Preparing to Worship

January 31, 2009

[For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.]

How do you prepare for corporate worship?

God gave the Israelites extensive regulations regarding how they were to prepare for tabernacle or temple worship; someone who was unprepared was unclean (see the first sermon on Acts 10). Living a normal life in this world could lead to uncleanness; explicit acts of sin were not necessarily involved.

Mark 7, Acts 10, and other passages make clear that the specific cleanliness regulations God gave the Israelites are not binding on Christians today. But those same passages make clear that the picture they provide of the need to prepare ourselves for worship still holds.

So we too must prepare ourselves for worship. How? Read more

Lincoln’s Logic on Slavery Applied to Abortion

January 24, 2009

Numerous excellent articles related to abortion have been published in the last week. Some are indexed here. This post by John Piper is especially powerful. Two excerpts:

Lincoln: “You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.”

Piper: “There are no morally relevant differences between white and black or between child-in-the-womb and child-outside-the-womb that would give a right either to enslave or kill the other.”

I’m Holding a Miracle

January 24, 2009

Check out this video, celebrating God’s gift of life, from conception through development in the womb and to birth. Jason French, who is the author of two of the songs we sing regularly, wrote the music and put together the video. It ends by contrasting the miracle of life with the tragedy of abortion.

Why Memorize Scripture?

January 24, 2009

Listen to the last twelve minutes of John Piper’s January 4, 2009 sermon via this link. The entire sermon is excellent and quite unusual; these last twelve minutes focus on two topics: First, the need for our minds to be engaged with the Word in order to live lives worthy of God’s calling and in order to fight Satan effectively; second, the responsibility of fathers and husbands to apply the Word to issues in the family. Very powerful. This section begins 35 minutes and 50 seconds into the sermon.

Do You Have Ears? Then Hear!

January 24, 2009

[For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.]

Do you listen? How is your hearing?

Jesus thinks listening is vital: He says, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” (Mark 4:9 NET).

Most of us have the physical equipment to hear. And yet so often we fail to listen.

Listening is never easy, is it? All of us are so easily distracted – even in church. For example, when someone gets up during a service, perhaps to go to the bathroom, at least one-third of the eyes in the sanctuary follow the person out the door – making sure, I suppose, that the person doesn’t fall down.

Sometimes we listen, but don’t really hear. This was the case with Ezekiel. God tells His prophet that to the people of Israel:

you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezekiel 33:32 NIV)

Ezekiel had become an attraction, an amusement. And note that the people responded to his preaching! They expressed devotion, but their actions belied their words. So Ezekiel was to them a performer, a maestro, fun to listen to but having no impact on their lives. They responded aesthetically – but they did not really hear him.

In Mark 4, Jesus emphasizes again and again the importance of truly hearing Him.

  • Verse 3: His first word to the crowds is, “Listen!”
  • Verse 9: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
  • Verse 23: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
  • Verse 24: “Consider carefully what you hear!”
  • Verse 33: “Jesus spoke the word to them, [literally] as much as they could hear.”

In this chapter, He relates the parable of the farmer who sows seed on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. The seed on the path is eaten by birds; the seed on the rocky soil and among the thorns initially springs up, but dies; the seed on good soil bears a hundredfold more seed.

We frequently understand this parable as referring to evangelism: the evangelist spreads the word; some people never respond; some people appear to respond, yet fall away eventually; others respond and bear fruit. That interpretation states an important truth.

But in context in Mark, I believe it preferable to think of the different grounds as yourself at different times. Ask yourself: How am I responding to the word I hear right now? What barriers prevent me from hearing the word and putting it into practice?

We all want to be like that good soil, multiplying the seed of the word, bearing fruit, giving to others God’s love and life. What does this parable teach us about overcoming barriers to hearing – so that we might be that good soil? Read more

A Prayer for the Inauguration

January 16, 2009

[President-elect Obama has asked Pastor Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration. Dan Phillips at the pyromaniacs blog asked several well-known pastors and theologians to let him know if they would pray at this setting if asked and, if so, what they would say.  The first (really excellent) response is from John Frame; the second is from our friend Thabiti Anyabwile. Dan did not ask me(!), but here is my prayer for the inauguration.  For a version of this prayer that is easier to print, follow this link. - Coty]

Faithful Creator, Holy Sovereign, Righteous Father:

To you belong all power and all might. You raise up rulers on this earth, and you bring them down. You enable governments to flourish, and you remove them from the face of the earth.

Although we knew this, we have turned away from You, the fountain of living water, and have sought to quench our thirst from our own stagnant, broken cisterns. We have looked away from Your glory and have delighted in our own. Though You have showered us with blessings and have shown us Yourself in all we see, we have suppressed our knowledge of You and pretended that we control our own destiny.

Yet despite our sinfulness, in Your mercy over the last two centuries You have granted this country increasing prosperity and unequaled power. You have blessed us with liberty and, with all our faults, have allowed us to stand as a worldwide symbol of freedom. You are healing, as pictured in part by the election of this president, much of the prejudice that once bound us. Though we deserve Your judgment, You have maintained and sustained this government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Through the prayers of many, You have provided widespread confidence in our electoral system – so that those who voted for and against our new president can share this stage. We thank You once again for this peaceful transition of power.

Our world today faces numerous difficulties that will test this man deeply. So we ask that you give to President Obama a heart that fears You and trembles at Your Word. In this way grant him wisdom to discern the right choices, and strength of character to stand firm when those choices are questioned. Yet together with that strength, grant him humility of spirit to consider others more highly than himself. Protect him from the arrogance that so often comes with power. Give him faithful friends and advisers who will love him enough to reprove him and rebuke him. Prepare him for the unexpected challenges ahead – challenges that You alone know are coming.

