Marks of Smoking Flax

June 27th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The Puritans left behind a great store of wisdom—rigorously theological, warmly devotional, and always centered on Christ and his gospel. Sadly, given the diminishing attention paid to language, grammar, and the humanities, they are less accessible to modern audiences than they deserve. Still, there are a few Puritan works that are short and simple enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest every English-speaking Christian read them. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress would head the list, undoubtedly. But not far behind would be the wonderful little classic The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes.

 

Sibbes takes as his text Isaiah 42:1-3,

 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.

 

and from it shows the tender, loving grace of Christ, the Lord’s servant, towards his people.

 

If we’re honest about the struggle—the war our flesh and the Spirit wage within us, the temptations we face, and (all too often) our falls into sin—we will soon feel discouragement and doubt. Will we ever be sanctified? Will the war ever cease? Can I be sure of my salvation when I struggle so? Hear how Sibbes describes this struggle:

 

Some think they have no faith at all because they have no full assurance, whereas the fairest fire that can be will have some smoke. The best actions will smell of the smoke. The mortar wherein the garlic has been stamped will always smell of it; so all our actions will savour something of the old man. (45)

 

But how may we know that we are truly Christians, and not hypocrites hiding behind a profession of faith? “In a gloomy day there is so much light,” Sibbes writes, “that we may know it to be day and not night; so there is something in a Christian under a cloud whereby he may be discerned a true believer and not a hypocrite” (37-38). A smoldering wick, though it show no flame at the time, nevertheless bears the mark of heavenly ignition. And once lit by heaven, according to the promise given in our text, Jesus will not suffer to see it extinguished, but will fan it into flame once more.

 

With this in mind, Sibbes suggests ten marks of “smoking flax,” that is, of a smoldering wick. When the marks are present, when we see these rules at work in our lives, we can be sure God’s irresistible grace is at work within us to mortify sin and raise us to newness of life. He is actively forming Christ in us.

 

  1. “If there be any fire in us, it is kindled from heaven.” The light kindled in us by the Father of lights, Sibbes reminds, is the same light as in the Word. We must have heavenly light to discern heavenly truth. If we accept the Word as true, receive it, and seek to see its truth lived out in our lives, God’s light has surely “sparked” the interest within us.
  2. “The least divine light has heat with it in some measure.” Sibbes goes on to say, “Light in the understanding produces heat of love in the affections.” As we grasp biblical truth, it affects more than just our intellect; slowly but surely we begin to feel the fundamental structures of our hearts changing, until our affections are in line with the truth we profess. We value supremely what is supremely valuable; we treasure Christ above all. Here Sibbes follows Augustine’s famous dictum: “As a man loves, so is he.” Our affections truly determine our nature.
  3. “Where this heavenly light is kindled, it directs in the right way.” The world clamors for our attention, and many forces seek to direct us: media, politics, culture, friends and family. However, a true Christian will always look to God’s light as revealed in Scripture first and foremost. Sibbes offers a helpful analogy to distinguish between those who had a moment of intrigue when hearing the gospel, and those whose hearts were truly set aflame by God’s grace: “The light which some men have is like lightning which, after a sudden flash, leaves them more in darkness. They can love the light as it shines, but hate it as it discovers and directs.” If we say we like Jesus well enough, but bristle at his teaching (or the teaching of his prophets and apostles), we hate God’s light as it discovers and directs; if, however, we trust his light to guide and direct even when we struggle to understand the why, we prove ourselves to be smoldering wicks at least.
  4. “Where this fire is, it will sever things of diverse natures, and show a difference between such things as gold and dross.” If God’s light is at work within us, and as we trust it to direct us, it will reveal impurities within us. We will allow it to separate flesh from spirit, to help us identify and ultimately mortify what is carnal.
  5. “So far as a man is spiritual, so far is light delightful to him.” When God’s light reveals uncleanness, immorality, and sin within us, we receive the rebuke with joy. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6), and what better friend have we than God himself, speaking through his Word? Our affections have been changed, so we delight most in Christ, and delight to be like him in increasing measure. Whatever tends to that end, we welcome with joy. If, however, we feel the sting of rebuke and resist it—draw the shades of our heart to keep the light out—it is likely we remain unregenerate. “There is nothing in the world more uneasy than the heart of a wicked man made to listen to spiritual instruction, until, like a thief, he puts out the candle so that he may sin with less restraint.”
  6. “Fire, where it is present, is in some degree active.” Grace works. Even in the midst of sin, when our flesh seems to be all-conquering, there is a “contrary principle, which breaks the force of sin, so that it is not boundlessly sinful.” The true light will flicker even in our darkest moments.
  7. “Fire makes metals pliable and malleable.” And so grace, where it is active, makes our hearts soft and prepares us to be changed. However, “Obstinate spirits show that they are not so much as smoking flax.”
  8. “Fire, as much as it can, sets everything on fire.” Grace, where it is active, will make everything in us gracious. All will tend in a Godward direction, to the fame of his name. As Paul puts the same principle, whatever we do, we will do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  9. “Sparks by nature fly upwards.” Our desires and aims will mount upward, toward heaven. A person cannot desire the holy unless grace is at work, “for we cannot desire anything which we do not believe first to be, and the desire of it issues from love.” Sibbes notes these desires must be (1) constant, for this shows their supernatural origin, (2) directed to spiritual things such as faith and love, not because of a pressing need or emergency (in which case the desire is selfishly motivated), but “as a loving heart is carried to thing loved for the sake of some excellency in it,” and (3) accompanied with grief when the desire is hindered—that is, when sin masks Christ’s loveliness.
  10. “Fire, if it has any matter to feed on, enlarges itself and mounts higher and higher, and, the higher it rises, the purer is the flame.” Where grace is truly active, it grows in measure and purity. “Ignis, quo magis lucet, eo minus fumat (As fire gives more light, it gives less smoke).” If we are truly in Christ, we will grow more like him; when we see no growth in grace, we show we are not so much as smoldering wicks. As one contemporary pastor puts it, “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.”


