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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

A Good Response

I loved reading Phil Johnson's recent response to a questioner at his Pyromaniacs blog site who asked...

Your identity as a "Baptist"; your endless quotations from Charles Spurgeon; your faithful devotion to John MacArthur; and especially your willingness to call yourself a "Calvinist" are all huge red flags that tell me something is seriously wrong with your theology. Why do you teach a system of doctrine that is named after a mere man? Why are you following human teachers instead of going to the Bible alone? After all, 1 John 2:27 says, "The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you." We ought to go to Scripture alone to establish our doctrine! The truth is in God's Holy word, not in any theological system or theology textbook developed by mere men. Isn't that principle what the Reformation was originally about? Sola Scriptura? Didn't even Calvin himself go to Scripture for the truth instead of reading other men? I believe that if Calvin himself wrote for this blog, he would point people to the truth in God's Holy word, not to a theology developed by some other man.

Phil's reply:
You have seriously misunderstood sola Sriptura if you really imagine that it rules out human teachers or eliminates systematic theology. The Reformers (including Calvin) often cited the works of Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, and others-ranging from the early church fathers through Aquinas. They didn't follow any of them slavishly, of course, but they certainly took them seriously. Not one of the major Reformers would have tolerated the claim that because the Church Fathers were mere men they were therefore irrelevant or incapable of shedding any helpful light on tough theological questions.

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January 24, 2007  |  Comments (6)   |  Permalink

Studies in John (Lesson 7: The Feast of Tabernacles)

I. The Feast of Tabernacles

It is by no means a mere coincidence that the events of this week’s lesson, and Christ’s subsequent teachings, took place during the Feast of Tabernacles. For, as we have already noted with respect to the tabernacle furniture, so we will find that Christ likewise fulfilled all the symbolism of the great religious feasts of the Jews. But before we can understand how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, we need to go back and read about why and how it began.

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January 24, 2007  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

"Does God Love Me?"- A Review of 'Assured by God'

Reviewed by Pastor Charles R. Biggs

The Apostle Peter exhorts all believers in his second letter to be diligent to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). The Apostle Peter writes with a desire for Christians to have assurance of their right standing before God in union with Jesus Christ, and to experience the joy, comfort, and hope of this special favor of God.

A new book edited by Burk Parsons entitled ‘Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace’ seeks to help Christians in knowing that there truly is no condemnation for those who are united to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1), and that if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31). Many Christians struggle with their assurance and whether they are loved by God. If you have ever asked (or are asking presently in your life):

“I believe God loves, but does he love me?” then you should read this book prayerfully and carefully.

Continue reading ""Does God Love Me?"- A Review of 'Assured by God'" »

January 23, 2007  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

Divine Election - Asahel Nettleton

During the revival ministry of Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844) more than 25,000 were converted, principally in the New England area. Nettleton, for one, did not shrink back from proclaiming Divine election. This vignette comes from the book on his life by his friend Bennet Tyler.

A certain individual said to him: "I cannot get along with the doctrine of election."

"Then," said Nettleton, "get along without it. You are at liberty to get to heaven the easiest way you can. Whether the doctrine of election is true or not, it is true that you must repent, and believe, and love God. Now, what we tell you is, that such is the wickedness of your heart, that you never will do these things unless God has determined to renew your heart. If you do not believe that your heart is so wicked, make it manifest by complying with the terms of salvation. Why do you stand cavilling with the doctrine of election? Suppose you should prove it to be false, what have you gained? You must repent and believe in Christ after all. Why do you not immediately comply with these terms of the gospel? When you have done this, without the aids of the divine grace, it will be soon enough to oppose the doctrine of election . Until you shall have done this, we shall still believe that the doctrine of election lies at the foundation of all hope in your case." - Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton, p. 405. Reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975.

January 19, 2007  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The kind of faith that saves

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul's entire theme is the Gospel. He makes it abundantly clear that no one comes to God by works, but through faith (see Romans 4:4, 5 as just one example of this). In contrast, James, in his epistle, is seeking to define the nature of true saving faith. Making a claim to genuine faith is not enough. It is not the mere profession of faith that saves but the possession of it. The kind of faith that saves is a faith that is alive and not dead, and will of necessity produce works. If the faith professed does not produce works, then the faith was not genuine, and therefore will not save. Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.

