Category Archives: Bible

Plan to Read the Whole Bible in 2016

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” – Psalm 119:97, ESV

For some years now I have committed to reading the whole Bible starting in January. Each year I fall short – sometimes just by Read-The-Bible-In-2016-680x383a little, sometimes by a lot. One year I decided not to commit to reading the whole Bible in a year but instead to simply read most of it in a year. Time and again, I find that I do better if I aim high and fall a bit short than to aim lower and to hit even lower.

That the Bible must be mastered (or one must be mastered by it) through study and prayer is obvious for ministers of the gospel. If a minister’s thinking is going to become increasingly biblical then his or her mind must be regularly fed and filled with Scripture, enough to compete, challenge, and overcome other influences and the fallen nature itself. To this end, both quantity and quality are needed. That is, there must be enough Scriptural intake to accomplish this goal with enough depth of meditation to let it penetrate past the surface of the mind and soul. This takes both discipline and love for the Word, but ultimately it requires  a great love for God with a commitment to be wholly his.

As he does every year at this time, Justin Taylor posted a great piece on his blog calling us to be committed readers of the Bible in the coming year along with many, many resources about reading plans, specialty Bibles, etc. Read it. Find inspiration. Find a reading plan that works for you. Most likely I will be using the ESV Study Bible plan again, because it works so very well.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules[c] of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.    

      – Psalm 119:9-16, ESV



Filed under Bible, Pastoral Reflections, Spiritual Formation

One of My New Favorite Websites: Piercing Word

piercing word easterIt was refreshing to find this website, Piercing Word. All the videos are good, but I especially love Aaron House’s presentation of the Easter story from the Gospel of John, word-for-word as in the ESV. Enjoy.



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Bad Theology at Funerals

When good, biblical theology is pushed aside or is simply unknown, the void is not left unfilled. Other thinking takes its place, and the results are often sentimental drivel or some vaguely Christian sounding thought that is profoundly misleading. Human beings are inherently religious, and thus it is normal for us to look outside ourselves for some kind of meaning and way to make sense of life.

One occasion that such thinking is expressed at is the funeral. We have heard comments like this about the deceased: “God needed another angel in heaven,” or that “God could not wait to have” the deceased. These comments reflect the erroneous ideas that human beings are transformed into angels when they die, and that God is impatient. The former does not understand that humans and angels are different beings altogether, and the latter is an unintentional assault on the character of God.

One sad example that shows up at funerals is a saying that is written on some type of stone material  and often delivered by a local florist. The idea is that grieving family can take that stone and set it up in their yard somewhere after the funeral. The saying goes like this:  tears and heaven 2

If tears could build a stairway

and memories a lane,

I’d walk right up to heaven

and bring you back home again.

Why is this so sad, terrible, and unbiblical? As an expression of grief and love for the deceased, it is truly heartfelt. But the theology is horrific. Heaven is where believers go at death, the place where God is, and this is often called the “Intermediate State.” Believers go be “with Christ” (Phil. 2:3, 2 Cor. 5:8) if they die before His return, and there they await the coming resurrection in blissful joy. So, if that is the case, why in the world would any of us want to yank a  Christian from heaven and bring him or her back here to this world that is full of sin and suffering, away from the immediate presence of the Savior?!? One would have to be tremendously selfish to want to remove a person out of a blissful existence just to have their company. Instead, at the death of a true believer we should grieve over the temporary separation and consequent pain from the believer by death, but we should NOT feel bad for the deceased believer – he or she is now doing better than we are! We should rejoice that he or she is now with the Lord and make sure that eternity with Jesus is our destination as well. Our wish should not be a reunion in this life, but our hope should be in a reunion at Christ’s second coming: “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Don’t exchange biblical truth for sentimental drivel or bad theology. Learn the Scriptures and expel unbiblical thinking that you may know the true hope of the Lord.

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Filed under Bible, Biblical Worldview, Pastoral Reflections, Theology, Uncategorized

The Shed Blood of Christ: What Difference Does it Make?