Homiletical Relativism

October 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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A Tale of Two Sermons?

I recently heard two close friends give their opinion of the same sermon—a sermon I did not hear, delivered at a church I have only attended once. These were both seasoned believers who genuinely love God and seek to follow him. One raved about the sermon, touched by the pastor’s humility (and self-deprecation) and the liveliness of the delivery. The other actually preacherwept at the conclusion of the message because she was devastated by the pastor’s self-centeredness and twisting of the text. I was so astonished by the conflicting reports that I wondered if they had even heard the same sermon!

 

In thinking about these two comments, and many more like them given through the years, I began to wonder if there isn’t a touchstone for sermons. Are we hopelessly adrift in a sea of personal preferences, or are some sermons actually better than others? It was a dangerous thought, and one I really didn’t want to pursue—especially since preaching is my craft—but the question has nibbled at me since then, and I feel compelled to reflect (incompletely, imperfectly, with fear and trembling) on it.

 

The Sermon: Your Way, Right Away

We live in a consumerist culture. People want what they want when they want it. If the store doesn’t have what they want, they will go elsewhere—online, if they have to, because you can find everything online. No compromise necessary. Your way, right away.

 

Consumerism’s penetration into the church has been widely documented and loudly bewailed. The great contribution of modernity and its obstreperous stepchild, postmodernity, is the elevation of the autonomous self.[1] In the space of a few short centuries, we moved from “In the beginning, God” to “I think, therefore I am.” That this emphasis on self-determination should permeate a group of people who have committed to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Another strikes me as both ironic and chilling.

 

But it has, and the effects have been discouraging.

 

Since the 1990s, the consumerist approach to Sunday services has tightened its grip on the Western church. Congregants increasingly evaluate the sermon according to individual preferences, rather than an objective standard. Now, let me be the first to admit that some aspects of a sermon may vary according to preferences. For example, how long should a sermon run? I see no command in Scripture suggesting a divinely established length. Jonah’s preaching was blessedly short (Jonah 3:4), whereas Paul occasionally waxed protracted (Acts 20:9).

 

Nevertheless, there are other aspects of preaching that are non-negotiable, and we would do well—as preachers and as congregants—to remember them. The practice of these principles can and should vary from congregation to congregation (see #6), but the principles themselves should never change.  In other words, we do not want to be guilty of homiletical relativism. We do not want to make ourselves the locus of judgment: “what I deem to be a good sermon is a good sermon; what I deem poor is poor.” Just as we submit our lives to the judgment of God’s Word (cf. Hebrews 4:12-13), so we submit our sermons—those we preach and those we hear—to its judgment.

 

A brief caveat before I outline some of the principles: no preacher will do this perfectly every time out, because we are all fallible and finite—myself chief among them! However, we will practice these principles intentionally as surely as we practice them imperfectly.

 

What Makes a Good Sermon?

  1. It centers on God’s words. We need to hear God’s words, not a preacher’s words, because only one has power to transform. God describes the efficacy of his word in a famous prophecy of Isaiah: “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (55:11). God’s words accomplish his purposes—warning, correcting, teaching, promising, inspiring faith—perfectly and without fail. What preacher among us can say the same of his words? The word of God is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). My words, however, are dead unless God gives them life; they lack the precision, power, and perfection to cut to the heart of my audience. God’s words never have that problem. A good sermon proclaims God’s words in God’s power in order to accomplish God’s ends.
  2. It points to Christ no matter the text. This follows necessarily from the first point. If, as Jesus himself taught, every text points to him (Luke 24:27; John 5:39), then every text we preach will point to him as well. A narrative from the Old Testament, an exhortation from the New Testament, a psalm or proverb—these all point to or are grounded in Christ’s finished work. To preach the narrative or exhortation, psalm or proverb, without preaching Jesus, is to miss the heart of the message. To be sure, this must be done carefully. Some preachers will do the “Jesus bit” in every sermon, but fail to remain faithful to the text at hand. If every passage points to Christ, then a preacher should be able to unearth what is already in the text, without having to import Jesus from somewhere else. Gospel threads—rest, exile, temple, kingdom, exodus, covenant, wisdom, and many others—run throughout Scripture. A faithful sermon will see the thread running through the passage at hand and draw it out for the sake of the congregation.
  3. It proclaims the gospel. As a sermon draws out the gospel thread, it will proclaim the richness of the gospel week in and week out. Paul’s resolve at Corinth—to know nothing while he was with them “except Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)—sets the standard for every sermon. The gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). A faithful sermon proclaims the twin graces of the gospel—justification and sanctification—in delicate balance. As Paul writes to his protégé, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 2:4-8; cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). God saves us by his mercy, not according to what we have done—we are justified by grace; God renews us by his Spirit so that we devote ourselves to doing what is good—we are sanctified by grace. Preaching justification alone leads to libertinism: spurious salvation by cheap grace alone. Preaching sanctification alone leads to legalism: climbing a ladder of our own making to reach a heaven of our own imagining. Preaching neither at all is just self-help, moralism, or banal psychotherapy. Would to God we heard the gospel instead!
  4. It proclaims a multi-faceted gospel. The gospel message is clear, simple, and unchanging on the one hand, but it is endlessly rich and multi-faceted on the other hand. Scripture presents not only a wide array of gospel threads, but also a variety of “atonement grammars,” as Tim Keller calls them. Given our cultural heritage in the West, today we are most familiar with the “legal” grammar: Our sin demands a righteous judgment, which Christ Jesus takes on himself; he is declared “guilty” in order that we might be called “righteous.” This is a powerful grammar, and one that we need to hear regularly. Nevertheless, it is not the only way to speak of the atonement! Throughout the Bible, we read of the atonement in language taken from the battlefield (Jesus has secured our victory), the marketplace (Jesus has purchased our freedom from slavery), the temple (Jesus purifies us so that we can draw near to a holy God, cleansing our guilty consciences), and the exile (Jesus was cast out so that we could be brought in, welcomed back home).[2] Different grammars speak to different people; different texts highlight different grammars. If every sermon drills the same theme, it will likely speak to only one segment of the congregation, and will only address one element of our despair apart from God. If the gospel is endlessly rich, each new sermon should sound a different note that resonates with a hitherto untouched corner of our hearts.
  5. It strikes the heart. Jonathan Edwards rather famously emphasized this aspect of preaching. He saw that in his day too many preachers aimed at our thoughts, feelings, or will, rather than striking the heart, which is the source of all three (cf. Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:18-19). Sermons that strike the mind only produce a dead orthodoxy. Sermons that strike our feelings only produce a shallow emotionalism. Sermons that strike the will only produce moralism or legalism, and ultimately despair. However, sermons that strike the root of all three—the heart—will lead to transformed thoughts, feelings, and wills, producing theological orthodoxy, relentless joy, and loving obedience from the inside out.
  6. It addresses the audience. No sermon is preached in a vacuum. It addresses real people at a specific time and in a specific place. Even in our shrinking world, with the advent of technological globalization, differences between cultures and sub-cultures are marked. Preaching the same passage in the same way regardless of the audience is sheer folly. The urban intelligentsia in Manhattan does not need the same message as migrant workers in rural California. A faithful sermon considers its culture carefully, and contextualizes the unchanging truth for a changing population.

