Sunday, August 28, 2011

An Article About Bigotry and Bullying

I found this article to be one of the most accurate and well-stated expressions of the concern over the homosexual agenda. It is important to know where we stand and why. Mr. Turek does a great job of logically outlining his rationale, using facts and not propaganda.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Present Salvation

From The Valley of Vision:

Creator and Redeemer God,

Author of all existence, source of all blessedness,
I adore thee for making me capable of knowing thee,
for giving me reason and conscience,
for leading me to desire thee;

I praise thee for the revelation of thyself in the gospel,
for thy heart as a dwelling place of pity,
for thy thoughts of peace towards me,
for thy patience and thy graciousness,
for the vastness of thy mercy.

Thou hast moved my conscience to know how
the guilty can be pardoned,
the unholy sanctified,
the poor enriched.

May I be always amongst those who not only hear but know thee,
who walk with and rejoice in thee,
who take thee at thy word and find life there.

Keep me always longing for a present salvation
in Holy Spirit comforts and rejoicings,
for spiritual graces and blessings,
for help to value my duties as well as my privileges.

May I cherish simplicity and godly sincerity of character.

Help me to be in reality before thee
as in appearance I am before men,
to be religious before I profess religion,
to leave the world before I enter the church,
to set my affections on things above,
to shun forbidden follies and vanities,
to be a dispenser as well as a partaker of grace,
to be prepared to bear evil as well as to do good.

O God, make me worthy of this calling,
that the name of Jesus may be glorified in me
and I in him.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A New Bible Reading Plan

UPDATE 9-25-11: The link at the bottom will direct you to the corrected plan - the original one left out the book of Lamentations. I also reordered the OT books into more of a chronological sequence.

If you read my earlier post about digging deeper into the Bible, you may have noticed I'm not a huge fan of daily checklist Bible reading plans that have you reading multiple chapters per day from different books of the Bible. I feel it destroys the cohesiveness of the Scriptures and doesn't give you the continuity that the original hearers experienced. After all, chapter and verse divisions were not introduced until the 14th and 16th centuries, respectively. These plans also turn Bible reading into a checklist that can cause discouragement if you fall behind. So I decided to create my own Bible reading plan, one that allows you to read the Scriptures as they were meant to be read, a book at a time. I've only discovered one other Bible reading plan that is structured this way, the Discipleship Journal reading plan, which can be found here.

My plan is different, however, in that it does not give you a daily reading to check off the list. It is simply a list of the books of the Bible, alternating between OT and NT books (with a few exceptions). If you decide you still want to read through the entire Bible in one year, the plan does include approximate dates of when to start reading each book, and how many days it should take you to get through each one, but the plan is designed so that you read at your own pace. You can spend as little or as much time as you like each day reading, and you are not limited by a checklist. You can read an entire book in one sitting if you prefer. If you decide to follow the dates and read through the Bible in a year, the plan will take you through the OT once, the NT twice, and Proverbs three times, averaging 4 chapters per day. For the most part, OT books are ordered chronologically, with Psalms and Proverbs interspersed throughout, and NT books are ordered as they are found in the Bible, with smaller books grouped together as a single reading.

The link below will take you to the plan. You can enter any start date, and all the dates will autofill for you.

Book-at-a-Time Bible Reading Plan

I would love to hear your feedback!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

One thing I've noticed from being a father is just how much we can learn about ourselves from babies. Watching the way they react to certain situations can speak volumes about our human nature. Just this evening, I was playing with my 6-month old daughter, Eliana. I was sitting on the couch, with her in my lap. She had several different toys surrounding her: a purple teething ring, a stuffed animal, a musical octopus that plays music when you squeeze its tentacles; you know, exciting stuff to a 6-month old, right? Oh, she enjoyed them for a minute or two, but soon she became distracted by other things. She reached for my Bible that was sitting on the armrest nearby. I moved it out of the way. She quickly noticed the remote control sitting nearby, and began to grasp at it. "That's not a toy", I said. Becoming increasingly frustrated, she began looking around for anything that would pique her interest further. Then her gaze landed on the iPad, sitting on the other side of the couch. Again she began lunging forward to try to grab a hold, even though she was barely strong enough to even move it. Again I moved it out of her sight (it's distracting enough even for an adult). 

