Read the Bible

It's that time again, Bible reading plan selection for the new year! (Here's mine)

Why a Bible reading schedule, you ask?

Christians are people of the Book, God's Word. We are what we eat, in nutrition and in our intake of words or pictures. Maybe you like Youtube, Facebook, blogs, or Netflix. Okay, that isn't evil. But does your soul long for the Word of God above all these? Honestly, we can say that our sinful nature does not, and this is a daily battle. So let's prepare.

If you don't have a plan for reading a book as big as the Bible, it probably won't happen. You need preparation and long term resolve to go the distance. You are deciding to invest 15-20 minutes a day this year in this enterprise. Do you really think it's worth it? (Hint: it is.) Count the cost. Usually Bible plans try to sell you on how little you actually have to read. "Only 15 minutes a day!" Actually, it's more, if you read slowly and savor the text. And that's over 90 hours of time this year. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying it's a big commitment you have to re-make every day. Having a plan makes that easier. You know what you have to do. Daily Bible reading is a big life change that brings immense rewards.

A plan keeps you from going to your favorite verses and never getting around to other things. I'm amazed at how many people I meet who have been Christians for decades, who "never knew that was in the Bible." Don't let that happen to you. Read all of it.

A plan helps you gauge if you are giving priority to the Word and to the Lord in your daily schedule. Say what you want about "getting behind" and not wanting that unnecessary guilt. How can you say your relationship with the Lord is stellar, if you aren't motivated enough to take in a reasonable amount of His Word regularly? It's true that a reading schedule or daily reading is not required by the Lord in His Word. But I'm talking about a good barometer of your relationship, not a black-and-white sin issue. Don't condemn yourself if you get behind. Just start again today and keep going. The righteous man falls seven times and gets up again, as the Proverb says. He doesn't lay down and say, "Well, you won't fool me into trying to walk again now that I see what it can lead to." So it is with not finishing a plan in past years: doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again this year, changing what tripped you up before.

So let's set this plan up.

1. Most plans try to get you through the whole Bible in a year. This is a reasonable quantity for SOME people, but not for everyone. I've done this for the last several years, but it IS formidable. Set achievable goals. Don't aim so high in your new-year zeal that you are bound to fail. GO SLOWER. I'm opting for a two year plan. One benefit of this is that you can merge your family devotions with your personal devotions. This puts things back in the formidable camp, reading more than a chapter a day out loud to your family. But I'm really looking forward to it.

2. Chronological is the best way to read through the whole Bible. Reading straight through in book order is good, too. It's good to read the New Testament and Old Testament at the same time, so you don't wait until you're 3/4 done before you hit Matthew. So start with Matthew 1 and go chronologically.

3. I find Proverbs 10-29 very hard to digest in chapter chunks. Far better to take 1-3 verses per day on those. The Psalms are best read in one of two ways: 1. Chronologically next to the events in David's (mostly) life; 2. One per day, through them twice in a year. I opted for chronological this year.

I could not find a bible plan that puts all this together for me, so I took time I didn't have and put together my own plan. You can find it at the bottom of this page.

Implement! Pick a time of day when this is going to happen. I will be reading to my family after lunch and/or dinner most days, occasionally just before bed. Some families find morning devotions easy. A daily routine is your friend. It makes getting it done much easier. But routine alone is not your motivation. Pray for God's Spirit to draw you to the Word He inspired, in anticipation of finding Jesus there, day by day. Happy new year, and may God bless and transform your heart and life by His Word.


Not quite Ron Paul's Foreign Policy

Hillsdale College President, Larry Arnn, is asked, in the Dec 2011 Imprimis:
You also write: “Promotion of democracy and defense of innocents abroad should be undertaken only in keeping with the national interest.” Where do you place your views on the spectrum between Ron Paul and George W. Bush?
Arnn: I side with Thomas Jefferson when he said, “We are the friends of liberty everywhere, custodians only of our own.” Foreign affairs are prudential matters, and prudential matters are not subject to narrow rules laid out in advance. But that practical statement by Jefferson is a brilliant guide.
"Also, we have to remember that it is a very dangerous world. Churchill believed that one of the effects of technology is to make us both wealthier and more powerful. And both wealth and power can turn to destruction. The great wars of modernity have been much larger in scale than ancient wars, and equal in intensity. Churchill believed that liberal society contains in this respect and others seeds of its own destruction. It is the work of statesmen to find the cheapest possible way to defend their countries without consuming all the resources of those countries.
"I pray that Iraq is going to be a free country, and I think there is a chance of it, and I give George W. Bush credit for that. But I have been skeptical, and it is a more complicated question than many seem to understand. A senior person in the White House said to me one time, “Don’t you think the Iraqis want to be free?” And I said: “Sure they do. But have you read The Federalist Papers? Do you divine from its arguments that wanting to be free is sufficient?” As it turns out, it is hard to obtain civil and religious liberty, and it is hard to maintain it.
"But do I think we did a good thing imposing a new constitution on Japan after World War II? Sure I do. Japan did a terrible thing to us, we conquered it, and there was an opportunity in that. It would have been a false economy not to seize that opportunity. Does that mean that in every country where there is a threat to us, we won’t be perfectly safe until they are democratic? Maybe. But even so, is trying to make them democratic practicable and the most practical way to serve our security? Probably not. Again, these are matters of prudence."

