You Can't Carry Fire

"Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?" (Proverbs 6:27-28).

This warning, from a father to his son, is one that shouldn't be taken lightly and is as true now as it was the nearly 3,000 years ago when it was written.

The world we live in is inundated with sex. Suggestive images are everywhere, images are pervasive and seemingly inescapable, and men, in particular, are always trying to carry fire next to their chest. The end of this kind of risk can only be death.

It's important to understand that the temptation to lust in and of itself is not sinful. But what's perhaps more important to understand is that this temptation is something we ought to always be on guard against, and in being on guard we must always be prepared to run. The father's warning couldn't be any clearer: "Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house" (Proverbs 5:8). This is precisely the place where most of us stumble and fall. Rather than making every effort to avoid sexual immorality, we play with it. We dabble and tinker, almost as if playing a game. But we fail to realize it's a game we can't win. 

Are you carrying fire next to your chest? Are you walking on hot coals thinking you can escape the burns? Don't be so foolish. It cannot be done.

You Can Still Make A Plan

The turn of the year is a naturally great opportunity to set some new goals and resolutions. I hope things are going well for you as the first week of this new year wraps up. 

One of the most important commitments I believe any Christian can make is reading his or her bible. I know it’s easy to be overwhelmed by this. Questions abound. “What plan should I pick?” Which version of the bible should I use?” “Should I use digital or print? Study bible or not?” “What if I miss a day?” “When do I have time?” These are all reasonable questions we need to think through when planning to read the bible. My hope is that you’ll take the time to do so. More than that, I hope you’ll take the time to prioritize and put a plan into action that enables you to read your bible. These are not simply words. This book is a treasure. The Psalmist says about God’s word: "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11).  

It is not too late to start reading through your bible this year, but you must make a plan. Without a plan, your reading will be sporadic at best. So whether you want to read through the whole bible or not, you need to plan for it.

Here are some plans I recommend. 
M’cheyne one-year plan: This is one of the most common one year plans out there. It was put together with the intent that two chapters would be read in the morning, and two at night for family devotions. This was a great way for husband and father to lead his home in the ways of the Lord. And it still is. This plan takes you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. 

M’cheyne/navigator combined plan: This is probably my favorite one-year plan. It was introduced to me by my friend Adam Sinnett. The beauty of this plan is that it gives you the ability to catch up on days you’ve missed by requiring you to read only 25 days out of the month. This plan just helps relieve the pressure when you miss a day because you know you don’t need to feel overwhelmed by a catch up day. You can find this plan here.  

Professor Horner 8-month plan: If you’re in to reading a little bit more at a time, then this is obviously the plan for you. Another one of my favorites, Professor Horner’s plan is meant to take you through the whole bible in a rather quick period of time. You’ll read about ten chapters a day–one chapter from each genre of the bible in both the Old and New testament. The intent with this plan is to read quickly and just consume the bible as much as possible. This is the plan I’m starting off with this year because I haven’t done it in a while. So far, I’m loving it! 

ESV Study Bible plan: This is a basic one-year plan. I did it once. Nothing fancy. Just read your bible every day. 

Read Scripture App: This one is new to me and I haven’t worked through it yet. However, I’ve looked through it and I’m excited to give it a try once I complete the plan I’ve already started. This plan will take you through the bible in just under one year, and it’s purpose is to help you read the bible while understanding the big picture story of the bible along the way. The app includes great illustrations and really helpful videos throughout the process that will help bible reading beginners, and intrigue bible reading experts. The other thing about this plan/app is that it reads like a book in that there are no chapter and verse references. Just text on a screen. Finally, it just looks really nice. 

YouVersion App: This is the big daddy of all bible reading apps. You can find just about any plan you want right here. That being said, it’s also easy to get overwhelmed and wonder which plan you should start working through. I’m using this app to keep track of two plans–the plan I’m working through personally, and the one I’m working through with my family. (We are reading together through the New Testament this year). The other thing about this app that I like is you can couple your bible reading with a number of devotionals that the plan provides. There’s a great assortment of topics you can focus on with these. 

