Every believer knows the value of Bible reading. The most popular approach is to read through the Scriptures in a year. It seems reasonable that our eyes should read every verse in God’s Word annually. But if that is valuable, what about reading the whole Bible in a month?

In December my wife, Kim, and I were discussing our Bible reading plans for 2012. I had (and have) ambitions to read it through twice this year. I must admit that I felt pretty good about that plan. But imagine my response when Kim said, “I think I want to try to read the Bible through in January.”

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical, but encouraged her to go for it.

Well, she did it.

As we talked about the things she learned, I thought those lessons to be too valuable to keep to myself. So I asked her to write her thoughts out so I could post them. She was reluctant to do so for fear of drawing attention to herself. However, at my urging, she did put together her response to reading the Bible in a month. Here it is…

It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it (Dt. 30:12-14).

I’m not really sure what made me want to read the entire Bible in the month of January. I think some of it may have been guilt because it had been a while since I read all of God’s Word. I was also convicted that I am not as familiar with this precious book as I need and want to be. Whatever the reasons, I am so glad I did. It both confirmed my ignorance and whetted my appetite to dive deeper into its riches.

The following are some observations that the Lord showed me as I read:

1.     The unchanging character of God is always in the foreground (His holiness, compassion, faithfulness and grace) and shines against the backdrop of man’s continual failures. His focus on the heart stood out this time as well, especially in the Old Testament amidst all the detailed instructions on conduct.

2.     God’s message, plan, and sovereign orchestration of all events to accomplish this plan are consistent on every page. I am convinced that anyone who says the Bible is inconsistent has not spent much time in it.

3.     My reading included about 8 chapters in each of 5 sections daily (Law, History, Poetry, Prophecy and New Testament). I love seeing the Bible’s commentary on itself as well as themes and events being enhanced in different passages. For example, in Acts Peter is called to evangelize Gentiles and in Psalm 67 we see, “Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You… God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” In the same day I would read of the faithlessness of the kings and people of Israel, of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the Psalms, and from the prophets who were speaking truth into their lives. On another day I read about David’s desire for God to have a dwelling place in Psalm 132 and Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple in 2 Chronicles 9.

4.     It wasn’t that hard! Yes it took discipline and a good amount of time each day (1 ½ – 2 hrs), but it was very doable. From this point on, reading through God’s Word 3 or 4 times a year does not seem a bit daunting.

5.     I found myself growing in familiarity – the sense in which I am well acquainted with portions of Scripture because I just read them a few days ago. Several times they came to mind readily when dealing with issues in my own heart or in giving counsel to others. Some of these passages were close friends at one time and I’ve missed them. Others were mere acquaintances, but are pulling at me to get to know them better.

6.     After being so immersed in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan and His repeated warnings and patience with mankind, the final chapters in Revelation carried new meaning. I was overcome with worship for my Sovereign King and Lamb as well as deep sorrow for those who are perishing.

God has lovingly and graciously made it possible for me to know Him through the sacrifice of His Son and the revelation of Himself in His Word. It is not in heaven or across the sea, but it is right beside me on my nightstand. And I pray that it would be ever nearer in my heart and in my mouth.

I’m a music lover, not a music critic. So when I want to review an album it is because I like it and want others to as well. Such is the case with We Proclaim by Ekklesia Music. It is a production of the music that Joshua Spacht has written and arranged for Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida.

This album is a journey. It starts and ends in specific places and is a tour de force of gospel contemplation. Profound theology put into interesting phrasing sung by gifted voices backed by some of the most creative orchestration and arrangements I’ve ever heard… that is the best way I can describe it. The album moves from a defined beginning to a reflective end. I like listening to it from start to finish. You don’t want to “shuffle” the order. If you love the gospel and good music, this record will live in your CD player and be repeated in your iTunes.

Here is what I enjoy about the individual tracks.

1.     In the Beginning

The word “epic” has been overused in recent years, but it is the right word for this track. Wow, just wow! If you want to put John 1:1-5 to music it needs to be big. And this song (actually anthem) is huge. Dramatic strings flow seamlessly with aggressive percussion to create what feels like a soundtrack to the Creation event. The vocals have such a full range of dynamics that the choir’s voices sound like they are floating on a cinematic soundtrack. The drums at 3:33, chased by the strings are awesome. And the closing seconds are the way a piece like this is supposed to end.

2.     A Mighty Fortress

I’m not always a fan of changing the melody of a familiar song. But this one works. The original music is like a march, but this arrangement is more of a celebration. Josh Spacht’s voice is among my favorites. And it really cooks on this track. The new melody makes you think freshly about the words. Got to love the hammer dulcimer too. I think Martin Luther would like this rendition.

3.     Called by Your Name

By the time you get to this song, you wonder if you are listening to the same album. But that is what makes the project so enjoyable. It defies genre assignment. These lyrics are drenched with gospel truth beautifully sung by Kristie and Jerry Wragg (father-in law and daughter-in-law). This song has really tight transitions. Excellent bass and drum rhythm flow. Lots of movement in this tune between full orchestration, breaks with vocals and loops, and parentheses with an acoustic guitar floor. I have heard Jerry sing for years. He is as good as I’ve heard him on this song.