 

As always, I’m sure this list is not only incomplete, but also imperfect. Nevertheless, I hope it will stimulate sustained reflection and increased discernment—never a critical spirit—and ultimately charitable engagement.

 

[1] Some would prefer to speak of “late modernity” instead of postmodernity, because both modernity and postmodernity share this fundamental characteristic. Views on epistemology have shifted, yes, but at their individualistic core, they remain the same.

[2] Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012): 131.



Why I Preach Expository Sermons

June 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Sermon PreparationAttend a few different churches in your area in rapid succession, and you will undoubtedly discern some striking differences. Some sing hymns with organ accompaniment, others choruses with a rock band; some follow a traditional liturgy, others follow the modern liturgy of sing-sermon-sing again.

 

At some point someone will stand up to preach a sermon. That’s a widespread similarity. But once he starts talking, we face a whole new slew of differences. Is the series based on a passage from Scripture or a topic from life? Does he proceed methodically through the text or does he use the passage as a launching pad for reflection? Do his points follow the structure of the text or does he reorganize the passage to fit his points?

 

In a nutshell, where does he land on the spectrum from topical to expository sermons?

 

What Is Expository Preaching?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s define expository preaching as preaching that is not only based on but driven by the passage at hand. Once a pastor selects his passage—whether in an expository or topical series—he works diligently to determine the structure and thrust of the passage in its original contexts (historical, literary, generic) and then contextualizes that message for his modern audience. He does not know what he will say on the subject—again, whether in an expository or topical series—until he first completes his exegesis of the passage. Once he preaches, he follows not only the emphasis of the passage, but the structure as well, trusting that God inspired the message and the medium.

 

How Do I Know If It’s Expository?

Determining if a pastor is preaching an expository sermon is not difficult. It doesn’t take technical training or special insight. A few key questions will usually suffice.

 

  1. Does the pastor read the whole passage (either all at once or in chunks) instead of merely alluding to key points along the way?
  2. Do his points follow the structure of the passage (e.g., verses 1-7 for point one, verses 8-12 for point two, and verses 13-19 for point three) without omitting or reorganizing any verses?
  3. Does he proceed methodically through the passage, commenting thought by thought (clause by clause, verse by verse, or paragraph by paragraph, depending on the scope of the passage) rather than drawing implications from the whole only or with indirect reference to the thought-flow of the passage?
  4. Does his sermon closely resemble not only the message of the passage but also its tone and approach? That is, does he warn from warning passages and encourage from encouraging passages rather than remaking the message according to his determination?
  5. In some ways, the easiest question to answer is simply: After listening to the sermon, do I feel like I could explain the original sense of the passage to someone else easily and clearly?

 

I’m sure there are other indicators, and I’m sure someone could answer those questions in the affirmative and still be guilty of rank eisegesis[1]. But overall those are good gauges.

 

Why I Preach Expository Sermons

Of course, determining what sort of sermon you’re preaching/hearing is very different from determining what sort of sermon you should be preaching/hearing. Does it matter which preaching approach we take?

 

I won’t speak for everyone, but here are seven reasons why I preach expository sermons. (This list is not exhaustive, nor is it in any particular order.)

 

