Have you made your list of New Year's Resolutions yet?
Here's my list: To consume massive quantities of potato chips and junk food. To eliminate physical activity altogether. To watch at least 40 hours of TV a week, concentrating on professional wrestling. Please do not try these things at home - they're best left to experts like me.
The death list
One list I find interesting is the list of celebrities and notable people who died the past year. Here is a list of some well-known people who died in 2007. A couple of these people might only be of interest to former rock stars like me. A few were well-known Christians. But all stepped into eternity in 2007.
January 8 - Yvonne De Carlo, actress (Lily, the mother on the "Munsters"). I loved this show as a kid.
Jan 19 - Denny Doherty, founding member and lead singer of The Mamas and the Papas. They had great harmonies.
Feb 13 - Bruce Metzger, Bible scholar and translator who supervised the 1990 New Revised Standard Version of the Bible
March 9 - Brad Delp, lead singer of band Boston ("More Than a Feeling")
March 31 - Liz Claiborne, fashion designer
April 23 - Boris Yeltsin, former Russian President
May 15 - Rev. Jerry Falwell, Founder and Chancellor of Liberty University
May 17 - Lloyd Alexander, writer of fantasy novels "The Chronicles of Prydain"
June 14 - Ruth Graham, wife of Rev. Billy Graham
June 21 - Bob Evans, founder of Bob Evans Restaurant chain
July 11 - Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, former First Lady of the United States 1963-1969
July 20 - Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner, fomer wife of TV preacher Jim Bakker
July 30 - Bill Walsh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers
August 12 - Merv Griffin, talk show host, creator of TV game shows "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune"
September 6 - Luciano Pavoratti, Italian tenor
September 6 - Madeleine L'Engle, author of children's fiction, notably, A Wrinkle in Time
September 22 - Marcel Marceau, well-known mime
November 27 - Sean Taylor, safety for the Washington Redskins, age 24
November 30 - Evil Knievel, famous motorcycle daredevil
December 12 - Ike Turner, former husband of Tina Turner, who sang "Proud Mary" with her
Jonathan Edwards' list
Jonathan Edwards made a list of 70 resolutions. They are worth reading. Here's one of them:
Resolution #9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
You may be thinking, Hey, what's up with all the talk about dying? Happy New Year to you too, Mark. Can we think about something less morbid? Actually, the Bible tells us it's good to think about dying.
Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Contemplating our finiteness produces wisdom and humility. Psalm 90 contrasts puny man to the Infinite Ageless One. How can we not be humbled when we compare ourselves who are like grass of the field to the Timeless One, to whom a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years like a day?
A list of things you'd like people to say about you at your funeral
Contemplating our death brings into sharp focus what is truly important in life. I once read that when setting goals for your life you should write a list of things you'd like people to say about you at your funeral. Now that's a good list. I've written that list from time to time. What would I like my wife Kristi to say about me at my funeral? What do I hope my children will say? What would I want my Christian brothers and sisters to say?
I have a list of about 20 things I hope my family and friends will say about me at my funeral party. I hope they celebrate, because I'll be celebrating before the throne of my Savior! Anyway, my list does NOT include anything about what I accomplished in life or any talents I had. I don't want my kids to say, "My dad sure was successful" (I don't think that's likely) or Kristi to say, "Mark was incredible at home maintenance" (no chance of that). I hope my kids will say things like, "My dad really loved Jesus." Or, "My dad sure was a lot of fun." I hope Kristi can say things like, "Mark was a humble man." I hope.
When you think about dying, it helps you focus on what's truly important. What really matters is glorifying God. I encourage you to write your own list of things you'd like people to say about you at your funeral. May it stir you to godliness. Happy New Year!
This is a public service announcement, informing you of several changes to The Blazing Center.
_Our web address has officially been changed to www.theblazingcenter.com. For those of you who have linked to us using our old address of http://blazingcenter.blogspot.com, DO NOT BE ALARMED. The old link will work as well.
_We've added a Blazing Center highlight reel to our sidebar. Each week the highlight reel will feature five past posts. This will allow you to find older posts that might encourage you in your faith.
Thank you for your time. This has been a public service announcement.
Well folks, it's about that time of year when we start making our New Year's resolutions. We promise ourselves that this is the year that we're going to start exercising, quit eating junk food, watch less TV, read more, eat more fruit, get in shape, run a marathon, write a book, get our pilot's license, learn German, stop eating salami at 2 a.m., and learn how to play the tuba. Or, on a deeper level, we vow to read our Bible more, pray more, and memorize at least fifty scripture verses. But we all know how these resolutions go. On January 1st we're going strong, starting off the day with a brisk run and a long devotional time. On January second we run sort of briskly and have a semi-distracted devotional time. On January 3rd we walk once around the block and don't have any time for devotions because we slept in. Why did we sleep in? Salami at 2 a.m.
So how do we make and keep New Year's resolutions? More importantly, how do we make and keep New Year's resolutions in a way that pleases God? Here's a few ways:
1. Make Them Prayerfully
If we're going to change for the glory of God, it must be by the power of God. Without God's supernatural power at work within us, all change will be superficial and pointless. We need God to help us identify the areas where change is necessary, and then give us the power to change. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." God has prepared good works for us to walk in. Let's ask Him to lead us into these good works this year.
2. Check Your Motives
1 Corinthians 10:35 says, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." The ultimate goal of all New Year's resolutions should be the glory of God. When considering areas of change, ask yourself, "Why do I want to change in this area?" When I was younger I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Was it so I could serve the church by leading worship? Nope. So I could be in a kickin' rock band and be adored by hordes of screaming fans who desperately wanted my autograph. You might say my motives weren't 100% pure. If we're to please God, our New Year's resolutions must be made for His glory.
3. Involve Others
God-honoring growth happens in the context of community. Hebrews 3:13 says, "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." If we're going to grow spiritually we need others to exhort and encourage us. Get other people involved in your New Year's resolutions. Ask those close to you to point out the areas you need to grow, and then have them hold you accountable in those areas. Growth is a community project.
