Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading through the Bible

The summer of 2003, after my junior year of college, I was spending time in Moscow, Russia. It was there that I finally became convicted that I had never read through the entire Bible. I thought that as a Christian, I should probably read what I at least pretended to believe was the very word of God. I had studied a lot of the Bible at that point, but just studying allowed me to "conveniently" stay away from those parts of the Bible that many would consider boring, tedious, and difficult (pretty much most of the Old Testament).

Starting that summer I made a commitment to read through the Bible for the first time. And I was amazed by what I read and began to discover the truth of Romans 15:4, that "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." I began to see nuggets of truth everywhere, but more importantly, I began to see in greater measure God's great story of redemption and how all of Scripture points to the person and work of Christ. I remember specifically that the idea of God's glory and God's sovereignty became so much more real to me as it seemed to leap out page after page after page.

Since 2003, I have continued to read through the Bible each year. It's been a very fruitful discipline. I've used a few different plans over the years, but I wanted to highlight my favorite one for those of you thinking you wanted to give it a go this year. It's the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan by NavPress. Click on the link to download it. You read four sections of the Bible a day, and read through every book once. One of my favorite parts is that the reading stops on the 25th of each month so you can catch up if you miss days, or study something more in depth during that time. I finished 2009 this morning and plan on starting all over again tomorrow. Who's with me?

Also, Crossway has 10 other kinds of plans in case you're interested.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Favorite Albums of the Decade

If you’re anything like me, music is associated with certain times and circumstances in your life. The moment you hear a song or an album, you’re taken back into nostalgic memories of the past. That is one of the things that makes music so great.

It was really fun to think back over the last ten years and recall the albums that I have tirelessly played on my CD player or my iPod. With most of them I was taken back to either the first time I heard the album, or an experience where it acted as a sort of soundtrack. Some of these albums shaped the way I thought about music and some of them were just plain enjoyable. Here were my top 29 favorite (though not necessarily best) albums from the decade:

29. Poses, Rufus Wainwright (2001)
28. Rebel, Lecrae (2008)
27. Dreaming Out Loud, OneRepublic (2007)
26. Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek (2000)
25. A World Like Ours, Nicholas Alan (2005)
24. Brother Bring the Sun, Dave Barnes (2004)
23. Simply Nothing, Shawn McDonald (2004)
22. These Friends of Mine, Rosie Thomas (2006)
21. Phil Wickham, Phil Wickham (2006)
20. Nothing Left to Lose, Mat Kearney (2006)
19. She Must and Shall Go Free, Derek Webb (2003)
18. Vertigo, Jump, Little Children (2001)
17. Second Circle, Enter the Worship Circle (2003)
16. Continuum, John Mayer (2006)
15. If Songs Could Be Held, Rosie Thomas (2005)
14. The Beautiful Letdown, Switchfoot (2003)
13. Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens (2004)
12. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay (2002)
11. A Collision, David Crowder Band (2005)
10. Help My Unbelief, Red Mountain Music (2006)
9. For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (2008)
8. O, Damien Rice (2002)
7. Hard Candy, Counting Crows (2002)
6. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens (2005)
5. Eyes Open, Snow Patrol (2006)
4. X & Y, Coldplay (2005)
3. Room for Squares, John Mayer (2001)
2. In Rainbows, Radiohead (2007)
1. Mute Math, Mute Math (2006)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Favorite Concerts of the Decade

Following the lead of Paste Magazine and many others, I decided to recap my ten favorite concerts of the decade.

10. Over the Rhine/Rosie Thomas (Eddie's Attic - October 23, 2007) - My buddy Bailey got me to come to this show. I had listened to some of Rosie Thomas and had never even heard of Over the Rhine. I was blown both. Though I can now really appreciate the talent of OVTR, that concert caused me to become forever hooked on Rosie.