4.     Behold the Lamb

I don’t know where to start on this one. This song is the Everest of the album to me. I have loved this song since the first time I heard it on an old PDI album. Mark Altrogge wrote a classic for my soul in this song. And Josh has taken a simple, sweet ballad and turned it into a symphony worthy of Carnegie Hall. First thing you notice is that it is not in a normal time signature. Josh took a 4/4 song and put it into 7/8 time with minimal change to the melody. Genius! The piano works as a trellis around which a masterpiece grows. Everything about this song works: movie-score strings, intense choir pushes, a crunching phat electric guitar, accenting chimes, Josh’s vocal and Mark’s lyrics make your imagination stare at the cross. My iTunes account tells me that this song is in my top 5. Enough said.

5.     Sweet Sacrifice

Putting this song after Behold the Lamb is perfect. If ever a song were sung perfectly, Meghan Baird does so here. Every time I hear this track, I find that the simplicity of it launches me into the complexity of the hypostatic union (that Jesus is both God and man). And the melody is a soothing application of gospel truth to my heart. Great bass and piano work. Turn the lights down, get a cup of tea, close your eyes and let Meghan take you to the cross. The line, “Darkest hour in all of time as the angels watch you die” gives me chills every time. Beautiful song, deep lyrics, compelling melody.

6.     Of the Father, To the World

It is no secret to anyone that knows me that John Martin is one of my favorite singers. So having his voice weave this complex melody into a simple sound is really cool. This song grows from an acorn to an oak in five and a half minutes. It is a giant crescendo, both lyrically and musically, with a great key change. The chorus/refrain is catchy and will have you humming it for days. I love the break with just John and the choir. Rich theology couched in an invitation to worship.

7.     We Proclaim

Again, excellent strings! And the string and brass combination in the intro lets you know something big is coming. Jessica Fleming (daughter of Jerry Wragg) nails this difficult vocal. There are so many interesting things happening in the background it will take you a lot of trips through it to appreciate them all. The background choral vocals really make this track move. And yes, it has a bit of a Broadway musical ending.

8.     Titus 2:11-13

Scripture put to music, is there a better combination? Two great voices, Josh and Meghan, combine to make this so irresistibly beautiful. I heard this song as a chorus in Josh’s church years ago and instantly wanted the music. He wrote the music to nicely match the meaning of the text of Titus 2:11-13. Dramatic orchestral swells and soft breaks serve to put this text of Scripture securely in your memory. I love this song. It serves kind of like the credits at the end of the movie telling you what to do with what you just heard. This would be a great chorus for your church to sing. [Josh, please put more Scripture to music!]

[This is a letter I wrote to my son on his 16th birthday. I am posting it with his permission]

Luke,

I love you son.

Today you are turning 16. It seems like yesterday you were taking your first steps and not long after that stretching out your legs to ride your big wheel. Now you’ll be driving a car. Turning 16 means you are taking another step toward manhood. It means that in the eyes of the world you are ready for a new set of responsibilities. And I am so thankful I get to have a front row seat to watch your growth.

There are so many things that impress me about you. The truth is that you are way more mature and far godlier than I was at your age. We both know you can be a knucklehead. We both know that you can drive your brothers, your mother, and me crazy. But one of the things that I love most about you is how sensitive and soft you are about your sin. Your quickness in confessing sin and keeping short accounts is something that will serve you the rest of your life.

David told Solomon, “Be strong, become a man” (1 Kings 2:2). Paul told his brothers at Corinth, “Act like men” (1 Cor 16:13). Becoming a strong and responsible man is what God desires and expects from you. Being a man involves two things: masculinity and maturity. Masculinity means you know how to act like a man instead of a woman. Maturity means you know how to act like a man instead of a boy. Now is the time, now is your time to be a man.

What I want to help you do is the combination of David’s and Paul’s counsel: Become a man and act like one. I’m here to help and look forward to you helping me as I grow as well.

On your 16th birthday, I want to encourage you in 16 ways. I could say a lot more than is on this list. But I could not say less. Here you go…

  1. Keep reading your Bible. Remember that it is a supernatural book revealing the living God and will bear supernatural fruit in your life.
  2. Make sure you pray. This great God has given you access to Him anytime and about anything.
  3. Look for ways to remember the gospel every day. Daily sin should bring daily reminders to enjoy the grace of the cross.
  4. Keep loving your Mom. She is the most important woman in your life. And if you look for a wife with her character, you will be exceedingly blessed.
  5. Recognize your influence. You have many eyes on you. Your brothers, your friends, and your acquaintances look to you in ways you can’t imagine and won’t always recognize.
  6. Be a leader. Find ways in every situation to influence the thinking of others to glorify God.
  7. Treat girls like ladies. The way you are learning to treat girls now is setting patterns for life. Open their doors, give them your seat, offer them your jacket, and never let a girl walk to her car alone in the dark.
  8. Read good books. The world belongs to those who read. Find out what the people your respect are reading and consume those books.
  9. Relax. You don’t have to be “right” about everything. (And, oh yeah, you aren’t.)
  10. Be honest. Sometimes telling the truth is painful. But lying has long lasting, destructive consequences.
  11. Laugh. Life has funny moments, but never as funny as you. Learn to laugh at yourself.
  12. Stay off the couch. Between the TV and video games there is a temptation to waste time you can never regain.
  13. Don’t let technology rule you. Don’t become one of those people who are discouraging to talk to because they can’t go long without looking at their smart phones. Stay in the moment when talking to someone in person.
  14. Be humble. Let others praise you. Few things are more ugly than self-congratulations.
  15. Have fun. This world is full of God-given ways to enjoy yourself. Just do so within the parameters of God’s Word.
  16. Keep talking to your Dad. I treasure the way you confide in me and want my counsel. I’m already needing yours.