4. Remember The Savior
Our spiritual growth contributes absolutely nothing to our salvation. We are saved once and for all by the perfect life and sacrificial death of Christ. God won't love me any more if I memorize 100 scriptures or share the gospel with all my neighbors. I am secure in the love of God because Jesus Christ died in my place. Deserving has nothing to do with it. As you make your New Year's resolutions, remember Jesus Christ.
This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any more thoughts on how to make New Year's resolutions for the glory of God, please share them.
Who knows what surprises a year may hold?
I just reviewed my journals from this past year and I could never have imagined some of the things God did in my life in 2007. At the end of 2006 I had no inkling of the blessings and challenges 2007 would hold for me. Here are a few of the surprises God sprang on me:
My first grandchild, Charis was born on September 4. I sure didn't expect to become a grandpa this past year! This would have been blessing enough, but God did more:
Sovereign Grace Music unexpectedly blessed my son Stephen and me by having us record a CD of our songs. I suppose Sovereign Grace figured that if Bob Dylan could make it with his voice, maybe there was hope for me.
God connected me with a friend I hadn't seen in 20 years. My friend told me he'd been battling cancer and had begun reading the Bible. This year he gave his life to the Lord and is now running hard after Christ. I had the privilege of baptizing him earlier this month.
God gave me the opportunity to pray with the brother of one of our secretaries to receive the Lord on his deathbed.
The Lord had me meet a graduate student from Japan in a local coffeeshop. He knew little about Christ, but was interested in meeting weekly to read through the gospel of John together. We've met 4 times so far.
These are just a few ways God surprised me in 2007. There were also some unexpected sad and painful trials too. But in both sunshine and rain, God has been faithful and good to me.
Who knows what a year may hold? God does.
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:9-10)
God knows the end from the beginning. From ancient times he knew what he would accomplish in 2007. He knows what he has in store for his children this coming year. Nothing surprises him, for he is working all of history and all the details of our lives for his glory. God will use both blessings and trials to make us more like Christ.
No one can thwart God's good plans for us. No one can throw our Heavenly Father a curve ball. His counsel will stand and he will accomplish all he has purposed.
Christ has many wonderful surprises in store for us. He has bags and bags of grace he's waiting to lavish upon us. We should look forward to 2008 with anticipation. If God wills and we live, we have another year to get to know Christ more, to taste and see his goodness. Another year to serve, bless, and encourage others. Another year to seek to advance the gospel. Another year to bear fruit and become more like Christ.
And should this be the year the Lord calls us home, what could be better than being with him and seeing him face to face?
Praise God who holds 2008 in his hands!
photo by Beth Altrogge
What happens during the Altrogge family Christmas? Here's the inside scoop, including exclusive photos. We'll start on Christmas Eve and make our way to Christmas day.
_Jen and I woke up at the leisurely hour of 8:00 am. I, of course, immediately began making industrial strength coffee.
_While drinking our coffee, we read Psalm 103 together, which helped us to remember God's extraordinary kindness to us. We then spent time thanking God for all the ways He's blessed us.
_After devotional time was Boggle time. Jen and I love playing Boggle against each other on the computer. In one 3 minute round I set a world record, finding 48 words. I'm considering going pro. If you would like to sponsor me please email me.
_At one o'clock in the afternoon we went and saw a movie with my family, which is a longstanding Altrogge tradition. We saw the movie 'National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets'. If you liked the first one, you might like this one, because they're exactly the same. Nicholas Cage solves more historical puzzles, gets chased by more blood-thirsty bad-guys, finds another really big treasure, and delivers his lines with all the personality of a piece of bark.
_Christmas Eve dinner was at my parents house, and let me say, it was one for the ages. We went a little non-traditional this year and had steak. Best decision my parents ever made. It might have been my favorite Christmas Eve dinner ever (except for the one we ate at McDonald's)
_Presents were exchanged between Altrogge family members. Jen and I made out like bandits. Highlight of the night: when my younger brother Jonny gave us his really nice digital camera.
_Woke at 8 am, made coffee. Instead of filling each other's stockings with candy, Jen and I gave each other letters this year.
_After the letters we moved in on the presents. Jen gave me a suh-weet hat that has lumberjack written all over it. She also gave me a book, a small accessory for my XBox, and a beautiful calendar filled with pictures she had taken of our family over the past year. I gave her some slippers, a Starbuck's mug, a new bag, and a Willow Tree figure. It was a great Christmas.
_We went over to Jen's parents for a fantabulous (a word meaning both fantastic and fabulous simultaneously) Christmas lunch, and some more wonderful gifts from her parents. Both of us have such generous parents!
All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas. Here's some pictures:
I just finished watching "It's a Wonderful Life."
It's one of my favorite movies. At one point, the protagonist, George Bailey wishes he'd never been born and an "angel", Clarence, grants him that wish. George gets the opportunity to see how much good he'd done in his life, how many people he'd touched, and how different his town would be had he never existed.
What if Christ had never been born?
If Christ had never been born, the light of the world would never have come - we'd all still be walking in darkness, without God and without hope in the world. There would be no gospel, no good news. Jesus would not have died on the cross. There would be no forgiveness of sins, no justification by grace. There would be no Mediator between God and man. There would be no Great High Priest interceding for us. We'd still be enslaved to our passions and lusts, hating and being hated. We'd still be dead in our sins. And millions who are now in heaven would be in hell.
There would be no Christianity. There would be no Church. No books by Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards or C.S. Lewis. No Puritans to encourage us. No Billy Graham, Hudson Taylor or Amy Carmichael. No teachings from John Piper, R.C. Sproul, or C.J. Mahaney. No pastors to care for our souls. No brothers and sisters to encourage us.
There would have been no William Wilberforce to fight against slavery in England. No Randy Alcorn to speak out against abortion.
There would be no hymns or worship songs to sing. No songs by Isaac Watts or John Newton. No "Amazing Grace," no "Mighty Fortress", no "Crown Him with Many Crowns." No Christmas songs - no "Joy to the World" or "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." There would be no worship songs by Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Paul Baloche or Tim Hughes. Nothing by Starfield, Indelible Grace, or Phil Wickham.