Shameless repost, since it sums up my views well.


Free book!

Here's a great deal. Free audio book, "When I don't desire God," by John Piper. Great for dealing honestly with the spiritual doldrums.


Best Books Ever

I’m seeing a friend tomorrow who always asks what I’ve been reading lately. He has put a top 10 best books list, so I thought I’d try it. I looked through the list of what I’ve read in the last 7 years, and picked out the best, and what else came to mind. I got down to 16. These are not in any order, and some dates are approximate…

Holiness, by JC Ryle (1880)
On pursuing godliness and piety, by one of the “last puritans.”

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)
Great literature exploring various social and personal virtues and vices through a compelling story.
Right Ho, Jeeves, by PG Wodehouse (1934)
Rip-roaring hilarity. Read for writing style, or just for fun.

Christ and the Caesars, by Ethelbert Stauffer (1958)
An historian looks at the political context into which the Gospel came in the first-century Roman Empire.

Desiring God, by John Piper (2003)
A modern classic on loving and pursuing a relationship with God.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1940)
Yes, I’m cheating counting this as one. See Pride and Prejudice explanation, above.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis (1950)
Yes, I’m cheating counting this as one. See Pride and Prejudice explanation, above.

The Lord’s Service, by Jeff Meyers (2003)
Theological and Biblical examination of what corporate worship should be.

Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen (1923)
A modern defender of orthodoxy shows how religious liberalism is a separate religion from Christianity, invading and corrupting the Christian church.

The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter (1670)
What a Christian Pastor should be and do in his ministry.

Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin (1563)
A masterpiece of systematic theology.

Idols for Destruction, by Herbert Schlossberg (1993)
Modern social critique of how our culture is leaving God. Examines the roots, not just the symptoms of the culture wars.

Odyssey, by Homer (700BC)
Great story of justice, patience and endurance

Valley of Vision
Collected prayers of Puritans. Beautiful, intimate and theologically rich.

Through New Eyes – James Jordan (2000)
A refreshing look at Scripture that looks at God’s world and word through new eyes.

Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan (1678)
Classic, saturated with Scripture.


The Weight of Glory

The Weight of GloryThe Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CS Lewis was a master essayist, who offered some bracing defenses of orthodox Christian thought and practice at a time when liberalism was already at high tide in his academic circles. Cogent and colorful, this book is a collection of essays:

1. The Weight of glory, in which he ties God's glory to the joy we desire but never fully achieve.

2. Learning in War time, a lecture to students during the war, making the case for continuing the pursuit of culture and vocation during wartime.

3. Why I am not a pacifist, in which he explains... why he is not a pacifist.

4. Transposition, a glorious take the relation between physical and spiritual, sensations and emotions, our resurrected body compared with our present one.

5. Is Theology Poetry? in which he rejects believing the theology because it is beautiful.

6. The Inner Ring, probably the most insightful essay on the temptation of all people no matter how old, to work for acceptance by the "in crowd," however you define that. He dissects the lure of the world, and the pride of life.

7. Membership, on how the Church as participating in the body of Christ keeps us from individualism and collectivism. Right up the political wonk's alley. If you wonder how to handle Acts 2:42-44 as a political conservative, read this.

8. On forgiveness, a short sermon on forgiving real faults, not rationalizing away people's offenses so there is really nothing to forgive.

9. A Slip of the Tongue, another sermon, facing honestly our desire to not commit too much to God before it hurts us in the "real" world.

View all my reviews

Resurrection Communion

Hebrews 5:5, 7-9
So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: 
          “You are My Son, 
          Today I have begotten You.” 
7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him."

The bread and wine Jesus has commanded us to use to memorialize His death also points to His resurrection. Grain and grapes have to be worked over by people. The process involves yeast, fermentation, contact with corruption. But out of that comes life-giving bread, joy-giving wine. This is what happened to Jesus. He learned obedience in His suffering and tasted death for you and me. He rises like bread. His divine life mysteriously mixed with death, contended with death and conquered it. The result is life-giving joy for us in Christ’s life.

Easter - 4/24/11

Resurrection Day Confession

Ephesians 2:1-3 - "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others."

Even on Easter morning we do not neglect to confess our sins. Without confession and death, fasting and repenting, we cannot see the Gospel of reconciled enemies. We were dead in our sin. We were at war with God, but He made peace by the blood of His cross. And it isn’t the kind of peace you find on a battlefield strewn with bodies. He gives life. So come and drop your dead body of sin at the cross. Then walk over to the empty tomb, look up at the clouds, and find your life hidden in heaven with God.

This reminds us to confess our sins

Easter - 4/24/11


Gluttony and Lust

It is often jarring to go from joyous singing to a call to confession. Worship imitates life. It is never a smooth flow in normal life to be called on the carpet to confess, either. But we must confess our sins regularly, and so here we are, looking today on the last Sunday during Lent, looking at the last 2 of the 7 deadly sins, gluttony and lust.

Jesus was accused of gluttony and drunkenness for feasting with sinners. Enjoying the abundance God gives us, as Jesus clearly did, is not gluttony. Gluttony is stuffing ourselves beyond our need and beyond what we can use, to the detriment of our body, soul, family or friends. This could be with food or with anything else. I confess to you that I am often a glutton, not for food, but for words, for information. I read and read and read, and let it get out of proportion and it hinders my ministry to my family.