Again, you are so far ahead of where I was at your age. The world needs men, men of God. Be that man.

Love, Dad

When I wrote my post about Tim Tebow last week, I had no idea it would generate the feedback it did. In one sense I’m thankful. It is good when believers can talk about convictions with each other. But I’m also a bit perplexed. It is interesting that the post on Tim was hit so many more times than a post the next day on parenting. That in and of itself is revealing.

I received some comments that were critical of the Tebow piece that included helpful corrections for me. For that I’m grateful. But after a few comments I received through emails, Facebook comments, and Twitter tweets, I want to make a few clarifications and answer a few questions.

First, the title (“If I Were Tim Tebow’s Pastor”) was simply a rhetorical device. The intention was to merely communicate something like, “If I had Tim’s ear.” Yes, the post ended with the comment that I would love to be Tim’s pastor. But that was simply an indication of my affection for him and his testimony. I am not Tebow’s pastor and do not have any criticisms of him (I don’t know who his pastor is). If I had it to do again, I would have framed the post in the perspective of a Christian brother to another Christian brother. If I have offended Tim’s pastor in any way, let me publicly seek his forgiveness.

Second, several people had questions about the nature of a public critique of Tebow without a private confrontation of him. I understand the concern. But I also want to be fair about this. Last year I wrote a book entitled Uneclipsing the Son. Among the positive feedback I also received some negative and critical evaluations. All of these criticisms were on blogs and very public. In fact, I don’t remember ever getting a negative critique of the book through private correspondence. But I’m okay with that. I think if you are public about something that public criticism and debate are appropriate. Furthermore, I do not think that Tim is in sin, so my comments were not intended to be a confrontation.

Third, I am thankful for Tim Tebow’s boldness and witness for our Savior. I hope I was clear enough about this but let me say again that he is a great role model to whom I point my three sons. But just like I wish he would shorten his release when he passes, I wish he would clarify his gospel comments when he speaks. Both of those wishes are for him to be better. I know he has accurate and clear thinking on the gospel. I’ve heard this in extended interviews. I’m not a Denver Broncos fan but when Tim talks about Christ, I am a major Tebow fan. Is there anything wrong with wanting him to improve that witness?

Last, concern was expressed that I am being nit-picky about the theology expressed by Tim’s dropping to a knee to pray after a score. I have every confidence that Tim’s intentions are God-honoring and sincere. I just think it unintentionally communicates that God is in the business of assisting Christians to win football games. Does He? Well, yes and no. Owen Strachan’s answers this question very well in an excellent post in The Atlantic. It’s a great read. And make no mistake; Tim’s comments after the loss to New England were outstanding in his efforts to honor God. Nathan Busenitz’s second post on Tebow does a great job highlighting this.

Thank you to so many who responded to the Tebow post. My thinking as been sharpened by those interactions.

The implications and influence of our attitudes towards others cannot be overstated. Our tone is usually louder than our message. And tone is more quickly interpreted than words. I’m finding out the hard way that this is the linchpin of parenting.

Having teenage sons in our home creates an interesting environment. Messes happen, chores are neglected, arguments develop, things are lost, procrastination reigns. No, it’s not all negative, but it can get frustrating. But my frustration is not so much that my boys will be boys, but with my response and shepherding of them. Here is the all too easy pattern into which I can fall.

Something happens with one (or more) of my sons that needs correction; they sin. This sin comes to my attention and I feel the reflex of anger in my heart. Then comes a list of questions racing each other in my mind towards my tongue. “What were you thinking?” “What do you think you’re doing?” “Are you kidding me?” “How dare you?” “You were only thinking about yourself, weren’t you?” The list could go on…

Yes, my sons need constant correction. But so does their Dad. But how should that correction be framed? How important is the attitude behind the correction?

If you are a parent who longs to see your children walk with God or a someone who wants to influence your friends and family, there is a helpful pattern for us to follow in Romans 2:4. Paul writes:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

The second chapter of Romans begins with a confrontation regarding being more ready to judge others, including God, before oneself. In verse 4 Paul asks if judgmental spirit has cloaked our understanding of and experience with the gospel. God has demonstrated kindness, tolerance, and patience toward us. And here in the second part of the verse we meet a remarkable principle.

It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Notice that it is God’s attitude, His disposition, which motivates us to change. God motivates us with kindness.