Here's a lengthy quotation from James White's book "The God Who Justifies" pp. 333-336 (technically speaking, the blog format here does not seem to allow for Greek words to be written as such, so they have been written in English):

James 2:14 - What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? (NET)

Alternates:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (NIV)

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January 18, 2007  |  Comments (7)   |  Permalink

Studies in John (Lesson 6: The Feeding of the Five Thousand)

I.The Table of the Bread of the Presence

When one first entered the Tabernacle proper, after having passed through the courtyard, he would immediately notice the table of the bread of the presence on his left (Exodus 25:23-30). This table, especially in light of the name that God had given to it, would immediately call to mind the same principle displayed in the observance of Israel's joyful feasts; that, in consequence of the blood sacrifice which God had been pleased with, his people would be invited to enjoy fellowship with God, in the manner of a great and joyous feast. Hence, it was not just bread, for feasting – but the bread of the very presence of God, for feasting in blessed fellowship with him.

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January 16, 2007  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

Word & Spirit by John Calvin

The following is an expression of the extraordinarily balanced understanding of John Calvin with regards to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing persons to faith through the preaching of the gospel. Commenting on Acts, it shows the outworking of God's plan through the agency of men in casting forth the seed of the gospel, which, the Bible testifies, can only be responded to when germinated (so to speak) by the Holy Spirit. The Scripture is plain that that the word alone is not enough to enter and change the heart of natural man (who is hostile to God's word) but that the heart must be opened and the mind illumined by the concurrent work of the Spirit. An biblical example of this can be found in 1 Thes 1:4, 5. "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction..."

In the same spirit, here is John Calvin commenting on Acts 16:14-15, “14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”1

Now when in fact only one hears attentively and effectively, could it not have appeared that the way was blocked for Christ to make an entry? But afterwards from that frail shoot a famous church sprang up, whose praises Paul sings in splendid terms. Yet it is possible that Lydia had some companions, of whom no mention is made, because she herself far surpassed them. Yet Luke does not attribute the cause for this one woman having shown herself docile, to the fact that she was sharperwitted than the others, or that she had some preparation by herself, but says that the Lord opened her heart, so that she gave heed to Paul’s words. He had just praised her piety; and yet he shows that she could not understand the teaching of the Gospel without the illumination of the Spirit. Accordingly we see that not only faith, but also all understanding of spiritual things, is a special gift of God, and that ministers do not accomplish anything by speaking, unless the inward calling of God is added at the same time.

By the word heart Scripture sometimes means the mind, as when Moses says (Deut. 29:4), ‘until now the Lord has not given you a heart to understand.’ So also in this verse Luke means not only that Lydia was moved by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to embrace the Gospel with a feeling of the heart, but that her mind was illuminated to understand. We may learn from this that such is the dullness, such the blindness of men, that in hearing they do not hear, or seeing they do not see, until God forms new ears and new eyes for them.

But we must note the expression that the heart of Lydia was opened so that she paid attention to the external voice of a teacher. For as preaching on its own is nothing else but a dead letter, so, on the other hand, we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word upon which faith depends, and on which it rests. For in order to increase the grace of the Spirit, many invent for themselves vague inspirations so that no use is left for the external Word. But the Scripture does not allow such a separation to be made, for it unites the ministry of men with the secret inspiration of the Spirit. If the mind of Lydia had not been opened, the preaching of Paul would have been mere words; yet God inspires her not only with the mere revelations but with reverence for His Word, so that the voice of a man, which otherwise would have vanished into thin air, penetrates a mind that has received the gift of heavenly light.

Therefore let us hear no more of the fanatics who make the excuse of the Spirit to reject external teaching. For we must preserve the balance which Luke established here, that we obtain nothing from the hearing of the Word alone, without the grace of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is conferred on us not that He may produce contempt of the Word, but rather to instill confidence in it in our minds and write it on our hearts.

