Hello, I Am Your Idol

It’s easy for the word idol to seem irrelevant; a bygone concept belonging only to pagan people of history. Idols and idolatry don’t have anything to do with modern folks like us. We’re past that. We’re secular. We’re enlightened. We don’t live our lives centered on silly little gods who are destined to fail us.

Now, all that’s easy to believe, only if you completely misunderstand the concept of an idol.

A Letter From Your Idol

To help clear that up, Nicholas McDonald wrote a letter to you from the perspective of your very own, personal idol.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you read all the way to the very last line.

Hello. I am an idol.

Don’t be afraid, it’s just me. I notice you’re turned off by my name: “Idol.”

It’s okay. I get that a lot.

Allow me to rename myself.

I’m your family.

Your bank account.

Your sex life.

The people who accept you.

Your career.

Your self-image.

Your ideal spouse.

Your law-keeping.

I’m whatever you want me to be.

I’m what you think about while you drive on the freeway.

I’m your anxiety when you lay your head on the pillow.

I’m where you turn when you need comfort.

I’m what your future cannot live without.

When you lose me, you’re nothing.

When you have me, you’re the center of existence.

You look up to those who have me.

You look down on those who don’t.

You’re controlled by those who offer me.

You’re furious at those who keep you from me.

When I make a suggestion to you, you’re compelled.

When you cannot gratify me, I consume you.

No—I cannot see you, or hear you, or speak back to you.

But that’s what you like about me.

No—I am never quite what you think I am.

But that’s why you keep coming back.

And no—I don’t love you.

But I’m there for you, whenever you need me.

What am I?

I think you know by now.

You tell me.

For more about idolatry, see Tim Keller’s incredible message below or pick up his book, Counterfeit Gods.

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6 Reasons Why Reading the Whole Bible Should Excite You

In thinking about 2019, I have a hope for you, my beloved reader. I hope you read the whole Bible in 2019.

Before you let feelings of guilt and anxiety arise, know this this isn’t a whip crack to duty, but an invitation to delight. Reading the whole Bible is not burden, but blessing. Here are six reasons why.

1) It Will Make You Read More Often

Having a Bible reading plan of some kind (see here for loads of plans) will help you read the Bible more regularly than you would if you didn’t have a plan. I have seen it with students and I have seen it in myself. I am far more motivated when I know what I am to read that day than if I just intend to flip around randomly until something catches my eye. Reading the day’s section of Scripture is much more exciting than playing another round of Bible roulette. Having some kind of plan should excite you because it most likely will mean more frequent and consistent receiving God’s Word.

2) It Will Introduce You to Undiscovered Sections of Scripture

For many Christians, there are still major sections of the Bible they haven’t yet been introduced to. In a sense, these sections of Scripture are unopened letters from their King. They’re unexamined treasures! They’re unheard words with unheard messages. These unread passages should excite you like unexplored terrain would an adventurer. Make a plan to read all the words of Your King. Don’t let 2019 be another year where major sections of God’s life-giving Word are still left locked away between unopened, crinkly pages.

3) It Will Surprise You

I don’t care if you have read the Bible a hundred times through already, it always surprises. Each time I begin reading through the Bible I find myself frequently taken back by freshly realizing some truth I had yet to uncover in God’s Word or, as more often happens, I am freshly convicted or comforted by some truth I had already known, but held loosely. Regardless if it is new truths found or old truths reapplied, reading through the Bible will bring surprise after surprise to the Godward heart.

4) It Will Change You

The Apostle Paul once exhorted the Colossian church,

Since…you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

You see, we Christians are supposed to live looking down, but up. Our spiritual necks are designed to be cranked upward. For the Christian, the most significant realities are not the ones we see, but the ones we don’t (see 2 Cor. 4:18). However, this is near impossible if we are not coming to God’s Word and having our reality informed by Him. If we are never in God’s Word then we are never exposed to the unseen realities of the gospel. If we are never pouring through the thin, tissue-like pages of our Bibles then we will not have our hearts or eyes in heaven. God’s Word alone gets our eyes looking up. A Bible reading plan will help you live 2019 like a citizen of the heaven and not of the earth.

