New Times Three

God does not command His people to read the Bible anywhere in the Bible. That’s probably for two reasons. First, most people didn’t have their own copies of God’s Word to read. They depended on hearing the Word read in corporate worship, and pastors were commanded to read the Word publicly for the people (see passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:27 and 1 Timothy 4:13).1

A second reason why personal reading of the Bible isn’t an imperative is because reading, in and of itself, is much too undemanding. God commands believers to crave the Word like a newborn baby craves milk (1 Peter 2:2). He commands us to mediate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). Noble believers examine the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). Wanting it, always thinking about it, and investigating it are much higher callings.

That said, reading helps. Having our own complete copies of the inspired canon in our own language in a portable format to read anytime we want is a thick blessing that we ought not take for granted.

I’ve used the same plan to read through the Bible in a year a few years in a row. I love it. The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan has four separate readings, two from the Old Testament and two from the New. It also has only 25 readings each month leaving room for catch-up days if needed.

This new year I’m switching to try a new-for-me plan and I’m also switching to a new copy. I’m going to follow the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. It also has four readings every day, but it completes the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once. Even though I’m studying for my Bible class at school and to preach on Sundays, I still want more of the Word.

I’ll also be using an ESV Reader’s Bible. This edition has no verse numbers and zero cross-references or notes. It does have paragraphs, and paragraphs make me happy. I got it a few months ago and tried it with the Discipleship Journal plan, but it wasn’t as easy to use because the New Testament readings are usually only certain verses and the Reader’s Bible doesn’t show the verse numbers. The M’Cheyne plan usually includes entire chapters.

It doesn’t matter what reading plan you use. I didn’t write this to persuade anyone to switch. I wrote this to say that I’m thankful for the grace that keeps me hungry for the Word. I’m thankful for the variety and access to resources to choose from. And I’m glad to give something even more challenging a shot. Maybe you will, too.


  1. Israel’s kings were commanded to read and to write a copy of the law for themselves, see Deuteronomy 17:19.

What’s Your Problem?

Only the unrepentant are unwelcome at the Lord’s Table. Those who will not believe in and submit to Jesus do not have any part of Him. Those who profess faith but undo their profession by ongoing rebellion to His commands are disciplined away from the fellowship of this meal. But every other believer is invited. More than that, every believer is being changed by it. Take, for example, those believers that Paul categorizes in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

Christian, are you idle? Consider the humble and exhausting service of Your Lord. He labored in life up to and through death for you, and even now prays for You. Think of the work that went into this meal and get off your rear.

Christian, are you faint-hearted? Consider the resurrection of Your Lord. He died and was buried, but He rose again on the third day just as He promised so that you would have life (1 Thessalonians 5:10). His will cannot be stopped, and no one can stop Him from loving You. Think of the faithfulness and courage that this meal represents and don’t shrink back.

Christian, are you weak? Consider the nature of Your Lord. He does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. He partook of the same things as you, He was tempted in all ways as you are, and so He sympathizes with your weaknesses (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15). Think of His tenderness, His gentleness, His kindness to you even in this meal. You are not solo in your need.

Whatever the problem, Jesus does not leave us where we are. He knows who needs to grow and what is lacking in their faith. He is patient, just as He calls us to be patient with one another. But He is always working toward His will that we all be completely sanctified even when we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion. No believer will be left behind.

Focus on Rejoicing

The shortest verse in the Bible is not John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Counting letters in the original language, there are 16 characters in three words. But the Greek text of 1 Thessalonians 5:16 includes only 14 characters in two words, typically translated, “Rejoice always” (ESV, NAS, NKJV, NIV, NRSV). The variations are not really that diverse: “Rejoice evermore” (KJV) and “Always rejoice ye” (YLT). Though it’s the shortest, it may be the second most difficult command to obey in Scripture after loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This command comes in the final chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and near the middle of 17 different exhortations. We ought not separate it from its context but we can focus on it. Rejoice. Always.