God has also given us other physical desires to enjoy within marriage. But again we have a hard time keeping our minds, our eyes, our emotions, our bodies directed where God wants them. Men want the physical pleasure of women, but not the responsibility of loving his wife. Women want to be wanted, by some other guy. A young man wants a girl and must redirect that want into work to provide for her in the future. Married men must redirect wandering passions back to Christ, to their wives, their work and family.

Where we indulge the flesh, Christ denied His, fasting and suffering beatings and crucifixion. 
This reminds us to confess our sins



The journey is too great

1 Kings 19:1-8

Elijah served the Lord and it got him in big trouble. He ran from Jezebel, and was so hard pressed he asked God to take his life. His suffering was intense, and God provided relief from it on the way. He gave Elijah bread for the journey. The journey was too great for him. This all applies to us. God has given you various ways of relief from suffering. This table is meant to be one of those. On the other hand, God has given you only one way of remission for your sins: the blood of Jesus. So take up His cup now, the seal of the new covenant, the sign of His blood shed for the remission of your sins.


Sloth and greed

We are to work heartily in whatever we do, as for the Lord. This rules out sloth.  God has called us to work and avoiding it is sin. Children should do their schoolwork and household chores without complaining. Adults should not waste time on the job doing personal things. Sloth doesn’t just avoid work. It avoids the most important things in life. Be diligent in prayer, the Bible says, but we are slothful in our busy-ness. So being busy doesn’t make you avoid sloth.

And lacking things doesn’t make you greedy. The hand of the diligent becomes rich, the Proverb says. But when your stuff gets between you and God, when you need it and you ignore God or hurt others to get it, you are greedy. Greed is akin to drunkenness and homosexuality in 1 Cor 6, which should bring you up short. Pursuing worldly things will choke out the Word of God. Don’t let it. Jesus took the disciples to the garden; Don’t be sleeping when Jesus says to watch. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 silver pieces. Don’t let desire for money let you pursue other gods before Jesus.



The grace of baptism

I just came across an amazing quote by John Calvin, responding to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (which responded to and rejected the Reformation). Trent asserts that in baptism original sin is removed, but we still need penance to deal with actual sins. Calvin responds:

“We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. Accordingly, sin truly remains in us, and is not instantly in one day extinguished by baptism, but as the guilt is effaced it is null in regard to imputation. Nothing is plainer than this doctrine.”
Now, in context, Calvin is rejecting how another sacrament is needed after baptism to deal with sin. But note what he assumes: remission and regeneration are conveyed in baptism. The Protestant protest against Rome does not reject that baptism conveys the grace of remission of sins, but insists it only comes to those with true faith. It is not an automatic, dispensed by the "vending machine" church.

For more proof of that, consider what Westminster says on baptism: "The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time." (John 3:5-8; Gal 3:27; Titus 3:5; Eph 5:25; Acts 2:38)

Here is the link to Calvin's whole response. It is very long! The quote above is in the fifth statement.

A Table of Watching

When God gives us commands, He also provides the means to obey. God calls us to watch for the return of Christ, and this table is one way we do that. This table points back to the dawn of time, when God promised to crush the serpent. It points to the cross where he was crushed. It reveals our present union with Christ. And it points to the end of time, when Christ will come for His bride and throw a wedding feast to celebrate the completion of His kingdom. Consider the coming consummation, in this communion. You were saved at the cross, yes. You are saved and justified right now. And yet, you have yet to be saved from lingering sin and suffering. We yearn to be free and complete, and so we watch and work and serve. That begins with God’s grace working in us, communicated to us in this bread and wine, by the Spirit’s working and by true faith. Return to the Savior, and watch for His return.



Ephesians 4:31 - "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice."

When we are angry with someone we see the root of murder. Anger is often a physical response of defense in a dangerous situation. We are threatened, because we are hurt or afraid. Our emotions blind us to sorting out if we are angry for selfish reasons or godly ones. A parent can have anger rise up in them seeing sin in their child, but the parent must control it and let it motivate them to godly discipline. If mom or dad lets the emotion get away from them and they spank or speak angrily, it is ungodly and will not bring the fruit God promises from discipline. An angry emotion at wrongdoing does not justify what you do with that feeling. The media doesn’t help us here, mixing reporting of issues with angry debates every day, telling us every day that we have a right to be angry when we disagree. Be angry about a sin you see, but don’t attack the person. Help them get away from their sin. Anger takes offense at small things, magnifies those small things, and refuses to forgive anyone.
Jesus bore the righteous anger of God for our sinful anger. He was angry with sin, and dealt with it by patient, clear teaching, and sacrifice. His self-control saved us from our anger.

This reminds us to confess our sins



We believe; and it's all God's Grace

Holy Spirit: Contours of Christian Theology
How can salvation be all God's grace, if we have to believe to receive it? Doesn't that make our faith the thing that saves us? Sinclair Ferguson ponders, in The Holy Spirit, pg 128-9.

To answer, he quotes GC Berkouwer: "Faith does not possess one single constructive and creative moment; it rests only and exclusively in the reality of the promise."

And Ferguson explains further: "There is a total engagement of the believer, yet at the same time grace is not compromised."

