Archive for December, 2012
Last week we posted links to a number of helpful Bible reading plans. Here are a few books that can help you understand the Bible better as you read it. Each of these titles are available at the Resource Center or at Amazon:
- How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour, Gordon Fee, Douglas Stuart
- For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 1 , D. A. Carson
- For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 2 , D. A. Carson
- According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, Graeme Goldsworthy
- God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible, Vaughn Roberts
- The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, D. A. Carson
- The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, Mark Dever
- The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, Mark Dever
- Survey of the Old Testament, Paul Benware
- Survey of the New Testament, Paul Benware
Do you like gold? Do you like good food? Do you like things that are perfect? Do you like knowing how to stay clear of trouble?
Whether or not you’ve ever read the Bible with regularity, these desires common to humankind mean that any of us can understand what David is saying in Psalm 19:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
. . . More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
With the new year around the corner, now is a good time to consider how you will read the Bible in 2013. Of course, new years resolutions aren’t in the Bible, but there is never a wrong time to resolve to know God more in his Word, and the new year presents us with a nice opportunity.
- 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. This plan, named after its designer and Scottish minister in the 1800’s, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 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. Also, the Discipleship Journal “Bible Reading Plan,” by NavPress, takes you through the entire Bible by reading from four different places each day.
- 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.
If the Bible is new to you, or if you haven’t personally invested in knowing the Scriptures through regular reading, listen to Ryan’s sermon on Psalm 1, “If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life….” For even more plans, read this post by Justin Taylor, surveying a number of different Bible reading plans.
Some Christians suggest that believers should not celebrate Christmas because of the holiday’s mysterious and possibly pagan roots. If you are curious, here’s a post by Kevin DeYoung on the background to Santa Claus.
In his post, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Steve Hayes over at the Reformation 21 Blog helps us think through what Christians are to do with Christmas given these questions. Here are excerpts from Hayes’ post, which you can read in full here.
Every year, as the Christmas season approaches, some folks object to the celebration of Christmas due to its allegedly pagan roots. Some critics are Christians while others are cultists (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses). Before proceeding any further, let’s draw a few distinctions.
The question at issue is not whether Christians have an obligation to celebrate Christmas. Rather, the issue is whether it’s wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas-given the allegedly pagan roots of the holiday.
Likewise, we’re not defending any particular Christmas custom. That’s something we can evaluate on a case-by-case basis.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christmas has its roots in ancient paganism. Suppose it co-opted a pagan festival. Would it be wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas?
. . .Words often change meaning with the passage of time. Some modern words have unsavory associations if you trace them far enough back into the history of the English language.
But that’s not a reason to refrain from using these words. What they may have meant in Elizabethan English or Middle English or Old English is simply irrelevant to contemporary usage. Those are obsolete connotations. Most contemporary English speakers are oblivious to those obsolete connotations. Moreover, scholars who are aware of those obsolete connotations ought to be astute enough not to take offense. They should make allowance for semantic change over time.
. . .The allegedly heathen roots of Christmas are long forgotten. But even if the associations were still fresh in the mind of the celebrants, that, itself, wouldn’t automatically discredit the holiday.
. . . Many Asians practice folk Buddhism, Taoism, veneration of the dead, &c. If you go to an oriental restaurant, you may notice statuary. Perhaps you assume that’s decorative. Maybe so. But you may well be eating in the presence of idols.
I doubt many Christians, including those who oppose Christmas, give Chinese take-out a second thought. But in consistency, this may have pagan associations that are current rather than historical. Not a dead religion, but a living religion-albeit false. Real idolatry.
Not only are Christians not defiled by incidental pagan associations, but, as temples of the Holy Spirit, there’s a sense in which we can consecrate residual pagan associations. Purify it. Conscript it to the service of Christ.
Jesus hung on the cross. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” says the law (Gal 3:13). Yet Jesus embraced the odious association. Jesus transfigured the odious association. Made death a source of life. Made night a source of light.
. . .The Puritans were rightly opposed to invented religious duties. That’s why they stood against the church calendar.
