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December 2011

December 28, 2011

The Year Gone By - I think I’m going to do this before the year is through. “Christmas night after all the day’s festivities were over, I took a few minutes to write down a list of things I could remember from this past year.  Most were obvious blessings.  Some were trials that God turned to blessings.  Some were big things, some small.  Some were joyous, some were hard.”

Church on Christmas Morning - I enjoyed this article. Though written by an unbeliever, it shares an interesting perspective on going to church at Christmas. It’s a strange combination of condescending and encouraging. “I was moved by the sincerity and elegance of the event, and especially by the warm welcome. I could see how churchgoing plays such an important role in American life and realized, as I have often thought, had I married someone who was a practicing Christian how I could easily fit into a family pattern of going to services.”

Christian Focus 4 Kids - The publisher Christian Focus has a new blog meant for kids. They are offering some good deals on some of their kids’ books.

Why Read With a Plan - This is a helpful article from Dan Phillips: “All sorts of blogs are pointing you to reading plans. Let me help by leaning on and applying some why pressure, along with the what.”

The Year in Pictures - This was posted a few days ago, but I forgot to mention it. So here it is: Part 3 of the year in pictures from The Big Picture.

If you haven’t been jarred when you’re reading the Bible, you’re not reading it. —John Piper

December 27, 2011

Last week I asked if some of you would like to take The 3650 Challenge with me (reading 3650 chapters of the Bible in 2012). I expected that 50 or 100 of you might like to join me. I was more than a little surprised to see well over 800 join up, with more joining every day. This is going to be fun!

If you’d like to join us, the best place to go is the Facebook group.

To do these readings we will follow Professor Horner’s Bible Reading Plan. Lots of people have been asking for some guidance or direction, so here goes. Professor Horner’s Bible Reading Plan has you reading ten chapters of the Bible every day. You will read one chapter per day from ten different lists. On January 1, you will read Matthew 1, Genesis 1, Romans 1, and so forth. On January 2, you will read Matthew 2, Genesis 2, etc. On day twenty-nine, you will have just finished Matthew, so you will go to Mark 1 on the Gospel list; you’ll also be almost to the end of 2nd Corinthians and Proverbs, you’ll be reading Psalm 29 and Genesis 29, and so forth. When you reach the last chapter of the last book in a list, you start over again. It’s that simple. 

What you will need to do is download this document that explains the plan in more detail and tells you which books of the Bible each of the ten lists contains. So go ahead and download it and print yourself a copy. It will tell you the lists and will also give you some handy bookmarks to mark off your progress.

Before I get to specific resources, I want to say this: One key to the program is to stick with it for at least 30 days. You will need to make that commitment right from the beginning or you may find yourself quickly running out of steam. Ten chapters per day is demanding, but once you commit to it and do it for a while, you will begin to find it more of a joy than a burden.

In the meantime, as you plan for a January 1 start, here are some useful resources.

Bookmarks

If you are doing the reading plan using your Bible, you will probably want to use a series of bookmarks to mark off your daily readings. You can download the document I linked to above and get bookmarks there. There are also four color variations available here.

YouVersion

YouVersion is a web site and mobile app that combines a couple of great features: many translations of the Bible and many reading plans. You can go to YouVersion and create an account; once you have done that, you can sign up to do a reading plan. I have been using their version of Professor Horner’s plan for several months now and intend to begin fresh on January 1. Why? Because they make it easy for me to listen to the 10 chapters per day on my iPhone while I am out for a walk or commuting to the church office. At least for the time being I enjoy listening to the Bible, so intend to do the plan that way.

On the plus side, their app makes it easy to engage with Scripture while in the car or out walking. On the downside you need a data plan to do this. Also in the negatives column is the fact that the app can be a little bit flaky, especially with the newest version; often the readings do not get properly “checked off” and a week later you’ll receive a reminder telling you that you haven’t done it. But overall, it’s a solid app and serves its purpose well.

Apps

There are lots of apps that can help you on your way.

YouVersion - I’ve already mentioned YouVersion. It is an all-in-one solution that will allow you to listen to or read the program day-by-day.

The Ten Lists - This site can help you day-by-day.