  1. I believe the Word alone is living and active. I have read a lot of good books and heard a lot of good messages in my life, and some have left a lasting impression on me. And yet only the Word of God is living and active, capable of bringing about the transformation we seek (Hebrews 4:12). God does not promise that any other word will accomplish its purposes, but he does promise that of his Word (Isaiah 55:11).The Word of God alone is God-breathed and therefore useful for the full equipping of every Christian (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God speaks—which is a wonder in itself!—and what he says we need to hear. Why would I think to offer a congregation of believers (and unbelievers, undoubtedly) anything else on Sunday morning? What do they need to hear more than this?
  2. I don’t trust myself. I am far too aware of my own shortcomings—and based on conversations with those who have been at this far longer than I, that isn’t going to change before glory. I don’t know enough, I’m not wise enough to speak to the many issues the average person faces every day. So why would I trust myself to say what needs to be said on any given topic? Quite simply, I don’t. I don’t want to teach, correct, rebuke, train, warn, promise, encourage except what comes directly from Scripture. I have no authority in myself, and I know it. But if I faithfully teach the Word of God—as faithfully as I can, given how prone I am to misinterpretation and carelessness—I can speak with derivative authority at least. The authority of any preacher is directly proportional to how faithful to God’s Word he is.
  3. I have my hobby horses. I have axes to grind, and left to my own devices, I will grind them every single week. Certain sins appear to me more heinous than others, undoubtedly because they are related to my greatest strengths or my greatest weaknesses. Even as an expository preacher, I suspect many in my audience would quickly discern what these are: relational disciple-making and the importance of the mind on the side of my strengths; sins of pride and lust on the side of weakness. I’m not sure I’ve ever preached a sermon that didn’t touch on at least one, and more often all of these. But if I bind myself to the passage at hand, I am far more likely to broaden my horizon, to see without my own personal filter, to address what God sees as most important at that moment.
  4. I think the message and the medium belong together. This may spring from my artistic temperament, but I don’t think one can divorce the message and the medium. I think certain musical styles and tunes are inappropriate for certain lyrics, as an example. The same is true—much more decidedly so—of God’s Word. There is a reason God reveals himself in a wide variety of genres: narrative, poetry, apocalyptic, prophecy, reasoned argumentation. In marked contrast to this wondrous diversity, we tend to preach everything like an epistle (or worse, like an Enlightenment lecture). I think this can be especially true when it comes to tone. I, for example, find my emotional tone ranges from sobriety to indignation (I have lots of issues, obviously); I don’t preach wonder well. But if I can imitate the tone of the passage, I can paint with the full biblical palette of emotions—a richer portrait indeed. When we strive to match our sermon to the message and the medium (tone, style, structure), we express tacit confidence in God’s modes of revelation. (And I suspect our hearers will appreciate the variety too!)
  5. I want to preserve the tension. I wrote recently about tendentiously preserving the tensions that run throughout God’s Word. Expository preaching more than any other exercise will help us do just that. Imagine, both Reformed and Arminian preachers have the privilege of preaching Hebrews 6:4-6 one week, and then Hebrews 7:25 a short while later. That will surely temper our hardline approaches to the assurance debate! Pentecostals and cessationists get to preach 1 Corinthians 13 before coming to tongues and prophecy in the next chapter. Those strong on sanctification (would-be legalists) spend the first four chapters of Galatians declaring the wonder of salvation by grace alone through faith alone; those strong on justification (would-be libertines) then get the final two chapters to expound on what it means to keep the Law of Christ. I don’t want to preach only half the counsel of God on any subject—and expository preaching keeps me in line.
  6. I can tackle hard issues with less fear. Some topics preachers never want to bring up. What pastor wants to preach on supporting pastors financially (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18)? It sounds unconscionably mercenary. There are many topics that we would gladly shun because we know they will open up a floodgate of angry e-mails regardless of how faithfully we preach the text. It’s like touching an electric fence: I don’t care how much you desire to honor God, you’re going to be wary of grabbing hold a second time! But if you are preaching expository sermons—and expository series especially—you have no choice. You can’t get to the next pasture without passing by the electric fence, shocks and all. You have to face your fear, reaffirm your faith in God’s wisdom, and trust that your congregation needs to hear the whole counsel of God—even when the subject is touchy.
  7. I get to interrogate the text. Expository preaching forces the preacher to exegete, interpret, and expound on whatever passage lies before him, no matter how opaque, unfamiliar, or superficially uninteresting. In other words, the parts we skip over or skim quickly in our daily reading, we now have to face with microscope and megaphone. We have to interrogate the text to know why God included it in sacred Scripture and how it relates to our hearers today. Without question, the passages I know best are the passages I have preached. What a perk for pastors! And yet, if we eschew expository preaching, we cut ourselves off from this tremendous spur to deep understanding. If I weren’t blessedly forced to wrestle with new passages, I would soon find myself running to the same passages time and again; soon, I would have nothing new to say at all (just repackaged in the latest buzzwords). I thank God for any impetus to greater depth and breadth of true understanding.


[1] A preacher engages in eisegesis (from two Greek words meaning “lead” and “into”) when he invests the passage with his own meaning; in contrast, preachers should strive to do exegesis (from two words meaning “lead” and “out of”), drawing out the meaning of the passage and then contextualizing it appropriately.



Spending Time with God

January 2nd, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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This is my annual New Year’s post about establishing the discipline of devotion. I hope it encourages you to new depths of intimacy with him this and every year!

 

Nothing is more essential to experiencing the riches of God’s grace than our regular time with him in prayer and study. However, disciplining yourself to spend time with God can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you on your way.

 

  1. Set a specific time—ideally the same time every day. I believe there is real wisdom in setting aside the first part of your day for this time of intimacy with God. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the Scriptures seem to commend the practice of rising early to meet with the Lord.
  2. Choose a specific place—again, ideally the same place every day. Having a place set aside will help you to stay focused in your time.
  3. Start with a small amount of time (ten or fifteen minutes) and slowly work your way up as you become more disciplined. I would even suggest setting a timer if you are just beginning—perhaps five minutes for reading the Word and five minutes for prayer.
  4. Ask God to give you the discipline and persistence you will need.
  5. Keep the purpose—to grow closer to God and in godliness—in your mind always. Just as practicing scales on a piano takes on new significance when you hear the sonata you hope to play someday, so picturing the relationship you hope to have with God will give meaning to these times. This shouldn’t be mere ritual.

 

The two essential components of your time with God are prayer and time in the Word. There are many other fruitful disciplines, of course, such as fasting, solitude and silence, and meditation. But to begin, focus on these two essential disciplines. Here are some suggestions for these two activities.

 

Prayer

  1. Keep a prayer journal so that you maintain focus in prayer. You are far less likely to let your thoughts wander if you are writing as you pray. Keeping a prayer journal also gives you a record of God’s faithfulness in hearing and answering prayer.
  2. Keep prayer lists so that you know what to pray for. You should pray for your family, friends, self, school or work, church, country, and leaders regularly. Keeping a list of individuals in each category will give you focus. You will soon find you have more to pray for than time in which to pray! (You might also consider praying for a different “category” each day of the week: family on Monday, friends on Tuesday, political leaders on Wednesday, etc.)
  3. Pray through Scripture to ensure you are praying God’s will and learning from the example of prayer warriors in God’s Word.
  4. Take time to listen to God. Make sure the conversation isn’t a one-way street. Include a time of silence in which God can speak to you.