Think of the implications of imitating this attribute of God as we parent our children and try to influence others. Another way to say it is, “You can’t bad-attitude someone into a good attitude.”

When is that last time someone confronted you in anger and your immediate response was something like, “Oh thank you, I am so motivated now to do better and try harder.” Correction packaged in a bad attitude is not motivating, stimulating, or helpful.

If it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, we would do well to encourage repentance in others the same way. But that will only happen when our thinking is flooded with thoughts of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience toward us in the gospel.

If you are looking for a verse to memorize that will have immediate application in your relationships, my suggestion is Romans 2:4. Once again…

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

If I Were Tim Tebow’s Pastor

Much has been said about Tim Tebow. And you can count on a lot more. My favorite so far is the post by Nathan Busenitz. But I want to add a few pastoral thoughts to the conversation.

I don’t know where Tim goes to church. So obviously I don’t know who his pastor is nor do I have particular encouragements or criticisms about the nature of how his soul is being shepherded. However, I am a pastor (and a father) who has been asked over and over what I think about Tim Tebow.

I like Tim Tebow. And that is no small thing since he led victories against my beloved Tennessee Volunteers as the Florida Gators quarterback.

I like his positive image. I like his humility. I like his football ability. I like his toughness. I like his 4th quarter comebacks. And I love that is he is unashamed of his Savior, Jesus Christ.

But if I were his pastor, I would offer him some counsel that might seem a bit contrarian.

First, I would discourage Tim from “Tebowing” (dropping to a knee in obvious prayer) after a positive play unless he was doing the same after he had been sacked or intercepted. I don’t have any problem with him praying after good plays, but the theology communicated by doing so publically at that time is just misguided. What should be concluded if Tim throws a touchdown pass against a Christian cornerback or safety? Is God not helping them? And should they Tebow (now a verb) in their success over Tebow? What about the Christian defensive back who intercepts him or the believing defensive end who drops him with a crushing tackle? Couldn’t they be justified to drop to a knee and pray with thanksgiving? Would it be right for a Christian defensive player to be caught on camera Tebowing after causing Tebow to fail?

We are commanded to give thanks for all things (Eph 5:20; Col 3:17). But giving demonstrable thanks to God for first downs and touchdowns has the unintended consequence of a prosperity theology where God’s blessing is success.

Second, I would encourage Tim to change his rhetoric. Instead of repeating the mantra that “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (which usually goes unexplained), I would love to hear something like “I’m thankful that God has given me the ability to play football, but I’m more grateful He has saved me from His judgment through the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The difference is subtle, but important. I’m glad Tim names the name of Jesus. When he does so, however, talking about why he is thankful would be clarifying. Jesus is to be praised for securing souls, not scoring touchdowns.

Third, I would ask Tim to consider the implications of his theology. In a recent discussion with one of my sons about Tebowmania, he asked me a great question. “Dad, do you think God is a Broncos fan now that Tebow is their quarterback?” Again, to which team does God provide assistance when both have faithful Christian players? I know Tim wants to be faithful witness for Christ. And his boldness is admirable and convicting. But how much better would that testimony for the Lord be if he added biblical clarity and accuracy to his testimony.

Let me say again, I really like Tim Tebow. He is the kind of role model I want my sons to live like. Because of that I pray he becomes the kind of theologian I want them to think like.

And for the record, I would love to be Tim Tebow’s pastor…

In Jonathan Edwards’ little booklet called Advice to Young Converts, he gives this simple advice for hearing sermons.

When you hear sermons, hear them for yourself… Let the chief end of your mind be to consider what ways you can apply the things that you are hearing in the sermon. You should ask, What improvement should I make, based on these things, for my own soul’s good.

How different our Sunday conversations and considerations would be this year if we put this to good use.

There is much more to be taken from Edwards’ Advice to Young Converts. This is good read for the beginning of the year. Here is the complete text of the booklet…

 

Advice to Young Converts by Jonathan Edwards

Dear Child,

As you desired me to send you in writing some directions on how to conduct yourself in your Christian course, I will now answer your request. The sweet remembrance of the great things I have lately seen at Suffield, and the dear affections for those persons I have conversed with there, give good evidences of a saving work of God upon their hearts and also incline me to do anything that lies in my power to contribute to the spiritual joy and prosperity of God’s people there. And what I write to you, I would also say to other young women there who are your friends and companions and the children of God. Therefore, I desire you would communicate it to them as you have opportunity.

One – I would advise you to keep up as great a strife and earnestness in religion in all aspects of it, as you would do if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature and you were seeking conversion. We advise persons under convictions to be extremely earnest for the kingdom of heaven, but when they have attained conversion they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious, and earnest in the whole work of religion, but the more; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For lack of this, many persons in a few months after their conversion have begun to lose the sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and flat and dark. They have pierced themselves through with many sorrows, whereas if they had done as the Apostle did in Philippians 3:12-14, their path would have been as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.

Not that I have already all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14)

Two – Don’t slack off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort unconverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had in conversion. Thus pray that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive your sight, that you may know your -self and be brought to God’s feet, and that you may see the glory of God and Christ, may be raised from the dead, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those that have most of these things still need to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness and pride and death remaining that they still need to have that work of God upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them. This will be a further bringing out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, and a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests that are not only proper for a natural person, but that in some sense are also proper for the godly.

