Radiant Over The Goodness Of The Lord

This morning's reading had me in Jeremiah 31 and 32. This portion of text warmed my soul.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, 

and declare it in the coastlands far away; 

say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, 

and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ 

11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob 

and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. 

12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, 

and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, 

over the grain, the wine, and the oil, 

and over the young of the flock and the herd; 

their life shall be like a watered garden, 

and they shall languish no more. 

13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, 

and the young men and the old shall be merry. 

I will turn their mourning into joy; 

I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. 

14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, 

and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, 

declares the Lord.” 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Je 31:10–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Father, turn our mourning to joy and our sorrows to gladness. You are always good and faithful. Help us to continually see your provision, and may we be radiant because of your goodness to us. Amen.

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. 
 

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. 
 

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."     

God Is On The Throne

I was given a new devotional for Christmas. It's Tim Keller's, The Songs of Jesus, a year of daily devotionals through the Psalms. I'm only day two into it, but am already deeply encouraged and challenged. I encourage you to buy this little devotional and allow it to help you soak deeply in the Psalms. To encourage you, I will share what I read this morning. The way the devotional works is there is a Scripture, a brief commentary, and then a prayer. 

Psalm 2:1-4. Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, "Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles." The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoff at them.

No Intimidation. Each day the media highlights new things to fear. The "powers that be" in society tell us that obedience to God shackles us, limiting our freedom. In reality, liberation comes only through serving the one who created us. Those people and forces that appear to rule the world are all under his Lordship, and one day they will know it. God still reigns, and we can take refuge in him from all our fears. So to be intimidated by the word (Psalm 2) is as spiritually fatal as being overly attracted to it (Psalm 1).

Prayer. Lord of the world, people resent your  claims on human lives. I fear to speak of you for fear of ridicule of anger. But you are not intimidated by the world "powers," nor should I be. Help me to know the joy of obedience and the fearlessness that goes with it. Amen.

May the reality that God is on the throne encourage you to live fearlessly this year!