 

The Word

  1. If you haven’t already, try a yearly Bible-reading plan. For some suggested plans and other information, see “Reading through the Bible.”
  2. Reading through the Bible in a year can be difficult. If you fall far behind, start over at the current date and try again. Remember which days you missed, and try to read them when you have extra time. But always being behind can lead to discouragement and ultimately giving up. Don’t quit! Pick up on the right day and press on.
  3. Read the Bible with a pen in hand. That is, don’t settle for just reading the Word; study it.
  4. When doing study, start with the “then and there”questions: what did this passage mean in its original context? A good study Bible will help you enormously in this regard.
    • Who are the people in this passage?
    • What is happening in this passage?
    • Where and when is this passage taking place?
    • What is the main idea of this passage?
    • Look at key words, structure, emphasis, repetition, tone, genre, and the relationship between ideas (such as cause and effect, questions and answers, etc.).
  5. Then ask the “here and now” questions: what does this passage mean for me today?
    • Do I need to change my thoughts, words, or actions in light of this passage?
    • Is there truth I need to accept, where before I had clung to a lie?
    • Are there promises to believe? warnings to heed? examples to follow?
    • How should this passage change my relationship with God and/or others?

 

Meeting with God every day is an expression of our love for him and our desire to know him more. We do not meet with him because we should; we meet with him because we long to. He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68); in his hands alone are found pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Start today—and enjoy the richness of fellowship with the Almighty God.



Reading through the Bible

January 1st, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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This is my annual New Year’s post about reading through the Bible in a year. I hope you will choose to discipline yourself and discover the riches of God’s Word in this way again this year!

 

As the new year rolls in, we would be wise to plan for the coming year. We accomplish few things of lasting value without having planned for them in advance. This is true for our spiritual journey. Now, at the start of the year, is the time to plan for how we will encounter God in his Word for the next twelve months. Below are several excellent Bible-reading plans available to download from different ministries. Before getting to them, though, I want to discuss why a yearly Bible-reading plan is a wise idea.

 

Why Read through the Bible in a Year?

Reading through the whole of Scripture regularly is an absolute necessity of the Christian life. I can think of at least three reasons why we should undertake this endeavor every year.

 

  1. We are to receive strength for each day. Just as our bodies need food every day, so our souls need the nourishment of God’s Word. In the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And yet, doesn’t he say elsewhere, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)? The bread we should hunger for most is the Word of God, of which we must daily partake.
  2. We are to delight ourselves in his Word. A yearly Bible-reading plan is not a chore to be checked off our to-do lists, but an expression of our desire for intimacy with God. We long to hear his voice, as a wife longs for conversation with her husband. The psalmist expresses it thus: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119: 15-16). Is this the cry of your heart?
  3. We are to understand the whole counsel of God. It is imperative that we know the whole of God’s Word thoroughly. Too often we settle for a few scattered verses known well and applied willy-nilly to every circumstance. This has dangerous consequences. I know of no heresy—ancient or modern—that does not spring from a right understanding of part of God’s Word only. Most moral error stems from the same neglect. The writer to the Hebrews felt this frustration with his wayward flock: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (5:11-12). To know God’s Word fully ensures that we know all that he has to say on any given subject, and can rightly apply it to whatever vicissitudes we face.

 

The Dangers and Surpassing Benefits of a Bible-Reading Plan

Of course, this is not to say that Bible-reading plans do not come with pitfalls. The Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne listed some in a letter to his congregation, before giving his reading plan (included below). These dangers include mere formality, in which reading becomes a lifeless duty; self-righteousness, when we impress ourselves with our outward piety; overhasty reading, when we read to finish reading and not to encounter God; and having the plan become a burden rather than a joy. And yet, M’Cheyne felt the benefits outweighed the potential dangers, which we might guard against. I agree.

 

What are the benefits? First, a Bible-reading plan guarantees that we read the entire Bible over the course of a year (or two). Without a plan in place, this is unlikely to happen. As few of us remember what Nahum has to say, though all of us would agree we should, we must ensure we read systematically through Scripture. Second, a guided tour of the Bible keeps us from having to choose what to read each day. If left to our own devices, we would likely choose beloved passages only (neglecting the whole counsel of God) or a shorter portion than is necessary. How often do we sit thumbing through the pages of our Bibles, waiting for some inspiration to stop us in our tracks? A Bible-reading plan provides the direction we need. Third, especially among families or groups of friends who are following the same plan, we enjoy greater spiritual conversation, as we are all equipped to discuss the same passages that day.

 

Some Excellent Plans

We are all different, and every year we will find ourselves in different places. Choose a plan that works for you—and that you believe you can handle for the coming year. Here are some excellent plans to consider.

 

  1. Discipleship Journal’s 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan: For those who are just beginning, this plan will take you through the New Testament only—in just five minutes, five days a week. A helpful tool (even if you are doing another plan) is the 5 Ways to Dig Deeper, ensuring that your reading is neither too hasty nor mindless.
  2. Discipleship Journal’s Bible Reading Plan: My personal preference, this plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year, starting in four different places. The Old Testament readings tend to be longer, allowing you to spend more time in meditation on the shorter New Testament passages. For those who might fall behind, this plan rather helpfully has readings on only twenty-five days each month.
  3. The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Plan: Following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan—once through the Old Testamenttwice through the New Testament and Psalms each year, starting in four places—this plan also includes a wonderful, short devotional by D.A. Carson on the day’s readings. I highly recommend this plan, especially for veteran readers.
  4. Heart Light’s Daily Light Reading Plan—New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs: Another shorter plan, this will guide you through the New Testament during the week, with readings in Psalms and Proverbson the weekend. An excellent starter plan.
  5. Heart Light’s Straight through the Bible Reading Plan: This plan takes you through the whole of the Bible in canonical order—Genesis to Revelation. While it has drawbacks—such as reading through laws and genealogies all at once—there is tremendous benefit to seeing the plan of God’s redemption unfold in history.
  6. ESV’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan: An interesting approach, perfect for those who have been through the Bible a few times already, this plan takes you through Scripture chronologically rather than canonically. In other words, the prophets, psalms, letters, etc. are inserted at the correct moment into the narrative flow of God’s redemptive history.