There would be no Covenant Mercies, Compassion or Samaritan's Purse. Hundreds of Christian charitable organizations wouldn't exist. Thousands of orphanages would never have been built. There would be no Salvation Army. No Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs.
And how different would your life be had Christ never been born? Oh, I am so thankful Jesus came to earth. I'm so thankful he lived and died and rescued me from my sins. Why not take a moment right now to praise our Heavenly Father for sending his One and only Son into the world.
Have you ever come down with a nasty case of the post-Christmas blues? You know the kind I'm talking about. It's two o'clock on Christmas day, you're sitting in your living room surrounded by approximately 2.4 miles of wrapping paper, and you start to get this sinking feeling. You slowly begin to realize that Christmas wasn't all you thought it was going to be. You got some nice gifts, ate some suh-weet food, and got a slight tear in your eye when you watched "It's a Wonderful Life", although you never would acknowledge that you were actually crying. But in spite of all this it seems like a let-down.
Christmas is the season of hype. At 12:01 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, malls put up Christmas decorations, radio stations begin playing Christmas carols, and Old Navy begins selling jeans for 70% off. Everywhere you look somebody is telling you that they can satisfy you. Get an HD TV and you'll be happy. Get your wife diamond earrings and she'll love you forever (or until next Christmas). Get a new cellphone that makes phone calls, plays music, makes espresso, and acts as a personal trainer and you'll finally find some satisfaction.
But when Christmas day comes and goes and all the gifts are unwrapped, it feels really hollow. Why? Because it is really hollow. Empty, shallow, a facade, whatever you want to call it. We get the Christmas blues when we place our hope and joy in these things.
So how do you give the Christmas blues a big kick in the pants? Follow the advice of the Psalmist. In Psalm 43:4 we read, "Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you..." Do you want to avoid feeling deflated after Christmas? Go to God your exceeding joy. Be very intentional about finding your deepest and sweetest joy in God himself. Don't look for joy in family, friends, presents, Christmas dinner, or anything else. Find your joy in God.
How do you do this? Here's one practical suggestion. At some point on Christmas, spend time with God, your exceeding joy. If you can, spend some personal time reading God's word and praying. As you spend time with God, you'll find yourself refreshed and filled with the joy that only God can give.
Don't let the Christmas blues rule you on Christmas. Go to God, your exceeding joy, and find true satisfaction.
Many of us have unsaved relatives that we see infrequently, or only once a year at Christmas.
What if they're not open to the gospel? Maybe they're downright opposed to Christ. What if God has yet to open a door to share the good news with them? What's a believer to do? Here are some suggestions.
Before they come, pray that the Lord would open doors for the gospel and give you an opportunity to share it with them. Ask the Lord for a sincere love for them, the grace serve them and that they would see Christ in you.
I can easily sink into a selfish malaise at family gatherings, especially after meals. I find myself lying on the couch drifting into oblivion or staring comatose-like at the television. By God's grace, what I try to do is to look for opportunities to serve. It may be something as simple as clearing the table or doing dishes. Unbelievers are watching us. Let our goal be to show them Christ, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for others.
3. Serve their Children
Before family get-togethers I have often told my kids that our goal for the evening is to try to make sure our relatives have the best time they possibly can, especially their children. Serve your relatives' children, and encourage your children to serve their children. For many years after our Thanksgiving meal with relatives, I would do a Christmas craft with all the kids. We'd make Christmas ornaments with Play Dough or 3-d Christmas trees out of construction paper, glitter and beads.
Remember, Jesus welcomed children, blessed them, and said that when we receive a child in his name we receive him.
4. Take an Interest in Them
Seek to take a sincere interest in your relatives. Ask them about their jobs, hobbies and interests. Ask them what kind of Christmas traditions they had as kids. Ask them about their favorite childhood Christmas presents or memories. Ask them about their health if you are aware of any problems. You could offer to pray for them if it seems appropriate.
Look to the interests of others as Christ looked to our interests.
Let your light shine
The whole goal is to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 5:16). Perhaps God will give you the opportunity to share the gospel with them. If not this Christmas, maybe next. Keep praying for their salvation. Who knows, God may do something in the future that will make them open to the good news of Jesus Christ.
I'd love to hear any suggestions or ways that you have found to love, bless and show Christ to your relatives. Thanks.
When was the last time you took a blessings inventory? I recently found myself sitting in my living room, feeling sorry for myself because of some unexpected expenses which were going to cramp my Christmas style. In other words, I wasn't going to be able to buy and get as much stuff this year. And then I took a look around my living room and realized what a pudding-headed blockhead I was, and sadly, how ungrateful I was. I was sitting in the lap of luxury, surrounded by countless, undeserved blessings, and I was feeling sorry for myself. It was time to do a blessings inventory. Here's some of the things I came up with:
The sweetest of all blessings, the deepest of all mercies. I was once an enemy of God, now I'm His child. He has sought me out and drawn me to Himself. He has washed me in the blood of His precious Son and clothed me in robes of righteousness. I'm forgiven and free. I've been brought into a soul-satisfying relationship with the Creator of the universe. What else do I need to be happy?
My wife Jen:
I have the most wonderful wife in the universe. She loves Jesus and serves Him with all her heart. She cares for me, and cares for our daughter with the deepest affection. She's full of joy and always willing to laugh at my utterly stupid jokes. She beats me at Boggle...sometimes. I don't deserve her.
My daughter Charis:
Not only do I have the most wonderful wife, I also have the sweetest daughter. She's three month's old, bald, cuter than the cutest thing you can think of, and smiles a lot. She makes my heart happy. Undeserved blessing.
I can go to work every single day and make sums of money that would make 2/3 of the world jealous. My job allows me to provide food and clothes for my family. My job allows me to get good health care, and to buy coffee at Starbuck's. I don't deserve a job.
By God's grace, I'm a pretty healthy guy. The illnesses I deal with are nothing compared to what many people endure. I deal with colds, they deal with cancer. I deal with a sore back, they deal with paralysis. I deal with allergies, they deal with blindness. I deserve terrible health, but instead God has given me good health.