1 From Calvin, John. The Acts of the Apostles. 2 vols. Trans. by John W. Fraser and W.J.G. McDonald. Ed. by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965.

January 16, 2007  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

This is all my Calvinism...

In a sermon on Romans 9:16, Charles Simeon declared, "Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God's sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other. . . . In reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion" (Horae Homileticae, Vol. 15, p. 357).

Simeon lived out this counsel is seen in the way he conversed with the elderly John Wesley. He tells the story himself:
"Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

No.

What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (Moule, 79f)

January 12, 2007  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Book Review: The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, by Walter Marshall

Synopsis: Walter Marshall’s classic seventeenth-century treatment of the doctrine of sanctification lays out in clear and simple terms the means by which a Christian might be enabled to grow in holiness. His basic proposition may seem foreign to many modern believers, who are desperately striving to produce in themselves the fruits of obedience, and so guarantee God’s continuing favor. But it is as scriptural as it is refreshing: sanctification, just like justification, is God’s free gift of grace, and can be apprehended only through the faith which looks to Christ and his perfect work.

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January 11, 2007  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Resolved: To Remember The Gospel

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Galatians 6:12-16

Galatians being my favorite book of the Bible, you can imagine how alarmed I was when I read on the inside flap of Ryken's commentary that "Galatians was written for recovering Pharisees." A Pharisee is simply someone who thinks he or she can be "good enough," whether before God, others, or him- or herself.

Galatians has to do with two big, churchy Bible words—justification and sanctification. Justification basically means "becoming right with God." Sanctification basically means "becoming a better person." (Theologians, please stay off my back for using simple terms we can all understand.) Pharisees are always mixing up justification and sanctification. Historically and practically most Christians have had great difficulty holding these two ideas in proper perspective. It would make my day if I could help equip you to do this just a little better.

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January 11, 2007  |  Comments (7)   |  Permalink

Important and Often Overlooked Fact

For clarity, when the majority of Synergists say that man has free will, what he really means is that causal determinism is false – not that the natural man has the moral ability to chose Christ. Secondly, when a Calvinist says that man does not have free will, what he means is the natural man is spiritually impotent (his affections are in bondage to a corruption of nature) and thus does not have the moral ability to chose Christ.

In this both both sides agree: the desires of the natural man (who do not have the Holy Spirit) are naturally inclined toward evil, thus all he does does not spring from a heart that loves God, even his so-called "good works" since they are not done in faith. And if your "good works" are not done from faith, that is, to please and glorify God, then they have no redemptive element. This inclination is the result of being born in Adam ... fallen, that is, born into a broken relationship with God, and a person (by nature) can be no other way unless he is set free by Christ so that the relationship is mended.

Unbeknownst to many, these are truths that every true follower of Christ knows, even if we do not mean the same thing when we use the phrase, “free will.” Thus, these truths form part of the common ground shared by all true followers of Christ. The question is whether the freedom granted to us in Christ is effectual or ineffectual? Whether we are quickened (regenerated) while we are still dead in transgressions or whether those without the Spirit can understand and love Christ apart from regeneration. The Scriptures answer: "Even, when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ..." (Eph 2:5). So, according to Scripture, while we were still unregenerate, Christ, through the Holy Spirit, quickened us by grace, making us alive in Him. Since a natural man cannot understand spiritual things unless God grants his Holy Spirit to renew our hearts, he will not come unless first quickened. Those dead spiritually (without the Holy Spirit), by definition, do not have faith. Faith is the result of a renewed heart, not the cause of it.

But with regards to the ideas of “free will” and determinism: the central issue has to do with whether things happen contingently or by necessity. Do our natures drive us to make choices by necessity or may we choose against what we are. "You do not believe because you are not of God," Jesus said to those Jews he was debating with. When set free when united to Christ, He gives us a new heart that willingly and voluntarily chooses Christ of necessity.

Libertarian free will and molinism simply do not square with what we believe to be true about God as plainly revealed in Scripture. Therein lies the main issue. (see John chapters 8 and 10).

