Category Archives: Bible

Take Time to Find Yourself…It’s Not What You Think

Bible Open

At the beginning of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin begins by identifying true wisdom as consisting primarily of our knowledge of God and man. Specifically he states that “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 1.1). We could spend a long time investigating that statement, but let us briefly consider its significance.

In the first pages of Scripture God’s greatness is established. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However creative we may think ourselves, none of us can speak and bring worlds into existence. But not only does God create, but throughout Genesis the patriarchs are led, protected, corrected, and preserved by the Lord. He made the world, brought the flood, called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to bless all the families of the earth through him. It is only God’s greatness and goodness that establish these things.

Scripture, on the other hand, does not present man in the same light. Eight verses after God finishes expelling man from the Garden of Eden the Bible records its first murder. A few verses later, we are introduced to Lamech, the first polygamist and boastful murderer. The patriarchs don’t fare much better. Noah is a drunk, Abraham is twice willing to give his wife to another to save his own skin; Isaac copies his father’s survival technique. Jacob does his best to live up to his name, which means deceiver. Ten of his  sons dabble in a host of wicked behaviors, all in the first book of the Bible. So how does all this help us?

To understand both God’s holiness and man’s depravity means we understand the greatness of our salvation. It is good for us to meditate on both those truths. Especially for those of us who have had the blessing of learning our faith on our parents’ laps, we can begin to grow numb to the message of Scripture. It is in seeing the discrepancy between God’s holiness and man’s depravity that we realize the greatness of our love. Let me illustrate in a limited way by looking at human relationships. We can think of the times when we have been most deserving of our spouse’s, siblings’ or friends’ anger. Yet it is when they return our unkindness with kindness that we realize how much they love us. If Scripture only taught us of our wickedness we would despair. If the Bible only taught us about God’s goodness, we would lose our awe of him. It is in knowing both God’s goodness and our depravity that we see the greatness of God’s gift of redemption. And understanding the greatness of this gift will lead to a daily rejoicing in our salvation, expressed in a commitment to taking every thought, word and deed captive in the service in Christ’s kingdom.

Leading Like a Man

Wedding Rings

Writing an article on the role of husbands should always make the writer feel a twinge of hypocrisy. I know you know this, but there is no such thing as a perfect husband. An article like this one make the writer painfully aware of his own short-comings as a husband. I think we, as husbands, often think of ourselves as better than we really are. A quick look at our standard should be enough to bring us back down to earth. Christ is the standard of the proper treatment of our wives. Even the most proud-hearted husband would have to admit he has not loved his wife as Christ loved the church. That does not mean we should give up. Instead we should repent, and to make a start below are two of the most basic sins we husbands commit and some humble suggestions of solutions:

  1. Selfish Love. So often we love our wives so as to bring maximum comfort to ourselves. How many of us, when getting a snack on our romantic evening together, do a quick size calculation before giving our wives their “half?” Even our best attempts at love have twinges of selfishness. The solution is not a greater affection for our wives, but rather a greater affection for the Lord. It is in our proper understanding of the work of Christ and the greatness of his forgiveness for us that our expression will change. Only when we love our Savior more will we, as husbands, show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). The solution to selfish love is selfless love, the kind of love that shows you love your wife as Christ loved the church.
  2. Spiritual Abdication. Most of us understand the need to provide materially for our wives. Scripture gives a very different emphasis. Instead of material provisions the Bible speaks of spiritual provision. We are to be used by the Holy Spirit as sanctifying agents in our marriage. We are to cleanse our wives with “the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26) in order that they would grow spiritually. To perform this task something greater than our words is needed. We need to set God’s word before our wives. We may fail to read Scripture to our wives because they ask difficult questions, or because we would rather watch the latest episode of our favorite TV show. The Bible calls us back again: Husbands, wash your wives with the word of God. Make that commitment to read just a little more of God’s word. It does not need to be profound. You just need to read. If she asks a question you cannot answer, beg for time and find the answer.

If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we might grow in our spiritual earnestness how much better our marriages might be. We may even be convinced of the selfishness of our love.

Why Does the Bible Matter?

the Bible

Even those who do not believe in what the Bible says recognize it as tremendously influential. However Scripture, contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is not just influential. It is the center-point for the thought and practice of the Christian. During the protestant reformation of the 16th century, the Bible was given an important place. In fact, it is included among the distinct principles, or the “solas” of the reformation. Sola Scriptura, means Scripture alone is our authority for doctrine and practice. This elevated status flows from a proper understanding of what the Bible is.

The Bible makes claims about itself. One of the best-known is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Within these verses we find the proper perspective toward our approach to the Bible.

