Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Prayer at Year's End

Thy goodness has been with me another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness.

Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead.
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the pilot of my future as of my past.

I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.

If thou has appointed storms of tribulation,
thou wilt be with me in them;

If I am to die, I shall see thy face the sooner;

If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not.

Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.

Adapted from The Valley of Vision

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers

Pastor Andy Perry explains:

Let me suggest a new kind of reading plan for 2010, one that writer Margie Haack calls ‘The Bible Reading Plan for Slackers and Shirkers’ (I love that title!). Advantages to this plan include:

Removing the pressure to ‘keep up’ with getting through the entire Bible in a year. Providing variety throughout the week by alternating genres. Providing continuity by reading the same genre each day of the week.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

Sundays: Poetry
Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
Tuesdays: Old Testament history
Wednesdays: Old Testament history
Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
Fridays: New Testament history
Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)

Many Bible reading plans are good, but I find this one unusually helpful, for it combines two biblical values which seem to diverge in most plans: discipline and grace.
You can download the plan from Ransom Fellowship.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dave Barry's year in review: 2009

My favorite line from this year's report, "President Obama, speaking on health care before a joint session of Congress, is rudely interrupted by Kanye West, who grabs the microphone and declares that Beyoncé has a better health-care plan."

It's a guilty pleasure, but Dave Barry's report is too funny to pass up.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fighter verses

I focused on Scripture memory this year more than I have any other year. I'm slow at it, but what I found most surprising is how a new insight from a verse I had learned would emerge during a review months later.

Below are links to 5 different sets of verses; each one will keep you busy for a whole year. All are in the English Standard Version.

Option 1

Option 2: Some emphasis on Psalms 91 and 103

Option 3: Some emphasis on Psalm 96

Option 4: Some emphasis on Psalms 34 and 139

Option 5: Heavy emphasis on Matthew 5-7

Sunday, December 27, 2009

There's got to be something more

(Author: Jon Bloom)

Each year Christmas night finds members of my family feeling some melancholy. After weeks of anticipation, the Christmas celebrations have flashed by us and are suddenly gone. And we're left standing, watching the Christmas taillights and music fade into the night.

But it's possible that this moment of melancholy may be the best teaching moment of the whole season. Because as long as the beautiful gifts remain unopened around the tree and the events are still ahead of us, they can appear to be the hope we are waiting for. But when the tree is empty and events are past, we realize we are longing for a lasting hope.

So last night, as Pam and I tucked our kids into bed, we talked about a few things with them:

Gifts and events can't fill the soul. God gives us such things to enjoy. They are expressions of his generosity as well as ours, but gifts and celebrations themselves are not designed to satisfy. They're designed to point us to the Giver. Gifts are like sunbeams. We are not meant to love sunbeams but the Sun.

Putting our hope in gifts will leave us empty. Many people live their lives looking for the right sunbeam to make them happy. But if we depend on anything in the world to satisfy our soul's deepest desire, it will eventually leave us with that post-Christmas soul-ache. We will ask, "Is that all?" because we know deep down that's not all there is. We are designed to treasure a Person, not his things.

It is more blessed to give than receive. What kind of happiness this Christmas felt richer, getting the presents that you wanted or making someone else happy with something that you gave to them? Receiving is a blessing, but Jesus is right—giving is a greater blessing. A greedy soul lives in a small, lonely world. A generous soul lives in a wide world of love.

It's just like God to let the glitter and flash of the celebrations (even in his honor) to pass and then to come to us in the quiet, even melancholic void they leave. Because often that's when we are most likely to understand the hope he intends for us to have at Christmas.

From Desiring God

Friday, December 25, 2009

Chrismas memories 2009

It was the night before Christmas, but it was not a silent night.

THE DAY finally arrived. The children were either levitating or salivating, depending on the age.

Isaiah unwrapped his Nerf Tommy Gun, featuring a 35 dart magazine.His rate of fire averages 2.5 shots per second, and the range is about 25-30 feet. So if you visit our house, come prepared to eat some Nerf.

Faith, on the other hand, may ask you to model for her latest Play-Dough sculpture.

My Gracie Poo looks way too old in this photo. I'm gonna have to get me a Tommy Gun soon.

Eli's spy vehicle, with its remote-controlled audio/video feed, may come in handy as a parental control tool in the days ahead. Any gift for a boy in this family is also a gift for me.

