Monday, December 24, 2012

The Glory of Christmas

Some two thousand years ago, God came down to and enter into creation to be our Savior. That alone is an incredible thing to think about, but what's more amazing is the result of His coming. He would begin a work to redeem and secure, to himself, a portion of His own creation. People from every tribe, nation, and tongue are being redeemed from the power of darkness, for His glory. His grace will be known across all creation, and among all people. Those who were once rebels will sing His praise. How amazing a thing that is. That our God can and will cause us, who were once His rebels and enemies, to not just love Him but long for His coming and sing His praises. That's the power of a new heart within us. One that is spiritually alive and soft - made malleable by and for the Lord.

Let His grace be always on our minds, and let us praise Him for His goodness this Christmas Day. Just as He came once many years ago, He will return soon, but this time to judge and rule.

"Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased."

I hope you have a great Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why I Thank God for the Puritans

If you've read much of what I've posted here in the past, you'd see a common topic repeated.  I tend to write a little more frequently about the Puritans and their theology than contemporary Christians or authors, because of my admiration of them.

Not all of them have the same theology, and some did shameful things.  They are generally considered in a very negative light by most people, but there were many great and godly Puritans who lived some amazing lives.  Those that had a love for God and His people left us with some tremendous insight to glean from.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Reading Plan, Week 3 (Expanded)

If you've been following along, how has your time been?  Technically today is the beginning of Week 2.  However, Gabby and I started a week earlier since we'll be traveling part of the week before Christmas and also, since Christmas is on a Tuesday, week 4 would be short.  So here's week 3, in case you may be on the path as us.
The first week was on our Sinful condition, while week 2 was a look over the promises of a Savior given to ancient Israel.  This week we're looking at Jesus's claims about Himself and His new covenant.  As you read through these reflect on the majesty and grace of God as "He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him." (Eph 1:9)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent Reading Plan, Week 2 (Expanded)

Here's week 2 of our Advent Reading Plan with notes included.  The previous week was a time to remember our sinfulness.  That's always a good place to start, and so I did.  Now for this week we'll move to the promises and prophecies of the coming Messiah.

God had established the Mosaic Law for the people of Israel for sin to would become evident to them and they, in turn, would see their need for a Savior.  God didn't disappoint.  Many promises were given of a great Redeemer and mighty King.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What is the Gospel for?

Many times, to many of us, the Gospel is synonymous with evangelism.  We'd say, "Preach the Gospel so people can be saved!"  but in reality, that's a very shortsighted view of the Gospel.  It's not only has the power to save, but it's also the same power that changes us on a daily basis - sanctifies us, conforms us to the image of Christ.  I've heard John Piper say once before (loosely quoted): You don't get saved by the Gospel, and then go about becoming holy under your own power, or by some special plan.  You don't get saved, and then move on to the real meat.  We are to be dependent on it from conversion to death.  He references Paul's correction of the Galatians in Gal 3:3-5:
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
And so what we should be saying is, "Please, preach the Gospel, because my soul and spirit need it always!"  It is the reminder of God's glory and His work in us.)

Below is an excerpt from a post by Tim Challies on his blog where he discusses the same thing with better words.  You can read his entire post, titled "The Heart's Position", here.
I have written often of those authors and pastors who encourage Christians to preach the gospel to themselves every day. I see some of the value of doing this, though my practice of it is too sporadic. What such teachers want us to see is that the gospel is not merely the gateway to the Christian life, but the fuel of the Christian life. What they want us to understand is that the gospel is not simply defensive, the thing we turn to when we have sinned and are eager for some assurance of pardon. Rather, the gospel puts us on the offensive against sin and toward holiness. We ought to continually bring the gospel into our hearts and minds as a means of spurring ourselves to greater love for God which in turn generates a greater desire for obedience to him.
And here he explains how he "preaches the Gospel to himself": 
...As I turn to the Bible to read the predictions and prophecies of the coming Messiah, as I consider the narratives of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection, as I ponder the epistles where all of these things are explained and illuminated, as I consider the day of Christ’s return, my love for God and my trust in him must necessarily increase and thrive. As my love swells, so will my desire to do those things that honor him and bring him glory.
...And what has he promised to do? He has promised to make me holy. He has promised to sanctify me, to help me put sin to death and to replace it with joyful obedience. He has promised that the Holy Spirit is operating within my life to bring me into closer conformity with Jesus Christ. He has promised that the very same power that has saved me is now sanctifying me. Now I have hope and confidence that this really is happening and that this really can happen. I really can put sin to death, I really can grow in holiness, I really can grow in Christ-like character and look more and more like the One who saved me.
I simply cannot trust that all of this is happening and that all of this will continue to happen if I have no ability to trust in what has already been accomplished. However, when I trust God for what he has done, now my heart is properly positioned to trust God for all that he has promised to do. And, therefore, the gospel must be my joy and meditation every day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Advent Reading Plan, Week 1 (Expanded)