Digital or not?
Just a brief word on digital bible reading or not. Really, it’s up to you. It seems I try to use my iPad every year for my bible reading but I feel lack I’m never able to absorb anything. There’s just something about reading on a screen that prevents me from actually connecting with anything I read. Furthermore, I find reading on a device to be distracting. It never fails that some notification gets pushed your way as you’re trying to read. It’s also too easy to have a think of something else and jump on google to find the answer to your thought, only to never return to you bible reading again for the day. So I like to read with a non-digital bible, and I keep track of my progress with a bible app (currently YouVersion). But this is certainly an area where everyone differs. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Just read the bible. 

Before I wrap this up, be reminded of one very important thing: Reading the bible doesn’t save you. It never has and it never will. Sure, you may have been saved or will be saved through God’s Words, but your and my salvation is based solely on the grace of God in the finished work of Jesus. So if you read your bible today, tomorrow, and every day this year, great! If you don’t, that’s okay too. Regardless of whether you read the bible or not, God’s love for you is based on what Christ has done, not what you and I do or don’t do. It is this good news that motivates us to read the words that God has given to us. When you hear of a love like this, don’t you want to know more about it? And if you do, then read your bible. 
 

Quiet

"For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'" (Isaiah 30:15)

This morning I ran. I run on most mornings, but this morning was different. It was snowing. The flakes were light and fine. They chilled my face, but provided an insulation to the world around me. The noises that usually come in the morning–birds chirping, cars moving, dogs barking–were all hushed. This kind of peace and quiet, though not foreign, is not easily experienced in our world today.

We don't live in quite times. Something is always demanding our attention. Spouses, kids, church, work, and friends (all good things) all want a piece of our time. Then there is social networking. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and the like might put off a semblance of quiet as you gaze uninterrupted into your little screen, but these too are screaming in your face for more of you.

Stillness is not something we're good at any more, but it's certainly something we should labor to recover.

Quietness is a value seen throughout the bible. It's in quietness where God meets us. Furthermore, quietness is the result of a healthy relationship with God.

"And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." (Isaiah 32:17-18).

Jesus is the only one who can do this for us. He is the only man who experienced the quiet that is spoken of in Isaiah, because he is the only perfectly righteous man. But the good news is that by faith, we get Christ's righteousness! This means quietness for us too.

If you haven't done so already, take some time to be quiet today. Think on these verses in Isaiah. Speak the gospel truth to your heart that this quietness, peace, and security is yours too in Christ.

The Unfolding Word

I've been working through a Psalms devotional this year. It was written by Tim and Kathy Keller, and has been one of the only year long devotionals I've actually stuck with. For the past couple weeks I've been working through Psalm 119, and found this mornings devotional to be challenging and encouraging. I thought I'd share it with you. 

Psalm 119:129-136. "Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law."

The Unfolding Word: When the psalmist calls God's Word "wonderful," he is using a word that means "supernatural" (verse 129). It is not a merely human book. This is why the Bible "unfolds" its depths for those patient enough to plumb them. While the Scripture is clear enough in its basic message for a child to understand, it will not yield its astonishing riches except to trusting (verse 133), obedient (verse 136), diligent (verse 131) study and sustained reflection. If this price is paid, however, the return is infinitely greater than the cost.

Prayer: Lord, I take time for only the most superficial Bible study. But everyone makes time for the things they fell most important. I confess that my heart has little desire to know the Word. Let Psalm 119 break my heart's indifference. Amen. 

Give Yourself In Prayer

Life is stressful. It would be great if it weren’t, but I suppose it’s one of the realities of life that show us we aren’t God. We’re aren’t in control. We don’t know what may come in the next minute, day, week, or month. So we stress.

The question we need to ask is how do we respond to the things we’re uncertain about?
In Psalm 109, David is dealing with a stressful situation. He says:

Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. (Psalm 109:1-4)

David is under verbal attack. People are saying things about him that are either half true or not true at all. He says that he hasn’t done anything but love his people and this hatred is how they are repaying him. David doesn't know what will come of this situation. But notice his response. “I give myself to prayer.”

