31 January 2011

Waves of Conviction

Yesterday, I posted a comment on Facebook that generated a fair amount of response. Essentially, I pointed out that I believe the Superbowl can reveal one of the greatest idolatries in America today.  There was some good back and forth dialog and it ended peaceably. This morning, a good friend challenged my post and subsequent responses as seemingly antagonistic and judgmental.  Because he is a man whom I have asked to speak into my life and whom I trust greatly, I have been thinking and praying a lot about my response today.  God, as He so often is, has been faithful in showing Himself as well.  When I apologized this morning, I joked that you might laugh if you saw how many readings seemed to have relevance today.  Since they have continued to accumulate, I thought I would share them briefly.  Even if you don't see a clear link, I have...all day long. 

The first came from a reading in Proverbs 30:12-14: "There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives." I fight with this tendency every day. Yesterday, I didn't fight it very well. 

Second, a post called "the Jesus Juke" by Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like came up in my reader.  Acuff addresses the tendency among some believers to take something mundane and turn it into a statement about our faith, or our lack thereof.  I did that yesterday.  I am sure I do it more often. 

Third, a post at Ligonier entitled "What about Me and My Weeds?" showed up.  The author points out that it is a good thing to be "aghast" at sins, but that the ones best dealt with are the ones closest to home.  He concludes, "I am a child of the Father, in union with the Son, and indwelt by the Spirit. I have been born again unto good works. I am a new creation, and so my sins, rather than being small by comparison, dwarf the peccadillos of the damned. I haven’t been given much, but have been given everything. And so everything is required of me. I, as a Reformed person, am the worst of the lot. I would rather spend my time debating about the place of good works in the life of the Christian, than cultivating good works in my life. I would rather hone my “worldview” than see the log that is in my own eye. I think sanctification is a doctrine, rather than a calling. And I am more interested in having my mind renewed than in being transformed. I would rather look down my nose at piety than I would seek it out.

"Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, and teach me my sin."

Fourth, there has been an interesting dialog about Gospel grace and the pursuit of holiness that stemmed from a Christianity Today article.  Justin Taylor provided a useful summary of the "debate."  In the penultimate paragraph, Taylor cites Dane Ortlund, "For the regenerate, holiness has taken on a strangely attractive hue, for God is now our loving Father, not our wrathful judge. We now delight in the law in a way we never did (never could) before. But the law itself remains impotent to generate this holiness. The law can guide us, but not propel us. It is a steering wheel, not an engine."  Holiness is our calling as Christians, but it is only through grace that we have any hope. 

Fifth, Jared Wilson shared the following, "When I see people weary or hardened under the brutal weight of religious hyper-spirituality, I am saddened that they do not know the freedom of the gospel of grace. And when I see people indulging in the hedonistic excess of license, I am saddened that they do not know the freedom of the gospel of grace. Legalism and license are separate categories. But they are in the same category of Departure from the Gospel. Neither cures the other, but the gospel cures both."

Sixth, Serena Woods at Grace is for Sinners has a beautifully penned essay on grace.  She writes, "I could talk about self-control, rightly so. I could talk about doing the right thing and what my conservative opinions of a Christian life should look like. I may even get a lot of encouragement from other well-meaning do-gooders. We could have our own club, totally separate from ‘the world’ and draw the shades to our heart while we enjoy how Christian we are. Meanwhile, we suffocate a fallen sister because our lives don’t offer hope, they offer moral standards. You know you’re sending the wrong message if one of your members leaves the group when they make a moral mistake.

"God set up grace so that He would never lose anyone. Set your life up that way, too."

I suspect I will continue to learn this lesson for the rest of my life. Understanding the call to holiness with my utter inability remains a mystery to me.  I don't yet see how much responsibility is mine and how much is God's in my sanctification, though the more I understand grace, the more convinced I am that not only was my salvation secured by the blood of Christ, but my sanctification too.  I come back to loving God and loving others as my base responsibility, and today, that is hard enough. 
"O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8KJV)

30 January 2011

A Lord's Day Prayer

Holy Father in heaven,
on this day,
may my worship be  unrestrained,
my love effusive,
my mercy swift,
my judgment stayed,
my mind sharp,
my heart soft,
my hands willing,
always and forever to your glory,

28 January 2011

50 fruits of Spiritual Pride

Brent Detwiler wrote this post of the fruits of pride.  I see myself in so many of these and realize I should regularly pull out this list and pray for forgiveness and help in those areas that seem to be growing.  I would really encourage reading this list and trying to understand humbly where you may fit. 