All Zeke needed for Christmas was one more train. Always just one more. This little gift earned a happy dance from Z (wish I had the video camera handy).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

As far as the curse is found

As I've looked through the Christmas cards and have prayed for our church family during this season, I see much reason for sadness behind their pleasant faces. Many of our friends continue to parent children with serious disabilities. Some are grieving the death of loved ones. Others face debilitating bodily pain and question what the future may hold. One in particular is experiencing the anguish of a broken home for the first time.

But the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus tonight. He came to earth to taste our sadness. When life beats us down and the difficulties exasperate us we remember our Elder Brother who was made like us in every way, yet without sin, and know He has promised mercy and grace to help in time of need.

That's why I'm glad to see the smiles on the faces of those I know have had a difficult year, and in many cases, another in a long line of difficult years. For I know that even in their suffering and sorrow, God has been faithful to get them through. And His faithfulness continues forever! No matter what the future may hold.

Joy to the World! He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A show for east-siders

If you live on the east side of Albuquerque, the Speake's house is worth a visit. They have approximately 130,000 lights elaborately synchronized to holiday music. Even the two old guys from the Muppets get into the act.

All the Speakes have a part in putting the show together. I spoke to the son who told me he spent up to 85 hours per song programming the light show. Since the dad is a disabled veteran, the mom uses a rented cherry picker to hang the lights. The dad walks around passing out candy canes. Quite the Christmas spirit!

The house is located at 7124 Eagle Canyon Road NE in Albuquerque. Weather permitting, the show is from 6:00 - 9:45 PM every night beginning Friday, November 27, 2009 through Saturday, January 2, 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's the most difficult time of the year

It's the most difficult time of the year for a supervisor--annual assessment time! These assessments determine a civilian employee's salary which can create some strong reactions.

One civilian has been particularly livid about this year's assessment, and it has brought to light a good analogy to evangelism.

Adam* doesn't realize the situation he is in. If his performance doesn't improve in the next year I expect he will be removed or have his salary significantly lowered. This is not just my opinion but the collective decision of all the managers in our organization. As his supervisor, it falls to me to explain this to him and when I did he reacted with tears followed by anger. After a week he's still angry; we're scheduled to talk some more about his situation soon.

The most uncaring thing I could have done in my feedback to him would be to avoid telling him the truth about his unfavorable job situation. There's a strong temptation to take the easy way out of these face-to-face feedback sessions and to soften the truth to avoid offense. If I were to do that, however, a year from now he could be out of a job. But by telling him now about his situation, he has the opportunity to change and stay employed.

Do you see the analogy to evangelism? We know the truth about what happens to people without Christ. It falls to us, in God's providence, to inform those around us about their situation before it's too late to change. Will we do that, or will we take the easy way out and fail this test of tough love?

*Not the employee's real name

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Lord's promise

Why are there so few books about the sacraments on my crowded bookshelf and so many books on parenting, marriage, and other topics? To some degree, it shows how little value baptism and the Lord's Supper have among evangelicals today.

So I was pleased to read a little book on baptism that packs a lot of content without being dry. John Murray was a renowned "Old-School Presbyterian" theologian at Princeton Seminary, and all who desire a better understanding of baptism will benefit from Professor Murray's 90 page treatment of this topic titled Christian Baptism.

What the book did for me was present a clear picture of what my children's baptism means for them and me, and how God's promises in baptism square with God's sovereignty in salvation.

But this concise book gives clarity to broader issues of the Christian faith as well. Murray quips, "Faith severed from obedience is presumption, just as formal obedience severed from faith is self-righteousness." This principle applies to more than just baptism but to all of life.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More blessed than Mary

Kristin and I are reading through Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus* together and today's reading was especially good.

Jonathan Edwards preached a message titled, "To be more blessed than Mary" from the account in Luke 11:27-28 of a lady in the crowd calling out to Jesus about how blessed is the womb that bore him. Jesus responds with, "Blessed rather are those that hear the word of God and keep it!" Nancy Guthrie edits Edwards' sermon on this text down to a short reading, but it still punches beyond its weight. Especially good is this one-liner from Edwards, "'Tis more blessed to have Christ in the heart than in the womb."

