A Grace That Endures: Eleven Words of Comfort in Times of Crisis (Psalm 119:25–32)

boat out at sea at dusk

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found, / Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, / And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear / The hour I first believed.

These lyrics are the opening words to John Newton’s famous hymn Amazing Grace. And they recall his miraculous conversion from a trader of slaves to a slave of Christ. And if you have tasted the grace of Christ  in your life and experienced the forgiveness of sins, the regenerating work of the Spirit, and the undeserved love of the Father, then his lyrics are precious beyond words. For in Newton’s hymn, we find a testimony of grace that recalls our salvation as well.

Yet, Amazing Grace is not only a hymn of salvation, it is also a hymn of preservation. For it continues . . . Continue reading

The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan: January Resources for Genesis, Isaiah, and Matthew

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

This month the Via Emmaus Reading Plan is looking at Genesis, Isaiah, and/or Matthew. (See below for the tracks). If you are following this plan, or looking for a new reading plan, you can find helpful resources on the following pages. 

Track 1: Genesis

Track 2: Isaiah

Track 3: Matthew

If you have other resources on these books, please feel free to share.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you as you draw near to him in his Word.

The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

Tracks[1] Old Testament 1

Law + Prophets

Old Testament 2

Prophets + Writings

New Testament
January Genesis Isaiah Matthew
February Exodus Jeremiah Mark
March Leviticus

Psalms

Ezekiel Luke

Psalms

April Numbers The Twelve[2] John
May Deuteronomy Psalms Acts
June John Proverbs Romans
July Joshua

Judges

Job 1–2 Corinthians
August 1–2 Samuel The Five Scrolls[3] Galatians–

2 Thessalonians

September 1–2 Kings

Proverbs

Daniel Pastorals

Proverbs

October Ezra-Nehemiah 1–2 Chronicles Hebrews
November Psalms Mark General Epistles[4]
December[5] Matthew Luke Revelation

As I have explained before

The idea of this plan is simple. Read, re-read, listen, study, memorize, and meditate on one (or two or three) books per month. If you do multiple tracks, you could read them sequentially, together, or at different times of the week (e.g., morning and evening, or week and weekend, etc.). However you plan your reading—and you should have a plan for reading that includes a place and time(s) to read—these tracks can guide you as you swim in the Bible. Then, over the course of 1, 2, or 3 years (depending on how many tracks you do), you will have read the whole Bible once, the Gospels twice, and the Psalms and Proverbs three times.

Let me know how this approach is going and if you have any feedback.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Raising Oaks of Righteousness: Ten Public Disciplines to Consider in the New Year

victoria-palacios-dfo06_DqxpA-unsplashAt the beginning of the year, we should be considering habits and practices that will build our most holy faith (Jude 21) for the next 365 days. Such disciplines begin with personal habits that enable us to commune with God. And books on practicing spiritual disciplines typically have about a dozen habits to consider.

For instance, Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life lists ten: (1) Bible intake (in two parts), (2) prayer, (3) worship, (4) evangelism, (5) serving, (6) stewardship, (7) fasting, (8) silence and solitude, (9) journaling, and (10) learning. Whitney also has another book on corporate disciplines. Similarly, but more mystically, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline enumerates twelve disciplines under three orientations: inward disciplines include (1) meditation, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, and (4) study; outward disciplines involve (5) simplicity, (6) solitude, (7) submission, and (8) service; and corporate disciplines consist of (9) confession, (10) worship, (11) guidance, and (12) celebration.

Because Scripture does not publish an authorized list of disciplines, an exhaustive list cannot be produced. Even a cursory reading these two lists invites comment on the best way to think about practicing the habits Jesus commanded. Is worship only corporate? How is solitude outward? Does solitude have to be silent? Whitney and Foster discuss these questions in their books with different emphases based on their different theological and ecclesial backgrounds. (As a Reformed Baptist it’s not surprising that I find Whitney’s book, full of Puritan Spirituality, the better book).

