Guarding your wallet?

Today over at the DesiringGod blog Marshall Segal writes about money (“Four Questions to Keep Close to Your Wallet”). His opening line is right on: “It’s hard to imagine many things more maligned in Scripture than money.”
He opens by putting the topic in the big picture for Christians –—

At the end of the day, we must each know our own hearts and be willing to ask what role money is playing in our thoughts and affections. Is it a means of worshiping God or a means of replacing him? Is our budget highlighting the sufficiency and worth of Christ or has it become a reason for boasting in or treasuring something other than him?

He then presents & discusses four questions we should be asking:

1. Is my spending marked by Christian generosity?

2. What does my spending say about what makes me most happy?

3. Does my spending suggest I’m collecting for this life?

4. Is my spending explicitly supporting the spread of the gospel?

I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing at the DesiringGod blog. Thanks Marshall Segal.

Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books

Today Dr Al Mohler, one of the brightest men around, put these thoughts up on his website. As an avid reader myself, I can confirm his strategy is a good one — reading books in several categories, tackling large sets bit by bit, etc. May God bless your resolve to grow your mind — and your life — through reading in the coming year! pdb

I cannot really remember when I did not love to read books. I do know that I was very eager to learn to read, and that I quickly found myself immersed in the world of books and literature. It may have been a seduction of sorts, and the Christian disciple must always be on guard to guide the eyes to books worthy of a disciple’s attention—and there are so many.
As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading. Devotional reading for spiritual profit is an important part of the day, and that begins with the reading of Scripture. In terms of timing, I am somewhat unorthodox. My best time for spending time in the Word is late at night, when all is calm and quiet and I am mentally alert and awake. That is not the case when I first get up in the mornings, when I struggle to find each word on the page (or anything else, for that matter).

In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. (Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here). I remember the books; do you remember the games?

A few initial suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and it also keeps me working across several disciplines.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead—not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.

4. Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, for such reading. It doesn’t have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill.

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. (Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.) Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.

I would write more for this post, but I must go read. More later. For now: Tolle lege!

(by Dr Albert Mohler)

PS — I will post next week on the results of my reading in 2013. Did I reach my goal of 52 books in one year? Which books were favorites? Stay tuned…

Resurrecting dating

Over at the Desiring God blog, Marshall Segal has a wonderful article entitled, When the Not-Yet Married Meet: Dating to Display Jesus. His opening words are:

Dating is dead.

So says the media. Girls, stop expecting guys to make any formal attempt at winning your affections. Don’t sit around waiting for a boy to make you a priority, communicate his intentions, or even call you on the phone. Exclusivity and intentionality are ancient rituals, things of the past, and misplaced hopes.

I beg to differ. It’s not that this new line of thinking is necessarily untrue today, or that it’s not the current and corrupt trend of our culture. It’s wrong. One of our most precious pursuits, that of a life-long partner for all of life, is tragically being relegated to tweets, texts, and Facebook pokes, to ambiguous flirtation and fooling around. It’s wrong.
[emphasis added]

1415226_embracing_coupleAfter helpfully opening up the natural of dating (“where does marriage come from?”) he then goes on to write several paragraphs under each of these headings, explaining how one should date and how dating ought to look forward to marriage:

1. It really is as simple as they say (reminding us that “marriage really is less about compatibility than commitment”).

2. Know what makes a marriage worth having. (hint, it has to do with helping you learn more about God)

3. Look for clarity more than intimacy. Here’s the whole of this incredibly wise section (soak up that second paragraph) —

The greatest danger of dating is giving parts of our hearts and lives to someone to whom we’re not married. It is a significant risk, and many, many men and women have deep and lasting wounds from relationships because a couple enjoyed emotional or physical closeness without a lasting, durable commitment. Cheap intimacy feels real for the moment, but you get what you pay for.

While the great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy, the great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. Intimacy is safest in the context of marriage, and marriage is safest in the context of clarity. The purpose of our dating is determining whether the two of us should get married, so we should focus our effort there.

In our pursuit of clarity, we will undoubtedly develop intimacy, but we ought not do so too quickly or too naively. Be intentional and outspoken to one another that, as Christians, intimacy before marriage is dangerous, while clarity is unbelievably precious.

4. Find a fiancé on the frontlines. (this refers to finding someone who is serving God too)

5. Don’t let your mind marry him before the rest of you can. (Here Marshall writes, “The trajectory of all truly Christian romance ought to be marriage, so it should not surprise us that our dreams and expectations, our hearts, race out ahead of everything else.”)

6. Boundaries make for the best of friends. (“Boundaries are necessary because on the road to marriage and its consummation, the appetite for intimacy only grows as you feed it.”)

7. Consistently include your community. (He says make sure other people [eg, church] are involved as you develop your relationship).

