4/24/11

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12.16.2011

Gluttony and Lust


It is often jarring to go from joyous singing to a call to confession. Worship imitates life. It is never a smooth flow in normal life to be called on the carpet to confess, either. But we must confess our sins regularly, and so here we are, looking today on the last Sunday during Lent, looking at the last 2 of the 7 deadly sins, gluttony and lust.

Jesus was accused of gluttony and drunkenness for feasting with sinners. Enjoying the abundance God gives us, as Jesus clearly did, is not gluttony. Gluttony is stuffing ourselves beyond our need and beyond what we can use, to the detriment of our body, soul, family or friends. This could be with food or with anything else. I confess to you that I am often a glutton, not for food, but for words, for information. I read and read and read, and let it get out of proportion and it hinders my ministry to my family.

God has also given us other physical desires to enjoy within marriage. But again we have a hard time keeping our minds, our eyes, our emotions, our bodies directed where God wants them. Men want the physical pleasure of women, but not the responsibility of loving his wife. Women want to be wanted, by some other guy. A young man wants a girl and must redirect that want into work to provide for her in the future. Married men must redirect wandering passions back to Christ, to their wives, their work and family.

Where we indulge the flesh, Christ denied His, fasting and suffering beatings and crucifixion. 
This reminds us to confess our sins

4/17/11

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12.13.2011

The journey is too great


1 Kings 19:1-8

Elijah served the Lord and it got him in big trouble. He ran from Jezebel, and was so hard pressed he asked God to take his life. His suffering was intense, and God provided relief from it on the way. He gave Elijah bread for the journey. The journey was too great for him. This all applies to us. God has given you various ways of relief from suffering. This table is meant to be one of those. On the other hand, God has given you only one way of remission for your sins: the blood of Jesus. So take up His cup now, the seal of the new covenant, the sign of His blood shed for the remission of your sins.


4/10/11

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Sloth and greed


We are to work heartily in whatever we do, as for the Lord. This rules out sloth.  God has called us to work and avoiding it is sin. Children should do their schoolwork and household chores without complaining. Adults should not waste time on the job doing personal things. Sloth doesn’t just avoid work. It avoids the most important things in life. Be diligent in prayer, the Bible says, but we are slothful in our busy-ness. So being busy doesn’t make you avoid sloth.

And lacking things doesn’t make you greedy. The hand of the diligent becomes rich, the Proverb says. But when your stuff gets between you and God, when you need it and you ignore God or hurt others to get it, you are greedy. Greed is akin to drunkenness and homosexuality in 1 Cor 6, which should bring you up short. Pursuing worldly things will choke out the Word of God. Don’t let it. Jesus took the disciples to the garden; Don’t be sleeping when Jesus says to watch. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 silver pieces. Don’t let desire for money let you pursue other gods before Jesus.

4/10/11

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12.08.2011

The grace of baptism

I just came across an amazing quote by John Calvin, responding to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (which responded to and rejected the Reformation). Trent asserts that in baptism original sin is removed, but we still need penance to deal with actual sins. Calvin responds:

“We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. Accordingly, sin truly remains in us, and is not instantly in one day extinguished by baptism, but as the guilt is effaced it is null in regard to imputation. Nothing is plainer than this doctrine.”
Now, in context, Calvin is rejecting how another sacrament is needed after baptism to deal with sin. But note what he assumes: remission and regeneration are conveyed in baptism. The Protestant protest against Rome does not reject that baptism conveys the grace of remission of sins, but insists it only comes to those with true faith. It is not an automatic, dispensed by the "vending machine" church.

For more proof of that, consider what Westminster says on baptism: "The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time." (John 3:5-8; Gal 3:27; Titus 3:5; Eph 5:25; Acts 2:38)

Here is the link to Calvin's whole response. It is very long! The quote above is in the fifth statement.

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A Table of Watching

When God gives us commands, He also provides the means to obey. God calls us to watch for the return of Christ, and this table is one way we do that. This table points back to the dawn of time, when God promised to crush the serpent. It points to the cross where he was crushed. It reveals our present union with Christ. And it points to the end of time, when Christ will come for His bride and throw a wedding feast to celebrate the completion of His kingdom. Consider the coming consummation, in this communion. You were saved at the cross, yes. You are saved and justified right now. And yet, you have yet to be saved from lingering sin and suffering. We yearn to be free and complete, and so we watch and work and serve. That begins with God’s grace working in us, communicated to us in this bread and wine, by the Spirit’s working and by true faith. Return to the Savior, and watch for His return.


4/3/11

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Anger


Ephesians 4:31 - "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice."

When we are angry with someone we see the root of murder. Anger is often a physical response of defense in a dangerous situation. We are threatened, because we are hurt or afraid. Our emotions blind us to sorting out if we are angry for selfish reasons or godly ones. A parent can have anger rise up in them seeing sin in their child, but the parent must control it and let it motivate them to godly discipline. If mom or dad lets the emotion get away from them and they spank or speak angrily, it is ungodly and will not bring the fruit God promises from discipline. An angry emotion at wrongdoing does not justify what you do with that feeling. The media doesn’t help us here, mixing reporting of issues with angry debates every day, telling us every day that we have a right to be angry when we disagree. Be angry about a sin you see, but don’t attack the person. Help them get away from their sin. Anger takes offense at small things, magnifies those small things, and refuses to forgive anyone.
Jesus bore the righteous anger of God for our sinful anger. He was angry with sin, and dealt with it by patient, clear teaching, and sacrifice. His self-control saved us from our anger.