What Jesus Wants

Jesus tells His Father in John 17, “I desire that they whom you gave me may be with me where I am.” One of the few times Jesus speaks of His desire, it is that we be joined with Him. He’s thinking of it as He institutes communion, when He says, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. Jesus our bridegroom, longs for the wedding day. Hasten as a bride to meet Him. We speak of justification as God accepting us, and that is true but it is a major understatement. God so loved the world, He made rejoining with Him possible at the cross. The father of the prodigal son does not just accept him when he returns repentant. He runs to embrace him, and throws him a feast. A groom does not just accept a bride. He longs for her to be with him. The rabbis told stories in Jesus’ day of an engaged young man who had to build his house before he could get married. His father would give him the green light when it was done. And every day the son would say, is it good enough, can we have the wedding now? But it’s only half done. One day while the young man is furiously building, the rabbi walks past and asks, son, when is your wedding? And he throws down his hammer and says, No one knows the day or the hour, not the son, not even the angels in heaven, only my father. We are united with Christ now, by the Spirit, and He renews that union as we eat and drink here. But Jesus longs for that union to be complete. Do you long for that day, as He does? We long for Him as He does for us.



When we are envious of others, we hate them for how God has blessed them. We covet things; we envy people. The first sin was pride and seeking independence from God, by eating the fruit. The next sin mentioned is Cain’s murder of Abel, motivated by envy. Cain was angry because God accepted Abel, but not Cain. Envy claims that God isn’t fair or just in how He deals with us. I should have what they have, and I hate God and them because I don’t. Christ’s humility in going to the cross saved us from our pride.

This reminds us to confess our sins



Sincere Communion Wanted

1 Corinthians 11:29
"For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."

The sober warnings against hypocrisy in Matthew 23 by Jesus have a parallel here at the Lord’s Table. Paul says that when we remember Christ’s death in Communion by disregarding the body of believers He died for, we are liable to judgment. This is hypocrisy. Instead, partake worthily in sincerity. Notice that this goes beyond your own thoughts and desires, to your actions toward others. Consider whether your love for the Lord Jesus is genuine. Also consider whether that’s becoming obvious in how you treat each other.


The Root of Pride

James 4:6-10
"But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

When we deal with the sin of pride, we are looking at the root of evil. Satan tempted Eve to know like God and be like God without having to wait for God to give to her. We want to be independent of God. We want our way and hurt others to get it. We say and do things so we look good to others. We wallow in pity and woe-is-me when we don’t get our way and tell others about it, to keep trying to get our way. We easily take offense. These are all prideful things. Christ’s humility in going to the cross saved us from our pride. 
This reminds us to confess our sins



God's Zeal for You

Isaiah 9:3-7

    3   You have multiplied the nation 
          And increased its joy; 
          They rejoice before You 
          According to the joy of harvest, 
          As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 
    4      For You have broken the yoke of his burden 
          And the staff of his shoulder, 
          The rod of his oppressor, 
          As in the day of Midian. 
    5      For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, 
          And garments rolled in blood, 
          Will be used for burning and fuel of fire. 
    6      For unto us a Child is born, 
          Unto us a Son is given....
    7      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

God has increased our joy in the Incarnation of Christ. We now have a great high priest able to sympathize with our weaknesses, and able to fully bear our sins and completely forgive us. He has broken the yoke of sin oppressing us, and will break every burden in His good time. The precious words in Isa 9 are “unto us.” The Christ child is born to us. The Son is given to us. Jesus Himself wants us to get that, so He offers us bread and wine every week and tells us to say, it is His body and blood. Here is the Son, given to you. Look past your own zeal for Him for a moment, and consider His zeal for You. Zeal sealed in a blood stained cross. Take this gift by faith with thanks.

Clear the Way

I've gotten way behind in posting my weekly call to confession and communion exhortations.
I'm going to pick up again, posting current ones, and starting back 9 months ago, too.

Isaiah 40:3-4
    The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 
          “Prepare the way of the LORD; 
          Make straight in the desert 
          A highway for our God. 
    4      Every valley shall be exalted 
          And every mountain and hill brought low; 
          The crooked places shall be made straight 
          And the rough places smooth; 

Isaiah speaks here of Israel’s return from exile through the desert, on smooth highways. This also applies individually. We need to clear the path in our hearts for easy access to the Lord. Things of the world clutter our lives (especially in the Christmas season), sin easily entangles, and suddenly we are far from ready for Christ’s appearing, His advent.

This reminds us to confess our sins...


Rediscovering Family Worship

Rediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family WorshipRediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship by Jerry Marcellino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Make it 4.49 stars. Really good.

"If fathers are daily experiencing the presence of God and growing in their love for Christ, it will be evidenced by their pastoral leadership in their homes. Surely then, public worship on the Lord's Day will be transformed by such vitality."

Marcellino takes a short 28 pages to give
- 4 reasons for family worship (strengthens family, church and state for the Lord),
- practical advice on getting started (consistency and flexibility)
- 3 key elements of family devotional time.

"Children, in their formative years, naturally look to their fathers in order to emulate them."
"A child can easily see when these [worldly] things are more exciting to his parents than devotion to Jesus Christ!"

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I recently completed a sermon series on Galatians. Several times in talking with other pastors I was asked, “So are you reading Galatians with a New Perspective or a traditional view?”