January 08, 2007  |  Comments (18)   |  Permalink

Help for Preachers!

What a high calling it is to be a preacher - a herald of the King!

One of the laws operating in our world is that things left to themselves do not have a tendency to get better, but rather decay. This is true for the preacher and his preaching. We should therefore always be seeking to improve our preaching, knowing that if we are not doing so, the tendency is for things to go in the other direction. I have often recommended that ministers read at least one good book about preaching each year. It is something I have sought to do myself, knowing my very real need to improve my sermon preparation and delivery. My favorite book on preaching is Bryan Chapel's "Christ Centered Preaching." It is a treasure in my personal library - full of both sound, biblical instruction and practical, helpful material. If you have never read a book on preaching, this is the one I would recommend. If you have read others, then I would also say, "read this one too." In fact, I would say, "read and re-read it," and of course, seek to apply its truths.

On this theme of preaching, I now also find that there is an excellent series of recent posts by Pastor Steve Weaver's at his blog site that I would very highly recommend. Steve is a humble man of God, and has allowed us to take something of an inside look at how he goes about the holy task of preparing and delivering a sermon. I found that many of my own thoughts were confirmed, but also, was very pleased to find some very good recommendations that, God willing, I will seek to employ in the days ahead. Thank you so much Steve! I trust all preachers will find this series to be a blessing. The series is entitled, "How I Preach An Expository Sermon" and can be found here . - Pastor John Samson

January 08, 2007  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Studies in John (Lesson 5: The Nobleman's Son; The Pool of Bethesda)

I. The Nobleman's Son (John 4:43-54)

After Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, he returned to Galilee, where he had performed his first recorded miracle. In this account, it seems as if John is bringing a unified and tightly inter-woven section to a close; the direct allusion to Cana and the turning of water to wine, in verse forty-six, suggests that the first miracle in Cana, together with this second one, were meant to stand as bookends to a literary unit with a common theme. And, just as John brought out the insufficiency of a faith which looks just to the sign-miracles themselves, without embracing the person of Christ, at the end of the wedding account (John 2:23-25); so here, he is going to make the same point, but even more forcibly. Of course, this is in accordance with John's purpose –– to establish the truth about the person of Jesus, through the miracles that he did, so that people might have faith in him, and so pass into eternal life (John 20:31). But it is vital to note (as John will insist upon over and over again in his gospel) that for one to have eternal life, he must believe, not in the miracles themselves; but because of the miracles, come to believe in Christ, as the Messiah and the true Son of God. But the sad truth is, for the Jewish people at large, faith in signs did not progress to a living faith in the Son of God.

Continue reading "Studies in John (Lesson 5: The Nobleman's Son; The Pool of Bethesda)" »

January 07, 2007  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Book Review: God Sovereign and Man Free, by Nathan Lewis Rice

Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford

Synopsis: Written in the mid-nineteenth century and recently made available again as a facsimile reprint, God Sovereign and Man Free sets forth an irrefutable defense of the scriptural doctrines of divine foreordination and election. Its balance of positive scriptural proofs, rebuttals of philosophical Arminian objections, and practical applications make it useful for any believer who is seeking to understand the biblical teaching on divine sovereignty and human responsibility, regardless of his primary motivation.

From the beginning, Nathan Rice is working from the foundational assumption that the doctrine of God's sovereignty is a necessary and important truth, given the vast assortment of biblical passages dealing with the topic; and it is also full of much practical benefit to the believer, as a truth which reveals much of God's essential glory and grace. Furthermore, it is a doctrine which most naturally follows a sincere and unbiased reading of the text of scriptures, and does not require, as all contrary systems, the importation of a preconceived human philosophy. In support of these assertions, he brings to the table the following lines of evidence:

1. An examination of the fruits that this doctrine has had throughout Church history.
It is notable that, among those believers who have adhered to the doctrines of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, no fundamental heresy has arisen; as many have among those who, although at the first evangelical, have imported the philosophies of Arminianism into their exegeses of scriptures. Furthermore, any cursory examination of history will flesh out in many thousand ways the genuine holiness and unremitting gospel-loyalty in the face of all manner of opposition that have characterized those most devoted to the precious truths of God's sovereignty and foreordination. If the tree is evil, the fruits cannot but be evil; but where the fruits are good, the tree must likewise be good.