I've expanded the Advent Reading Plan to include the theme of the passage (or reason for choosing it), and some ideas on what to pray for afterwards.  Obviously, you do whatever you'd like, but if you need any help, it's there.  The themes may help you know what to look for as you read each day.  Also, on the first day I've added an idea for a song to sing after the reading that relates to the week.  The link is at the bottom of this post with the lyrics so you can sing along

Although advent doesn't technically start until next Sunday (Dec 2), Gabby and I have already started.  Since Christmas is on a Tuesday, it would leave the last week's reading very short.

Here's Week 1:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Music: Come Ye Sinners

Last night Gabby and I were fortunate to attend a Matthew Smith concert.  He is a founding member of the Indelible Grace Community (Music Project) that works on rearranging old Hymns to modern music.  The first song I posted on here, The Sands of Time are Sinking, is another song from this project.

Today I'm sharing a song that displays the grace and goodness of God, and His work on our behalf.  It's partially evangelistic, and partially worship.  It tells the sinner about God's salvation and grace available, encouraging them to come, but it also expresses it in such a way as to show His Glory.  It's a reminder of our dependence on the Savior.

The Hymn was originally written around 1750 by Joesph Hart.  The song in the video is the version by Matthew Smith. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Advent Scripture Reading Plan

(*Update: I changed the title of this post since it's not really a devotional, but a Scripture reading plan.)

According to Merriam-Webster:
1: the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting
2 a: the coming of Christ at the Incarnation
   b: second coming (of Christ). 
To some, Advent is a foreign concept, or something done by the stuffy liturgical churches.  But I believe, if understood properly, it can become a helpful tool to prepare ourselves for the joy and glory of Christmas - the true meaning of Christmas.  That's a day for us to think on and rejoice in the first coming of Christ, providing salvation for mankind.  There's two purposes of Advent: to remind us of Christ's first coming in Bethlehem and also to look ahead to His second coming.  One thing that I think we miss in many Christmas celebrations is the watching and hoping for His second coming.  The story is not done yet.

So many times in the past, I've been absorbed in my daily life for the weeks and days leading up to Christmas.  We have to buy presents, plan family trips, get things done at work before taking off for vacation  etc.  Despite all the decorations, it's only on Dec 24 that I slow down enough to start thinking about the meaning of Christmas, but by that time, the Christmas I experience is only a shadow of what it could, or should be.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Poetry Corner: The Dark March of Time

Here's something I wrote recently.  I have written poetry in the past, though I wouldn't call myself a poet.  I enjoy writing it, but usually don't share them.  So I hope you feel special.

The Dark March of Time

My wrists are bound with shackles,
The Chains pull me forcefully forward,
In front and behind, my neighbors all walk.
I can hear their agonies, and pain and grief,
We plead for mercy, to end our despair.
Yet Time pulls us on and on.
"Why are you so cruel? Why so uncaring?"
"I am, It is, but great was your rebellion."
"But it was not me for the cause!"
"Not me who deserves such cruel injustice!"
But then in my heart I see a beat,
The rhythm, of that dreadful insurrection.
The thoughts of my mind rise up to self-exalt
and so convicts me to this march.
My eyes awaken and I see the view,
The land of torment awaiting.
But oh so gloriously, before that may come,
a man does stand to set us free.
He stands by the way, with judgment in hand
to save poor sinners like me.
Through much toil and great pain,
we go along our march, pressed on.
But there is a One who may set us free
Though our rebellion cost Him so much.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Radical Devotion

A radical devotion to the Lord will gain respect, when accompanied with grace and peace.