Nothing like an either-or question to enliven discussion! Here’s my answer.

First, to define the positions. The traditional view is that Paul is defending the individual justification of each believer by faith alone, apart from works-based, legalistic righteousness. The New Perspective is that Paul is arguing against circumcision being the boundary marker that excludes some from table fellowship for God’s people.

Evaluation: when we compare these views calmly, we should realize that there need be no fight, here. Both positions can be held in ways that do not reject the other. Holding both fills out the picture nicely. Galatians isn’t about corporate Israel’s boundary markers, OR an individual’s ground of his justification. Both are involved.

The hyper-ventilators in this debate assume that to hold to the traditional view, one must diminish to the point of irrelevance the immediate context of table fellowship (see Galatians 2:11-14). Or that to hold to the New Perspective, you have to say, “Paul is not talking about an individual’s justification, here.” There are plenty mistakes like this on both sides. Reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians, I finally had to put it down after a while. He is compelling on theology of justification and assurance, but he really stretches the exegesis to talk about only that throughout Galatians. Many anti-New Perspective folks do the same thing today. And New Perspective zealots can take obviously theological passages and try to turn the discussion to “table fellowship,” or “Jewish-Gentile relations.”

The key to resolving this is to realize that theology plays out in very practical ways, something the evangelical church has always had a hard time with. Now the church’s academia seems stuck here, too. The real theological underpinnings of justification by faith alone work their way out in how the church lives together. Galatians is really addressing the instrument of personal justification before God being faith and not works. And Paul is moving the Galatian church to fellowship with each other, over the boundary of circumcision, because they are all justified by the work of Christ.

So preaching Galatians is both theological and practical. Justification by faith is the foundation. Receiving people who differ from us but who believe in Christ is the fruit this doctrine is to bear in our lives.


Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children

Bringing the gospel to covenant children: In dependency on the Spirit (Family guidance series)Bringing the gospel to covenant children: In dependency on the Spirit by Joel R. Beeke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Direct, practical instruction on how to raise children in godliness, day by day.
Sometimes, it's a little too pietistic, but overall a very illuminating booklet.
Read, and do. Start in on this with your family!

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Johnny Tremain

Johnny TremainJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent historical background to the War of Independence. Fills out the usually simplistic picture of popular opinion concerning the British, in a way young people can understand and relate to. Some British are friendly and winsome. Others were unjust and cruel. Still others were just serving their country and were not keen on subduing their colonial countrymen. Some Patriots were radical firebrands; others wanted to go slower and less aggressively. The tea party was painstakingly careful to destroy only the tea, leaving the rest of the cargo, and even cleaning the ships afterward. But it was also a pre-meditated act of destruction and rebellion, not a emotions-carried-away event.

Johnny learns to overcome adversity and gain confidence in himself. The personal character development is decent, with a little taste of the British decadence that went on.

Highly recommended.

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Face to Face with Islam

Christianity Face to Face with IslamChristianity Face to Face with Islam by Robert Louis Wilken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honest and historical look at Islam. A little short on solutions.

View all my reviews Only 30 pages, originally an article in First Things


Holidays and Traditions

As we consider how to live before God by faith in Jesus Christ, we must maintain a long-term, multi-generational vision. How do we want our grandchildren to serve the Lord? In a First Things magazine article, “Christianity Face to Face with Islam,” Robert Louis Wilken considers the rise and staying power of Islam since 700. How to fight it? “Energy and enthusiasm are no substitute for deep roots, vital and durable institutions, and a thick and vibrant culture.”

This is what we are after. We have come through a period of history watching Christian institutions (denominations, schools, churches, etc.) slide into liberalism, and we have lost much faith in institutions and traditions. We think the Reformation removed churchly authority, when it really put it in its proper place. This mindset includes our holidays. When we reject the holidays which the world commercializes, we are kicking out from under us the very stabilizing elements we need to build a Christian culture that can promote multi-generational faithfulness.

Family provides the primary, but not the sole means of cultural stability. Very few parents have all the resources they need themselves to raise their children to maturity. We buy curriculum, we go to church. We also celebrate holidays that we didn’t originate. We can strengthen the family by using “durable institutions, deep roots, thick culture.” Our annual feasts are one of those strands. There was wisdom in the annual feasts God gave Israel, but they are no longer binding on God’s people (Col 2:16), and the sacrifices embedded in them are now set aside (Heb 7-10). As the law has died and risen with Christ, so have these feasts. The principles of the law abide, and the church for 2000 years has cultivated this in tangible ways, one being Christmas.

The direct impact of a nuclear family upon a generation lasts about 20 years. If the children are faithful they carry it on for another 20 years with their own children. These “little platoons” are the foundation of society. Churches, schools, Boy Scouts, companies large and small, governments local and federal, and our holidays all are built upon, yet transcend, families. The direct impact of a faithful Christian institution like Harvard, the Presbyterian church or a government lasts an average of 80 or 100 years before going corrupt. They are a strata of society built upon the family that gets the whole building built. It needs constant remodeling, as family integrity is currently crumbling.