9. Bon Iver (Variety Playhouse - June 7, 2009) - I had only heard bits and pieces of their breakthrough album For Emma Forever Ago. Every song was absolutely captivating. Here's Justin performing Re:Stacks:

8. Dave Matthews Band (Sept. 10 2000) - This was their last tour before they started putting out crappy albums. I loved these guys in high school and will definitely remember their great live shows. Also got to see the young and unknown John Mayer for the first time live (on the dinky little side stage).

7. Derek Webb (Smith's Olde Bar - Sept 22, 2009) - I was completely surprised by this one. I had seen Derek probably 20 something times (counting Caedmon's days). I had come to know and love him as an acoustic singer/songwriter. His album Stockholm Syndrome had just come out and I liked it okay, but I just wasn't too sure about how good a show it would make. He played the album front to back in its entirety (with a four song acoustic set in the middle) and I loved every minute of it. Here he is performing The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum and What Matters More.

6. Counting Crows (The Tabernacle - October 31, 2002) - It was Halloween night. Graham Colten opened and the CC were all decked out in costumes, including Adam in a big pink bunny suit. Hard Candy had just come out that summer (still one of my favorites by them), and they played an incredible set.

5. John Mayer (40 Watt Club - January 20,2001) - It was a little hard to pick my favorite Mayer show. However, this show was the one that made me a huge fan. Inside Wants Out was his only album out at this point, which was a staple of mine my freshman year.

4. Radiohead (Lakewood Ampitheatre - May 8, 2008) - Sadly, I had not heard much of their stuff before this show (or else it would probably be higher). I bought In Rainbows a few months before, liked it, but mainly bought the tickets as a b-day present for Roy who was a huge fan. After a very close call, almost not making the show, we ended up with great seats to watch arguably one of the greatest bands of our time put on a phenomenal show.

3. Mute Math (Variety Playhouse - March 24, 2007) - It had been a couple of years since I had seen them last. Their self-titled album had helped to make these guys one of my favorite bands. Their thoughtful lyrics combined with their energetic sound made me excited to see the show. I wasn't disappointed at all. Their energy and use of lights rivals most any other concert I've seen. Here they are performing Break the Same on Conan:

2. Coldplay (Philip's Arena - October 28, 2005) - My dad snagged a couple of seats in the box. Bailey was the grateful recipient of ticket #2. X & Y had recently come out so they had three great albums to produce an sensational show. I'll remember the countdown to begin, the yellow balloons falling from the ceiling, and Chris Martin skipping all over the stage. Oh yeah, they also played an acoustic set of Johnny Cash songs. AND the encore was an extraordinary performance of Nightswimming with none other than Michael Stipe.

1. Sufjan Stevens (Fox Theatre - September 20, 2006) - Epic. That pretty much sums it up. After a great performance from My Brightest Diamond, Sufjan and the gang (consisting of a twenty something piece orchestra) came on to the stage wearing wings and bird outfits. They proceeded to blow us away with a set list that was a thing of beauty. A crazy moment happened during the fourth song (The Trangsfiguration) when the sound went nuts and caused everyone on stage to stop playing. A friend who was a couple rows back later told me how she heard Sufjan exclaim "awesome" during the disruption. That's one reason I appreciate him. He sees even the screw-up moments in performances as significant in creating his works of art.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
This song has been in my head all week. I love the way it portrays the wonderful truth of the Incarnation. This is the reason for celebration today. God putting on flesh, coming to set His people free from the sin that separates us from Him.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to the Red Mountain version here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Repentance: Understading the depth of our sin

Ray Ortlund:
In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance. Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts:

One, “You must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God.” The dawning of non-denial. Realism. Honesty. Brokenhearted self-awareness. “Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you? Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts? Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul? If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians.”

Two, “You must be convinced of the foundation of all your transgressions. And what is that? I mean original sin.” We realize that, even when we haven’t acted on our impulses, the very fact that our hearts rise up against God is itself damning. All self-hope stripped away. “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder, ‘How came I to be so wicked?’ The Spirit of God then strikes in and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature.”

Three, “You must be troubled for the sins of your best duties and performances.” Our righteous self-images start to deconstruct, our excuses, our rationalizations, our entitlements. Every false refuge gives way. “You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up. Our best duties are so many splendid sins. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of the heart.”