As I witnessed this little episode, I began to get a glimpse of what God must feel as he watches over us, his creation. In his mercy and grace, he showers blessings upon us, providing for our every need. We are never lacking for teething rings and stuffed animals. In his wisdom, he measures out our daily bread, just enough for the present need, and cautions us against those things that will cause us harm. Yet, how often do we brush these gifts aside and begin to pursue other things? The world is full of distractions. The newer, bigger, better, faster thing is always being dangled in front of our noses. Human nature, as exhibited by Eliana, is to go after those things, believing that they will somehow satisfy the longing in our souls. In essence, we are saying to God, "Your provision is no longer good enough; I need something better".

I thank God for this gentle yet sobering reminder tonight. Like all of us, my daughter was born into sin, and she needs a Savior to rescue her from the curse of the fall. I pray she comes to that realization when she grows up. Her actions tonight were perfectly consistent with the sinful nature we all possess. It would be nothing but foolishness for me, as an adult and as one who has been redeemed from the curse and who has tasted the heavenly gifts, to ignore this important lesson.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Divine Mercies

From The Valley of Vision:

Thou Eternal God,

Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable goodness,
super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean's 'lip'
as number thy favours towards me;
I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.

I thank thee for personal mercies,
a measure of health, preservation of body,
comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food and clothing,
continuance of mental powers,
my family, their mutual help and support,
the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
my county, church, Bible, faith.

But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
the days that add to my guilt,
the scenes that witness my offending tongue;

All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
condemn me -
the sun which sees my misdeeds,
the darkness which is light to thee,
the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
the good angels who have been provoked to leave me,
thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
thy righteous law, thy Holy Word,
my sin-soiled conscience, my private and public life,
my neighbours, myself -
all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
'Father, I have sinned';

Yet still I live, and fly repenting to thy outstretched arms;
thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
thou wilt not condemn me, for he died in my stead,
thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
for he levelled all,
and his beauty covers my deformities.

O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging to his cross,
hiding in his wounds, and sheltering in his side.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bibles, Bibles, Bibles

ESV Pitt Minion (On the Shelf)I've got a thing for Bibles. I currently have around 20 on my bookshelf, not to mention many more I have given away. I enjoy comparing translations and admiring covers, binding, and typeface. I know, I know...weird. Don't get me wrong, I treasure the Word of God for its message, not the aesthetics of the book itself. But there is just something about a Bible that sits perfectly in the hand, with a clear, elegant typeset, making reading a pleasure. Companies like R. L. Allan and Cambridge Bibles produce high-quality Bibles that, on more than one occasion, have forced me to repent of covetousness.

For any of you who may share this interest, I commend to you the Bible Design and Binding Blog. By way of warning, after reading the blog, you may suddenly find your bookshelf several Bibles heavier and your wallet several dollars lighter.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Psalm About God's Apparent Indifference

In Psalm 10, we see the psalmist struggling with God's apparent indifference to the injustices that plague our world. The psalmist wastes no time in getting to his inquiry with verse 1:
"Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
This same question written by an anonymous psalmist 3,000 years ago is posed by many today. How many times, after tragedy strikes somewhere on the globe, do we see this question being asked by skeptics? How many times has Larry King invited a well-known preacher or evangelist on his show to "explain themselves for what their God allowed"? Society asks, "Where was God when _________ happened? If God is good, why did he allow _________ to happen?" These are important questions that deserve answers, but unfortunately, many of those who are asking them do so not out of a genuine desire to understand God's ways, but with a defiant, unbelieving attitude that is eager to use the tragedy as further excuse for them to reject the Almighty God. In essence, they are declaring, "If God existed, he would not have allowed ________ to happen".

All people throughout history have questioned God's purposes in allowing bad things to happen to "good" people (even though Romans 3 makes it clear that no one is good), and why he allows injustice. Believers and unbelievers alike ask this same question, but as we have seen, the motive behind the question is quite different. Believers, like the psalmist, ask the question out of a desire to see the establishment of God's justice on the earth, in faith that He can and will vindicate the oppressed. Non-believers ask the question out of defiant unbelief, demanding that God prove himself to them in the manner of their choosing. As we see in Psalm 10, the righteous person trusts in God's sovereignty over all situations.

I wrote up a brief outline of the Psalm to get a better idea of the psalmist's thought process:

I. Question posed (v. 1)
II. Observations made (vv. 2-11)
III. Plea for justice (vv. 12-15)
IV. Prediction of God's faithfulness (vv. 16-18)

I encourage you to read this psalm prayerfully, and note the psalmist's heart attitude toward God's actions in the midst of trouble. Take comfort in the closing verses,
"The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Just Follow Your Heart?