John Owen Quote-The Sluggard's Field

The heart is like the sluggard's field--so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able to find any; and if he does discover that these graces are there yet alive and sincere, yet they are so weak, so clogged with lusts, that they are of very little use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die. But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), let room be made for grace to thrive and flourish--how will every grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose! 

24 January 2011

Book Review: How People Change

How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp (2008) is one of the core resources for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.  I first heard of the book when I attended the annual CCEF conference last fall and decided it was worth reading.  I was not disappointed. 

Lane and Tripp have provided a Gospel-centered look at soul care with practical suggestions to the reader.  In the first chapter, the authors point out several forms of Christian externalism that we use but which do not address our needs.  They then turn the corner to identify why the centrality of the Gospel is essential to counseling and Christian growth.  The demonstrate how we all face times of difficulty (heat) and that our responses may result in thorns or fruit, but that it is the Cross that leads to fruit in our lives. 

I would recommend this book for those looking to understand the Gospel in their own lives; not just as an abstract concept or as something they believed in to be saved, but as a message that sustains day in and day out.  4.5 stars.

Quotable quotes:
  • Without an awareness of Christ's presence, we tend to live anxiously. We avoid hard things and are easily overwhelmed (5).
  • Perhaps postmodernism and sexual immorality are not the greatest threats to the church of Christ in our day. Perhaps we are in more danger from the subtle lies that flow from subtle shifts in how we understand the gospel (11).
  • Jesus is not a vending machine that dispenses what we want to feel good about ourselves. He is the Holy One who comes to cleanse us, fill us and change us (25).
  • By God's grace, you are being progressively delivered from the one thing that can completely destroy you: sin (40).
  • In 2 Peter 1:3-9, Peter says that many Christians live ineffective and fruitless lives because they have forgotten who they are in Christ (58).
  • One of the mistakes we make in handling God's Word is that we reduce it to a set of directions on how to live (79).
  • We shouldn't be surprised when suffering and difficulty come our way; in fact, we should probably be surprised when they don't (101).
  • The reason we fail to keep commands 4 through 10 is because we have failed to keep the first three (136).
  • Romans 1:25 indicates that idolatry is often the result of taking good things in creation and making them ultimate things (139).
There are, of course, many others.  I would encourage you to pick up the book. 

22 January 2011

Dirty Hands

The Law makes sin appear exceedingly sinful; the Gospel makes sin feel exceedingly painful.-Phil Johnson

Children enjoy getting dirty. They dive into the mud and the muck, unrepentant. There is a joy in experiencing filth, first hand. I have noticed, though, that many children eventually come to their parents seeking to be cleaned, seemingly knowing how powerless they are to do it on their own. 

We are the same way, aren't we?  In the moment, sin often feels good.  On some level, we enjoy staring at forbidden images.  We like to hold on to past hurts, secretly gloating when our offenders stumble. We find ten thousand ways to replace God with the mundane.

At some point, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we may start to recognize corruption in our lives and desire to be clean. Unfortunately, too often, we lack insight into our powerlessness. We try to purify ourselves, but discover that our efforts are futile and leave us corrupt.

In a few paragraphs of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, CS Lewis wrote about our inability to clean ourselves. The intolerable Eustace becomes a dragon when he places a band of gold on his arm and eventually becomes a boy again. He shared his experience of meeting Aslan the lion with the other travelers (the passage is long, but worth the read):

"Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it--if you can understand. Well, it came closer up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."

"You mean it spoke?"

"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me away a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden--trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells--like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not. 

"I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

"But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that's alright, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe. 

"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good. 

"Then the lion said--but I don't know if it spoke--You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know--if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know what you mean" said Edmund. 

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off--just as I thought I'd done it to myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt--and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me--I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on--and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them. 

"After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me--"

"Dressed you.  With his paws?" 

"Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes--the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact."

We cannot cleanse ourselves.  David understood this when he penned Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love; 

according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions. 

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!  

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.  

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight, 

so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment. 

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me. 

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 

Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities. 

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me. 

Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit. 

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you. 

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise. 