In 2 Timothy, Paul speaks of the Bible’s inspiration. That means that when we read the pages of Scripture we read God’s words. In other words, when we read our Bibles we read the very thoughts of the only omniscient, or all-knowing, being. Since God is all-knowing, he is only one who can reveal with certainty the proper order of things. Man’s appeals for certainty outside of God fall on shifting foundations. Without total knowledge you can always discover you were wrong. Inspiration makes the Bible’s words certainly true. In the Bible, therefore, we have the only immovable foundation: the thoughts of the omniscient God.

Many implications for our approach to the Bible flow from the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. For example, the Bible is authoritative, along the lines of Sola Scriptura. Or the Bible is sufficient, meaning that it contains in its pages all that we need for faith and practice. Bart Ehrman notwithstanding, we must also believe that what God inspired he is also able to preserve. The church today can confidently state it is reading God’s word when it opens the Bible.

We are confident not only of the implications that flow from the Bible’s inspiration, but also in its clarity, or perspecuity. To be sure, there are parts of God’s word that are difficult to understand. For example, volumes have be written to reconcile the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. We may never get a definitive answer on those passages. However, the Bible makes clear how we are to glorify God, be reconciled to him through Christ, and express our love to him for that salvation in good works.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that hearing and doing his words makes for a foundation built on the rock. To turn away from the Bible is to turn away from certainty, which means your foundation will be shifting. No doubt about it.

My Mouth Says Yes, My Body Says No

burden

If I were to ask you what my favorite snack is, would you know? Of course not. But there is a way to find out. The solution is to get me in a room full snacks and see which bowl I head toward first. If I claim to love banana cream pie but instead spend all my time at the Doritos bowl you will disregard my previous claim. My actions confirm the trustworthiness of my words. What we do clarifies, and sometimes re-defines, what we say.

Family. Much of our instruction as parents is validated, or invalidated, by the decisions we make around our children. For example, most Christian parents have good intentions to teach their children to love God. But what value are we communicating to our children’s hearts when we neglect corporate worship to attend an event of our own choosing like a music recital, sports event or hunting trip. Our instruction may be, “Love God, no matter what,” but our actions say, “Love God if you don’t have a better offer.”

Marriage. No matter how often we tell our wives we love them, our actions can undo all those words. If you do not believe me, test the hypothesis: try making your wedding anniversary the same as every other day. Do not mention the special nature of the day, no flowers or chocolates, no special date. Instead encourage her to wash your car and fold that special shirt you wear when you go golfing with the guys. Your wife’s response would be both predictable and justified. You may be saying “I love you,” with your words, but by your actions you are saying, “I do not care anything about you whatsoever.”

Church. In the Presbyterian Church in America, membership vows include a promise to support the church in its worship and work. As a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who would take umbrage with this part of their vows. Yet why are churches’ evening services so poorly attended? Our words may say, “I’m committed,” but our actions say, “I’ll come 50% of the time.”

God. Perhaps the primary relationship that sits over all the previously mentioned ones is our relationship with God. As Christians, we profess faith in Christ’s work alone as the securing action of our redemption. Flowing from this redemption is God’s charge to “be holy, for I am holy.” (Cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). God in his word defines what it means to be set apart, dedicated in love to the Lord. The problem, of course, is our sin. Sin says, “I love myself more than I love God.” No matter the transgression, our action confirms love for self. Our only solution is to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. And having been delivered we must begin again learning to match our actions to our words through the power of the God at work it us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Healthy Family Worship Habits

prayer

Family worship is typically a source of much guilt for us. Not so much because of the content of what may be discussed, but rather in our neglect of it. We may read books about family worship, we may know what we are supposed to do in family worship, but we may still neglect the practice. Below are some ways family worship can become a habit in your family.

  1. Meditate often on the promises of Scripture. Family worship will be a painful chore if it does not flow from a deep love for God. A deep love for God flows from his deep love for us, summarized in his promises. So meditate on them so you would have joy in the Christian discipline of family worship.
  2. Have a plan. Without some kind of direction and purpose to your family worship, you will lack a clear message. This, in turn, will distract your children and cause you to be discouraged. And when you are discouraged…you will quit.
  3. Keep it simple. Sometimes we fathers are paralyzed by our desire to be profound. We want our family worship lesson to sound like our favorite celebrity pastor. There is a reason these men are well-known: they are uniquely gifted communicators. More significant than your infrequent profundity is your faithful daily reading of Scripture to your family. Stay within your range of gifts, and lead your family in the study of God’s pure words.
  4. Make it a routine. We live in a time when “routine” is a bad word. However, routine is very helpful in establishing habits. Choose a time when you will gather as a family to worship. In our family it has typically been around one of the family meals. Depending on our schedule for the semester, we will come together for family worship either around the breakfast or supper table. By choosing a regular time, you and your children will learn to expect the event, and miss it when it does not happen.
  5. Keep your material close at hand. If you have to rummage around your house to find your Bibles you have introduced a potential excuse. Keep all those things in a cupboard or drawer nearby. Do not tempt your own laziness by having your family worship materials in the next county.
  6. Be faithful in private worship. The strength of your family worship will only be as strong as your own commitment to the pursuit of God’s word. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is the passage that is most often cited when it comes to our duty of family worship. That passage lays out a specific order. First the parent is to love God and his word. Then he is to pass it on to his children.