Bible Bookmarks - Bible Bookmarks is an easy-to-use iOS application that will allow you to keep track of where you are at in Bible reading systems.

Olive Tree - Here is a tutorial on using Olive Tree for your readings.

In the end, though, whether you listen or read, whether you use a printed Bible or electronic Bible, the most important thing is just to do it. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted from the main thing, which is to meet God in his Word. 

December 27, 2011

Waking Up Fragile - John Piper: “There are mornings when I wake up feeling fragile. Vulnerable. It’s often vague. No single threat. No one weakness. Just an amorphous sense that something is going to go wrong and I will be responsible. It’s usually after a lot of criticism. Lots of expectations that have deadlines and that seem too big and too many.”

New Species in 2011 - Here is a roundup of some new species discovered in 2011. They range from the world’s tiniest frog to a kind of orchid that only blooms at night.

Hobbit Hints - WORLD looks at the first trailer for The Hobbit movie (due in December of 2012) and speculates on plot changes.

5 Kinds of Books to Read - “There are a few reasons you may be wondering what sort of book you should invest your time into over the next week. Perhaps you have received a gift card or some cash for books. Maybe you have the rest of the week off work and you want to spend it well. It might be that you are feeling the post-Christmas blahs and realize you need to fight for joy. Here are a few recommendations in case you fall into any or all of these categories.”

Book Carvings - I think I’ve linked to these before. This is exceptional art work. If I were a rich man… (HT)

Re-Claiming the Bible - This is an interesting review of a new book by John Shelby Spong. It’s a positive review of what sounds like a wretched book, but I found it interesting to see how Spong, even near the end of his life and career, continues to express his hatred toward God by denying the Bible’s claims.

The most tremendous judgment of God in this world is the hardening of the hearts of men. —John Owen

December 26, 2011

As I’ve been reading blogs and news articles lately, I’ve seen quite a few articles on the subject of breastfeeding. That’s kind of a strange observation, I know, but I’ve seen it as a recent theme in the media. I guess society is still negotiating whether or not it is appropriate to nurse a baby in public. This reminded me of an article I once saw in a Florida newspaper where the author discussed a fascinating situation involving Victoria’s Secret.

Victoria’s Secret became the target of breast-feeding activists this week after women in Racine, Wis., and Quincy, Mass., went into the popular women’s lingerie store and were told they couldn’t breastfeed their children on the sales floor.

It’s hard to imagine that Victoria’s Secret, of all places, could be anti-breast—or at least squeamish about the partial exposure of a woman’s breast amid the racks of revealing peekaboo attire on sale.

But it happened. The result: Victoria’s Secret was the target of a nationwide ‘nurse-in’ protest this past weekend called for by a group of angry breastfeeding women.

You can’t help but note the irony: Victoria’s Secret, a company that has done so much to commodify the breast (along with pretty much every other aspect of a woman’s body), refused to allow women to breastfeed on their premises. As the article says, “Victoria’s Secret, after all, is all about partial, and more-than-partial exposure of a woman’s body.” The company’s advertising shows a lot more exposed breast than you are likely to see when a woman nurses her child. And what’s wrong with a woman feeding her child in public?

Until about eleven years ago I had never thought much about breastfeeding. My mom, with still a little bit of hippie in her blood (you should see those early photos of her as a mother), raised five children and each of us nursed for at least a year or two. I was the second child to be born into the family and so, for at least five or six years of my life, I saw little sisters nursing. I thought nothing of it; it was as natural as breathing. Babies needed to eat, so mom fed them. If they needed to eat at home, mom fed them at home, and if they needed to eat when we were out, mom fed them in public. She was discreet about it, of course, but was certainly not ashamed to fed us when we need to be fed. There was nothing complicated about it.

December 26, 2011

Thomas Jefferson’s Bible - Smithsonian magazine: “Thanks to an extensive restoration and conservation process, the public can now see how Jefferson cut and pasted his own version of the Scripture.”

TGC Ontario - There is a local Gospel Coalition event coming to Ontario. You’ll find some details at the Facebook page.

When I Don’t Desire God - You can get the audio book version of John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God free until the end of the month. Also, you can get the Kindle version of Jerry Bridges’ Holiness Day by Day for free.