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem; 

then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

We do not present ourselves to God unblemished.  We come filthy. Like little children, we must come in our powerlessness. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Thanks be to good that coming clean depends not on our abilities, but upon God's faithfulness.

12 January 2011


Individuals and institutions have a tendency to become overbalanced when they focus on one thing to the exclusion, or minimization, of others.  Although these may be good, righteous things, when they become our focus, it can leave us out of sync.  In How People Change, Lane and Tripp discuss several types of Christian externalism.  The authors describe them in much more detail, but briefly, they are:

Formalism--"the gospel is reduced to participation in church meetings and ministries in the church."
Legalism--the focus here is on keeping rules as a way of earning God's favor.
Mysticism--"the gospel is reduced to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences." 
Activism--Activists focus on fighting whatever evils or ills they encounter around them (abortion, human trafficking). 
Biblicism--"the Bible is reduced to a mastery of biblical content and theology" rather than a focus on the Gospel.
Psychology-ism--Jesus is seen as a great therapist who heals our emotional needs.
Social-ism--Church becomes a social club and a way to have interpersonal needs met. 

I am sure that there are others as well.  Each of these isms involves a disturbance of good, righteous things.  For example, serving God in the church is admirable, but an overbalanced person may not show any evidence of gospel transformation, even though involved in many activities. 

As I read through the authors' descriptions of each of these things, I bristled at how Christians I know manifest each of these things in different measure.  Then, I looked in a mirror and noticed a log right there in my eye.  Although, I have seen evidences of many of these things in my life from time to time, the one that captures me is Biblicism.  The authors write (substituting my name so it sinks in more fully), "In [Jason's] Christianity, communion, dependency, and worship of Christ have been replaced by a drive to master the content of scripture and systematic theology.  [Jason] is a theological expert, but he is unable to live by the grace he can define with such technical precision. He has invested a great deal of time and energy mastering the word, but he does not allow the word to master him."  I know this is a danger I face and I pray that God would pour afresh upon me the living waters of His gospel each day.

Father, help me not to love theology more than I love You.  Help me to read your living word as a love letter rather than a textbook. 

11 January 2011

Alexic prison

Earlier today, I was reflecting upon the amazing gift God has given me to enjoy the written word. Not only has he revealed himself through through the Bible, but readers can experience galaxies of thought in trillions of words.  There are people, however, who are unable to process the written word.  They suffer from alexia, or dyslexia.  As I pondered this disorder, I felt moved to write about it.  The unfortunate part is that those living in an alexic prison are unable to read this brief poem.  

Letters whirl around me like snowflakes
stinging as they strike my face
These small objects of beauty to readers
are icy blades that bring tears to my eyes
Why do others find precious what brings me pain?

Words strike me like sunbeams
atmospherically unfiltered
combinations of letters that warm the soul of readers
are flames upon my skin
Why do others bask in what burns me?

Sentences fall upon me like raindrops
rising rapidly in a flood
These cool beads of refreshment to readers
threaten to wash me away in a torrent
Why do others float effortlessly upon their currents while I am drowning?

My prison is a library.
Each book a cold steel bar that keeps me
from the freedom taken for granted.
I long for the liberation I see
in the world of words.

10 January 2011

Book Review-Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

This excellent book by Don Whitney was the first book I read in 2010 and I commented that I would likely re-read it again later in the year.  It took until 2011, but a few days ago, I opened it and read it again.  This exceptional book could be a benefit to any Christian hoping to grow in their Christian walk.  His key verse is "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (1 Timothy 4:7).  Whitney covers 11 different disciplines, with 2 bookend summary chapters.  Actually, this would be a perfect amount that the interested reader could cover a discipline a month throughout the year, with a month for wrap up. 

Quotable quotes:
  • So many professing Christians are so spiritually undisciplined that they seem to have little fruit and power in their lives (21). 
  • Here then, is the real problem of our negligence.  We fail in our duty to study God's word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work.  Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion.  Our problem is that we are lazy. -Sproul (36).
  • Scripture memory is like reinforcing steel to a sagging faith (43).
  • One of the reasons for a lack of godliness is prayerlessness (66). 
  • Focusing on the world more than on the Lord makes us more worldly than godly (95). 
There are many others, though I hope you will all discipline yourself and read this book to discover them for yourself.  5 stars.