But what makes both of these books the same is their challenge to individuals to grow in personal godliness. Indeed, both books highlight the personal model of Jesus, a man who  undeniably practiced the spiritual disciplines and taught his followers to do the same. In short, personal spiritual disciplines are part and parcel of faith in the Lord.

That said, personal disciplines are not private disciplines. As Foster rightly identify, there is an outward and corporate aspect to the Christian’s spiritual life. Understanding this interpersonal dynamic, Donald Whitney wrote a companion volume, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church to correct the hyper-individualism  fostered by an unbalanced concern for personal, spiritual disciplines.

A Third Horizon in Spiritual Formation

Still, I wonder if there is something more that ought to be stressed in the spiritual formation of a believer? Is it possible that those who attend regularly to Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, and even fasting may be incomplete in their spiritual development? In addition to personal disciplines and church practices, could it be that there is a third horizon that must be developed in order for a disciple to walk worthy of the gospel?

Continue reading

From Death to Life: How Joshua Gives Us Resurrection Hope in the Midst of Loss

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2Moses was dead to begin with.
— Joshua 1:1 —

Marley was dead to begin with.
— Charles Dickens —

When Charles Dickens wrote the opening line to A Christmas Carol, he touched off one of the most wonderful Christmas stories ever told. Marley, the miserly associate of Ebenezer Scrooge, was dead and now all eyes turned to his living partner. Though the story begins in the darkness of Scrooge’s heart, by the end the light of Christmas opens the heart of this old sinner.

Something similar occurs when we read the opening line of Joshua. The titanic figure of Moses, the servant of Yahweh—the prophet, priest, and leader of Israel; the one who led Israel out of Egypt, received the Law, and stood before the wrath of God to seek Israel’s pardon—this incredible Moses was gone. Now, all eyes were set on Joshua, Moses’s Spirit-filled associate. Would he be able to lead the people into the light of the Promised Land?

Strikingly, both A Christmas Carol and Joshua are comedies. Meaning, that both find resolution and good cheer by the end of the book. In Dickens’ case, Scrooge is “converted” through the three Christmas spirits. In Joshua’s case, the Spirit of God is promised to Moses’s successor, such that Joshua’s glory, by the end of his life, is arguably greater than that of Moses. While Moses brought Israel out of the land, he died in the wilderness because of his sin. But Joshua, who contributed to Israel’s flight from Egypt, added to his credentials the successful deliverance of Israel into the land. Continue reading

Listen, Read, Study, and Repeat: Bible Intake for the New Year

andrik-langfield-1-YQiOijio8-unsplashIn his must-read book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney offers two chapters on Bible Intake. In the first of those two chapters he lists (1) hearing, (2) reading, and (3) studying as three key ways to imbibing, ingesting, and embracing God’s Word. With those disciplines in mind, let me offer a few verses to support them and then apply them to the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan (or any other plan).

Listen to the Word

Maybe it seems like reading the Bible should begin with the discipline of reading. But this read-first mentality only shows how literate our society is. To be sure, literacy is nothing but a blessing, and Christian missionaries have always brought schools with them to help converts read the Bible. But still, such literacy may actually obscure what Scripture says about hearing God’s Word. Additionally, it tends to forget that countless (most?) Christians have heard, not read, God’s Word. And actually, it is hearing that Scripture most frequently commends and commands. Consider a few verses.

First, Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ. Second, Jesus declares in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Third, Revelation 1:3 describes the blessing of the book in terms of reading God’s Word “aloud,” not just reading it in the quiet of our dens. Certainly, there is blessing in reading the Bible in our prayer closets, but God’s Word is given to be read aloud with the people of God. And this means it is meant to be heard. Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation: Renewing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan in 2022

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

11  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2021 ending and 2022 approaching, you may be thinking about how to read the Bible in the new year. I hope so. The Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). With that in mind, we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: Does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible consumption and consumption? Continue reading

The Seed of the Woman Wins (Revelation 12): How Reading Revelation Rightly Gives Us Lasting Hope

1920x1080 CradleAny time you read Revelation, it is like stepping out of reality and into a carnival of mirrors. Only those mirrors do not, or should not, reflect our own faces, so much as they reflect the prophets of the Old Testament, whose faces were reflected the glory of God’s Son.