The word of God feeds our souls. For that reason we should be diligent to set it before our children daily. Make it a priority in your family starting today.

Rules, Rules, Rules…

do-not-enter

“The prophet’s scorn for what is false is a generous thing because it springs from a profound love of what is true.”
(J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent)

We live in a society that is learning to hate rules. “Judge not, that you be not judged” is now one of the most popular verses in all the Bible. We hate prohibitions. We love freedom. We hate the “nos” but love the “yesses”. Biblically speaking, however, both prohibitions and prescriptions are present. Take the Ten Commandments. Eight of the commandments are prohibitions, things we ought not to do. Therefore negative commands, or commands which forbid behavior, are not a problem. Biblical prohibitions are only problematic when they are void of a godly love of biblical prescriptions. What I mean is that our reasons for not doing evil are based on our love for doing good. We do not do certain things because they are wicked, while we do other things because they are righteous. And our God loves righteous deeds (Psalm 11:7).

When it comes to our children, we are God’s agents to help them learn how to serve and fear him. For that reason, the rules of our home should be structured around prohibiting wickedness and promoting righteousness. We teach our children not to hit others, but to be gentle. The former is wicked while the latter is righteous. We teach them not to steal, but to be generous and willing to share. The former is a prohibition, while the latter is a prescription. We teach these rules because of our deep love for the God who saved us. He has charged us to raise up or children in the instruction of his name (Eph. 6:4). His prohibitions and prescriptions give shape to wickedness and righteousness for our children. In our daily worship to God in our parenting, we should not be like the husband who buys power-tools for his wife, or the wife who buys a subscription to Southern Living magazine for her husband. People who do that are offering gifts to themselves. Rather, the spiritual worship we offer to God should honor him and do so in the way he has described in his word. Just to confirm, his word both prohibits and prescribes.

If we concentrate only on what we should not do, we lose sight of the love of virtue. If we neglect what we should do, we lose sight of the hatred of wickedness. In both cases we are loosing sight of the gospel. In sending the Son to be our substitute on the cross, the Father does not only set us free from the guilt of our sin, but also frees us from the dominion of sin. When live apart from sin’s mastery, we learn to say no to wickedness in obeying God’s prohibitions and say yes to righteousness by following his prescriptions.

Family Worship Suggestions

father-son-1

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7, ESV)

The obligation of Christian parents to pass on the truth of God’s word is clear in God’s word. The problem is, we do not have an exact “game plan” of what that may look like. Beyond bringing our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ESV), how do we find the passage that gives us the checklist? Of course, no such list exists. Our task as parents is simply to set God’s promises and commands before our children so they might know who to love and how to love him (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #3). Below are some different ways we can teach our children diligently and raise them up in the instruction of the Lord:

  1. Catechisms. Catechisms, of course, do not replace the Bible, but summarize the teachings of the Bible. The Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism help your children understand the basic categories of theology, keeping them from error in what they believe and how they live. G. I. Williamson has written very beneficial study guides for each which can help you lead your families through a study of the catechisms.
  2. Bible reading. You may choose to read one chapter per day from the Bible with our children. Read a chapter a day until you finish a book and then start another one. Make sure you choose both New Testament and Old Testament books. If you do this daily, you will have 365 chances each year to teach your children what you are learning as you study God’s word for yourself.
  3. Sermon review. Each day you can talk with your children about part of what you have learned together during corporate worship. This method gives you a handy outline to start with and will help reinforce what was taught from the pulpit. All you need is a little note taking during Sunday worship and choosing several main themes on which to concentrate (see an example here).
  4. Topical study. The catechism is topical, but here I mean something else. Sometimes we may come across a certain theological concept we want to teach our children. Other times there is a certain behavior that crops up in our home. This kind of family worship takes time to address these issues over a span of a week or two.