But unless we’re very careful, this can become just another invented duty. Not having a duty to celebrate Christmas becomes a duty not to celebrate Christians. It’s a mirror-image of the error it opposes.
Although the Bible doesn’t have a Christmas holiday, yet when Christians celebrate Christmas, they commemorate a Biblical event. And not just any event, but the midpoint in world history. The beginning of the end of our age-long pilgrimage.
We are now just one month away from the start of Ryan’s new sermon series through 1 Peter, “Between Two Worlds.” We announce a new series ahead of time for several reasons, but perhaps especially so that you can orient yourself with the book before the series starts.
As you read through 1 Peter, keep in mind the title of our series, “Between Two Worlds.” No, this is not a way of saying that Earth is between Venus and Mars. I’m sure that was obvious to you. It’s a way of capturing what Paul has said so famously in Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven.”
In his letter, Peter encourages Christians in their life here in preparation for life in the new heavens and the new earth. In doing so, Peter will address a number of issues, including how women can please the Lord in a world addicted to fashion, how Christians should relate to this world’s institutions and to governments, how the church’s leaders should lead as they look forward to meeting the Chief Shepherd.
One recurring theme, however, is that of suffering – a theme common in life and common to every Christian person in this age. Suffering truly is where the rubber of our other-worldly theology meets the road of this world; where what we believe about who God is and what is eternal meets the cold but temporary realities of loss, pain, and persecution in this life.
Want an idea for how to prepare yourself for this upcoming series? Consider memorizing 1 Peter 1:3-9. If you do, you will spend this life and eternity glad you did:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
In his message, “The Omni-God,” Ryan preached the scary and comforting reality of God’s omni-greatness from Psalm 139. God is all-knowing, he is all-present, and he is all-powerful. That is terrifying because we are sinners. But for those to seek their refuge from him in him, God’s omni-greatness is the greatest comfort. As Ryan said on Sunday, this psalm is theology on fire.
Two issues raised by Psalm 139 are worth exploring further: prayers against the wicked, and the value of unborn human life.
Language of Hatred in the Psalms
For 18 verses, David reflects on God’s personal knowledge of every detail of his life, and his active presence in every place and every at stage of life. Then, in verse 19 we read this:
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Not only does that sound a little left field, it sounds a little out of bounds for Scripture. In his message, “Praying Against what God is Against,” Ryan addressed the meaning of this kind of language that we find here and elsewhere in the Psalms. As we see even from this text, David’s emotions are not vindictive or ultimately concerned with himself, but with God and his glory. In other words, David is against what God is against. Loving God in all his righteousness means hating what is unrighteous. And this isn’t arrogantly condescending. David’s next words show us the incompatibility of this kind of love for righteousness with self-righteousness: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
As Christians praying this psalm, we consider Jesus on the cross, where God’s righteousness, and thus his hatred for sin, was mingled with his mercy for sinners. And in praying against what God is against, we remember Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Behind all opposition to God is the great Opposer, Satan. And victorious over all opposition to God is God himself, with his Son, and all those who take refuge in him (1 Corinthians 15:57).
In view of the holiness of God, we see that David’s turn in verse 18 is not random or repugnant, but right. Thankfully, Tim Keller is right: “There’s no refuge from him; there’s only refuge in him.” When we read words like these, we can praise God for his justice, his victory over his enemies, and his mercy toward anyone who will come to him.
Abortion and the Offense of Human Autonomy
A second issue of importance raised by this psalm concerns the unborn. This psalm was not written to address the issue of abortion, but this psalm does have clear implications for the seriousness of this issue, since this psalm speaks so clearly to the value of life in the womb. As Ryan said, God and his Word are not unclear as to when life begins. God is the great knitter of life. Life is his work, and his work in the womb is illustrative of his power, his intimate care for every human person, his creativity, and his wisdom.
In light of the life-knitting omni-greatness of God, we see that abortion is not merely an assault on life in the womb, but an assault on the very Giver of life himself. In fact, it is the Giver of life that gives life it’s intrinsic value in the first place. The broad acceptance and even celebration of the murder of children in the womb is a reminder of our plight as human beings who suppress the truth about God in our unrighteousness. Ryan said it well this week in a discussion about the subject: “What makes the taking of a life – whether at 6 weeks or at 96 years – so wrong is its astounding self-autonomy; that it so brazenly (yet casually!) removes God from the picture. It pretends that he simply is not there, or doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. It pretends that someone else or something else brings about life, that someone else or something else sustains life.”
