28 December 2011

Tilling hard soil

Some days, being a dad is hard. Really hard. When my kids are bickering (again), which inevitably leads to tears and blame casting (again), I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I know the importance of a father. I see it in the Bible. I see it in the news.  I see it in my kid's eyes. Still, in his sovereignty, God has entrusted me with the role of leading and teaching these little ones.

So when I get a phone call at work from my wife who seems ready to throw in the towel in the third round because the fight has been hard that day, I wonder what I am doing wrong. When my son looks me in the eyes and nods as I tell him to listen to his little sister's words and stop wrestling with her, yet he continues on, I sigh and realize that parenting--for me at least--is often really tough. 

Particularly during these challenging times as a father, I think of our garden.  Heather and Grace wanted a garden last year. I set to tilling the soil and it was tough going. Though enabled with the right tools for the job, I still fought desperately to break up the soil. I had to go over it again and again and again until it was finally ready.

It would be easier if my children's hearts were rich, black topsoil, ready for me to plant God's word. I would like it to take root easily and grow quickly. Their hearts aren't that way, though. They are sinners, just like I am. And according to Ezekiel 11:19, the hearts of sinners are "hearts of stone."

The work of parenting is hard. Breaking up the rocky soil of their hearts is an arduous, ongoing process, but I praise God that he allows me to be a part of it--both the good and the bad.  Because on the other side of the process, there is fruit. Grace lovingly serving her brother.  The name of Jesus on Tessa's lips. Ian saying that in the next year, he wants to learn more of God's word. Each of these little buds a sign of new growth.

And so I grab my spade and keep working the soil. 

I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.-Ezekiel 11:19-20

27 December 2011

Book Review: The Symphony of Scripture

The Symphony of scripture: Making sense of the Bible's many themes by Mark Strom (1990) was required reading for the next class CCEF biblical counseling class I am taking, this one focused on biblical interpretation.  It had to be read before the class begins, so I tackled it over this Christmas break. The author provides a survey overview of the Bible, looking for the university in diversity. It is certainly Christocentric in its focus, a major strength of the book. The author cautions against our tendency to interpret details without considering the overall theme of scripture. As Christians, I believe we have the tendency to do this with first things and last things. We try to make sense of the many details grounded in Genesis and Revelation, without realizing the centrality of Christ. For example, Strom rightly points out the central theme of Revelation is not whether people will be literally marked with a 666, or whether it is a literal 1000 years, but that Christ will win and will be restored in the end. Believers are called to persevere, knowing that Jesus has accomplished all, and that God is sovereign.  That is the point of Revelation. When we move from that, we end up with things like Left Behind or even worse, Harold Camping. 

I admit this book was a hard slog for me. The print was hard on the eyes and Strom was more academic than I (yes, even I) like. He does know his stuff, however.  3.0 stars. 

26 December 2011

Bible Study plans-2012

Any day is a great day to start reading your Bible, but people often start a new plan in a new year.  Last year, I spent several days highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of various programs.  If you look at the sidebar over there ----------> and click on "Bible Study" it will take you to all of the programs that I recommended. 

Here is a brief rundown.

The One Year Bible--This is a fine option. You know exactly what to read each day. You need a special Bible though and it isn't organized like a regular Bible, a distinctive drawback, as far as I am concerned.

M'Cheyne--You will be reading sections from 4 different places each day and if you follow it, you will go through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

John MacArthur approach--From what I have heard, John MacArthur knows the Bible as well or better than any man I have ever heard. His method is to read through the Old Testament straight through, a few chapters a day, and then start over again when you reach the end.  The New Testament is handled a little differently. You break each book into sections of chapters (4-6) and read each section once a day for a whole month.  So, for example, you would read Romans 1-5 every day for a month. Then the next month you might read Romans 6-11 and finally, in the third month, you would read Romans 12-16.

Meditative plan--This is a great plan from my good friend Eric Johnson, a Christian psychologist and a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which encourages meditating more deeply upon God's word. 

Grant Horner approach--This is my Bible plan. I have been doing it since September 2009. In that time, I have read each book at least 3 times.  Some sections I have read much more often.  For example, I have read Proverbs 28 times, Acts and Romans 20 times, and the New Testament epistles 14 times each. 

If you cannot find anything in the list I have provided, try here. Ligonier has another dozen approaches or so.  Pick one and read.  It will be time well invested. 

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.--Psalm 119:11

25 December 2011

The Light Broke Through-A Christmas Meditation

The world was lost and without hope, the darkness pervasive. The prophets of old had long been silent. The fervent hope for the promised Messiah, the One who would come to redeem Israel, the One who would set all things right, had dwindled long ago. Of course, the teachers of Israel knew what was written about the Promised One. They studied the law and prophets diligently. Yet, so many silent centuries later, they were more about ritual than hope. Every day, they would follow the routines set forth by previous generations, not really believing that one was to come to save them.