Three – When you hear sermons, hear them for yourself, even though what is spoken in them may be more especially directed to the unconverted or to those that in other respects are in different circumstances from yourself. Let the chief intent of your mind be to consider what ways you can apply the things that you are hearing in the sermon. You should ask, What improvement should I make, based on these things, for my own soul’s good?

Four – Though God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet don’t forget them yourself. Often remember what a wretched bond slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion, as the blessed Apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting, and injuriousness, to the renewed humbling of his heart and acknowledging that he was the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle, and the least of saints, and the chief of sinners. And be often in confessing your old sins to God. Also, let this following passage be often in your mind:

Then, when I make atonement for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the sovereign LORD. (Ezek. 16:63).

Five – Remember that you have more cause, on some accounts a thousand times more, to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been since conversion than those that were before conversion, because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God. Look upon the faithfulness of Christ in unchangeably continuing his loving favor, and the unspeakable and saving fruits of his everlasting love. De, spite all your great unworthiness since your conversion, his grace remains as great or as wonderful as it was in converting you.

Six – Be always greatly humbled by your remaining sin, and never think that you lie low enough for it, but yet don’t be at all discouraged or disheartened by it. Although we are exceeding sinful, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our sins.

Seven – When you engage in the duty of prayer, come to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or attend any other duty of divine worship, come to Christ as Mary Magdalene did. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)

Just like her, come and cast yourself down at his feet and kiss them, and pour forth upon him the sweet perfumed ointment of divine love, out of a pure and broken heart, as she poured her precious ointment out of her pure, alabaster, broken box.

Eight – Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. It was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan’s whole building. It is the most difficult to root out, and it is the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lust, and it often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility.

Nine – That you may pass a good judgment on your spiritual condition, always consider your best conversations and best experiences to be the ones that produce the following two effects: First, those conversations and experiences that make you least, lowest, and most like a little child; and, second, those that do most engage and fix your heart in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God and to spend and be spent for him.

Ten – If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul under darkness and dull frames of mind, it is proper to look over past experiences. Don’t, however, consume too much of your time and strength in poring and puzzling thoughts about old experiences, that in dull frames appear dim and are very much out of sight, at least as to that which is the cream and life and sweetness of them. Rather, apply yourself with all your might to an earnest pursuit after renewed experiences, new light, and new, lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face, and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given for a whole year.

Eleven – When the exercise of grace is at a low ebb, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails, don’t desire to have fear cast out any other way than by the reviving and prevailing of love, for it is not agreeable to the method of God’s wise dispensations that it should be cast out any other way. When love is asleep, the saints need fear to restrain them from sin, and therefore it is so ordered that at such times fear comes upon them, and that more or less as love sinks. But when love is in lively exercise, persons don’t need fear. The prevailing of love in the heart naturally tends to cast out fear as darkness in a room vanishes away as you let more and more of the perfect beams of the sun into it:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:18)

Twelve – You should be often exhorting and counseling and warning others, especially at such a day as this: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:25)

And I would advise you especially to be much in exhorting children and young women who are your equals; and when you exhort others that are men, I would advise that you take opportunities for it chiefly when you are alone with them or when only young persons are present.

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in
quietness and full submission. (1 Tim. 2:9-11)

Thirteen – When you counsel and warn others, do it earnestly, affectionately, and thoroughly. And when you are speaking to your equals, let your warnings be intermixed with expressions of your sense of your own unworthiness and of the sovereign grace that makes you differ. And, if you can with a good conscience, say how you in yourself are more unworthy than they.

Fourteen – If you would set up religious meetings of young women by yourselves, to be attended once in a while, besides the other meetings that you attend, I should think it would be very proper and profitable.

Fifteen – Under special difficulties, or when in great need of or great longings after any particular mercies for your self or others, set apart a day of secret fasting and prayer alone. Let the day be spent not only in petitions for the mercies you desired, but in searching your heart, and looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as practiced in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God. Include the sins of your past life from your childhood up until now, both before and after conversion, with particular circumstances and aggravations. Also be very particular and as thorough as possible, spreading all the abominations of your heart before him.

Sixteen – Don’t let the adversaries of religion have any grounds to say that these converts don’t carry themselves any better than others.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:46-48)

How holy should the children of God be! And the redeemed and the ones beloved of the Son of God should behave themselves in a manner worthy of Christ. Therefore walk as a child of the light and of the day, and adorn the doctrine of God your Savior. Particularly be much in those things that may especially be called Christian virtues, that make you like the Lamb of God. Be meek and lowly of heart and full of a pure, heavenly, and humble love to all. Abound in deeds of love to others and of self-denial for others, and let there be in you a disposition to account others better than yourself.

Seventeen – Don’t talk of things of religion and matters of experience with an air of lightness and laughter, which is too much the custom in many places.

Eighteen – In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side. From these wounds came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hides your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.

Nineteen – Pray much for the church of God and especially that he would carry on his glorious work that he has now begun. Be much in prayer for the ministers of Christ.