This reminds us to confess our sins


4/3/11

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12.06.2011

We believe; and it's all God's Grace

Holy Spirit: Contours of Christian Theology
How can salvation be all God's grace, if we have to believe to receive it? Doesn't that make our faith the thing that saves us? Sinclair Ferguson ponders, in The Holy Spirit, pg 128-9.

To answer, he quotes GC Berkouwer: "Faith does not possess one single constructive and creative moment; it rests only and exclusively in the reality of the promise."

And Ferguson explains further: "There is a total engagement of the believer, yet at the same time grace is not compromised."

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What Jesus Wants


Jesus tells His Father in John 17, “I desire that they whom you gave me may be with me where I am.” One of the few times Jesus speaks of His desire, it is that we be joined with Him. He’s thinking of it as He institutes communion, when He says, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. Jesus our bridegroom, longs for the wedding day. Hasten as a bride to meet Him. We speak of justification as God accepting us, and that is true but it is a major understatement. God so loved the world, He made rejoining with Him possible at the cross. The father of the prodigal son does not just accept him when he returns repentant. He runs to embrace him, and throws him a feast. A groom does not just accept a bride. He longs for her to be with him. The rabbis told stories in Jesus’ day of an engaged young man who had to build his house before he could get married. His father would give him the green light when it was done. And every day the son would say, is it good enough, can we have the wedding now? But it’s only half done. One day while the young man is furiously building, the rabbi walks past and asks, son, when is your wedding? And he throws down his hammer and says, No one knows the day or the hour, not the son, not even the angels in heaven, only my father. We are united with Christ now, by the Spirit, and He renews that union as we eat and drink here. But Jesus longs for that union to be complete. Do you long for that day, as He does? We long for Him as He does for us.

3/27/11

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Envy


When we are envious of others, we hate them for how God has blessed them. We covet things; we envy people. The first sin was pride and seeking independence from God, by eating the fruit. The next sin mentioned is Cain’s murder of Abel, motivated by envy. Cain was angry because God accepted Abel, but not Cain. Envy claims that God isn’t fair or just in how He deals with us. I should have what they have, and I hate God and them because I don’t. Christ’s humility in going to the cross saved us from our pride.

This reminds us to confess our sins

3/27/11

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12.05.2011

Sincere Communion Wanted

1 Corinthians 11:29
"For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."


The sober warnings against hypocrisy in Matthew 23 by Jesus have a parallel here at the Lord’s Table. Paul says that when we remember Christ’s death in Communion by disregarding the body of believers He died for, we are liable to judgment. This is hypocrisy. Instead, partake worthily in sincerity. Notice that this goes beyond your own thoughts and desires, to your actions toward others. Consider whether your love for the Lord Jesus is genuine. Also consider whether that’s becoming obvious in how you treat each other.


3/20/11

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The Root of Pride


James 4:6-10
"But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

When we deal with the sin of pride, we are looking at the root of evil. Satan tempted Eve to know like God and be like God without having to wait for God to give to her. We want to be independent of God. We want our way and hurt others to get it. We say and do things so we look good to others. We wallow in pity and woe-is-me when we don’t get our way and tell others about it, to keep trying to get our way. We easily take offense. These are all prideful things. Christ’s humility in going to the cross saved us from our pride. 
This reminds us to confess our sins

3/20/11

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12.03.2011

God's Zeal for You


Isaiah 9:3-7

    3   You have multiplied the nation 
          And increased its joy; 
          They rejoice before You 
          According to the joy of harvest, 
          As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 
    4      For You have broken the yoke of his burden 
          And the staff of his shoulder, 
          The rod of his oppressor, 
          As in the day of Midian. 
    5      For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, 
          And garments rolled in blood, 
          Will be used for burning and fuel of fire. 
    6      For unto us a Child is born, 
          Unto us a Son is given....
    7      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.


God has increased our joy in the Incarnation of Christ. We now have a great high priest able to sympathize with our weaknesses, and able to fully bear our sins and completely forgive us. He has broken the yoke of sin oppressing us, and will break every burden in His good time. The precious words in Isa 9 are “unto us.” The Christ child is born to us. The Son is given to us. Jesus Himself wants us to get that, so He offers us bread and wine every week and tells us to say, it is His body and blood. Here is the Son, given to you. Look past your own zeal for Him for a moment, and consider His zeal for You. Zeal sealed in a blood stained cross. Take this gift by faith with thanks.

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Clear the Way

I've gotten way behind in posting my weekly call to confession and communion exhortations.
I'm going to pick up again, posting current ones, and starting back 9 months ago, too.


Isaiah 40:3-4
    The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 
          “Prepare the way of the LORD; 
          Make straight in the desert 
          A highway for our God. 
    4      Every valley shall be exalted 
          And every mountain and hill brought low; 
          The crooked places shall be made straight 
          And the rough places smooth; 



Isaiah speaks here of Israel’s return from exile through the desert, on smooth highways. This also applies individually. We need to clear the path in our hearts for easy access to the Lord. Things of the world clutter our lives (especially in the Christmas season), sin easily entangles, and suddenly we are far from ready for Christ’s appearing, His advent.



This reminds us to confess our sins...

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