5) It Will Nourish You

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” In commenting on this passage, Steve Fuller illustrates,

“Many mornings I’m tempted not to seek God because my faith feels weak. But that’s like not going to the doctor because my body feels sick. Just like doctors heal sick bodies, so God strengthens weak faith, as we hear his word. Weak faith is like a weak battery. But God’s word is a battery charger. So when your faith is weak, open his word, and plug in your weak faith. God promises that as you do that, he will recharge you.”

God’s Word is your spiritual refrigerator filled with endless, soul nourishing food. Open, take, and feast.

6) It Just Makes Sense

God has spoken to us fully and finally through His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3) and has recorded all His beautiful revelation in the Bible through the Spirit’s ministry (2 Timothy 3:16) so that His people would be fully prepared to do all His holy will in all their holy lives (2 Timothy 3:17). God has spoken through Jesus and has, through the Holy Spirit, written it all down for us to receive, live by, and entrust ourselves to. A Bible reading plan is simply a proper response to such a wonderful gift.

I hope you will seriously consider engaging a Bible reading plan for 2019. Only joy awaits.

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Read the Whole Bible in 2019

Tomorrow begins 2019, God help us.

If you are like many, you have a list of resolutions to improve yourself in the new year. And, like Sam says, that’s a good thing when done with the cross in mind. May God give you the grace needed to carry out the good plans and the wisdom needed to quit the dumb ones.

Among the resolutions you’ve planned already, I would like, on the Eve of this new year, to ask you to consider one more: plan to read the whole Bible in 2019.

Why Read the Whole Bible?

Think that’s irrelevant or too lofty? Allow me to persuade you otherwise with a few points.

First, here are a few reasons reading all the Bible in 2019 should excite you.

Second, listen to a simple word of encouragement: you can read the whole Bible. Justin Taylor notes that, “The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute; there are about 775,000 words in the Bible; therefore it takes less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year.” No matter how slow of a reader you are, you can still do it.

Third, if motivation is a problem for you, read this.

Lastly, if you don’t plan to read the Bible this year, just know this: you won’t.

Good. Now that you’re excited, encouraged, motivated, and hopefully sobered up, allow me to offer you some Bible reading plans to take on in 2019.

A List of Plans to Read the Whole Bible

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it should serve as a helpful start. The list goes from plans that call for the least amount of chapters a day (easy plans) to plans that cover more ground in a faster amount of time (plans the require diligence).

The Bible Reading Record Keeper. This isn’t a reading plan, but it is a record keeping sheet that lists all the books of the Bible with their respective chapters numbered to the side. This tool helps keep track of what books in the Bible you have read and those you haven’t. For those who don’t want to follow a particular plan, but plan on regularly reading a few chapters each day, this is can serve as a helpful tool to make sure you’re covering all God’s Word. Here is the same idea, just much more pretty.

5 Day Bible Reading Plan. “This special Bible reading system allows you to read the entire Bible (or just the New Testament) in one year while only reading five times a week. Five readings a week gives room to catch up or take a needed day off, and makes daily Bible reading practical and do-able.”

52 Week Bible Reading Plan. “Read through the Bible in a year, with each day of the week dedicated to a different genre: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels.”

The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers. Justin Taylor describes this plan as one that, “takes away the pressure (and guilt) of ‘keeping up’ with the entire Bible in one year. You get variety within the week by alternating genres by day, but also continuity by sticking with one genre each day. Here’s the basic idea:

  • Sundays: Poetry
  • Mondays: Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
  • Tuesdays: Old Testament history
  • Wednesdays: Old Testament history
  • Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
  • Fridays: New Testament history
  • Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters).”

The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. This gives you 25 readings each month from four different places (it begins in Genesis, Psalms, Matthew and Acts). Having 25 readings each month means you will have a few “catch up” days each month if you fell behind or “free days” to study passages that intrigued you more deeply.

The Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Read through the Bible in the order the events occurred chronologically. This helps some people focus on the unfolding story a little better.

The Historical Reading of the Bible. “The Old Testament readings are similar to Israel’s Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament readings are an attempt to follow the order in which the books were authored.”

The Kingdom Bible Reading Plan. In this plan the Old Testament receives three readings per day and the New Testament gets one reading per day. “The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of Jesus’ Bible (Luke 24:44 – Law, Prophets, Writings), with one reading coming from each portion per day. In a single year, one reads through Psalms twice and all other biblical books once…Only twenty-five readings are slated per month in order to provide more flexibility in daily devotions. The plan can be started at any time of the year, and if four readings per day are too much, the plan can simply be stretched to two or more years (reading from one, two, or three columns per day).”