 

Whatever plan you choose, I hope and pray it will be a great blessing to you, as you devote yourself to knowing God—and his Word—more completely this coming year.



From Athens to Jerusalem

March 30th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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The last in a three-part series on Christian education.[1] As I am a pastor by training and an educator by hobby, I am certain my reflections will be limited and misguided. I invite correction by those with greater wisdom and experience. Please comment below.

 

Modern educational principles apply unequally to the various disciplines. Owing to the unique content and skills objectives in each discipline, very little of what works in one class will work in another, except in the broadest possible terms. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bible classes. Because of the special character of biblical content—it alone of all texts is living and active—much of the modern (i.e., humanistic) approach falls woefully short here in particular. I would suggest three crucial areas where Bible classes must resist faddish techniques and philosophy and recognize its curricular uniqueness.

 

Bible classes must be Word-centered.

Contemporary wisdom says that education must be student-centered in order for real learning to take place. Undoubtedly there is much truth in this, though likely the pendulum has swung too far from the days of teacher-centeredness. But whatever may work in other classes, when it comes to Scripture, the educational approach must be Word-centered. In an age where democratic egalitarianism rules the day, we must be careful to recognize the limits of subjectivity. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid, and this is especially so when it comes to expositing God’s Word. Student-centeredness will result in shallow, subjective readings, pooling ignorance at precisely the moment where wisdom is most needed. Teacher-centeredness, contrarily, will result in an unfortunate elitism, as though the teacher alone had all knowledge and understanding. Better by far to center the curriculum and the class on Scripture itself, letting God speak through his living and active word (while recognizing that even God’s Word affirms the unique calling and equipping of some individuals to handle and instruct others in its truth [cf. Ephesians 4:11-13). I have watched scores of fifteen- and sixteen-year-old students sit rapt with attentive awe to countless Bible lectures (yes, lectures—you know, that thing you’re never supposed to do as an educator) because God’s Word was working actively within them, producing eternal fruit. Educational philosophy simply cannot contain the wonder of God’s revelation.

 

Bible classes must be text-driven.

I have been told on a handful of occasions that text is passé, that image now drives our thinking. Administrators have paraded research before us, insisting that the brain better grasps and retains images than words. This may be so. I am hardly qualified to dispute the research. But I do know that God did not reveal himself to his people through a series of images;[2] he revealed himself to us through the Word. I suspect some of this springs from the fact that image is even more difficult to read than text, allowing for greater misinterpretation. This is undoubtedly part of the reason God forbids anyone to image him: distortion would be inevitable. Because we live in such an image-saturated world—and an increasingly post-literate culture—we must emphasize text and its interpretation even more than our secular counterparts. Of all people, Christians must be literate, even literary. We must train our students to handle and interpret spoken and written word, so that they can handle and interpret the spoken and written Word. Images or activities that distract from patient, integrated, meditative reading we dismiss.

 

Bible classes must be knowledge-based.

In the age of Google, education has grown increasingly skills- and concepts-based, as memorizing content now serves almost no purpose. We all forget whatever facts we do not rehearse regularly, and we can all find them again whenever we need them in the time it takes to type our inquiry into a search box. In every other course, I think this makes a good deal of sense—but not when it comes to Scripture. We have been called to hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), to meditate on it constantly (Joshua 1:8; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Being able to locate verses in a search engine hardly fulfills this injunction. Against the grain of almost all modern educational philosophy, we must emphasize memorization and mastery of content. Living single-minded, Christ-centered, biblically integrated lives requires that we plant God’s Word deep within our hearts, allowing it to take root and produce redemptive fruit in every aspect of our being (heart, soul, mind, strength). This demands internalization of the Word—and a resolute faith that God’s Word, apart from clever educational gimmicks, can and will produce the desired result. Teaching Bible-study skills seems a valuable enterprise, but teachers must balance it with clear communication of non-negotiable content (such as the Trinity, Christology, substitutionary atonement)—knowledge that they will not receive apart from direct instruction. God has raised up teachers for this purpose, not to serve as guides on a journey of self-discovery, but to communicate clearly “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).

 

Like Tertullian, then, we ask the question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”[3] Athenian—that is, secular—wisdom has much to teach us in certain arenas. But ultimately these humanistic methods of study have little to do with teaching by the authority of Scripture.



[1] For more on Christian education, see my article “The Principled School” in Christian School Education.

[2] God uses images too, of course, not least his creation (cf. Psalm 19:1-2; Romans 1:20). The tabernacle/temple also springs to mind.

[3] De praescriptione haereticorum, ch. 7.



Using Biblical Language

February 13th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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There exists a disturbing trend among Christians today to forsake the Word of God for a secular counterfeit. Now, I am not talking about paying more heed to pop psychologists, celebrities, and other ill-suited mentors than to expositing Scripture (though that may be true). I am speaking instead of our preference for faddish jargon rather than the eternal Word—seemingly innocuous, but devastatingly dangerous.

 

A few examples may prove the point.

 

Evangelicals often speak of “accepting Christ” when describing the conversion experience. The human-centeredness of this language notwithstanding (cf. Acts 13:48), there are other serious drawbacks to these extra-biblical words. Presumably one would only have to accept Christ one time (the moment when we “get saved”). This leads to errors in evangelism especially, trying to get people to “pray the prayer” or “walk the aisle”—as if these had saving significance—rather than calling them to lives of repentance and belief, as Jesus did (cf. Mark 1:15). The greatest danger in speaking of accepting Christ is the false assurance it brings. One might “accept Christ” in the flesh for a time, but fail to repent and believe genuinely. Such people do not need to hear false assurance—“once saved, always saved”—but instead need to be called to true repentance and faith. This is not a one-time choice, but lifestyle decisions: a daily dying to self and living in and for Christ. That is biblical.

