Archive for December, 2011
In his Christmas Eve message, “Shepherds Who Follow the Lamb,” Ryan unpacked the rich irony of the gospel found even in the announcement of Christ’s arrival recorded in Luke 2:1-20. God sent angels to deliver a lofty announcement to lowly shepherds about the King of Ages lying in a manger for animals.
Here’s a helpful excerpt from Ryan’s sermon to think on this week:
Maybe the best example of God coming to the lowly is the glorious, angelic announcement of Christ’s birth to shepherds. Just shepherds. No name shepherds. And an angel comes to them, with the most important news of all time. Other angels affirm the announcement with nothing less than loud angelic praise. God did not reveal the birth with a message in a bottle; not a singing bush. But angels and an angelic choir. All that for just shepherds. Not for the town mayor; not key religious leaders; not the influential or persuasive; not the famous or the rich. It was shepherds who got the most elaborate Christmas announcement of all.
God does in deed come to the lowly, and that is good news for all of us.
Last week we published a blog detailing a number of Bible reading plans for you to consider ahead of the first of the year. Yesterday, Justin Taylor published what has become an anual post summarizing a number of different plans. If you’re still considering different reading plans or have yet to survey the options, this is a great place to start.
If having too many options is actually a reason for discouragement, that’s understandable. It is difficult to fully evaluate all your options when you can’t actually test them out. If you are happy to decide between two recommendations, consider George Guthrie’s “Read the Bible for Life,” a chronological Bible reading plan, or the Discipleship Journal “Bible Reading Plan,” by NavPress, which takes you through the entire Bible by reading from four different places each day.
Of course, there’s no rule that we should be reading the whole Bible in one year, though that’s a fine and fruitful goal. Whatever our plan and whatever our pace, may our lives resonate with the experience of the blessed man described in the first Psalm:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
– Psalm 1:1-3
For encouragement in grasping the importance of the Word in your life, consider listening to Ryan’s sermon on Psalm 1, “If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life…” delivered at the front of our current series, Pour Out Your Heart to Him.
Jesus is joy to and for the world. We come together on Sundays because he is our joy, and because we want more joy in him. Remember to take advantage of our Christmas weekend services to invite your friends, neighbors, and family to join us in celebrating the coming of Christ.
Christmas Eve services are at 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM. Sunday morning services are at the regular times, 9:00 AM and 10:45 AM.
Enjoy this new Christmas carol by Keith and Kristyn Getty:
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With a new year comes a good opportunity to evaluate our Bible reading habits.
Of course, “New Year’s Resolutions” are famous for not sticking, but for Christians this isn’t quite the same thing. We believe in a lifestyle of resolving to be more like Christ, on the basis of God’s resolve to make us more like Christ. The Bible, of course, is right in the middle of how God gets that done as a primary means by which He grows us in grace. And when it comes to a plan for reading the Bible, January 1 is a convenient time to resolve to start or recalibrate our current Bible reading pattern. On the subject of having a plan in general, John Piper has written a helpful article available here.
With January 1 approaching, here are a few options for daily Bible reading in the new year:
- Chronological Reading Plan: Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible, George Guthrie:
This Bible is published with a one year daily reading plan in mind, ordering the Biblical material chronologically along the Bible’s own narrative framework and includes a reading plan. George Guthrie has also published a one year chronological Bible reading plan, “Read the Bible for Life,” available in Pdf form here.
- The M’Cheyne Plan with Daily Devotional Commentary: For the Love of God is a two volume series of books written by D.A. Carson providing daily reading to supplement the M’Cheyne reading plan. The M’Cheyne plan takes you through the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice in one year.
- Several Places A Day: Crossway’s Daily Bible Reading Plan is available as a Pdf form to print out as a series of bookmarks. This plan gets you through the Bible in a year, reading from several different places in the Bible each day. Crossway has published 10 reading plans to supplement the ESV, including RSS, email, audio, and print versions daily.
- Just a List of Chapters: The Bible Reading Record, by Don Whitney, is a simple list of every chapter in the Bible. With this, you can read at whatever pace you like and keep track of what you’ve read until you’re through the Bible. This, of course, wouldn’t necessarily be a one year plan, but it could be. To get through the Bible’s 1089 chapters in a year, you need to read an average of 3.25 chapters a day, which comes out to about four chapters per day if you commit to reading five days each week.
Whether you’re starting a reading plan for the first time, or reevaluating your current pattern, it’s important to remember why we read the Bible. According to David in Psalm 19, God’s words are “More to be desired. . .than gold, even much fine gold; [they are] sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” This is because, according to Psalm 19, God’s Word is sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous, and God’s Word revives us, makes us wise, enlightens us, and warns us of danger. That’s what we need, every day.
To help your heart to long for and love God’s words so that David’s words here are your words, listen to Ryan’s sermon from Psalm 19, “God’s Words–Better Than Gold!“
One way to think hard about a psalm like this is to think about what life would be like if everything it says were not true. What if we couldn’t say, “The Lord is my shepherd”?
As an exercise in thinking through the significance of Psalm 23, David Powlison wrote this anti-Psalm 23, which Ryan read at the end of his sermon:
I’m on my own. No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
. . .but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort. I’m alone
.. .facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about me, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death, and then I die.
This Sunday, we’re looking at the psalm of the shepherd, Psalm 23. Invite a friend to come along at 9:00 or 10:45 AM.
The Lord is my shepherd; no want shall I know.
He makes me lie down where the green pastures grow;
He leads me to rest where the calm waters flow.
My wandering steps he brings back to his way,
In straight paths of righteousness making me stay;
And this he has done his great name to display.
Though I walk in death’s valley, where darkness is near,
Because you are with me, no evil I’ll fear;
Your rod and your staff bring me comfort and cheer.
In the sight of my enemies a table you spread.
The oil of rejoicing you pour on my head;
My cup overflows and I’m graciously fed.
So surely your covenant mercy and grace
Will follow me closely in all my ways;
I will dwell in the house of the Lord all my days.
– From Sing Psalms: New Metrical Versions of the Book of Psalms (Free Church of Scotland, 2003).
Christopher Hitchens, a prominent and widely influential atheist, died yesterday. If you aren’t familiar with Hitchens from his book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, then you may know him from TV interviews or articles in any number of magazines.
Doug Wilson, by the way, was Hitchens’ debate partner in a multi-article debate hosted by Christianity Today in 2007 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6). That debate was eventually turned into the documentary video, Collision: Is Christianity Good for the World?:
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We can genuinely hope that Hitchens died in Christ, since we know he heard the gospel many times. That is never impossible if someone has heard, but that is unlikely. Doug Wilson reflects a bit on this in his article. To the question of deathbed conversion, Thomas Gurhrie, a 19th century Scottish preacher has a timely word: “It cannot be too often, or too loudly, or too solemnly repeated, that the Bible, which ranges over a period of four thousand years, records but one instance of a death-bed conversion—one that none may despair, and but one that none may presume.” (chapter 1 of Early Piety).
Christopher Hitchens was deeply impassioned about the non-existence of God. It really does seem, though, like he really was debating against something, or Someone, instead of nothing. And we believe that he was. How much more should those of us who know the True and Living God be known for our loving, impassioned, and authoritative persuasion with the gospel.