Particularly I would beg a special interest in your prayers and the prayers of your Christian companions, both when you are alone and when you are together, for your affectionate friend, that rejoices over you and desires to be your servant.

In Jesus Christ,

Jonathan Edwards

My Bible Reading Plan for 2012

After posting Justin Taylor’s helpful suggestions for Bible reading plans, I have been asked by multiple people what plan I am going to use in 2012. First, let me say that I have used multiple plans in the past. Some were helpful and fit the way I think/read better than others. And there were a few plans that were just too complicated for me to maintain. I have seen other people succeed at both the most ambitious plans and the simplest ones. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach.

The most success I have enjoyed has been the straightforward approach of reading three chapters a day from Genesis to Revelation. That gets you through the Scriptures in about a year. Call me simple, but this has been my favorite method.

This year I am going to use a modified version of Don Whitney’s suggestion. My plan is to read six chapters a day, two chapters each from three places in the Bible. Here is what it looks like…

The three starting places are Genesis, Job, and Matthew. So the first day will be Genesis 1-2, Job 1-2, and Matthew 1-2. Day two will be Genesis 3-4, Job 3-4, and Matthew 3-4. The scheme is to keep reading consecutively from those three points and finish the sections (Gen—Esther, Job—Malachi, Matt—Rev) about the same time.

For me, this keeps things simple and also includes variety. It has a pace of finishing the Bible in less than a year, but also includes the flexibility to shorten and extend the daily readings depending on time and length of chapters (ever compared Ps 117 and 119?).

I have learned a lot about myself in previous years of Bible reading. For example, I know there are days that I miss. I hope I didn’t just lose all credibility. When this happens it is important that I get back into the Word the next day and not worry about making up for lost time, but meeting with God in His revelation. With the six-chapter approach there should not be much of a problem reading the Bible through in a year if the missed days are only exceptions.

I’ve also learned that it is a rare day that I cannot read more than what is planned. Who says you have to stop where the plan says stop? I like to think of it as an appointment with God for a certain amount of time and filling that time with reading and prayer.

One more thing I have found is that sometimes you come to a verse or passage in the reading that is so profound and has such intense application for your life that you just need to stop there and not concern yourself with reading any further.

There is actually a dangerous part of having a Bible reading plan. This is the pitfall of becoming a slave to it rather than seeking it as a time for personal worship. It is better to read one verse worshipfully than multiple chapters dutifully.

How Do You Begin Your Day?

Much has been written and discussed about technology’s encroachment on our lives. I’ve been greatly aided by friends who have looked at this problem with a theological eye (Note Tim Challies book, The Next Story and Al Mohler’s many blogposts on the subject). Most agree that computers, tablets, smart phones, and social media are not going away. In fact, we can expect the avalanche to get bigger (Have you chosen your circles for Google+ yet?).

This has made me think a lot as we stand on the porch of a new year. Kim and I have been talking about what Bible reading plan we are going to use this year. If you are undecided, Justin Taylor has some helpful options. And thinking about a new year of Bible reading has made me reconsider my schedule, which is always a humbling reflection of my priorities.

Looking back over the habits I’ve formed over the past year has, well, deeply disappointed me. The question I am asking myself is what is the first leaning of my heart when I wake up. I remember hearing C.J. Mahaney explain the battle he faces each morning when he wakes up and attacking his flesh with prayer at his first waking moment. I think we are all on the same battlefield.

So what is the first thing you do when you wake up? Here’s my problem. I find it easy to grab my iPhone and check my email, glance at social media notifications, see if there are any texts awaiting a response, and look at the news and sports feeds. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing these things. But my problem is that this is much easier and feels more urgent when I awake than addressing the thirst of my soul for God.

Back to the question, what is the first concern of your day?

I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions, but this is one area I want to focus on this year. Is there a better way to begin the day than with the thought of God? Maurice Roberts writes:

The thought of God should be the Christian’s panacea. It should cure all ills at a stroke. And what an infinity there is in the thought of God! Nothing can approach in beauty to the idea of the true and living God. That there exists a Being who is infinite in power, knowledge and goodness, that that Being cares for me with a perfect love as though I were the only man in existence, that He loved me before I was born and created me to enjoy Him eternally and that He sent his Son to suffer the agony of the cross to secure my eternal happiness—that, surely must be the thought to end all sorrow.

My prayer for my own soul, and yours, is that we develop the discipline of beginning the day with the thought of God, fed by the Word of God, for the glory of God, and enjoy the grace of God for our days.

Here are a few simple suggestions for starting your day before you even get out of bed.

  1. Pray. Ask God for His grace to motivate you to approach this day as His holy child and faithful ambassador.
  2. Think. Even before you begin this new day, revisit what you learned of God and the gospel yesterday. This will begin a chain link of Godward thinking.
  3. Plan. How will you prioritize your reading of God’s Word today? Hopefully, this plan has already been made. But making a fresh commitment before your feet hit the ground to execute that plan will greatly increase your control over your day.
  4. Say “No!” Every morning will bring new opportunities to do things other than spiritual disciplines. Learn to say “No!” to those things because you have another set of commitments to do before getting to them.