I live in a house that's full of furniture, has a comfortable bed, and has a large television. I stay warm in the winter. I take hot showers and watch football games. I invite friends over to play XBox 360. I deserve to be on the streets with no home, no warmth, and no friends. Instead I find myself living in luxury.
This list could go on, and should include my church, my friends, my family, coffee, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Christmas Trees, email, and a thousand other blessings. Even if there wasn't a single present under my tree this year, I should be happy. I'm blessed beyond measure. God has been good to this wicked sinner.
When was the last time you took a blessings inventory? If you find yourself feeling ungrateful, now's the time to do it.
When you say Incarnation think humiliation.
Christmas is about Christ humbling himself to rescue sinners. The Infinite One clothed himself in dust. The Mighty One wrapped himself in weakness.
I don't like to be humbled. Which is why CJ Mahaney says it's good to play golf - it humbles most of us.
Once a number of my friends and I went golfing on a rainy day. I'm not a golfer - I went to hang out with my buddies. I did terribly all day. I think my friends quit keeping my score on the second hole. By the last hole I was exasperated. I said, "I'm going to smash this ball as hard as I can. It's going the whole way to the hole in one stroke."
I ratcheted the club back farther and farther, discs in my back popping. Then I swung. The club hummed louder and louder as it cut through the air, finally breaking the sound barrier. Then the head of the club plowed into the turf a full foot in front of the ball, launching a basketball-sized divot into the atmosphere. The powerful torque generated by my aborted swing sent my feet arcing into the air. I hung there suspended between heaven and earth for a full minute, then came crashing down in the wet grass on my back, my arms and legs flailing like a tipped cow. My friends erupted into wild shrieks of laughter, squealing like stuck pigs. "I wish I had a video camera," one howled, "I'd be $10,000 richer." Any vestiges of pride, honor and dignity that I had were stripped away in one humiliating moment.
Christ's humiliation was infinite.
Christ's humiliation is vastly different from any humiliation we experience. When we're humbled, we really don't have all that far to fall. If I became a garden slug, it wouldn't compare to Christ's humiliation because he was infinitely exalted above all his creation.
Christ's humiliation was willing.
I don't gravitate toward humiliation. I don't wake up saying, "I hope something humiliating happens to me today." Jesus chose humiliation because it was his Father's will. In Hebrews 10:7 Jesus says, "Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book."
The Father's will was for Jesus to take on flesh and be subject to human parents. The Father's will was for Jesus to be misunderstood, mocked and rejected. The Father's will was to crush Jesus (Is 53:10). Jesus delighted in all his Father's will. He said "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." He "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant...he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Php 2.7-8).
Christ took on a human body subject to hunger, thirst, and weariness. He readily embraced the whip, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the wrath of God. He didn't run the other way like Jonah. He didn't try to excuse himself like Moses. He didn't try to protect himself like Peter. He was eager and willing to be humiliated.
I want to imitate Christ.
I want to willingly take on lowly tasks for the Lord. I want to eagerly serve when it's inconvenient. If Christ willingly humbled himself, I want to willingly humble myself for him.
Yesterday we gave away a free scripture song as a tool for memorizing scripture. The link to this free song will be available in the links section of the site. Look for more of these free giveaways in the upcoming weeks.
If you are interested in getting the CD that this song came from, you can go to www.ForeverGratefulMusic.com
If the spiritual disciplines were personal hygiene, then scripture memorization would be like flossing. We know we should do it, we know it's good for us, but we still don't do it. Why don't we memorize scripture? Here's my guess: because it's work. It takes some serious effort to get those words off the index card and into our rather dense brains. So why should we even bother memorizing scripture? If it's so much work, why make the effort. Here's why:
1. For our holiness
Psalm 119:11 says, " I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." The word of God is a sin-killing sword. The Holy Spirit uses scripture to help us put our sin to death and overcome temptation. However, it's very rare that I have my Bible sitting next to me when temptation comes my way. And so I must memorize scripture for the purpose of holiness. I must fight the promises of sin with the superior promises of God - promises like Psalm 16:11, which says, "...in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." The Holy Spirit uses scriptures we've hidden in our hearts to help us overcome sin.
2. For our happiness
Each day we will face some degree of trouble. Some days the troubles will be minor, like a flat tire, or a bad performance review at work, or an unexpected bill. Other days the trouble will be massive, like the death of a parent, or the discovery of cancer, or a major marital conflict. The word of God is what sustains us, and gives us joy and peace in the midst of trouble. If we want to honor God in our trials, we must memorize promises like Romans 8:28, which says, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." You will face troubles, I promise you that. Ready yourself for the storm by memorizing God's word.
3. For our prayers
The promises of God are fuel for passionate prayers. When we pray we should in a sense argue with God, presenting to Him the promises He's given as ground for our prayers. For example, when I pray for someone to be saved, I can plead 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is patient, "...not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." God Himself has told me that He does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. I can plead this verse to God, presenting it to Him as a reason for saving an unbeliever. No one I know models this better than my dad. His prayers are laced with the faith-building promises of God. Why? Because he's hidden the word of God in his heart.
So now we get to the tough part. How do we memorize scripture? I've tried a number of different methods in the past and one has worked far better then all the rest: mixing scripture with music. Music empowers the memory. God has created music in such a way that it gets stuck in our head. We hear a burger jingle and walk around humming it for the rest of the day. Music sticks.
Over the years my dad has taken hundreds of scriptures and put them to music, for the purpose of helping people memorize scripture. We want you to memorize scripture so much that we're going to be giving away some of these for free. To get today's free scripture (1 Thess. 5:9-10 ESV) song, simply click here.
I would suggest that you do two things. First, burn this song to a CD and put it in your car. Listen to it as you're driving around. Second, write the scripture out on an index card and spend 5 minutes every day memorizing it during your devotional time. If you're like me, you'll find that the combo of music and the index card makes memorizing scripture much easier.
Now it's your turn. How do you memorize scripture? What has helped you hide God's word in your heart?
Christmas celebrates the humiliation of Christ.
The Incarnation was the humbling of the King of the universe, the stripping away of his honor and dignity. The Creator of all is born a helpless babe. The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills is born in poverty. The One who directs the stars in their courses is laid in a trough, dependent on the care of his mother and father. The One who sends the rain cries out in hunger and thirst. The King of glory becomes a speck of dust.