We see this in the man, Zechariah, one of the temple priests. He certainly knew the stories of old. He knew about Abraham, and as a Jew, would hold him in high esteem. He knew that Abraham was promised a child in his old age, yet when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and promised him a child, he said simply, “How shall I know this because I am old?” Zechariah knew the Scriptures and believed them, but he did not really believe them for himself. Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, basically says to him, “I stand in God’s presence and He Himself told me this. Because you don’t believe it, you will be silent and be amazed by Him!” (Luke 1:5-23). Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were among the first to see and believe God was breaking into the darkness. 

Just over a year later, the Light broke into the darkness. In a small town, with her fiancĂ©e at her side, a young girl gave birth to Jesus.  God in the flesh.  The Word eternal, breaking into human history, to rescue His own. He was “the true light, which gives light to everyone” come into human history (John 1:9). 

Sadly, his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).  They knew the word, but did they believe it? Did they believe the prophets, who foretold God rescuing his people? Many had lost their hope of a Redeemer, believing God was no longer invested in His people. Many were so dedicated to learning about God that they missed God, come in the flesh. Many had their own ideas about who the Messiah would be and to their estimation, Jesus wasn’t him. Many were so busy going about their lives that they did not slow down enough to know that the Rescuer had come.

God did send His son Jesus, delivered in the flesh by a young girl, to save the world. His birthday divides human history.  A.D. stands for anno domini-the year of our Lord. Just like the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament, so has His return been foretold and that will also be a time of a great divide in human history.

Though it has been 2000 years, do not lose hope in Christ’s return—He is still invested in His people.  He is still in control.

Do not become so dedicated to studying theology that you miss the beautiful fact that God will return to rescue His own.

Do not assume that God does not exist or that He is just one of many ways to salvation. He is the only way and He will return again, in the flesh to save those who have put their faith in Him, and Him alone.

Do not become so busy that you fail to marvel at God’s intense love for you. 

Just as He came once, He is coming again. Maybe not today, maybe not this year, but he will return--just as He promised--and He will make all things new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

17 December 2011

Book Review--Living the Cross Centered Life

Last night, I finished reading CJ Mahaney's Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing.  I really like the way Mahaney writes. As the book title would suggest, he tries to be Gospel centered, but he also writes humbly and from his heart. He passionately encourages Christians to keep the cross of Christ the main thing, to not "move on" from it. In the opening chapter, he cites David Pryor, who said "we never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross." That seems to be the heart of this book, to encourage readers to really sink their teeth into what the cross means in the life of believers.  At 166 pages, it is a quick read, and one you will benefit from. 4 stars.

11 December 2011

Velvet Brick

For my daily quiet times, I am still using Grant Horner's system. I have tried to switch away from it, but I always end up coming back to it. One of its benefits is that it allows me to see connections and relationships between various passages. As I read through, I write out passages I find interesting. This morning, I wrote down sections from Titus 3 and Malachi 2.

Titus 3 essentially speaks to our character as Christ's ambassadors. Titus 3:2-7 reminds us that we are, "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." 

Too often churches are filled with people who lack these character qualities. Rather than "speaking evil of no one," they slander, gossip, and criticize. They quarrel rather valuing love and gentleness. They hunt out heresies. They are eager to paint scarlet letters upon sinners. But we are called to something better. We were all dead to rights, running fast away from God, but in His mercy, he saved us based upon nothing good in us. Reflecting upon God's mercy, we should seek to show this patience and gentleness with nonbelievers and believers alike, even in the midst of sin.

I also wrote down Malachi 2:17 this morning. "You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, 'How have we wearied him?' By saying, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.' Or by asking, 'Where is the God of justice?'"  In this verse, we are told that God is wearied by saying that evildoers are good in the sight of God. This seems to be the classic universalist position and, more frequently, the position of many people in the modern church. Many believe that God loves everybody no matter what, but that does not appear to be the biblical position (e.g., Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Leviticus 20:23, Proverbs 6:16-19, Hosea 9:15). These verses suggest that God does hate evildoers.

So how are we to reconcile these passages? As ambassadors for Christ, I believe we should not avoid hard conversations. Wavering on discussions of sin or of separation from a God who hates sin does nothing for people separated from Christ and facing eternity in Hell. At the same time, we are to gently and patiently love the broken. We are to tell them that there is a remedy for that sinfulness and our separation from God. The greatest love we can show to sinners is to point them to Jesus Christ. Titus 2:4-7 reads, "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

In other words, we are to be velvet bricks. We have a hard message, but we are to share it with gentleness and respect because we were shown the same through the person and work of Jesus Christ.