Though we pray for our president, we know that ultimately, You alone are the answer to our problems. So we ask You to work in the lives of our brothers and sisters who have lost jobs, who have lost homes, who have lost loved ones, who suffer from oppression and poverty. Use even these tragedies for their good through Your great wisdom. We ask for strength and endurance for our sons and daughters fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for those fighting AIDS and malaria in Africa – but we ask all the more for the light of Your Gospel to shine in these dark places, ending these wars and overcoming these diseases. We pray similarly for perseverance for those serving the homeless in our cities, and those working with migrant laborers in our farms – and ask that there too, and in every place of pain and suffering, the love and mercy found only through Your Son might be declared verbally and lived out practically.

Thank you, O Lord, for Your undeserved mercy on this people. Bring us to repentance, O Lord. Open our eyes to our sinfulness and to Your great power to save. Enable us to call upon the mercy found only in Your Son. Forgive us by His blood, for You are the God of grace.

To you is due all glory, all praise, and all honor.

In the Name of Jesus I pray,

Amen.


What Do You Pray For?

January 9, 2009

Last week, we considered the crazy idea of fasting in 2009, looking at John Piper’s summary of some topics to pray for while fasting. This week, consider more generally what topics we should pray for.

What do you normally pray for? What topics do you focus on more than others?

For many of us, the bulk of our prayers concern three topics:

  1. health for ourselves and those we know and love
  2. guidance and direction in school, careers, and love life
  3. wisdom in dealing with problems in our families, our workplaces, our schools, and our churches.

Now, we should pray for these topics. There are numerous biblical examples of prayers on these themes (see, for example, Genesis 20:7, James 1:5, James 5:13-16, and Jeremiah 42:1-3). Indeed, we should pray for anything that is potentially worrying (Philippians 4:6-7).

But while these three themes are biblical, they constitute only a tiny portion of the prayers offered in the Bible. I encourage you to look at some of the great prayers in the Bible, and then use some of that language as your own as you pray. Then look at some of the themes prayed about at various other points in Scripture, and include those themes in your prayers this week.

To help you in that regard, I list below some of the important Biblical prayers, followed by a list of themes. Neither list is nearly comprehensive; in particular, nearly every psalm is a prayer, and I haven’t referred to that book at all. But if you spend some time contemplating these themes and prayers, you will enrich your prayers – and you will be that much more effective and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and your joy in Him will grow, to His glory.

So pray on these themes – and let others know the impact on you. Read more

Reading John Calvin

January 1, 2009

Reading God’s Word is central to delighting in God. Of secondary but still of great importance: Reading other works that help us understand God’s Word and to delight in the God of the Word.

John Calvin was born July 10, 1509. This year is thus the 500th anniversary of his birth. His Institutes of the Christian Religion is of great importance historically, being one of the most influential books ever written. It is also one of the most original books ever written, becoming the pattern for all subsequent systematic theologies.

But I encourage you to join me in reading The Institutes in 2009 not for those reasons. Instead, read The Institutes because there is little else you could do with that amount of time that will deepen your love for God more.

I have never read The Institutes cover to cover; I’ve only used it as a reference. So this will be new to me also. I look forward to following the five-day a week. 5-8 pages a day reading schedule put out by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; on their blog, scholars and pastors such as Sinclair Ferguson, Ligon Duncan, and Carl Trueman will post short comments on each day’s reading. See this post by Ligon Duncan for ten reasons to read The Institutes.

Numerous new and used copies of The Institutes are available; the book is also available online. If purchasing a copy, make sure you buy the 1559 edition, unabridged. Most unabridged editions consist of two volumes – make sure if buying used that you get both!

Join me in this commitment. And fulfill Philippians 4:4 more fully in 2009.

Bible Reading Plans

January 1, 2009

The Psalmist says, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). One of my prayers for 2009 is that this verse might become more and more true for all of us in Desiring God Community Church.

If we love God’s Word, we will read it; if we are to meditate on it all the day, we must memorize it. Note: reading the Bible is not the goal, but a means to achieve the goal. Memorizing Scripture, likewise, is not the goal, but an intermediate step that enables us to meditate on it.

Even loving God’s law is not the goal. The psalmist loves God’s law because it is God’s; that is, because it is God’s precious and unique revelation to us about Himself, His creation, and ourselves. We love God’s law because we love God; and we love God more when we come to know Him more and more deeply through daily reading of His revelation of Himself.

In 2008, I fell somewhat behind in my daily Bible reading; four daily readings remained the morning of December 31. I read two upon waking, and then, about 9 in the evening, left our evening festivities and read of the excellent wife in Proverbs 31, of God’s delight in those who fear Him and hope in Him (Psalm 147:10-11), and Jesus’ promise to wipe every tear from our eyes when He comes soon (Rev 21:4-8, Rev 22:20).

This morning I began once again the Bible Unity Reading Plan – reading of creation and fall (Gen 1:26-27, Gen 3:1-19) and the Word made flesh to redeem mankind and all creation from that fall (John 1:10-18).  I also rememorized this week’s Fighter Verse – first memorized in 2000 when I was resident in Minneapolis and Bethlehem Baptist began this same set of Fighter verses:

Deuteronomy 7:9:  Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

So I encourage you to begin the year by joining me in committing yourself to read the entire Bible and to memorize this entire set of Fighter Verses in 2009. Make this commitment in order that you might meditate on His Word day and night, and so know God better and love Him more. May the Word dwell in us richly, so that we rejoice in Him fully, and do all to His glory (Colossians 3:16-17).

Here is the list of Fighter Verses for this year. And below find links to some Bible reading plans that I have used (Justin Taylor has a helpful post pointing to numerous other reading plan options): Read more