How have you done rejoicing in 2014? What percentage of proactive rejoicing have you done? Are you faithful to schedule (and practice) rejoicing with God’s people on the Lord’s Day? Do you make rejoicing the agenda at your meal times and holiday get-togethers? What percentage of reactive rejoicing have you done? Do you rejoice with others when they receive good news, or is envy a more likely response? Do you mix rejoicing in with your burdens or reports of bad news? Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Rejoicing does not eliminate heaviness (see 1 Peter 1:6), but it does flavor, lighten, and transpose that heaviness.

You may or may not use the changing of the year to take stock of your sanctification. But you absolutely must hear the will of God as revealed in His Word and measure your walk accordingly. Are you the grinch, the grouch, the grumbler? Or are you the glad, grateful, again and again rejoicer?

Christmas Counters

The apostle John wins for covering the Christmas story with the least amount of paper: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). What is there on earth or heaven that hasn’t been changed, or at least received orders to change, since the day our Savior took on a body?

The incarnation of the Son of God teaches us that God does not despise flesh, stuff, or material belongings. He made all things through the Word, the Logos (John 1:3). His ultimate revelation of Himself came when the Logos was born in the likeness of men (Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:7). In flesh Jesus served, making meals from loaves and fish and washing feet with a towel. In flesh Jesus suffered torture, died on the cross, and was buried in a grave. And in flesh He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As Christians we are still learning not to despise flesh but how to enjoy and to use more than words. We like our sentences but, while Christmas can be summarized with words, it is itself the glorious story of stuff and places and persons. The good news of Christmas come as “great syllables of words that sounded like castles” (as when Dimble spoke the Great Tongue in That Hideous Strength). The words represent more than words.

The communion table is also more than words. So should our Christmas celebrations be. Christmas counters dualism. We were born in flesh, our bodies are a gift from God. He redeemed us and saved us to work here on earth for now, in body. We should honor Him with bread and wine, and with plates of cookies and strands of lights and stuffed turkeys and Scotch tape and pine needles and sticky buns. He calls us to give, and give ourselves, to eat and drink and sing as men not just mouths.

Not Your Gift

After midnight one Christmas Eve, when all the family had been in bed for a couple hours, the youngest of two teenage brothers couldn’t sleep. He tiptoed out of his room, down the stairs, and pulled up an arm chair next to the star-topped tree. Instead of getting sleepy, he became more awake as he grew tired of waiting for everyone else to wake up. So he did what anyone in his situation might do; he decided to open some presents. But, instead of opening the ones with his name, he opened the ones tagged for his older brother.

The first package contained a video game. He fired up the console and played at the station for over an hour. The game was great fun and, when he was done, he re-taped the paper and put the present back under the tree. Still no sounds were heard from the bedrooms upstairs so he took a second. It was a Seahawks jersey, two years too big for him. But he put it on anyway and pantomimed as Russell, as Richard, even as the Beast. After routing every imaginary opponent he rewrapped the shirt with care in hopes that his brother would never be aware.

Finally he grabbed the only other present left for his brother. It was a model rocket kit that his older brother had been coveting for a while. Having by this point lost his conscience, the younger brother took it outside, lit the fuse, and watched the rocket launch right into the side of the house. The crash woke the family and they found him in his pajamas busily gathering up the broken pieces.

The younger brother had taken what was meant for someone else and used it for his temporary pleasure. At best he hoped to deceive his brother. With the last gift, he did irreparable damage.

According to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 Christian brothers ought also to think about proprietary gifts when it comes to sexual purity and relationships. Too many young men transgress and defraud their brothers by taking what isn’t meant for them, not only in terms of private parts but also regarding intimate affections. God prepares gifts and He avenges those who disregard His warning not to mess with gifts meant for others. People are not property, but there are owners. God’s will is that sanctified men refuse to take what isn’t theirs or tread where their don’t belong.