Matt Hammitt - Matt Hammitt was the subject of a story in a recent issue of USA Today. “Told that his unborn son had only half a heart and little chance to survive, the lead singer of the Christian rock band Sanctus Real began pouring his fears and doubts into music.”

How Luther Went Viral - This is an interesting look at the viral nature of the Reformation. “Five centuries before Facebook and the Arab spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation.”

The Lord’s Day - Michael Horton writes about the Lord’s Day. “The key to a Christian use of the Lord’s Day is not drawing up a list of what can and cannot be done, but to give the whole day to basking in God’s Word, loading ourselves up with the treasures of Christ. Churches themselves are making this more difficult, as they trim down the public worship to a single service of an hour or so.”

The usual rule is that the more we really know the more conscious we are of the littleness of our knowledge. —C.H. Spurgeon

December 25, 2011

I went looking for what Charles Spurgeon believed about Christmas and was kind of amused at the energy he brought to the discussion (e.g. “the greatest absurdities under heaven…”). Suffice it to say he did not mark Christmas day. And yet he celebrated the incarnation and all it means to the believer. Here’s the opening and closing of a sermon preached on December 23, 1855.


This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Saviour Jesus Christ was born on that day, and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”

The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.

Sweet Lord Jesus! thou whose goings forth were of old, even from everlasting, thou hast not left thy goings forth yet. Oh! that thou wouldst go forth this day, to cheer the faint, to help the weary, to bind up our wounds, to comfort our distresses! Go forth, we beseech thee, to conquer sinners, to subdue hard hearts-to break the iron gates of sinners’ lusts, and cut the iron bars of their sirs in pieces! O Jesus! go forth; and when thou goest forth, come thou to me! Am I a hardened sinner? Come thou to me; I want thee:

“Oh! let thy grace my heart subdue;
I would be led in triumph too;
A willing captive to my Lord,
To sing the honours of thy word.”

Poor sinner! Christ has not left going forth yet. And when he goes forth, recollect, he goes to Bethlehem. Have you a Bethlehem in your heart? Are you little? will go forth to you yet. Go home and seek him by earnest prayer. If you have been made to weep on account of sin, and think yourself too little to be noticed, go home, little one! Jesus comes to little ones; his goings forth were of old, and he is going forth now. He will come to your poor old house; he will come to your poor wretched heart; he will come, though you are in poverty, and clothed in rags, though you are destitute, tormented, and afflicted; he will come, for his goings forth have been of old from everlasting. Trust him, trust him, trust him; and he will go forth to abide in your heart for ever.

December 24, 2011

The Puritans used to speak of “constancy,” a word that has largely fallen out of use since then. It speaks of faithfulness and endurance and dependability—character traits of the Christian. The Puritans admired those who were constant, those who endured through all the trials of this life. They cared less for extraordinary acts and more for a life of quiet, consistent faithfulness.

As I researched that word, I came across a wonderful little poem—a sad but hopeful one that has been translated from French to English. It is the poem of one who has seen constancy in others and has had his heart moved by it.

In this great fire, the great patience
Which in dying makes the soldier a conqueror,
Moves in me the eye, the ear, and the heart,
When I see , when I hear, when I think about it.

I see suffering with joy and constancy,
I hear loud singing in extreme pain,
I think then of the greatness of God,
Who shines in the darkness of human weakness.

If you want therefore to profit in hearing,
It is not enough to both see and to hear,
For in thought is the fullness of usefulness,
And whoever comes to this place.
To see, to hear, and not to think,
Seeing, hearing, he sees nothing at all.

From a book by Chandieu, entitled Persecution et martyrs de l’Eglise de Paris. Published in Lyon in 1563. (source)

December 23, 2011

Back in 2005 I wrote about the seeming arbitrariness (but not the unimportance) of celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25. But even if that date wasn’t the actual calendar day of Jesus’ birth, it’s still interesting to understand why we have come to commemorate it then.

A few years ago Elisha Coffman posted a short article on Christianity Today’s Christian History site about how December 25th became the day. Here’s a good summary of what determined it:

December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity, church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival.

Western Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336, after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the empire’s favored religion.

Elisha ends with a helpful thought addressing the concern that too many Christian Christmas traditions are “just paganism wrapped with a Christian bow.”