No human being has ever been humiliated like Christ. Because Christ is God Most High, his descent was an infinite descent.
A.W. Tozer says, "We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word."
"Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself." (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy)
The infinitely transcendant God becomes lower than the angels. Infinite humiliation.
Jesus' death was the ultimate humiliation. The Holy One was made to be sin. The Blessed One was made a curse. The Sinless One drank the cup of wrath. The Majestic One hung naked on a cross. The Innocent One died a criminal's death. The Beautiful One was marred beyond recognition.
The amazing thing about Jesus' humiliation is that it was voluntary. Christ's humiliation was not an "enforced lowering of a person". He was not placed, against his will, in a situation where he was made to feel inferior. He was not a "victim" who was "forced into passivity, acted upon, made helpless." Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Php 2:7-8).
The Incarnation was the self-humbling of Christ. Let's worship the Humble One, the Glorious One, the Exalted One.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Can you name the verse? Probably. John 3:16, one of the most well known, oft-quoted verses in the Bible. We see it plastered everywhere. Bumper stickers, greeting cards, bracelets, and some guy who seems to be at every major sporting event holding a large sign that says "3:16". Most of us learned this verse at an early age in Sunday school and can still recite some version of it by heart. Unfortunately, in our familiarity we often overlook the profundity of these words.
In studying this passage recently I was deeply affected by the words "...gave his only Son." September 4, 2007 was one of the happiest days of my life. On that day a little girl named Charis Marie Altrogge made her debut in life. From the moment she was born my heart was filled with an intense, fatherly affection for her. She is a joy and a delight to me. I love being with her, and seeing her smile, and hearing her coo, and watching her try to roll over. I would never give her up for anything or anybody, and I'll protect her at all costs. She is my only, precious daughter.
John 3:16 tells me that God gave His only, precious Son to save me. Ponder for a moment what it means that God gave His Son for you. God gave His son to be brutally beaten, tortured, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. Then God crushed Jesus, His precious son, under His furious wrath. He poured out all His fury and hatred towards sin upon His son, His beloved. God placed my sins upon the Savior, and then unleashed His mighty fury upon the son. O the grief that must have filled God's heart as He crushed His precious son. What sorrow must have filled the Father's heart as He brutally punished His son for my sins.
Can you feel the love of God pulsing from this passage? God gave up His beloved, precious son for wicked sinners like you and me? Would you ever give up your son or daughter to die? Never. Would you give up your son or daughter to die in place of a death-row murderer? Not in a million years. Yet that's what God has done for us. He gave up His son to die for those that hated Him. What incredible love! As Sinclair Ferguson says, "We should almost think God loved us more than He loves His Son."
What a loving God we serve. Let's rejoice in His great love for us today.
When you’re suffering, how do you think God responds to you? Do you imagine him saying something like:
- “Hey buck up. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
- “Somebody call the Waaaaambulance”
- “Come on, you big baby, shake it off. Get over it.”
When David suffered he said things to God like, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps 6:6), and “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Ps 13.1-2).
How audacious these prayers sound to my timid ears. Yet we believers can come boldly to our Father and tell it like it is. God knows exactly what we’re going through. We’re not going to surprise him. Listen to how Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher from the 1800s, describes how he appealed to his heavenly Father’s compassion:
“I have found it a blessed thing, in my own experience, to plead before God that I am his child. When, some months ago, I was wracked with pain to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, "Thou art my Father, and I am Thy child; and Thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as Thou makest me suffer; and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt Thou hide Thy face from me, my Father? Wilt Thou still lay on me Thy heavy hand, and not give me a smile from Thy countenance?" I talked to the Lord as Luther would have done, and pleaded his Fatherhood in real earnest. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him." If He be a Father, let Him show Himself a Father -- so I pleaded; and I venture to say, when they came back who watched me, "I shall never have such agony again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer." I bless God that ease came, and the wracking pain never returned." -- Charles Spurgeon, The Full Harvest, 197
Spurgeon’s prayer provokes me. I want to pray with more boldness, fervency and faith in my Father’s tender compassion. I want to pour out my heart to my Father like Spurgeon did. I pray that Spurgeon's example will provoke you to plead God’s Fatherhood as well.
Special thanks to my brother David for designing the new header for our blog. David is an excellent graphic designer, and runs his own business, Vinegar Hill Pictures. Check out his website by clicking here.
I'm not one of those people that loves to get up early. I don't spring out of bed at the first 'beep' of the alarm, alert and ready to tackle the day. When my alarm goes off, I slap it silent, and then spend several minutes lying in bed, trying to muster enough strength to drag my body out from under the covers. During this time my mind is presenting reason after logical reason why I should go back to sleep. But after a few minutes of this mind wrestling I usually manage to slither out from under the covers and drag my sorry carcass into the shower. After the shower I go downstairs and make myself a cup of wake-up juice, otherwise known as high-octane coffee. Finally I sit down to spend some time reading the Bible and praying.
To tell you the truth, there are many days when I would rather turn off the alarm and drift back into the netherworld of sleep. But I'm provoked by the example of men like Jed Dickerson. Jed defines the word passion.
On May 31, 2003, Jed caught a 21 pound 11.2 ounce largemouth bass, the fourth largest in history. The catch was the result of Jed's passion, no obsession, for catching monstrous large mouth bass. After catching his first big bass in 2001, Jed became obsessed with fishing. According to the book Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest For the World Record Largemouth Bass:
He [Jed] started keep a journal of his days on the water, on a wall calendar, with certain promising days circled in dark black ink...He adjusted his work schedule, asking for the 5 p.m. - 2 a.m. shift, so he could maximize his time at the lake. He was exhausted all the time, catching only catnaps at home and during breaks at work. "I can't tell you how many times I've pulled a drifter on the way home from the lake," Jed says, referring to falling asleep at the wheel of his car. But he remained focused on his goal.