Read Through the Whole Bible in Order. “This plan calls for reading all the books of the Bible in canonical order in one year. Each day’s reading is about 3-4 chapters in length, with the exception of the Psalms (which are covered in 5 chapters per day). The idea is to read longer chapters in groups of three (e.g., Pentateuchal narratives, Gospels) and shorter chapters in groups of four. There are 7 “catch-up” days scattered throughout the calendar.”

The Ligonier Bible Reading Plan. “Two readings each day; one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.” Being from Ligonier, you can get the plan in the Ligonier App (iPhone / iPadAndroid, Kindle Fire & Windows Phone) and YouVersion.

The Legacy Plan. “This plan does not have set readings for each day. Instead, it has set books for each month, and set number of Proverbs and Psalms to read each week. It aims to give you more flexibility, while grounding you in specific books of the Bible each month.”

The Robert M’Cheyne Plan. My wife and I did this one in 2011 and enjoyed it. This plan starts you in the four great beginnings of Scripture (beginning of creation in Genesis 1, beginning of Israel’s return from Exile in Ezra 1, beginning of Christ’s incarnation in Matthew 1, and beginning of the church in Acts 1). This plan will have you read through the whole Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice. It is four chapters a day. One great thing is it has you in four different places in the Bible at once so when you hit the less than inspirational sections (genealogies, records, etc.), you will still be in more immediately helpful sections. Also, you can grab D.A. Carson’s marvelous devotional based on this reading plan here and here. If you don’t want to buy the book, you can subscribe to a daily email where you are sent the devotional for that day’s reading.

5X5X5 Plan. The Ligonier site explains this one as such: “Read through the New Testament in a year, reading Monday to Friday. Weekends are set aside for reflection and other reading. Especially beneficial if you’re new to a daily discipline of Bible reading.”

52 Week Plan. Gets you through the entire Bible in one year. Each day of the week (Monday through Sunday) is dedicated to a different Biblical genre: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels. This one provides huge variety in daily readings.

Professor Horner’s Plan. Professor Horner’s System is not for the faint of heart. It calls for 10 chapters per day. With this plan, you will read 10 chapters from 10 different books each day. It is a Bible reading immersion plan. No treading the waters with this one, just diving. Here is one pastor’s hearty recommendation.

A Few Helps Along the Way

Here are some resources to help make sure your Bible reading doesn’t amount to you sounding out empty words in your head without actually understanding what you’re reading.

Overview of the Bible. Lots of people don’t finish their plans to read the Bible because they get lost in what’s happening. Have R.C. Sproul help you grasp and overview of the Bible so you are equipped to read all that God has given you!

A Graph of the Old Testament Timeline. This is a simple map of the Old Testament timeline. It serves to help you locate where you are in the Old Testament timeline as you’re reading the Old Testament. Like a movie, we need to know how each scene fits into the larger plot.

Don’t Scorn Audio Bibles! Most of the Christians in the first few decades of the church most likely heard the Bible more than they read it, so don’t discount audio Bibles. Most audio Bibles are around 75 hours long, so you can listen to it in just over 12 minutes a day. Biblegateway has a lot of audio Bibles offered free of charge.

Reading the Bible Through the Jesus Lens. This is a fantastic book that provides a very brief background and introduction to every book in the Bible along with an explanation for how each respective books anticipates or points to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This way you are prepared to understand each book and how it relates to all of God’s redeeming work! Highly recommended.

God’s Big Picture. The publisher’s description describes it well: “In this excellent overview, Vaughan Roberts gives you the big picture – showing how the different parts of the Bible fit together under the theme of the kingdom of God. He provides both the encouragement and the tools to help you read the Bible with confidence and understanding. And he points you to the Bible’s supreme subject, Jesus Christ, and the salvation God offers through him.” Also, two other helpful books that provide the same overarching story line of the Bible are Carson’s The God Who is There and Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan.

Of the making of Bible Reading plans, there is no end. This is not an exhaustive list and it will not be the last. There are a lot more plans out there (like these and these and these). But, in the end, I hope you will make a plan to read God’s Word. Don’t leave it to whenever you find the time because Satan will make sure the time evades you. As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Don’t fail to plan your Bible reading because then you’re planning to fail in reading your Bible.