09 January 2011

A Kept Man

Christian duty often evades me.  According to God's word, works have no bearing on salvation.  In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he wrote "for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast"  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  As Christians, we have no more comforting promise.  Nothing that we have done, are doing, or will ever do earns our salvation.  We cannot buy our way into the Kingdom.  Rather, it is because of God's unmerited favor that we are blessed to be called children of God. 

Evidences of God's grace pour forth from His word.  Scarcely a page of scripture may be read without being overwhelmed by His monergistic love of His people.  Alongside His amazing promises, however, we are exhorted to act in certain ways.  The New Testament epistles are filled with practical wisdom.  As I read these righteous behaviors that are expected of Christians, I wonder, if God saved me apart from any works or righteous acts, how can I be expected to perform them now?

This morning, as I was reading in 1 Thessalonians 5, I came across another list of righteous behaviors.  In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, there are 17 specific directives for the Thessalonian brothers and, by extension, for us.  Nevertheless, Paul wrote on, shedding light on how we are able to grow in righteousness.  "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).  In other words, if we called by God and saved by grace, we are also sustained by God and upheld by grace.  "God Himself" works in us to perform those tasks that are impossible by human merit. 

We are kept blameless, not because we are faithful, but because God is.

08 January 2011

The Checklist

"What are you thinking today about adoption?"  My wife has asked me this question frequently over the past several weeks.  To clarify, she is not asking to decide whether I am interested in adopting again.  We have settled that issue, feeling called again.  Rather, she is interested in the details of our adoption.  From where should we adopt?   Boy or girl...or both?  How many children? These are the easy questions, though we do not yet have a settled answer. 

The more difficult questions are yet to come.  We will be asked to complete a rating form to help guide the placing agency in terms of our interests.  Specifically, we will be asked to give our input on what is acceptable in our child.  "Fetal alcohol syndrome--acceptable?  unacceptable?  willing to discuss?. Severe physical disability--acceptable? unacceptable?  willing to discuss?.  Child is blind in one eye--acceptable?  unacceptable?  willing to discuss?"  This checklist will go on like this for roughly five pages, asking us to search our hearts and make an honest estimation of which children are acceptable. 

How can I as a parent, as a Christian, read these questions with an honest heart?  How can I be asked, preemptively, to make a determination of who I can love?  How is reviewing a checklist "loving the least of these?" (Matthew 25:40).  When I face questions like this, I wonder, did God have a checklist when he adopted me as His son (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 5:8)? 

I am left asking, do the choices that we make about adoption only serve to provide some sort of emotional salve, to help us believe we are doing the right thing?  Or rather, is their wisdom in honestly reflecting upon these very difficult choices about living, vulnerable children created in the image of God? 

I honestly do not know that I have a good answer.  Nevertheless, I take comfort in God's sovereign hand.  Romans 8:28 reads, "and we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good."  I have trusted God with Heather's health, with Tessa's safety, with my soul and with a thousand other pieces of me.   Certainly, I can trust him in this too. 

I will conclude with an old favorite verse of which we have been recently reminded.  Proverbs 3:5-6 reads, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

07 January 2011

Bible Reading Plans-OK, one more

I just saw this Bible reading plan posted today.  It was put together by my friend, Eric Johnson.  It is more meditative than most, a discipline I am working on. 

Bible Reading Plans-Summary

As the past several days have shown, there are numerous plans available for someone looking to study God's word in more depth.  Bible reading plans are not ends in themselves, but means to an end, which is to know God and His Word better.  Much like a diet, you have to find what works best for you, but you still must do the work even if the approach may look different from person to person.  For those of you not sufficiently overwhelmed by the options already offered, here are a few more options that appear to have some merit.

Discipleship Journal has a 1 year Bible reading plan that is accomplished in 25 days per month, allowing you additional days for catch up. 

ESV Bible has several different options, including a chronological plan, which are also available in an RSS feed (i.e., they email your daily reading to you).

You Version has perhaps the coolest, and most comprehensive, list of plans available.  They have over 50 customizable plans available.

Here are a few other bloggers who have reviewed the importance of Bible study and reviewed some plans over the past week.