Our tendency is to respond to uncertain and difficult situations by fighting. We grit our teeth, dig our heels, clench our fists, and tell ourselves that we’ll figure it out and get through it. We’ll get to the bottom of the situation. We’ll prove we’re not who they’re saying we are. All the while, we're stressed out of our minds. But David simply prays.
 
Prayer is the great stress reliever. Why? Because prayer is us communicating to the God who stresses over nothing. There is nothing He is unaware of. There is nothing He is surprised by. In prayer, we give ourselves to Him and trust that He will bring that which will shape us more into His image and bring Him the most glory.

In stressful moments, days, weeks, and months, may God enable us to give ourselves in prayer. 
 

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

There is a famous line in Genesis 4. It says, “Am I my brothers keeper?” The line comes after Cain brutally murders his brother Abel. God asks, “Where is your brother?” The only way Cain can think of answering is by “minding his own business,” and pointing the finger at the brother he just killed.

Most of us are familiar with this section of scripture and this verse in particular. What we’re not familiar with is how to handle it. It’s easy to take the side of Cain. In a culture of hyper-individualism we shake our heads in agreement that we are not our brothers keeper. We think to ourselves, “their business is their business. I don’t need to worry about what they’re doing or not doing.” And when we do poke into someone’s business, we’re often told, “mind your own business!” Maybe there are scenarios where we ought to mind our own business, but more times than not we’re simply abdicating a responsibility that is ours to keep. We are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.

The church is the family of God (Mark 3:31-35). This means that if we are a Christian, our brothers and sisters are not only those who are related to us by blood, but are also those related to us by the blood of Christ spilled on the cross. To be a member of this family means that we care for one another. It means that we are in one another’s business–not for the sake of gossip, slander, shame, ridicule, or scorn– but for the sake of building up. It means that we care whether or not our brothers and sisters are representing Christ in their day to day lives. 

Jonathan Leeman, in writing about church membership, puts it like this: “Church membership is not about additional requirements. It’s about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, and a Christian for a church."*

“Church membership is not about additional requirements. It’s about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, and a Christian for a church."

The gospel of Jesus frees us to love one another in ways that we would not have previously. It frees us to celebrate with our brothers and sisters in their victories, and weep with them in their failures. It frees us to ask questions, and to have questions asked of ourselves. The church is to be a family like none other on this earth. It is God’s grace that we get to care for one another in such a way that doesn’t promote our individualism, but exemplifies his kingdom instead.

*Quoted from Leeman's book: Church Discipline.

It Is Finished

Today is Good Friday.

Year after year, as this day comes around, I can't help but feel the irony in it. How can it be called "good," the day Jesus brutally died on a cross in my place? But the longer I follow Jesus, and the more I become aware of my need for this sacrifice, the more the "goodness" of this day settles in. 

This morning, I sat down to read John 19–John's account of the crucifixion. I had to read it a couple of times. The account is so brief, yet at the same time filled with so much. I was struck by the authority that Jesus displayed throughout the ordeal. He tells Pilate, who believes he is the one with the power to crucify or release Jesus, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). It's a reminder to me that Jesus was not coerced in dying for my sins, but rather sweetly surrendered to the will of his Father. He willingly–even joyfully–gave himself (John 19:30; Hebrews 12:2).

The moment which fills my heart with most joy on this good day, however, is the moment when Jesus declared, "It is finished." 

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This is the truth that I pray sinks into my heart (and yours) this Easter weekend. The declaration of, "It is finished," means precisely that. All that's needed to be accomplished has been accomplished at the cross. There is nothing more for you or me to do. Salvation is complete, and all we do is now done in response to this beautiful reality. 

I ran across an article this morning that saddened my heart. The article, accompanied by video, displays devout catholics in the Philippines crucifying themselves and self flagellating. The article goes on to say that they do this for "luck or divine intervention, or in gratitude of previously miraculous help." The ceremony has a fifty year history behind it. This isn't what Christ intended when he said, "It is finished."

Today, as you contemplate the cross, remember the significance of those three words. It is in them that the horrendous nature of this day, as it occurred over 2,000 years ago, is remembered as a day that is "good."