 

Or consider a less common example. Recently I have had several conversations with colleagues at the school where I serve about professionalism among the staff. Already issues arise, as professionalism is not a biblical term. The assumption seems to be that we should be striving for excellence professionally because we are working as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Now, it may be that working for the Lord will drive us to excellence, but is the connection self-evident? Are striving for excellence and professionalism better terms to use than biblical counterparts? I suspect not. As Christians we are called to obey our masters (which corresponds pretty nearly to employers) with “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (Colossians 3:22). While this sort of faithful service and professionalism undoubtedly overlap at several points, they are hardly coterminous. Professionalism and striving for excellence may carry with them humanistic notions of workaholism, idolatry, perfectionism, at least in the minds of some Christian professionals. To these we are not called. But to faithful service—to work with integrity, wholeheartedly as for the Lord himself—we are most certainly. We may eliminate much of the confusion by using precise biblical language rather than the language of the lost and idolatrous.

 

Closely related to this problem is the tendency to use biblical language unbiblically. Again, abuses abound. For example, many times I have heard Christians pray, “Lord, we declare healing for this person today.” We may cast aside the issue of guaranteed healing for the moment and focus instead on the word “declare”—a transparently biblical term, with almost five hundred occurrences in the NIV. The assumption seems to be that we may declare God’s promises over someone’s life in order to claim them. But this is not how this word is used in Scripture. The overwhelming majority of occurrences appear in the phrase “declares the LORD”—not in the declaration of his people. When his people do declare something, it is uniformly the goodness of God or the truths of his gospel (e.g., Psalm 96:3; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 6:20). We plead with God in prayer, seeking his will and purposes (cf. Mark 14:36; 1 John 5:14-15); we do not claim uncertain promises with undue authority.

 

At another time I read a prayer letter from a fellow missionary asking for greater “anointing” on her ministry. Presumably this missionary wished to have greater empowerment from the Spirit in her service for the kingdom. But this is not how the term is used biblically. The only New Testament occurrences come in 1 John 2:20-27. (The other instance, in Hebrews 1:9, is a quote from the Psalter.) The term there refers unambiguously to the Holy Spirit received at conversion. Indeed, the contrast drawn in these verses is between those who are genuinely in Christ and those who are not. All Christians have received the same anointing—an important point to make considering the tendency to establish a two-tier Christianity. It would have been far better had our missionary used the language of Ephesians 5:18—being “filled with the Spirit”—which expresses our need to be in step and empowered by his presence repeatedly, continuously in our lives.

 

I could multiply examples, of course, but hopefully this lends clarity to the importance of using biblical language biblically. We do not want to misuse the Word of God, nor do we want to neglect it in favor of a secular counterfeit. We want our words to honor him and edify one another. Precision in our speech reflects precision in our thinking—a worthy aspiration. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).



Spending Time with God

January 3rd, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Disciplining yourself to spend time with God can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you on your way.

 

  1. Set a specific time—ideally the same time every day. I believe there is real wisdom in setting aside the first part of your day for this time of intimacy with God. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the Scriptures seem to commend the practice of rising early to meet with the Lord.
  2. Choose a specific place—again, ideally the same place every day. Having a place set aside will help you to stay focused in your time.
  3. Start with a small amount of time (ten or fifteen minutes) and slowly work your way up as you become more disciplined. I would even suggest setting a timer if you are just beginning—perhaps five minutes for reading the Word and five minutes for prayer.
  4. Ask God to give you the discipline and persistence you will need.
  5. Keep the purpose—to grow closer to God and in godliness—in your mind always. Just as practicing scales on a piano takes on new significance when you hear the sonata you hope to play someday, so picturing the relationship you hope to have with God will give meaning to these times. This shouldn’t be mere ritual.

 

The two essential components of your time with God are prayer and time in the Word. There are many other fruitful disciplines, of course, such as fasting, solitude and silence, and meditation. But to begin, focus on these two essential disciplines. Here are some suggestions for these two activities.

 

Prayer

  1. Keep a prayer journal so that you maintain focus in prayer. You are far less likely to let your thoughts wander if you are writing as you pray. Keeping a prayer journal also gives you a record of God’s faithfulness in hearing and answering prayer.
  2. Keep prayer lists so that you know what to pray for. You should pray for your family, friends, self, school or work, church, country, and leaders regularly. Keeping a list of individuals in each category will give you focus. You will soon find you have more to pray for than time in which to pray! (You might also consider praying for a different “category” each day of the week: family on Monday, friends on Tuesday, political leaders on Wednesday, etc.)
  3. Pray through Scripture to ensure you are praying God’s will and learning from the example of prayer warriors in God’s Word.
  4. Take time to listen to God. Make sure the conversation isn’t a one-way street. Include a time of silence in which God can speak to you.

 

The Word

  1. If you haven’t already, try a yearly Bible-reading plan. For some suggested plans and other information, see “Reading through the Bible.”
  2. Reading through the Bible in a year can be difficult. If you fall far behind, start over at the current date and try again. Remember which days you missed, and try to read them when you have extra time. But always being behind can lead to discouragement and ultimately giving up. Don’t quit! Pick up on the right day and press on.
  3. Read the Bible with a pen in hand. That is, don’t settle for just reading the Word; study it.
  4. When doing study, start with the “then and there”questions: what did this passage mean in its original context? A good study Bible will help you enormously in this regard.
    • Who are the people in this passage?
    • What is happening in this passage?
    • Where and when is this passage taking place?
    • What is the main idea of this passage?
    • Look at key words, structure, emphasis, repetition, tone, genre, and the relationship between ideas (such as cause and effect, questions and answers, etc.).
  5. Then ask the “here and now” questions: what does this passage mean for me today?
    • Do I need to change my thoughts, words, or actions in light of this passage?
    • Is there truth I need to accept, where before I had clung to a lie?
    • Are there promises to believe? warnings to heed? examples to follow?
    • How should this passage change my relationship with God and/or others?

 

Meeting with God every day is an expression of our love for him and our desire to know him more. We do not meet with him because we should; we meet with him because we long to. He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68); in his hands alone are found pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Start today—and enjoy the richness of fellowship with the Almighty God.