Justin Taylor
Desiring God

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!-Psalm 119:103

06 January 2011

Bible Reading Plans-Grant Horner System

The final approach, "Professor Grant Horner's Bible Reading System", is the one that I have been using for the past 2 years.  This program is almost certainly requires the most reading of any of the programs.  Each day, ten chapters are read, specifically covering: the Gospels, Pentateuch, the longer epistles, the shorter epistles/Revelation, wisdom literature, Psalms, Proverbs, historical books, prophets, and Acts (though I have substituted Romans).  This plan allows the Bible to be read at least one-and-a-half times per year (history, prophets) and as often as once a month (Acts, Proverbs).   It takes an average reader about 40 minutes to get through the 10 chapters.

Bob Kauflin recently wrote about using this program.  Near the end, he wrote "I guarantee you will have a hard time stopping."  I agree with him.  For two years, I have contemplated trying other plans, but I am richly blessed with this approach and will continue it for the foreseeable future. 

  • You will be tackling a lot of scripture.
  • It is not on a calendar, so if you are behind, you pick up where you left off.  Also, if you don’t get to a chapter in a day, don’t fret.
  • This program really helps the reader to see the Bible in a framework and to make connections between disparate passages.  On many occasions, I have covered something in the Gospels, only to see it come up again in the Pentateuch. 
  • It involves a lot of reading.  Ten chapters per day is a lot to cover.  Because of the amount read, it is in not approached meditatively, but rather is designed to learn scripture.
  • It will take a lot of time.  Feel free to break it up in chunks. 
My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word-Psalm 119:81

Route 49: A parable by Dan Phillips

This is a very interesting, thought provoking parable about 2 brothers, a map, and Route 49.  I would encourage you to read it.

05 January 2011

A Congressional Prayer

Although I largely disagree with the alignment of of nationalism with the Christian faith (I believe Christ will continue to triumph even when the United States falls), I ardently disagree when people suggest that the founders of the United States were not primarily Christian believers.  They were.  Randy Alcorn posted the opening prayer of the first continental congress in 1774.  Please take time to read it as a reminder of our roots and of glorious writing.

Bible Reading Plans-John MacArthur approach

Prior to using the system I now use, I used John MacArthur’s system based on his "How to Study the Bible".  Simply, the Old Testament is read straight through from start to finish. If you read a few chapters per day, you should get through the Old Testament in a year or so.  The New Testament is handled a little bit differently.  MacArthur encourages the reader to read either short books, or sections of longer books (e.g., Romans might be broken up into sections of 5, 5, and 6 chapters) every day for a month.  In other words, you might read the six chapters of Ephesians every day for a month.  I utilized this method for a while, and I find it very beneficial in terms of learning sections of scripture deeply.  I can still recall, for example that 1 Peter 5:8 is about 1/3 of the way down on the right hand page of my Bible. 

  • Encourages in depth study, particularly of the New Testament.
  • It is not on a calendar, so if you fall behind a day, you will not be as likely to give it up.
  • It is more flexible than many of the other programs in that you can determine how much you wish to read. 
  • Each day’s readings can take a long time, depending on how much you choose to read.
  • You will not make it through the New Testament in a year, but you might make it in two-and-a-half. 
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate
on your statutes.-Psalm 119:48

04 January 2011

Bible Reading Plans-M'Cheyne

A common approach that approximates the One Year Bible in some ways is the M’Cheyne plan, devised originally by a pastor M'Cheyne for his flock. This approach also allows the reader to study multiple sections of scripture each day and is somewhat unique in that it encourages both “family” and “secret” times of reading.  The reader will go through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.  This approach has been recommended by a number of prominent pastors and theologians I have read over the last couple of years.  The reader is given a list of readings for each date and, much like the One Year Bible, if the plan is followed, the reader will finish the Bible in a year.  A useful variation for the less ambitious is one prepared by Stephen Witmer that covers the Bible in two years.

  • It provides a written plan that allows you to read through the whole Bible in a year, but does not require a special Bible.
  • It allows for both family and private reading.  Reading God’s word together as a family is a worthwhile activity.
  • It allows the New Testament and Psalms to be read twice in the year.
  • It faces the same weakness as the One Year Bible that if you fall behind a day, you need to decide what to do with the missed passages.
  • It can be more reading than in the other plans discussed already, which can be difficult for some people.  
 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. (Psalm 119:24).