In light of this, there are a number of ways we can pray as we reflect on this psalm. We should praise God for his intimate and personal care for us – a care that extends even to the earliest and most private moments of our lives. We should praise God for his life-weaving work and pray against the idols, ideas, and structures embedded within our culture that promote the destruction of this life. We should recognize what we are capable of as sinners, and say with David, “See if there be any grievous way in me, and led me in the way everlasting!” For those who have committed or approved of the sin of abortion, pray for forgiveness from God, and rest in that forgiveness. Jesus’ death is sufficient for this, and God is pleased to grant forgiveness to those who flee to him for it. Pray Psalm 51. Pray Psalm 32. Remember the words of Psalm 103:11-12, where David writes,”For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” It’s really true. And we should pray for opportunities to share with men and women who are considering or who have committed an abortion about the Giver of life who gives eternal life through Jesus Christ.
As Christians it is not so difficult for us to embrace the reality of the intrinsic worth of unborn human life. It can, however, be difficult to live wisely in the world, loving our neighbors both inside and outside the womb. Here are several resources to help us think carefully about this issue and our responsibility with respect to the unborn:
- The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, a book by Scott Klusendorf
- Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, a book by Marvin Olasky
- Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, a book by Francis J. Beckwith
- Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, a book by Robert P. George
- “Abortion Is About God,” a video by John Piper
- “Abortion: Why Silence and Inaction Are Not Options for Evangelicals,” chapter by Justin Taylor in Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Same Evangelical Faith for a New Day. An interview with Justin Taylor about the need for and nature of evangelical engagement on abortion.
- “Mr. Candidate, How Does Religion Inform Your View on Abortion?,” an article by Amy Hall
- Pro-Life Traning, a ministry of Scott Klusendorf
- “The Great Tragedy of the 2012 Election,” an article by Garrett Kell
- “Ten Reasons Why It Is Wrong to Take the Life of Unborn Children,” an article by John Piper
- “Love Your Unborn Neighbor,” a sermon by John Piper
- “An Interview with Robert P. George on Roe vs. Wade,” by Justin Taylor
In closing, here are some important words Garrett Kell to those who have committed an abortion and to those who believe it is morally acceptable:
If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that he cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to him in faith, he will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Come to Christ.
If you support abortion, I encourage you to spend time in prayer and ask God to show you if abortion pleases him or not. Ask a Christian to help you learn what God’s Word says. I know you already have deeply rooted ideas. I did too. But I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. I encourage you to start with Psalm 139.
Last week the TGC Blog published a nice piece about DSC’s missions strategy, focusing on what DSC’s purpose to do less better has meant for our work among the Achi in Guatemala. Here’s a section from the beginning of the article, “Why Less is More in Missions“:
“Reactive and sporadic.” That’s how many members of Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, would describe their mission efforts prior to 2004. Plenty of good intention, but little deliberate strategy.
Perhaps you can relate.
Around 2004, however, a group of lay and staff leaders at Desert Springs sought “church missions coaching” with Sixteen: Fifteen, an organization that encourages, equips, and mobilizes congregations in their call to reach the nations. The church ultimately decided to adopt a “least reached” people group: the Rabinal Achi. These peaceful agricultural people dwell in the mountains of Guatemala, where they’ve managed to maintain their Mayan identity for centuries.
For almost three decades, encompassing much of the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), Rodrigo and Carol Barrera, a couple serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators, had been laboring to translate the New Testament into the Achi’s native tongue. But as of 2004, the project was still incomplete.
Click here to read the story of how DSC partnered with the Barreras to complete this translation of the New Testament for the Achi of Guatemala, and how DSC’s focused strategy helped make this possible. Learn more about DSC’s Rabinal Achi Partnership here, and about the ongoing work of local and global missions at DSC through the DSC Missions Blog.