Today Pastor Bill Ireland of the First Baptist Church of Lawrenceville, IL preached a good sermon at our Good Friday Community Service. Here are a few of my notes from that sermon, minus illustrations:

Main thought: Jesus shed his blood on the cross. What difference does it make?

I.  Jesus’ shed blood made atonement possible

Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22 ESV).

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev 17:11 ESV).

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:23-26 ESV).

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20 ESV).

Have you acted on that potential for forgiveness? He wants  you and wants you to have assurance of salvation. Why would you say no? Why would you not tell your neighbor?

II. Jesus’ shed blood makes purification possible

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jo 1:7 ESV).

Real change is possible because of the shed blood of Christ. Grudges, resentment, etc. all need cleansing. The blood cleanses when you cooperate. Do not say, “I’m just like this” as a way to avoid dealing with needed sanctification.

III. Jesus’ shed blood makes victory possible

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev 12:11 ESV).

You can overcome. Victory in this sense is available NOW, in this life. Do not be satisfied with less. At the cross Jesus won our victory.


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Bible Reading with Children: Some of the Best Books

As you know, I have been pushing myself and others to read more of the Bible in 2015 than 2014. My desire to know the Scriptures was formed though my mother’s faithful practice of reading Bible stories and other devotions to me and the family from the time of her conversion when I was about two through my high school years. But what did she read to us that worked? Reading straight from the Bible to toddlers can work if you are very selective and brief in the chosen readings and want to offer A LOT of explanation, but most prefer some type of story Bible for children that summarizes key stories of the Bible. Here are a few of the books that I have used and still use with my daughter, some of which my mother used with us growing up.

The Bible in pictures for little eyes classicKenneth Taylor’s The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes is a classic. It works for toddlers and preschool aged children. On one side of the page is a large picture of a Bible scene, and on the opposing page there is a short summary of the Bible story. The sentences are short, basic, and are followed with a couple of discussion questions. I can still see many of the pictures in my mind. At right is “old” edition that I grew up with. At left is a picture of the new edition with new illustrations. I have not looked through the neThe Bible in Pictures for little eyes neww edition, but I have heard good things about it. It might be worth owning or at least inspecting both before purchasing.

My favorite book, though, and the one my mother read through to us repeatedly, and the one I have read through repeatedly with my daughter, is The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos. I grew up on one of the old editions. The original was published in 1935. A fifth edition was published in 1984. I have studied and considered may different story BibChildrens story bibleles and have never found one that is better at summarizing Old Testament stories, teaching biblical history through the reigns of the kings, and linking everything to Christ. It is still popular because it is that good. Sure, you will quibble here and there with a few of Vos’ theological remarks and a few old-fashioned ways of putting things, but the good so far outweighs those small problems you will likely stick with the book. This is the one to read every night to your child, one story at at time, from beginning to end. When you finish the book, you will know your Bible stories better, you will probably do something else for Bible reading for a while, and then you will probably start working through this book again. It just draws you back to it. This book works with kids frA Children's Garden of Bible Storiesom about five  years old through high school.

Other helpful books that are in a series are A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Each one has a set of Bible stories with accompanying illustrations. I read through one with my daughter when she was in 2nd grade and was impressed with the clarity of the story summaries and the gentle applications of them. These books are published by Concordia, which is the publishing arm of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Concordia has a reputation of publishing top-notch educational materials, and these books are no exception.

Another good story Bible that would be great to start using with a child who has outgrown The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes is The Story Bible, published by Concordia. This story Bible has 130 Bible stories, each beautifully illustrated with discussion questions, suggested activity, and a prayer. This book is highly recommended until your child is ready for more detail. Even then, the book is ESV Illus family Bibleworth keeping for use in children’s ministry at church.

 The Story Bible ConcordiaThe last good story or family Bible I will mention is the ESV Family Bible. This book has actual excerpts from the ESV text connected by the editor’s summary statements. It is quite good in content, but more than once my daughter and I were frustrated with the brevity of the stories or detail that was left out. Yet, it is well-done; it just won’t give you the big picture of the Bible’s story line like The Child’s Story Bible will. But oh, the art! The illustrations are fabulous in this book.