We Get Closer

One way that the Lord causes our love for one another to increase and abound (1 Thessalonians 3:12) is by inviting us to share a meal together. He has provided the food; it is His own body. He fills the cup; it represents His own blood. And He sent out the invites. None of His people are excepted.

He is the focal point. And when we get closer to Him we get closer to each other. We ought not to think that we can tolerate pride or impatience or bitterness in our hearts toward another with whom we share this meal.

So Paul described that we eat one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17). The one bread unifies us. We share one cup of blessing. Drinking together unites us. We are one shoelace, and the different ends are tied together at the Table because we are one and He is making us what we are.

If you are still holding grudges, you need to take get rid of those and make it right. If you think someone else doesn’t belong here, then you’ll need to take it up with our Lord. Otherwise we can enjoy this meal together.

Let us be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3a-5).

The Laziness That Be

Reading the Foundational Documents and seeing how natural it is for some men to take advantage of others, I ranted a bit in our last Omnibus auditors’ session. For weeks we’ve been observing (and kvetching) about our current political slough of despond, and the question comes up, “What are we doing about it?” Are we just reading and watching cable blues and fussing? Maybe praying more for Jesus’ return?

It is true that we have much more to do, hopefully–in the future–changing the kind of characters who are on our ballots, let alone enculturating the kind of Christians who cast ballots. But as we dream about repealing laws, or even push to practice consistently the good laws we already have, we’re trying to train students how to be good citizens of two countries, both heaven and earth. How are we doing that?

First, we teach them to love God with all their hearts and to believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. God is sovereign. He rules the nations. We must submit to Him. Because His nature is Triune, He calls us to relationship and family and society and calls it good. We must bear His image in these bonds. When we sin and break fellowship, His Son offers forgiveness and peace. That is the evangel. We must repent and believe and receive and walk in Christ. Any attempts at peace among men without Him will not work for long.

Second, we teach them history. We’re learning where we came from and the many blessings that we all enjoy because men in previous generations worked and served to give us a good foundation. As Samuel Johnson put it,

A contempt of the monuments and the wisdom of the past, may be justly reckoned one of the reigning follies of these days, to which pride and idleness have equally contributed.

We benefit from their wisdom, watching them work through why they wanted what they did and what problems they envisioned. It profits us to read their arguments about states and nations and what forms of government would make a better union and what challenges come to those governments.

But beyond the content of the curriculum, we also make them read a lot of it. We ask them to memorize Latin and write multiple papers each week and participate in the discussion. And then we tell them that they are not entitled to a good grade even if they work hard. They are not entitled to graded papers which are red ink free zones. They are not entitled to have everything exactly the same as their fellow classmates. This isn’t mean, but it is surprisingly political. This is part of what it means to be free.

The solution to our national woes starts with the Spirit. We can glean wisdom from history. And the responsibility for it is individual. We cannot keep expecting others, especially experts or professionals or legislators or judges or presidents, to fix it for us. We must work on what is in front of us, be faithful in the little we’ve been given, and a generation of willing workers will, by God’s grace, at least challenge the laziness that be.

Lawless Laws

In the ECS Omnibus class we’ve recently been reading the foundational documents of the United States. We spent a few weeks reading and rereading the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution with all her Amendments. We just read and discussed some of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. And one of my take-aways so far, especially in light of our current regime, is that legislation becomes unruly when men will not take responsibility for themselves.

Take our economic regulations as an example. The law works when it penalizes men who won’t work. The law is in trouble when men who won’t work write laws to penalize those who are, or to cushion the lazy from their empty field come harvest time. Nothing good comes when the Have-nots write laws, or vote for lawmakers, to redistribute what the Haves have. The government arrives with the Sheriff of Nottingham’s gun but wearing Robin Hood’s hat, or, if you prefer, carrying Goliath’s shaft and cloaked in Joseph’s jacket, passing out benefits and breaks for everyone, except for those they took from in the first place. It is selfish men legislating their lawless greed.