8. Let all your dating be missionary dating. (No, he doesn’t mean date non-Christians; rather, “dating that displays and promotes faith in Jesus and his good news, a dating that is in step with the gospel before the watching world.”)

Now, go read the WHOLE THING HERE for your own benefit, or to share with another. I pray for all who want God’s will for their relationships (and marriage) will think along these lines.

Renew your strength

The famous verse at the end of Isaiah 40 says, “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Too often we read that and envision “waiting” on the Lord to be some sort of placid inertness. Far from it! This is an active, expectant waiting — that maintains a vigilant readiness, that flexes ones muscles for action while scanning the horizon. How else is one’s spiritual strength renewed, if not by an expectant engagement with the presence and/or the promises of God?

Today I read some similar thoughts on this Scripture by the puritan preacher Samuel Ward, who makes good use of active language in explaining his view. May these brief quotes bless you today. pdb

Make use of your faith. This is the chief mystery of our spiritual life. Stir up your soul to talk with Christ. Consider the promises and privileges you enjoy. Think of them, roll them under your tongue, chew on them until you feel their sweetness in your soul.”

“Unstirred coals do not glow or give heat. The beauty of faith is its use. Don’t just have muscles, use them. Let a man diligently and thoroughly improve his faith and the joy it will bring to him will be great.”

Even the sparrow…

Sparrows are small, and, generally considered to be insignificant little creatures. Yet this plays right into the purposes of God. The lyrics of Psalm 84 use this perceived insignificance to illustrate the great reach and provisions of God’s care for His creatures:

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” (Ps. 84:3 esv)

Can you hear that emphasis, presented so well in the ESV translation? Even the sparrow finds a home…” In the New Testament, Jesus makes use of the insignificant sparrow to teach us the great extent of God’s care and His compassion for His people. It’s found in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 esv; emphasis added)

Here the small, almost negligible value of a sparrow is highlighted by our Lord (two for a penny — the smallest coin in circulation back then), who argues from the lesser to the greater, in order to assure his disciples that you are of more value than many sparrows! If God has a careful eye upon every ‘landing’ of every sparrow on the earth, how much more must He care for His spiritual children!

My thoughts turned to these things when reading the most recent issue of the Banner of Truth Magazine, which quotes Douglas Taylor on this text — “From his words, we can clearly see that men are of far greater intrinsic value than sparrows. Because this is so, because our origin and destiny are so much higher than those of the other creatures, we are to trust in God, and in his meticulous sovereign providence over every detail of our lives.” Taylor writes as a man dying of cancer, sharing his own struggle with being content in his difficult circumstances:

…discontentment with our own estate comes, in part, from our not believing in or trusting the providence of God, who has promised to order every circumstance of our estate and condition for the best. And he brings in as proof the passage about the sparrows.

May the Lord help me, and all similarly (and far worse) placed, to look at the sparrows and trust entirely in the God of absolute, controlling, and all-loving providence! The Lord fill me with sweet contentment to be dying – slowly – of cancer in his arms. What better estate or condition could I desire?

While the illustration of the little sparrow is easy to understand, the Lord’s intent is that we should believe the Word of God, and trust Him — not fearing our own weakness, or our dark circumstances, or the ferocity of our enemies. Does God care for you? Look at the sparrow… even the sparrow!

“Traveling Mercies”

We’re taking a trip, and (as always) praying for traveling mercies.

Fishing rods, half-dozen suitcases, pillows, water bottles, iPods, books, games, snacks and supplies for the big road trip to Wisconsin were all loaded into the Kia minivan this morning as we departed upstate New York. Thankfully, I was only packing for 5 this trip — only the youngest 3 are with Laurel and I — as we go to visit Grandma, Grandpa and other Bissett’s in the Badger State. And with all such trips, we begin our drive with a word of prayer.

With this long trip in mind, at the mid-week prayer meeting last night I led a brief study on “traveling mercies.” Tonight as I sit to write this blog post (from our Toledo, Ohio, hotel room), I find I left all those study notes at home!

What do we have in mind as we pray for “traveling mercies” for ourselves or for others? I think a few Bible passages shed some light on that.

(1) God’s mercies to His people are new every day, wherever we are. In the book of Lamentations, the weeping prophet joyfully declares, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22-23, esv). So wherever we are traveling, or whether we are not traveling at all, God’s loving-kindness / tender mercies (Hebrew, hesed) are fresh and timely for His people every day.