We can no longer look to the mainstream media for reliable and objective news. They have become too corrupt. As has Harvard. But we still need to find good news and good education. We just don’t have national examples that everyone can look to reliably. We need to look closer to home for good examples, and we aren’t used to doing that. So we think we have to do it all ourselves. But there are examples, in our church or neighborhood, or school, or homeschool co-op. We can no longer look to our culture for good direction on how to celebrate Christmas. There was a time the culture looked to the Church for that direction, but I wouldn’t recommend that today, honestly. And just at the time when we need a "thick culture" the most, we are rejecting traditions that can help us so much.

So let us treasure and uphold edifying human traditions like Christmas. This is why we have “Heritage” in our church name – it refers to our historical heritage passed on to us by our Church fathers. Such traditions are not binding upon us, but often useful in expressing our faith corporately, even if they aren’t commanded in Scripture. I believe Jesus Himself participated in such traditions (John 10:22-23). Does “Christmas” mean Christ mass, as in the Roman Catholic mass? Yes. This does not mean the holiday is hopelessly entwined with erroneous Roman doctrine – it is not. In fact the central fact of Christmas, the Son taking on human flesh, helps us fight the error that physical things work against the spiritual.

Let us give thanks for holidays that prompt us to remember the work of Christ on our behalf. Let us foster in our families an annual celebration of the gift God gave the world.


Duncan's War

Duncan's WarDuncan's War by Douglas Bond
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty good. Historical fiction about Scottish uprising in 1666. I know little about this history. Previewing for my 10 and 8 year olds: the violence gets a little graphic. Maybe wait until 12?

There is a strong Scottish accent throughout, even with words like "ken" (know) and "dunnae" (do not) all over the place. Helped set the tone, but a little overdone.

The main theme was how to deal with oppression: not to respond with hate and violence, but with patience and love. Trusting God, but also preparing with earthly means. Seemed to capture what little I know of the Scottish mentality, when the English forced Anglicanism on them at this time. I especially liked the part where he learns to appreciate kneeling for prayer, and his Anglican friend takes the point that Jesus is the King of King Charles. Each could see the right and good in the opposing party, though they were at war.

Very good read for 10-12 year old boys.

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Family Worship

Family worship (Family guidance series)Family worship by Joel R Beeke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Beeke details the what, why and how of family worship.

I am in basic agreement with the content of the book, but found myself leaning a different direction than Beeke. I agree family worship is a valuable outward means God uses to sanctify us. He gives a quick defense of leadership in the home, clearly lays out what is involved (reading Scripture, short comment and/or discussion on it, prayer, singing), and gives tips on what to avoid. All quite excellent.

Beeke's general goal is to move people toward more developed devotions than just reading some Scripture verses and prayer. This is good in itself, but with the pietism of the introspective Puritans that he follows, it can take an unhealthy turn. Buying into his outlook will usually lead to constant wondering if you're doing enough in family devotions to please God or effect change in your family. Not so good. I generally lean these days toward keeping it short enough to not be exasperating for my children. To his credit, Beeke also says this: "Family worship that is too long makes children restless and may provoke them to wrath." But the general gist of the booklet is that you should really be doing more. This article is a good counterpoint to Beeke's booklet.

So, I would want the average Christian father or mother to read this and learn from it - there is much wisdom and practical implementation packed into a short 25 pages. But I would also want to steer that father or mother away from unneeded guilt, clarifying that family worship is not specifically commanded in the Bible, and is a privilege more than an obligation. Family worship should grow organically from Godly, personal, affectionate leadership in the home, more than from a sense of duty (certainly not guilt) or a programmed checklist of tasks.

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Lives, not Laws

from "Can God Bless America?"
by John MacArthur
Tabletalk, Sept 2011

"Does our nation really desire God's blessing?.... or would the policy-makers and media moguls in our society be as hostile to such a revival as they are to the threat of terrorism?....

"What is needed is not merely moral reform but spiritual regeneration....

"Many churches are apparently more willing to imitate the world's fashions and opinions than to confront them with biblical truth. Meanwhile, Christians concerned about the moral evils of society often opt for all the wrong remedies - as if the only thing needed to cure the spiritual malaise of our nation were some kind of federal legislation against abortion, sexual promiscuity.... I am by no means opposed to legislative efforts to outlaw abortion... but political remedies to our nation's moral ills are no cure for the underlying spiritual problems.... Lives, not just laws, need to be transformed."


Blood on the River

Blood on the River: James Town 1607Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an excellent historical fiction account of Jamestown's settling.
The first chapter (5 pages) is fictional backstory of the main character, and more graphic in description of his difficult upbringing than I cared for. I might have our 10 and 8 year old skip it. But the rest is pure gold.

It depicts the faults and merits of the English and of the Indians with historical accuracy and without bias, in my opinion. Very good to get children thinking about the complicated situation of settling a new land. Religious, political and economic motivation were all naive, but real.

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On voting

Today is a general election day in the state of Virginia. I voted for state senators and representatives who serve in Richmond. Kind of depressing how much of the campaigning revolves around how much funding they can bring to our area, instead of to the rest of the state. Still, in my district there was a clear choice between more limited-government, pro-business candidates and "watchdog to keep business fair" candidates.

Vote, Virginians!

How old?!

I just learned that the oldest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition was 35 years old. Starting to feel old myself...


Right Ho, Jeeves!