Of course there are exceptions around the world, but in our Western culture, this is generally the case.

Atleast that's some insight I've gleened from reading "The Gentle Boy," a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It's a work of historical fiction.

It centers around a young 6 year old boy who lives in Boston during the 1650's.  He and his family are Quakers, and have been in prison for that "offense".  In 1656, there was a very real event of 4 Quakers being executed for their faith at the hands of the ruling Puritan government.  The story is based on these deaths, with one of the men being this boy's father.  The boy's name is Ibrahim, and his birth mother, after being arrested, was "discarded" into the wilderness.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Greater Treasures than Gold

A few comments on what I've read recently in Romans.
 Romans 8:28-29
 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son...
Such great rest, comfort, and peace we can find in this promise from God.  Paul starts with the words, "And we KNOW".  We don't have to hope or guess that God is maybe, somehow, in some way, trying to make our circumstances work out for us.  It's an affirmative. It's an absolute.

But what is the "good" mentioned here?  Is it healing of a sickness?  Or maybe solving a financial shortcoming?  or could it be, resolving an estranged relationship?  It may be any of those things, since we know He's a generous giver of good gifts.  He is extremely gracious to the most undeserving among us.  Yet, the ultimate "good" that we can be given is the gift of transformation into His image.  All other pleasures and comforts are fleeting.

One thing found in this verse from Paul is a hope for believers who are in despair.  He is saying, "God is at work in you.  Don't be deceived.  Though burdens are heavy, and circumstances difficult, He is sovereign, and you are His.  He has known you from the beginning and is, at all times, using all these things to make you more like His Son.  He has not forgotten, nor will forsake you."  Hallelujah!

So let us not believe the lies.  Let our hope stay fixed on the Lord and the treasure of His Salvation and His promises.  Let our contentment be in Him who is at work in us, and rejoice in His promise.  Our hope should be that tomorrow we will be more like Him than in days past.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From the town of Mansoul

When people hear the name John Bunyan, they either think of Pilgrim's Progress, or Paul Bunyan.  Paul and John were not related, though many would consider John to be a giant as well.  John Bunyan was a Preacher and writer who lived from 1628-1688.  His more popular novel, Pilgrim's Progress, was written while in prison for "illegal" preaching during a time of great persecution in England against the "nonconformists", who opposed the Church of England.

"The Holy War" is an allegorical story similar to Pilgrim's Progress, except it tells of Mankind's fall and redemption through the story line of a city by the name of Mansoul, created by King Shaddai.

I've started reading this story and will be sharing it with you here, but not in a conventional way.  Updates from the city will be delivered from a man by the name of Message-Bearer.

Below is the first letter from the city:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Reading List (Oct-12)

I just thought I'd share a quick post on my current reading list.  I typically have a few things that I'm "in the middle of", like a main book for substance, a light book for enjoyment, and a book of the bible.  So here's each of those and the reasons for reading them.  I have a copy of all these on my Kindle.

  1. (Main Book) The Holy War by John Bunyan - It was free.  More importantly, I really enjoyed his earlier book, Pilgrim's Progress.  His writing style is difficult to read at times, and the language was obviously a little different in his time.  But once you get used to the flow, it is quite poetic.  He uses great imagery.  He had great insight into human nature and biblical truths that he converted to allegorical characters and situations.  In doing that it actually helps the reader to understand those truths better.  I'll start my posts on this book soon. It should be interesting.
  2. (Light Book) Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne - Since I've had my Kindle, I like to search out free, old public domain books.  I'm weird in that way.  I have an interest in history, and how people lived in years past.  I also, recently, developed an interest in how the general public viewed Christians and Christianity throughout history.  Those reasons, combined, led me to start this book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  He is obviously not a Christian, and writes with a fixation on 18th century America, though he lived during the early 19th century.  The book is a collection of short stories.  Many of the stories revolve around church or churchgoing people.  Some view Christians in a negative light, but some are neutral.
  3. (Bible) Romans - Started reading and discussing through this with a couple friends from church, Gary and Chanse.  It's a New Testament book that I'm particularly fond of.  There's plenty of theology to be learned in it.  Paul lays out the essence of the new movement to the believers in Rome, in an effort to establish them in the faith.  In it he answers questions like, "What was the point of the Jewish Law, if it doesn't save us?", "How do I deal with sin, if there is no more Law?", "Did God give up on Israel because of their unfaithfulness?", and many more.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Wondrous Love is This