Oh that I would be like Jed Dickerson in my pursuit of Jesus Christ! In Philippians 3:12 Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Paul passionately pressed on towards the goal of knowing Jesus Christ. Notice the words he used: press on, straining. You can hear the vein-popping, muscle-straining effort in Paul's voice. He resolved that he would spend all his energies in the pursuit of Jesus Christ.
I want to emulate Paul. I want my energy and passion to be poured into my pursuit of Christ. If Jed Dickerson is willing to throw himself wholeheartedly into fishing, how much more should I throw myself wholeheartedly into the pursuit of Jesus? And so I desire to rise early to read my Bible and spend time praying. I want to pour myself into loving my wife as Christ loved the church, and raising my daughter in the fear of the Lord. I want to go about my work passionately, working for the Lord rather than for men. I want to serve my church with zeal, giving both my time and energy. I want to press on towards the goal of knowing Jesus Christ.
What about you? What is one area you want to see your passion for God increase? What is one practical step you can take to make that happen? Care to comment?
The temple treasury was crowded with richly robed people, and she was embarrassed at her own pitiful rags. The wealthy worshipers were dropping huge offerings in the box, and onlookers jaws were dropping at their largess. Oohs and ahhs of admiration could be heard as gold coins cascaded out of the donors' bags into the box. How humiliated the widow felt clutching her two small coins. Suddenly she saw an opportunity to slip up to the box, toss in her offering, then steal away unnoticed. She was relieved that no one had observed her. Well, almost no one...
And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:42-44
Jesus sees even the smallest acts of obedience and kindness believers do in his Name. He noticed the widow’s penny. He promises to reward us if we give even a cup of water to one of his disciples. On judgment day we’ll say, "Lord, when did we feed you when you were hungry or clothe you when you were poor or visit you when you were sick?” And he'll say, "Every time you did it to the least of my children, you did it to me."
He doesn't miss a thing
God has numbered the very hairs on our heads. Not a sparrow falls apart from our Father. The God who hears the raven’s cry catches every prayer we breathe in secret. The God who stores up our individual tears in his bottle heard that word of encouragement to your brother last week and remembers the classes you taught in Children's Ministry ten years ago. He caught you slipping that sister a $20 bill for food last month.
Joy in heaven
Can you imagine our joy in heaven when Jesus brings out all the things we did for him that we've completely forgotten about? Can you imagine the widow’s joy when Jesus brings out the mountain of rewards her two copper coins produced? Let's be faithful to sow our “pennies”, and do as much as we can by his grace and for his glory.
Some of you out there think you're good Scrabble players. You play the letter 'X' on a triple letter score, rack up 250 points in a game, and walk away feeling pretty good about yourself. Let me tell you straight up, you stink at Scrabble. Joel Sherman is good at Scrabble.
Sherman is a self-proclaimed professional Scrabble player, a man whose very existence revolves around playing and winning Scrabble. He has no job other than playing Scrabble. Joel lives off of disability, which allows him to devote all his waking time to playing, studying, and mastering the game of Scrabble. For several years he studied word lists on his computer for 1-2 hours a day, four days a week, so that he could master the game of Scrabble. Joel is obsessed with the game of Scrabble. In his own words, Scrabble, "...basically validates my existence."
Joel Sherman doesn't play Scrabble, he dominates Scrabble. Listen to this short excerpt from the book Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. In this excerpt Joel is relaying how he won a particular game:
"Joel breathlessly explains how he worked his way though a troubling opening rack in the 603-point game, why he kept the three vowels IIO to go with a blank, how he saw that he would be able to turn the word BICES into IBICES (the plural of IBEX), how he drew the second blank and was able to play VICHIES for 100 points."
Joel's obsession with Scrabble challenges me. All of his thought, and creativity, and energy are poured into a board game. I want to obsessed with pursuing the Lord like Joel is obsessed with the game of Scrabble. I want to study scripture like Joel Sherman studies word lists. It shames me that an unbeliever would love the game of Scrabble more than I love the God who died for me. If a non-Christian can be that passionate about a game, I should be infinitely more passionate about pursuing Christ, the source of all joy and satisfaction. I want all my thought, and energy, and devotion to be given to my Savior. I want to be obsessed for the glory of God.
Give me one pure and holy passion / give me one magnificent obsession / Jesus give me one glorious ambition for my life / to know and follow hard after you
I listen to a lot of music. A whole lot. I have a subscription to Yahoo! Music Unlimited, which for a flat yearly fee allows me to download as much music as my happy little heart can handle. So over the course of a year I hear buckets of new tunes. Some of the music is good, some is mediocre, and some is nauseating.
I evaluate Christian songs on two criteria. First, are the lyrics God-centered and sound in doctrine? I want songs that are jimmy-jam packed with rich truths about God. Second, is the music any good? A song can be chock full of great lyrics and have a really lame melody. I want songs that combine glorious, God-exalting truths with heart-moving melodies.
The album You and You Alone by Pat and Joel Sczebel is loaded with songs that bring together deep truths and sweet grooves. As part of the Sovereign Grace Ministries "Overflow" series, this album was produced on a much smaller budget than a normal Sovereign Grace Music project - but you wouldn't know it.
The album starts with the electric guitar-driven song Trust in You, a passionate proclamation of God's sovereign reign over all things and our trust in Him as ruler. If the band "Sanctus Real" wrote excellent worship songs they might sound like this.
The second song, Over All, is what I like to call a suh-weet groove. The drums and guitar lay down a beat that makes you want to bob your head, and the words make you want to thrust your hands into the air in worship. Similar to the previous song, this song declares that God graciously rules over all things, including every trial and tribulation. Favorite lines?
Over all afflictions /And every storm of life / In the midst of suffering Almighty,
The fourth song, The Greatest of All, is a beauty. It's got an Isaac Watts meets Kirk Franklin feel - hymn meets black gospel. The words are outstanding as well, rejoicing in the glorious redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The first line of the chorus is, "Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it." That's how I want to respond to the glories of gospel!
The seventh song, You Are Good, is my favorite on the album. If the band "Snow Patrol" became Christians they would write worship songs like this. As the title says, this song is a joyful celebration of the goodness of God, in both salvation and in every day life. We just introduced this song on Sunday and it worked really well. You can download this song from the New Attitude website by clicking here.
