Read THE BOOK & Read a Book (or two) in 2019
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Recently, I observed that it takes, on average, a person only 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover.  Amazing.  I gave four different plans to read the Book in 2019.  Those plans just might represent the “70 Most Crucial Hours of 2019” for your life.

In addition to the Bible, let me encourage you to pick up a book (or two or a few) in 2019:

If you want to read along with the current sermon series The Art of Neighboring, let me suggest you pick up The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life which is brimming with practical ideas of how to implement biblical hospitality in your everyday life.

If you want to read along with the next sermon series GO! Becoming a Great Commission Church, I would suggest you pick up Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper to find out what it means to follow Jesus’ instruction to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations (Mt. 28).

For reading the Bible with kids, let me suggest four books: (1) The Jesus Storybook Bible, (2) The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New, (3) The Action Bible, and (4) The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.

If you plan on going to the Marriage Retreat, we will be challenging couples to read Paul Tripp’s What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of MarriageMake it a goal to read one book on marriage this year with your spouse.  Larry Crabb’s Marriage Builder would also be worth your time and investment in your marriage this year. 

If you are new to the Christian faith or find yourself on the fence, let me suggest the simple but profound book (and a very quick read) What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert or The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity by Lee Strobel. 

For moms who are stressed out and busy, pick up Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of LivingFor men who are wanting to deepen their walk with God in all areas of their lives, let me recommend Disciplines of a Godly Man

If you’ve never read C.S. Lewis or Henri Nouwen, two classic 20th century authors, you could start with either C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters or Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son. All three books are a feast for your soul. 

If you are struggling with prayer or simply want to be more effective at prayer, you would be encouraged and challenged by Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

If you want to deepen your theology with some accessible works, let me recommend Saved by Grace by Anthony Hoekema or The Cross of Christ by John Stott.  Both works would deepen your appreciation and understanding of the Lenten season leading up to Easter.

Finally, if you are struggling, you’d find a fellow struggler who lost his mother, wife, and daughter all in one day in a car accident in A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. 

The TWC bookstore sells all of these books at amazon prices (or better).

Be a reader in 2019 – both of THE book and of good Christians books that help you grow in your faith. Remember, a growing Christian is a reading Christian.

Be encouraged,

Jason Carter

 

 

Jason Carter
Adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters (On the Intersection of Being Missional & Practicing Radical Hospitality)
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In the tradition of C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters where an older demon (Screwtape) counseled his nephew & younger protege demon (named Wormwood), I offer the following counsel from Screwtape about the “perils” of Christians being missional by practicing radical hospitality:

My dearest Nephew Wormwood,

The Enemy’s Son came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).  Luckily for us, we have learned over the years to twist this profoundly social occasion where life, relationship, and the Enemy’s Word may be shared into a singularly private affair. Yes, I commend you over the years for convincing your subject of many simple but profoundly effective lies against carrying out the Enemy’s mission on earth.

Though your subject has recently begun going to church, all is not lost. During the sermon precisely when the Enemy loves to ignite faithful lives that are profoundly others-centered, you know what to do:  Help them crave funny stories.  Help them long for individualistic applications.  You, of course, will want to do your best to convince your subject that following the Enemy is primarily a private affair.  Our Cause is never so much endangered as when the subject begins to ask questions about his mission and witness in the world.

A budding fire for the Enemy’s mission is easily quenched by reminding your subject of several lies which – though boring to you by now – have proven so effective over the centuries.

Whisper repeatedly in your subject’s ear:  who are you?  Make them profoundly insecure.  Remind them of their lack of a seminary degree. Assure them repeatedly that it’s their pastor’s job to reach the community. Playing on the insecurities of their own lack of knowledge and widening the gap between clergy and laity has often proven to be a most effective weapon at stopping the Enemy’s foolish intention to include everyone in his Mission. 