The love of our Savior for us is so great.  We can not, throughout all of eternity, fully understand this love He has for us.  We are His creation, yet we are rebellious, sinful, and altogether unattractive to a holy God.  Yet He bore all of that to redeem us, to reconcile us back to Himself, to adopt us as His children, and co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus suffered greater anguish than we can imagine, yet for the joy set before Him, He endured all the pain and ridicule.  We can never repay Him for that single act, but He doesn't require any payment.  He calls to all who are thirsty and have no money, to come, drink, and eat, without money and without cost.  What a glorious joy it is when we come to Him and rest in that grace His has given us.

This Hymn, "What Wondrous Love is This", conveys this same thought.  It's thought to have been written by Alexander Means in 1835 Appalachia.  The video is one I found on YouTube.  This is the first  time I've heard of Chelsea Moon, myself.

That said, here's the video with lyrics posted below.  As you listen and follow the lyrics, set your mind of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and let your soul worship.  It's not just for Sundays!

What Wondrous Love is this

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What is our Escape Velocity?

Recently, I was thinking on the idea of we, as Christians, being in the world and influenced by it.  Thinking about how the world is so enticing, and to different degrees, all Christians are entangled in its snares.  Even Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect..." (Phil 3:12).  But we can and should be working towards becoming free of those entanglements with the world.

As I was thinking on this, I remembered something I hadn't thought about since my college Physics class.  Escape Velocity.  That's it.  It's kind of like Escape Velocity.  Yeah, I'm a nerd.  What is Escape Velocity?  Here's the Wikipedia article for a proper explanation, or you can take my word for it.  It's the velocity required for an object to overcome the gravitational pull of a planet and make it to outer space.  It tells you the energy required to "break free" from what you're leaving behind.

That kind of sounds like what we need to know, right?  What do I need to do to "escape" these entanglements with the world that attempt to enslave us, and as a result, torment us greatly.  There is not one person who can't relate with this struggle.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Sunday Sweetness

Maybe you're like me.  On a daily basis I am frequently reminded of my own deficiencies.  Always driven off-track by my own selfish desires, while they promise to provide me with contentment.  Yet as I walk with the Lord, all these things, in fact, only lead to a theft of my joy and contentment in Him.  The evil one is in constant cooperation with the sin left within me, in an effort to torment me and steal that joy.  So great is that power that without some help, I would be overcome with its evil.  Praise God for His love for us, His desire for mercy towards us, and glorious graces He gives to us, to those who believe in His name.

Again, another quick word from Owen on this same subject (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p194).  Paraphrasing:
One method that the Lord preserves us from sin and temptation:  Apart from God's grace to us, we have no strength to resist temptation, and will pursue its sin, when it comes to us with its propositions.  We have no power or wisdom to keep ourselves from following after these temptations. As a result, we must be, and can be, kept by His power and wisdom only - being preserved by His grace, while sin abounds all around (1 Peter 1:5).  We are "protected by the power of God." The Lord directs us to this, not only in the Lord's prayer by asking to not be led into temptation (Mat 6:13), but also by His own prayer for us, that we may be kept:  " I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15).
How great and wonderful is the grace and mercy of our God to save us from such a persistent and powerful enemy.  Let us not forget, but instead be grateful of the many mercies He has given to us.  "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

Praise Him and rest in His Glory.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Sands of Time are Sinking

One band we really enjoy listening to is Indelible Grace.  Gabby and I were given a CD of theirs while in college those many years ago, and it's still one of our favorites.  The only albums of theirs that we have are still the first two; well worn, and burned, and re-burned several times to various hard drives.  The songs on these albums are modern arrangements of some great old hymns from Church history that may or may not be well known.  The band is from Nashville, and they play with a bit of acoustic, folksy, and sometimes bluegrass sound.