In Jeremiah 13, God tells Jeremiah to do something strange. He tells him to go and buy a linen loincloth (underwear), and hide it in a crevice of some rocks. After many days, Jeremiah is told to go and retrieve the loincloth, but by this time it is ruined and useless. God has a lesson to teach Jeremiah from the ruined loincloth:
"Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing."
Not surprisingly, God is pronouncing judgment on the people of Israel for their "great pride", which is a sin in the sight of God (see Proverbs 21:4 and 2 Timothy 3:1-2). Their pride is manifested in the refusal to listen to God's words, the following of their own hearts, and their idolatry. Sounds alot like the period of the Judges, where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes".

Contrary to the world's claims that pride is good thing, and contrary to its mantra "just follow your heart", God is declaring here that such thinking is stubborn and sinful. Later, in chapter 17, he declares,
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds".
Proverbs 21:2 tells us,
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart".  
Clearly God's Word is trying to tell us something about the dangers of following our own hearts. In the New Testament, a similar theme is used by the apostle Paul in Romans 8. The following of your heart is described in terms of "living according to the flesh":

  • Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh (v. 5)
  • To set the mind on the flesh is death (v. 6)
  • The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (v. 7)
  • Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (v. 8)
  • If you live according to the flesh, you will die (v. 13)
So we see that following our hearts is foolish, sinful, and dangerous. If we can't trust our own hearts, what are we left with? Paul gives us the answer in the very same chapter,
" You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you".
As part of God's miraculous work of regeneration, he has given us new hearts and new desires, as foretold by the prophet Ezekiel:
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules".

The solution is to live by the promptings of the Spirit God has given to us each and every day, and to conform our lives to the objective truths laid out in Scripture. Then we will be able to discern between the foolish inclinations of our own hearts, and the holy commands of the Spirit.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Jesus vs. America?

Should Christians be involved in politics?

I do not have an answer to this question. That being said, I do not believe it is sinful for a Christian to use a particular platform or political office to effect change, as long as it is in conformity with God's Word. My concern lies, however, in the apparent "Americolatry" exhibited by many of the so-called "Christian right". Many conservative Christians have been duped into thinking that America is and always has been a Christian nation, and that now the liberals are taking us down the wrong path. Many see America as "the great hope" for the world. Therefore, these "America-worshipers" get all up in arms when Democrats have their way, as if their very lives were at stake. They want to take back the country for Jesus, as if America is God's chosen people. I cringe whenever I see The Patriot's Bible on the shelves in bookstores. Do we worship America or Jesus Christ?? You can't worship both. To try to somehow mix God's Word with out-of-context quotes from our founding fathers, as if they are somehow equally inspired by God, is nothing short of blasphemous. Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence, denied the Deity of Christ by brazenly cutting out all the verses in the Gospels describing supernatural events, including the resurrection of Christ.

A few points:

1) Patriotism is not a sin. In fact, it is a good thing to support our nation and be grateful to God for the blessings we enjoy. But when we let our mood and our demeanor be affected by the state of affairs either in Washington or on Wall Street, we have crossed the line. God is in control, and he can accomplish his purposes with or without America.

2) As believers, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven. Why don't we start focusing more on the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of America? Think about this: Jesus Christ lived under one of the most oppressive, cruel, inhumane empires to ever exist on earth. How many prayer rallies did he lead in the streets of Rome? How many manifestos did he write about the moral decline throughout the empire? How many times did he denounce the sexual deviancy that was so prevalent, or the slave trade that was so common? Answer: NONE. In fact, we see the opposite. Jesus did not want his followers getting caught up in the affairs of the government, if it meant that they would be neglecting the things of God. Peter and Paul both exhorted all Christians to be subject to the Roman empire, which is striking considering the fact that Christians were being regularly murdered by Nero's regime.

3) America does not have a monopoly on Christianity. We should be more concerned with the state of the Church in America than we should about the state of the government or economy. Which will matter more on the day of judgment? As believers, getting caught up in "America" takes our eyes off our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are still being murdered for their faith. Their plight is something we will likely never experience, but this is not because America itself is so great. God is blessing us in spite of America's sins.

God is not an American, and he is not even a Republican. He does not care what political party you support. He cares about your allegiance to Him and Him alone. Politics and patriotism are secondary.