Yet even when they believe adamantly in the Enemy’s mission, all is not lost.  Work to convince them at all costs that the mission of our Enemy is mostly a church program and not a way of life.  If you can convince your subject that working all day is a secular pursuit and worshiping for one hour is their spiritual pursuit, then you have won the day.  At all costs, never allow them to consider that their work life or their home life can be leveraged for the Enemy’s Kingdom.  This would put our Cause in a most perilous state.   

Remember what happened when the Enemy’s Son came on our turf.  We thought he was keeping busy eating and drinking and suddenly lives were being changed.  And so, if your subject ever hears about the hospitality that the Enemy practiced while on earth, do your best to confuse the categories and blur the lines between hospitality and entertaining.  Convince your subject that hospitality is really about nice china, white dollies and Victorian-era conversations.  That their house isn’t nice enough, their house isn’t big enough, and that their food isn’t good enough.  In short, make it all about them. This is, of course, one of their biggest weakness even while residing in the Enemy’s camp.  Never allow them to recognize that hospitality is really about others, about relationships, and about their mission in the world.  Remember, keep reminding them that the Enemy’s mission is a church program and not an everyday practice and your subject will forever only skim the surface of what he’s capable of accomplishing for the Enemy. 

And on the very unlikely occasion – Hell help me – that your subject begins to tinker with the idea of inviting those to his home to practice hospitality in the way of the Enemy, rest assured that there are still several tactics you can employ.

First, tell your subject repeatedly:  This is a good idea.  And be sure to do it “when things settle down someday”.  Even ideas that come straight from the Enemy’s playbook can be forever postponed with this simple reminder. “Things will settle down someday. Do it then.”  Of course, we know that this a lie.  And that we work over the culture day and night to assure that their lives never settle down.  But if we can convince them – that their particular stage in life, whatever it may be – is always most unconducive for them to practice the Enemy’s mission, we will have won the day. 

Second, remind your subject of his busyness with this line:  “Everybody lives like this.”  Make your subject constantly believe that being overly busy is simply a way of life.  “Everyone’s doing it” is a line that works not only on teenagers but for entire sorry lot of them.  Of course, we know that this is a lie:  that there are thousands of people in the Enemy’s camp who live healthy lives.  Yet if your subject believes that “Everyone lives like this” – his own busyness and distraction will not only prohibit spiritual growth, but Wormwood – the great news is – that he will have no time for the Enemy’s mission. As you know, it’s one thing for your subject to believe in the idea of the Enemy’s mission but another thing entirely to live it out. 

Third, if – Hell forbid – your subject ever decides to take up the challenge to practice radical hospitality, make sure they practice it like the Romans and the Greeks: that they only invite others who can reciprocate.  Or like the Pharisees who only invited people who lived and believed and acted like them.  Always try to keep hospitality inside the confines of Enemy territory, the church. Once they start invading our territory with hospitality, be on extreme alert.  As you know, this was the way the Enemy won over so many from our side when he walked the earth.  Never let them dwell on the truth that 75% of their neighbors are not in church on any given Sunday[1]; thankfully our communications department has led followers of the Enemy to believe that the statistics are much higher and in their favor.  We always use this to our complete advantage because it diminishes their light if the darkness isn’t recognized. 

Fourth, if your subject – and this would really stink to High Hell – suddenly feels moved by the Spirit of the Enemy to live their life on mission & as a witness to the Enemy, our cause is still not all lost.  Guide your subject to conduct a brief but hard-hitting truth foray into our territory by dropping some “truth bombs” for all their neighbors to see, preferably on social media.  Be sure to stroke the ego of your subject by convincing them that their duty to the Enemy’s Cause has thus been fulfilled by a few Facebook posts.    

After all, we masterminded Facebook to stir up precisely this kind of divisiveness and polarization in today’s age.  If the Enemy’s truth that is shared can be mixed with a divisive political message or watered down with a self-help truism so that these Christians are speaking stronger words than their relationships warrant, so much the better.  As you know, having strong words and a weak relationship with a neighbor often works to our advantage. 