Right Ho, JeevesRight Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this out loud to my wife for the second time in our marriage. Solid 4.49 stars.
Very funny.
You have missed much in life if you have not read PG Wodehouse.
Good lessons on how to deal with people and not be a fathead, on the way to uproarious hilarity.

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Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (Underland Chronicles, #3)Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this (and the 2nd book, Prophecy of Bane) to preview for my kids. The cover makes it look worse than it is, content-wise. The violence is PG - ish, though. As a 3rd in a series, filling in the backstory from earlier books was done clumsily. There were vague references in the plot to Middle East conflicts and biological warfare. Nothing insidious. Talks against growing up being taught to hate certain other groups.

This same author went on to write "The Hunger Games," for older kids and much more violent. I do NOT recommend that series. This series is a level better, but not classic, must-read. It IS edifying for kids to sort through feelings they have of hurt, pain, hate, love, forgiveness, cooperation.

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Meditation on Psalm 146

I'm passing this on from another CREC church, in Spokane, WA. An elder there exhorted that congregation with these words a few Sundays ago. I thought it was very timely, given the point in the election cycle we are in.

Today, let us consider the sin of putting our trust in men and not in our Lord Jesus.
Psalm 146:3  says this “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.”
Let me ask you a a question:
“How much control did the believers of the New Testament have over the government that ruled them?”  The answer is not very much.
Here is another question, “What accusation did the non-believing world make against the Christians of the first century?”
In Acts 17:6  “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”
How could this be?
You mean that the Caesars of the first century were not Christians? 
Was there was not a Christian/conservative majority in the Roman senate? 
How could the New Testament church ever have turned the world upside down without any hand on the political steering wheel? 
Could it be that their faith was in our sovereign God?
Today, in 2011, in the United States, we are well into another election cycle.  The debates were last week and there is lots of spin. 
We have to be very careful to guard our hearts and not reduce the Christian faith down to a political movement. 
The gospel is not about getting the lesser of two evils into the White House.
The gospel is not control of the Supreme Court or Congress.
If we had all these things, what would we really have?  
We are not going to legislate people into the kingdom.  
We will still have a nation of people that are slaves to their sin.
Our Lord Jesus is the true Liberator.  He came to set the captives free. He is the truth, the very truth that sets us free.

Brothers and sisters, put your trust in Him.


The Bible in 700 words

The story of the Bible is true.

God made the world. Adam and Eve died inside when they sinned. God had mercy and kept them alive physically, promising a redeemer. Mankind grew worse. God judged them in a flood, but saved 8 in an ark.

God promised Abraham to bless world through his descendant. He believed what he could not see. His family was faithful but flawed, like each of us. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God used it to feed the world.

Egypt oppressed Israel, and God came down and delivered them. He fed His wandering people for 40 years, sometimes faithful, usually rebellious. He gave them bread, gave them His Word.

He brought them into the promised land with Joshua’s leadership, punishing the sinful nations there with destruction. Israel worshiped other gods, and God afflicted them so they would turn back to Him. When they repented, He sent judges to save them.

They asked for a king, again not trusting God to deliver them. God gave them Saul, who stumbled and fell, then David, who stumbled and stood by grace. God revealed more of His plan of redemption at this point – it would be Abraham’s descendant through whom God would bless the world. And it would be David’s son who would sit on the throne forever. God used David, Solomon and the priests in their time to give us Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

Israel did not stay faithful to God after David died. Solomon was wealthy and wise, but a womanizer who worshiped idols. The kingdom was torn apart and kings followed Solomon’s pattern, allowing idolatry, treason against the God who made and redeemed them. Prophets came and spoke to these kings, but they trusted in military might and political alliances instead of God. They allowed oppression of the poor and injustice among God’s own people, against His clear Word.

So God judged them with conquest and exile. They were killed or carted off to other lands for a time. But God had plans to prosper them in the next generation. A faithful remnant returned, rebuilt Jerusalem, and restored the worship of God. Nehemiah defended Israel against opposition while Ezra taught the Word of God. Malachi and Daniel prophesied of a coming Messiah, after other kingdoms rise and fall.

After 400 years, in the fullness of time, God came to Zechariah and Elizabeth and gave them John. God overshadowed Mary and gave the world Jesus, because He loved us so much, so that whoever believes in Him can have life, even though we have been spiritually dead since birth.

Jesus grew into, learned, lived and taught the Torah, the law and ways of God. He was baptized by the Spirit to preach the kingdom of God. He went hungry for 40 days in the desert, and emerged to give bread and life to Israel. His brothers rejected Him and handed him over to pagans. He died on a Roman cross, to keep all the promises He had made as God to Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Mary, and many others. Promises to give His people an eternal king and liberator from the tyranny of the devil and their own sinfulness. He rose 3 days later to show everyone this is true, and to give us life in His life.

He trained the disciples, ascended to heaven, and sent the Spirit, equipping the apostles to go into all the nations, baptizing and teaching them to truth and obey Jesus. They took His message to the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles, finding faith and persecution everywhere they went. The Bible ends with Paul under Roman house arrest preaching Christ, and John under arrest for the same reason. But John is given the final revelation of how God, the author of history, will bring it to conclusion. He will instruct His church, give ample time to all to repent, protect and vindicate His people, judge the wicked, and finally bring His people to His Son for a wedding feast. He will restore joy where there was sorrow, laughter where there were tears, purity where there was sin, peace where there was misery.