Man's Great End

From The Valley of Vision:

Lord of all being,

There is one thing that deserves my greatest care,
that calls forth my ardent desires,
That is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made -
to glorify thee who hast given me being,
and to do all the good I can for my fellow men;
Verily, life is not worth having
if it be not improved for this noble purpose.

Yet, Lord, how little is this the thought of mankind!
Most men seem to live for themselves,
without much or any regard for thy glory,
or for the good of others;
They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue
the riches, honours, pleasures of this life,
as if they supposed that wealth, greatness, merriment,
could make their immortal souls happy;
But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these!
And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them,
for all our happiness consists in loving thee,
and being holy as thou art holy.

O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities,
the sensuality and folly of the present world!
It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness;
Time is a moment, a vapour,
and all its enjoyments are empty bubbles,
fleeting blasts of wind,
from which nothing satisfactory can be derived;
Give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee,
and to reject as delusion a great name here or hereafter,
together with all sinful pleasures or profits.

Help me to know continually
that there can be no true happiness,
no fulfulling of thy purpose for me,
apart from a life lived in and for
the Son of thy love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Our Wondrously Angry God

Is God ever angry with Christians? Or is he only love all the time? Kevin DeYoung writes,

"It's sometimes said that once you are justified God can never be angry with you again. This is true if by "anger" you mean "condemnation." But as any parent can testify, deep love for one's children does not eradicate righteous anger for their disobedience. Our anger, actually, can be for their good. The same is true of God and his anger toward us as his justified, adopted children."

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pursuing Christ At All Costs: Matt Chandler on Philippians 3

Our church small group is currently working through Matt Chandler's DVD study of the book of Philippians (which I highly recommend), and last night's session was especially convicting. The text was Philippians 3:1-11. In Chandler's typical style, he took a roundabout way of approaching the text, using several illustrations and ideas to get us there. He labored over the point that the Christian life is not a matter of doing right and avoiding wrong, and he drove the point home by showing from Scripture that this is true. The apostle Paul, prior to conversion, had (outwardly) done all the right things. He was an exemplary Jew. In fact, he claimed to have more to boast about than anyone - he was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless". This man was blameless in his zeal for keeping the law, but he did not have Christ. After God in his mercy saved him, Paul said, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". Notice that the things he once had were "gain"; they were not sinful in themselves. The sobering reality is that the things that most often draw us away from pursuing Christ are not sinful in themselves; in fact, they may be good things. But doing good things without knowing Christ is equivalent to unbelief. Don't believe me? Check out Matthew 7:21-23. Those who pursue good behavior without Christ will hear the most terrifying words in all of Scripture: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." At this point, Chandler's emotional plea reached a crescendo with this quote: "Paul is saying that if you get all of these things, if you clean up your life on the outside, and make it look like the Christian community says it's supposed to look, but you don't get Jesus, you've lost! Who cares?!".

Chandler's point was this: the Christian life is a passionate pursuit of Christ, not good works. Pursue Christ, and the good works will follow. What about you? Are you more concerned with how well you "look the part" than how passionately you are pursuing Christ? Do you feel like you are doing pretty good in your spiritual walk? Do you view the Christian life as a checklist of right and wrong? Jesus' words in Matthew 7 shows what will be the fate of those who view Christianity only as a right/wrong checklist.

All throughout Scripture, and most notably in the Psalms, we see people longing, pleading for more of God. Check out Psalms 42 and 143 for examples. Even Romans 8 describes how all of creation is groaning for God's redemptive purposes to be fulfilled. So the question becomes, How much do you long for God? Are you constantly pursuing him in every arena of life? Is he first and foremost in your affections? If not, repent, and "lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely" (Heb. 12:1). Get rid of ANYTHING, good or bad, that disengages your mind from the holy. Get rid of all secondary pursuits and set your eyes fully on Christ. Pursue him at all costs - because even if you are left with nothing but Christ, you still have everything.

I close with a mind-blowing thought from Chandler: "Because Christ is infinite, there is always going to be more of him to be had." Think about that. For all of eternity (in the coming ages, Ephesians 2 says) Christ will reveal to us his immeasurable riches. The riches will never be exhausted. The well of living water will never run dry. The bread of life will never cease. So run to him - throw off your moralism and pursue Christ at all costs; only his righteousness can save you.