The final song on the album, Jesus, You Are Beautiful, is a great example of how this album combines sound doctrine with passionate love for Jesus. The first verse tells of how Jesus opened our blind eyes to see Him. The chorus then responds to this by saying, "Jesus, You are beautiful." These are well crafted words meant to help us worship our Savior.
This album really is worth buying. It will stir your heart and move your feet. You can get it for 9.99 on the Sovereign Grace Music website by clicking here.
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark (Genesis 8:1).
It had been raining for 150 days and Noah & company were drifting on a featureless sea. For five dreary months they had been cooped up in the ark with no word from God. It must have seemed like an eternity. Noah must have wondered at times if God had forgotten them.
But God remembered Noah. Did God suddenly wake up with a start exclaiming, "Oh no! I can't believe it -- I forgot about Noah. I hope he's okay"? No. God hadn't forgotten about Noah for a nanosecond. But from Noah's perspective, after five long months, God now remembered him and came to his aid, sending a wind to dry up the waters.
Has God forgotten you?
Do you ever feel like you're on a tiny raft on a vast ocean and all the rescue crews have given up looking for you? Do you ever feel like you’ve dropped off God’s radar screen?
God has promised never to forget his blood-bought children. He's engraved us on his hands and written our names on his heart. He never slumbers nor sleeps as he watches over us. He knows our rising up and our lying down, our going out and coming in. He never leaves us or forsakes us. If we fly to the sunrise or sink in the sea, he'll be there. He can't forget us because we've been joined to Christ. When he looks at Christ he sees us. Oh yes, God remembers us.
God remembered Mom
The last 7 years of her life, Alzheimer's disease whittled away my mom’s memory and life. In the early stages Mom would say to me, “Mark, I just hope I never forget Jesus and I never forget my family.” I'd reply, “Mom, even if you forget Jesus, Jesus will never forget you. And even if you forget us, we will never forget you.” And Jesus did keep my Mom. She was joyful even as her mind deteriorated. She never became belligerent or depressed as many Alzheimer's sufferers do. As her mind gradually drained away, all that remained was the sweetness of who she'd become in Jesus Christ. Though Mom lost her ability to read and remember Scripture, though she eventually lost most of her memory of Jesus, Jesus never forgot Mom. He was with her till her final breath. How glorious it must have been the moment she awakened to see the face of her Savior. How glorious it must have been when all Mom's memories of Jesus and his work in her life came flooding back.
God remembered Noah. God remembered Mom. God remembers you.
Here's a few more practical suggestions for giving your Bible reading a kick in the pants. These have been very helpful for me over the years.
1. Pray as you're reading
This has been extraordinarily helpful for me over the years. Rather than segmenting my devotional time into reading and then prayer, I bring the two together. As I ponder the word of God, the Holy Spirit moves upon my heart, which then leads me to prayer, praise, thanksgiving, or adoration. For example, I recently read Colossians 4:3-4, which says, "At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison - that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak." As I read this I was moved to pray that God would open doors for me to proclaim the gospel. Respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as you read.
2. Apply one bit of truth
As you read, apply one bit of truth to one part of your life. Ask yourself, "How do I apply these verses to one area of my life?" This ties in closely with the previous point. The Holy Spirit will bring conviction and clarity as you read scripture. Seize these moments as opportunities to pray that God would help you apply His word to one area of your life.
3. Read your Bible in the morning
Obviously this isn't a hard and fast rule. It's not always possible to read scripture in the morning, given the various circumstances of life. But if possible, I believe it's wise to meet with God before meeting the day. In Mark 1:35 we see Jesus rising "very early" in the morning to spend time in prayer. Meeting with God in the morning prepares us to meet the day's troubles. I don't want to venture out into a temptation-filled world with a sin-filled heart without first asking God for strength. Jonathan Edwards said, "I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early."
4. Write while you're reading
In this respect I do things a little differently than my dad. He likes to pick out one key verse and write his thoughts on it. I like to write my thoughts on each verse or section of verses as I'm reading them. This sharpens my concentration and helps me think through the logic and argument of the passage. John Piper exhorts pastors to read with pen in hand, and I think the same applies to all Christians:
"A pastor will not be able to feed his flock rich and challenging insight into God's word unless he becomes a disciplined thinker. But almost none of us does this by nature. We must train ourselves to do it. And one of the best ways to train ourselves to think about what we read is to read with pen in hand and to write down a train of thought that comes to mind. Without this, we simply cannot sustain a sequence of questions and answers long enough to come to penetrating conclusions"
I hope you find these helpful. May God give you rich times in His word.
What if I told you that from the moment you wake up tomorrow only good things will happen to you for the rest of your life? Not one single bad thing will ever happen to you again. You’ll be stalked by kindness and blessings. Would that put a little zip in your step?
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. Jeremiah 32:40
What an astounding promise. God has made a covenant to never cease doing good to his redeemed children. And Jesus Christ has instituted and sealed this covenant with his blood.
No expiration date
God’s promise doesn’t have a limited warranty. There’s no expiration date. God doesn’t do us good until we’re tough enough to take him doing some bad to us. His covenant will continue throughout the ages. God will do us good all day today, tomorrow, next week, next year, and from age to age.
This means that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, God is relentlessly blessing us who have called on Christ to save us. He’s blessing us while we’re munching on our morning toast and sitting in rush hour traffic. He's heaping good on us while we’re feeding the kids and sweeping up the Cheerios around the baby’s high chair. He's lavishing grace on us as we lug the millionth basket of laundry up the stairs for the week or plunge out the kids’ tissue-clogged toilet. He even does us good as we slumber in our beds each night. While we are blissfully snoring away, God is providentially orchestrating his universe to bring us good - directing his angels, moving nations and world events, shifting the weather, working in both righteous and evil people, and causing even the demons’ evil schemes to bring us blessing.
Bound and determined
God never tires of blessing us. He doesn’t take a break or change his mind. Nothing turns him away, not even our sins, failures and weakness. His kindness is not contingent on our performance but on his grace. He is unflinching, dogged, bound and determined to shower his love on us.