While Revelation is a book that is filled with signs, those signs have a registered trademark—a trademark found in the Old Testament. And anytime we read Revelation we should labor to understand the book in its canonical context. To that end, let me offer three words of how to interpret and apply this chapter.

These three exhortations come from my last sermon on Revelation 12. But they would apply to any passage in this glorious and mystifying book. Continue reading

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: A Christmas Meditation (Matthew 1:1-17)

close up shot of a stained glass

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says that the cross of Christ is a stumbling block for Jews (1:23). Due to the Law’s instruction, it is clear that law-abiding Jews would take offense at anyone hung on tree. As Moses announced in Deuteronomy 21:23, such a man was accursed by God.  Understandably, the call to believe in and worship a man nailed to a tree would have been hard to accept.

Two thousand years removed from Golgotha, the cross has become a symbol of peace and hope. In the West, Christians have grown up seeing crosses on church steeples and tee shirts. More than a few devotees to Christ adorn them around their neck or ink them on their skin. Clearly, the cross is no longer a stumbling block.

What is a stumbling block today is the Bible itself. In almost a complete reversal, the word of God, which would have posed no cultural problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day, causes many professing Christians to wince and excuse its contents.

For many, the world of the Bible is foreign. Its words, warfare, and worship are hard to understand. Add to this the self-deprecating truths of total depravity and unconditional election, and you have a Bible that is not just unfamiliar, but even offensive.  Yet, it is not only doctrine that trips up Bible readers; it is also genre selection. Continue reading

The Word of God Made Possible: What the Reformation Teaches Us About Reading the Bible

kiwihug-L4gw27XZN1I-unsplashFrom the time of Moses until now, God’s people have always been a people of the Book. At times, such Word-centeredness has been lost, as in the Late Medieval period or the Modernist era, but in its healthiest moments the church has prioritized God’s Word and has been blessed as a result.

Today, as we celebrate the Word made flesh at Christmas, and as we make plans for reading the Word in the New Year, it is good to remember why and how we read should Scripture. And so, taking a few notes from our Protestant forebears, we can see how their commitment to God’s Word brought revival to the hearts of those who read Scripture and reformation to the churches who committed themselves to applying God’s Word to every aspect of life.

In what follows, I offer nine quotations from five Protestant Reformers: Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchton, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, and Heinrich Bullinger. These quotations come from Mark Thompson’s illuminating chapter on the Reformers view of Scripture in Reformation Theology (RT). May the wise counsel of Luther, Calvin, and others be an encouragement to you, as you pick up the Word of God and read. Continue reading

The Seed of the Woman is Born: A Sermon on Matthew 1–2

1920x1080 CradleWhen you preach a sermon, you never know exactly how it will be received or what responses it will generate. And this week, in response to last week’s message about serpents and serpent slayers, I received two pictures.

Apparently, adding a few snakes to the Christmas decor works out well, as it celebrates the victory of Christ. Adding a live snake to your tree is another story.

In this week’s sermon, we took up the theme of Genesis 3:15 again and watched how Matthew presented Jesus as the seed of the woman in Matthew 1 and Herod as the seed of the serpent in Matthew 2. In between these two rival kings, the Magi are presented as the kings of the earth who must make a choice to serve one of these two kings and not the other.

Matthew calls all of us to see the spiritual warfare around us and to choose wisely. Truly, the world is filled with the serpent’s seed, but there is one king who was born of a virgin and who proved to be the long promised seed of the woman. At Christmas, it this Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who we celebrate, worship, and proclaim.

And to help you see the connection between Genesis and Jesus, you can listen to this sermon here. If you want to think more about this biblical theme, I encourage you to pick up one of these books. There’s still time before Christmas.

Soli Deo Gloria and Merry Christmas, ds