03 January 2011

Puritan resolution

Jonathan Edwards, one of my three favorite theologians named John, famously had a list of resolutions that he would read over once a week.  I find these both encouraging and challenging in this new year.  I have included my favorites, though you may read all of them here. 
  • Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great so ever.
  • Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  • Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
  • Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
  • Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
  • Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
  • I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

Bible Reading Plans-The One Year Bible

The One Year Bible, which is available in several different versions, provides a very user friendly approach to reading the Bible.  Each date, the reader is given sections from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.  The reader opens to the date and reads the section for the day. It is simple and straightforward.  

  • As I said, the One Year Bible is simple, straightforward, and easy to follow. 
  • It allows you to read through the whole Bible once per year.  It does not omit sections (e.g., genealogies) as you may be tempted to do without a plan. 
  • It allows you to read from multiple sections each day, which can be beneficial in seeing how sections of the Bible relate to one another.
  • If the One Year Bible is the only Bible you own, you may be frustrated when you get to church and the pastor asks you to look up Jeremiah 1.  The One Year Bible is not indexed in the same way.  Although with some effort you may eventually reach the section of the Bible you are looking for, it does not provide a user friendly approach for any form of study other than daily devotional reading.
  •  People using the One Year Bible often become frustrated when they fall behind.  The inevitable situation will arise when you will miss a day…or a week.  What will you do then?  A common response is to give it up until next January.  I would recommend one of two options.  First, if you have the time, for example on a weekend, work to catch up.  Second, skip the sections you missed and keep going.  You are trying to establish a discipline of reading and if you are too easily overwhelmed and give up, it will not be edifying to you. 
My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (Psalm 119:20)

02 January 2011

I think I'll take a nap

Thabiti Anyabwile talks about the importance of rest.  I have been thinking about the concept of the sabbath quite a bit over the last several months, knowing that I function best if I rest on Sundays as much as possible.  Thabiti suggests that Christians should rest at regular intervals, rest before they are tired, rest weekly, and rest daily. 

I think I will go take a nap.

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards on The Good Life

In 2011, I am going to approach my book reviews differently.  Last year, I would assemble the books for the month.  This year, I am going to review books as I read them, hopefully with some more detailed reviews. 

The first book of the year is Jonathan Edwards on the Good Life (The Essential Edwards Collection) (2010).  The Good Life is the third book in a five book series by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney wherein they distill the work of Edwards into five topical books. 

Jonathan Edwards was a passionate pastor theologian who loved God with his heart, soul, and mind.  The authors demonstrate that Edwards rejected worldly notions of happiness, which are temporal and fleeting.  Rather, Edwards believed that true happiness was found solely in Christ.  Though believers may not have an easy life, a life spent on the road toward heaven was indeed the good life. 

Quotable Quotes:
  • 'Tis a thing infinitely good in itself that God's glory should be known by a glorious society of created beings. (p. 27)
  • At its deepest, most profound level, the good life is the life lived for the glory of God. (p. 30). 
  • To save one's soul and experience deepest delight one must abandon the instinct to selfishly pursue one's well being. (p. 33). 
  • The happiest Christians are not those who manage to accomplish all of their personal goals. Rather, the happiest Christians are those who embrace what God wants for their lives (p. 35).
  • Edward held the fall of man and the sovereignty of God in tension, emphasizing each in turn as directed by the Scripture, but allowing for mystery due to the finitude of human understanding. (p. 60).
  • The ideal Christian life is not a prim, stifling affair in which we moralistically perform righteousness for the Lord as joylessly as possible. The ideal Christian life, the good life God intends for us, is a joyful, pleasurable, happy affair in which we shun sin and seek holiness because we treasure God and desire to taste His goodness in all facets of our lives. (p 69). 
  • A big view of God, the Bible, and the Christian life brings deep faith and happiness; a shallow view of God, the Bible, and the Christian life creates shallow faith and malnourished happiness. (p. 88). 
  • The Bible is a powerful book. We need to read it often--not to check off a holiness box, but to come into direct contact with the Lord of heaven and earth. (p. 95). 
  • One cannot read texts like Psalm 119 and claim that the Bible teaches anything but an inseparable connection between faith and holiness. (p 128). 
  • All our labor will be lost.  If we spend our lives in the pursuit of a temporal happiness; if we set our hearts on riches and seek happiness in them; if we seek to be happy in sensual pleaures; if we spend our lives to seek the credit and esteem of men, the good will and respect of others; if we set our hearts on our children and look to be happy in the enjoyment of them, in seeing them well brought up, and well settled, etc., all these things will be of little significance to us.  Death will blow up our hopes and expectations, and will put an end to our enjoyment of these things...Where will be all our worldly employments and enjoyments when we are laid in the silent grave? (p. 134). 
  • Many Christians, Edwards knew, wanted to grow spiritually. They wanted to know God and go to heaven. But far fewer believers worked hard to deepen their faith and, subsequently, their enjoyment of God. Too many presumed upon God and His grace, expecting Him to simply drop a bag of maturity and happiness out of the sky for quick and easy use. (p. 138). 
The influence of Edwards on John Piper is very evident in this book.  Edwards called for a life of mind and heart with affections set firmly on God and His glory.  4 stars.