That is the story of the Bible. That is what we believe.


Halloween post-mortem

In response to the, "I'm against Halloween" position:

I don't think Halloween was "conceived in evil." Every culture finds a way to cope with death. American Halloween is a McDonald's pop-culture version of a mix between All Hallow's (All Saints') Eve and the world's morbid fascination with death, sorcery and the macabre. Of course lots of bad things are toyed with at Halloween. Yes, it is dangerous for secular people to toy with the occult. Of course, we shouldn't dress up like we're on Satan's "team." This doesn't mean total rejection of the holiday is the best approach for the church. Reform it to the intent the church had for it. Why not celebrate the saints, and that we can triumph over and jeer all these evil powers, which really do exist? Far better to address them and ridicule them, than to run and hide from them, as if the victory is not won at the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15). I'd rather show the world that victory and triumph, than show them we're against it and don't do it.

What's hardest to take is when all the "I'm against Halloween" person can hear from my above paragraph is that I'm just more worldly than they are. Sigh.


For All Saints' Day - Nov 1

Part of my prayer of thanks to God for leaders He has provided His Church

Thanks for Athanasius, who stood for Trinitarian truth against the majority of churchmen; Chrysostem, the golden-tongued preacher of Constantinople; Augustine, the African bishop who taught the church her confidence as Rome fell around her; Patrick, who converted most of Ireland without any violence; Columba, who took the Gospel to the Scots and the rest of barbarian Europe; Boniface, who courageously cut down their idols; Charlemagne, who provided for much Christian learning; Anselm, who considered the infinite atonement needed for the infinite dishonour of our sin; for faithful soldiers serving the Lord as they knew best against militant Islam in Spain and in Israel, for Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller; for the learning of Abelard and Aquinas; the piety of Francis of Assissi; the reforms of Wycliffe and Hus, Tyndale and Bucer, Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Knox; for the enterprise and ambition to take the faith to a new world of Columbus, John Smith, Willliam Bradford; for the faithful walking into a modern world, for Westminster assemblymen like Jeremiah Burroughs and Samuel Rutherford, Pascal, Bunyan, Whitefield, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Jonathan Edwards, Kierkegaard, Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd, Machen, Bonhoeffer, and Francis Schaeffer.


Liszt and Hanon - piano

My wife beat me to it, but if you're interested, I just played through the entire 60 pieces of Hanon for the first time, ever. It took two hours - it's supposed to take one.

I have a new favorite piece of Liszt: Totentanz. Watch it here
We heard it performed last night - perfect for Halloween - Totentanz is German for Dance of Death :)
See here for more info on it.

It will have to wait, though. Right now I am learning the soundtrack theme to the movie "Sabrina," and Rachmaninoff prelude 5 in g minor.


On America's Repentance and Wars

Doug Wilson: 

"Since the founding of our nation, Americans have seen themselves as having a consistent pivotal role in fighting a global super villain. That spot has been occupied by different entities over time, but that spot in the narrative has never had a vacancy. For example, through most of the twentieth century, that place was held by "godless communism." This would be a good place to note that while Americans have always had a narrative running in which there is a super villainous threat to the peace of the world, this does not mean such a threat was imaginary. Some of them have been quite real. Communism was a genuine threat, and evangelical hostility to communism throughout the 20th century was one of our glories.

"But like all the others, this kind of narrative cannot be sustained in any kind of healthy way without explicit reliance upon the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus must be owned. Unless Americans repent, and return to an open confession of Jesus as Lord, then Jesus will repudiate us before His Father (Matt. 10:32). Fighting the Antichrist, which heirs of the Puritans do, without relying upon Christ Himself, is the surest and fastest way to become the Antichrist."


Stories are Soul Food: Don't Let Your Children Hunger

Great 4 paragraphs on why children need stories, from the author of "Dragon's Tooth," which I'm currently reading to our children.

Stories are Soul Food: Don't Let Your Children Hunger


The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this before the kids, who are now up to Pilgrims and New England in their history. I'd heard bad things about the book at some point, but also wanted to give it a chance, as the same author wrote "The Bronze Bow," which I highly recommend.

My kids will be reading it next. While I'm not an expert on New England during the witch trials, some things are clear. There was irrational hysteria and superstition of witchcraft. The clergy or religion was NOT the driving force of that superstition - most clergy argued for solid evidence before condemning the innocent. This book reflects those facts.

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Changing minds through feelings

"It is the usual way of seducers to insinuate themselves into people's affections, and by that means to draw them into their opinions."

John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians, 4:17


How the Irish Saved Civilization

How the Irish Saved CivilizationHow the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fun read, while my wife was IN Ireland for 2 weeks. Basically, when Rome fell, the barbarians destroyed texts all over Europe. Those that survived found their way north and west, away from the carnage. Ireland is furthest that direction, and the Irish fell in love with these Christian and classical texts, following Patrick’s dramatic conversion of the nation to Christ. Copying and preserving these texts, they then sent missionaries to re-Christianize Europe, starting with Scotland and England, and on to the continent. Lots of snippets from Irish poetry along the way.

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James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a lark. James is generous and giving, resourceful and helpful. His aunts are greedy and stingy, refusing to help when they could. James is open to making friends with those who are different. The police at the end… are not.

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