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My Favorite Quotes from “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone”

Earlier this year I began and (eagerly) finished the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I loved the books immensely and agree with all the hype. Few have Rowlings ability to grip the reader with every page and bring such a tapestry of rich themes, arcs, and characters to such a satisfying finish.

Here are my favorite quotes without comment from the first of the series, “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“I am a what?” gasped Harry. “A wizard! Of course! And a thumping good one I’d say once you’d been trained up a bit.”

“Ah music! A magic beyond all we do here.”

“The happiest man on earth would be able to use the mirror of Erised like a normal mirror that is. He would look into it and see himself exactly as he is…It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”

“To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

“Humans do have a knack of choosing precisely the things that are the worst for them.”

“The truth?” Dumbledore sighed, “It is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

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My Favorite Quotes from “Washington: A Life”

In an effort to try and read more widely, I recently decided to work through one biography on each American President. So, first up, George Washington.

Going off the rave reviews I’ve seen, I chose Ron Chernow’s, “Washington: A Life” and I was not disappointed. Thorough, but never tedious, Chernow did a masterful job shedding light on the incredible man who was later made unreal myth.

The following are my favorite quotes without any comment.

“Simple truth is his best, his greatest eulogy.” Abigail Adams speaking of George Washing after his death.

“He had sound judgment and was a model youth with no tincture of rowdiness in his nature. In certain ways, he was a very old young man.”

“Thomas Jefferson once remarked cynically that Washington ‘has divines (ministers) constantly about him because he thinks it right to keep up appearances but it an unbeliever.’ Jefferson contended that when Washington stepped down as president, a group of clergy-men presented him with a list of requests to bolster public faith in Christianity; they noted he had refrained from public endorsements of the tenants of Christianity and beseeched him to declare openly his beliefs…Bishop William White of Pennsylvania, Washington’s pastor during his presidency in Philadelphia, also stated; ‘I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation.’”

“A stalwart member of two congregations, Washington attended church throughout his life and devoted substantial time to church activities. His major rites of passage – baptism, marriage, burial, – all took place within the fold of the church. What has mystified posterity and puzzled some of his contemporaries was that Washington’s church attendance was irregular; that he recited prayers standing instead of kneeling; that, unlike Martha, he never took communion; and that he almost never referred to Jesus Christ, preferring such vague locutions as ‘Providence,’ ‘Destiny,’ the ‘Author of our Being,’ or simply ‘Heaven.’ Outwardly at least, his Christianity seemed rational, shorn of mysteries and miracle, and nowhere did he directly affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ.”

“He seemed to know that he operated under the overarching guidance of a benign providence. Many of Washington’s eminent contemporaries, ranging from Marshall to Madison, regarded him as a sincere believer in the Christian faith and a truly devout man, as Marshal attested. Some of Washington’s religious style probably reflected an enlightenment discomfort with religious dogma, but it also reflected his low key personal style. He was sober and temperate in all things, distrusted zealotry, and would never have talked of hellfire or damnation. He would have shunned anything, such as communion, that might flaunt his religiosity. He never wanted to make a spectacle of his faith or trade on it as a politician. Simply as a matter of personal style, he would have refrained from the emotional language associated with evangelical Christianity. This cooler more austere religious manner was common place among well-heeled Anglicans in 18th century Virginia. Washington’s pastor at Pohick Church before the war confirmed that he never knew so constant an attendant at church as Washington. His early biographer, Jared Sparks, recorded this comment from Washington’s nephew, George W. Lewis. Mr. Lewis said he accidently witnessed Washington’s private devotions in his library both morning and evening, That on those occasions he had seen him in a kneeling position with a Bible open before him and that he believed such to be his daily practice. General Robert Porterfield recalled that when he delivered an urgent message to Washington during the Revolutionary War, he found him on his knees engaged in his morning’s devotions. When he mentioned this to Washington’s aid, Alexander Hamilton, the latter replied that such was his constant habit. Washington’s adopted granddaughter saw his self-effacing religiosity as consistent with a hatred of pretension. “He was not one of those who act or pray that they may be seen of men.”

“Numerous people left vignettes testifying to Washington’s simple faith. On the other hand, he lacked a speculative bent and was never one to ponder the fine points of theology. One thing that hasn’t aroused dispute is the exemplary nature of Washington’s religious tolerance. He shuttered at the notion of exploiting religion for partisan purposes or showing favoritism for certain denominations. As president, when writing to Jewish, Baptist, Presbyterian, an other congregations – he officially saluted twenty-two major religious groups – he issued eloquent statements on religious tolerance.“

“No man’s sentiments are more opposed to any kind of restraint on religious principles than mine are.”