*A collection of 22 short meditations to focus you on the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus, drawn from the works of classic theologians and writers such as Martin Luther, Augustine and Jonathan Edwards as well as contemporary theologians and Bible teachers such as John Piper, Tim Keller, J.I. Packer and Randy Alcorn. A similar volume is also available for Easter season.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kids don't need Santa to love Christmas

The Pipers explain why they don't focus on Santa:

First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don’t ask our children to believe them.

Second, celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child’s clear understanding of what the real truth is. It’s very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.

Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we’re trying all year to teach our children about God. Santa is omniscient, omnipresent, gives good gifts, but he also rewards you if you're good.

Kids still love Christmas, even without Santa; read more about the Pipers' experience here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Free Christmas songs

Justin at Between Two Worlds has received permission to offer several free Christmas songs for download.

The first two are from Isaac Wardell and the folks at Bifrost Arts. Their album is Salvation Is Created: A Christmas Record From Bifrost Arts. Kevin Twit, founder of Indelible Grace Music, describes the project this way, "This is an exquisitely beautiful record. The string arrangements are lush and creative. The sonic quality of the recording and the mixing is superb. But it is not a light sappy project at all—Thomas Kincaid and his ilk had nothing to do with this music, and for that we can be thankful."

Joy Joy!!! (Featuring Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri) [5:15]
Download the mp3 (right-click then “save as”).

Veiled In Darkness (Featuring Matt Bauer and Maeve) [5:19]
Download the mp3 (right-click then “save as”).

The next set is from Sovereign Grace music. Their Christmas album is Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man.

Savior contains twelve truth-saturated songs, suitable for worshiping God year-round. Each song ponders and celebrates the reason for Christ’s coming.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel
(Download the mp3)

(Download the mp3)

The third set are from the folks at Red Mountain Music and their album, Silent Night.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent
(Download the MP3.)

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
(Download the MP3.)

The final set are from Sojourn Music and their album Advent Songs.

Joy to the World
(Download the MP3)

Hosanna in the Highest
(Download the MP3)

Thanks to Justin Taylor and especially these talented musicians!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Eli!

He's 12 today!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Breaking a habit

Poor girl! Faith will be wearing casts on both legs for the next several weeks. For as long as I can remember Faith has walked mostly on her tip-toes and the orthopedic doctor noticed that her calf muscles were shortening such that she couldn't fully extend her feet. According to the specialist casts are the best way to break the habit of tip-toe walking before her calf muscles or ankles are permanently damaged. She looks sad in the picture but that's mostly because of the extra attention she's getting. She can still run and play, she just can't tip toe all that well.

I guess sometimes our problems in life can get to the point where only a strong forcing function can correct it before real damage occurs. It's worth asking yourself, where is one needed in my life?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Getting into shape

As the year draws to a close it's about time for the gyms and jogging trails to fill up with people and their New Year's Resolutions. Whether or not you're inclined to that, I'd ask you to consider this statement, "Bodily training is of some value, but godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come." (1 Tim 4:8)

So how about a resolution for "spiritual training" (godliness) in 2010? Here are some helps to consider using (most of them courtesy of Challies).

For the Love of God by D.A. Carson. This two-volume devotional contains a systematic 365-day plan, based on the M’Cheyne Bible-reading schedule, that will in the course of a year guide you through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once. To accompany the reading plan Carson has also written comments and reflections regarding each day’s scriptural passages. “And, most uniquely, he offers you perspective that places each reading into the larger framework of history and God’s eternal plan to deepen your understanding of his sovereignty—and the unity and power of his Word.”

Daily Readings from the Life of Christ by John MacArthur. This two-volume set is recently published by Moody and focuses on the life of Christ. “In this daily devotional by highly acclaimed author John MacArthur, your hungry heart will be focused on God and His Word. With insights on the life of Jesus, thoughts to ponder, and wisdom gleaned from years of careful study, this devotional will feed your daily walk.”

Voices from the Past edited by Richard Rushing. This volume, brand new from Banner of Truth, offers daily devotional readings from the Puritans. It does not follow any particular order (that I can see) in the Scripture passages accompanying each devotional.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This is a classic devotional that offers two daily readings, one for the morning and (you guessed it) one for the evening. Again, the accompanying Scripture passages do not follow any set order. If purchasing it as a gift for someone else, there are attractive gift editions of it available.