A couple years ago I visited Niagara Falls. 35 million gallons of water cascade over the edge every minute. No one could possibly resist the sheer force and volume of this deluge. Blood-bought believers stand beneath the torrent of God's goodness every moment. We can't turn his goodness away any more than we could turn Niagara Falls away.
Heavenly bounty hunter
If you have trusted in Jesus Christ, God’s kindness and mercy are chasing you like some kind of heavenly bounty hunter. They're going to find you. God will not be thwarted. He’ll never deviate or desist from persistently blessing you. He’s stubborn in his goodness. God even designs the seemingly “bad” things that happen to us for our ultimate good. While Joseph’s brothers intended to harm him, God intended to bless him through their sinful actions. Ultimately, nothing bad can happen to you who belong to Christ, because God is covenant-bound and determined to do you good day after day, moment by moment.
Believe it, and give him abounding thanks.
Here's the truth: I stink at evangelism. I know some people that are really gifted in evangelism, people that are able to share the gospel with anyone at any time. They share the gospel with Starbuck's Baristas, Wal-Mart cashiers, doctors, car mechanics, and anyone else that happens to cross their path. They have unnatural, God-given boldness. They don't fear rejection, or the awkward silence that follows telling someone about Jesus.
I'm not like this at all. I'm timid and I hate awkward situations. I'm not a big fan of rejection. I would be more comfortable inviting a Starbuck's Barista to a manure shoveling party than to church. But I desperately want to grow. I hate my fear of man that keeps me from proclaiming the glories of Christ crucified to a dying and desperate world. I hate my sinful timidity. I want God-given, unnatural, gospel-preaching boldness.
Which brings me to this past Sunday. The sermon was on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, and one of the application points was that the Holy Spirit gives us boldness to proclaim the gospel. When these words were spoken I felt my heart stir within me. After the sermon I asked one of the small group leaders in the church to pray for me that God would increase my boldness and help me to grow in sharing the gospel.
Fast forward approximately 4 hours. I've just finished playing basketball with a number of guys from church, plus two guys I don't know. After the game, I walk over to one of the guys and start talking to him. We make small talk for a while, discussing college, the business world, and wearing a shirt and tie everyday. Then I ask him about church. He doesn't do church too much he tells me. At this point I would normally end the conversation with a half-hearted invitation to the church. But things keep going.
We talk about what it means to have a personal faith in Jesus, and I'm able to share about how God has changed my life. I'm also able to share a portion of the gospel with him, explaining that I'm a sinner before God, and that I need Jesus in my life. He listens while I talk. Doesn't argue, doesn't put up any smoke screens. Just listens. Then we go our separate ways.
I went home rejoicing! God had answered my prayer for boldness, giving me both the opportunity and the courage to share the gospel. How grateful I am to God.
And so now I hereby proclaim this "International Share The Gospel" week. Ask God for two things today. First, ask for the courage to share the gospel. Second, ask Him for the opportunity to share the gospel. These are prayers that God loves to answer.
After you share the gospel with someone this week, tell us about it via comment. I can't wait to hear the stories.
Are you discouraged with your Bible reading? Find it hard to be consistent? Want to get more out of the Word? Here are a few tips that have helped me to be more consistent and enjoy my devotions more over the years.
1. Prepare the night before
Every night before going to bed, I grind some coffee, put a filter in my Aeropress coffee maker, put my coffee cup on the counter and fill my Hot Shot with water, so all I need to do is push a button to heat the water for my morning cup o’ joe. I make sure everything I need – Bible, marker, journal, Kleenex - is on the stand next to the couch in the den. This saves me having to scramble around wasting time in the morning and I can get reading more quickly.
I usually spend a couple minutes praying before I read. I thank my Father for his love and the gift of sleep, and for protecting my family and me during the night. I also thank him for his gracious invitation for me to enter boldly into his presence through the merits and blood of Jesus. Then I often pray John Piper’s I-O-U'S: “Incline my heart to your testimonies”, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,” “Unite my heart to fear your name,” and “Satisfy me with your love."
3. Same time, same place every day.
Find your best time, when you can concentrate and have the least number of distractions. For me, it’s first thing in the morning. The house is quiet and no one else is up. If I start in on projects or reading the news, I never get to reading the Bible. In the evening I’m too distracted and tired. For some, evening is their best time. The important thing is to find a time when you are least distracted and can concentrate.
I read in the same place every day. As I said earlier, I keep my Bible, marker, journal and prayer notebook on the end-table next to the couch in the den. That way I don’t have to waste time searching through the house for things before I read.
4. Keep track of what you read
After reading, in the back of my journal I write the day, date and the passage I read. That way I don’t have to try to remember where I left off the day before. You can use a bookmark as long as it doesn’t fall out and you lose your place.
5. Write in your Bible
Don’t hesitate to underline, write in the margins, or circle words. Underlining and writing helps us concentrate more on what we’re reading. My favorite marker is a light blue Sanford China Marker. You can underline lightly or darker and it never bleeds through the page.
6. Read consecutively
Don’t skip around or play Bible Roulette. Finish one book before going to another. One way to consistently read through the Bible is to read through Matthew, then Genesis. Then Mark, then Exodus and so on. If you are keeping track of what you’ve read, you’ll eventually work through the whole Bible. Nothing is more discouraging than picking up the Bible and reading at random every day.
7. Use a journal
I’ve used journals for years in my devotions. I like Moleskine lined journals. As you read, write down any verses that stand out to you or any thoughts you have about the passage. Writing slows you down and helps you focus. I usually try to look for one key verse or passage that stands out to me from that day’s reading to record in my journal.
8. Respond to what you’ve read
After recording one key verse or passage in my journal, I usually write a prayer in response. This prayer will sometimes be worship and praise to God for the truth I’ve just read about him or it may be supplication for him to change me to conform with his word. I keep the prayer to one, maybe two pages at the most. It takes me about ten minutes and propels me into my prayer time.
Whether you use these approaches or you have your own, try to build consistent habits of reading the Bible. There’s no better way to fellowship with Jesus and delight in him.
How about you? What have you found that helps you read the Bible more consistently or effectively? We'd love to hear. Thanks!