Reading through the Bible

January 1st, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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As the new year rolls in, we would be wise to plan for the coming year. We accomplish few things of lasting value without having planned for them in advance. This is true for our spiritual journey. Now, at the start of the year, is the time to plan for how we will encounter God in his Word for the next twelve months. Below are several excellent Bible-reading plans available to download from different ministries. Before getting to them, though, I want to discuss why a yearly Bible-reading plan is a wise idea.

 

Why Read through the Bible in a Year?

Reading through the whole of Scripture regularly is an absolute necessity of the Christian life. I can think of at least three reasons why we should undertake this endeavor every year.

 

  1. We are to receive strength for each day. Just as our bodies need food every day, so our souls need the nourishment of God’s Word. In the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And yet, doesn’t he say elsewhere, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)? The bread we should hunger for most is the Word of God, of which we must daily partake.
  2. We are to delight ourselves in his Word. A yearly Bible-reading plan is not a chore to be checked off our to-do lists, but an expression of our desire for intimacy with God. We long to hear his voice, as a wife longs for conversation with her husband. The psalmist expresses it thus: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119: 15-16). Is this the cry of your heart?
  3. We are to understand the whole counsel of God. It is imperative that we know the whole of God’s Word thoroughly. Too often we settle for a few scattered verses known well and applied willy-nilly to every circumstance. This has dangerous consequences. I know of no heresy—ancient or modern—that does not spring from a right understanding of part of God’s Word only. Most moral error stems from the same neglect. The writer to the Hebrews felt this frustration with his wayward flock: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (5:11-12). To know God’s Word fully ensures that we know all that he has to say on any given subject, and can rightly apply it to whatever vicissitudes we face.

 

The Dangers and Surpassing Benefits of a Bible-Reading Plan

Of course, this is not to say that Bible-reading plans do not come with pitfalls. The Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne listed some in a letter to his congregation, before giving his reading plan (included below). These dangers include mere formality, in which reading becomes a lifeless duty; self-righteousness, when we impress ourselves with our outward piety; overhasty reading, when we read to finish reading and not to encounter God; and having the plan become a burden rather than a joy. And yet, M’Cheyne felt the benefits outweighed the potential dangers, which we might guard against. I agree.

 

What are the benefits? First, a Bible-reading plan guarantees that we read the entire Bible over the course of a year (or two). Without a plan in place, this is unlikely to happen. As few of us remember what Nahum has to say, though all of us would agree we should, we must ensure we read systematically through Scripture. Second, a guided tour of the Bible keeps us from having to choose what to read each day. If left to our own devices, we would likely choose beloved passages only (neglecting the whole counsel of God) or a shorter portion than is necessary. How often do we sit thumbing through the pages of our Bibles, waiting for some inspiration to stop us in our tracks? A Bible-reading plan provides the direction we need. Third, especially among families or groups of friends who are following the same plan, we enjoy greater spiritual conversation, as we are all equipped to discuss the same passages that day.

 

Some Excellent Plans

We are all different, and every year we will find ourselves in different places. Choose a plan that works for you—and that you believe you can handle for the coming year. Here are some excellent plans to consider.

 

  1. Discipleship Journal’s 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan: For those who are just beginning, this plan will take you through the New Testament only—in just five minutes, five days a week. A helpful tool (even if you are doing another plan) is the 5 Ways to Dig Deeper, ensuring that your reading is neither too hasty nor mindless.
  2. Discipleship Journal’s Bible Reading Plan: My personal preference, this plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year, starting in four different places. The Old Testament readings tend to be longer, allowing you to spend more time in meditation on the shorter New Testament passages. For those who might fall behind, this plan rather helpfully has readings on only twenty-five days each month.
  3. The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Plan: Following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan—once through the Old Testament, twice through the New Testament and Psalms each year, starting in four places—this plan also includes a wonderful, short devotional by D.A. Carson on the day’s readings. I highly recommend this plan, especially for veteran readers.
  4. Heart Light’s Daily Light Reading Plan—New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs: Another shorter plan, this will guide you through the New Testament during the week, with readings in Psalms and Proverbs on the weekend. An excellent starter plan.
  5. Heart Light’s Straight through the Bible Reading Plan: This plan takes you through the whole of the Bible in canonical order—Genesis to Revelation. While it has drawbacks—such as reading through laws and genealogies all at once—there is tremendous benefit to seeing the plan of God’s redemption unfold in history.
  6. ESV’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan: An interesting approach, perfect for those who have been through the Bible a few times already, this plan takes you through Scripture chronologically rather than canonically. In other words, the prophets, psalms, letters, etc. are inserted at the correct moment into the narrative flow of God’s redemptive history.

 

Whatever plan you choose, I hope and pray it will be a great blessing to you, as you devote yourself to knowing God—and his Word—more completely this coming year.



On Rising Early

December 19th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Dawn breaks, light trickles through tiny fissures in our carefully arranged curtains, and most of us hide our faces lest the day overtake us. Because of our hectic schedules, being overworked and overtired, our sinful pace of life and idolatry of achievement, we fear the morning.

 

How different the approach of the psalmists, who longed for the coming of the new day—that they might meet anew with God. To him they offered the first thought and the first word: a subtle adjustment in time management, but symptomatic of a radical reorientation in priorities.

 

Listen to the testimony of scattered saints throughout Israel’s history:

 

“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:147, anonymous)

 

“But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.” (Psalm 88:13, Heman the Ezrahite)

 

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3, David)

 

And perhaps more evocatively, David elsewhere describes himself as waking the dawn—having risen so early to offer God prayer and praise:

 

“Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.” (Psalm 57:8)

 

The psalmists are not alone in their auroral devotion. Even Jesus the Christ rose early to meet with his Father for strength and guidance:

 

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

 

It would be hubris indeed to think ourselves less in need of daily grace than our Master, in whose footsteps we but follow.

Remember, his mercies never fail: “They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).