Do you have a Bible reading plan?

For two years now, I’ve been following a daily Bible reading plan, and I love it! (And I’m not the only one) In 2012, I plan to use a chronological reading plan because (a) I’ve never tried it before, and (b) the daily readings consist of large chunks of text, which I also love. I’ve been thinking why I didn’t start this practice sooner, and here are some of the objections I would have raised:

Objection #1: Why do I need a plan? Well, when did you last read all of Obadiah? Do you realise that it is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ? Having a plan and following it takes you to the deep recesses of Leviticus and the second half of Exodus that you wouldn’t venture into otherwise. 🙂 Plus, you don’t spend time choosing what to read next.

Objection #2: I don’t have the time. Of course you do. You just spend it doing something else. Like with other spiritual disciplines, you have to make time. The devil won’t sit around twiddling his proverbial thumbs as you make an effort to grow in Christ.

Objection #3: What if I fall behind? It’s like medicine—if you miss a dose, just take the next one.

On a practical level, you may want to start small, for example with this 28-day plan which contains passages from both the Old and New Testament. Alternatively, the Navigators  have plans with 25 readings a month: you can use the extra days to catch up or for reflection.

Objection #4. I don’t want it to become just another routine. I heartily agree. But wouldn’t you agree that the benefits of daily Bible reading outweigh the drawbacks?

Committing to reading 2, 4, or 10 chapters a day isn’t easy. But it’s so worth it. So, go get yourself a plan you’re comfortable with and pray to the God who wrote the Bible that you may stick to reading it and glorify Him in the whole process!

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Hark! the herald angels sing

Merry Christmas!

Today’s (very familiar) hymn, like the first in the series, was written by Charles Wesley (keen minds may also have noticed they’re the only ones in the series originally written in English 🙂 ).

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Refrain
Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Refrain

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Refrain

Source

In the first stanza, Wesley invites us to listen to the angels’ message. In the next two stanzas, he draws us in to worship the newborn King.

If you’d like to explore the biblical themes in greater depth, have a listen to this sermon by Ligon Duncan. Sorry for being brief, but I have some celebrating to do.

Hallelujah, Christ is born!

Joy, joy, joy!

Tired of hearing and/or singing Joy to The World yet? Hopefully not, because the narratives of the birth of Christ have an undercurrent of joy (that continues through Acts and the epistles, but that’s another post):

  • When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he told him that the son to be born would be a source of joy and delight to both Zechariah and others (Luke 1:14). And so it was at John’s birth Elizabeth’s neighbours and relatives rejoiced with her (Luke 1:57-58).
  • Mary, on meeting Elizabeth, sang the Magnificat which begins with her rejoicing in God her Saviour (Luke 1:47)
  • The angel in the night sky proclaimed to the Bethlehem shepherds good news of great joy (Luke 2:10).
  • Finally, the Magi also rejoiced at seeing the star that had led them to worship the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:10).

Why did God choose to send His joy to an ordinary priest and his barren wife, a young woman in an unimportant village, a bunch of smelly herders, and despised Gentiles? Indeed, if you’re a Christian, why did He send the joy of His salvation to you (1 Peter 1:8-9)?

The short answer is God’s mercy (Romans 9:15-16). For that we rejoice some more and glorify Him, as did the shepherds (Luke 2:20). Don’t ever get jaded. Don’t ever lose your amazement at God’s salvation. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice greatly!

PS: If this post has left you feeling a little underwhelmed, then click over to The nativity and the art of hiding in plain sight, it’s a great read!

Seed: preserved

The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ
Image via the Brooklyn Museum

In a few days, we’ll be celebrating the miraculous birth of Jesus. Have you ever considered how the fact that it happened at all was a miracle? Allow me to explain how God physically preserved and sustained His promise:

Cain & Abel: In Genesis 3:15, God promises that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. In the very next chapter, unrighteous Cain murders righteous Abel [1]. Could this be the end of God’s promise, over so quickly? Short answer: no.

Abraham & Isaac: God makes childless Abram some gargantuan promises [2]. Abram (later Abraham) has to wait decades until the child of promise, Isaac, is born. Isaac and his wife also struggle to have children. Ishmael, on the other hand, has no difficulty procreating [3]. This whole business of  Abraham’s descendants being a great nation seems implausible.

Jacob:  In his 12 sons, we begin to see some hope. But a famine threatens to wipe the family out [4]. However, God had acted some 20 years earlier in sending Joseph to Egypt and they are saved from famine. The messianic line is safe.

Exodus: Safe until a murderous pharaoh decides some Jewish population control was needed [5]. To keep His plan on track, God used some women: the Hebrew midwives [6], Moses’ mother [7], Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter [8].

80 years later, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and 40 years after that Joshua led them into the promised land. And thus some of the promises made to Abraham were fulfilled [9].

David: Some centuries later, God chose a ruddy shepherd boy and had him anointed king. The then-king tried to kill him (or have him killed) on a number  of occasions [10]. But David outlived Saul.

God revealed to David that He would establish the kingdom of one of David’s sons forever [11]. In the rest of the account of David’s life, we read of the deaths of his sons Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah. God’s promise isn’t looking very healthy at this point.

Athaliah: She was Ahab’s daughter and Omri’s granddaughter [12], and she married one of David’s descendants. At one point, she went on a killing spree, murdering her own sons and grandsons [13]. Yet again, God used a woman to spare the life of a baby boy [14]. The Davidic line, which had come so close to being snuffed out, was safe.