I’m sure you can come up with more ways to lead your family in worship, but these four can help you get started with family worship. Don’t neglect your responsibility. Adjust what you are saying to the age of your children. Without your leadership in family worship, your children will only think of God’s word on Sunday, and that is simply not enough.

What Should I Do in Family Worship?

Amazing Grace

Last post we talked about personal and family worship as essential to the health of the family. Though we recognize the significance of family worship, sometimes the “how” of implementing this joyful duty is less clear. Below are some thoughts on what to include as we lead our families in worship.

Pray Together. Children learn how to pray from their parents. If they never hear us pray for anything other than the meal, how will they develop in prayer? For our children who are just learning to pray, we can supply some basic guidelines for their prayers. In our home, a staple for our youngest prayers is asking God to forgive their sin and thanking him for taking care of them. As children grow in maturity, they quickly learn to verbalize their own thoughts. Since these thoughts have various degrees of purity and faithfulness to God’s will, we should take time to instruct our children in prayer. Fortunately the Bible supplies the model in the Lord’s Prayer. Not only should we teach them to memorize the prayer, but also instruct them as to what the six petitions mean. Westminster Shorter Catechism numbers 100-107 provide great help to us.

Study Together. As basic as this truth may seem in a post on Family Worship it still must be said. Parents are to set the words and commands of God before our children (Cf. Deut. 6:6-7). We cannot fulfill this parental responsibility when the book in which the words are found is never opened. The next question in your mind might be: “But what should I study from God’s word?” I have some thoughts on that question, but it will wait until the next post. For now let us recognize that we must study the Bible with our children if we expect them to know it.

Sing Together. Even though there is a healthy range in musical ability across families, psalms and hymns should be sung in our homes. For some this task is easy due of the musical gifts the Lord has given. For others, this part of family worship is more difficult. In extreme cases, mp3s and CDs can provide the necessary scaffolding to be able to sing together. However, for the most part, we should pick up our favorite psalter and hymnal and worship God in song together, even if it is only a joyful noise. Even 3 year-olds can easily learn psalms and hymns. Once known, they will have the opportunity to participate in the church’s worship when those songs are selected by the pastor. As our children mature we can teach them to sing parts and have them accompany our singing with different instruments, all to the praise and glory of God.

Family worship can be a tremendous spiritual catalyst. As the Holy Spirit gives fruit, our children will learn how to pray, participate in congregational worship, and hear the very promises and commands of God. Do not deprive your children of that opportunity.

Don’t Worry. I Picked Your New Year’s Resolution.

Bible Open

Within the family context, God’s word provides us with the stability we need live for his glory. Therefore it is important that we are students of the Bible. Our personal worship is of most significance. From our private practice of Bible study we will build our leadership in family worship. Our teaching to our children will only be as meaningful as our personal worship is strong. So a couple of thoughts about these activities:

Personal Worship. Our personal study of God’s promises and commandments prepares us for our public practice of them. Now I know we should not read the Bible to pull up our Bible reading app and fool our phones into thinking we are good Christians. If we read for the praise of man or our smart phone app, we have received our reward. Instead, our reading should flow from a deep love for our Savior and a desire to know how we should express our love for him. Psalm 119 is a perfect example of how we should feel about the study of God’s word. The psalmist uses words such as “praise”, “delight”, and “wondrous”, to describe his study of God’s commands. As we give our attention to our Savior’s words, we can ask him to open our eyes to see wondrous things out of his law (Ps. 119:18).

Family Worship. We fathers must make sure to lead our families in Bible study each day. In doing so, we model how to study God’s word to our children. This task can be intimidating which tempts us toward dangerous and harmful extremes. On the one hand we may do too much. If we find ourselves coming to family worship with a 20 page, single spaced, heavily foot-noted treatise on the meaning of the wheel covered in eyes in Ezekiel 1, we are trying too hard. If that is our practice, we are teaching our children God’s word is too complicated and boring. On the other hand we can do way too little. If we find ourselves not doing family worship because we have to be at the next extra-curricular commitment for our children we are doing too little. The failure to practice anything teaches our children that hobbies are more important than God’s word.

So how do we make personal and family worship healthy, balanced and meaningful? Of course, we must practice it in the first place. But then, the Westminster Shorter Catechism #3 gives two simple questions we can ask of any biblical passage we read: 1. What does this passage teach us about what we should believe about God? and 2. What does this passage teach us about our duty toward God? Every passage will address either one, or both of these questions. Then take the time to explain what you are learning to your children. Teach them God’s word and pray that he would use your feeble efforts to open their eyes and see the truth of God’s promises in all their beauty.

Love Your Spouse by Loving God

Heart Tree

Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?

  1. Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
  2. Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
  3. Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.

The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.