There are a few ways to learn to take responsibility, but perhaps the most vital place where we learn not to blame others for our problems is when we come to confess our sin. We do not look to rewrite the Law. We submit and admit that we have disobeyed God. We also look for a Savior, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We know we aren’t entitled to help, but we come for His grace.

The only way that men will be free under the law is when they are free from their lusts. Otherwise we will keep expecting others to fix our issues without bothering to acknowledge that they are our issues. A society of irresponsible blame-shifting citizens will self-destruct; we see the cookie crumbling today. Christian politics starts with worship and recognizing our responsibility to God and our responsibility for our sins. We will know that God is acting when, like He promised to Israel, His Spirit causes us to remember our evil ways, and our deeds that were not good, and we loathe ourselves for our iniquities and abominations (Ezekiel 36:31).

Reached the Quota

Consider the statement Paul made about the Jews in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. He said that they opposed “all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved–so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.” They did not think that they were heaping up a pile of predefined sin. It would be too bold for Paul to claim that he knew the quantity. So who had the measuring bucket? God.

Isn’t this true for everyone? When God covenanted with Abram He said that Abram’s descendants would return to the land in 400 years for the “iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Fill up, then, the measure of your [murdering] fathers” (Matthew 23:32). God knows the amount of sin and He knows when we’ve reached the quota.

This also means, does it not, that God knows exactly how big the bucket of sins was that He poured on Christ. That bucket included all the sins of all those who would ever believe. Each and every person who is part of the redeemed can say that wrath has been taken for them at last! The measure of all our sins was filled up and taken by the Lamb.

We are great sinners. But we Christians have confessed our sins and He has forgiven us because His bucket of grace has no quota. It never runs out. Think about how many cups, no matter the size, have been filled for sake of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by Christians since the Last Supper. We have gone through approximately 5,000 cups at our church alone in less than four years. Imagine how many more have been used by our brothers and sisters throughout the world today. Multiply that by some 1975 years or so. Not one of those cups has represented partial payment. Not one of them has been a symbol of Christ’s incomplete taking of wrath. Christ took all the wrath for us and gives to us all the grace.

Our Pile of Sin

Sin is not sweet. We shouldn’t ever look at it, or look back at it, with nostalgia. Confession is not a time for warming ourselves by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa telling a wistful story about the time when we blew it, and doesn’t it just take us all back to a happier time? And, hey, look how transparent we were!

Sin is gross. We should be gentle with babies when they soil their pants. But we should be gentle as we clean off the mess. I realize that some Christians still can’t seem to explain why it stinks everywhere they go. They aren’t acknowledging their mess, they don’t ever confess their sin. But it is also possible to run around holding our pile of sin under everyone’s nose. “Isn’t this great?” No, it’s disgusting.

Sometimes I confess my own sin publicly, occasionally during our weekly time of exhortation, maybe as an application from something the in sermon, even at a Men to Men or Life to Life meeting. Isn’t that showboating? It could be. If I did it to attract attention to myself it would be wrong. If I did it without actual repentance that would also be wrong.

I try to do it so that it’s clear that persons need to repent. We can study what the Bible says about confession, but then we need to do what it says. Confession is a doctrine that we must practice. Even persons in positions of leadership and authority need to confess; men and husbands and fathers and pastors sin. I need to repent of my sins more than I need to be an expert at seeing the sin of the other guy. I never had an example, so it can be helpful to see what repentance might look like. But the sin is ugly. My sin stinks. Sometimes I confess in public so that you know I know it’s good to kill it.

We don’t need sympathy for our sin. We need a Savior from it. Don’t confess your struggles here, or in a small group setting, or on your blog, or over coffee because you think it’s a treasure to show it to everyone. That’s not necessarily more honest, it may just spread the stink around.