Babylonian conquest: Not all is well just yet. When the Babylonians conquered Judah, they carried off Jehoiachin, the last rightful heir to the throne [15]. His uncle Zedekiah was then installed as a puppet king. The last hing Zedekiah saw before being blinded by the Babylonians was his sons being killed [16]. So much for the promise of an everlasting Davidic kingdom, it would seem.

Exile: Haman the Agagite devises a plan to kill all Jews in general, and Mordecai in particular [17]. Haman should have listened to his wife [18]. God preserved His people from extermination, and kept the Seed safe.

Jesus’ life: Centuries later, at just the right time [19], God made good on His promise to send a Messiah. Mary’s pregnancy, we assume, was healthy and uneventful. The baby Jesus was preserved from both childhood maladies and the murderous raging of paranoid king Herod. The Seed was preserved right until the hour for which He came [20]. Then the seed died and produced many seeds [21]—the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham!

Revelation 12: This chapter can be understood as a ‘behind the scenes of Christmas’. The dragon first tries to devour the child; when that is unsuccessful he pursues the woman; failing at that he turns on the rest of her offspring [22]. God preserved the seed of the woman.

So what?

Don’t skip over the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Read that mix of familiar and unusual names and let yourself be overwhelmed by the God who keeps His promises for redemption even through the most unpromising of times and people!

Notes:

[1] 1 John 3:12

[2] Genesis 12:2-3, 15:1

[3] Genesis 25:12-18

[4] Genesis 42:1-2

[5] Exodus 1:16

[6] Exodus 1:17

[7] Exodus 2:1-3

[8] Exodus 2:4-10

[9] Genesis 15:13-14, 18-20

[10] 1 Samuel 18:10-11, 17, 19:15, etc.

[11] 2 Samuel 7:11-16

[12] 2 Kings 8:26

[13] 2 Kings 11:1

[14] 2 Kings 11:2-3

[15] 2 Kings 24:8-14

[16] 2 Kings 25:7

[17] Esther 3:6

[18] Esther 6:13

[19] Galatians 4:4

[20] Luke 4:28-30; John 8:58-59

[21] John 12:24

[22] FWIW, I don’t think the woman is Mary, but the personification of God’s covenant people.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

Happy 4th and last Sunday of Advent!

Today’s hymn has been a favourite of mine for about a decade. I love the plaintive melody, and now that I know more about the words, I appreciate it even more. Have a listen:


If you’re feeling adventurous, here it is in Latin, with subtitles of a sort (you only need to watch the first 3.5 minutes, as the rest is a repetition).

The original text for the hymn comes from an 8th century Latin poem comprising seven stanzas. In the course of time and translation, some stanzas have been dropped and different English renderings of the Latin phrases adopted. If you’re thus inclined, you may compare 30 different hymnals. Here’s an eight-stanza version I found:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Refrain

O come, Desire of nations,
bind In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Refrain

[Source]

The first line of each verse refers to a messianic title found in the Old Testament:

Title Reference
Emmanuel Isaiah 7:14
Wisdom Isaiah 28:29
Rod (branch) of Jesse Isaiah 11:1
Day-spring (morning star) Numbers 24:17
Key of David Isaiah 22:22
Lord of might Exodus 19:16
Root of Jesse Isaiah 11:0
Desire of nations Haggai 2:7

In the medieval church, they’d sing one stanza a day during each of the seven days before Christmas. Which means this post is just in time!

Sources, and for more info:

Which of the following words doesn’t appear in the text of Acts?

A packet of coloured pens, but with something missing
Something's missing, by Iain Simmons

Here are the options, the first 3 components of the fruit of the Spirit:

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace

The answer, which I learnt from Greg Koukl, does make you wonder. The apostles proclaimed the gospel over and over without using this word, while it seems to be our main selling point today. Have we got something wrong?
Use Bible Gateway’s keyword search or whatever you’re comfortable with and find it out what it is.

(By the way, I checked in the following versions: ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV 1984 AND NIV 2011.)

How can you tell if you love Christ?

Some years back, I went through a months-long crisis during which I questioned myself on whether I really loved Jesus or not. Maybe if I’d read the following before my crisis, it would never have happened.

J. C. Ryle in his book Holiness wrote:

  1. If we love a person, we like to think about him. We do not need to be reminded of him. We do not forget his name or his appearance or his character or his opinions or his tastes or his position or his occupation… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  2. If we love a person, we like to hear about him. We find a pleasure in listening to those who speak of him. We feel an interest in any report which others make of him… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  3. If we love a person, we like to read about him. What intense pleasure a letter from an absent husband gives to a wife, or a letter from an absent son to his mother… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  4. If we love a person, we like to please him. We are glad to consult his tastes and opinions, to act upon his advice and do the things which he approves… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  5. If we love a person, we like his friends. We are favorably inclined to them, even before we know them. We are drawn to them by the common tie of common love to one and the same person… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  6. If we love a person, we are jealous about his name and honor. We do not like to hear him spoken against, without speaking up for him and defending him… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  7. If we love a person, we like to talk to him. We tell him all our thoughts, and pour out all our heart to him. We find no difficulty in discovering subjects of conversation… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!
  8. Finally, if we love a person, we like to be always with him. Thinking and hearing and reading and occasionally talking are all well in their way. But when we really love people we want something more… Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ!

So how did I get out of my crisis? I happened to read 1 Corinthians 16:22, and snapped out of it almost immediately! God’s word is effective like that!

J. C. Ryle quote via Desiring God.