Much more could be said. You can add your comments below to help us in the discipline of beginning the day. For 2012, I want to have better beginnings to my days. I hope you do too.

Let me admit from the beginning that I am incurable Enfield fan. I know each of the members of this band and can personally attest to their spiritual maturity and love for Christ. I also had the privilege of working with them in ministry for many years and heard their musical gifts each week. So when I knew they were putting together a Christmas album, I had high hopes. Those hopes were exceeded.

Some of these arrangements we have been hearing for a few years around Christmas as they led in musical worship. But this is way beyond that. For me, this is the perfect combination of musicianship, orchestration, arrangement, godly musicians, and an on-ramp for worshiping Jesus, God of God. It was produced by Brian Steckler, producer of Enfiled’s album O For That Day.

What follows is not a formal review. In fact it is unashamedly positive. It is simply a personal review for me to express what I love about this album. I hope you enjoy the project as much as I do. I would encourage you to purchase a CD or download it soon.

1.     Angels From the Realms of Glory

This opening song is a classic Enfield recipe. They take a song that is familiar, add fresh orchestration, put in a new chorus and bridge, and throw in a great guitar solo. Wonderfully old and entirely new… at the same time. The use of strings in concert with contemporary instrumentation gives this song (and all their work) a contemporary and timeless feel. John and Lisa Martin’s tight harmonies remind me of God’s sweet providence in their marriage that transfers uniquely into their music. Lisa’s sliding, melodic harmonies just make you smile. Listen for the swelling crescendos, punchy syncopation, tight phrasing, and some great playing.

2.     God of God

Leave it to Ryan Foglesong to find an old hymn and make it sound like it was written yesterday. The theology of this piece should drop any believer to his knees in worship or stand him on his tiptoes in exultation. Beautiful strings give a soft step to the marching cadence of this anthem. The break when John sings, “O God of God” (with an acoustic guitar backdrop), aptly captures the album’s title. You can sense he believes in the incarnation with that vocal. David Zimmer’s drums pull you along like a narrator of the story of the Savior’s birth. Being unfamiliar with this song worked to my advantage because it accented the words. Catchy melody, great theology, well orchestrated. I really like this song.

3.     Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

This is such a fun song to listen to and sing along with. The opening strings are huge. And they should be. Few Christmas carols are as rich in incarnational theology as this one. The string intro sets the table for the greatness of the lyrics. And the way the tambre drops as the vocals come in, very cool. David’s kit work is amazing in this song. I hear something new from the drums every time I listen to it. You’ve got to love the “Joy to the World” bridge into the key change… very cool. But the coolest part of this song is the way they use pizzicato to underlay the phrase, “Mild He lays His glory by.” This will be a classic on my iPod for years to come.

4.     Who is He in Yonder Stall?

I love this carol because it speaks of Christ’s whole life, not just His nativity. And Lisa sings it as a vocal biography of the Lord she loves. This time it’s John who adds the harmony. The acoustic guitar sets the mood so well in this song. The orchestration is deliberately understated which adds to the drama of the lyrics.

5.     O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Wil’s dissonant Mandolin intro melody invites the minor key that has always made this song sound like it’s supposed to, a longing for the Messiah.  Add to that Nick Brown’s electric guitar and the wistful violin fills and you have a haunting mood. This arrangement creates magnetism to John’s excellent voicing of the lyrics. The intended forlorn of the lyric is captured by the creativity of the orchestration. Superb interpretation of this song!

6.     Glory to God on High

The driving back beat and great percussion by David and Ryan make you want to hear this song from the opening measures (listen for an amazing drum fill at 2:02!). The key change works as well in this tune as any I know. You get the full range of John’s voice on this track. Wow is he gifted!

7.     O Come All Ye Faithful

This carol is on everyone’s favorites list. I think that is what makes it so special on this album. The familiarity presents a challenge to bring something new to the table. But, Enfield pulls it off. The changes in rhythm keep it interesting. And the new bridge is a welcome addition, both lyrically and musically.

8.     God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen

Okay, this is my favorite track on God of God. The layers of creativity are so cool on this song. Great acoustic grove to begin with, and the electric guitar fill between the verses sounds just, traumatic. The gang vocal in this song is just plan fun! I could listen to the last 1:16 of this song over and over without pause. This is what the B3 Hammond organ was made for. The way Scott Frankfurt resolves the Asus-to-A makes me smile every time! My iTunes says tells me I’ve listened to this one the most.

9.     Go Tell It on the Mountain

I have to admit, this carol has never been one of my favorites… until now. I think it reminded me of my 2nd grade Sunday School class concert. David lays down a waterfall of percussion and Ryan turns his bass into a lead instrument on this track. There is more going on in the rhythm section of this song than happens from the lead of most other songs. Listen for some really cool piano licks.

10.  What Child is This?

I’ve never heard this carol quite like this. What I mean is that it sounds like John is singing the meaning more than the words. The intro violin sits you in a Middle Eastern stable looking through flickering light wondering “What child is this in Mary’s lap?” The highlight of this song for me is the dramatic harmonies Lisa adds (especially from 3:13-30, gives me chills every time). A minor key has never sounded so sweet.