“The happiness of America is intimately connected to the happiness of all Mankind.” LaFeyette

“Instead of glorying his might, (Washington) feared its terrible weight and potential misuse.”

“His military triumphs had been neither frequent nor epic in scale. He had lost more battles than he had won. Had botched several through strategic blunders and had won at Yorktown only with the indispensable aide of the French army and fleet. But he was a different kind of general fighting a different kind of war. And his military prowess cannot be judged by the usual scorecard of battles won and lost. His fortitude in keeping the impoverished Continental Army intact was a major historical accomplishment. It always stood on the brink of dissolution and Washington was the one figure that kept it together. He was that Great general that was great between battles and not just during them.

“Seldom in history has a General been handicapped by such constantly crippling conditions. There was scarcely a time during the war when Washington didn’t grapple with a crisis that threatened to disband the army and abort the Revolution. The extraordinary, wearisome, nerve-wracking frustration he put up with for nearly nine years is hard to express. He repeated had to exhort congress and the thirteen states to remedy desperate shortages of men, shoes, shirts, blankets, and gunpowder. This meant dealing with selfish apathetic states and bureaucratic incompetence in congress. He labored under a terrible strain that would have destroyed a lesser man. Ennobled by adversity and leading by example, he had been dismayed and depressed, but never defeated…Few people with any choice in the matter would not have persisted in this impossible self-sacrificing situation for so long.”

“When Polly (the wife of Washington’s secretary) died at age 23, Washington honored her with a sort of full dressed funeral that might have bid farewell to a cabinet officer. Deviating from his strict policy of never attending funerals, he led a procession that included Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, and three Supreme Court Justices as pallbearers. It was the one time that Washington attended a funeral as a President.

“The enterprising Anderson (Washington’s master of estate) devised the concept of taking grain grown at Mt. Vernon and converting it into corn and rye whiskey at a commercial distillery on the estate. For Washington, always rabid on the subject of alcoholism, it was an ironic turn of events to put it mildly. Although the distillery started modestly, by 1799 it had five gleaming copper stills and produced eleven-thousand gallons yearly so it may have ranked as the largest whiskey producer in America.”

“As the Father of his country evolved into a divinity some clergymen wanted to insert his farewell address into the Bible as an epilogue.”

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How the Bible is Like & Unlike Every Other Book

Kevin Vanhoozer:

(The Bible) is like every other book because it has human authors.

It is unlike every other book because (1) it has God for its ultimate author; (2) it has God (Jesus Christ) as its ultimate content; (3) it has God (the Holy Spirit) for its ultimate interpreter; and (4) it has the church for its ultimate interpretive community.

(Taken from Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic, p. 31).

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Life is Impossible Without Faith

Ben Myers:

In North Africa toward the end of the fourth century, Augustine pointed out that life would be impossible without trust. Most of the things we know about the world are really things we believe on the basis of someone else’s word. We can’t verify for ourselves if events in world history have really happened. But we accept testimonies that have come down to us from the past. We can’t visit every location on a map to verify that they all really exist. But we accept the word of others who have been to those places. Closer to home, the family is knit together by trust. I wasn’t there to witness the moment of my own conception. If I want to know who my father is, I will have to take my mother’s word for it. And I gladly accept her word: I would prefer to trust her than to seek independent verification. It would diminish me as a person if I went around trying to verify everything. Only by adopting an attitude of trust am I able to live and flourish as a human being. Without trust, Augustine says, “we would be unable to do anything in this life.”

Obviously not every family is an exemplar of loving trust, and not every parent proves to be trustworthy. But Augustine’s point is that we don’t have the resources to verify everything for ourselves. Social life is woven together by threads of trust. If I really wanted to live without trust I would need to remove myself from society and live in total isolation. But even then, I would need to rely on tools and technologies that I did not invent and that I do not fully understand. I would need to trust the work of others.

The tragic quality of life comes partly from the fact that human beings are not always trustworthy, yet still we cannot live without trust.

The gospel holds out to us the promise of a totally trustworthy God.

Taken from The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism (Christian Essentials) (Kindle Locations 201-213). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.

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