Yet let me warn you, Wormwood, of a few revealing signs that your subject has taken a turn for the worse, especially with regard to the Enemy’s mission:         

By all means, you must always help your Christian subject to avoid at all costs -- practicing hospitality in our territory with the intention of warmly sharing life and truth and their faith in the Enemy in the most natural way possible.  As if their faith were the most natural expression of who they are.  When they begin to digest that the Enemy’s mission is not complicated or complex but can actually be carried out over simple meals both in and outside the home, our dark Cause is prone to suffer by their very presence and lifestyle.  You should be very worried if such a situation would develop, Wormwood.  Very worried.

A second tell-tale sign your subject has taken a turn for the worse is when they recognize that, despite their busyness, and despite their family life, they begin to live with a quiet Intentionality and confidence in the Enemy’s mission.  Suddenly, your subject may realize that it’s not their job to argue someone into the faith, but to share their life and witness and to love deeply their neighbor as a way of communicating the Warm Heart of the Enemy.  At this point, we have big problems on our hands, Wormwood.  Big problems.  And if they communicate the Warm Heart of the Enemy with hospitality and with love and with a genuine interest in other people because their neighbor is made in the Image of the Enemy, we know this is when Heaven begins to invade our territory.

All for now. 

Darkly yours,

Uncle Screwtape

[1] See https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html/4

Jason Carter
The 70 Most Crucial Hours of 2019
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Do you know how long it takes the average person to read the Bible in a year? Surprisingly, only about 70 hours.

That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. (Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29)

There are lots of Bible reading plans that are profitable for the Christian:

  1. The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. This plan involves reading the entire Bible in a year but only 25 days every month: two NT readings, 1 reading from Wisdom Literature, and 1 reading from the rest of the OT.

  2. The Kingdom Bible Reading Plan. This plan involves reading the entire Bible in a year but only 25 days every month. You will read through every book of the Bible once and the Psalms twice.

  3. Bible Reading Program for Shirkers and Slackers. If you’ve tried reading the Bible before…and, well, come up a little short or given up entirely, this plan might be for you. Different genres are assigned on different days on the week.

  4. Pastor Jason’s Gospel Centered & Wisdom Inspired Bible Reading Plan. The reading plan calls for reading 4 chapters per day about 20 days per month Monday — Friday. The plan is weighted most heavily on the life and teachings of Jesus with secondary emphasis on NT Letters (+Acts/Revelation) and OT Wisdom books. Thus, the plan calls for reading: the four Gospels three times per year, the rest of the NT twice per year, the OT Wisdom books once per year, the Old Testament (Pentateuch, Historical, Prophetic Books) once every two years.

Having a specific plan & a specific place to read your Bible is so critical for getting into God’s Word.

The same goes for reading the Bible with your kids. Family Devotional Readings give you a few ideas for reading passages with your kids or memorizing verses.

Finally, here’s some good food for thought at the beginning of the year: Skip Resolutions in 2019—Make a Rule of Life.

Jason Carter
Christmas Reflections
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6a)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6a)

The entire Christmas story is surprising.  Frederick Buechner once described the incarnation as “a kind of vast joke whereby the creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers”.  He concludes, “Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.”

Writing on the post-Christian culture of the West, Frederica Mathewes-Green makes a poignant observation: “We grew up with the Jesus story, until we outgrew it.  The last day we walked out of Sunday School may be the last day we seriously engaged this faith.”  Yet, compared with living a secularized entertain-me now life that is so prevalent amongst suburbia America, the Christian faith requires more intellectual seriousness (not less), more capacity for cultivating wonder and awe in life (not less), more aptitude for joy (not less), and more willingness to live into our full humanity (not less) because of the implications of the incarnation. 