11.  Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming

I’m not sure where to even start on this song. This is a beautiful vocal tribute to Jesus by Lisa. I’ve tried to count how many tracks are laid down in this harmony stack, and stopped trying. Great lyrics, amazing vocals. One of the most creative tracks on the album.

12.  O Holy Night

This song is usually arranged for a huge and dramatic crescendo from a tenor. Make no mistake, you will hear John’s gifted tenor voice. But it is so wonderfully understated that appropriate attention is drawn to the lyrics. Less is more here. Sweet, soft harmonies by Lisa blend into a staircase for worship. The string arrangement in the break is simply beautiful.

13.  Silent Night

Is it possible to have a Christmas album without this tune? Like others, the familiarity of this carol make a new rendition challenging. But the slight change in melody is really nice. The piano adds a fresh level of interest from the beginning. John’s voice finds its softer side with wonderful control and intensity. This song makes you want to sit by the fire and talk about the birth of King Jesus.

The Preaching Moment

Another week means two more sermons for me to prepare. And that means the weekly ritual of opening my Bible, clicking on the Logos program on the Mac, and grabbing my favorite fountain pen and the familiar canary legal pad.

It’s amazing that after doing this thousands of times, the first thought that comes into my mind as I start is, “Now what am really doing and how am I actually going to do it?”

Word studies, diagrammatical analysis, Greek and Hebrew, homiletical outlines, illustrations, introductions and conclusions, applications, implications, transitions, titles… sermon prep is not for that faint of heart or the lazy of spirit. But I have to admit that I love it. Really, it is my favorite part of my “job.”

But it is far easier to forget what the design of preaching is than I would like to admit. In the book The Salvation of Souls, George Marsden provides this insightful context and quote from the preaching Jonathan Edwards:

In the midst of debates over the Great Awakening, Edwards, made a revealing comment about the effects of preaching. During intense periods of awakenings, evangelists often preached to the same audience daily, or even more frequently. Opponents of the awakening argued that people could not possibly remember what they heard in all these sermons. [Jonathan] Edwards, responded that ‘The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.’  Preaching, in other words, should be designed primarily to awaken, to shake people out of their blind slumbers in the addictive comforts of their sins. Though only God can give them new eyes to see, preaching should be designed to jolt the unconverted or the converted who doze back into their sins (as all do) into recognizing their true estate.”

George M. Marsden, The Salvation of Souls (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002), 11-12.

I think I understand what Mr. Edwards is saying. The moment of preaching that involves a holy and prepared man with a well-studied and clear message is special. It is live dynamic in which the Spirit of God connects His inspired Word with the listening heart through the preacher’s sermon. Remembering the content of the sermon at a later time is important. But not so much as the gravity of the living God and authority of His Truth in the moment of the sermon.

I don’t think Edwards’ words mitigate against listening to recorded sermons or reading them in print. I praise God for these opportunities. But don’t underestimate the power of sitting in church and hearing a sermon. And if you preach, don’t fail to tremble at the awesome privilege of making an impact on the minds of the congregants with the greatness of God, the sufficiency of His Son, and the preciousness of the Word of God. How we listen to and prepare sermons is of the greatest importance.

With these things in mind, sermon prep is scary, amazing, and a thrill.   Now, back to preparation…

Just two short months ago I preached my first sermon as the senior pastor of Mission Road Bible Church. Many emotions competed in my heart that morning. Joy, excitement, fear, and thankfulness were a few. I will never forget that day. But there is a memory of that morning that will always be “engraved on that pulpit.”

As the music finished our executive pastor, Bob Taylor, gave me a very kind introduction. It was an emotional moment for him. His care for our church and me was evident. At the end of his remarks he informed me that there was a surprise waiting for me on the pulpit. Turns out he had done some research with my former secretary and friend Patti Schott in Los Angeles.

I’ve read of Puritan pulpits that had John 12:21 engraved on them. This is an account of an event that took place the week before our Lord’s crucifixion. He had arrived in Jerusalem and His fame and presence were causing quite a stir. There were some Greek men who had come to worship at the feast who had heard of the amazing Man from Nazareth. Finding Philip, Jesus’ friend and disciple, they made a simple request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The simplicity of that desire is astounding. And this entreaty captures the demand of the Christian pulpit.

In conversations with Patti, my desire to somehow place this verse on my own pulpit someday leaked out. She in turn passed along my secret wish to Bob Taylor and the MRBC elders. It should be obvious by now what happened.

When Bob called me up to the pulpit, he removed a notebook that had been conspicuously lying on it. There, in the upper corner of the pulpit, one of the church members had beautifully engraved those words, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

This gracious gesture will serve me well. It is a constant reminder that when I stand in that sacred real estate behind the MRBC pulpit, there is nothing more important than preaching with the aim of displaying the glory and wonder of Jesus.

Here is a picture I took of the pulpit with my phone right after I closed that first service…

For those interested, I have written a chapter in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully (ed. John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2011) on what it means to preach Jesus in every sermon, even though He is not in every text.