Bible Reading Plans-The Random Flip

This first approach is not really a plan, but I suspect is the most common.  When I first started reading my Bible, this was the approach I employed.  My internal dialog would go something like this, “Well, I should read my Bible.  Hmmm…what should I read?  I will just flip to middle somewhere and start where my finger falls.  What?!? Habakkuk?  The prophetic literature is so boring.”  I would read a few verses to assuage my guilt, but rarely felt edified.  I also recall Gwen Shamblin, of Weigh Down fame, recommending this technique, suggesting that this was the best way to allow the Holy Spirit to lead her. 

  • It doesn’t take any real planning.  As long as you have a Bible, you just flip and read. 
  • I guess it could be a way the Holy Spirit will guide your reading, though I personally have never felt this way.
  • It lacks any formal structure for reading and understanding God’s word.  The lack of structure will make learning any of the information quite difficult.
  • It is much too easy to read the Bible as a series of random proverbs or moral suggestions rather than as a redemptive story that weaves its way through 66 books. 
  • You will likely cover some material much more often than others by nature of the way you flip, though not in any formalized or useful way. 
  • I have never found much consistency or longevity in this approach.  
All in all, I personally would avoid this approach.  If it works for you, keep doing it, though I suspect you would not be reading a post about Bible reading plans if it was working for you. 

“How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word”
(Psalm 119:9).

01 January 2011

Bible Reading Plans-Overview

The primary way of gazing on Christ is through his Word.-John Piper

In this season of resolutions, many of us look to turn over a new leaf.  In addition to the steeled resolve to lose weight and regain control of out-of-control spending, a common resolution for Christians is to read the Bible more regularly.  Perhaps this describes you.  You may own a Bible, but you don’t read it regularly.  You may read in fits and starts as the mood (or perhaps the guilt) strikes you.  Maybe you do read your Bible regularly, but you are looking for a fresh start.  Over the next week, I am going to share several approaches to reading God’s word.  There are dozens of available options.  I will discuss what I hope is a representative variety. 

Before getting to the plans, it will be beneficial to consider why studying God’s word is important.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  It is important that Christians not view the Bible as simply a book.  Rather, it contains the words of God that teach us about Him and about us.  In it, we learn of our depravity and hopelessness and discover that our only hope for salvation is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  I believe it is also important not to view the Bible as an index of moral rules that will help us become better people but rather as God’s redemptive story in which He allows us a role. 

In addition to teaching us about God and about ourselves, God’s word serves to increase our joy.  During his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).  Jesus shared with his disciples that they may share in his joy.  In the Bible, we get to read his words and so we too may share in his joy. 

Earlier in the post, I wrote how the Bible is not an index of moral rules, yet scripture does provide guidance for how to live.  We read that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   All of scripture, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, are profitable for us as we grow in righteousness. 

Here are some final thoughts:
  • Commit to a time each day to read and study God’s word.  I personally find that I benefit most when I start my day with devotions.  When I do this, I do not become distracted by life and I start out the day on the right foot.  I am also a morning person, so I particularly benefit from seeking God first thing in the morning.  If you dread studying in the morning, study in the afternoon or evening, but commit yourself to doing it. 
  • Like many disciplines, it may be difficult at first, but the longer you study, the easier it will become.  I suspect if you commit to regular study of God’s word, you will find that it becomes the most important time of your day.  Be patient with yourself.  Proverbs 24:16 says, “the righteous man falls seven times and gets up again.” 
  • Find what works for you.  Ask several people what they do for their quiet times so that you can get an idea what people do.  However, simply because someone else uses a certain plan does not mean you need to.  Choose a plan that helps you to get into God’s word.
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).