The Christian faith is intellectually rigorous, demanding on the affections, and practically challenging. It requires a response from the head, the heart, and the hands. Do you think that the God who meets us in the manger and the cross, would let us simply coast through life without asking hard questions, without living sacrificially, or without having our hearts deeply stirred by the things of God?  In this way, the claims of Christ are always pushing us to exert more influence on our lives than we are (typically) willing to give.  Pause to consider the manger.  Pause to consider the Son of God in diapers.  And then think about how congruent and consistent the teachings of Jesus really are which call for our total allegiance to his person and cause.  If the Son of God was truly born in a manger, if God has done everything in his power to meet me with love in my broken humanity, then perhaps this is a God worthy of my life and worship. 

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We cannot approach the manger of the Christ child in the same way we approach the cradle of another child.  Rather, when we go to his manger, something happens, and we cannot leave it again unless we have been judged or redeemed. Here we must either collapse or know the mercy of God directed to us.”

Such is the immense love and holy awesomeness of the manger.

Merry Christmas!!!

Pastor Jason Carter

 

 

Jason Carter
Christmas Family Devotions
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For the Carter household, Christmas signifies oodles of treats and memories with family and friends, but one important tradition we have established as a family — and one we look forward to each year — is our Advent Family Devotions. Advent derives from the Latin word Adventus which means “coming”, and our family has tried to make an intentional effort over the years to celebrate together the “Coming” of the Christ child into our world at Bethlehem for the entirety of the Advent Season.

It’s not too soon to begin planning for Family Devotions for Advent. Here are some resources that our our family would like to share with yours:

THE JESSE TREE. The Jesse Tree is an old Christmas tradition dating back to Medieval Times to tell the biblical story from Creation to Christmas. Jesse was the Father of King David, and Jesus descended from this Royal Descendant. The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

“A shoot will come up from the Stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of power, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Just as a branch is a new sign of life on a tree, so the birth of Jesus dawned a new day for his genealogical tree that would impact the whole of humankind.

The Jesse Tree Resources:

FAMILY READINGS:

In addition to celebrating the Jesse Tree together (which only takes a few minutes), reading together a fictional Advent story soaked with Christian principles has been a good way for our family to bond together.

This series has been a hit for our boys:

Christmas Books for the Children:

A family might consider setting up a basket of Christmas books for the children. Or, perhaps you might give several Christmas books to your children during the Advent Season in an “Advent Book Countdown”. Here are some recommendations:

Advent Readings for Adults:

Jason Carter
Blog Tidbits for Nov. 2018
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Every once in a while, I link to a few blog posts worth reading from the blogosopher. Enjoy!

1) Good News for Modern Parents (The Gospel Coalition)

“Our world clamors to convince us that the goal of life is happiness. We’re constantly told, “Do whatever makes you happy; follow your heart.” When you ask modern parents what we want for our children, we respond in unison: “We just want them to be happy!”

… “But the good news of the Bible is that we—and our children—were made for more. Its opening chapters show that humans were made in our Maker’s image for a bigger purpose—to honor him by living well in his creation and doing good to his image-bearers.

It follows, then, that parenting isn’t about making our children feel happy all the time, but about helping them to know and live out their God-given purpose. And according to the experts, this approach is actually more likely to give them a sense of genuine satisfaction in the long run.”

2) 12 Gospel-Centered Books on Marriage (RPM Ministries)

Every year, I try to read a book on marriage. It’s good for me, and it’s good for my marriage. The blog post has some great recommendations for books on marriage.

3) Ask and You Shall Evangelize (The Gospel Coalition)

“Modern selves are so internal,” Keller said. “In the old days if you were convinced of the truth, you changed yourself. Now we adopt the truth as accessories that fit in with who we want to be.” …

“All you have to do is get him to speak back. People are only two ‘why?’ questions away from not having an answer. Just keep asking questions until they have no answer, and then say, ‘Hmm.’ At that moment, they’ll realize, ‘I’m not as well-thought as I thought I was.’”

So the new face of apologetics isn’t up on stage. It’s in a coffee shop or break room, sharing stories and saying “tell me why you think that” until the answers run out.

Jason Carter