(2) God is always with His people, leading and guiding them. The story of the Exodus from Egypt into the wilderness — where He led them by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). This lasted for all 40 years of their wilderness wanderings (EX 40:38), right to the day they entered the promised land. One passage even specifies where the people of Israel were to stop circling and turn to the north! The Lord our God is always with us — even as Jesus promised in the New Testament, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

(3) …Well, I can’t recall my third point of the Bible study at the moment, but will add it later…

(4) Companions are a very good idea when traveling. The Bible even says so, as in Ecclesiastes 4.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (esv)

One of our prayer meeting members said, “That just good common sense.” Indeed, but it’s also a truth from God’s Word! Another pointed out that Jesus sent out His disciples “two by two” on their training missions. We do well to prepare for our travels and to make provisions for the company of others (or at least the ability to summon help as it is needed).

(5) And, do not forget that God often does great things when one is “on the road.” I took our prayer meeting folks to the book of Acts, first to chapter 8. There an Ethiopian official was traveling home from Jerusalem, and on the dessert road he is met by a Christian and brought to faith in Christ. He even asks to be baptized right on the spot, alongside the road! We also read in Acts 9, about the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. it wasn’t on his agenda (or “trip-tic”) for that day, but it was the gracious plan of the Lord to redirect Saul’s/Paul’s life from that day forward. Do not underestimate the many “opportunities” that traveling presents for the Lord to act in our lives — in simple or in profound ways.

Today was a long, but safe — and generally happy — day of travel for the Bissett’s. In fact, I marvel that while most of New York was covered by strong thunderstorms, our crossing of the whole state from east to west only brought us under a few sprinkles! Amazing, huh? Especially after all these preparatory thoughts.

Well, I hope to blog a bit more on this trip, as time allows. You’re welcome to follow along. Oh, and do pray for us, and for traveling mercies to be ours — in abundance.

~ pdb

What to do if you wake up feeling fragile?

My former pastor John Piper has answered this question online

There are mornings when I wake up feeling fragile. Vulnerable. It’s often vague. No single threat. No one weakness. Just an amorphous sense that something is going to go wrong and I will be responsible. It’s usually after a lot of criticism. Lots of expectations that have deadlines and that seem too big and too many.

As I look back over about 50 years of such periodic mornings, I am amazed how the Lord Jesus has preserved my life. And my ministry. The temptation to run away from the stress has never won out — not yet anyway. This is amazing. I worship him for it.

How has he done this? By desperate prayer and particular promises. I agree with Spurgeon: I love the “I wills” and the “I shalls” of God.

Instead of letting me sink into a paralysis of fear, or run to a mirage of greener grass, he has awakened a cry for help and then answered with a concrete promise.

Here’s an example. This is recent. I woke up feeling emotionally fragile. Weak. Vulnerable. I prayed: “Lord help me. I’m not even sure how to pray.”

An hour later I was reading in Zechariah, seeking the help I had cried out for. It came. The prophet heard great news from an angel about Jerusalem:

Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst. (Zechariah 2:4–5)

There will be such prosperity and growth for the people of God that Jerusalem will not be able to be walled in any more. “The multitude of people and livestock” will be so many that Jerusalem will be like many villages spreading out across the land without walls.

But walls are necessary! They are the security against lawless hordes and enemy armies. Villages are fragile, weak, vulnerable. Prosperity is nice, but what about protection?

To which God says in Zechariah 2:5, “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord.” Yes. That’s it. That is the promise. The “I will” of God. That is what I need. And if it is true for the vulnerable villages of Jerusalem, it is true for me a child of God. God will be a “wall of fire all around me.” Yes. He will. He has been. And he will be.

And it gets better. Inside that fiery wall of protection he says, “And I will be the glory in her midst.” God is never content to give us the protection of his fire; he will give us pleasure of his presence.
This was sweet to me. This carried me for days. I took this with me to the pulpit. I took it with me to family gatherings. I took it to staff meetings. I took it to phone calls and emails.

This has been my deliverance every time since I was first marking my King James Bible at age 15. God has rescued me with cries for help and concrete promises. This time he said: “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, and I will be the glory in her midst.”

Cry out to him. Then ransack the Bible for his appointed promise. We are fragile. But he is not.

Blessed is the man who…

Are you blessed? Psalm one is so simple and clear. Read, believe and heed.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

(vv. 1-2, esv)

*a superb musical rendition of Psalm 1 (which I listen to most every Saturday night) can be sampled here (with YouTube link below, hopefully!). It’s by the contemporary group “Sons of Korah

Does the Great Shepherd guide you?

From J.C. Ryle’s comments while teaching on Mark 7 — 

Let us remember this as we look forward to the days yet to come: We know not what our days may be – bright or dark, many or few – but we know that we are in the hands of Him who does all things well. He will not err in any of His dealings with us. He will take away and give – He will move and He will settle – with perfect wisdom, at the right time, in the right way. The great Shepherd of the sheep makes no mistakes. He leads every lamb of His flock by the right way to the city of habitation.

~ J.C. Ryle

From his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark (Banner of Truth).