Four, “There is one particular sin you must be greatly troubled for, and yet I fear there are few of you think what it is. It is the reigning, the damning sin of the Christian world, and yet the Christian world seldom or never thinks of it. And pray what is that? It is what most of you think you are not guilty of, and that is the sin of unbelief.” Treating God as unreal at a functional level in our hearts and lives and churches and strategies. “Most of you have not so much faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the devil himself. I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of you do.”

“One more then. Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must not only be convinced of your actual and original sin, the sins of your own righteousness, the sin of unbelief, but you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then you shall have peace.”

Select Sermons of George Whitefield, pages 75-95.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How To Think About Santa

Over at the DG blog, Noel Piper shares her reasons why she and her family have decided not to include Santa in their Christmas stories and decorations. I agree with what she says, even though I guess I could think differently once I have kids.
First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don't ask our children to believe them.

Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they're able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child's clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It's very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.

Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we're trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the "attributes" of Santa.

* He's omniscient—he sees everything you do.
* He rewards you if you're good.
* He's omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
* He gives you good gifts.
* He's the most famous "old man in the sky" figure.

But at the deeper level that young children haven't reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.

For example, does Santa really care if we're bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?

What about Santa's spying and then rewarding you if you're good enough? That's not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren't good at all. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.
I also thought her grandson sums it up very well in this video from last year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hunting Tiger Woods

C.J. Mahaney has a great post concerning the recent saga with Tiger Woods and how it relates to us. Here's a section:
Hunted by the Media

As expected, the allegations of adultery involving a public figure are attracting a media pile-on. This is a big story with a big audience and it’s a story that will not disappear soon. Tiger Woods is being hunted by the media.

But let us make sure we do not join the hunt. A Christian’s response to this story should be distinctly different. We should not be entertained by the news. We should not have a morbid interest in all the details. We should be saddened and sobered. We should pray for this man and even more for his wife.

And we can be sure that in the coming days we will be in conversations with friends and family where this topic will emerge. And when it does, we can avoid simply listening to the latest details and speculations, and avoid speaking self-righteously, but instead we can humbly draw attention to the grace of God in the gospel.

Hunted by Sin

But Tiger is being hunted by something more menacing than journalists. Tiger’s real enemy is his sin, and that’s an enemy much more difficult to discern and one that can’t be managed in our own strength. It’s an enemy that never sleeps.
And here's his conclusion:
And this story should humble and sober us. It should make us ask: Are there any so-called “secret sins” in my life? Is there anything I have done that I hope nobody discovers? Is there anything right now in my life that I should confess to God and the appropriate individuals?

And this should leave us more amazed by grace because there, but for the grace of God, go I.
(HT:Justin Taylor)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Unique Impact of Tim Tebow

Pat Forde wrote a good article Sunday over at about the unique impact of Tim Tebow. It's entitled Generosity of spirit separates Tebow. Here are some of the key paragraphs:
We can vigorously debate Tebow's place in college football history as a player. What's not up for debate is his unparalleled ability to provoke the deepest of feelings in fans of the sport.

He said afterward that he wants the fans to remember him for 'how much I cared.' The fact is, fans have never cared so much about a player before.

'I've never seen anything like it,' Florida coach Urban Meyer said. '… He's made unselfish kind of a cool thing.'

None of us has seen anything like it. What makes Tebow unique in the 140-year history of this game is not just his unquenchable spirit. It's his generosity of spirit."
Being a UGA fan, it took me a few years to warm up to Tebow. Even as a Christian, I initially thought putting Bible verses under his eyes was somewhat over the top. But I don't any more. I love the fact that announcers are looking up and reading the verses on the air. And I love seeing the visible impact he has on his coach, his teammates, his fans, and everyone else who takes notice of him.

His humility and generosity coupled with his intensity and passion is something somewhat unique to the world. And I believe it is the expression of Christ in him that is so compelling to people. I thank God for his impact and hope that he continues to point people to the One greater than himself. I am encouraged to do the same.