There's one particular song that I wanted to share with everyone today called "The Sands of Time are Sinking", also known as "Immanuel's Land", with words originally written by Anne Cousin in 1854.  She credits the words to be inspired by the writings of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661).  Some sources specifically note "Letters" as the source of inspiration.

The hymn describes the glorious joy of heaven, or Immanuel's Land.  This is one of those songs that are best sung with your eyes closed tight and your voice raised high, but only once you know the words of course!  Thoughts of being with the Lord have become more frequent for our family recently with the passing of Gabby's beloved step-dad.  Knowing how much he loved the Lord makes songs like this all the more sweet to our souls.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

This video (audio only) is from their latest live album:

The Sands of Time Are Sinking

1. The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for -
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark had been the midnight
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

2. The king there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land

3. O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

4. The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.

5. O I am my Beloved’s
And my Beloved is mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His house of wine
I stand upon His merit -
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

©2001 Phillip Palmertree Music.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Four Powers of the Gospel, For the Battle Against Temptation

A brief paraphrase of John Owen (1616-1683) from his book on Temptation. (Overcoming Sin and Temptation p.210-11)

To not be overcome by temptations we must become well acquainted with the Word of Christ, the Gospel.  There are four Powers of the Gospel, if known, that will enable us to effectively battle temptation and not be overcome by it:

Grace and Mercy - is able to save us: "it is the power of God for salvation" (Rom 1:16), "the grace of God... bringing salvation" (Titus 2:11), "the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21) When the soul comes to know the Grace and Mercy of the Word, its ability to pardon, and its eternal inheritance, it will fight to protect the Word and keep it close.

Holiness and Purity - is able to sanctify us: Jesus says, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." (John 15:3) And He prays this way for us, saying, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17).  Those who don't know the Word as a sanctifying and cleansing power over themselves, they don't know the Word nor do they keep it. The empty professing of Christ of our day (Owen's day) knows nothing of how to do this, and therefore they are overcome by the power of temptations.

Liberty and Power - is able to exalt us and set us free.  Not only does the Gospel set us free from the guilt of sin and wrath, done by Grace and Mercy; not only does it also set us free from the power of sin, done by Holiness and Purity; but it also sets us free from the opinions of man and the world that might entangle and enslave us.  It declares us to be free in Christ (John 8:32), and in bondage to no one (1 Cor 7:23).  However, we are not free from subjection to superiors nor free to sin (1 Pet 2:16).  But it is a freedom from bondage in respect to conscience in our worship of God (Gal 5:1), and in respect of enslavement to man and the things of this world.  The Gospel gives us a free and noble spirit, in subjection to God and no one else.  It is a spirit not "of timidity, but of power, love, and discipline." (2 Tim 1:7).  Those who rightly know the Word as Liberty and Power are freed from many great temptations.

Consoling - is able to support us in every condition, and to be our full portion when we are in need.  It is "joy inexpressible and full of glory." (1 Pet 1:8).  It is able to give us relief, peace, joy, and glory in every condition possible.  So, rightly knowing the power of His Word to Console us enables us to battle temptation, and not be overcome by its power.

The Beginning...

So here I am with a blog.  How unique.

I decided to start this project out of a desire to share with everyone, and hopefully encourage some of you, with ideas and thoughts that I come across in books that I read - on occasion.  I enjoy learning new things and talking about them with friends.  However, as a dad of 3 little ones, I don't get as many chances to do this as I'd like to anymore, but you can read about them on Gabby's blog, MamaGab.

So my hope here is to post on topics that are worth readying and are helpful for keeping our focus on things above (Col 3:2).  May there be plenty of things to share and good conversations to go with them.  And please excuse my poor grammar.  Run-ons are my life.