Through the Bible Through the Year by John Stott. “John Stott has assembled a new book that will guide readers through the Bible according to the church calendar. Seeking to renew a Trinitarian approach to Scripture, Stott divides these daily reflections into three sections. From September to December, Stott focuses on how God the Father revealed himself in the Old Testament. From January through Pentecost, he focuses on the life of Christ in and through the Gospels. And between May and August, Stott looks at the Holy Spirit in Acts, the epistles, and Revelation.”

DayOne Publications has an ongoing series that offers readings from the writings of a number of well-known Christian pastors or theologians. Currently available are:

365 Days with Calvin edited by Joel Beeke (brand new).

365 Days with Newton edited by Marylynn Rouse .

365 Days with Spurgeon edited by Terence Peter Crosby (there are 4 volumes available).

Walking with God Day by Day by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “Walking with God Day by Day offers brief daily devotionals that engage the mind and the heart. You will not just find spiritual nourishment in its pages; you will learn about God and the great themes of the Bible. Robert Backhouse has compiled excerpts from choice passages in the writings of Dr. Lloyd-Jones according to monthly themes. By reading this devotional, you will grow in your understanding of God and learn to apply the truth of His Word day by day.”

Faith Alone by Martin Luther. “Freshly translated from the original German into today’s English, this book contains a treasury of devotionals taken from Luther’s writings and sermons (1513 to 1546), conveniently divided into daily readings to point readers to the Bible and a deeper understanding of faith.”

Daily Dose of Bible Knowledge. Though I have this book, I have not yet read through all of it. I mention it, though, because I really like the idea behind it. The book “helps you start every day with a fascinating exploration of the Bible. The book includes 365 inspiring one-page articles that delve into everything from the Ark of the Covenant to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The articles are grouped into 52 weeks, with each day of the week dedicated to a particular subject area.” So it is not a devotional, per se, but still a helpful day-by-day kind of book.

Tabletalk Magazine by Ligonier Ministries. If you’d rather receive a monthly publication than buy a book, consider Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk. In each monthly issue it offers daily devotionals along with a good number of articles written by many respected pastors, theologians, authors and the occasional Canadian blogger.

Prof. Horner’s Bible Reading Program. He’s a professor from the Master’s College. In this program, you read in ten different places every day.

J.C. Ryle’s Daily Readings from All Four Gospels: For Morning and Evening. You will find his writing clear and easy to follow, and simple and warm. This Daily Readings is based on Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Providence Pageant

The children of our church put on a great Christmas pageant last night under the able direction of Mrs J.
We were all impressed with how much work went into this one-night only performance. From the set to the costumes everything looked great. But most impressive was the focus on the Scriptures, with many of the children reciting substantial passages from memory or singing solos of Christ-centered Christmas carols.
This also turned out to be a great outreach event to our neighborhood and friends. So it was a win-win for evangelism and for nurturing the faith of our covenant children.
This will be one of the highlights of our time at Providence.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Blind Side

When WORLD magazine ran a cover story on the movie The Blind Side, which tells the story of a very shy, large, and homeless boy from the projects and his adoption by an upper class family in Memphis, Kristin and I were itching to see it. Thanks to visiting grandparents last night we were able to.

After reading WORLD's gushing review our expectations for the movie were so high I was concerned it would turn out to be a let down. In terms of some of the casting choices, dialog, and basic acting skills I doubt it will be a contender for an Academy Award. Yet the story in this movie is indeed a rare jewel. The fact that the story is true gives it power. The scenes from the projects and the contrast with affluent Southern culture is accurately done.

But what sets this movie apart from other true stories is that the love this family showed to one orphaned child could also be shown by you and me, right where we are at, right now. The end result would certainly be different than this movie's ending, but it need not be any less glorious in God's eyes. The reality of poverty and children in desperate need in our own backyard is undeniable. This movie reveals the joy of sharing with those in need and how it transforms both the giver and the receiver.

I hope you'll see it. Its effect on your heart and mind will last long after the credits roll.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Isaiah's world

The older boys and I were treated to dinner out tonight by their grandfather. They were excited to go to Golden Corral. If you haven't been there in a while, they've changed to a new business model which seems to be working well for them--serve as much B-quality food to as many people at one time as you can.

While we were sitting at a table eating Isaiah was yammering on about all kinds of things. (His role in our family is to single-handedly get our daily word count up to the national family average.) But I do try to listen to him and when he said, "I've eaten at fancy restaurants before," that one got to me. Maybe we don't take this boy out enough.