Why use one of these story Bibles with children? Simple: all people need to be grounded in biblical stories and their teachings, and learning these stories thoroughly as a child will produce a million spiritual benefits. Children will catch biblical allusions in literature and movies, they will grasp sermons better because they will be already familiar with the Bible, and they will build a biblical worldview. So get some of these books and read steadily, faithfully, and systematically to your kids.

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Filed under Bible, Biblical Worldview, Book Review, Children's Ministry, Family, Spiritual Formation

What the Written Word of God Can Do

As I strive to read more of the written word of God in 2015 than I did in 2014, Bible reader young womanI find it motivating to meditate upon what the written word of God can do. Here are just a few of things it can do:

1.  Satisfy – The Scripture satisfies the core of who we are in a way that no other spiritual food can do.

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.
3 And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
(Ezek. 3:1-3 ESV)

…the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart (Psa 19:8 ESV).

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1Jo 5:13 ESV).

2. Equip

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2Ti 3:16-1 ESV).

3. Enable Victory
11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psa. 119:11 ESV).

4.  Convert/Lead to Repentance
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17 ESV).

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
(Act 2:36-37 ESV).

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.
2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God
(Neh 9:1-3 ESV).

5.  Transform

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

6.  Reveal

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12 ESV).

7.  Give Wisdom

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts (Psa. 119:98-100 ESV).

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psa 19:7 ESV).

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More of the Word in 2015 – Exhortation and Plans

Last Sunday I challenged my congregation to give themselves over to regular, faithful Bible reading in 2015. With the growth of biblical illiteracy even among Christians coupled with the facts that spiritual formation and forming a biblical worldview are dependent upon regular engagement with the written word of God, such a challenge fits the start of a new year.Bible dusty

After expounding many of the benefits and effects of the Scripture to whet the appetite for Bible reading, I unpacked the following exhortations:

  • If your Bible reading is irregular, inconsistent, or just not there, start.
  • If your Bible reading is often, but not enough, push for more consistency.
  • If your Bible reading is steady, regular, and healthy, then keep it up!

That is all well and good, but most of us need some kind of plan or system to work in order to be successful. So, I encouraged them to:

  • Establish a routine
  • Work some kind of plan (see below)
  • Use a modern Bible translation with study notes. Who does not need clarity and helpful commentary to work through difficult or confusing passages?
  • Have reasonable expectations. Sometimes people want to go from no regular Bible reading to reading through the Bible in one year. Their aspirations are great, but once life sabotages their daily routine a few times they get behind, get frustrated, and just quit. As Matt Smethurst put it,
    “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”This hackneyed high school yearbook quote is bad advice for most things, Bible reading plans not excepted. If you shoot for and miss the “moon” of six chapters a day, you won’t quietly land among the “stars” of three. You’ll just be lost in space. It’s better to read one chapter a day, every day, than four a day, every now and then. Moreover, the value of meditation cannot be overstressed. Meditation isn’t spiritualized daydreaming; it’s riveted reflection on revelation. Read less, if you must, to meditate more. It’s easy to encounter a torrent of God’s truth, but without absorption—and application—you will be little better for the experience

    My counsel is to commit to an amount that you can reasonably do daily and get the habit fixed in your life. Hey, you can always start reading more each day when you ready.

  • Expect resistance (the world, the flesh, and the Devil)
  • Enjoy the results

In regards to plans, there are so many great ones available these days. Some guide you through the whole Bible in one year, which requires reading about four chapters a day. Some plans complete the Bible in two years, etc. There are many variations and patterns to choose from, so check out several before committing. Both Crossway and Ligonier list multiple plans to choose from on their websites. You can print out the plans to use with your paper or electronic Bible, and many of the readings from the plans can be emailed straight to your smartphone or computer! Several plans allow you to complete the readings through a website where you can keep track of your progress. This year, I am using a simple, go-at-your-own pace chart to keep track of my Bible reading. Other great plans include the ESV Bible Daily Plan or a chronological one. Each year, I change it up somehow to keep it interesting.

Will you commit to regular, faithful Bible reading for 2015? What good things God will do in your heart, mind, and life if you do!


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