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January 03, 2007  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Quotes on Culture

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distraction." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. - Neil Postman "Amusing Ourselves to Death" pp. vii, viii
"And now what we've got in evangelicalism is a neoliberalism, where people are setting aside the saving gospel again for the social gospel. But morality -- I warn you, folks -- morality damns just like immorality. And morality does not bring divine blessing. Jesus went head to head with the most superficially moral people in His world, the most religious people in His world, the Pharisees and the scribes." - John F. MacArthur, Jr.
"Our goal is certainly to see the Great Commission fulfilled, and to see all the world worshipping God the Father through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And of course, wanting this for the world means that we want it for Moscow too. We are Christians, after all. We believe the Christian faith is true and right and lovely. So of course we want it for others. But are we going to get there by Passing a Law? Making a Rule? No, that is how secularists want to change things -- better living though Making Other People Do Things. They not only love the Politics of Coercion, they cannot understand anyone who does not think the same way they do. But this particular inability to understand the Christian mindset is precisely why Sauron fell. He simply could not understand how anyone could have the ring of power, and then just throw it away. Think of the good that could have been done with that ring! We could have had building projects! Taxes! Prisons! Muzzles! Whips and chains! Spacious re-education camps for the intolerant! Free burlap NPR bags for everyone left! So then, once again, we are not pursuing any agenda through political means. So how do we want to get there then? Just remember our three L's. 1. Liturgy 2. Lovemaking 3. Laughter To this, our adversaries reply with their one L, a swollen L with a thyroid problem. 1. Laws" - Doug Wilson
The secularist state is kind of like a dystopia of doublespeak: we repudiate morality while simultaneously laying claim to it.
"...all the calls to "reclaim America for Christ" leave me cold. Our real need is to reclaim the church for Christ. When Christ is exalted in His church, when He is loved and revered and cherised with passion by those who bear His Name--in other words, when the church starts living like the church--then His body cannot help but make an impact on culture." - Tom Ascol
" In reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator." - John Calvin
January 03, 2007  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

Studies in John (Lesson 4: The New Kingdom – Substantial and Universal)

I. The Promised Kingdom

Before we really understand the importance of the Kingdom that Jesus announced to the Jews, we must be aware of some Old Testament prophecies. Although it is common to think of the Bible as a diverse and loosely connected compilation of sacred writings (which does have an element of truth); in reality, the scriptures tell one unified story from Genesis to Revelation – and that story is all about a promised King, and his everlasting Kingdom.

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January 02, 2007  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Through the Bible in a year (with a difference)

I am sure many can testify that they STARTED a through the Bible in a year reading plan, only to leave the task unfinished somewhere along the way. What was meant to be something that brought them closer to God, actually became a means of guilt that the enemy used to increase the sense of distance between them and the God who has revealed Himself in His holy Word. Well if that sounds like you, hold on, help is on the way! Here are some very practical ideas and encouragement from Noel Piper (John Piper's wife) that may just be all you need to complete the task this time. (from the desiring God web site)...

A year ago I set out to read the whole Bible. That's nothing new; I've begun to read the whole Bible every other year for about 28 years-emphasis on "begun." But with all the best intentions, I was never able to finish my annual program of Scripture-reading-until this year. A few months ago, I closed my Bible with a feeling of immense satisfaction: I had finally read it through, all 66 books, all in a year.

This time I can truthfully say that I never dragged myself dutifully on to the next chapters. I loved it and it pulled me back day after day. What made this attempt different? I'm certain God's Spirit provided the inspiration, because I was the same stumbling Christian I have always been. But I did decide to take a more creative approach to my "walk through the Word."

Continue reading "Through the Bible in a year (with a difference)" »

January 01, 2007  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink